China Makes Sense
The following is the opening chapter of Randall Gould's, China In the Sun, New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1946.—The Editor
Most nations love the sun. Germany fought two disastrous wars for what she called her 'place in the sun'. Japan's Rising Sun covered all Asia briefly. Yet China for centuries sought the shade. Today China finds herself in the sun. This is not because of her own effort or desire, but through an inexorable cycle of events. The light is bright and the heat intense. China may expand and flourish, she may wither; which?
This is a book about China. But it won't cash in on the outworn 'mystery of China' theme. On the contrary, China is not mysterious and the Chinese aren't mysterious. Both make sense. In whatever I write here or elsewhere I shall try to keep that in mind, and I shall seek sensible solutions to all problems. Sooner or later the Chinese themselves will find such solutions. On certain points which involve the modern world, Westerners may be able to help them toward paths suited to their natural genius. There is no issue as to whether China should join that modern world—she is being dragged into life membership by forces none of us can dominate. But China has the right, in fact the obligation, to shape her modernism in accordance with Chinese characteristics and traditions. So we who are interested in and friendly toward China must combine our own Western modernism with the essential qualities of a Chinese frame of mind. This is a thing which I, personally, find congenial because when one understands the Chinese mind it is seen to be far from the 'inscrutably oriental'. Instead it is a mind just like anybody else's, in essence, but distinguished by sensitivity and realism.
Fig.1 Randall Gould with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek
What I have just said isn't designed to oversimplify a people as normal, and therefore complex, as the rest of us. After all, the human animal is regarded by scientists as one of nature's great compromises. That biological fact is good enough reason why the very human Chinese are bound to have their complications and their seeming mysteries. We like things to be a little mysterious, particularly when those things have the charm of remoteness, and sometimes we play games with ourselves by magnifying the remote and superficially strange. Life is, in fact, full of mysteries which perplex many of us but about which we keep discovering solid facts. Consider (for instance) chlorophyll, electricity, why fish mate, white corpuscles, radio and the girl next door. Every one of those is jam-pack full of mystery, yet certain explanatory facts can be turned up about them all. The Chinese are really very simple by comparison.
There is less excuse for ignorance about the Chinese than about almost any other people. They have an archeological story running back perhaps as much as five hundred thousand years. Chungking, to the outer world relatively unknown until 1938, boasts a history of more than forty-two hundred years. China's written record extends to at least 1400 B.C. But a lot of what passes for Chinese history isn't very helpful to most of us. Owen Lattimore quotes an old missionary as remarking that it is 'remote, monotonous, obscure, and—worst of all—there is too much of it'. At any rate Chinese history teaches that the Chinese have been m circulation for a good while. It follows that the practices which enabled them to get along are based on common sense gained the hard way.
For more than two decades I have lived mostly among the Chinese. Through this contact and by natural inclination, I am somewhat Chinese in my attitude toward life. Americans and Chinese almost always borrow from one another, in fact, when they come in close contact. They share many base characteristics. And they have some similar thinking habits. But there are enough differences to provide spice and profit. In my own case I differ from many Chinese in being no gambler. The Chinese are widely known as gamblers and for a long time that perplexed me, because it seemed contradictory to and at odds with their inborn caution. Then I noticed that in Shanghai it was the poorest people who went to the most desperate lengths to buy tickets in the monthly state lottery. I've heard it is that way in Mexico, in Spain, in every other country where there are lotteries. So now I believe that China's gambling tradition is due to the tragic fact that millions of Chinese are poor, poor beyond Western understanding. Even a rich Chinese is likely to know poverty well. He may have been poor once himself, he knows how future disaster may make him poor, he is plagued by poor relatives, and he is surrounded by the great tragic sea of the poor Chinese masses. Their poverty, cheerfully accepted though it usually is, must be regarded as a decisive conditioning factor m Chinese history.
