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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/630

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Russian diplomats, since the days of Czarina Katherine, have accommodated themselves to emerging circumstances by crawling or strutting, without ever losing sight of the road to Constantinople.

In the shaggy Ainos of Yesso (probably the original home of our 'Shetland' ponies), that perseverance takes the form of mulish stubbornness. They strenuously object to foreign imports and stick to their sheepskin cloaks like Scotch Highlanders to their kilts, but in stress of famine seem now to take an interest in the harpoon-guns of their Russian neighbors, and now and then sell specimens of their poodle-faced youngsters to the agents of a transpacific museum.

Japan still produces athletes, as well as unrivaled acrobats, partly, no doubt, on account of bracing climatic influences, but partly, also, of a vice-resisting worship of physical prowess. About sixty years ago the slums of the large seaport towns were expurgated by a national revolt against the spread of the opium habit, and the consequent reform movement appears to have kept step with the Swedish crusade against the spread of the alcohol curse.

China may be forced into the arena of regeneration, but thus far seems to view the collapse of her ring-wall only as a blessing in a rather effective disguise. The policy of non-intercourse, indeed, had the sanction of a physical necessity in the opinion of as shrewd a statesman as the vizier of the great Kooblai Khan, who conquered rebels from Mantchooria to Siam, but recognized the hopelessness of ordinary measures for protecting the peaceful toilers of the eastern provinces against the predatory hordes of the northwest. A standard army of home-guards, he argued, would have to be composed either of natives who could not fight, or of foreign auxiliaries who might revolt; so, all things considered, it was deemed best to bar a foe that could not be beaten. Strategically, the plan succeeded, stone walls being then so inexpugnable to spear-armed besiegers that the proprietors of a stone-built robber castle could defy the wrath of the public for a series of generations. The Tartar marauders were kept at bay, but so were trading caravans and traveling philosophers; the disadvantages of all obstacles to free competition began to assert themselves. The nation, as it were, sickened in a marasmus of intellectual inbreeding. Protected incompetence propagated its species; monopolies flourished. The survival of the fittest no longer favored the brave; cowards and weaklings could find refuge under the telamonian shield of the big wall.

Within the last hundred years that process of degeneration has been hastened by two incidental afflictions—spring floods and summer droughts. The rapid increase of population has driven home-seekers into the highlands of the far west, and the destruction of land-protecting forests avenged itself in the usual manner. Every heavy snowfall in the mountains became a menace to the settlers of the lowlands; a sud-