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


Liberalism in an Illiberal Age | China Heritage Quarterly

Liberalism in an Illiberal Age

Eugene Lubot

The following essay, which is drawn from Eugene Lubot's Liberalism in an Illiberal Age, provides a context to The Critic at Work. Here we reproduce editorials, commentaries and essays from The China Critic organized around twenty topics.

This material is quoted from Lubot's Liberalism in an Illiberal Age, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981. 'Indigenous Sources of Chinese Liberalism' and 'The Dilemmas for New Culture Liberals' come from the 'Introduction', pp.7-16; and, 'The China Critic' and 'Liberal Periodicals During the Nationalist Period, 1928-1937' from Chapter Six, pp.90-94. As this material has been edited to read as one continues essay, the numbering of footnotes has been adjusted accordingly. Other minor changes have been made in accord with the in-house style of China Heritage Quarterly.—The Editor

Indigenous Sources of Chinese Liberalism

Although most of the conditions which spawned Western liberalism were absent in traditional China, there were some indigenous sources for the New Culture liberalism which did emerge. One was the Confucian article of faith that man was perfectible through proper guidance and moral education. Indeed, faith in the redemptive qualities of education is one of the most enduring characteristic s of Chinese culture.[1] Hu Shih and Chiang Meng-lin paid tribute to the influence of John Dewey's ideas on education, yet this merely added a Western imprimatur to their Confucian predilections. In essence, many New Culture liberals assumed the role of Confucian chun-tzu (gentlemen), paternalistically drawing the proper moral lessons from which others might benefit.

Beginning in the early Ch'ing period other indigenous developments served as precursors of later New Culture liberalism.[2] The devastating impact of conquest by the Manchus led many Chinese to reexamine their own assumptions in search of an explanation. Many concluded that they had lost touch with reality and that Confucianism had become too abstract. This led to lessening the emphasis on the self-cultivation (hsiu-shen) aspect of neo-Confucianism in favor of 'practical statesmanship.' Ultimately this evolved into the scholasticism of the 'school of empirical research', but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many notable Confucian scholars began employing much more empirical, and even scientific, methods in their study of the classics. Scholarship emphasized critical, textual comparisons rather than moralistic commentaries, and the reverence traditionally directed at the classics was replaced by a critical objectivity. In many ways these Ch'ing scholars began the process of liberating Chinese minds from the fetters of Confucian conventions. A new spirit of inquiry and new standards of evidence, which can arguably be called proto-scientific, emerged as a totally indigenous force.

This trend continued in the nineteenth century, with individuals such as Wei Yuan and Kung Tzu-chen, and culminated with K'ang Yu-wei and the New Text school. When events revealed the inadequacies of the t'i-yung self-strengthening approach to China's problems, this setting produced advocates of more far-reaching reforms and even revolution. However, these terms are loaded ones, and both radical reformers (such as K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao) and revolutionaries (such as Sun Yat-sen) can be considered precursors of the New Culture viewpoint which developed later. In the early twentieth century, China's political spectrum was extremely imprecise. Certain ideas were shared by both revolutionaries and reformers.[3] Both groups wanted far-reaching political, social, and intellectual reforms in order to bring wealth and power to China. Both were highly critical of the Confucian tradition for its repressiveness, citing with approval the Western emphasis on freedom and equality. Moreover, conditions were so volatile that individuals frequently shifted positions, rarely maintaining a logically consistent revolutionary or reformist posture on all issues.

Recent studies have helped clarify the continuities and discontinuities between the 1898 reformers (Liang Ch'ich'ao, K'ang Yu-wei, et al.) and the May Fourth generation.[4] The May Fourth period (or the May Fourth movement) is generally considered to stretch from 1915 to 1921, although some prefer the more limited definition of 1917 to 1921. The period takes its name from the May Fourth incident, which refers to student demonstrations of 4 May 1919 against the Versailles Conference. These protested news that the Shantung Peninsula (Chinese territory which had become part of the German Concession in China) would be transferred to Japan rather than restored to Chinese control. The broader May Fourth period was characterized by considerable intellectual and cultural ferment, and these developments are usually identified as the New Culture movement. Compared with the reformers of 1898, the May Fourth generation seems more totalistic in its rejection of Chinese traditions. Many wanted a total overthrow of Confucius and sons, preferring to seek solutions to China's problems from the West. Lu Hsun ridiculed Ah-Q, Ch'en Tuhsiu wrote of Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science, and Ibsen's plays fired people's imaginations about the heroic individual. In a general way this dichotomy has some validity. But the particular individuals analyzed in this study, who clung to New Culture viewpoints in the illiberal 1920s and 1930s, shared much in common with Liang Ch'i-ch'ao.[5]

