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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/September 1907/The Chinaman and the Foreign Devils

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 71‎ | September 1907



THE ancient examination halls at Peking have been transformed into a military school. To the western mind there is nothing startling in the item, nor significance beyond the fact that it suggests that China is at last rousing from her centuries of complacent introspection and retrospection, and purposes to learn something which the rest of the world has found useful. A mere change in the curriculum of certain Chinese students, it would seem, of less interest to mankind in general than if Oxford should suddenly abandon the study of divinity or the humanities. But to the Chinaman it means more. It is a change of greater moment, more revolutionary than would be the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty. Indeed, a dynastic change would be comparatively an insignificant and commonplace event. In the fourteen hundred years since the course of studies was prescribed by which the Chinese student fits himself to enter the aristocratic order of the literati, and thereby to become eligible to government office, the celestial empire has undergone a full score of revolutions, each one of which has resulted in the establishment of a new royal line. But during that period, which has witnessed the birth, decadence and death of christian empires, the requirements of Chinese scholarship have been unchanged. Until to-day, the student who presented himself at the triennial examination at Peking as a candidate for the highest degree attainable, the 'Chin Shi,' or 'Enrolled Scholar,' has been questioned on precisely the same subjects, tested by the same literary standard in his essays, as his predecessor of the sixth century; and has prepared himself for the ordeal by the study of classics that were hoary before the christian era began. The change has come. Philosophy must yield a place to the art of war. Its import to China, the most ancient, the most conservative, the most peace-loving nation on earth, is beyond our power to estimate. Its portent to the world at large is hardly to be conceived; to be conjectured, however, on a review of some of the features of the rough schooling by which this placid people has been educated to its needs.

It is many years since the powers began prodding the Yellow Dragon, with bayonets and otherwise, in the determination to awaken him from his lethargy; but it is only of late that they have begun to ask, with a faint quaver of trepidation, 'Suppose he should rouse . . . what then?' The question has even provoked some slight symptoms of hysteria, expressed here and there, when the monster has shown signs of life in response to the systematic and persistent annoyance, in shrill clamors about the 'Yellow Peril,' with chilly sensations at the recollection of the hordes of Jenghiz Khan. The cry has been taken up, echoed, and having served its purpose as an interesting bogie for the newspaper-reading public, has been scoffed down; but there has remained more or less speculation, not unaccompanied by misgivings, as to whether the dragon had not been better left asleep. The fact has been taken into consideration rather abruptly and quite seriously that he represents 400,000,000 people, capable of truculent forms of vengeance on occasion, and animated by a national feeling of a definite and positive kind. These reflections might properly be productive of uneasiness did we not reassure ourselves with the self-satisfying assumption of the mental, moral and physical superiority of the Indo-European race, and the conviction that it is our destiny to inherit the earth. We indulge in a comparison of ourselves with the Mongolian in a way which leaves him relatively far down in the human scale, and have taken it for granted, hastily perhaps, that he can not rise. Experience has shown in the past that he was averse to fighting, and that he could be expected to submit, with no resistance much more forceful than a protest, to whatever imposition or exaction any bullying occidental nation might see fit to make. As a consequence, the dealings of the christian nations with China have constituted a long series of outrages upon that country and of offenses to decency, at the catalogue of which it is difficult to say whether one should be more astounded at the Chinaman's endurance, or humiliated by the shamelessness of the white man's oppression. We have fairly won our title of "foreign devils." We bear it with composure, with a good-humored scorn or, at most, with a mild resentment that the Chinaman can be so unreasonable as to give us the designation. But however we accept the term it is quite certain that he applies it with earnest sincerity, and that it is an expression of a hatred and contempt for the foreigner almost universal throughout the empire.

