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


On New Patriotism | China Heritage Quarterly

On New Patriotism

Pearl Buck on New Patriotism

The China Critic

This Editorial first appeared in The China Critic, IV:25 (18 June 1931): 579-580. Pearl Buck's first essay on the subject had been published in The Critic one week earlier.

Note that citations for editorials and articles reproduced from The China Critic list the volume number in Roman numerals, followed by the issue in Arabic numerals. Thus, IV:25 is volume 4 issue 25. Minor changes have been made to the texts to accord with the house style of China Heritage Quarterly.

Each section of The Critic at Work contains further articles related to the topic under discussion, also from the pages of The China Critic, in downloadable PDF format.—The Editor

Upon the sentiments as expressed in Mrs Pearl S. Buck's article 'The New Patriotism' that appeared in the last issue of The Critic one cannot but give one's hearty endorsement. The Chinese people used to be great and serene in the face of hostile criticisms, confident of their inherent righteousness based on the practice of the Confucian ethics. As Mrs Buck remarks, China was too great to need defence. If there is any people on earth that are 'too proud to fight', it is the Chinese people. But the Manchus made a mess of China's international affairs, brought the country into a series of disastrous wars the outcome of which has given us a 'fear complex' that revolts at anything smacking of unfavorable comments. This explains the sensitiveness of some of our countrymen who organize boycotts against some such films as the 'Welcome Danger' and who require that the foreign tourists take pictures of only the beautiful spots of China and leave out the mud and the dirt and the squalor. But it would be a mistake to think that all of us are of the same mind with these sensitive children. God be praised that among a touchy people there are at least a handful of men and women who are too proud to take offence. Bedbugs exist everywhere. While we resist ever encroachment on China's legitimate rights, we by no means close our eyes to the many evils that dwell in this land. So far as we know, we are not conscious of a single instance in which we express the slightest contempt for 'the millions of toiling mortals'. On the contrary, we have always sympathized with the underdogs (vide The Critic, IV:14 [2 April 1931]). When some foreign journalists chose to laugh at a Chinese lady who almost lost her honor in a Dutch packet, we wrote, 'The sympathies of our good friend the editor are probably with the immortals: with the gods above or the imps below. We are satisfied if we can stretch a hand to or shed a tear for human beings, wherever they live, in huts or in tents, on lands or on waters, in a Chinese cottage or in a Dutch mail-boat.' (See Vox Populi, Vox Dei, III:51, 18 December 1930). When capital punishment went to extreme [sic] we wrote the 'Lost Art of Decapitation' (The Critic, IV:17 [23 April 1931]). And in another place, we said, 'Such is man that he fawns on the great and sneers at the little, blandishes the victor and kicks the underdog, always ready to desert the sinking ship in order to worship the rising sun' (The Little Critic, IV:6 [5 February 1931]). Not once have we expressed a scorn for our farmers, our wheelbarrow-men, our ricksha coolies. It is, however, a shame that some of us have done so, especially our returned students. These men we condemn unreservedly. Let Mrs Buck's article be a perpetual warning for all of us, including us of The Critic, so that snobbishness may be forever banished from this land and a broader, larger understanding may come to us through a sympathetic contact with the unfortunate, the unknown, and the unhappy.

The New Patriotism (I)

Pearl S. Buck

This essay first appeared in The China Critic, IV:24 (11 June 1931): 562-564.—The Editor

One of the most interesting of the many interesting developments in the China of today has been the change in type of patriotism. China has never been without her great patriots, those individuals who stand out in history as rulers and statesmen; she has never been without a deep spirit of patriotism among her people, although this patriotism has not always been of the articulate and aggressive sort found in all countries in the world today among certain types of young minds.

To one who has watched with detached and sympathetic eyes the various trends of the day in China, it has been at once a source of amusement and concern to see among some of the younger Chinese men and women a conviction that true patriotism has been born in their generation, and that the people of past generations, particularly the 'lao peh-hsing' [老百姓] or common folk, have had no patriotism at all but have been blind dwellers in the land. I say amusement, because it is a trait common to young people the world over to feel that they are the only ones to be thus and so, the only ones to understand various things, whereas what they feel and understand are common to us all. I say concern, because this type of patriotism found too often among the young of China—and I do not limit it to China because it is found only in China, but because at present I am thinking particularly of China—is really doing China harm and belittling her in the eyes of the world.

