Need for Help
HAVING gone so far on the road to China, I cannot resist the temptation to travel at least a little farther, though the journey may be in more sedate surroundings. I know that we are all somewhat shy of writing which is avowedly intended to enlighten us ; but at the risk of scaring off the uncommonly shy birds I am going to try and give a picture of the present situation in China, its cause, and the probable solution.
Such an intimation may well incite one to ask
"Why should we be interested at all in China? Why shouldn't we just leave her to rot in the muckheap of her own manufacture?" Many such questions are asked, especially by people who have never been to China, and indeed put forward the plea that you cannot really get up any interest in a country which is not only at the other side of the world, but is also inhabited by a people with whom we have nothing in common and who are in every way the opposite of our own race.
To say the least, such an attitude is narrow, selfish and so unsympathetic as to be almost inhuman. It is not British, and I hope that when I have finished this chapter I shall at least have brought not a few to agree with me on that point.
In China we have a country somewhere about the size of Europe and populated by considerably more than 400,000,000 souls, so that you get some eleven Chinese in their own land to one inhabitant of England. The contrast can be put in another way. England has an area, in round figures, of 50,000 square miles, and yet with what we look upon as great open spaces of country we get a population of 701 to the square mile. China has the vast area of 4,300,000 square miles and a population of only 97 to the square mile, so one can without difficulty realise what enormous tracts of country there are which are practically unpopulated, and how remote in such an empire one can be from any sort of human base. I know that well from my own experiences when serving as a naval officer in China.
I am not exaggerating when I say that China as a country is a veritable unworked ground, and that it has indeed possibilities infinitely beyond the dreams of avarice. The surface of the ground
has barely been scratched to uncover the countless millions of pounds' worth of minerals lying just underneath it. And again and again oil has been found in apparently unlimited quantities, only to be stopped and deserted when the conditions prevailing made it impossible to continue the working of the wells. And this, where labour is cheap and where thousands of wretched Chinese starve to death annually for lack of employment. There is no excuse here for the argument against exploiting the Chinese. China has so much that we in the West want, and we have so much that she needs in return.
It is only a matter of exchange. The results are employment and prosperity, and such exchange between nations can do nothing but good. Imagine a state of affairs in this country where the system of government and administration were in such chaos, and security of life and personal wealth so precarious that the Welsh coal mines could not be worked, and the rest of the world was thus deprived of the opportunity of buying the coal in the market. The result would be unemployment, discontent, and possible revolution, which would have to be put down by an iron hand. And yet this is a fair
illustration of what is going on in places all over the once prosperous Chinese Empire.
What has caused this situation ? One thing only, and that is the revolution in 1911, which finally deposed the Emperor and set up a republic in his place.
In order to explain this it is necessary to give a brief outline of the system of government in China before the revolution and extending back in history to time immemorial.
Up to 1911 China had always had an Emperor. Dynasties rose and dynasties fell, and much bloodshed and misery accompanied each rise and fall. But China is so vast that the great majority only felt the effects indirectly, and accepted the fact that a new Son of Heaven had ascended the Dragon Throne. Each new dynasty asserted its right to rule China in the greater number of cases, by the sword, but there was nothing in the constitution to render this illegal, and a change on the throne was accepted by the general public in the same philosophical spirit in which the Chinese accept most things.
Some of the dynasties were foreign, but this did not worry the Chinese unduly. When Marco Polo
found his way to China towards the end of the
thirteenth century he found Kubla Khan, a Mongolian, on the imperial throne, and the last Emperor to reign before the revolution was a Manchu, the last of an illustrious line which had occupied the Dragon Throne for over four hundred years.
The explanation of this philosophical or fatalistic acceptance was to be found in the fact that the people looked upon the Emperor as a sort of deity. He was the Son of Heaven. He had unchallenged power over life and death. No man might look him in the face, and his slightest wish was law, to be obeyed with gratitude by the victim of that wish - even unto death. If displeased with minor minions, the Emperor merely ordered their heads to be removed, but to higher officials, viceroys and mandarins generally, with whom he was grievously displeased he would send the silken cord. This was a hint that the recipient was to string himself up to the nearest convenient nail as soon as he had made all necessary arrangements for departing this world.
With such respect was an edict like this received that there is no known case of disobedience.
As an illustration of the respect and awe with which the very name of the Emperor was treated
the following is given : When issuing an edict to some part of his empire, the Emperor's instructions would be enclosed in a large yellow envelope sealed with the royal seal. This letter would be carried by an important official and accompanied by an imperial escort. When passing through any towns or villages the people would fall on their faces and remain in that attitude until the sacred letter had passed, and woe betide the man who hesitated to make such an obeisance. His head would be removed forthwith, as a warning of the consequences of showing disrespect to the Emperor.
Such was the power of the throne. Let us see how that power was used to govern the country.
China is divided up into provinces. There are many of them, and some of them are larger than the largest countries in Europe, if you except Russia. Szchwan is bigger than Germany, and Hunan is the size of France.
Over each of these provinces the Emperor appointed a viceroy, who had three principal duties to perform. First and foremost he must keep the peace in his province ; second, he must produce soldiers when required; and lastly (and it depended a good deal on the Emperor whether he attached the
greatest importance to this one) he must send so much hard cash to the imperial treasury annually. A corrupt system, you will say. Yes, but there was always that silken cord hanging over the viceroy's head. Obviously, he squeezed more from his province than he sent to Peking, but if he overdid it there would be trouble, and too much trouble in a province without sufficient excuse - or very often with sufficient excuse - meant dismissal and degradation, and even the receipt of the dreaded silken cord.
