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Changing Attitudes on the Orient

ISSUE:  Summer 1934

The Menace of Japan. By Taid 0’Conroy. New York: H. C. Kinscy and Company. $3.00. Orient and Occident. By Hans Kohn. New York: The John Day Company. $1.75. The Mongols of Manchuria. By Owen Lattimore. New York: The John Day Company. $2.50. Umpire in the East. Edited by Joseph Barnes. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.75.

It is a psychological truism, of course, that modes of thought are immortal. Antithesis never submerges the original thesis, nor does synthesis completely obliterate its forerunners. But it is doubtful if anywhere else in the world are viewpoints, once defined, maintained more intran-sigently than is the case in the Far East. The ideas of Legge, of Williams, and of Morrison persist as integrally today as do those of Pearl Buck, Nathaniel Peffer, and Hu Shih. There is thus no reason for surprise that, in a group of books on the Orient published almost simultaneously, stands should be taken which date a century and a quarter apart and which embody the entire development of Western thought on eastern Asia.

What has been the expressed attitude of the Occident toward the Far East? It splits into three phases, clearly delimited though of pronouncedly unequal durations. Modern intellectual curiosity concerning the Orient dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The ensuing hundred years embrace what may be called the age of patronage. A wise, strong, and self-assured West regarded an East from which came the exotic, the shocking, and the wonderful, but which, after all, was second-rate and of minor importance. It was possible and natural to treat Confucius with disdain, the Empress Dowager of China with familiarity.

Then came the Russo-Japanese war and the stirrings of nationalism in China. The East commanded respect and demanded attention. There ensued for a generation an era of sympathy which slipped only too readily into sentimentalism. The West erected the concept of an oriental, fundamentally Chinese culture, intrinsically noble, worthy of all admiration and of every effort at understanding. The foulest stench from a Soochow street, Korean defeatism, Japanese pride, all could be integrated into this master philosophy, not as essentially desirable, but at least as characteristic and undivorceable from it.

Nineteen twenty-nine turned and smote us, and we were too sorry for ourselves to waste much sympathy on foreigners, Furthermore, with our own philosophies reeling, for once we were disinclined to evaluate or to interpret an alien ideology. It has become enough to look and to record. With regard to the Orient we are in an era of observation, of analysis; and in the spirit of the times we attach more weight to quantitative results than to qualitative interpretations.

These three ages of patronage, of sympathy, and of analysis, I repeat, are clearly distinguishable; yet the two later periods have seen numerous throwbacks to earlier points of view. Thus in the days of sympathy appeared Rodney Gilbert’s two-fisted “What’s Wrong with China”; in the era of analysis we find Count Keyserling commanding attention and Pearl Buck writing from the heart as well as from the brain. It is thus most reasonable that, among four contemporary books on the Far East, all three points of view should be adopted; and it is only the reviewer’s misfortune that the representatives of earlier categories of thought should fall behind the moderns in their ability to interpret and to convince.

Out of the age of patronage comes Professor Taid O’Con-roy with “The Menace of Japan.” Professor O’Conroy, after a residence of fourteen years in the Island Empire, has reached the conviction that the Japanese are a nation of immoral dolts embarked on a rabid course of empire. It is quite possible that Japan has entered on a career of expansion which will be arrested only by an internal convulsion or by the armed resistance of her neighbors, but no reasoned proof of such a state of affairs is contained in “The Menace of Japan.” Logical argument and convincing documentation are conspicuous by their absence. The net impression is that Dr. O’Conroy does not like the Japanese; but such a state of mind, which in the case of the late Dr. Fell could be conveyed in a single quatrain, does not seem to require the compass of a fairly solid volume.

Dr. Hans Kohn steps out of the era of sympathy with “Orient and Occident,” an attempt to integrate and systematize the current impacts and interactions of all Asia and the West. He boils it down into a hundred and twenty-five pages of text, and the result is a conventionalized gleaning of other men’s minds, its elisions and compressions verging painfully near to dogmatism. “Orient and Occident” will undoubtedly be required reading in some college history classes; probably it will creep into a few courses on international relations; but it is the kind of book that implies a taskmaster for its perusal.

The representatives of the era of analysis are decidedly more worth while. First comes Mr. Owen Lattimore with “The Mongols of Manchuria.” Mr. Lattimore probably knows more about this people as a race and as individuals than does any other living man. Others have dwelt longer in Mongolia, but they have seldom ranged so far, never so inquisitively. In his current volume he offers varied fare: an account of the Mongol tribes in Manchuria and in the territories which some day may be Manchuria, a garniture of anecdote concerning Sino-Mongolian relations, his personal theory of the pressure of the frontier on China, a glance at the Sino-Russo-Japanese tensions in those borderlands, and sundry nostalgic reversions to the Far Eastern Spenglerian-ism that characterized his “Manchuria—Cradle of Conflict.” It is all very diversified and needs the presence in person of Mr. Lattimore for its unification. He is first of all an Elizabethan gentleman-adventurer, a trenchant opinionate second, and only third a writer. Not that he is unacceptable as a literary craftsman—he is both literate and articulate; but in the editorial sanctum of “Pacific Affairs” he bears a painful resemblance to Sir Walter Raleigh sitting down to his desk in the Tower. He who rather would do is condemned to write. And without the touch of his personality the book tends to fall apart and to head, in consequence, for the limbo of the reference shelf. Its sway and authority in its factual province demand complete and unhesitating recognition.

But the fine flower of the era of analysis is to be found in yet another work, “Empire in the East.” This is a symposium with an almost unique characteristic: its contributors have pooled their special knowledges before and during their task, and seem to have completed their labors in an atmosphere of mutual esteem and agreement. “Empire in the East” is a study of just what its name implies, a series of ten articles on varying aspects of occidental imperialism in the Far East, by men (and a woman) who are in the first flight of oriental specialists. There are three environmental essays on China, Japan, and Asiatic Russia, a set of four on the commercial, financial, agricultural, and mineral aspects of imperialism, a warm-toned commentary by Pearl Buck on the churches’ share, a shrewd analysis of the Open Door and empire by Tyler Dennett, and a luminous attempt at synthesis by Nathaniel Peffer, entitled “Peace or War.” The work is beautifully accurate, both as to known data and avowed ignorances, delightfully urbane, and damnably provocative. Do not expect to read it without thought. Do not expect to lay it down and close the issues it has advanced.

Nevertheless, this fine embodiment of the Zeitgeist evokes question as to whether it is the ultimate or the definitive word on the Far East. We are in the era of analysis, true enough; but are facts alone sufficient to understand and deal with the Orient? Or any other place, for that matter? Empire, the growth of nations, the impacts of peoples: these phenomena are based on more than the impulses of trade and the existence of markets and materials. However potent may be the factors that can be set into calculating machines, there is still something to be sought in the mind and heart, in the prejudices, mistakes, and loyalties of man. The tragedy of past clashes between East and West lies in the fact that they arose from matters which were imperfectly understood while yet understandable. One tragedy of present frictions is that they are seated in depths of the human soul beyond the reach of scientific research. Perhaps here is a clue to the next attitude of Western thought toward the East—that we are headed for a period of intuition and introspection. Perhaps we shall have to know ourselves better before we know more about the Orient.



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