Fig.1 Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) in the early nineteen-thirties

Let me define, if I can, the difference between the sort of feeling for one's country which is natural and instinctive, and the sort which springs from some artificial cause. The first love-of-country which was in all Chinese by nature up to this present generation was in its way a very admirable thing. To them China was so great that she needed no defense. They were interested in the ways of other countries mildly more or less according to each individual temperament, but not envious, or jealous, or ashamed of what was their own. If they wished to adopt a foreign thing they did so because it suited them, made them more comfortable, in short, and in so doing they changed it into their own and it was no longer foreign. But it was done with no sense of intrinsic inferiority.

Some foreigners have laughed, perhaps all of us have smiled a little, at the self-satisfaction which made the emperors of old feel that China was the only country and all nations must come bearing tributes. We have the speeches of officials to Lord Macaulay [Macartney—Ed.] and to other ambassadors from the West. Yet, although this idea that nations coming bearing tribute to any other nation is now obsolete and properly so, still all of us feel there was something very fine in that tranquil surety of the beauty and the strength and the power of one's own land. It is a feeling which is proper in itself, and its naïveté, as exhibited in certain individuals, is not absurd at all but touching.

I say I admire with all my heart that patriotism which I have found among Chinese, rich and poor, in city and country, which is so much a part of its own country that it does not perceive that its country needs defense, but accepts it, good and bad, as one's own and therefore beloved and great. This assurance is the assurance of all great nations. The Englishman has it, certainly the nations of old had it, the Frenchman has it, the German also, although in the German today we find some changes we need not dwell upon here. The American does not yet have it because his country is too new and he has not yet passed out of the stage of finding it necessary to insist loudly and frequently upon its greatness. But even the American is learning it and in another generation we shall find, I am sure, a quieter race of Americans, more tranquil, who will accept serenely and without question their country's greatness and feel no need of defending her.

But I find a new quality in the sort of patriotism that the younger Chinese have. I generalize, although I hate generalizations and realize their weakness. But I dare to generalize because of my acquaintance, extending over many years, with hundreds of young Chinese men and women. First, I find one quality which is admirable among some of them, and that is a real desire to understand their country's faults and do all in their power to change these faults and improve what they see to be wrong. Others can only see what is wrong and make no effort, either through indolence or despair, to bring about any changes. But there is another quality in this new patriotism which I do not admire so much, and curiously enough it is found most strongly in those who have shrugged their shoulders and have not undertaken any active part in the new life of reconstruction in the country. I speak of that type of patriotism, which is no true patriotism because it is founded not in love of country but in shame of country. It is manifested in the type of person who sees insult where no insult is intended, who reads into every foreign book and essay on China deliberate evil and malicious intent, who would put a ban on this movie and that, on such and such a book or writer.

Now it is quite true that there are narrow and prejudiced persons who write on China and who because of their prejudices present unfair pictures. Such persons write also about the United States, about England, about every country in the world. But in most countries no undue attention is given them. But a certain group of so-called patriots in China feel that their dignity has been hurt and that they must accuse these writers of evil intent. This accusation, to be perfectly frank, has only two results, both most unfortunate, the first being to advertise thoroughly the writer or actor, and the second to cast grave suspicion into the minds of non-partisan person or persons abroad, who do not know the facts, that perhaps the writer or actor is right, else why such a need of suppression and defense? Why be afraid if there is no truth there? People the world over are not such fools as to believe one or a few persons; a book of destructive criticism on China simply makes the average reader want to find a book with the other side presented. Katherine Mayo's book on India did an immense deal for India, not because of its criticisms primarily, but because so many people felt there must be another side to India and went to work to find out what it was, and did find out many truths on the other side.

Fig.2 High-brow patriot: Kiang Kang-hu (江亢虎, 1883-1954). Then a professor at McGill University, Kiang took issue with Pearl Buck's portrayal of 'low-bred Chinese' in her novel The Good Earth (see 'Pearl Buck and Ourselves'). Later achieving unpatriotic notoriety as a functionary in the collaborationist regime led by Wang Jingwei (汪精衛, 1883-1944), Kiang went on to die in prison in Shanghai, in December 1954.

But this does not interest me primarily, because I am not really afraid for China at the hands of foreigners in the eyes of the world. I can smile when this little man and that makes such and such an accusation. But what does concern me very much is the state of mind of these young patriots, because I am afraid these young patriots may do China a great deal of harm. The world will not take entire and without a grain of salt the sayings of foreigners about a country. We do not so take the saying of other foreigners about our own respective countries anywhere. But when Chinese say things, when Chinese grow hysterical in denial, sometimes of manifest absurdities—shall I say usually of manifest absurdities—the world begins to wonder. They do protest too much. There protestations do China harm—and the opinions of the protesters do China harm.

