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Marx, the ideals of the French and the American revolutions, the impulses behind the revolt of German youth in 1848 and the fight for Irish freedom, the spirit of the European Renaissance and of the modernist movement in religion-all these were hotly discussed and debated by the Chinese students.
The stirring enthusiasm for a better world which so radically changed the West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries spread to the youth of China in the latter part of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth. The ideas of nationalism, of democracy, of the rights of free men, which the West had fought to bring down from the clouds and into the realities of life, caught the imagination of young China.
In the first enthusiasm for remaking their beloved country by adopting ways and methods from the West, however, the young Chinese of the nineties and the first decade of the twentieth century overlooked one important fact. They did not realize that those things in the West which seemed so desirable had been achieved by the West itself only after many years of slow and painful effort in working out solutions of Western problems in terms of Western life. They thought that whether in warfare or improved political conditions, China could get everything that the West had simply by copying the forms which the West was using. There was little careful study of China's own needs, and little realization that the West might contribute suggestions for the remaking of China, but that China could be remade successfully
only if what the West had to offer were worked over and applied in terms of China's own civilization and needs.
The young Chinese, for example, saw what Japan had accomplished by copying the West; but they did not see how incalculably simpler Japan's problem was because of the smallness of the country and the strongly centralized political and social organization. They saw Japan victorious over China in 1895 and over the great Russian bear in 1905, and thought China could be made over into a powerful military state in as short a time as Japan had been. They saw Japan getting rid of extraterritoriality, foreign settlements, and foreign control of the tariff, and believed that the farreaching social and political changes which had made these achievements possible in Japan in so short a time could be wrought in China with equal promptness and by a similar wholesale overnight copying of the West. So thousands of students flocked to Japan to see how it was done. Many of them spent only a year or two, got a smattering of new ideas, and returned to China ardent if unwise advocates of complete and sudden reorganization in China, confident in their little knowledge that such reorganization could be accomplished suddenly and that the millennium would follow at once.
Other over-enthusiastic young men came back from a few years in Western countries with much the same feeling. There were, feeling. There were, of course, wiser heads in China and among the returning students, but practical political judgment, real understanding of the immensity of the problem in
China, and, particularly, actual experience in the political arena were conspicuous among these young men chiefly by their absence-though splendid idealism and real patriotic fervor were present to an inspiring degree.
These young men thought it would suffice to have the new forms imposed on China from the top. Hence, in 1898, a group of young enthusiasts persuaded the young emperor, who had just come of age and assumed the throne, to issue a series of edicts calling for the most fundamental reorganization of the official system, the introduction of modern education, and, in general, the remaking of pretty much the whole life of the nation. All this was to be done virtually overnight.
The "reform period" came to an end after only a hundred days, how ever, because the attempt to bring the millennium too suddenly aroused the conservatives to vigorous action. Some of these conservatives were purely selfish and feared for the destruction of their rice-bowls (to use the striking Chinese phrase); others were sincerely alarmed for the welfare of their country. The two The two groups agreed that Western ideals were dangerous, if this were the effect they had. The desire to expel "dangerous thoughts," which had been aroused by the attempt of the young men of 1898 suddenly to remake China more according to their hearts' desire, was one of the principal causes of the Boxer Uprising of
The lesson of this disastrous experience was not learned. Though a few who had been boys a quarter of
a century earlier were beginning to realize that reform could be successful only if it had its roots deep in China itself, most of the enthusiastic younger generation continued to clamor for wholesale changes starting at the top and altering the whole structure of society at one stroke.
Of this group of patriotic but oversanguine idealists were Dr. Sun Yat-sen and those whom he had aroused to demand a republic in China. This group had its way, though other leaders of the periodsuch as Liang Chi-chao, who shared in the fiasco of 1898 and still wields great influence over the youth of China-were arguing against the republican idea and in favor of the gradual introduction of a system of constitutional monarchy which the Manchus, in a belated effort to save their throne, had introduced in 1908.
Liang and the others who urged making haste slowly were swept aside by the eager enthusiasm of the younger generation. In 1911 a spark at Wuchang set off a flame of republicanism which swept across the country. Students all over China, and particularly in the Yangtse provinces, flocked by scores of thousands to the "rainbow flag" of the republic. The soberer merchants turned in large numbers to the republican cause since they saw in this movement a chance to get rid of the Manchu dynasty, which for a century and more had been steadily degenerating, and which was held responsible for the humiliations China had suffered at the hands of the foreigners.
Unfortunately for China, while there was splendid enthusiasm on the side of the republicans, there was
little practical political capacity. Unfortunately, too, the man who might have crushed the too hasty uprising and led China by slower but surer steps to democracy Yuan Shi-kai-saw in the republican outbreak simply a chance for raising himself from the post of prime minister under the Manchu emperor to supreme ruler as president of the republic. He and his lieutenants had great political astuteness but were interested in little beyond their own selfish welfare. Yuan, by intrigue, assured himself of the presidency of the republic, and then pushed the Manchus from the throne. Sun Yat-sen, with a gesture of wholly admirable patriotism, stepped aside to make room for Yuan because he hoped thereby to see the early establishment of a united republic.
Meanwhile the ardent young republicans had turned to France for a new form of government, confident that the adoption of a constitution modeled after the very latest thing in the West would suffice to usher in the splendid new era of China's greatness. In the main, they were fired by the same flaming idealism which inspired those who launched the French Revolution. They met with the same disillusionment—and for the same reason. The swiftmoving events of the fall of 1911 and the winter and spring of 1912 saw only a superficial change in the name given to the governmental system, not a real revolution. The real power remained where it had been, in the hands of the old officials and the politico-military machine which Yuan Shi-kai had built up in his own selfish interest.