Liang wanted change within the system, was generally averse to violence, and advocated a blend of old and new values. But, most important, he stressed the need for new citizens, articulating a vision of comprehensive intellectual reform which played so large a part in the thinking of New Culture liberals. Liang's new citizens would have a spirit of individualism and initiative, moral and physical courage, and a sense of civic responsibility. They would provide the foundation for representative government. Liang very strongly stood for liberating Chinese minds from the conventions of the past, opening them to ideas from everywhere. Like many of his contemporaries he felt Western strength was rooted in its assertive individuals, freedom of thought, and representative institutions. And he thought these were necessary for China to become strong. Like the New Culture liberals, he advocated a qualified form of individualism as a means toward the goal of national strength. Also, like them he placed high hopes on the value of education as a vehicle of social reform.

New Culture values were most clearly articulated in the early years of the May Fourth period, from about 1915 to 1919. During the years preceding the May Fourth incident a considerable degree of consensus existed among Chinese intellectuals regarding the proper approach to China's problems. There was widespread agreement that China's malady was so intertwined in the very fabric of the society that the most thoroughgoing cultural upheaval was necessary. In essence China needed its own renaissance, in which a spirit of assertiveness, rationalism, and individualism would replace the stultifying imprint of Confucian passivity, superstition and groupism. The commitment to individualism was certainly a qualified one, and a big dose of Confucian paternalism lingered in the New Culture perspective (as will be discussed in chapter two),but still the orientation was toward radical cultural change. Moreover, New Culture advocates believed cultural reform so vital t hat they assigned it priority over political, social, and economic reform. A solid cultural foundation had to be laid before enduring political changes could occur. The failure of the revolution of 1911 had, it was argued, proved the futility of attempting political reform without the requisite cultural foundation.

New Culture advocates, thus, vowed to refrain from politics and to devote themselves to education and cultural activities. Or to put it another way, as Jerome Grieder has suggested, they endeavored to introduce a new, more limited definition of politics to the Chinese scene.[6] Traditionally, politics and culture had comprised a unified whole, usually labeled the Confucian polity. The cultural orthodoxy was defined by the state, and mastery of its fine points was the smoothest path to success for an aspiring official. Although the Confucian polity was not monolithic, since various schools of thought were tolerated, the boundaries of legitimate diversity were carefully drawn. Variations on the conventional theme were acceptable, but no questioning of fundamental principles was permitted. The Confucian polity was a pervasive presence which shaped the thinking and behavior of all Chinese, from aspiring degree candidates to peasants, by providing a code of proper behavior. Those who deviated from accepted ways were considered rebels. There was no place within the unified Confucian polity for anyone who wished to carve out an independent role as detached critic. In Confucian China the concept of a loyal opposition involved a contradiction in terms. One was either part of the polity or a rebel.

The New Culture ambition was to divide the Confucian polity into the two independent, though interrelated, components of politics and culture. Politics would encompass a narrowly defined range of purely governmental activities. Culture, then, would have an independent identity, with its sphere of activities unrestricted by any governmental orthodoxy. Individuals might safely remain outside government, acting as educators and independent critics to influence cultural values and ultimately influence politics. Thus it would be possible to work from the outside and still be a respectable citizen and not a rebel.

