THE S11 UATION IN CHINA.
THERE has yet been nothing in the reports from China 1 to show that the future lies decisively in the hands either of the republican rebels or of Yuan Shih-kai and the moderate reformers. The position at present seems to be so evenly balanced that one might feel inclined to describe it as one of stale-mate. Sooner or later, no doubt, the decisive event will occur, but until that moment all prophecy is a dangerous business. This is true of the military situation no less than of the political. On the one hand, this week's news contains accounts of the first important successes gained by the Imperial troops since the outbreak of the rebellion. After the almost com- plete destruction of Hankau by fire at the begin- ning of November they remained inactive for some time, during which they were being reinforced from the North. Last Saturday, however, they began to advance upon the adjoining city of Hanyang and had succeeded by Monday afternoon in dislodging the rebels completely. On. Tuesday Wuchang, on the opposite bank of the Yangtsze, also capitulated. The Government seems therefore to have regained control over the whole of the Hankau district, and Li Yuan-hung, the commander of the rebel army there, has announced his willingness to accept the terms originally offered to him by Yuan Shih-kai. The gain to the Government's prestige from these successes is probably more than counterbalanced by the capture of Nanking by the rebels. On Monday they occupied strategic positions commanding the city, and on Wednesday they are reported to have entered it. Apart from these points, at which military operations are actually in progress, it is difficult to discover how far the rest of the country is disturbed by the rebellion. Outbreaks against the Government are certainly taking place in districts as remote from each other as Manchuria and Tibet ; but at the same time it is impossible to avoid an impression that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Empire continue to live their normal lives, many of them perhaps in complete ignorance of the desperate straits of the Manchu dynasty. Meanwhile it is easy to imagine the alarm and confusion in which the Court at Peking is plunged. English readers are now familiar enough with the conception of the Forbidden City as a wasps' nest buzzing with treacheries, intrigues, and con- spiracies. As the Times correspondent has declared, " the cardinal difficulty is the vacillation and irresolution of the Regent, an amiable but impetuous weakling swayed by Palace women and eunuchs.' Two courses are apparently being urged upon him. One of these is the with- drawal of the Court to Jehol, while the other is his own resignation in favour of a Chinese Regent or a Regency Council. He himself seems still to hope that both these alternatives may be avoided, provided that enough concessions are made to popular discontent. He went a step further in his policy of self-humiliation when, on Sunday, he took, on behalf of the Emperor, an oath to the Heavenly Spirits of the Imperial ancestors that, fearing the fall of the sacred dynasty, he would "accept the advice of the National Assembly and swear to uphold the nineteen constitutional articles and to organize a Parliament, excluding nobles from administrative posts." But if the dynasty's prospects are weakened by the Regent's incompetence, they are still supported by Yuan Shih-kai, who continues to be the strongest factor in the crisis. He has especially shown himself wise in his reception of the news of the Government victories at Hankau. In the decree issued upon the occasion he avoided any tone of triumph which would be likely to in- sult and exasperate the rebels. On the contrary, he expresses a desire for peace and willingness to grant an amnesty. He adds finally that he is prepared to send delegates to meet delegates from all the provinces at a national conference in Shanghai at which the future form of government shall be decided upon. So long as Yuan Shih-kai can retain by such actions the support of moderate and also of foreign opinion, the situation cannot be considered hopeless.
A deeply interesting light is thrown upon the subject by the letter published in Tuesday's Times and forwarded by its Peking correspondent from " one of the most learned scholars in China, a man whose name is a household word." This letter gives an admirable account of recent events from the standpoint of a highly educated and intelligent Chinese. He begins by enumerating four of the principal causes of the revolt as follows : " (1) The wretched incap- ability of the Regent and his Ministers ; (2) the prejudicing and misleading of the Chinese public minds by the rever- beration of the discontented journalists ; (3) the incuba- tion of secret parties and rebellious students in Japan ; (4) the repeated famine round Yangtsze and panic of com- mercial crisis and contraction of credit in different ports in late several years." The writer is particularly bitter about the Regent, and in an amusing passage exclaims : " Had not the Regent been an unfeeling goose . . . he would win most of the hearts of the people, and nothing of the present revolt could happen." He proceeds to give an illuminating description of the state of the Army, which has long been honeycombed with revolutionary opinions ; this, he adds, is especially true of the officers in the " modernly organized armies." With regard to the future he is distinctly pessimistic, and points out that the so-called constitution of nineteen articles has failed entirely to pacify the rebels. Even more disquieting are his comments upon Yuan Shih-kai. " By being idle so long, and a total change in political aspect, he is now no more equal to his work. And there are different senti- ments among the Northern and the Southern Chinese towards him. He is, indeed, still liked and admired by the Northerners, but, on the other hand, he is disliked and even hated by many influential Southerners. . . . The late risings in Shanghai and its neighbouring districts, Hang- chow and Soochow, were most probably caused by their resentment against the election of Yuan as the Premier." The writer confesses, however, that he cannot foresee the future, though he adds a warning against the formation of a republic : " To say straightforwardly, China, as she is, is unfit for a totally different new form of government such as the Republic of America." He concludes his letter with an appeal for foreign intervention, and declares that " it is high time now that the Foreign Powers should form a concert and step in to inquire of both parties what they want to do."
The attitude of foreign countries towards the rebellion is undoubtedly of importance in any estimate that may be formed as to its probable outcome. It cannot be forgotten that it was with the help of a British general that the Tai-ping Rebellion was crushed fifty years ago and the Manchu dynasty seated once more in security upon the throne. There is not, of course, any question. of such intervention to-day, but the interests of at least one foreign nation are very closely concerned in the domestic history of China. It is obvious that statesmen in Japan must be watching the development of the revolutionary movement with the deepest anxiety. And the influence of Japan, whether exerted openly or, as is more likely, in secret, is certain to be of great importance upon the fate of the Chinese Court. And it can hardly be doubted which way the influence will tend. The influence of the Japanese over China depends largely upon the preservation of the present feeble but centralized system of government. The interests of Japan could not fail to suffer if China were torn during the next years by a series of civil wars and revolutions such as might be expected to follow upon the hasty establishment of a republic. Nothing, finally, could weaken Japan's posi- tion so much as the growth of a powerful New China armed with all the resources of modern science and com- merce. Any effect, therefore, that Japan produces upon the future of China may safely be expected to be in the direction of a maintenance, so far as possible, of the status quo. But though this may be the wish of Japan, and indeed of most of the Powers, things have, we believe, gone much too far for a restoration of the status quo to be possible. Whatever emerges from the welter it will not be that. What we hope for and, on the whole, believe will come is a strong Regency controlled either directly or indirectly by Yuan Shih-kai. If the Manchu oligarchy goes, but the throne remains as the symbol of unity, and if, in addition, the Empire is slowly but steadily reformed and developed, China will get what are, after all, her deserts—a renewal of national welfare. There is nothing but cowardly cynicism in hoping that a third of the human race should remain weak and miserable for fear it should become too strong.