This vicious system was repeated again and again down the line until the smallest official was held responsible for his village and expected to produce a certain sum of money annually for his immediate superior. Thus, the viceroy would divide his province up into sections and appoint a mandarin to govern each. That mandarin - who incidentally paid heavily for the appointment, even as the viceroy had, in all probability, paid for his - had similar duties to perform, and the total amount of money received by the viceroys from the mandarins would naturally exceed the amount he had to send to Peking annually.
The amount of difference which would go into
the viceroy's pockets depended upon the peaceful state of the province and the proximity of the silken cord.
Similarly, the mandarin would subdivide his piece of the province and farm each section out to a minor official who would have exactly the same duties to perform. Each official, from the viceroy downward, was out to receive more than he passed on, but each always had the fear of death hanging over him - either by the silken cord or by the simple expedient of having his head removed - if he overdid it and made the downtrodden worm turn and cause trouble in the province.
Thus, though outwardly corrupt, the system was not a bad one at all, and during the four thousand years or so of Chinese civilisation it worked well enough. The system had changed little during that far-reaching period, although many dynasties had become corrupt and had fallen, only to be replaced by others, all to end by a similar fate when they too had become unfit to occupy the Dragon Throne.
But there always had been an Emperor; there always had been a Son of Heaven to occupy the Dragon Throne; and the people had always been accustomed to look up to this person as a deity whose word was
law. The time may come when it will be possible to govern a community without fear, but it certainly had not come to China in 1911.
It was in this year, then, that the revolution broke out in China. To students of Chinese history there was nothing unusual in this event. The reigning dynasty had in the course of some four hundred years become corrupt, and was due to be displaced by another. But, unfortunately for the country, there was a large and growing opinion in China at that time - as there is now - which had been influenced by western ideas.
This was something quite new, for during the thousands of years of known Chinese history she had, up to a mere hundred years or so ago, been absolutely uninfluenced by foreign or western ideas. A glance at the map will give you the reason for this, and will show how, without railways or ships, she was not at all easy to approach.
By the end of 1912 the Manchus had been driven out of power, and the revolutionaries for the first time in Chinese history proclaimed a republic.
It is easy to imagine what followed. Accustomed to a deity on the throne, the people of China found themselves governed by a president - a mere man of
whom most of them had never even heard. The result was, and has been ever since, utter chaos. The Manchus fled, and the strongest general in each province took charge of that province and ruled it in his own interests by the sword. No longer did the provincial ruler consider it necessary to send his contributions to Peking. What was a president ? No longer did the silken cord hang over his head. The ruler's sole object was to make all he could as quickly as he could and then disappear. If he could sell out, he would ; but in the majority of cases he was driven out by his rival, who had accumulated the troops and the power to do so. And so it has continued ever since.
There is no law and no order in China. No man knows how he stands. Presidents and governments come and go, but Peking's power does not extend beyond the walls which enclose it. How are the mighty fallen !
All the fighting you hear of and read about in the daily papers is between rival war lords greedy for their own gains, though professing to have the interests of their country at heart, a not uncommon claim by war lords in other countries professing to be far more civilised than China. Business is at a
standstill, or at least unimportant when compared to what it might and ought to be.
No man knows what he may have to pay on goods in transit in the interior. The local military ruler will squeeze him until he is dry and until he finds all his profits disappearing in a cloud of smoke. There is no justice in the land, because there is no authority but that of the sword, and our despised concessions are packed to overflowing with fugitives from the so-called justice bred from a system of their own manufacture.
I do not think I have exaggerated in the least the state of affairs in China to-day.
What, then, are we going to-day. do about it ? To leave China to her own resources is a fatuous policy.
As I have said, she has so much that we need and we have so much that she needs.
And from a purely humanitarian point of view something should be done, for the unnecessary suffering existing in China now is beyond description - suffering due to lack of employment and all that follows in a country where there is no system of relief and little or no pity.
In my opinion the Powers should act together, and insist on some method being adopted by which
at least the greater part of the population could give their vote. A leader and council having been elected, the powers should stand by them and let it be known quite openly that they expect the people to obey the orders of the Government they have elected, and that force will be used if necessary to secure obedience.
Enormous sums of English and foreign money have been lent to China for developing railways and similar essential undertakings in good faith that such investments would have a fair chance of success, and the prospect has been shattered by the action of callous and selfish war lords who think solely of their own ends. These men have shown that they cannot behave responsibly, and as things are there is no guarantee whatever that there will not be a continuance of profligate spending on useless internal wars.
Surely the time has come for the intervention of the Great Powers to secure relief to a suffering population and obedience to elected authority.
A somewhat similar procedure to that which I have suggested actually took place in about 1850, but that was when we had no serious rivals in the Far East, and had not to consider the opinions and feelings of other nations. It seems that it has always
been the policy of the British Government to back the leader in power in any country and to keep him in power at all costs. This, in my opinion, was the big mistake we made then, a mistake which may quite probably account for the situation in China at this moment.
In 1850 the Manchus were tottering to their inevitable fall. There was nothing unusual about this ; it had often happened before with other dynasties. The Taiping Rebellion broke out then and swept all before it, and "in six months this insurgent force had traversed four provinces, taken twenty-six cities, subsisted themselves on the enemy, and defeated every body of imperialists sent against them."
In the normal course of events the imperialists would have surrendered and a new Chinese dynasty would have been created ; but we imagined that this would not assist our book, and, in answer to appeals from the Manchus, we sent "Chinese" Gordon and British troops to defeat the rebels. What chance had the Chinese of those days, with their antiquated methods, against British and British-led troops ? In an unbelievably short space of time the rebels were defeated and the Manchus
were propped up again on their throne for another fifty years or so.
But the case is different now. China has no reigning dynasty and no elected leader. The decision as to who is to rule must rest with the people themselves, and the guarantee that that rule shall be obeyed must rest with the Great Powers.
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