China's Coming of Age

By Gardner L. Harding

[The Nation; April 19, 1917]

China's projected entrance into the war is a political, if not a military, event of far-reaching significance. Coming almost simultaneously with the Russian Revolution, it signalizes a readjustment of political power in the Far East which is almost a new chapter in diplomatic history. With Russia no longer to be counted on to connive at its dismemberment, with Japan, ignored in a capital move of foreign policy, sympathizers with the Chinese Republic may well offer their congratulations upon a new lease of Chinese independence.

Americans should particularly take heart at China's frank and spontaneous association of her foreign policy with our own. She has broken with Germany over exactly the same issue which caused the break with us—the extension of the submarine warfare. Through three periods of her recent political history, the Allies have been trying to tempt China out of her neutrality. While Yuan Shi-Kai was a strong President in 1914-15, Japan's sinister ultimatum, following the capture of Kiaochow, effectually stifled the pro-Ally leanings of his conservative Government. During the Imperial fiasco of 1915-16, which ended in Yuan's disgrace and death, China had all she could think of to save the republic from Mandarin plotters and their foreign advisers. The breathing space of political truce which has followed she has spent in reconstituting Parliamentary government. That the Allied took advantage of this return of stability and redoubled their efforts for China's intervention on their behalf is now well known. But it was our invitation that she accepted; our issue that she took up; and it is virtually in partnership with us that she contemplates entering the arena of the war.

This makes it all the more significant that China's purposes in becoming a belligerent are such that Americans in particular can cordially approve. Her direct grievance, Germany's submarine depredations on peaceful skipping, is, for instance, by no means the mere paper pretext that the world seems to regard it. It is a long-standing injury. Upwards of two hundred helpless Chinese seamen and stokers had been killed by February 1 this year on neutral as well as on belligerent merchant ships. The British steamer Harpalyce, recently torpedoed without warning between Rotterdam and Newcastle with the loss of almost its entire Chinese crew, is a case that was reported and bitterly commented upon throughout the Chinese press. On the broader issue of maritime law, modern Chinese opinion, whose very cornerstone is unrestricted access to the high seas, distinguishes readily between the restraints of Allied policing and the outrages of German piracy. For the rest, the Kaiser's instruction's to his soldiers on the Boxer expedition, China's own experience of the mailed fist with the ruthless seizure of Kiaochow, and her keen sensitiveness to Germany's cynical defiance of the open door in Shantung down to the eve of the war—all these exemplifications of German policy have provided a background of distrust and resentment which Germany's press agencies in the Far East have been unable to explain away.

But behind these grievances bulk larger and much more compelling issues still. By breaking with Germany now China is assured a seat at the Peace Conference. That means that she is assured a hearing before the nations independently of Japan. For ourselves, as well as for China, that is a crucial element in the whole situation. It makes our dream of an open door in China a real possibility in the world. For this is at once the primary demand of China and the basis of any enduring peace in the Far East. For her to win that opportunity means that she may utilize the moral leverage of reaction against war and Imperialism to enforce her case of dearly bought liberty and republican autonomy. China has faced this issue squarely, and she has determined to pay the price.

It is not altogether fair to say that China's entrance into the war independently of Japan will be a blow to Japanese prestige. Japan's right to exercise a sort of Monroe Doctrine over China, has been urged by her more or less irresponsible spokesmen, notably in America, when something had to be said, and said quickly, to cover up the egregious ultimatum of 1915. The Japanese government has been extremely sensitive to the wave of bitter ill-feeling which the celebrated Twenty-one Demands caused in China, and it has been more sensitive still to the marked coolness with which that episode has since been regarded by British and American public opinion. Consequently, the Japanese junkers, whose scheme it was, have suffered humiliations at home. So great is the apprehension caused by Premier Terauchi's Imperialistic intentions that he still cannot count on a majority in Parliament.

But a sign of China's growing self-respect in dealing with Japan was already evident this year in the significant conclusion of the Chengchiatun affair. The Chengchiatun affair was simply one of the brawls that unhappily have been so common between the expanding fringe of Japanese garrisons in Eastern Mongolia and the resident Chinese soldiery. Its importance lies in the fact that Japan's insistent offer to furnish military advisers and instructors, to expand the activities of the Japanese police, and to place special advisers at provincial police headquarters, was successfully rejected by China's able Foreign Minister, well remembered in this country, Dr. Wu Ting-Fang. Regrets, reprimandings, and indemnities—these, the polite husk, Japan received; but of the substance of the fruits of "peaceful penetration," nothing. The Tokio Jiji, Asahi, and Nichi-Nichi at once led the aggressive section of the national press in a bitter campaign of objurgation against Foreign Minister Motono; they cried "national shame," "disgraceful ineptitude," "humiliating-surrender," and in other ways laid bare the chagrin of Japanese junkerdom in a manner very soothing to the feelings of Chinese patriots.

