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Asia Is Awake


ISSUE:  Winter 1926

The Political Awakening of the East. By George Matthew Dutcher, Abingdon Press. $2.00.

Western Civilization and the Far East. By Stephen King-Hall, Charles Scribner’s Sons. $5.00.

The Challenge of Asia. By Stanley Rice, Charles Scribner’s Sons. $2.25.

Opium as an International Problem, The Geneva Conferences. By W. W. Willoughby, Johns Hopkins Press. $4.50.


The contemporary publication of these four volumes speaks in itself of the interest which Europe and Asia are taking in each other’s response to the inspiration of a different culture. The scope of Professor Dutcher’s work is wide—he surveys not only China and Japan but Egypt, India and the Philippines. Mr. Rice deals with India, China and Japan, giving India the center of the sketch. Mr. King-Hall’s considerable analysis does not move beyond China and Japan but treats those countries exhaustively in the recent modern period. Professor Willoughby provides a close study of the two international conferences of 1924 on the opium problem, exposing very fully what may be considered one result of Sino-Western relations since it was the Dutch who taught the Chinese to smoke opium with tobacco as a specific against Formosan malaria, while a number of countries consistently have pandered to the craving thus engendered in the Chinese physique. Mr. Rice and Mr. King-Hall are British writers, Professor Dutcher and Professor Willoughby are Americans.

Asia’s earlier day in the court of Europe passed after the barbarian invasions. It was not an uninvigorating sun that lighted the invasions but neither was it a lamp to intellectual progress. Thereafter intervened centuries during which the few points of contact between Asia and Europe were essentially commercial. And even those were blotted out when the Ottoman Turk assumed the role of sovereign over the gateways of Asia Minor and the Ming emperors, more than content to have a buffer between their dominions and a Europe of which they were almost entirely ignorant, cultivated the arts of their own people.

The initiative thus effectively rebuffed was not consumed in resentment. It was not even impatient but exhibited a program of gradual permeation of Asia and Africa, feeling its way, giving ground here against an inhospitable nation, establishing itself there when the advantage of trade and the charm of a new learning disarmed hostility. The merchant wanted immediate returns to repay his perilous enterprise and conciliation was a better comprador than conflict. The Jesuits in India, China and Japan were scientists, philosophers, litterateurs-scholars with whom the Oriental literati might exchange ideas on a common plane. For a century East and West met in a friendly atmosphere of mutual confidence.

Then it was that suspicion invaded the minds of emperors and shoguns. Priests became arrogant, sailors in their cups boasted of earlier conquests accomplished by the two-edged sword of church and state. Japan, never a powerful state though always a courageous one, expelled the bold visitors who had, as she thought, betrayed her trust, slammed the doors in their faces and turned her thoughts to the perfection of a remarkable and unique system of government and the development of cults of Shinto and Bushido which were to find their greatest success in the maintenance of her unity and strength during the later really determined attack of Western influences. China, while less thorough in her abrogation of privileges granted, adopted an identical policy. Wherefore the necessity, if Asiatic doors were to be opened, for Europe to batter down the cross-bars.

From the agony of the prolonged struggle that ensued upon that decision, India, Egypt, and the Philippines emerged under the flags of “mother” countries. Japan was not a rich prize and luckily for her there were the riches of India, the south seas and Indo-China to distract the attention of omnivorous burden-seekers from the West until she could read the lessons in their fate and take on protective armor. China was despoiled. Yet in her vastness scarcely had she thought out her relationship to outlying areas over which she claimed a vague suzerainty which they, reverencing her civilization, recognized in a rather perfunctory way.

Thus fully had Europe justified the apprehensions of Asia. Yet in her resentment Asia needs must adopt the knowledge and the methods of her tormentor. Political and social “reform” characterize the past three quarter-centuries. For Japan the process was the exchange of one kimono for another—of Tokugawa control for that of Cho-shiu and Satsuma. Mr. Rice regards Japan as the only one of his triad that understands democracy. In a sense he is right. Japan did very quickly learn the virtue of documents, the sacrosanctity, in Western eyes, of such institutions as a bill of rights, a representative legislature and political parties. But has he inquired into the workings of these agencies? Has he not been led into thinking of democracy in terms of “peace and order” which may represent quite another dominating spirit? To say that India and China should make Japan their model of a democratic state is to start them on a very long road, though perhaps one that might prove smoother to travel than those they appear to have chosen for themselves.