There has been evidence enough of this hostility to make it seem worth the while to inquire what its basis may be, but the question is seldom raised. When raised it is usually answered by a vague reference to the Chinaman's "ignorance," to his fanatic antipathy to Christianity, his opposition to progress or his national egotism. To the first of these it may be rejoined that he is not ignorant, in the sense, at least, of being unlettered or unintelligent; for in no other country in the world is learning more wide-spread or more highly honored, no country has a greater literature, and few races are distinguished by keener intellect that the Chinese. Their learning is not ours, and judged by our standards their educational system is absurd; but it is the one avenue to political preferment or social eminence, and no village is too small or obscure to have its school, no boy too humble to be eligible to its advantages. If their studies are confined to the ancient classics, as were those of the European scholar not many generations ago, the defect is in part compensated by the absolute thoroughness required to enable a candidate to pass the examinations; and whatever the practical value of the learning, the mental discipline is of the most severe. It has produced a race of students; has developed an intellectual capacity which, when a young Chinaman enters a western university, makes him the peer of the best of his white fellows.

It is true that the Chinese are ignorant of the outside world and its arts, and their ignorance is only surpassed by their indifference; but their hostility to them is not traditional. In medieval times there was a considerable and friendly intercourse with the nations of the west, and christian envoys, priests and traders were welcomed, with whatever knowledge or commodities they could bring. From the seventh to the tenth century the Nestorian Church made many converts, and later the Dominican and Franciscan Orders established missions without opposition. In the fourteenth century Catholic churches were so numerous that the Papal See made China an archbishopric under John of Monte Corvino. For that remote period commerce with Europe was important, and flourished until overland communication was cut off by the rise of Islam, leaving China for two hundred years forgotten of the world.

The attitude of the Chinese toward systems of faith other than their own has never been one of antagonism. In the first century an envoy sent out by the emperor to bring back the religion of the west returned with Buddhism, which was accepted as superior to the indigenous form of belief, and has now a more numerous following than either Taoism or the philosophy of Confucius. Twelve hundred years later the Venetian travelers, the Polos, were sent as emissaries from Kublai Khan to the Pope with the request for instructors in Christianity. So far as religious belief is concerned the Chinaman is as tolerant today as he was then. He has no enmity for Christianity per se, and objects to it only because he fancies its purpose and effect are to alienate the Chinese convert—to make him, in his sympathies, a "foreign devil." This suspicion is sufficient to rouse his hostility and provoke his violence. He hates the christian because he is a foreigner; not the foreigner because he is a christian. He is far too well-balanced and temperate to be a religious fanatic, and is possibly more liberal in his views of questions of faith and worship than are we. Taoism, the boundaries of the empire, side by side with the agnosticism and atheism of the Confucianists, and there is no record of religious wars or persecution, no history of an inquisition, no massacre of St. Bartholomew, no ostracisms because of faith or the want of it. The Chinaman believes with moderation, and the gods he has bear lightly upon him. The coolie propitiates his Joss, but when the wooden god fails to respond in a satisfactory manner the devotee does not scruple to maltreat him. Recently the great viceroy, Yuan Shih Kai, ordered certain temples in Taotingfu to be cleared of their idols to make room for police stations, and the images were thrown into the river. To the worshipers it was a joke on the gods. "They are having their first bath!" said one, and the crowd laughed with sacrilegious glee. This is not the stuff of which the religious fanatic is made.

The opinion that the hatred of the foreigners arises from opposition to progress is based upon better grounds. The Chinaman has opposed it, has resisted it with an inertia as of the everlasting hills, but from his point of view he has been justified. One phase of western progress is the development and use of labor-saving appliances; but the introduction of such machinery into a Chinese community means calamity. Their economic conditions are adjusted with delicacy so great that it is only by incessant toil that the laborer can earn enough to keep himself and his family from starvation, and the foreign contrivance which will accomplish fifty men's work in one day may entail famine upon forty-nine and their dependants. From their standpoint the argument against machinery is forcible. We have excluded the Chinese coolie from this country merely because he is able to do more work and better work, and is willing to do it for less pay, than our white laborers, though the danger of starvation to the class with which the Chinese workman competed was not immediate, but extremely remote. There seems to be a suggestion in this that possibly the Chinaman is entitled to object, on his part, to the presence of the foreigner and his machinery. His right to the recognition of his objection is, of course, not to be considered by any power, because he is not yet strong enough to enforce it. There are indications that some day he may be.

