The Problem of China - Bertrand Russell - ebook

A European lately arrived in China, if he is of a receptive and reflective disposition, finds himself confronted with a number of very puzzling questions, for many of which the problems of Western Europe will not have prepared him. Russian problems, it is true, have important affinities with those of China, but they have also important differences; moreover they are decidedly less complex. Chinese problems, even if they affected no one outside China, would be of vast importance, since the Chinese are estimated to constitute about a quarter of the human race. In fact, however, all the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries.

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Bertrand Russell

The Problem of China





New Edition

Published by The Big Nest

This Edition first published in 2017

Copyright © 2017 The Big Nest

All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9781787242593



















A European lately arrived in China, if he is of a receptive and reflective disposition, finds himself confronted with a number of very puzzling questions, for many of which the problems of Western Europe will not have prepared him. Russian problems, it is true, have important affinities with those of China, but they have also important differences; moreover they are decidedly less complex. Chinese problems, even if they affected no one outside China, would be of vast importance, since the Chinese are estimated to constitute about a quarter of the human race. In fact, however, all the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries. This makes it important, to Europe and America almost as much as to Asia, that there should be an intelligent understanding of the questions raised by China, even if, as yet, definite answers are difficult to give.

The questions raised by the present condition of China fall naturally into three groups, economic, political, and cultural. No one of these groups, however, can be considered in isolation, because each is intimately bound up with the other two. For my part, I think the cultural questions are the most important, both for China and for mankind; if these could be solved, I would accept, with more or less equanimity, any political or economic system which ministered to that end. Unfortunately, however, cultural questions have little interest for practical men, who regard money and power as the proper ends for nations as for individuals. The helplessness of the artist in a hard-headed business community has long been a commonplace of novelists and moralizers, and has made collectors feel virtuous when they bought up the pictures of painters who had died in penury. China may be regarded as an artist nation, with the virtues and vices to be expected of the artist: virtues chiefly useful to others, and vices chiefly harmful to oneself. Can Chinese virtues be preserved? Or must China, in order to survive, acquire, instead, the vices which make for success and cause misery to others only? And if China does copy the model set by all foreign nations with which she has dealings, what will become of all of us?

China has an ancient civilization which is now undergoing a very rapid process of change. The traditional civilization of China had developed in almost complete independence of Europe, and had merits and demerits quite different from those of the West. It would be futile to attempt to strike a balance; whether our present culture is better or worse, on the whole, than that which seventeenth-century missionaries found in the Celestial Empire is a question as to which no prudent person would venture to pronounce. But it is easy to point to certain respects in which we are better than old China, and to other respects in which we are worse. If intercourse between Western nations and China is to be fruitful, we must cease to regard ourselves as missionaries of a superior civilization, or, worse still, as men who have a right to exploit, oppress, and swindle the Chinese because they are an “inferior” race. I do not see any reason to believe that the Chinese are inferior to ourselves; and I think most Europeans, who have any intimate knowledge of China, would take the same view.

In comparing an alien culture with one’s own, one is forced to ask oneself questions more fundamental than any that usually arise in regard to home affairs. One is forced to ask: What are the things that I ultimately value? What would make me judge one sort of society more desirable than another sort? What sort of ends should I most wish to see realized in the world? Different people will answer these questions differently, and I do not know of any argument by which I could persuade a man who gave an answer different from my own. I must therefore be content merely to state the answer which appeals to me, in the hope that the reader may feel likewise.

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are: knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection. When I speak of knowledge, I do not mean all knowledge; there is much in the way of dry lists of facts that is merely useful, and still more that has no appreciable value of any kind. But the understanding of Nature, incomplete as it is, which is to be derived from science, I hold to be a thing which is good and delightful on its own account. The same may be said, I think, of some biographies and parts of history. To enlarge on this topic would, however, take me too far from my theme. When I speak of art as one of the things that have value on their own account, I do not mean only the deliberate productions of trained artists, though of course these, at their best, deserve the highest place. I mean also the almost unconscious effort after beauty which one finds among Russian peasants and Chinese coolies, the sort of impulse that creates folk-songs, that existed among ourselves before the time of the Puritans, and survives in cottage gardens. Instinctive happiness, or joy of life, is one of the most important widespread popular goods that we have lost through industrialism and the high pressure at which most of us live; its commonness in China is a strong reason for thinking well of Chinese civilization.