The Dilemmas for New Culture Liberals

The very fact that t hey felt their basic principles to be a product of rational analysis created some severe challenges to the integrity of New Culture liberals. Because their reform program seemed scientific, liberals were reluctant to abandon it merely because conditions made it temporarily inapplicable. Nor could they join the more activist political reform movements of the times without compromising their intellectual honesty. The combination of inapplicable circumstances and the desire for intellectual consistency created, during the 1920s and 1930s, some agonizing dilemmas for those who held liberal views.

Ironically, New Culture liberals laid the groundwork for the own later difficulties. During the early years of the May Fourth movement (ca. 1915-1919) the New Culture starwas ascendant. The New Youth was widely read, Peking University was a beacon of light, and most intellectuals accepted New Culture premises regarding appropriate solutions to China's problems. During this time of relative consensus much was accomplished in bringing Confucian values under scrutiny and in fostering some of the more modern, Westernized attitudes considered so essential. However, the new atmosphere, for which the liberals were largely responsible, sparked the May Fourth incident which proved to be an unhappy watershed. Subsequently, liberals found themselves defending their principles against increasingly strident attacks. The reason was that the apparent success of the incident seemed the product of what most participants, especially students, termed political activities. This conclusion posed a challenge to the liberal scheme of priorities, which subordinated political activism to cultural reform. Indeed, New Culture liberals especially hoped that students would eschew political activities in favor of more cultural and intellectual endeavors. Thenceforth, however, students were less receptive to the liberal vision of reform, preferring speedier, more activist, political alternatives. Adult intellectuals, too, were turning to more comprehensive political programs for change, with Ch'en Tu-hsiu and Li Ta-chao the most noteworthy apostates from the liberal cause.

The liberal commitment to political detachment was also severely tested by the policies of warlord governments in the 1920s. A program of education and intellectual regeneration required a favorable atmosphere for implementation. Yet the warlords curtailed intellectual freedom and crippled education by withholding funds. These circumstances prompted teacher strikes, to recover salaries several months in arrears, and political involvement to the extent o f circulating petitions and engaging in political advocacy. On 1 August 1920, several intellectuals issued a 'Manifesto of the Struggle for Freedom', which criticized police oppression and urged an atmosphere of free expression. In May 1922, Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei's name headed a list of signatories to a public statement entitled 'Our Political Proposals'.

Drafted by Hu Shih and signed by sixteen intellectuals, the statement basically called for a more honest and efficient government. In September 1922, three of the signatories became members of the cabinet, with the formation of what was optimistically termed the Good Men Government. But, within two months the cabinet was in disarray; and in October 1923, Ts'ao K'un bribed his way to the presidency in an open display of the powers of corruption. For many this was conclusive proof of the bankruptcy of the liberal posture. Standing aloof from the practical tasks of political organization and relying on the persuasive power of rational argument seemed irrelevant and even irresponsible. Yet liberals viewed the situation in a different light. While others were calling for more political activism, liberals were concerned with having compromised their principles by the limited steps which they had taken. After all, if political activity was justified under certain conditions, what was left of the liberal conviction that intellectual changes must precede political reform?

The 1920s also witnessed the development of a labor movement and growing anti-foreign sentiment. Both required a response from the liberals. On 7 February 1923, Wu P'ei-fu forcibly ended the strike of the Peking-Hankow railroad workers, leaving thirty-five dead and many wounded. Students, the Communists, and Sun Yat-sen protested this action by the Peking government. Then and later the pressure was on the liberals to take a stand, as other groups had, with reference to the labor movement. This placed them in an uncomfortable position. The whole idea of class struggle offended the lingering Confucian sensibilities of many liberals. Their hope was to harmonize class differences and instill a sense of community in all China's citizens. Moreover, the labor movement seemed to mean an inevitable resort to extreme measures and violence, and few liberals had the stomach for this kind of direct confrontation. Finally, while liberals certainly desired better conditions for workers, their attitude toward popular movements was always an ambivalent one. The heritage of Confucian paternalism, previously mentioned in relation to liberal advocacy of individualism, also was an important force whenever reference was made to the people. Theoretically, liberals were interested in reaching the people and even 'drawing near the people'.[7] But the more the liberals learned about the lives of the masses, the more they were appalled by their backwardness and ignorance. As a result liberals were somewhat reluctant to associate with the people, much less empathize with them to the extent that Mao Tse-tung was to do. As with Chinese society in general, the condition of the people or the workers could only be improved by fundamental changed in outlooks and attitudes. Such attitudinal changes must precede economic improvements or the latter would only be ephemeral. Consequently, labor organizations and demonstrations seemed premature to most liberals. They preferred to stress worker education and moral uplift.