If I were less a Chinese, this book might be another story of a newspaperman's personal adventure. But over the years I have tried to use good Chinese-style prudence, to avoid adventure. Most adventures bore me because they shouldn't have happened to a person employing reason. They reflect on the adventurer. In the old Peking days when Dr Roy Chapman Andrews was making his Gobi Desert trips which discovered for us, among other things, that dinosaurs laid eggs, Roy experienced many adventures of the intellect—and that I commend. But when it came to the sort of external mishap which people usually mean when they use the word 'adventure', Roy used to say that any such adventure made him ashamed. It betrayed some lack of foresight and preparation on his part. Before he ever started out he tried to think of every adverse possibility and to guard against it. As a result his exploration tours were handicapped by few adventures. That is the way all life ought to be conducted, according to the Chinese.
Pure survival has always been a big problem in China. So a Chinese, like Roy Andrews, tries to look ahead. He is frugal and cautious (except for the occasional gamble which might miraculously deliver him from all perplexities, for a little while); and when a Chinese dies it is as late as possible, and after a minimum of exciting personal history.
Mentally, as I have said, the Chinese has quite a tendency to be adventurous and to explore. He has in his time tested and tried quite a bit. Some of the consequences tended to reinforce his native caution!—gunpowder, for example, didn't work out too well, and sometimes I have my doubts about printing. So even in his gambling the Chinese keeps calm and uses his head. That's the only policy for survival in his big, crowded, undersupplied country (about the size of the United States, with twenty-two percent of the population of the whole world).
Chinese are so modest and courteous as a rule that it is easy to oversimplify them if one has a little knowledge with which to crack through our silly legends and superstitions. That is why it is so easy to set up shop as an 'expert' on China. I hate the 'expert' label and try to avoid it. Few of us are experts even on the subject of ourselves, much less the Chinese. But I and many others have found the Chinese easy and pleasant to live among by application of ordinary everyday rules requiring no expert knowledge—mostly just a realistic approach, good sense, courtesy, and the Golden Rule of treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves. You can talk straight out to a Chinese, and he will appreciate it if you do so in the right spirit. I hope I have mostly been true to that spirit in past association with the Chinese, and I shall try to be so in this book. The Chinese often ask advice, though like ourselves they don't always act on it. In any case their attitude doesn't mean we should tell them how to run their business. Yet it has always seemed reasonable and fair to support what seemed the right thing if evidence could be mustered to show its rightness. For example, back in the mid-twenties when the Kuomintang was to most foreigners in China (and many Chinese) a suspect radical group, I wrote rather strongly in my newspaper dispatches on behalf of the Kuomintang. This was because it seemed clear to me that the then one great political idea in the country was bound to prevail over the then popular 'strong man' notion. Later at times the Kuomintang seemed to me to deviate from the main currents which were setting in China. I have never hesitated to speak plainly though moderately about that. Such things, put in a friendly way honestly and with candor, are accepted by the Chinese whether they fully agree or not. They have been at the business of living for a long time, and they have learned the value of friendly tolerance. It advances their own interest in the long run, as they fully realize.
Generalizations have to be laid down, but they tend to be tedious. Specific examples are easier to take. So before I get on to chapters which will consider certain questions, I would like to speak of a few common, often encountered misconceptions by Westerners in general and Americans in particular. God knows the Americans have less reason than anybody on earth to misunderstand the Chinese. The Americans and the Chinese, in their essentials, resemble each other more than either resembles anybody else. It is side-splitting to hear some ignoramus presuming, for instance, that 'the yellow races' are likely to band together against the whites. There are most tremendous and fundamental differences between the Chinese and the Japanese, though they have many casual habits in common—they both use chopsticks, for instance, and they both write with a brush which the Japanese often uses to make Chinese characters pronounced in a Japanese way (the Japanese speech is long-winded and polysyllabic, while Chinese is pungent and monosyllabic). But I think that Y.C. James Yen, of the famous Chinese thousand-character mass-education movement, cut through to an illuminating truth when he pointed out at a public meeting in New York City that, after all, the Chinese were fighting by the side of the Americans against the Japanese, and the Americans and the Chinese were at war with Germany—whereas by a 'yellow peril' thesis we should have had the Chinese and Japanese fighting against the Germans and Americans!