In judging of a community, we have to consider, not only how much of good or evil there is within the community, but also what effects it has in promoting good or evil in other communities, and how far the good things which it enjoys depend upon evils elsewhere. In this respect, also, China is better than we are. Our prosperity, and most of what we endeavour to secure for ourselves, can only be obtained by widespread oppression and exploitation of weaker nations, while the Chinese are not strong enough to injure other countries, and secure whatever they enjoy by means of their own merits and exertions alone.

These general ethical considerations are by no means irrelevant in considering the practical problems of China. Our industrial and commercial civilization has been both the effect and the cause of certain more or less unconscious beliefs as to what is worth while; in China one becomes conscious of these beliefs through the spectacle of a society which challenges them by being built, just as unconsciously, upon a different standard of values. Progress and efficiency, for example, make no appeal to the Chinese, except to those who have come under Western influence. By valuing progress and efficiency, we have secured power and wealth; by ignoring them, the Chinese, until we brought disturbance, secured on the whole a peaceable existence and a life full of enjoyment. It is difficult to compare these opposite achievements unless we have some standard of values in our minds; and unless it is a more or less conscious standard, we shall undervalue the less familiar civilization, because evils to which we are not accustomed always make a stronger impression than those that we have learned to take as a matter of course.

The culture of China is changing rapidly, and undoubtedly rapid change is needed. The change that has hitherto taken place is traceable ultimately to the military superiority of the West; but in future our economic superiority is likely to be quite as potent. I believe that, if the Chinese are left free to assimilate what they want of our civilization, and to reject what strikes them as bad, they will be able to achieve an organic growth from their own tradition, and to produce a very splendid result, combining our merits with theirs. There are, however, two opposite dangers to be avoided if this is to happen. The first danger is that they may become completely Westernized, retaining nothing of what has hitherto distinguished them, adding merely one more to the restless, intelligent, industrial, and militaristic nations which now afflict this unfortunate planet. The second danger is that they may be driven, in the course of resistance to foreign aggression, into an intense anti-foreign conservatism as regards everything except armaments. This has happened in Japan, and it may easily happen in China. The future of Chinese culture is intimately bound up with political and economic questions; and it is through their influence that dangers arise.

China is confronted with two very different groups of foreign Powers, on the one hand the white nations, on the other hand Japan. In considering the effect of the white races on the Far East as a whole, modern Japan must count as a Western product; therefore the responsibility for Japan’s doings in China rests ultimately with her white teachers. Nevertheless, Japan remains very unlike Europe and America, and has ambitions different from theirs as regards China. We must therefore distinguish three possibilities: (1) China may become enslaved to one or more white nations; (2) China may become enslaved to Japan; (3) China may recover and retain her liberty. Temporarily there is a fourth possibility, namely that a consortium of Japan and the White Powers may control China; but I do not believe that, in the long run, the Japanese will be able to co-operate with England and America. In the long run, I believe that Japan must dominate the Far East or go under. If the Japanese had a different character this would not be the case; but the nature of their ambitions makes them exclusive and unneighbourly. I shall give the reasons for this view when I come to deal with the relations of China and Japan.

To understand the problem of China, we must first know something of Chinese history and culture before the irruption of the white man, then something of modern Chinese culture and its inherent tendencies; next, it is necessary to deal in outline with the military and diplomatic relations of the Western Powers with China, beginning with our war of 1840 and ending with the treaty concluded after the Boxer rising of 1900. Although the Sino-Japanese war comes in this period, it is possible to separate, more or less, the actions of Japan in that war, and to see what system the White Powers would have established if Japan had not existed. Since that time, however, Japan has been the dominant foreign influence in Chinese affairs. It is therefore necessary to understand how the Japanese became what they are: what sort of nation they were before the West destroyed their isolation, and what influence the West has had upon them. Lack of understanding of Japan has made people in England blind to Japan’s aims in China, and unable to apprehend the meaning of what Japan has done.

Political considerations alone, however, will not suffice to explain what is going on in relation to China; economic questions are almost more important. China is as yet hardly industrialized, and is certainly the most important undeveloped area left in the world. Whether the resources of China are to be developed by China, by Japan, or by the white races, is a question of enormous importance, affecting not only the whole development of Chinese civilization, but the balance of power in the world, the prospects of peace, the destiny of Russia, and the chances of development towards a better economic system in the advanced nations.