Related to and reinforcing the labor movement was the growing anti-foreign sentiment. Sparked by the May Fourth incident, it flared into the 30 May Incident of 1925 and the Great Canton and Hong Kong strike which lasted from June 1925 to September 1926. In these times of very heated emotions many liberals found themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma. Certainly their sense of nationalism was outraged by the privileges enjoyed by foreigners in China; and they too were enraged by the events of May 30. Yet marching in demonstrations and using passionate rhetoric were generally not their style. Moreover, the expression of extreme anti-foreignism conflicted with liberal cosmopolitanism and openness to all ideas regardless of their place of origin. Finally, as always, questions of this sort were judged as premature and pointless according to liberal guidelines on reform. Labor organizations and the expulsion of foreigners might provide fleeting emotional gratifications, but they also diverted limited energies from the more important task of cultural reform. So liberals generally persisted in their belief that no political or social change could endure unless the cultural foundation was solidly grounded, and mostly they contented themselves with perfunctory statements of sympathy with prevailing anti-foreign emotions.

In general, then, liberals tried to remain detached from the political and social battles of the 1920s, preferring to work for more long-term reforms. This stance inevitably provoked criticism from many sides, and by 1927 there was no longer any way to avoid the necessity of choice. On 12 April 1927, Chiang Kai-shek implemented his purge of the Chinese Communist party in Shanghai. Liberals had to respond to his action, compelled to choose between the Communists and the Nationalists. The option of aloof neutrality was no longer available to them. Most liberals found Communism anathema because of its dogmatism, economic determinism, emphasis on class conflict, and sanctioning of violence. This fact, plus their hope that the Kuomintang could end internal chaos, served to mute liberal criticism of Chiang's repressive policies against the Communist party. In the final analysis, all were fervent patriots and most sided with Chiang in hopes that he might bring strength and stability to China.

From the beginning of the Nationalist period liberals found the principle of intellectual freedom even more threatened than it had been under the warlords. The Nationalists were more concerned with propaganda and indoctrination than with the objective consideration of ideas. They looked upon education as a tool for inculcating loyalty rather than a process of encouraging inquiry. They narrowed the scope of academic freedom and clamped down on critics of the government. These policies, directly challenging one of the basic tenets of liberalism, aroused vigorous opposition. Liberals created periodicals as outlets for their criticism, and in 1932 the Chinese League for the Protection of Civil Rights was founded. However, as usual, liberals confined themselves to intellectual protest, choosing to be critics rather than politicians.

This distaste for politics was one of the most distinctive features of the ideology of New Culture liberals. Some had been influenced by anarchism in the early part of the twentieth century, and they believed that governments were at the root of most problems. The early anarchist association, the Society for the Promotion of Morality (Chin-te hui), founded in 1912 by Wu Chih-hui, Li Shih-tseng, and Wang Ching-wei, pledged its members to refuse political office. Some found the corruption of politics and the indignities of political maneuvering too degrading. For those who wanted to serve the nation, yet were too fastidious for politics, it was certainly reassuring to believe that intellectual and cultural changes transcended political and economic reforms. Thus, with ideological rationales and ego-fulfilling rationalizations both supporting the same conclusion, liberals rarely ventured farther than social commentary if they were inclined toward political involvement at all. Throughout the period under study liberals addressed themselves, in print, to the main intellectual and social issues of the times.[8] In diverse journals, many founded by liberals, debates flourished over language reform, the new literature, old versus new values, problems versus isms, the role of the family, the emancipation of women, the goal of education, science versus metaphysics, the scientific method, and the place of religion in a modern society. On occasion more political topics were treated, such as the proper balance between government control and individual freedom, or which political ideology most suited China. But generally political debates were of a highly abstract and theoretical nature.

