Starting with first principles and the scientific method
America First Books
Featuring ebooks that find a truer path in uncertain times


Ways That Are Dark Cover Contents Preface Identification
  Chapter One Index Catalog Page  





By Ralph M. Townsend

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 them up.

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 them.

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 liked

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 are advocated.

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 of statement.

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



Ways That Are Dark Cover Contents Preface Identification
  Chapter One Index Catalog Page