The Washington Conference has partly exhibited and partly concealed the conflict for the possession of China between nations all of which have guaranteed China’s independence and integrity. Its outcome has made it far more difficult than before to give a hopeful answer as regards Far Eastern problems, and in particular as regards the question: Can China preserve any shadow of independence without a great development of nationalism and militarism? I cannot bring myself to advocate nationalism and militarism, yet it is difficult to know what to say to patriotic Chinese who ask how they can be avoided. So far, I have found only one answer. The Chinese nation, is the most, patient in the world; it thinks of centuries as other nations think of decades. It is essentially indestructible, and can afford to wait. The “civilized” nations of the world, with their blockades, their poison gases, their bombs, submarines, and negro armies, will probably destroy each other within the next hundred years, leaving the stage to those whose pacifism has kept them alive, though poor and powerless. If China can avoid being goaded into war, her oppressors may wear themselves out in the end, and leave the Chinese free to pursue humane ends, instead of the war and rapine and destruction which all white nations love. It is perhaps a slender hope for China, and for ourselves it is little better than despair. But unless the Great Powers learn some moderation and some tolerance, I do not see any better possibility, though I see many that are worse.

Our Western civilization is built upon assumptions, which, to a psychologist, are rationalizings of excessive energy. Our industrialism, our militarism, our love of progress, our missionary zeal, our imperialism, our passion for dominating and organizing, all spring from a superflux of the itch for activity. The creed of efficiency for its own sake, without regard for the ends to which it is directed, has become somewhat discredited in Europe since the war, which would have never taken place if the Western nations had been slightly more indolent. But in America this creed is still almost universally accepted; so it is in Japan, and so it is by the Bolsheviks, who have been aiming fundamentally at the Americanization of Russia. Russia, like China, may be described as an artist nation; but unlike China it has been governed, since the time of Peter the Great, by men who wished to introduce all the good and evil of the West. In former days, I might have had no doubt that such men were in the right. Some (though not many) of the Chinese returned students resemble them in the belief that Western push and hustle are the most desirable things on earth. I cannot now take this view. The evils produced in China by indolence seem to me far less disastrous, from the point of view of mankind at large, than those produced throughout the world by the domineering cocksureness of Europe and America. The Great War showed that something is wrong with our civilization; experience of Russia and China has made me believe that those countries can help to show us what it is that is wrong. The Chinese have discovered, and have practised for many centuries, a way of life which, if it could be adopted by all the world, would make all the world happy. We Europeans have not. Our way of life demands strife, exploitation, restless change, discontent and destruction. Efficiency directed to destruction can only end in annihilation, and it is to this consummation that our civilization is tending, if it cannot learn some of that wisdom for which it despises the East.

It was on the Volga, in the summer of 1920, that I first realized how profound is the disease in our Western mentality, which the Bolsheviks are attempting to force upon an essentially Asiatic population, just as Japan and the West are doing in China. Our boat travelled on, day after day, through an unknown and mysterious land. Our company were noisy, gay, quarrelsome, full of facile theories, with glib explanations of everything, persuaded that there is nothing they could not understand and no human destiny outside the purview of their system. One of us lay at death’s door, fighting a grim battle with weakness and terror and the indifference of the strong, assailed day and night by the sounds of loud-voiced love-making and trivial laughter. And all around us lay a great silence, strong as death, unfathomable as the heavens. It seemed that none had leisure to hear the silence, yet it called to me so insistently that I grew deaf to the harangues of propagandists and the endless information of the well-informed.