None of us found the World War II line-up a strange thing. We knew the facts pretty well, so there was obvious logic in mixed-color Allies against the mixed-color Axis. Now let us jump to an almost ridiculous extreme, the eating habits of what Bert Leston Taylor termed 'the so-called human race'. Plenty of Americans who understand why Chinese fought Japanese deemed it inexplicable that neither people had seen the light of reason sufficiently to give up chopsticks for forks. As a matter of fact, even a peace-time Japanese diet is so drab and sparse that it might as well be shovelled down with the scant aid of a toothpick. But the Chinese normally put away quite a variety of food; they are keenly interested in the subject, and it isn't at all frivolous to inquire whether their lengthy adherence to chopsticks shows a lack of sweet reason on their part.
A man from Mars, who no doubt would be considerably puzzled by a world war, which we understand readily, very likely would side with Chinese practice after testing fork against chopsticks. These handy little implements were employed and enjoyed at least as far back as the third century, probably earlier—the ancient record makers didn't put down such minutiae. (The garrulousness of even a Winchell might be curbed if he had to carve his copy in stone.) Chopsticks are used by millions today for a single sound reason—that they fit their purpose. Chinese food is served in central bowls and reached for by all around the table; much of it is in small pieces. A bit of food firmly held between two chopsticks is much more secure than gingerly balanced on a fork. This is an important factor when the tid-bit has to be carried some distance from bowl to mouth of ultimate consumer, even though Chinese etiquette of eating is mostly a matter of do-what-you-please, with minor mishaps indulgently disregarded. And learning to use chopsticks is no such task as is generally imagined.
Recently a New York newspaper commented with indignation on the wrongheaded Chinese refusal to switch from their colourful ideographs to our own form of writing, if not to abandon their distressing language altogether—or at any rate to quit writing it in irrational manner from top to bottom of page. This is a big subject, but a few things may be said quickly on behalf of China's established ways. In the first place the Chinese have us considerably outweighed numerically. If you know the Chinese language you have access to more people than with any other language on earth. Granted that this language is to continue in use, and excluding the beauty and the indescribable pungency of the Chinese ideographs, there is still a major problem in Romanizing a tongue where for 49,400 ideographs (only about 2500 in daily use) there are but forty sounds, or about four hundred true syllables, all differing from, though sometimes similar to, English sounds, and with between four and nine 'tones' (according to dialect) to be somehow indicated—usually by numbers—if China's own ideographs are abandoned. The Wade and other systems manage fairly well to give the auditory idea through our alphabet of a given character, but there is certain to be a considerable number of meanings for that sound. To puzzle out the sense of a single line of Chinese words expressed in our letters plus tonal numbers is enough to make anyone dizzy.
The sound 'yi' can mean 'one', 'or', 'nothing', or a total of fifty-five other things. Words and terms in which 'yi' is found total about 11,000. At Shanghai in 1940, Volume I of a projected forty-volume Chinese dictionary was to be devoted exclusively to 'yi', employing twenty-nine persons for a year. The whole job (undertaken by the great Commercial Press which was a special target for Japanese aerial bombing in both 1932 and 1937) was to require at least a decade and result in the biggest dictionary in history.
The question is bound to come up, 'These sounds must be very hard to utter, why don't the Chinese change them if they are such a sensible people?' In the words of an acknowledged authority, W.B. Pettus of California College in China: 'There are no inherently difficult sounds in any language. Sounds really hard to pronounce would not survive'. Which still doesn't too readily bridge the gap for us, of course.
Finally, as to writing, Chinese don't stick wholly to up-and-down writing of their ideographs; they also write from side to side, and when they do so they are about as likely to write from left to right as from right to left! But anyone who will learn the formalized stroke order of written Chinese will see that it is probably easiest and most logical to follow the old plan of starting the new ideograph just under the one already written.
When I first reached China in 1924 there were frequent civil wars. The American public thought it very comical that the Chinese soldier traveled with a paper umbrella and a teapot. The idea conveyed by visiting correspondents was that Gilbert and Sullivan might have written these campaigns, and that the troops' equipment indicated effeminacy. They should have looked further on this latter point, at least. The soldier's umbrella was his poor substitute for the pup tent of better-equipped armies. If he got wet he had neither change of clothes nor fire to dry him—lacks common to millions of civilian Chinese also. The teapot provided him with all that he drank, and provided it in a form safe to drink. Chinese water is almost invariably polluted in all save the most remote upland regions. The widespread use of human excrement for fertilizer is a particularly dangerous feature. When the Chinese soldier boils water in a teapot, often without any tea leaves, he is carrying out the most elemental but essential sanitary precaution at his disposal. That he knows nothing about germs has no bearing; he is following one of the many good practices of a race which has survived because it had sense and profited even by things it doesn't always understand.
