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


China's Own Critics | China Heritage Quarterly

China's Own Critics

T'ang Leang-li 湯良禮

The following is the 'Editor's Preface' to China's Own Critics: A Selection of Essays by Hu Shih and Lin Yu-tang, with Commentaries by Wang Ching-wei, edited by T'ang Leang-li, Tientsin and Shanghai: China United Press, 1931, pp.v-vii.—The Editor.

The present volume of Essays is a selection of articles published by Professor Hu Shih and Dr Lin Yu-Tang in various periodicals in China in the course of the last two years.

When those at present in authority at Nanking and their foreign-educated propagandists are suffering from the infantile complex of self-admiration and self-glorification, it is refreshing, morally and intellectually, to meet with two prominent members of the Chinese intelligentsia, who, in an age of official obscurantism, have the honesty and courage to speak out their own minds, even at the risk of hurting those who are accustomed to regard China as a kind of earthly paradise, inhabited by people somehow 'different', and 'better'.

For years well-meaning Western scholars and philosophers of the highest standing—Bertrand Russell, G. Lowes Dickinson, John Dewey, Paul Monroe, Hans Driesch, Dean Wigmore—have been saying and writing so many pleasant things about the Chinese and their civilization as to turn the heads of their Chinese students, including at one time the present Editor himself. 'China has a glorious civilization and history of over five thousand years old', say all of them in a chorus, overlooking the fact that the traditional civilization which they are admiring, had been dead in China for over three centuries and only traces of it can be found in Peiping and Kyoto. 'The Chinese are a unique race, they are the world's greatest pacifists', opined Dean Wigmore, and echoed by the President of a Law College at Shanghai, at a time when China had not seen internal peace for twenty years, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers were getting ready for the annual spring mutual extermination campaign. China has not won any external war for the last century and a half; so why not make vice a virtue, and invent the myth of Chinese pacifism?

'The distinctive merit of our civilization is the scientific method; the distinctive merit of the Chinese is a just conception of the ends of life. The natural Chinese attitude is one of tolerance and friendliness, showing courtesy and expecting it in return. If the Chinese chose, they could be the most fowerful [sic: powerful] nation in the world. But they desire only freedom, not domination', wrote Bertrand Russell, no doubt sincerely and ideally correct. But Lord Russell's conclusions are far too complimentary to be taken seriously by ourselves. We are, for instance, not so certain that money-making for the sake of personal enjoyment, the maintenance of private armies, the purchase of concubines and real-estates in the foreign Settlements and Concessions, reflects a more desirable conception of life than money-making for the sake of making money and the exercise of power, which are the reputable aims in life of the business men and industrialists in the West. And those hundreds of thousands who are now in prison, or lying in their graves, or just floating unburied in the ditches and rivers, whose sole crime has been the holding of opinions contrary to those of certain ambitious individuals, will certainly never testify to the latter's natural attitude of tolerance and friendliness. More than once we Chinese have chosen to be the most powerful nation in the world, and the official designation of our country as the Kingdom (or Republic) of the Middle can certainly not be more nationally arrogant.


With the opinions expressed or implied by Professor Hu Shih and Dr Lin Yu-tang one may agree or disagree, but their standing in the Chinese intellectual world entitles them to a fair hearing, and to a wider public than can provide periodicals with mainly a local circulation.

Mr Hu Shih's articles have brought on him the wrath of the Nanking oligarchs who have accused him of having 'overstepped the limit of scholarly discussion and indulged in meaningless quibbling'. (Instruction of the Nanking Party to the State Council.—Shanghai Evening Post, 30 September 1929.) The charge by Nanking is of course childish nonsense, and the recommendation that he 'be duly punished', an unwarranted interference with the freedom of opinion. The very fact that China's outstanding political leader has deemed Mr Hu Shih's observations worthy of answer fully demonstrates Nanking's intellectual dishonesty.

Mr Hu Shih's articles were originally in Chinese. English versions have appeared in various publications, but most of them are unsatisfactory. The present interpretative translation of Mr Hu Shih's articles and of Mr Wang Ching-Wei's Commentaries was undertaken, in collaboration with the Editor, by Professor John P. Chang, at one time Lecturer of Chinese at the University of London at the London School of Oriental Studies. Mr Lin Yu-Tang's Little Critiques were originally written in English and, expect for printer's errors and other minor alterations, have been left unchanged.

T'ang Leang-Li


August, 1931.


Part One: Essays by Hu Shih

Which Road Shall We Take? / The Rights of Man / When Shall We Have a Constitution? / Wang Ching-Wei's Commentary / On Knowledge and Action / Wang Ching-Wei's Commentary / China's Sterile Inheritance

Part Two: Little Critiques by Lin Yu-tang

The Metropolitan Village of Nanking / Do Bed-bugs Exist in China? / Han Fei as a Cure for Modern China / More Prisons for Politicians / On Civil Disobedience / The Model Bandit / How to Write English / An Open Letter to an American Friend / What is Face? / The Chinese People / Confucius as I Know Him / Chinese Realism and Humour