This book on China and the Chinese will contain no apologies. It
will present no strenuous effort, where uncomplimentary revelations
are made, to drag in some supposedly extenuating or counterbalancing
virtue possessed by the people whose actions and attitudes are under
review in the pages to follow. We have had enough of all that. Too
many otherwise worth-while books dealing with China have muddled
their information and left their readers confused by fatuous attempts
to sprinkle bright hopes over dark facts.
And there has been of late a superabundance
of maudlin sentiment about China in comparison with the scarcity
of clear-cut information. This book is intended to supply information.
If reading it requires at times a strong stomach, this book at least
is an honest attempt to present the facts as they are, however unpleasant.
An accurate survey of what is now going on in China necessarily
includes much that is hideous and terrible, for the simple reason
that a great deal of what the Chinese are doing is hideous and terrible.
An understanding of recent developments there is impossible without
an intimate appreciation of the staggering misery gripping the majority
of the population — a fifth of the earth's people struggling
helplessly and meaninglessly against fate and themselves. The many
aspects, political, social and economic, of the tragedy are but
so many varied hues in a single spectroscope of distress, its focus
upon a scene of misery vast beyond the dimensions of human pity.
Yet the very vastness of the spectacle
places some obligation upon us rationally and emotionally to understand
its intricacies, to understand the many conflicting frenzies of
attempted survival there which paradoxically produce in the total
a strange inertia. China for fifty centuries has moved glacier-like,
ponderously and slowly, without serious deflection at any time,
ever gathering its weight of
population, ever settling towards its obscure destiny, its masses
ever increasingly crushed by their own pressure upon themselves.
That destiny, as manifest in the lot of the average Chinese there,
more and more ominous and intolerable with the accumulated centuries,
unfailingly appalls the thinking Westerner who gazes upon it. Though
the average American can look at the China scene with detachment
and aloof from its colossal tragedy, there are ways, vivid and real,
in which it menaces our own future, and to avoid these dangers it
is important to understand its peculiar features.
This last consideration calls for
a new note of realism in our survey of China. For our own welfare
and the best permanent interests of all concerned, the situation
calls for a sterner realism than that to which we have been accustomed,
in order to view and to accept the facts as they are. The facts
are repellent. But they exist, and we dwell in the same small world
with them. Nothing useful can be accomplished by attempting to cover
Despite the amount that has been
recently written and spoken on the subject, China remains incomprehensible
for most American readers. In appraising a stranger with whom we
are to deal, it is important to know his shortcomings. On any other
basis of approach, whatever our spiritual generosity in rating at
full measure his virtues, we are likely to lose heavily. His good
points, if any, will take care of themselves. They are sure to crop
up in time, and regardless of when and how convincingly they come
to light, we face no liabilities, losses or disappointments through
With the stranger's unfavorable
points it is different. These are the ones that menace us, and they
are therefore the ones to be taken into account early and faced
realistically. There is no common sense reason why the United States
should repeat in the Far East its stupendous blunders made in Europe
during and just after the World War. We are still paying a severe
penalty for failure to appraise at that time the character of some
of the nations with which we were thrown suddenly into complex relations.
In the case of France, for example, a better estimate of French
character, with due heed paid to that estimate, would have dictated
a more cautious and conservative policy on our part. We should be
more in France today as a result, and on this side we should have
less cause to feel resentment.
The difficulty in the case of China is that very little reliable
information has been available to guide us. And what little there
is but a microscopic trifle amid mountains of misinformation, so
that only a person fairly conversant with the field can distinguish
truth from fantasy.
If the origins of most books and
articles on Far East affairs could be known, it would be found that
an astonishing number — spring from sources too closely associated
with particular interests to be trusted. This does not mean that
all the authors are propagandists or hypocrites. It means that most
of them are out to prove a point, to show that religion or this
or that course of action will be the salvation of the masses there,
and the evidence in support of such a contention is marshaled accordingly.
In reading the current crop of books on China, intelligent foreign
residents on the scene see in a few of them outright misstatements
of fact. But this is not usual. The commoner error is the omission
of much that is highly significant.