But even the question of domestic policy does not suffice to account for the intense hostility which the alien has met everywhere in China, manifested in repeated uprisings and the infuriate cruelty of mobs, and which is too universal and obstinate to be attributable to mere prejudice. The Chinaman is wholly rational—rational enough to perceive, after due deliberation, the benefits to accrue from the adoption of those products of western inventiveness which do not threaten his livelihood, as may be inferred from the existence of modern arsenals in full operation, from the rapidity with which railroad and telegraphic communication is being established throughout the realm, and from the evident purpose to learn more of the arts, peaceful and other, which have been developed in Europe and America. It is to be assumed that a people gifted with much good sense and a sobriety of mind beyond the ordinary will not cherish a race-hatred so deep-seated, persistent and uncompromising without good and ample reason. The reason in this instance is not far to seek. Simply stated, it lies in the circumstance that they have found in their intercourse with white men that the white man is a scoundrel. Other races have learned the same lesson through experience disastrous just in proportion to the value of their territory or property in the eyes of the rapacious Caucasian, and that China has thus far escaped complete dismemberment is due solely to the mutual jealousy of the powers which have long had that ambition and design. Her losses of domain have not been great, but she has been made to suffer, nevertheless, as no other civilized nation since the wreck of the empire of the Incas by Spain. Her first contact with Europeans in modern times began early in the sixteenth century, and from the beginning it was of a nature to fully warrant the sentiment with which she still regards them. Successively, the French, Portuguese, Spaniards and Dutch descended upon her coasts, ravaged and destroyed towns, and massacred their inhabitants. The Portuguese captured Ningpo, and held it until the populace, enraged by their acts of cruelty and oppression, rose and drove them out with heavy loss of men and ships. Later, they seized and fortified the peninsula of Macao, and after repeated efforts to expel them the Chinese government granted the privilege of occupation, conditional upon the payment of 500 taels annual ground-rent. In the treaty it was specifically stipulated that China should retain sovereignty over the territory. This treaty, however, was so manipulated by the Portuguese translator that according to the text of the copy which went to Lisbon all rights over Macao were ceded to Portugal, China being allowed merely to maintain a consulate. When at length the fraud became known at Peking the imperial government protested, but was forced, in order to avoid a war with the invader, to formally cede the peninsula, which remains Portuguese territory. The Crown of Portugal draws a small revenue from farming out the right to operate establishments for playing fan-tan, a game prohibited by the laws of China.

In 1854 Macao became the seat of the infamous coolie traffic, which for a quarter of a century paled the worst horrors of African slavery. This trade was originated by the English to supply cheap labor to the colonists of British Guiana. In the early years of the enterprise the coolies were induced to emigrate on legitimate contract for seven years' service at the rate of something over four dollars a month, with food, clothing and shelter provided by the planters. After the independence of Peru she entered the traffic to secure workmen for her mines and for the guano pits of the Chincha Islands, and Cuba followed her example to provide for her plantations. As the demand for the coolies increased the means employed in procuring them became more and more unscrupulous. Labor agents infested the Chinese ports, the natives were decoyed by fraudulent representations, systematic kidnapping was inaugurated, armed junks were employed to raid the coasts for captives. and prisoners were purchased outright from the leaders of factions engaged in internecine wars. Depots were established at Macao where the victims were herded under heavy guard until sufficient numbers were obtained for a cargo, when they were crowded into transports and shipped under conditions of misery, filth and brutality which surpassed in atrocity those of the "middle passage," Arriving at their destination, they were sold like cattle to the highest bidders, to enter a servitude which differed from slavery only in being for a limited period, and in the fact that their masters, having no interest in them as property of value, were concerned only to work them under the lash to the extent of their endurance. Those were fortunate whose fate did not land them in the Chincha Islands. Here they were forced to toil under treatment so inhuman that of the four thousand wretches imported from the beginning of the traffic until 1860 not one survived. Those who did not die from the effects of cruelty and exhaustion committed suicide.