But the inference is irresistible that this settlement was designed to appeal to elements among the Japanese people who do not desire a too aggressive foreign policy. They have unclenched the fist under China's nose. It is a wise expediency. It is one of several evidences that Japan's leaders, in spite of a jingo press, have decided to try out on China a more humane and sympathetic policy. It is true that China's boycott of the past two years has hit Japanese trade hardest in it/s richest field; and Japanese, like English, liberalism is deeply stirred by a tyranny which reduces trade. Yet Japan as a whole has seen for many months that autocratic methods do not wear well. Thus it happens that we have in Japan the curious anomaly of the much-heralded war-lord Terauchi in power, and soft words and conciliatory deeds increasingly in use. Japan has her Milyukovs and her Rodzianskos, too, who, though the Imperial throne is, of course, still invulnerable, have upset more diplomatic calculations in modern Japan than the world suspects, from the naval scandals which carried Okuma into power down to the Chinese Ultimatum which carried him out. They were certainly effective in keeping Japan's governmental head cool over China's disposition to independence in entering the war.

With Japan thus standing aside, the Far East begins to assume a different complexion. China is now virtually one of the Allies; certainly, she is no longer, as it appeared possible during the siege of Tsingtao, one of the spoils. She is not merely looking forward to treaties and guarantees after the war. She demands something on deposit now. If she is going in to help insure a free Europe, it is only fair to ask her European allies to remove some of the deadweights which to-day make a free China impossible.

he most iniquitous of all Europe's oppressive exactions from China is the Boxer Indemnity. Counting principal and interest, the Boxer Indemnity imposed on a nation whose annual budget to-day is something like $200,000,000, a fine of more than $700,000,000. The presence of this deferred interest explains why, although history tells us that the Boxer Indemnity was only $335,000,000, the China Year Book discloses $550,000,000 still to pay. Of this, to-day's tardy justice cancels $110,000,000. This is Germany's share, 20 per cent, of the whole. Only Russia did less than Germany to restore order in China after the Boxer outrages; and only Russia extorted a higher indemnity, 28 per cent, of the whole.

China is making no secret of her hopes that Russia is in a different mood to-day, and that the Allies in general will find some way to bring relief. By no mere coincidence China's present Foreign Minister is Wu Ting-Fang. It was Wu Ting-Fang, America's firmest friend in China on account of our restoring our share of the fine, who put before the Powers two years ago as a private citizen a passionately urged plea that Europe should forego the quarter of a century of blood money to which she was still entitled. Unquestionably, he is urging it on the Allies at this moment; and America might strengthen his hands. The least China might expect, short of the cancellation of the whole indemnity, is its commutation into an educational endowment such as formed the far-seeing compromise with our own Government. In the Far East it is recognized that the Chinese students whom we exchanged for our share of the Boxer Indemnity are the best bargain Yankee shrewdness ever struck.

Europe not only loaded China's back with a crushing indemnity; she kept a millstone of fiscal dependence around her neck that made that indemnity all but impossible to raise. That millstone consists in the series of forced trade treaties whereby China bound herself to limit her customs taxes to 5 per cent, an economic vassalage which has stultified China's economic development immeasurably. It is not even 5 per cent in reality, for it is now based on a scale of valuations mostly standardized on prices as they were in 1902.

So when the Allies guarantee to Dr. Wu, as they now appear to have done, the right to raise Chinese import duties from a fictional five per cent, (which in some cases amounted to only one per cent) to an effectual twelve and a half per cent, they unloose industrial vitality in China in a way which will prove to be highly beneficial. Their action will mean that China can at last look forward to a home-controlled and home-capitalized economic life, and can gradually draw herself out of her water-logged paths of foreign restrictions.

On these counts alone, China is gaining concessions which should justify her entrance into the war. And at the Peace Conference we may hear more, if it is not already being discussed, of the third great humiliation of Chinese public life, extra-territoriality. This, of course, is the legal euphemism used to cover the presence of foreign police and foreign law courts on Chinese soil, the planting of foreign concessions in the heart of China's greatest cities and at strategic trading points along the seaboard, and the continual insistence from these vantage grounds on all kinds of foreign exploitation. They have been necessary, and they have served their purpose well, but the time has come, as in the case of Japan in 1895, to hold no longer such tributary hostages against a free people. America owns no concession, not a foot of land, "leased" or "guarded," anywhere in China. Throughout Japan's long struggle for her autonomy, very few of us remember that it was America alone who for twenty-two years was prepared to turn over to the Japanese Government, root and branch, the concessions and privileges which Western nations were holding from her under the name of extra-territoriality. It is a strange coincidence that to-day, just twenty-two years after Japan received her freedom, China appears before the bar of European justice with exactly the same plea. We might again take the initiative, to which our record in the Far East entitles us, and strengthen China's hands in abolishing these last badges of dependence and humiliation.