Now what do I mean by the opinions of the protesters? I mean this. There is a group of young patriots in China, honest young patriots, whose motives cannot be impugned, who love their country with a sort of agony, but who do their country infinite harm by that love. They have seen the most of their country with a sort of dreadful shame—her poverty, her straw huts, her famines, her problems of opium and slavery, her civil wars, the wretchedness in which some of her people live. Many, perhaps most, of these young patriots have been abroad and have seen the better parts of Western countries, not the slums and the wretched spots that are everywhere, in every land. They come back feeling that China is in a shameful state. Some of them are in an agony of impatience to change everything. They cannot. Their impatience turns into a hostility, a sense of inferiority, and they satisfy themselves by trying to hide what they cannot change. Some of them try to see to it that foreigners shall not take any pictures in China except of the magnificent temples and buildings and landscapes that are hers. A village street has no beauty for them. Some of them discuss gravely the insult offered to China in any book that does not present impossible pictures, pictures, I say, impossible to any country and that do not fool anyone unless it be the unlearned and these even are not interested. For people in the West are not interested in the romantic, untrue aspects of China. They are interested in the Chinese as a human being like all of us, his struggles in civil war as we have all struggled, his problems of opium as we have ours of narcotics and liquor, his struggles against famine and flood and hard times, as we all have our struggles against such facts of nature. When they of the West so see the Chinese as part of the human family they will begin to be interested in the Chinese as a human being and not any more as a figure in a movie who is a villain and indeed little short of magic, or as a lady painted upon a fan and as remote from actual life, the common life of us all.

I do accuse you, you young Chinese patriots, that you have belittled your great country in the eyes of the West because you are ashamed of your country. I am one who you would call a foreigner because my race is not yours, my country not China. But I have lived in your China all my life long and I have made it mine. I see its faults, I see the things you are ashamed of and try to hide. I say you need not hide them; they are the faults of us all, of every country, in different guise, perhaps, but essentially the same. Greed, selfishness, oppression, inefficiency are everywhere. It is absurd to pretend they are not. But I do accuse you of something worse than this. You have belittled your country because you have not understood her, you have felt your peasants are disgraceful because they are so poor. You have not seen how brave they are, how indomitable with the minimum of help from any source. You have looked at the mat hut and been ashamed for foreigners to see it; you have not seen the unmatched bravery and goodness of heart which can make mothers and fathers living in these hovels still take care as best they can of their old parents and young children. You have even sometimes, for I have seen this, tried to hide these mat huts behind whitewashed walls so that passing visitors would not see them. You have hidden none of the misery—for who cannot see what is behind so flimsy a wall?—but you have hidden the greatness of your people who can maintain life, not only physical but in a marvellous degree moral also, under such conditions and so unaided.

Young patriots, I whom you would call a foreigner, I stand humble, not before you nor your great buildings nor your great plans for the future, all well though these be. I stand humble before the quality of your common people, the farmer, the wheelbarrow man, the small shop-keeper, the silk weaver, the slave and servant in the great house. These I would, if I were a patriot, show to the world. Among these have I seen such courage, such kindness, such a simplicity in the way they take the exigencies of their lives, such supreme honesty and realism in facing the common facts of our human life upon this earth that to me they are unmatched. Surely there are not people greater upon the earth than these! I should like the whole world to see them as they are. There is a beauty to me greater than any beauty in China in the poor earthen house of a farm family, in the poverty of a vendor's life endured with such spirit as he endures it, in the rickshaw man's patience. How dare you be ashamed of such as these!

No, let your patriotism rather express itself in nobler ways. China needs no defense—I repeat it. She is too great. She is to be accepted without shame. To be ashamed of her is to be oneself too small to appreciate her true greatness. The Chinese need not hide anything. Let these young patriots rather take to themselves again the tranquil dignity of their forefathers who were a very part of their land and to whom it was a fact too great to need defense that China was, to them, the greatest country in the world. Let these young patriots begin to change what they do not feel is worthy of this country of theirs, not in big formless plans, but in the small concrete doings of every day and in every day dealings with the common people whom too many of them despise. Then the new patriotism will be true patriotism, compounded of the old strong belief in one's own race and people and their essential temper, and of the new determination to bring to this people, second to none in the world, the best that the Western world has to offer them.