The Chinese sailing junk is regarded by most Occidentals as a picturesque monstrosity, quaint to look at but clumsy, antiquated, and inefficient. As a matter of fact there are dozens of kinds of Chinese junks, each representing a time-tested compromise among the factors of weather to be met, materials available for construction, and work to be done. The ocean-going junk is especially a marvel. No one who has stood by a steamship rail in heavy weather and watched one of these craft serenely bobbing along in safety if not comfort can forget that here we have a true product of age-old experience. Many have questioned this to their cost. Some years ago the writer-adventurer Richard Halliburton bought a junk at Hong Kong and spent a great deal of time and money on 'improvements', despite protests by those who realized he was ruining its quality of seaworthiness. Finally he set out across the Pacific and was never heard from again.
'Face' is one of the things most generally misunderstood about the Chinese. It is true that they do many foolish and unnecessary things in connection with 'face', but that does not mean that 'face' itself is foolish and unnecessary, merely that in this as in some other matters the Chinese (being human) have at times gone off to extremes. 'Face' actually means courtesy, tact, consideration for the feeling of others. You don't do rude, brusque things in China if you want to conform to the spirit of the land. You think of the other fellow's 'face', as he does of yours. If you have a rebuke to administer, you talk to your servant or clerk privately, because if you gave him what-for in the presence of his colleagues he would 'lose face'. Many people go out to China expecting to have a terrific time in learning the cult of 'face'. But if they want to observe it they probably already know its essentials, because gentle conduct is about the same anywhere.
A great many customs peculiar to the country have grown up simply as response to China's special conditions. Under normal circumstances labor is plentiful and cheap (that happens not to be true today, in wartime), so people of means have many servants toward whom they tend to build up a relationship not very different from that between the better type of masters and slaves in our own pre-Civil War South. Pay levels are low. It is the custom for shops, especially the compradore stores which supply many household needs, to pay a commission to the cook or No. I boy. This is a known, accepted thing. Many newcomers from abroad find China residence full of trying, puzzling conflicts owing to their lack of understanding and experience, and usually entailing depletion of pocketbook as well as nervous system. But the longer they stay and the more they apply a rule of reason to everything about them, the more explicable life in China becomes. If anything in the foregoing conveys that all is inevitable and eminently reasonable in China, I've done a poor job so far. The Chinese are neither sages nor angels. They have built up many a poor custom, wasteful and silly. That again is proof of their common humanity. But if we hew to the line of our thinking we can see that the bad customs have their logical explanation, even if this isn't always a really good excuse. One of the most elemental yet deadly faults of China is that of widespread nepotism. Let any man of outstanding ability, or luck, get into a good job with the power of giving other jobs in lower brackets, and he finds himself forced to provide employment for a horde of parasitic relatives as well as friends and the relatives of friends. I chose the word 'employment' rather than 'work' advisedly, for employment gained through pull is not likely to be productive of efficient results in China any more than elsewhere. That is why Chinese mills, Chinese steamship lines, Chinese cigarette factories, and many other forms of enterprise have so often failed (despite generally lower levels of pay and often longer hours of theoretical toil), in competition with foreign-directed concerns which could offset higher pay and shorter hours by the fact that they could employ people of ability and see that they really worked at the jobs they were paid to do. It is the Chinese themselves, often Chinese fiercely opposed to 'foreign exploitation' who most decry their own nepotism.
