WHERE IS CHINA HEADING?
By E. R. HUGHES
N England, as in America, China for a long time had too good I a Press. The people I have been living with (1942-44) in China shrugged their shoulders and said to me, "We don't like it, and it is inconvenient "—pu fang pien—one of those mild-sounding Chinese expressions which mean so much more than they appear to do ; in this case an intimation that if an ordinary man is regarded one day as a hero and an angel, the next flay he will be called a scoundrel and a nit-wit. My friends would have preferred that the British shou:d regard them as neither the one nor the other.
What has happened demonstrates the shrewd judgement of these friends of mine. First a whispering campaign in London, so I am told, and then with a crash the news item, "Recall of General Stilwell," and at once the hunt was up, and some papers at any rate out to "debunk" China. I had just arrived by air, and the glorious Kunming sunshine was still in my bones: I was still waking in the morning expecting eggs for breakfast. I heard one highly intelligent gentleman say, "Well, after all, you know you can't trust these Orientals." I wish I could discover what leader- writers mean by "Orientals." Of course, fifty years ago the scholars of China were very full of what "these Occidentals" were doing and how you could not trust them. But the younger genera- tion set themselves to learn from the West, so that nowadays they distinguish British from Americans and Russians and Frenchmen and Germans. It makes a difference to the reliability of one's mental processes if one does not lump Chinese, Indians, Malayans and Japanese in one basket. Well, these "Orientals" are just as anxious today to learn in what precise ways they can fully trust their Allies—we must not forget the "closing" of the Burma Road. In other words, they want to know where Britain, sometimes desig- nated "the home of the free," is headed for.
For us the question is in which direction China is headed, and that means: is she headed for unity? is she headed for a demo- cratic form of government? is she headed for security among nations and co-operation? My answers to these questions are the outcome of the fact that I am an Englishman who managed to learn a little history and philosophy before he went to China in 1911, who came to suspect that the "New China" was not so new as might appear, and so by digging into the past came to see that past as conditioning China's future in ways which might very easily make the Chinese nation a great asset in world politics.
To the question about unity my answer is a twofold one. On the one hand, the Chinese people proper went from the tribal stage
to the feudal, and from that to having a central bureaucracy, at which stage they absorbed the neighbouring tribal peoples. In Southern and Western Europe there were tribal combinations, and that intriguing phenomenon the Greek City. State, which failed to survive, and then the overrunning of them all by Rome. The Pax Romana ensued, somewhat on the same basis as the Han Empire at the other end of the Eurasian continent about the same time. From this Europe went on to feudalism, a very long period in which inter- state chauvinistic competition prevailed. China, on the contrary, was finished with feudalism. The great T'ang era (618-907), with its cosmopolitan spirit, was a reaffirmation of the principle of unity, and from that time on this amalgam of East-Asian peoples has believed in political unity as the norm for them, and regarded the recurrent periods of disunity as abnormal. In Europe Charlemagne's attempt to unify failed in the end, and later attempts such as the French militaristic venture under Napoleon failed very badly. Thus the situation today is that whilst Europe sees the imperative need for some form of unity, it has no conviction about its possibility. The Chinese, at any rate, have their experience and conviction about their vast country.
On the other hand, New China has come to the conclusion that, although, to judge by recent world history, industrialisation creates fearsome dangers of regional economic competition and class strife, yet if she is to live, industrialised China must be. To this extent there must be an incalculable element of doubt as to whether the old psychology of unity can overcome the strains and stresses inci- dental to a time of crucial change.
To the question about democracy my answer is also twofold. On the one hand, the Chinese tradition was that the sovereign held a special commission from Heaven to govern, i.e., " rectify " his people. There has in consequence all down the ages been a great parade of prostration before "the Son of Heaven"; (compare the old title "His Sacred Majesty" in Europe). From " Majesty " came the sacred fiats which "to hear was to obey." Government was, therefore, conceived as by power of exalted personality, and it was more important for the State to have a rectified law maker and law administrator than to observe strict adhesion to specific laws.
On the other hand, there is evidence during the Manchu Dynasty (1644-1911) that the nation was becoming restive under the pre- tentious idealisations the system entailed on it. There was a tendency to exalt the law. This needs to be known better than it is, and to be placed clearly alongside the all-important fact that tend- encies towards theocracy were always held in check by the acknow- ledged principle that persistent misgovernment by the sovereign and his servants forfeited the commission from Heaven, and the people had then the sacred right to rebel. Peasant as well as scholar are both deeply conscious that their forefathers have exercised this right from time to time. And alongside of this lies another fact, that owing to the size of the country and the slowness of communications the imperial authority had to be integrated with considerable local self-governing powers. The scholars of a province and the elders of a village may be compared with the elected representatives of the people such as we know them.
To the question about international security and co-operation my answer is again a twofold one. On the other hand, in the nineteenth century, the nation was rudely awakened from its complacent trust in its natural security from aggression. It discovered that it was immensely open to attack from certain light-haired -" ocean people" who had an uncanny skill in building ships and making guns, and a movement known as the Self-strengthening Movement arose, dedicated to the learning of these techniques while preserving the sacred ark of Chinese spiritual integrity. From that time to the present there has been one crisis of insecurity after another culminat- ing in this Japanese war of today. The moral of it all is that the nation must learn to defend itself, a moral which the Kuomintang Government has not failed to inculcate in speech and to some extent by planned action.
On the other hand, once the scholar class was really aroused to deal with the oncoming tide of foreign influence, it wholeheartedly devoted itself to the task of absorbing Western history and philo- sophy, Western political and economic theory, as well as science and technology. They have adopted these as part of their own workl heritage. The result is an easy acceptance—too easy considering what the world is like—of principles of international co-operation. In spite of the failure of the Nine Power Treaty and the League of Nations, and the catastrophic power of mechanised war, they still believe in a moral order of the universe and an innate power in man to make a family of co-operative nations.
Thus my answers go no further than a balancing of "on the one hand" with "on the other hand." From this I do not draw the conclusion that no one can foretell where China is headed for, but that there are deep forces at work in the country, which are set in the direction of unity, democracy and co-operation. The question is whether they are strong enough to overcome the divisive forc,ts, and I suspect that whether Chinese amour propre likes it or not, the scale will be tipped one way or the other by what China's allies do. The trouble is here that America is a little too sure of herself, and what she can and will do to help China get on her feet, whilst Britain is not sure enough that she has any considerable parr to play in China's economic future. And to this there is the further com- plication that Russia is very wisely biding her time, so that no one knows what her policy in the Far East will be.
Perhaps the November swing of the pendulum is not seriously to be regretted. It revealed the disastrous nature of the Kuomintang- Communist quarrel. The exigences of the war make it imperative that that quarrel should be composed. From what I have managed to learn of Chinese opinion, responsibly-minded people welcome the fact that pressure had to be brought on the powers that be. It believes that a settlement can be made on a basis which does not prejudice the unity of the nation to be, but reinforces it. More detailed information since received points to a reasonable attitude on the part of the Yenan leaders. But with the pact again in force and Japan being pushed back, and the liberation of China within sight, there still remains the question of what Russia will regard as a just and reasonable settlement of Manchuria. It is here that I see the paramount need for British statesmanship in a positive form, which seems rather lacking at the moment. What will really tip the scale is British confidence in China, coupled with that imponder- able but vastly necessary quality, British sense of justice. It is better known as fair play.