One night, very late, our boat stopped in a desolate spot where there were no houses, but only a great sandbank, and beyond it a row of poplars with the rising moon behind them. In silence I went ashore, and found on the sand a strange assemblage of human beings, half-nomads, wandering from some remote region of famine, each family huddled together surrounded by all its belongings, some sleeping, others silently making small fires of twigs. The flickering flames lighted up gnarled, bearded faces of wild men, strong, patient, primitive women, and children as sedate and slow as their parents. Human beings they undoubtedly were, and yet it would have been far easier for me to grow intimate with a dog or a cat or a horse than with one of them. I knew that they would wait there day after day, perhaps for weeks, until a boat came in which they could go to some distant place in which they had heard—falsely perhaps—that the earth was more generous than in the country they had left. Some would die by the way, all would suffer hunger and thirst and the scorching mid-day sun, but their sufferings would be dumb. To me they seemed to typify the very soul of Russia, unexpressive, inactive from despair, unheeded by the little set of Westernizers who make up all the parties of progress or reaction. Russia is so vast that the articulate few are lost in it as man and his planet are lost in interstellar space. It is possible, I thought, that the theorists may increase the misery of the many by trying to force them into actions contrary to their primeval instincts, but I could not believe that happiness was to be brought to them by a gospel of industrialism and forced labour.

Nevertheless, when morning came I resumed the interminable discussions of the materialistic conception of history and the merits of a truly popular government. Those with whom I discussed had not seen the sleeping wanderers, and would not have been interested if they had seen them, since they were not material for propaganda. But something of that patient silence had communicated itself to me, something lonely and unspoken remained in my heart throughout all the comfortable familiar intellectual talk. And at last I began to feel that all politics are inspired by a grinning devil, teaching the energetic and quickwitted to torture submissive populations for the profit of pocket or power or theory. As we journeyed on, fed by food extracted from the peasants, protected by an army recruited from among their sons, I wondered what we had to give them in return. But I found no answer. From time to time I heard their sad songs or the haunting music of the balalaika; but the sound mingled with the great silence of the steppes, and left me with a terrible questioning pain in which Occidental hopefulness grew pale.

It was in this mood that I set out for China to seek a new hope.



Where the Chinese came from is a matter of conjecture. Their early history is known only from their own annals, which throw no light upon the question. The Shu-King, one of the Confucian classics (edited, not composed, by Confucius), begins, like Livy, with legendary accounts of princes whose virtues and vices are intended to supply edification or warning to subsequent rulers. Yao and Shun were two model Emperors, whose date (if any) was somewhere in the third millennium B.C. “The age of Yao and Shun,” in Chinese literature, means what “the Golden Age” mean with us. It seems certain that, when Chinese history begins, the Chinese occupied only a small part of what is now China, along the banks of the Yellow River. They were agricultural, and had already reached a fairly high level of civilization—much higher than that of any other part of Eastern Asia. The Yellow River is a fierce and terrible stream, too swift for navigation, turgid, and full of mud, depositing silt upon its bed until it rises above the surrounding country, when it suddenly alters its course, sweeping away villages and towns in a destructive torrent. Among most early agricultural nations, such a river would have inspired superstitious awe, and floods would have been averted by human sacrifice; in the Shu-King, however, there is little trace of superstition. Yao and Shun, and Yü (the latter’s successor), were all occupied in combating the inundations, but their methods were those of the engineer, not of the miracle-worker. This shows, at least, the state of belief in the time of Confucius. The character ascribed to Yao shows what was expected of an Emperor:—

He was reverential, intelligent, accomplished, and thoughtful—naturally and without effort. He was sincerely courteous, and capable of all complaisance. The display of these qualities reached to the four extremities of the empire, and extended from earth to heaven. He was able to make the able and virtuous distinguished, and thence proceeded to the love of the nine classes of his kindred, who all became harmonious. He also regulated and polished the people of his domain, who all became brightly intelligent. Finally, he united and harmonized the myriad States of the empire; and lo! the black-haired people were transformed. The result was universal concord.[1]

The first date which can be assigned with precision in Chinese history is that of an eclipse of the sun in 776 B.C.[2] There is no reason to doubt the general correctness of the records for considerably earlier times, but their exact chronology cannot be fixed. At this period, the Chou dynasty, which fell in 249 B.C. and is supposed to have begun in 1122 B.C., was already declining in power as compared with a number of nominally subordinate feudal States. The position of the Emperor at this time, and for the next 500 years, was similar to that of the King of France during those parts of the Middle Ages when his authority was at its lowest ebb. Chinese history consists of a series of dynasties, each strong at first and weak afterwards, each gradually losing control over subordinates, each followed by a period of anarchy (sometimes lasting for centuries), and ultimately succeeded by a new dynasty which temporarily re-establishes a strong Central Government. Historians always attribute the fall of a dynasty to the excessive power of eunuchs, but perhaps this is, in part, a literary convention.