But in China as elsewhere it is one thing to perceive an evil and another to bring about its cure. Unfortunately the roots of this particular evil lie deep-buried in the heart of China's great problem of overpopulation. Relativity rules in the matter of population as in all else. But it is commonly accepted as fact that the Chinese tend to press hard on the margin of subsistence, although there have been wide fluctuations in the population tolerance of the land at various periods. (Though 450,000,000 is the generally accepted present total, the last Ming census, in 1578, gave only 63,600,000; the first organized nose count by the Manchus, in 1741, showed the number as 143,412,000; despite war and natural disaster, many believe that the present population of all areas claimed by China may actually be m excess of a half billion.) World history shows that industrialization of any given country has hitherto led to sudden great increase in the number of people. Japan doubled her population within the seventy years starting in 1868 after Meiji had ushered in a Nipponese version of 'modern industry', while the industrial revolution in England doubled the population from 1801 to 1851. Thoughtful Chinese scientists believe that even with the help of modem scientific aids to food production, China should instead aim at reducing her numbers to within 300,000,000, to afford decent standards of living. Birth control was among a large number of advanced proposals endorsed by the Sixth Kuomintang Congress of 1945. Practice is another matter.
There is general agreement that China is a country of many mouths and limited opportunity, which has automatically reinforced old Confucian doctrines of mutual responsibility and a rigid family system. So it is up to the fortunate few to do everything possible for the many without opportunity, but with some claim of family connection—which may be extended out to include even the family connections of close friends and business associates. The result is that every new enterprise is filled, in something less than a twinkling, with a horde of eager relatives whose ability and inclination to do the work often leaves a great deal to be desired.
This make-work-for-others policy extends even into one's household-servant hierarchy, ruled in theory by the master but in fact by the No. 1 boy. It is a stale wheeze of the Treaty Ports that if a householder be so incautious as to invest in a few goldfish, behold, next morning a special goldfish coolie will have been hired to take on the care of the critters. No A.F. of L. [American Federation of Labor—Ed.] craftsman in America is more scrupulous in keeping to his own particular job than are Chinese workers, whether in home or in factory. But the Chinese ability to adapt to changing circumstances may in time help cure the evils of both nepotism and specialized function, provided that greater opportunities can be made available and the national thinking shaped in genuinely social-minded directions.
Those who have worked close to the Chinese have found that their minds are much more open to suggestion than might be expected. That which often passes for mulish stubbornness, the product of peasant background in a land where eight out of every ten are cultivators of the soil, is often merely a proof of unintelligent presentation. The fact is that those harsh economic forces which compel the practice of nepotism, just mentioned, are also forever burnishing away at the wits of the Chinese people. There is plenty of conservatism on the part of both the peasant in the country and his newly industrialized cousin in the city, but that means only that neither wants to be an easy mark for deceit or inexperienced enthusiasm. Win the confidence of such people, however, and they follow gladly in new ways.
During a trip into Kiangsi province in 1935, for example, I was surprised and impressed by the way the country folk were joining in various forms of co-operative movements. They had (in an area recently the scene of civil war) such a variety of enterprises as marketing, supply, educational and credit co-operatives, assisted by the government's own National Economic Council as a vital measure of rural rehabilitation. It was interesting to note that the Shanghai bankers were joining in the credit co-op movement, finding it profitable to themselves and to the countryside to undercut the native moneylenders with the usurious rates of interest (a minimum of 2 per cent a month, or 24 per cent yearly). The foregoing is cited only to show the mental background involved and to make clear what a logical thing it was for wartime to promote the well-known Industrial Co-operatives, or 'Indusco'; though at present the factor of inflation, which through 1944 depreciated the national currency not less than 5 per cent a month and in 1945 moved much faster, upsets the mechanics of all co-operatives or other undertakings where money is involved.
It is significant that the mental flexibility of the Chinese people, so little realised by most who don't know them, has helped work out various ingenious new shifts. Of these the most sensational is the co-operative certificate plan of 'model governor' Yen His-shan in the Kuomintang-controlled area on Shansi province. This scheme involves compulsory delivery of all produce to a provincial Union Co-operative in return for certificate receipts, thus virtually substituting commodities for money and giving distribution according to labor, since the 'value' of the delivered commodities is calculated in terms of the labor estimated to have gone into them. Free trade and individualistic merchandising enterprise have been abolished in this province where General Yan has, with the docile concurrence of his people, not merely set up practices parallel to Marx, but (as he modestly admits) improved on Marxism! Yet this is not Communist but Kuomintang territory, and Yen was in his heyday an old-fashioned 'war lord'. When we see a great agrarian area going along with such a program because it has been put into effect by a trusted leader, and because it gives results which they approve, we had better go a little easy in generalizing on the allegedly hidebound conservatism of the Chinese.