What marks the Western author, with but few exceptions, is his unbreakable bond with his own past. Honestly as he may endeavor to see with other eyes he usually finds it impossible. WTiat England and America have produced and today possess is best. A false assumption, which keeps a writer continually seeking for contrasts when his proper function should be the sympathetic study and interpretation of a people’s life and the effects upon it of different but not better ways of doing and thinking. What standard of perfection is available when great cultures rise for centuries in different parts of the world? Who shall be the arbiter? Where so much of excellence and beauty is exhibited what is gained by contrasting the chrysanthemum with the rose? And who would wish to cross one with the other save as nature’s own processes may add a more delicate tint or confer a more sturdy resistance? May it not prove more to the world’s good that native cultures be preserved than that a too hasty generalization from the success of other methods in other environments be permitted to become the index to the discard for ideals, manners, and products that may never be recovered though their inheritors seek for them later in intellectual poverty and dismay? Fortunately old ways die hard in Asia and under the apparently accepted “reforms,” mere importations, still he, in Japan as in China and India, the native institutions, changing, as they should change, only gradually, cherishing the rooted elements which must appear in the compounds of the future.

Professor Dutcher, who prepared his chapters first as a series of lectures on the Bennett Foundation at Wesleyan University, has complemented and supplemented his own impressions with remarkably succinct and accurate historical accounts of the whole course of relations with Europe and America of the regions treated. Both his book and that of Mr. King-Hall present with success the events and personalities that hitherto have been regarded as unimportant matters of detail and either will provide fair statements of fact for the many newly interested students of Far Eastern issues. Mr. Rice uses a larger brush, though he introduces a body of illustrative data sufficient to guide his readers through his argument and to suggest the importance of further reading. All three conclude with a consideration of the ultimate question: which system, Eastern or Western, is to dominate in the end?

Delving briefly into each book for a sample of the stock, one discovers in Professor Dutcher’s treatment of India a good deal that is critical of British rule in India, which he believes has been on the whole beneficial and deserving permanence: “The future of India, therefore, would seem to lie in the steady growth of self-government under British protection and guidance.” Of Gandhi the author says: “Likewise, in attempting to preach for the three himdred millions of people of India ideals similar to those of a religious ascetic, he was attempting, as no other character in history has done, to carry his ideals to their logical conclusion in the sphere of government. Even Jesus of Nazareth had declared that his kingdom was not of this world, and had enjoined his followers to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’” From the Chapter on China, which sustains the general tone of careful writing and freedom from bias, one may mention a few questionable statements. To say that “the right of extraterritoriality . . . may be considered as the American equivalent for the cession of Hongkong to the English” is to forget the facts that the long struggle for the privilege had been conducted by the English and, as the author himself states in a footnote, that the British regulations of 1843 embodied it. The author knows, of course, that the Washington Conference provided not for the abolition of likin but for the convening of another conference at which an agreement for its abolition should be framed. And it is probable that in 1922 Dr. Sun Yat-sen exerted his energies against, not toward, the return of members of the “Old Parliament” to Peking. The examination of Philippine conditions and claims for independence leads Mr. Dutcher to suggest dominion status for the Islands, at least for a time, and he is unable to satisfy himself that such a relationship would not be preferable, for the Filipinos, this country, and the world generally, than the establishment of an independent Philippine state.