For a short time the ardent young men tried to make the republic work. But Yuan and his lieutenants were too shrewd, too apt in the ways of practical politics. Many of the old abuses reappeared; and new ones arose, because the overthrow of the emperor emperor had removed even the symbol of stable central authority with which the people were familiar and which they understood. The establishment of the republic meant simply that the keystone of stable political organization, which had been cracked by foreign cannon in 1858, had finally crumbled to dust in the fierce heat of young China's ardent desire for a new order. The whole structure collapsed, and not even the foundations of a new one had yet been laid.
The five years immediately following the establishment of the republic saw the end of the second period in China's relations with the modern West.
Hopelessness born of disillusionment swept across the youth of China. The brilliant bubble of their too ardent dreams had burst. Many committed suicide. Others left the country or withdrew from active life. One of the men who had been for many years a leading publicist arguing for political improvement, Huang Yuan-yung, on leaving China in despair, wrote to his friends: "Politics is in such confusion that I am at a loss to know what to say. Our ideal schemes will have to be buried and unearthed by future generations." Another of the leaders, who had shared in the 1898 reform movement, had been the first minister of education under the republic, and
later was made chancellor of the National University at Peking, Tsai Yuan-pei, declared, "With all faith in the Peking government gone, I shall devote my whole time to education."
Then came the war in the West, and many Chinese saw, in this, further evidence that the Western civilization from which they had hoped so much not only had feet of clay but was, throughout, of the earth, earthy. The students were dissatisfied with conditions in China, but despair had for a time sapped their
The turn toward a new and more promising kind of expression of the desire for a remade China came in the years 1915-17. The third period of China's reaction to the West began. China still is in this period; a period which is coming to be characterized by careful and discriminating study both of China's great heritage from the past and of all that the West has to offer; a period which is seeing the beginning of painstaking study of what China herself needs and of how the best from both the East and the West can be adapted to meet those needs.
Enthusiasm slowly revived. Newspapers, magazines, and books of all kinds increased rapidly in number and in variety of contents. The years since 1915 have seen an even more intense study of the West than those which preceded, but the study is in a far more critical and discriminating spirit. The scientific attitude learned from the West began to be adopted in studying the West. There was a start in applying the historically critical method to the study of China's past. The prag
matic approach began to be made to the specific problems of remaking China. Neither the old of China nor the new of the West were accepted unquestioningly.
If the Chinese possessed any real creative capacity, some such change in the reaction to the steadily increasing impact of Western civilization was inevitable, a change from undiscriminating condemnation of all things Western to an equally undiscriminating eagerness for what the West had to offer and then to a discriminating appraisal and selection from both China and the West. It was equally inevitable, particularly when the third period was entered upon, that the Chinese should seize and use against the West many of the political and social conceptions which the West itself had introduced to China.
Nor is it to be wondered at that, in the hot flush of their enthusiasm for a new order, many of the less mature in China should be unable to hold themselves within bounds set by coolly considered wisdom. Obviously, too, selection and painstaking study of what China needs are not to be expected of the enthusiastic youngsters, even though a growing number of their leaders since 1915 have been hard at work laying the broad and solid foundations for a new order. Young China has made many mistakes since 1915, and more will be made. Damage has been and will be done to real values of civilization, just as was the case in every similar great upheaval in the West. If the situation be seen in the proper perspective, however, it is clear that a start has been made toward thoroughgoing reconstruction. Fail
The years 1915-17 can properly be taken as marking the beginning of the present period of Chinese development, for in those years the first steps were taken toward getting not a new political system but a new culture. Tsai Yuan-pei turned his attention definitely to education and away from politics. Liang Chi-chao left politics for teaching, and began a series of lay sermons in Shanghai. And, in 1917, Hu Shih, then a student in the United States, fired the opening gun in what has come to be called the literary renaissance.
Inspired by their desire to see China great, realizing the superficiality of political or other reforms which had no solid foundation in an awakened and intelligent people, and with conscious deliberation taking their cue from what had been done by the prime movers of the renaissance in Europe, Dr. Hu and a group of young men-most of them either in school in the United States or recently returned to China-set out to make the spoken language of the people a respectable and rejuve nating vehicle of literary expression.
In the last ten years they have
succeeded in this attempt to do for the common tongue of China what Dante did for the Tuscan dialect and Wyclif and Chaucer did for Midland English. They have demonstrated that the despised pei hua, or vulgate, could be used effectively not only for all forms of purely literary expression-as it had been by the people, though not the scholars, for a thousand years but also for the most varied sorts of writing whether on abstruse philosophical questions or for political propaganda. They have made this tongue of the common people respectable, so that now all the text-books in the lower schools of China are written in it. They have created a written foundation for a real and living national language to take the place of the old classical language, which, as Dr. Hu Shih has pointed out, had passed beyond the comprehension of the ordinary man more than two thousand years ago.
In the years since 1917 other vital changes also have been wrought; changes which, like this in the language, are the result of deliberate application of Western methods and ideas to China's needs.
In the course of his work with the Chinese coolies in France, for example, Mr. James Y. C. Yen realized the need for a simpler method than the old one of teaching the children and the illiterate adults enough of the characters, or ideograms, so that they could read and write sufficiently for their ordinary purposes. Applying Western statistical methods, he found which characters were most frequently used. Drawing on the results of Western studies in the psychology of learning, and using Western lantern-slides, he worked out a