What distinguishes the Emperor is not so much his political power, which fluctuates with the strength of his personality, as certain religious prerogatives. The Emperor is the Son of Heaven; he sacrifices to Heaven at the winter solstice. The early Chinese used “Heaven” as synonymous with “The Supreme Ruler,” a monotheistic God;[3] indeed Professor Giles maintains, by arguments which seem conclusive, that the correct translation of the Emperor’s title would be “Son of God.” The word “Tien,” in Chinese, is used both for the sky and for God, though the latter sense has become rare. The expression “Shang Ti,” which means “Supreme Ruler,” belongs in the main to pre-Confucian times, but both terms originally represented a God as definitely anthropomorphic as the God of the Old Testament.[4]

As time went by the Supreme Ruler became more shadowy, while “Heaven” remained, on account of the Imperial rites connected with it. The Emperor alone had the privilege of worshipping “Heaven,” and the rites continued practically unchanged until the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911. In modern times they were performed in the Temple of Heaven in Peking, one of the most beautiful places in the world. The annual sacrifice in the Temple of Heaven represented almost the sole official survival of pre-Confucian religion, or indeed of anything that could be called religion in the strict sense; for Buddhism and Taoism have never had any connection with the State.

The history of China is known in some detail from the year 722 B.C., because with this year begins Confucius’ Springs and Autumns, which is a chronicle of the State of Lu, in which Confucius was an official.

One of the odd things about the history of China is that after the Emperors have been succeeding each other for more than 2,000 years, one comes to a ruler who is known as the “First Emperor,” Shih Huang Ti. He acquired control over the whole Empire, after a series of wars, in 221 B.C., and died in 210 B.C. Apart from his conquests, he is remarkable for three achievements: the building of the Great Wall against the Huns, the destruction of feudalism, and the burning of the books. The destruction of feudalism, it must be confessed, had to be repeated by many subsequent rulers; for a long time, feudalism tended to grow up again whenever the Central Government was in weak hands. But Shih Huang Ti was the first ruler who made his authority really effective over all China in historical times. Although his dynasty came to an end with his son, the impression he made is shown by the fact that our word “China” is probably derived from his family name, Tsin or Chin[5]. (The Chinese put the family name first.) His Empire was roughly co-extensive with what is now China proper.

The destruction of the books was a curious incident. Shih Huang Ti, as appears from his calling himself “First Emperor,” disliked being reminded of the fact that China had existed before his time; therefore history was anathema to him. Moreover the literati were already a strong force in the country, and were always (following Confucius) in favour of the preservation of ancient customs, whereas Shih Huang Ti was a vigorous innovator. Moreover, he appears to have been uneducated and not of pure Chinese race. Moved by the combined motives of vanity and radicalism, he issued an edict decreeing that—

All official histories, except the memoirs of Tsin (his own family), shall be burned; except the persons who have the office of literati of the great learning, those who in the Empire permit themselves to hide the Shi-King, the Shu-King (Confucian classics), or the discourses of the hundred schools, must all go before the local civil and military authorities so that they may be burned. Those who shall dare to discuss among themselves the Shi-King and the Shu-King shall be put to death and their corpses exposed in a public place; those who shall make use of antiquity to belittle modern times shall be put to death with their relations.... Thirty days after the publication of this edict, those who have not burned their books shall be branded and sent to forced labour. The books which shall not be proscribed are those of medicine and pharmacy, of divination ..., of agriculture and of arboriculture. As for those who desire to study the laws and ordinances, let them take the officials as masters. (Cordier, op. cit. i. p. 203.)

