Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/632

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Nor should we forget to distinguish the primitive rustics of the inland provinces from the vice-worn population of the coast plains. Degeneration has not left its marks far above tide-water, and has hardly begun to affect the natives of the highlands, the Yunan hunting tribes, for instance, who, though South Mongols, have renounced the tenets of Buddha and adopted those of militant Mohammed.

Their chieftains welcomed war for its own sake, while the lowland conscripts were in the predicament of desert dwellers, caught in the flood of a sudden cloudburst. Thousands at first succumbed almost without a struggle; the levies drilled to oppose the Japanese invasion stood to be slaughtered like sheep, being, moreover, morally handicapped by a misgiving that the war with the champions of the north had been wantonly provoked.

Discipline has begun to break the spell of that apathy, but the desperate valor that surprised the veterans of the allies at Taku and Yangtsun had a very different significance. Fury supplied the defects of military training; the listless life-renouncers had at last been goaded into a frenzy of nationalistic resentment. It was the same delirium of retributive wrath that rallied a million Frenchmen around the standards of the invaded Republic, and hurled a horde of Russian volunteers into the bullet-storm of Borodino.

'A united nation of fifteen millions is not vincible', wrote Jean Jacques Rousseau, in reply to an appeal of the Polish patriots. South Mongols were supposed to be hardly worth an expedition of Caucasian regulars, but even a world coalition might find use for intrenchments if the vendetta rage of a war for national existence should arouse a land of 385,000,000 inhabitants.

Whether that storm will purify the social atmosphere of the vast empire or subside into the calm of exhaustion, is a different question. It would even be premature to accept the appearance of a few able leaders as a propitious omen of regeneration. In a land ten times the size of France the crisis of a fearful peril will always evolve a Carnot, a Danton and a Dumouriez, if not a storm-compelling Bonaparte.

The days of the West Mongol Empire, the dominion of the turbaned Turk, are undoubtedly numbered, but not as a result of national decrepitude. The successor of Sultan Bajazet will succumb, not as a 'sick man', but as a cripple; an invalid worn out in a fight against hopeless odds. Within the last hundred years the stadtholders of the Prophet had to defend their throne against Russian, Austrian, Greek, French and British attacks, and more than once against a West-European alliance, backed by African and Asiatic insurgents. Within that period 3,000,000 Mongol Mussulmans have perished on the battlefield, a million for every generation of an impoverished and not specially reproductive race. Their empire will collapse, but its defenders are