With these capital possibilities before her, it is not surprising to learn that once the Chinese Government made its decision to throw overboard its neutrality and risk the war, it has had with it the whole-hearted support of the people. The House of Representatives decided to break with Germany by a vote of 431 to 87; every political party in Parliament supported the measure with decisive majorities. The Kuo Ming Tang radicals, composed of the liberals and visionaries to whom the credit of the First Revolution and the initiative of the Chinese Republic are mainly due, support China's stand in their influential press; and in the Senate, where they have a majority, it has their overwhelming approval. No considerable element among the Chinese people anywhere opposes it. A telegram purporting to have come from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, urging Lloyd George to cease his efforts to get China into the war, is now being denounced as a forgery by Dr. Sun's supporters. As a matter of fact, Dr. Sun is not only stanchly pro-Ally, but his own associates in the radical wing of the Kuo Ming Tang are to-day for intervention. They see what all Young China sees, that their Republic is now inaugurating a foreign policy in China, and that the decision will condition China's relations with Europe for a generation. It is only the reactionaries, the older generals, the military party, and what still is left of the Peiyang, or the old court party, who have been slow to come into line. Creative, forward-looking China, responsive to the real meaning of European war diplomacy, and especially sensitive to American initiative, has never hesitated.

What China will do in the war is still problematical. She can hardly be expected to send troops to Europe; she cannot place gold or credit at the Allies' disposal. Men and metal will be her quota for the present. Industrial laborers, trained and potential, she has in abundance. Upwards of 100,000 are already in Europe or on their way there; to be displaced promptly by European labor and European standards of course, directly after the war is over. These protected by contracts in which their guarantor and protector is the Chinese Government itself. Their work is limited to civilian agricultural and industrial occupations far from the battle-line. In the great Pouderie du Boucht, typical of the establishments in France, where they are now employed in large numbers, they get thirty cents a day of ten hours; and their food is rationed out on the most scrupulous military industrial basis; wheat, rice, meat, vegetables, tea, lard and salt in quantities agreed to by their own Government being prepared by Chinese cooks in pots, pans, and kitchen paraphernalia all brought from China. On China's revolutionary holiday, February 12, the day the Republic was founded five years ago, they had the liberty of Paris—with sixty cents to spend on the boulevards. It is an astonishing experiment, this transferring of Oriental man-power in such numbers to European workshops, but in the coöperation of China with the Allies still more astonishing things are being planned. Already the British are planning to recruit Chinese industrial workers for service in tropical Mesopotamia; Russia, too, is organizing agricultural workers to reinforce her food supply from Siberia and Mongolia. For out of China's diverse climate can come man-power for either steppe or desert.

As to metals, the Allies stand to gain from the accession of China a continued assurance of the output of one of the largest iron mines in the world. This, is the great Tayeh mine, in Hupeh province, where there are deposits of the highest grade iron ore amounting to more than 50,000,000 tons. The surface of this deposit is being extracted just now to the extent of something like 1,500 tons a day, most of which goes to the Hanyehping Iron & Coal Company's huge arsenals, foundries, and smelting works at Hanyang, on the Yangtee River. China has an annual propduction of iron ore of well ajiove a half-million, tons, while her coal mines yield annually between thirteen and fifteen million tons. The Japanese, meanwhile, are working energetically on the lapsed German concessions in Shantung, at their own great concessions in Manchuria, and within the area of control which they won over the Hanyehping Corporation by their Ultimatum of 1915. In that Ultimatum they obliged the Chinese to insert a self-denying clause relinquishing the fight to interfere with the present management of the Hanyephing. The inference is that the present Chinese management of the Hanyephing is to-day substantially controlled by Japanese finance. That is not certain, however, as the Japanese have not yet chosen to show their hand; and, meanwhile, by putting the Hanyehping so far as they can at the disposal of the Allies, China will surely lose nothing, while she stands to gain at least the appearance of a joint Allied control over this enormous industrial asset.

Under such circumstances, with such hopes for the world after the war, and with such contributions to the Allied effort to achieve that world, China enters the area of the world conflict. Like ourselves she has come to her decision Reluctantly, tardily, and on a paramount moral issue in which she stands neither to lose territory or military renown. We are both by preference and instinct pacifist peoples, more than preoccupied with our problems at home. Yet we are both to-day inexorably in the orbit of the war, stung to action by the same irresistible provocation. We Americans should not undervalue the kinship with ourselves which China has shown by so readily following our initiative. That initiative leads her out on wide and dangerous seas, but it leads her into a realm of high possibilities which the fresh energies of her political youth may turn to the interests of freedom and stability far beyond anything the Chinese Republic has yet been allowed to attain. Let us remember this when China looks to us as she may again in the near future, to sustain her in her struggle for political autonomy and economic habilitation; for this will mean much for the peace of the world.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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