Facts about China have been scarce
for a very simple but excellent reason. There are just three classes
of foreigners living there who know conditions. Each of these is
handicapped; in any effort to tell the truth. The three main classes
of foreigners on the spot are: (1) the Missionaries, (2) the Business
Men, and (3) Government Officers, mainly men in the Consular and
Diplomatic Service. The missionaries do not care to tell the truth,
because if the truth were known continued support for their projects
would be jeopardized. The business men are not disposed to tell
it, for the reason that their goods might meet a boycott by offended
Chinese, or their firms suffer some other penalty. American Government
Officers, while they remain in the employ of the Government, are
strictly forbidden to say anything publicly except something flattering
about the country in which they are stationed. Hence members of
the best-informed foreign groups on the scene are circumstantially
gagged, as far as telling the whole truth is concerned.
It is this injunction of secrecy
upon affairs in China, imposed
upon the vast majority of the foreigners there, that has resulted
in a complete misapprehension of the facts back in America. If a
returned Government employee, still in Government service, is asked
to speak in this country, for example, he must submit to Washington
a copy or a synopsis of his speech. If he tells the whole truth
he faces a good deal of trouble, if not outright dismissal. So instead
of giving his audience a balanced presentation of significant facts,
he tries to put on a show of optimism and expand as much as possible
upon what may be considered the brighter side. This "half-truth
activity, frequent and widespread, does more harm than good. The
audience, crediting the speaker's excellent opportunities for observation,
goes away thinking it has a reliable summary of the China situation.
The returned business man is in very much the same predicament in
the matter of telling the truth. He is anxious to avoid newspaper
publicity as an. adverse critic of China for the reasons mentioned.
The missionary is under less restraint.
The Government man or the business man may yearn in his soul to
speak his mind. But no such agitation to reveal actualities besets
the missionary. To tell all the facts would be the last thing he
would care to do. But to tell the facts or alleged facts favorable
to him is a task he undertakes with enthusiasm. The missionary's
emotional zeal for his cause gives him fluency in dispensing glowing
assurances of progress, little evidence of which is visible on the
scene. More twaddle has come out of China from the missionaries
than from any other source. It is not that they set out to make
definitely false statements. The overwhelming majority have lofty
aims and high personal standards precluding the suspicion of intentional
falsehood. But they display such a proneness to exaggerate what
they consider hopeful signs, and such a positiveness in stating
as fact what is nothing more than their own hope, together with
almost invariably omitting information unfavorable to their cause,
that they are as a class wholly untrustworthy for reliable data.
Conceding that they are sincere, there is something in the mental
machinery of the religious zealot that tends to make him incapable
of cool, analytical
observation and accurate, balanced presentation of facts. The individual
exceptions among the class are comparatively few.
But allowing the improbability
of getting a true account of affairs in China from the permanent
residents, what of the various professional journalists, scholarship
visitors and touring professors? Generally their brief stay in the
country, combined with the fact that their contacts there are not
ideally diversified and representative, shows as a disadvantage
in their published works. But while they do not have the advantages
of observation that permanent residents, this handicap is more than
compensated for by the fact that they can say what they please.
At the same time, most of them rely upon sources of information
that are doubtful, and their experience in the country is not sufficient
to suggest methods of checking the accuracy of what they are told,
or adding to it where pertinent details are intentionally omitted.
For example, the newly arrived journalist is likely to be thrilled
by an interview with some prominent Chinese Government dignitary,
and enter in his notes what the dignitary declares to be in progress
regarding bandit eradication, Communist suppression, a new public
school system, the finally achieved or imminently impending unification
of China, and the rest of the stuff that any veteran foreigner would
instantly recognize as merely so much carbon dioxide. The prevailing
type of unctuous and highly affable Chinese official to be found
in the big cities can deliver this hokum very convincingly.
Furthermore, visiting journalists
generally make the rounds of the American philanthropies, spending
a bit of time with the heads of missionary colleges, simply because
these are the most readily accessible prominent foreigners willing
to offer comments. The information the journalists gather from this
source is not likely to be untrue, but it is likely to be misleading.
The heads of foreign philanthropies can be counted on not to give
out for publication statements that would reflect upon their poor
progress, or reveal their difficulties with the local Chinese whose
friendship they feel to be essential. Hence more significant details
are usually omitted than are disclosed.