The efforts of China to induce the powers to suppress the trade were of course unavailing. There was money in it. But when at length the scandal became intolerable some perfunctory measures were taken by those nations not financially interested, to end, or at least to modify, the worst of its features, and in about ten years they succeeded in making regulations, in concert with the Chinese government, which rendered it unprofitable. But China had gained additional experience of the "foreign devils."

It would be unfair to Portugal to cite her case alone. She is not unique, and far from conspicuous, among those who have proceeded on the assumption that China has no rights which any able-bodied nation is bound to respect. There has been a want of harmony in other matters, but not in this. The helplessness of their victim has made the same appeal to all, and they have responded in a course of brow-beating and bleeding with a unanimity of impulse that is astonishing. The respectable Dutch were early in the game. In 1622, under no pretext of war, nor with better excuse than might ease the conscience of a pirate, they seized the Pescadore Islands, impressed the native inhabitants at the point of the bayonet and compelled them to build fortifications. From this stronghold they ravaged the coast and the Island of Formosa, pillaging and slaying, but, finding it unremunerative, finally wearied and withdrew. The French were less direct in their aggressions and began their spoliation, not in China proper, but in the Kingdom of Annam, where a party of adventurers had gained a foothold in the latter part of the eighteenth century by aiding in the restoration of the deposed Annamese king, Gia Long. In 1859 the murder of a number of missionaries led to the invasion of Annam by the French and the seizure of several provinces. Later, the existence of mineral wealth in Tongking, an ancient dependancy of China, was reported by French explorers, and it was at once found necessary to despatch an expedition into that country for the ostensible purpose of suppressing disorders caused by bands of disorganized followers of the Tai-ping rebels. During the operations of the expeditionary force it came into collision with the Chinese troops by which some of the towns were partly garrisoned, and at the end of the war France found the circumstance to be worth $15,000,000, which she compelled China to pay, in addition to the cession of Tongking, which is now a French province. But in 1883, before the hostilities had begun, and while the French minister was at Peking negotiating a settlement of matters connected with Tongking, certain French warships quietly dropped anchor in the harbor of Foochow. Their coming had no appearance of menace, and the Chinese were without suspicion that the visit was otherwise than friendly. The fleet lay for several weeks, and its officers had exchanged the usual courtesies with the authorities of the port; but suddenly, without the slightest warning, the ships opened fire upon the imperial arsenal, sank the Chinese gunboats at their anchorage before they could be got under way, and continued the bombardment until the destruction was complete. The action was wholly unexpected, unprovoked by any act of hostility on the part of China, and though the relations of the two countries were strained, diplomatic intercourse had not been interrupted.

A more petty instance of outrage, but one quite as characteristic of the methods pursued by the nations, occurred in 1860, when the foreign legations were established at Peking. The Chinese government leased to the French minister for residence at a nominal rental the unoccupied palace of one of the princes. The gentleman moved in, payed his rent for two years, then claimed ownership and declined to make further remuneration.

