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Yesterday and Today in the East

ISSUE:  Winter 1928
In China. By Abel Bonnard. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. $3.50. China and Her Political Entity. By Shushi Hsu, New York: Oxford University Press, American Branch. $3.00. The Development of Japan. By Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York: Mac-millan Company. $/.00. China Yesterday and Today. By Edward Thomas Williams. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. $4.50.

Dr. williams has combined an analysis of Chinese civilization with a survey of relations between China and other, particularly Western, nations. The former he has dealt with in its significant elements: family life, divisions of the people along occupational lines, village and city administration, ethics, religion, art. This approach to China is easier and more interesting than that through the country’s ancient and medieval history. It is also better adapted to awaken respect and liking for a people usually regarded as mysterious and exotic rather than home-loving, industrious, and human. Readers of “China Yesterday and Today” will be well prepared to take up the author’s history of China now nearly ready. Perhaps Dr. Williams will now devote himself, in his new freedom from university duties, to a volume on the Open Door. No other writer is better prepared to treat that subject.

He begins by asking and answering the question raised by Mr. Balfour at the Washington Conference: “What is China?” Tibet and Mongolia are regarded by Great Britain and Russia respectively as autonomous areas—despite Chinese historical claims, geographical contiguity, and racial relationship. Manchuria is parcelled out between Japan and Russia in leased territories and spheres of interest. Nevertheless Dr. Williams answers his own query in clear-cut fashion: “For the present we can accept no other boundaries for China than those existing under the Manchu Goveminent at the time of its overthrow in 1912, and we must continue to regard Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria, therefore, as wholly within the territory of the Chinese Republic.” The same judicial consideration of the several theories regarding the origin of the Chinese people distinguishes a chapter on that topic, which he concludes with his own opinion that: “The Chinese as we know them today . . . are a mixture of a number of tribes, for the most part related, whose earliest seats were in that region of central Asia where man first became a civilized being.”

As Dr. Williams warms to his task of analyzing Chinese society the depth of his understanding seems to find its rai-son d’etre in the genuine and virile sympathy he feels for the Chinese people. Forty years of association with them, first as missionary, then as consul and diplomat, have not left him cold toward their virtues and foibles. His comment upon their customs frequently takes shape in friendly suggestions for partial reform. Of ancestor worship he writes: “We ought to remember our fathers with reverence and be grateful for all that they did, but our real loyalty is best shown, not by literal adherence to their doctrines or exact imitation of their practices but by devotion to the truth.” Another pleasing feature of his writing is the recalling of illustrations from his own experience. Witness this observation recalled from a conversation in a village tea-house. An old man, having learned from an American traveller that in America the wife’s good sense might enable her to rule the household, sighed and said: “Well, it’s just the same in our unworthy country.”

One might give large space to quotations from the fascinating chapters on the farmer, the village, the craftsman, and others, among which there is no choosing one as more interesting than another. Humor, pathos, a quiet and philosophical yet keenly observant attitude, and an ever-marked breadth of observation and carefulness in conclusions, render the book the reverse of the hackneyed, hasty, sensational accounts of China that fill the bookshops. There is no laboring of the argument—where an epigram will serve it is used. What lengthy expose of the Chinese attitude toward their courts would so neatly, express the following:

“The doors of the Magistrate’s court open wide, But right that is moneyless does better outside.”

To the Occidental’s expectation of conformity, since his way is best by definition, the reply is: “St. Paul didn’t wear a frock coat and silk hat.” Very useful though all too brief are the references to methods of local government.

Throughout the third of the book devoted to China’s foreign relations and republican politics the spirit of fair presentation of the various aspects of every major issue is pervasive. On the one hand, for example, there is recognition that the “Opium War” was not fought for the opium trade only. On the other there is notice taken of the attempt made by the British conferees in the treaty settlement afterward to legalize the opium traffic. Frequently hitherto writers have taken the absence of treaty clauses on opium regulation as proof that the war has been mis-named. Another example of this impartiality is the mention of Secretary Hay’s proposal, as late as 1900, to obtain a leased area in Fukien for a naval coaling station. Many are the tidbits of fact and opinion to be picked up in this portion of the book. Professor Williams succeeds in that extremely difficult task of maintaining scientific accuracy without heavily encumbered footnotes, of writing with absorbing interest while refraining from exaggeration and over-generalization. The narrative is brought down to April, 1927, in the revised edition.

