The key to the real history of awakened China, since 1895, may perhaps be found in an imperial autograph proclamation issued in May of that year, which declared that "henceforth the truth will be supported by the State." China's most deeply seated disease was thus advertised. The document itself laid open the interior weakness and official corruption in the empire as frankly as an enemy or alien could do it. China's most prolific source of corruption is "face"; her greatest need is "truth in the inward parts."
Over a half century ago, Dr. S. Wells Williams wrote: "The want of truth and integrity weakens every part of the social fabric. China, alone, of all the civilized nations of the earth, has even now no national silver or gold coin and no bank bills, the only currency being a miserable copper-iron coin, so debased as not to pay counterfeiters to imitate it." Japan has had a gold and silver coinage since 1871, yet in popular notion, commercial integrity is higher in the older than in the younger country. Now, happily, China, awakening to the reality of what was stated long ago, seems more and more determined to rely on showing the true inwardness of things than of hiding or saving the "face" of them.
After the treaty of Portsmouth, in September, 1905, the Mikado's minister, Baron Komura, went to Peking. China accepted the situation, realizing that for generations to come that part of her territory, most sacred in the history of the Manchu dynasty and most promising in her future development, must remain in the hands of Russia and Japan,—which would doubtless soon, by absorbing Korea, become a continental power. As matter of fact, the once peninsular kingdom, with its twelve million souls, was made a province of Japan, under the name of Chosen (Morning Calm) in August, 1910.
Nippon and Muscovy began in earnest to develop trade and railways in Manchuria. The former aimed to connect the Russian and Chinese systems with those in Korea, so that with steamer communication from Tsuruga to Fusan and Vladivostok, making a ferry of the Sea of Japan, she would be in quick and easy touch with Europe. Russia perfected her transatlantic lines of railway. In 1910 the two peoples lately at war entered into a compact of friendship, with mutual purpose to maintain their rights in Manchuria. They also rejected a proposition from Washington to have the railways on Chinese soil open to international capitalization.
Soon after the conclusion of the Chino-Japanese War, Yuan Shi Kai, who in Korea and at home had made a reputation for energy and patriotism, had been selected to do the work of creating a modern army, with uniform weapons, equipment, and commissariat according to the best models. For several years, and with great energy, Yuan gave himself to this work until a creditable force of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers was organized, while many young men were sent to Europe to study in its military schools. Later, through one of the outbreaks at court, between the various struggling and conflicting parties, this mandarin was deprived of his rank under the "face" of (imaginary) rheumatism and retired to private life, but the work went on.
Meanwhile there was a great exodus of native students from every province in the Chinese Empire to Japan. In mind, they were exactly like the Japanese of fifty years before, for most of these eager youths imagined that they could learn the secrets of Western civilization in a few months, and having imbibed the knowledge necessary, could reconstruct old China in a very few years. Turning with contempt from foreigners, missionary or commercial, to their fellow Asiatics, with great expectations and not infrequently with seditious motives and anti-dynastic hostility, they hastened to Tokyo to the number of twenty thousand or more, giving the resident Chinese minister and the Japanese government a problem in keeping them in moral harness. The differences in spirit and manners and the difficulties of language between the Chinese and Japanese, added to those of personal finance, chilled the noble rage of these enthusiastic young fellows, thus unduly tested. More than half of them soon returned, some with just enough knowledge to make them dangerous. Returning to China, they led riotous demonstrations against their magistrates at home with a view of influencing the government to drive the Japanese out of Manchuria. Thousands, however, remained in Japan, becoming pupils who realized the greatness of the noble tasks still in the future before them. Hundreds of Chinese girls were sent to Japan and to Western countries. Nearly five hundred students, including scores of "indemnity students," have come to the United States at the suggestion of the government at Washington, to be educated from the funds returned from the overcharge of the Boxer indemnity. These Chinese students abroad, male and female, have altered their coiffure, dress in Western fashion, hold annual conventions, belong to cosmopolitan clubs, and in every way are endeavoring to absorb what is best in the world's civilization.