“Western Civilization and the Far East” contains a considerable body of data which will prove useful to the close student of political organization in China and Japan. Mr. King-Hall knows his tuchuns and his clan-leaders, his politicians and his bureaucrats, at first hand and not the least interesting feature of his writing is his willingness to let his readers enjoy some of the intimate details that have come to his attention. He quotes a Japanese naval officer to this effect: “Anyone can get into the Navy, but you have to be Satsuma to get on.” Later one reads: “It is also a fact well known to everybody in Japan that certain leading politicians . . . are subsidized by various big firms.” But to be asked to think of Mr. Lloyd-George as in a position in British political life comparable to that of a quasi-genro in Japan is to have one’s imagination subjected to too heavy a strain. The impression given by the book as a whole is that it has been composed at high speed. The narrative proceeds at a lively clip in spite of the weight of fact it carries, and it suffers somewhat from looseness of language and considerably from factual inaccuracies. Perhaps the most marked feature of a book which carries a genuine authority where the author is dealing with matters that he has observed is the lack of historical perspective. An example of this deficiency is the naive treatment of Shinto. Quite the most amusing feature of the work, however, is the “Assorted Bibliography,” which must be seen to be appreciated. One likes Mr. King-Hall—he is forthright, enthusiastic, modest, human.

Mr. Rice has a way with him as a writer and it is not often that he stoops to the journalistic phrase. From the standpoint of organization his task was a difficult one since India, China, and Japan are not one but three and his space limitations were pressing. There is no doubt, however, of his success in establishing his main thesis—that the challenge of Asia is political. Asiatic states wish to be received into world society as equals of their Western colleagues. He does not anticipate that Asia’s “conquest of Europe will . . . be accomplished by the violence of the storm. . . . A time may come when the mere pressure of numbers, adequately equipped and under intelligent leadership, may be irresistible, but their power will not be that of Timur or Attila; once more they will copy Europe and accomplish the mastery by peaceful penetration.” Their success he fears only if it shall mean the destruction of Western character, but national character is of all qualities the most enduring. For one thing above others Mr. Rice deserves praise. He does not attribute Asia’s unrest to Bolshevism. His references to the influence of Russian literature are much more discriminating.

Professor Willoughby has written much concerning China and always with discrimination and authority. This latest work is the product of his close association with the two Geneva conferences on the opium traffic held in 1924, which he attended in the capacity of advisor to the Chinese delegation. It provides a brief history of the traffic and of previous international activities connected with its limitation but the bulk of the volume is a documented account of the discussions at the recent conferences. The story is illuminating: it reveals the representatives of Great Britain and India clinging to the revenue-producing business, those of Japan pointing piously to their restrictive laws but vague as to actual traffic, which everyone in the Far East knows is immense, the Chinese representative insisting heatedly that to discuss domestic conditions in China would be in derogation of sovereign right and the American delegates nobly but with questionable propriety urging a discussion of restriction of production, for which no provision appeared on the agenda, and declaring that they “wouldn’t play” when their demands were unsuccessful. The author is just but does not scruple to criticize, sometimes severely. His book is not a mere compilation of documents but an analytical and critical commentary upon the work of the conferences, with an attention to personalities and incident that renders it of general interest, while the position of its author in the scholarly world assures it a place of authority there.

As Mr. King-Hall remarks, the modern Orient has not been presented adequately. There are many experts upon it but each has a different view and finds it easier to give his interpretation than to place the facts before us. Scholars are sufficiently caustic in their critiques of each other’s most serious efforts at production but their jibes are kindly beside the scornful comments of one Far Eastern expert upon the views of another. From the Oriental publicist the output has been even scantier and less reliable. And the critical writer who seeks to state facts is likely to be attacked as biased by the protagonists of the state to which his well-meant criticisms happen to be applied. Hence the gratification that should be felt at the appearance of the volumes under review. Each is characterized by the spirit of appreciation of foreign civilizations and the desire to set forth honestly the salient facts concerning them. The three that deal with the general problem of Euro-Asiatic impacts agree in the conclusion that Asia is well awake, that it behooves the West to inquire intelligently into her program and that the question whether the West, by an attitude of sympathy and appreciation is to gain reciprocally from increased contacts or, in a spirit of indifference and self-satisfaction, is to miss an opportunity and induce a cataclysm, is one of the great problems of the time,

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