The history of Japan’s foreign relations—in English—remains to be written, a remarkable fact considering the high interest that Western peoples have been developing in the Japanese people and the ambitions of their rulers. Histories of Japan, however, are available and among them that of Professor Latourette, now issued in a revised and enlarged edition, is the most useful of the briefer narratives. Excellence in organization renders it admirably adapted to text-book use, space limitations have been offset by an unusual discrimination in the choice of significant details and an easy style enables the author to combine in one book qualities that commend it to the public and private library as well as to the class-room.

An inquirer for knowledge of the Orient should read such a volume as “The Development of Japan” contemporaneously with “China Yesterday and Today.” He would remark the resemblances and the contrasts, particularly the latter, between these two magnificent cultures. Japan’s long retention of feudalism would impress him most forcibly, yet he would detect beneath official militarism the family, system so powerful in China. Japan’s debt to China for her written language, her philosophy, literature, and art are no more arresting than the variations by which these borrowings have been beautified and their hidden meanings revealed by the Japanese. Similarly clarified by comparison and contrast are the more recent decades in China and Japan. Understanding of China’s apparent inability to find herself, as of Japan’s orderly progress, grows as one observes the decay and downfall of monarchy in China while contemporaneously in Japan a shadow sovereign is endowed with substance to lead the people through the perplexities of constitutional reform and to present to foreign powers the dignified symbol of a unified nation. The absorbing speculation upon the future of the two peoples, so alike and yet so different, must take account of many influences and decline to rest content with present-day appearances.

One facet of the Far Eastern question—the most interesting—is that of the relations between the two countries of which these authors write. Why have neighbors so long remained at odds? Was it wise for Japan to follow the methods of European imperialism in China? Would coalition with China against encroachment have brought a stronger Orient to face a common danger? Is the alternative so long postponed—a Sino-Japanese entente cordiale—to be the outcome of the recent friendlier tone of negotiations between the ambitious but needy Empire and the temporarily befogged Republic? Such an arrangement—on terms of equality —would inure to the peace of the world.

The query in the preceding paragraph forms a natural bridge to the third work under review, Dr. Hsu’s scholarly and readable study of China’s foreign relations. He confines himself very wisely to the relations affecting Korea, Manchuria, and Mongolia, which together composed a huge enceinte banking the Middle Kingdom along its entire northern edge. With the encroachments of Russia and Japan the banking has been nibbled away and what remains of it is today yielding usufruct to them. No ground is more fertile for international war than that of Manchuria and Mongolia. Wherefore the peculiar importance of a careful work by a Chinese scholar using Chinese sources, as well as foreign, treating the history and contemporary, political issues of these great satrapies.

Dr. Hsu covers the lengthy history of Chinese suzerainty over neighboring regions, exhibiting their great regard for China’s superior culture as the basis of tribute-payment and the acceptance by their rulers of investiture at the emperor’s hands. The work is historical rather than analytical and offers to the student of law and politics many interesting issues for further dissection, such as the nature of tribute, variations in types of suzerainty and joint suzerainty. The author is surprisingly positive in his treatment of early Chinese history in view of the critical work now being conducted in the field of Chinese history by Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, Hu Shih and a number of brilliant young Chinese critics. He also is subject to criticism for the neglect of Japanese sources and, at times, for omitting evidence of importance on the Japanese side of a controversial issue. For instance, he fails to acknowledge that following Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea the terms of peace, destined to remain abortive, assigned five of the eight Korean provinces to Japan.