It will be seen that the First Emperor was something of a Bolshevik. The Chinese literati, naturally, have blackened his memory. On the other hand, modern Chinese reformers, who have experienced the opposition of old-fashioned scholars, have a certain sympathy with his attempt to destroy the innate conservatism of his subjects. Thus Li Ung Bing[6] says:—

No radical change can take place in China without encountering the opposition of the literati. This was no less the case then than it is now. To abolish feudalism by one stroke was a radical change indeed. Whether the change was for the better or the worse, the men of letters took no time to inquire; whatever was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them and their children. They found numerous authorities in the classics to support their contention and these they freely quoted to show that Shih Huang Ti was wrong. They continued to criticize the government to such an extent that something had to be done to silence the voice of antiquity ... As to how far this decree (on the burning of the books) was enforced, it is hard to say. At any rate, it exempted all libraries of the government, or such as were in possession of a class of officials called Po Szu or Learned Men. If any real damage was done to Chinese literature under the decree in question, it is safe to say that it was not of such a nature as later writers would have us believe. Still, this extreme measure failed to secure the desired end, and a number of the men of letters in Han Yang, the capital, was subsequently buried alive.

This passage is written from the point of view of Young China, which is anxious to assimilate Western learning in place of the dead scholarship of the Chinese classics. China, like every other civilized country, has a tradition which stands in the way of progress. The Chinese have excelled in stability rather than in progress; therefore Young China, which perceives that the advent of industrial civilization has made progress essential to continued national existence, naturally looks with a favourable eye upon Shih Huang Ti’s struggle with the reactionary pedants of his age. The very considerable literature which has come down to us from before his time shows, in any case, that his edict was somewhat ineffective; and in fact it was repealed after twenty-two years, in 191. B.C.

After a brief reign by the son of the First Emperor, who did not inherit his capacity, we come to the great Han dynasty, which reigned from 206 B.C. to A.D. 220. This was the great age of Chinese imperialism—exactly coeval with the great age of Rome. In the course of their campaigns in Northern India and Central Asia, the Chinese were brought into contact with India, with Persia, and even with the Roman Empire.[7] Their relations with India had a profound effect upon their religion, as well as upon that of Japan, since they led to the introduction of Buddhism. Relations with Rome were chiefly promoted by the Roman desire for silk, and continued until the rise of Mohammedanism. They had little importance for China, though we learn, for example, that about A.D. 164 a treatise on astronomy was brought to China from the Roman Empire.[8] Marcus Aurelius appears in Chinese history under the name An Tun, which stands for Antoninus.

It was during this period that the Chinese acquired that immense prestige in the Far East which lasted until the arrival of European armies and navies in the nineteenth century. One is sometimes tempted to think that the irruption of the white man into China may prove almost as ephemeral as the raids of Huns and Tartars into Europe. The military superiority of Europe to Asia is not an eternal law of nature, as we are tempted to think; and our superiority in civilization is a mere delusion. Our histories, which treat the Mediterranean as the centre of the universe, give quite a wrong perspective. Cordier,[9] dealing with the campaigns and voyages of discovery which took place under the Han dynasty, says:—

The Occidentals have singularly contracted the field of the history of the world when they have grouped around the people of Israel, Greece, and Rome the little that they knew of the expansion of the human race, being completely ignorant of these voyagers who ploughed the China Sea and the Indian Ocean, of these cavalcades across the immensities of Central Asia up to the Persian Gulf. The greatest part of the universe, and at the same time a civilization different but certainly as developed as that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, remained unknown to those who wrote the history of their little world while they believed that they, were setting forth the history of the world as a whole.

In our day, this provincialism, which impregnates all our culture, is liable to have disastrous consequences politically, as well as for the civilization of mankind. We must make room for Asia in our thoughts, if we are not to rouse Asia to a fury of self-assertion.

After the Han dynasty there are various short dynasties and periods of disorder, until we come to the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). Under this dynasty, in its prosperous days, the Empire acquired its greatest extent, and art and poetry reached their highest point.[10] The Empire of Jenghis Khan (died 1227) was considerably greater, and contained a great part of China; but Jenghis Khan was a foreign conqueror. Jenghis and his generals, starting from Mongolia, appeared as conquerors in China, India, Persia, and Russia. Throughout Central Asia, Jenghis destroyed every man, woman, and child in the cities he captured. When Merv was captured, it was transformed into a desert and 700,000 people were killed. But it was said that many had escaped by lying among the corpses and pretending to be dead; therefore at the capture of Nishapur, shortly afterwards, it was ordered that all the inhabitants should have their heads cut off. Three pyramids of heads were made, one of men, one of women, and one of children. As it was feared that some might have escaped by hiding underground, a detachment of soldiers was left to kill any that might emerge.[11] Similar horrors were enacted at Moscow and Kieff, in Hungary and Poland. Yet the man responsible for these massacres was sought in alliance by St. Louis and the Pope. The times of Jenghis Khan remind one of the present day, except that his methods of causing death were more merciful than those that have been employed since the Armistice.