At home in China, economic and intellectual reconstruction proceeded rapidly. Vernacular newspapers started up in the seaports, cities, and provinces. Events, persons, and tendencies are discussed with startling freedom, which often in the foreign settlements runs into license, revealing a love of scandal and depths of immorality that are horrible. Yet there is steady improvement in Chinese journalism.
Even more wonderful is the reconstruction of education. The old examination halls are deserted or in ruins. Imperial edicts called for the creation of a national system of public schools to be sustained by taxation. By the decree of 1910, English is made the official language in all the higher scientific and technical schools. The curriculum of the civil service examinations has been entirely modernized. The difficulty of finding competent teachers has been one of the greatest impediments to the educational progress of China. Nevertheless, the desire and intention to master the secrets of Western progress and a perception of the necessity of being equal to the other nations in modern knowledge are manifest both in the government and among the people. The old objections, criticism and denunciation of Christian missionary work, have weakened. All teachers of religion find a more free spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness to receive new ideas.
Even the riots, which break out from time to time, in which foreign property is destroyed and the lives of teachers are menaced or lost, are no real indication that the Chinese people decline enlightenment and a better civilization. On the contrary, the real reason for mob violence in China is the same as in Japan before 1868. The object is to embroil the government with the treaty powers, so that the Manchu rule at Peking may be overthrown and the people be benefited. However blind or foolish they may be who choose such a method to improve their condition, the real reason for these outbursts of popular violence is not what the foreigner, who at once seeks money or vengeance, is apt to imagine.
The real danger now before the Chinese is, that in their eagerness to adopt the best that the world can offer, they will fail to understand the true principles that underlie Christian civilization, and will accept a travesty or distortion of them. Hence the determination of leading men in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States to establish at a central point in China, probably Chang Sha, a great university, that shall affiliate with it the various foreign schools and colleges now on the soil. The plan is to have hostels, in which the particular theory or principles of each sect or denomination may be taught, while the central university shall be devoted to pure science and the highest order of instruction.
In political matters, steady progress has been made. Imperial princes have traveled abroad. Various commissions have been sent out by the Peking government to study the armament, re-sources, and methods, but especially constitutional history and procedure of Western nations. Eminent men, both Chinese and Manchu, have repeatedly visited the Western countries, making special investigations,—educational, military, naval, judicial, political, and economic. While thus, in vital contact with the great nations, China is acting out her own proverb, "The aged must learn from the younger," there is growing up in Hawaii and the United States a generation of children born of Chinese parents, who will be Americans, and, in spite of the barbarians in our own land, they will help to lead China into the world's brotherhood. The system of provincial assemblies has already been established, but the eager reformers, who are in haste to have a national legislative assembly which has been promised by the imperial decree, have been disappointed by repeated postponements,—as was the ease in Japan, from 1868 until 1889. A parliament in China means the transfer of their power by the Manchus to the people. One sign, trivial to us, but deeply significant to the Chinese people, is the choice of a propitious day (January 30, 1911), when Chinamen all over the world were permitted and encouraged to cut off their queues—first the badge of conquest and then of loyalty—and thus wear their hair like civilized male humanity.
The "Yellow Peril" is the nightmare of the guilty and the selfish in the Occident, but the Chinese, confronted by multiplying dangers from the "White Peril," have strenuously resisted the importation of opium and prohibited its growth at home, with results that are hopeful.
At the death, in 1908, of the empress dowager, or Holy Mother, preceded the day before by the decease of the young emperor, there was a great display of the paraphernalia of woe and the elaborate apparatus for confusing and keeping off the evil spirits. This was probably the last of the great spectacular funerals, requiring millions of dollars for display, besides heavy drafts necessary for the expenses of the journey to Mukden, in Manchuria; all of which has to be paid for in taxation by the common people.