This brings me too close for comfort to the great subject of communism in China. I am going to sheer off, for no other reason than that it is entirely too big to tackle in a preliminary chapter devoted to sketching in background. It must finally be dealt with, at least briefly as a historic phenomenon; its economic side of course has to be considered; and at present it has both political and military aspects. For the moment I will dodge it except tomention one somewhat ironical remark made to me at Hankow m the spring of 1927 by Michael Markovitch Borodin, then nearing his final days as Soviet high adviser to the National Government of China. Later I will tell more of this remarkable, ultimately disappointed man's theories of the Chinese. In response to some probably naïve query by myself as to whether the Chinese would ever accept communism, Borodin retorted with a deep, pitying scorn: 'China already has communism, the communism of the family's one rice bowl!' The picture he brought before my eyes, of a group sitting about this central fan tung and each taking his portion, has never left my mind.
Later I shall speak, also, of another foreigner in China who thought deeply and had great influence from what might be termed an 'enlightened capitalistic' point of view. Miss Eleanor M. Hinder, that fine Australian woman formerly chief of the Industrial and Social Division of the Shanghai Municipal Council, won't thank me for any such clumsy phrase; she shaped a unique and vital administrative social instrument in China's greatest industrial center, always having the welfare of the workers in her great heart, but she accepted the capitalistic scheme of things and achieved most of her many successes by persuasion exerted on the employers, mostly though not all Chinese. Her work illustrated again the open-mindedness of the Chinese to things which can be proved to be for their best interest. Miss Hinder, and for several years her factory inspector Rewi Alley, increased safety precautions in factories with almost no legal weapon at their command, by showing that these were vital to the employers' interest. She trained illiterate Chinese boiler tenders. Critics said, 'They cannot be taught ' but Miss Miss Hinder replied, 'They tend boilers!' and her lecturers found that they could be taught, by visual methods employing lantern slides. Both adult and child workers m Shanghai's terrible native factories suffered from beriberi and other malnutrition diseases, so Miss Hinder tried out an experimental diet kitchen where the full nutritional value of rice and other foods was preserved; in the half year this kitchen operated, until it was finally shelled out of business in the 1937 Shanghai warfare, It demonstrated to Chinese factory owners that at actually lower cost it was providing food which carried its patrons through the hot season without the ailments besetting their fellows fed by standard means. Eating habits are especially hard to change, but this lesson, like others, sank in.
Upcountry there is a perfect thirst for knowledge. The work of 'Jimmy' Yen, of the thousand-characters-in-96-hours movement, has recently come to the attention of many Americans, and there can be no doubt that through such means China should finally struggle free in large degree from the age-old shackles of a general illiteracy. But coupled with this is an extraordinary general willingness to make use of knowledge. New methods of crop cultivation, systems of irrigation, improved communications, better home handicraft, even birth control, are all subjects of great interest to the Chinese because they are no fools and they can readily apply these things to their personal welfare.
It is true that obstacles have often been put in the way of progress. This was usually a fault in method of presentation. If the farmers are conscripted to work on roads, for example, the y are likely to be annoyed about It, especially if the roads aren't of a sort suited to their own rude carts. It will take a while for them t o see any point to highways for passage of motorcars they are too poor to own, though in time, as there are more busses which they can afford, the reason for such roads will become more apparent. As the roads serve them marketing their produce and bringing home goods from outside, they will find still more point to the matter. Meanwhile it helps to try a little judicious education and refrain from attempting to conscript farmers during times when they must harvest their crops. All work should be paid for. Both highways and river dikes are often built on a basis of paid famine relief work, instead of mere charity, during times of local crisis. Such projects prevent disaster through poor communications or flood another year.
Of course there are inevitable handicaps m the way of traditional beliefs and superstitions. Much has been made of this in writing and thinking of the past. What I am trying to do is furnish a modern mental approach. To me the surprising thing is not that such an old, mostly agricultural country has its fair share of stubborn ancient ways and thinking, but that the obstacles aren't greater. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that failure to put across a new notion in China reflects more on the teacher than on those to be taught. So rich are the Chinese in essential common sense that they will not resist indefinitely if the merits of something new can be demonstrated. However, they do hang on hard until they get their demonstration—and for this they have sound reason. Many of their old ideas really are better than the new.