Confining themselves to Confucian-like remonstration, and disdaining to mobilize political pressure, the liberals had little success in modifying Kuomintang policies on political dissent and academic freedom. Nor were they, or Western Christian liberals (or gradualists) able to stimulate the KMT toward more dynamic policies of rural reconstruction. Again, liberals, both Chinese and Western, were caught on the horns of a dilemma. They had a genuine sympathy for the plight of China 's rural masses, but their ideological vision was too narrow to encompass plausible solutions. The steps required for rural reform—such as the reduction of taxes, rents, and interest rates and ultimately the redistribution of land—seemed too radical to most liberals. An illness requiring revolutionary medicine was beyond the capabilities of the liberal medicine chest. Some intellectuals, like James Yen and T'ao Hsing-chih, went directly to the villages to help provide solutions. But for that very reason both Yen and T'ao fall outside the boundaries of this study. Their activist programs distinguished them from the New Culture liberals, who preferred to stay in the cities and retain their detached perspective.

Moreover, events of the 1930s made many liberals less inclined to question KMT policies, and some even became defensive about the sacred principles of gradualism and education. The cause of self-doubt, and the true touchstone of liberal convictions, was Japanese aggression. Beginning with the Mukden Incident of 1931 and broadening into the movement for an autonomous north China (which prompted the 9 December 1935 demonstrations) Japanese pressure ultimately led to all-out war in July 1937. Liberals, fervently nationalistic as anyone else, began to question the appropriateness of seeking a gradual, cultural renaissance in the midst of an enemy invasion. Such policies, and even the emphasis on liberal education, seemed to have contributed toward producing a nation vulnerable to Japanese attacks. Perhaps, some thought, KMT educational programs (especially those sponsored by Ch'en Kuo-fu) were right after all. These, in addition to promoting patriotism, were designed to emphasize practical knowledge such as agriculture, engineering, and medicine. The liberal arts and law, as 'useless' subjects, were downgraded. Such educational theories struck directly at the fundamental liberal assumption that education was to develop certain habits of mind and lay the foundation for more practical reforms. Yet, in a time of crisis, liberals were forced to choose between conflicting liberal and nationalistic impulses, and many opted for the latter.

Similar arguments impelled liberals to reexamine their beliefs regarding political dissent and civil rights. During the early years of the Nationalist period liberals were the severest critics of government restrictions on discussion and individual freedoms. But conditions of the 1930s seemed to place more of a premium on national unity. As a result, this period saw frequent debates over whether dictatorship or democracy was the best means of producing a strong China. Many liberals began to agree with the KMT that a centralized, and even autocratic, government was justified under the circumstances. Some, notably Hu Shih, resisted this kind of thinking and steadfastly defended democracy.[9] Others tried to hide from the dilemma, burying themselves in their scholarly pursuits. Once again, however, the tempting option of detachment was soon denied to liberals. Increasing Japanese penetration of China compelled a decision from among three unattractive choices: remaining in occupied territory and accepting the humiliation of obeying Japanese commands, joining the Communists in the northwest, or following Chiang's government as it retreated from Nanking to Wuhan and ultimately to Chungking. By this time most had come to an accommodation with the government, as the only hope for resisting Japan. But the decision involved ideological compromises embarrassing to liberals.

The China Critic

The general liberal perspective, and its modification with time are nicely reflected in the pages of another liberal journal of the Nationalist period, The China Critic. This English language periodical, founded on 31 May 1928, was indirectly connected with the New Culture liberals surveyed in this study. Hu Shih was listed as a contributing editor and the calligraphy for the Chinese title was written by Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei. The staff was composed mostly of Tsinghua University alumni, and a familiar Anglo-American and New Culture character was definitely present. The first editor, Chang Hsin-hai (H.H. Chang), was born in Chekiang in 1898, went to the United States on a Tsinghua scholarship, studied literature at Harvard, completed a PhD dissertation on Matthew Arnold, and in 1923 became a professor at Peita [Peking University] and Tsinghua.

