CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


On Extraterritoriality | China Heritage Quarterly

On Extraterritoriality

The Triumph of Stupidity

The China Critic

This editorial appeared in The China Critic, II: 3 (15 August 1929): 649-650.—The Editor.

Wisdom may be an enviable virtue, but Stupidity has again triumphed. Foreigners in China have always been accusing the Chinese people of 'anti-foreignism'. If any such thing as anti-foreignism does really exist, we can declare unhesitatingly that it is the foreigners themselves who have fostered it. In the contact of different peoples, as of individuals, it is only natural that courtesy inspires courtesy while rudeness seldom fails to meet with rudeness. Friendship is not a one-sided affair and should be placed on a basis of mutual respect. It is a most lamentable fact that in the history of Sino-foreign relations few of the foreign residents in China have been able to grasp this simple truth.

Foreigners in China represent so many nationalities and are so different in their education and training that it would be a hopeless task to draw generalization applicable to each and every one of them. It is not impossible, of course, to find some that are truly of the gentlemanly type. These are cultured, far-sighted and broad-minded; but, unfortunately, they constitute only a minority. The rest are narrow-minded and arrogant. Their sole purpose in coming to China is to exploit the Chinese people in the same manner as the peoples of other peace-loving but weak states have been exploited. Their goal is moneymaking, and money they must make by hook or by crook. International goodwill and justice are terms entirely beyond their comprehension. It is this class of people, ignorant but aggressive, that dominate practically every foreign community in China. Backed by the strong gunboat policy of their home Governments, they think they can defeat all efforts that may be made to dislodge them from their privileged position in the Far East!

Fig.1 The China Critic announces an 'Extraterritoriality Essay Contest', 27 June 1929.

The so-called foreign 'die-hards' in China are decidedly behind the times. In spite of the rise of Chinese nationalism and the changing trend in international diplomacy, they still cling desperately to their ill-gotten privileges like a drowning person clinging to dear life itself. The most recent demonstration of foreign 'die-hardism' is the decision of the Municipal Council to guard the main entrances into the International Settlement by means of iron gates; one of which, indeed, has already been put up at the junction of North Szechuen Road and Range Road. The massive iron bars fitly symbolize the naval and military strength of the Powers, while their rustiness ironically exemplify the muddle-headedness of those who conceived and executed the plan.

The setting up of such iron gates is open to many objections. In the first place, an iron gate on a thoroughfare like North Szechuen Road is an unsightly eyesore. Yet, in this materialistic age of ours, and especially in an over-commercialized city such as Shanghai, it is no wonder that artistic considerations carry no weight with those that are in power. In the second place, we are at a loss to understand what useful purpose these iron gates can serve. Their erection, apparently, is meant for the protection of the foreign residents in Shanghai. But are these foreigners facing any danger of being attacked by the Chinese? Perfect peace now reigns in this part of the country. And the Chinese Government has not the least idea of taking back the concessions by force. Frankly speaking, the reason why China does not want to do so is because she is not strong enough to do it. It is safe to say, however, that force will never be resorted to; for when China is strong enough to take back the concessions by force, the Powers will judiciously surrender them without a struggle. Nor are the foreign residents in danger of being attacked by Chinese mobs. With the successful consummation of the Northern Expedition and the gradual stabilization of the Chinese Government, mob agitations have come to be very rare occurrences. In the event of any such disturbances breaking out in Shanghai, the Municipal police should be able to handle the situation with ease.

The best way to insure the safety of the foreign residents in Shanghai is to put Sino-foreign relations on a plane of equality and justice. So long as foreigners conduct themselves in an arrogant and imperialistic manner, the Chinese people will naturally have no love for them, and minor friction might easily lead to serious outbreaks. Humiliation and insult, indeed, if heaped upon the Chinese population with an utter disregard for their interests and dignity, might hasten the coming of the day when armored cars, warships and iron gates would prove inadequate to guarantee the safety of foreign life and property. In the long run, the cultivation of true friendship will be found to be more useful than the display of naval and military prowess.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the Municipal authorities really have the safety of the foreign residents at heart in setting up the iron gates. Their purpose, instead, is to give the foreign residents, but particularly their home Governments, the false impression that foreigners in China are constantly in danger of losing their life and property, that foreign troops and warships must not be withdrawn, and that extraterritoriality, together with other cognate privileges, must not be given up. Such efforts, ingenious as they are, will prove futile in the end. History has yet to record the tale of any form of foreign domination or aggression that has long succeeded in defying the rising tide of nationalism. The unequal treaties must be abrogated and the unfair privileges enjoyed by foreigners in China must be surrendered. The Powers had better do it now while they can still do it with good grace.

The setting up of iron gates at a time when there is absolutely no cause for alarm is a deliberate attempt to trample upon the pride and feelings of the Chinese people as well as to prolong and strengthen the relenting grip of foreign imperialism on China. It is not only impolite. It is useless. It is the triumph of Stupidity!