The recent acquisition of territory by three great powers is a matter of familiar history. It was accomplished, on the part of Great Britain and Germany, by the use of a formula which has proved in the last forty years to be highly efficacious in extorting valuables from China in a civilized manner and with an appearance of respectability, and has been employed many times. The formula is simple in its nature; equally so in its application. A power demands a concession, usually of some desirable area of harbor frontage, and China, helpless to resist, has no sooner yielded than she has the diplomatic corps about her ears in a frenzy at the disturbance of the "balance of power." Each diplomat waves a claim for indemnity, and China, thoroughly cowed by long experience, must restore the balance by further cession of property, or by the payment of an equivalent in gold. Thus, at the end of the Chinese-Japanese war, the victor restrained by concert of Russia, France and Germany from holding Manchuria as the fruit of conquest, had hardly evacuated Port Arthur before the place was occupied by the forces of the Czar, and with reiterated assurances of a perfectly honorable purpose to presently withdraw, they commenced the absorption of the 400,000 square miles which Japan had been forced to relinquish. At once Germany and England discovered that the "balance of power" had been deranged to a degree that required the cession of Kjao-chau to the one, and of Wei-hai-wei to the other. The balance of power! Unhappy China!

But all these injuries, inflicted upon the most inoffensive race of people on earth, accompanied as they have been by every form of diplomatic bullying, coercion and insult, and not infrequently by armed invasion, sink into inconsequence in comparison with the superlative infamy of the opium trade forced upon her by Great Britain. For centuries the production and use of the drug had been prohibited in the empire and punished with the utmost severity; but in 1773 the British East India Company, which had the monopoly of the article in India, smuggled a small shipment into the province of Kwang Tung. The profits of the enterprise proved to be great, and by the end of the century, notwithstanding the endeavors of the Chinese authorities to suppress it, the illicit trade had grown to important proportions. The government at Peking placed heavy penalties upon the importation, but through bribery and intimidation of the customs officials the traffic rapidly increased, and regular lines of swift, heavily armed schooners and junks set the laws at defiance. On the expiration of the charter of the East India Company in 1834 the opium monopoly fell into the hands of the British government, which took up the business with energy and protected it with the guns of a powerful fleet. Under these auspices the smuggling continued with practical impunity until at last, thoroughly alarmed at the rapid growth of the vice which was fastening itself upon his subjects in spite of the penalties of transportation or death for its indulgence, the Emperor ordered one of his most vigorous officers, Commissioner Lin, to stop the trade at whatever cost. In 1839 this officer seized and destroyed at Canton an amount of opium worth $9,000,000, and exacted from the dealers, Chinese and foreign, pledges that they would not resume the traffic. But by thia time Great Britain was deriving an annual revenue of over seven million dollars from the smuggling, and outraged by the high-handed action of the Chinese government in venturing to enforce its own laws, promptly sent a military force to demand reparation. The war was disastrous to China, and she was whipped into a treaty of "amity and commerce," compelled to cede Hong Kong to the British, and to pay $23,000,000 indemnity. The warning was ample, and the imperial officials dared offer no further hindrance to the admission of the "foreign devil's dirt." Even this condition of affairs was unsatisfactory to England, however, for the trade was still illicit, the goods contraband, and she was placed, by the unreasonable laws of China, in the position of a smuggler. The situation was not to be borne by any self-respecting nation, and she determined to amend it. The seizure, by Chinese officials, of the "Arrow," an opium schooner owned and manned by natives, but illegally flying the British flag, afforded the desired pretext, and in 1857 Great Britain again declared war. She was joined by the Trench, and at the end of the campaign, in 1860, China was forced to legalize the opium trade and pay an indemnity of $11,000,000.

In all the annals of the crimes of nations there is no parallel with this one. In the seventy years since the British East India Company made its first venture with a ship load of the drug, the use of it has spread with appalling rapidity, and its victims are numbered by millions. It has made its deadly inroad upon every social class, bearing destruction of mind and body. China has protested, pled and fought in vain. As a last resort the Emperor wrote a personal letter to Queen Victoria, begging her benevolent aid in suppressing a trade so disastrous to his people, and offering any concession in return. The letter was unanswered, the appeal ignored.

So, we are known to the heathen yellow man as "foreign devils," and the examination halls at Peking have been transformed into a military school!