In the development of communications, China has gone ahead rapidly. Her purpose is to keep in her own hands the control of railways and telegraphs, to build them as far as possible with her own money, or to borrow from foreign nations in such a way as not to tie her own hands, and to educate her own sons to be the surveyors, road-builders, engineers, and railway managers. Already Chinese students, educated abroad, have surveyed, built, and maintained creditable railways. The main line between Peking and Kalgan, opened in 1910, was constructed solely by Chinese labor, under the sole direction of Chinese engineers. The purpose is to have trunk lines from Canton to Peking, and through the great valleys of the empire, north, south, east, and west, where nature has already furnished natural highways, along which the engineering difficulties will be least. One great line is planned also northwestward through Mongolia. Other lines will connect westward with the Russian, in the southwest with the British, and in the south with the French roads, in Siberia, India, and Annam respectively. The comparative ease and thoroughness with which educated Chinese have already constructed and equipped railroads excites the surprise of British and American engineers. In telegraphy, the "lightning threads," as the natives call the wires, traverse and are being spread all over the empire. In the large cities telephones are no longer luxuries, but necessities.
The coal of China probably equals, in its possible workable supply, all the rest of the world's store, and the iron is situated near the coal. In some places the houses are built against the great black strata, which, visible at the surface, show by their weathering that this fuel has been exposed for thousands of years without being used. As the power of Pittsburg to produce steel altered the economic complexion of the world and dictated history, so now the fact that the Chinese are able to produce and lay down pig iron in San Francisco, and farther east, more cheaply than it can be made in America, marks the beginning of another economic revolution. In other branches of enterprise the Chinese are moving forward, building and working their own weaving and spinning mills for the production of textile fabrics in cotton, woolen, flax, and hemp. American finance is aiding in the railway development of China. In a few years, however, Asia will be economically and industrially independent of Europe.
While many nations have helped in opening China, to whom is due the greater credit of opening the Chinese heart? In linguistic scholarship and mastery of the languages of Asia, geographical exploration, and penetrating statecraft by the men in their superb civil service, of which Macartney, Elgin, Parkes, Satow, Aston, Wade, Hart, Parker, and many others are shining examples, the British have excelled. Of all living writers Professor E. H. Parker has in his books given us the most comprehensive idea of the Chinese, ancient and modern. Americans, led by Dr. Arthur H. Smith, have striven to understand the mind and open the heart of the Far Easterner. Very remarkable also has been the progress made by American women, as physicians, artists, and friends, in learning the true nature of Chinese womanhood, and the real worth of Manchu ladies of the court.
By invitation of the empress dowager, Miss Katharine A. Carl lived some months in the imperial palace, while painting the portrait of the empress dowager, which the imperial lady presented to the American people, to be exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition at St. Louis, in 1906. Professor Headland has opened for us the Chinese child's world. Mrs. Conger, wife of the American minister, not only received audience of the empress dowager, but invited to her own house the Manchu princesses and Chinese court ladies. These interchanges of courtesy between women reared under different civilizations are as important in good influence as trade, battles, or diplomacy, for by them the way is prepared for mutual understanding and appreciation.
The "Diffusion Society" has excelled in the intellectual regeneration of China. With tons upon tons of printed matter in the Chinese language it has spread all over China a knowledge of foreign nations and their great men and women, and the wonders of history and science. Whatever can enlighten a hermit people, such as the Chinese long were, seems to have been attempted in print. Rev. Young J. Allen, scarcely known to fame, gave his life to this unique work. Such men as Williams, Ashmore, Martin, Rockwell, and a host unnamed, and such women as Miss Field, Mrs. Headland, Mrs. Little, with their sisters of the pen, have published the truth about the Middle Kingdom and her people.
Even in diplomacy, Americans have long striven to understand the Chinese and to apply the Golden Rule. In 1899, Secretary of State John Hay secured from the governments of Europe and Japan an agreement to respect the rights of China and to observe the principle of "the open door" of welcome and equality of opportunity to all nations. At the opening of the war in 1904, through Mr. Hay's insistence, both Russia and Japan agreed to restrict the field of hostilities and to maintain the integrity of China.
Those who understand the Chinese heart and have sincere sympathy—the key to interpretation—will make the best conquest of China. Of no nation or people can it be said more truly than of those who strive to gain victory over the Chinese,—
China will in the long run wear out and overcome every conqueror that tries to conquer her people.