One finds refreshing such excerpts as the following from the Chinese documents, this one from the Gazetteer of the Manchurian province of Kirin relative to negotiations with Russia in 1858: “All edicts I have received have enjoined upon me not to invite hostilities. During these years of activities on the river [Amur] the Russians have constructed dwellings, stationed troops, and accumulated provisions and ammunition in abundance. . . . Their heart is indeed unfathomable. On the other hand, the tide of rebellion inland has not subsided and the men of Kirin and Heilung-kiang have not returned from service. Evidently it is not practical to appeal to arms.” Frequent citations of this sort enliven the narrative but the informed reader will be disappointed to find that the new light thrown apon developments is confirmatory rather than in contradiction of materials available from Western sources.

A generally scholarly approach to his subject does not deter the author from expressing his own opinion in very definite fashion. The book is an indictment of Russia and Japan, and to some extent of the United States. The former are accused of depriving China of territory and resources; they have trampled upon her self-respect. The United States has failed to take action to prevent these encroachments. The familiar alibi: “China could do nothing but acquiesce” when threatened, accompanies several assertions that may be paraphrased as: “America failed China in the crises.” Such a distortion of perspective does a careful scholar like Dr. Hsu small credit. He criticizes President Wilson for withdrawing support for American investments in China without indicating the character of the motives that prompted the withdrawal. And he quite overlooks that it was another American president, one whom he singles out for praise, who presided over Japan’s ascent to the protectorate over Manchuria. He also fails to note that America’s re-entrance into the Consortium has not helped to distribute the control over railway-building in that region. For Dr. Hsu’s deft and interesting recital of the story of China’s vassal kingdoms the reader’s debt is greater than for his aid in understanding the problems imbedded in the narrative.

M. Bonnard’s “In China” is a book of impressions. He visited China in 1920-21 and travelled the beaten paths with foreknowledge and unusual perception. One reads his delightful prose for its own sake; it is a vehicle fit to express his appreciation of Chinese life and thought. Of this one finds illustration on every page: “From his first glance the traveller registers a warning that he is in a country which never surrenders its soul, which buries its secret deeply, immovably.” The Temple of Heaven is etched in a single sentence: “the proportions of these buildings are so exact, they defer to each other in such exquisite relationship, that all together they give the impression of some motionless ceremonial.” Grimacing lions and wriggling dragons at solemn play upon the massive monuments of palace architecture draw forth the comment: “Here then, we find that convulsion has been made to stand in contrast with absolute, rigorous self-control; and it seems as if all the monsters of Delirium had been set as guards over the palaces of Order.” A meeting with an old-time Chinese scholar elicits the meditative conclusion that: “when all is said and done courtesy remains the most certain proof of the superiority of a civilization. . . . It is the great aristocratic hypocrisy which banishes the obscenity of the human beast and transforms the egoisms and atrocious rivalries of live men into an aesthetic spectacle. . . . It scatters precious moments through everyday life like those golden points which gleam in the lustrous surface of lacquer.”

The descriptions of Peking, the Ming Tombs, the Yangtsze Gorges, Nanking, will refresh delightfully the memories of m. Bonnard’s readers who have had his experience and will inform and charm those who have yet to visit China. He has a way of his own in finding appropriate interludes between descriptive passages for comment upon social and political movements now swaying the Chinese mind. Not every essay at interpretation has the original flavor of his suggestion that bound feet explain the nation’s susceptibility to hysteria. He remarks a few of the many similarities between the Chinese and the French people. His attitude toward the French Catholic mission work is highly appreciative. Political tidbits are scarce. France, it is written, is attracting embryo nations like the Chinese because: “They are in search of the nation which has something to bestow, the only one which lives for humanity, the only one which can help them to fulfil themselves without menace.”

Bold enough is his readiness to look into the soul of China and to tell of what is there revealed, he wins confidence when he concludes that, for himself: “Though nothing seems clear and if I am not to be allowed to find the solution of the problem, at least I will retain the contradictory aspects of the case in my own mind,” and admits on behalf of all “birds of passage” that “these ancient empires hold all that is greatest and highest in them out of reach . . . a traveller is like a passing marauder who can just reach to snatch a dusty apple hanging from a low branch over the road, but can never taste the fruit of the topmost boughs.”


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