Up in the Peking of the middle 1920s, even the shiny new up-to-date Peking Union Medical College, Rockefeller-endowed, was respectful toward the doctors of the relatively drab old German hospital down in the Legation Quarter. It was recognized that the German doctors knew their stuff. But what surprised and interested me was to discover that those Germans, in turn, recognized a need to respect the lore of the native Chinese doctors. Much of Chinese practice seemed pretty fantastic, involving such quaint stunts as sticking needles into the patient in accordance with a mystic chart, or administering repulsive concoctions made out of reptiles, insects, or unexpected features of animal anatomy. But queer as these customs seemed, the pragmatic Germans had found that in certain instances (not all, by any means) the native witchcraft worked. Not only did it work but often it worked fast, and in a way quite beyond the skill of Western practice. So instead of dismissing the Chinese methods of treatment, and especially the Chinese pharmaceutics, as so much unsanitary nonsense, these German doctors were trying hard to winnow the wheat from the chaff and to find out the secrets of the Chinese regarding such treatments as had merit. In this latter they were having great troubles because the native Chinese doctor was jealous of his knowledge and by no means disposed to spread it to the world. Remembering this, I was considerably entertained (in a wry sort of way) to read a Chinese writer's recent rantings about how the West dismissed all Chinese medical knowledge as rubbish and refused to take advantage of its benefits. 'Refused' my foot! The Chinese are, among other things, tenacious of what they have. Although I am familiar with United China Relief in the United States, I have never run into any sort of United America Relief in China.
So if the Chinese are not always bug-eyed over a chance to take aboard some choice new flowering of Western culture, they are again merely practicing their admirable practicality. They figure that maybe we are wrong. Wrong we have been at times, in some pretty big ways. The more they find out about us the more they are likely to realize that. It will be their task, and also a most fascinating job for their foreign friends, to weed out what we have good to offer them and to discard what is bad, just as I described the German doctors as seeking to discover what Chinese medicine might help a victim of tuberculosis and what would cause a bellyache patient to fall in fresh contortions.
It takes an old nation (as it takes an old person) to be truly naive, in the best and most refreshing sense. The Chinese attitude toward our bright and shining toys of what we like to call our 'civilization' is notable for a merry, twinkling shrewdness. They are happy to be amused, unready to take too seriously what may not deserve seriousness. This attitude runs through affairs both great and small. It can produce puzzling results. Chinese often seem superficially unpredictable in making business deals. They may smell around and haggle for days running into weeks and months, and finally drift off without ever giving a straightforward yes or no. On the other hand they may casually nod acquiescence as soon as they hear the proposition. In general they are likely to manifest great interest in anything novel, but that doesn't mean at all that they will finally accept it. When final decision is made, familiarity is likely to play a great part. The friend or relative, trusted, gets backing without a struggle, while the newcomer (however impressive his documentation) is likely to have quite a time establishing himself. Similarly the type of suggested enterprise usually has to be fitted into a known pattern of some sort, although there has been a rather ready acceptance of the notion that new things are desirable and should be made in China if possible. China has long produced a much wider variety of articles than is generally realized, from electric light bulbs to steam engines.
The Western world has heard so much of the innate conservatism of the Chinese that these distinctions are likely to be overlooked. Of course we always come back to the points that age does make for innate conservatism in some ways, and that China is fundamentally a land of farmers who tend to be conservative. Nevertheless the Chinese are well-rounded human beings, as I have been trying to make clear. They have just as much right to enjoy the luxury of a few complications as anybody else. Their chief distinguishing mark in that respect is that they are finally always essentially reasonable. They make sense.