During the early Nationalist period The China Critic adopted positions similar to those of the New Culture liberals analyzed thus far. It echoed Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei's argument that student involvement in politics, while previously justified, was no longer appropriate.[10] It also wanted to keep education free of politics, with the corollary that educators and politicians should stick to their own baliwicks.[11] It expressed the conventional view that the Communists were a grave threat to peace and order. In June 1929, The Critic applauded Chang Hsueh-liang's raid on the Soviet consulate in Harbin, which captured documents and broke up a secret meeting of forty-one Communists.[12] The Communist threat justified overriding the normal immunity of foreign consulates. In December 1930, it praised Chiang Kai-shek's efforts to 'eradicate the red bandit menace' in the south. According to The Critic the seriousness of that menace was demonstrated a few months earlier when '… the reds suddenly pounced upon the city of Changsha and visited communistic terrorism upon the innocent people.'[13] But by the spring of 1932, it was taking a more realistic, though equally hostile, look at the Communists in Kiangsi.[14] It recognized that they were winning the support of the peasants by eliminating landlords, reducing taxes, and redistributing the land. So, to defeat them the government would have to learn a lesson from the Communists and provide for the needs of the people. The use of force alone would never get at the root of Communist support. It would merely increase government expenses and thereby the tax burden on the people, and as such would be counterproductive.

The Mukden Incident and the Japanese threat received thorough coverage in The China Critic, which adopted a very anti-Japanese stance. A 3 December 1931 editorial, entitled 'Courageous Youth', had high praise for the thousands of students who went to Nanking, waiting twenty-eight hours in front of a government building until Chiang Kai-shek carne out and pledged to go north to recover the lost territory.[15] It even went so far as to urge the government to attack the Japanese without a declaration of war. The enemy was so deceitful that the normal rules of international conduct should be waived. In January 1932, The Critic again defended student demonstrations calling for resistance to the Japanese—'… this is a republic, and in a republic when the government is not meeting a critical situation in such a way as the public opinion demands, the people have the right to take a hand in directing that policy.'[16] The students would respect governmental authority, it wrote, when there was true authority which deserved respect.

Despite its criticism of the government inaction regarding the Japanese, it was apparent that The Critic was feeling the pull of patriotism. Coverage of the national emergency conference, in April 1932, is a case in point.[…] many non-Kuomintang members boycotted the conference, and New Culture liberals criticized it, because the agenda was restricted to resisting foreign aggression, famine and flood relief, and suppression of the Communists. This restriction was imposed because the government wished to avoid discussion of its one-party rule. Yet even this supposedly safe conference passed resolutions critical of government policies. The China Critic, however, supported the carefully tailored agenda, although it recognized the sincerity of those who sought to discuss an end to party dictatorship.[17] In a time of crisis, it editorialized, the country must concentrate on the three issues raised. The problem of party dictatorship was not crucial at that time. The people were willing to accept any form of government so long as it could function effectively. It was action that counted, not political formalities. The Critic's patriotism also affected its stance on the question of freedom of the press. While supporting freedom of the press in principle, The Critic on several occasions expressed approval of governmental restrictions against journalists whom it felt were maliciously hostile to China. George E. Sokolsky, of the North China Daily News, and Hallett Abend, of the New York Times, were placed in that category. It supported the deportation of Sokolsky, whom it accused of trying to undermine Chinese morale. Stressing that even the American government suppressed the socialist press and imprisoned Eugene Debs during World War I, The China Critic stated: 'We need not point out the difference between slander and criticism.'[18]

Although The Critic might at times pull its punches if circumstances warranted, it did not wholly abdicate its responsibility for criticism. It did, in general, protest government violations of civil rights and call for a Bill of Rights.[19] It did basically champion freedom of the press, particularly for itself. After one public assurance by the government that freedom of the press would be guaranteed, The Critic wrote that it would test the government's sincerity by publishing editorials an articles of a 'constructively critical nature' to see if they were tolerated.[20] Despite its previously mentioned comments on the April 1932 national emergency conference, in July it editorialized that China needed a constitution to provide a legitimate means for opposition parties to contend for influence.[21] When the Chinese League for the Protection of Civil Rights was formed, in December 1932, The Critic expressed its support. Conservatives would doubtless be upset, wrote The Critic, but they overlooked the fact that '… the best way to deal with the so-called dangerous elements in society is not by suppressing them, or locking them up in gaol.'[22] While cautioning that liberty did not mean license, it argued that the national crisis did not mean that civil rights should be sacrificed for the sake of state unity.