And as if all the forelisted obstacles
to correct and full information
about the China situation were not enough, there remains the desire
or necessity among a large number of editors and publishers, as
well as among many writers, to dress up articles and books so that
they are "constructive." This means that where anything
bad is revealed, it must be interlarded with assurance that the
situation is probably only temporary, or that corrective forces
are about to remedy it, or that it is more than counterbalanced
by progress in another direction, or some other such contention
which in the case of China very seldom conveys a correct impression.
Of all the recent vogues in journalism
and lecturing, where economic, political and moral issues have been
the subject, the passion to be "constructive" at any cost
of hypocritical fact-dodging is the most obnoxious, and in its results
the most harmful. This book is emphatically not "constructive."
Its contents are assembled to provide those interested with information,
not with good cheer. It espouses no cause and makes no argument
for anything in particular, though in conclusion there is an inference
that minding our own business might not be a bad policy. If anyone
reading it can find in the facts occasion for optimistic elevation
of spirits there is no complaint, and if he does not there is no
disappointment or apology. No remedies for what is wrong in China
The main aim here is to show what
is going on at present in China. Most of the notes for this book
were gathered well away from the busy foreignized centers in China.
They are revealing of conditions true of the overwhelming majority
of Chinese, conditions from which a microscopic few of the natives
who live in Shanghai, Tientsin, and other Westernized ports are
largely spared. They reveal, too, some of the difficulties and dangers
to foreigners who happen not to have the good fortune to live in
one of the foreign-protected concessions on the coast.
The newspaper dispatches from China
relate mainly sensational occurrences, and dwell but little upon
the vaster woes, which are too chronic to constitute news. Editorials
and lectures generally discuss the situation in terms of pacts,
protocols, committee reports, covenants, spheres of influence, and
what not, which in respect to the Chinese are not really of much
significance, for the reason
that no authoritative government exists in China to commit the people
to anything. And as for interpretations according to various isms
— nationalism, communism and so on — these seem equally
remote from the actualities agitating the average illiterate Chinese,
who preys upon his fellows and is preyed upon by them for reasons
more primary to appetite and instinct than these abstractions denote.
When I learned in 1931 that I was
to leave immediately for China to remain two or three years, I could
find nothing up-to-date that would give me an idea of just what
I could expect to encounter as a foreigner living among the Chinese,
nor could I find anything presenting the scene as a whole as the
Chinese live it. Of discussions of their "aspirations"
and the like, with abundant asterisk references to wax-sealed and
red-ribboned documents cluttering the archives of Geneva, Paris
and Washington, I found no end. But for practical use in anticipating
the realities these were a waste of time. The run-of-the-mill Chinese
never aspired in his life, and never heard of anyone who did. The
proposition is that like everybody else he likes to eat and survive.
How he goes about it, how he succeeds and fails, is the effort etching
bloody history on the map of Asia today.
One of the principal tasks of a
consular officer is gathering reliable information by all methods
and from all sources. This serves admirably as a check upon individual
observations. A consular officer is at once many persons, seeing
with a hundred pairs of eyes all that goes on about him. At the
same time, his carbons of reports from consulates elsewhere in the
country reveal the extent to which his immediate observations are
true for the land as a whole.
Some of our consuls in China are
remarkably accomplished investigators, and some of them are in addition
very able reporters. I could mention several whose sense of the
significant, and ability to sift fact from rumor would dim some
of the star reporters of our metropolitan dailies. And in comparison
with average newspaper and magazine writers, they excel in one virtue
— accuracy. The State Department's eternal vigilance and emphasis
is upon this, and
the mass of reports called for is a ceaseless drilling in correctness
Students of Chinese history are
cautioned that they will find nothing new in this book. Veteran
foreign residents of China are assured that they will find nothing
unfamiliar to them in the sections devoted to their difficulties.
But the reader will see four hundred million people — a fifth
of the earth's population — engulfed in misery. The facts
gained in this brief survey will not answer fully the historically
minded who inquire the cause, nor the philosophically minded who
seek the remedy. But perhaps they will help lift the lamp upon some
of those "ways that are dark" and reveal at least a few
of the "tricks that are vain."
October 6, 1933