So in the following chapters we must be patient in dealing with some of the great problems which now perplex China, and whichwill affect all of us in some degree. We must forget the commonconcept of the enigmatic Chinese, full of guile and hiding all sortsof thoughts crafty or highly philosophical (according to the sentimentalitywith which we view him) behind his inscrutable face. Ifthere is any composite Chinese he is a hearty, broad-faced, smilingindividual, plain and good-natured, though keeping his witswellsharpened in order to make a living against tough competition. He knows little if anything about Confucius, although a good deal of the life pattern within which he lives has been powerfully shaped by the Confucian ethic. Neither is he steeped in any sort of religion, although in his practical way he may have absorbed the essence of quite a number of religions from Buddhism to Christianity, finally believing a little in all of them but not much in any of them. Essentially his thesis is a pragmatic 'God helps him who helps himself, and any other belief is just a prudent hedging of bets. It is obvious to him that quite a variety of gods variously help or harass mankind and he feels that it costs relatively little to pay tribute to as many as possible in one way or another. One of the few things no Chinese can understand is a narrow adherence to creed. Such intolerance is as odd to him as rigid adherence to one deity. This, in the midst of so much unknown, he feels to be imprudent.
With such mental background, can we be surprised that the Chinese admiration for (say) modern Western industrialism is mixed with misgiving? After all, we should feel such misgiving ourselves if we looked at our own record of the relations of Man vs. Machine with fresh eyes. When the Tata interests of India investigated America's steel industry a few years ago, they decided to emulate our technological advances but by no means to duplicate our steel towns where lay such depressing contrast. So instead of patterning after us in both the efficiency of our factories and the degradation of our workers, they copied our factories but set up their own model town where the workers could enjoy advances in the art of living comparable to the technical improvements of the machines they served—this in India, a land generally of the most depressing poverty. The Tatas are Parsi, a group comparing with the most advanced Chinese businessmen and industrialists. It is true that before the Sino-Japanese conflict we had few evidences that China realized the need for conserving social values during the march toward industrialism. But today the need is recognized, and I look for important consequences, contrasting with the horrible, essentially wasteful Chinese factory conditions of prewar Shanghai, where private greed seemingly knew no limit. This is one of the things of which I intend to speak more at length.
What is true of the need for thinking ahead on China's industrial program is at least equally true with reference to the land. Eighty per cent of the population is agricultural. For a long while industrialization is unlikely to make outstanding change in this balance. In China's agrarian organization there were bad factors before the war, especially in South China, where two thirds of the peasants had to pay tribute to landlords. During the war there were interesting shifts in landlord-tenant relations in various parts of China, though it is a striking fact that even the most radical group by ordinary definition—the Chinese Communists—did not practice collectivism. Instead the Communists merely lowered but guaranteed rentals. How the essential Chinese spirit is shaping China's great agricultural problems is a fascinating study, too much for me to handle in detail, yet a necessary part of any discussion of the national situation. There has been much misapprehension about the Chinese attitude toward the foreigner. Both parties are responsible for a lot of loose talk. It seems to me, as it seems to many Chinese, high time that a calmer, more constructive spirit prevailed. The 'unequal treaties' have been abolished, extraterritoriality and the former fixed 5 per cent tariff are things of the past, and if there is going to be any future 'exploitation' it may well tum out to be exploitation of the unwary Westerner by the Chinese rather than vice versa.
There is no reason why China should any longer feel sorry for herself as occupying a 'semi-colonial status'. But at the same time she may easily find herself so in fact though not in technical position if she fails to take advantage of opportunities now before her. At the moment there is reason for great hope concerning the Chinese attitude toward the foreigner and the present Chinese National Government's attitude toward its own responsibilities and privileges. Hope, of course, doesn't imply certainty.
One of the most important points about the China of the future is the question of China's relation to other countries—her place in the world. Perhaps no other nation on earth has a more complex set of potential relationships which are already in process of establishment. Consider such oddities as that China for years resisted Japan, yet carried on officially sanctioned trade with Japanese-occupied areas; that China's leading political party and government based their organization largely upon Soviet Russian models, but at times could hardly keep on speaking terms with Moscow; that China's whole record of relations with the West has shown alternations of attraction and repulsion, according to whether the Occident seemed to have more or less to offer conservative Cathay.
Many of China's seeming contradictions are due to an age-old habit of compromise. China has seldom had much, so it was necessary to make do with little. She has experienced many vicissitudes which have taught the need to give and take. Progress has mostly been evolutionary, often fitful with many reverses. It is necessary to look at history a little to realize how matters have progressed to their present phase. But this book will not deal with the Peking Man, or the many dynasties since; its historic section will be as brief and painless as possible.