Despite this rhetoric, The Critic's reaction to Yang Ch'uan's assassination in June 1933 was cautious, one might even say timid. It warned that Madame Sun's charges were only allegations and yet to be proved. It criticized the league for previous extremist statements and for displaying China's dirty linen for the whole world to see. It argued that a call for civil liberties was futile until the masses understood them, and it urged the league to devote itself to educating the people gradually about such matters. It concluded that if the government was indeed involved, '... we, as staunch supporters of the national government as the only one qualified to speak for China at this critical period of her history, would feel this incident all the more keenly.'[23] A few months later an assassination attempt was made on Lo Lung-chi, who was then editor of the independent-minded I-shih pao in Tientsin. On this occasion The Critic admitted that many saw the government's hand in recent unsavory acts. However, it refused to believe that '... our political leaders are capable of such base tactics'.[24]

It is reasonable to infer that some degree of prudent discretion was involved in The Critic's apparent deference toward the government. Yet it is also true that both external and internal threats to the nation were intensifying, and The Critic felt duty-bound to demonstrate its loyalty to the government in power. The Fukien rebellion, in November 1933, was angrily denounced by The China Critic. It argued that whatever grievances the rebels had against the national government, they were minor compared with China's grievances against Japan. Everyone must help the country pull together in this time of crisis, and '... any Chinese who ignores that duty and contributes to the difficulty of its fulfillment is guilty of downright treason.'[25]

By late 1933, The China Critic had gravitated into a position of loyal support for Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang. The New Life movement and the restoration of ceremonies honoring Confucius prompted much enthusiasm. The New Life movement, which 'promises to become presently the craze of the country', was portrayed as offering solutions to China's moral and physical degradation.[26] The Critic gave quite thorough coverage to the democracy versus dictatorship debate which began in late 1933, printing articles on both sides. But special prominence was given to the views of T.S. Tsao (former president of Tsinghua University), who felt a dictatorship was necessary to eliminate the waste of time and resources resulting from recurrent civil wars. He saw such a dictatorship evolving in China at that time, and he welcomed it. Dictatorships were not necessarily desirable in the long run, but they were vital for solving pressing immediate problems. As he put it, '... some twenty odd nations today have accepted dictatorships so that they may better meet the political exigencies of the moment.'[27]

As the Japanese threat intensified, the pull of patriotism grew stronger. The 9 December student demonstrations received cautious approval at first, but soon The Critic was parroting the government line and urging 'constraint and caution'. Students should study and prepare themselves until called upon 'to make the supreme sacrifice'.[28] The Critic voiced little criticism regarding the arrest of the s even intellectuals of the All China National Salvation Association, in November 1936, despite its implicit admission that the arrests were politically motivated.[29] The Critic merely said that legal proceedings should progress quickly to see if the defendants had broken any laws. If the arrests proved politically motivated, it hoped the government would be lenient. By late 1936, The China Critic was almost fawning on the government and Chiang Kai-shek. The Sian Incident horrified The Critic, although it took some consolation in the orderly way the government functioned in Chiang's absence. Chang Hsueh-liang was branded a traitor, whose behavior was 'treachery against a patriot and leader who deserves the gratitude of all Chinese'. Chang's rationalization, that the government was refusing to resist the Japanese, was rejected categorically by The Critic. Never before had the government taken a firmer stand against Japan in its negotiations, it argued. It advocated 'swift and sure punishment to the rebels and traitors'.[30]

The China Critic began in 1928 with a characteristic liberal stance. As the years passed, and the Japanese threat became more frightening, The Critic felt the ever-increasing pull of patriotism. In the end it gravitated into orbit around the government. The same force operated upon all New Culture liberals, and few could resist it. Japanese aggression made the dilemma of modern Chinese liberalism, already painful, still more difficult to resolve.


