PEACEFUL COUNTRY LEARNS USES FOR VIOLENCE
The Manchester Guardian, 30th June 1913
PEKING — The Chinese Revolution has proceeded, so far, with less disturbance and bloodshed than any great revolution known to history. There has been little serious fighting and little serious disorder; nothing comparable to that which accompanied, for instance, the French Revolution of 1789.
And this, no doubt, is due to the fact that the Chinese are alone among nations of the earth in detesting violence and cultivating reason. Their instinct is always to compromise and save everybody’s face. And this is the main reason why Westerners despise them. The Chinese, they aver, have “no grits”. When hard pressed as to the policy of the Western Powers in China, they will often quite frankly confess that they consider the West has benefited China by teaching her the use of force.
That this should be the main contribution of Christian to Pagan civilisation is one of the ironies of history. But it is part of the greater irony which gave the Christian faith to precisely those nations all of whose fundamental instincts and convictions were and are in the most radical antagonism to its teaching.
Though it is broadly true that the Chinese have relied on reason and justice in a way and to a degree which is inconceivable in the West, they have not been without their share of original sin. Violence, anarchy and corruption have played a part in their history, though a less part than in the history of most countries. And these forces have been specially evident in that department to which Westerners are apt to pay the greatest attention — in the department of government.
Government has always been less important in China than in Western States; it has always been rudimentary in its organisation; and for centuries it has been incompetent and corrupt.
Of this corruption Westerners, it is true, make more than they fairly should. China is no more corrupt (to say the least) than the United States or Italy or France, or than England was in the eighteenth century. And much that is called corruption is recognised and established “squeeze”, necessary, and understood to be necessary, to supplement the inadequate salaries of officials.
Moreover, the people have always had their remedy. When the recognised “squeeze” is exceeded, they protest by riot. So that the Chinese system, in the most unfavourable view, may he described as corruption tempered by anarchy. And this system, it is admitted, still prevails after the Revolution.
Clearly, indeed, it cannot be extirpated until officials are properly paid. And China is not in a position to pay for any reform while the Powers are drawing away on enormous percentage of her resources by that particular form of robbery called, by diplomatists, “indemnity”.
The new officials, then, are “corrupt” as the old ones were: and they are something more. They are Jacobins. Educated abroad, they are as full of ideas as was Robespierre or St Just, and their ideas are even more divorced from sentiment, tradition, and human feeling.
A foreign education seems to make a cut right across a Chinaman’s life. He returns with a new head: and this head never gets into normal relations with his heart. That, I believe, is the essence of Jacobinism, ideas working with enormous rapidity and freedom unchecked by the fly-wheel of traditional feelings.
It is Jacobinism that accounts for the extraordinary vigour of the campaign against opium. Many Europeans still endeavour to maintain that this campaign is not serious. But that is because Europeans simply cannot conceive that any body of men should be in as deadly earnest about a moral issue as are the representatives of Young China.
The anti-opium campaign is not only serious. it is ruthless. Smokers are flogged and executed; poppy is rooted up; and farmers who resist are shot down. The other day in Hunan it is credibly reported that some seventy farmers who had protested against the destruction of their crops were locked into a temple and burned alive. An old man of 76, falsely accused of growing poppy, was fined $500, and, when he refused to pay, was flogged to death by the orders of a young official of 22.
Stories of this kind come in from every part of the country: and though this or that story may be untrue or exaggerated, there can be no doubt about the general state of affairs. The officials are putting down opium with a vigour and a determination which it is inconceivable should ever be applied in the West to the traffic in alcohol.
The anti-opium campaign is one example of the way in which the Revolution has elicited and intensified violence in this peace-loving people. Another example is the use of assassination.
Two months ago a prominent leader of the southern party was assassinated. Popular suspicion traces the murder to high Government officials and even to the President himself. The other day a southern general was killed by a bomb. For the manufacture of bombs is one of the things China has learned from the Christian West. The President lives in constant terror of this form of murder.
Our notion is that everything must be done by authority, and that unless authority is maintained there will be anarchy. The Chinese notion is that authority is there to carry out what the people recognise to be common sense and justice. If it does otherwise, it must be resisted. And if it disappears life will still go on, as it is going on now in the greater part of China, on the basis of the traditional and essentially reasonable routine.