[1] Donald Munro, The Concept of Man in Early China, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969, pp.15-16, 163-67; and, Barry Keenan, The Dewey Experiment in China: Educational Reform and Political Power in the Early Republic, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977.

[2] Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Intellectual Trends in the Ch'ing Period, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.

[3] Mary Backus Rankin, Early Chinese Revolutionaries: Radical Intellectuals in Shanghai and Chekiang, 1902-1911, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971, p.7; Ernest P. Young, 'The Reformer as a Conspirator: Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and the 1911 Revolution', in Albert Feuerwerker, ed., Approaches to Modern Chinese History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, pp.239-267; and, Michael Gasster, Chinese Intellectuals and the Revolution of 1911, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969.

[4] Benjamin I. Schwartz, Reflections on the May Fourth Movement: A Symposium, Cambridge: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1972, pp.5-10.

[5] Three useful studies of Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, listed by date of publication, are: Joseph R. Levenson, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and the Mind of Modern China, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953; Chang Hao, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and Intellectual Transition in China, 1890-1907, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971; and, Philip C. Huang, Liang Ch'i-chao and Modern Chinese Liberalism, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972.

[6] Jerome Grieder, 'The Question of "Politics" in the May Fourth Era', in Schwartz, Reflections, pp.97-101.

[7] Laurence A. Schneider, Ku Chieh-kang and China's New History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971, pp.119-120.

[8] Liu Chun-jo, Controversies in Modern Chinese Intellectual History, Cambridge: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1964.

[9] Jerome Grieder, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance: Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1937, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970, p.259.

[10] 'Students and Politics', The China Critic, I:17 (20 September 1928): 325.

[11] 'Education and Politics, The China Critic, III:45 (6 November 1930): 1058-1059.

[12] 'The Raid on the Soviet Consulate', The China Critic, II:24 (13 June 1929): 468-469.

[13] 'Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to the Front', The China Critic, III:51 (18 December 1930): 1205.

[14] 'Two Ways to Deal with Communists', The China Critic, V:24 (16 June 1932): 593.

[15] 'Courageous Youth', The China Critic, IV:49 (3 December 1931): 1169; and, 'Declaration of War', The China Critic, IV:53 (31 December 1931): 1266-1267.

[16] 'The Students Again', The China Critic, V:2 (14 January 1932): 35.

[17] 'Three R's of the National Emergency Conference', The China Critic, V:14 (7 April 1932): 311.

[18] 'The Toast for a Free Press', The China Critic, II:29 (18 July 1929): 567-568; 'Freedom of the Press', The China Critic, II:35 (29 August 1929): 685; 'The Deportation of Mr. Sokolsky', The China Critic, II:17 (25 April 1929): 327.

[19] 'A Bill of Rights for China', The China Critic, III:6 (6 February 1930): 123.

[20] 'Press Regains Freedom', The China Critic, IV:44 (29 October 1931): 1047-1448.

[21] 'The Constitutionalist Movement', The China Critic, V:27 (7 July 1932): 676-677.

[22] 'China League of Civil Rights', The China Critic, V:52 (29 December 1932): 1377.

[23] 'The Assassination of Yang Chien', The China Critic, V:52 (29 December 1932): 638-639.

[24] 'The Attempt on Lo Lung-chi's Life', The China Critic, VI:42 (19 October 1933): 1024.

[25] 'Fukien's Independence', The China Critic, VI:48 (30 November 1933): 1156-1157.

[26] 'The New Life Movement', The China Critic, VII:12 (12 March 1934): 273-274.

[27] Y.S. Tsao, 'China Needs a Dictator', The China Critic, VII:32 (12 March 1934): 773-775.

[28] 'Students Active Once More', The China Critic, XI:12 (19 December 1935): 268; and, 'A Word to the Students', The China Critic, XII:1 (2 January 1936): 6.

[29] 'The Arrest of Six Intellectuals', The China Critic, XV:11 (10 December 1936): 245-246.

[30] 'Chang Hsueh-liang's Rebellion', The China Critic, XV:13 (23 December 1936): 295.