Kublai Khan (died 1294), who is familiar, at least by name, through Marco Polo and Coleridge; was the grandson of Jenghis Khan, and the first Mongol who was acknowledged Emperor of China, where he ousted the Sung dynasty (960-1277). By this time, contact with China had somewhat abated the savagery of the first conquerors. Kublai removed his capital from Kara Korom in Mongolia to Peking. He built walls like those which still surround the city, and established on the walls an observatory which is preserved to this day. Until 1900, two of the astronomical instruments constructed by Kublai were still to be seen in this observatory, but the Germans removed them to Potsdam after the suppression of the Boxers.[12] I understand they have been restored in accordance with one of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. If so, this was probably the most important benefit which that treaty secured to the world.

Kublai plays the same part in Japanese history that Philip II plays in the history of England. He prepared an Invincible Armada, or rather two successive armadas, to conquer Japan, but they were defeated, partly by storms, and partly by Japanese valour.

After Kublai, the Mongol Emperors more and more adopted Chinese ways, and lost their tyrannical vigour. Their dynasty came to an end in 1370, and was succeeded by the pure Chinese Ming dynasty, which lasted until the Manchu conquest of 1644. The Manchus in turn adopted Chinese ways, and were overthrown by a patriotic revolution in 1911, having contributed nothing notable to the native culture of China except the pigtail, officially abandoned at the Revolution.

The persistence of the Chinese Empire down to our own day is not to be attributed to any military skill; on the contrary, considering its extent and resources, it has at most times shown itself weak and incompetent in war. Its southern neighbours were even less warlike, and were less in extent. Its northern and western neighbours inhabited a barren country, largely desert, which was only capable of supporting a very sparse population. The Huns were defeated by the Chinese after centuries of warfare; the Tartars and Manchus, on the contrary, conquered China. But they were too few and too uncivilized to impose their ideas or their way of life upon China, which absorbed them and went on its way as if they had never existed. Rome could have survived the Goths, if they had come alone, but the successive waves of barbarians came too quickly to be all civilized in turn. China was saved from this fate by the Gobi Desert and the Tibetan uplands. Since the white men have taken to coming by sea, the old geographical immunity is lost, and greater energy will be required to preserve the national independence.

In spite of geographical advantages, however, the persistence of Chinese civilization, fundamentally unchanged since the introduction of Buddhism, is a remarkable phenomenon. Egypt and Babylonia persisted as long, but since they fell there has been nothing comparable in the world. Perhaps the main cause is the immense population of China, with an almost complete identity of culture throughout. In the middle of the eighth century, the population of China is estimated at over 50 millions, though ten years later, as a result of devastating wars, it is said to have sunk to about 17 millions.[13] A census has been taken at various times in Chinese history, but usually a census of houses, not of individuals. From the number of houses the population is computed by a more or less doubtful calculation. It is probable, also, that different methods were adopted on different occasions, and that comparisons between different enumerations are therefore rather unsafe. Putnam Weale[14] says:—

The first census taken by the Manchus in 1651, after the restoration of order, returned China’s population at 55 million persons, which is less than the number given in the first census of the Han dynasty, A.D. 1, and about the same as when Kublai Khan established the Mongal dynasty in 1295. (This is presumably a misprint, as Kublai died in 1294.) Thus we are faced by the amazing fact that, from the beginning of the Christian era, the toll of life taken by internecine and frontier wars in China was so great that in spite of all territorial expansion the population for upwards of sixteen centuries remained more or less stationary. There is in all history no similar record. Now, however, came a vast change. Thus three years after the death of the celebrated Manchu Emperor Kang Hsi, in 1720, the population had risen to 125 millions. At the beginning of the reign of the no less illustrious Ch’ien Lung (1743) it was returned at 145 millions; towards the end of his reign, in 1783, it had doubled, and was given as 283 millions. In the reign of Chia Ch’ing (1812) it had risen to 360 millions; before the Taiping rebellion (1842) it had grown to 413 millions; after that terrible rising it sunk to 261 millions.

I do not think such definite statements are warranted. The China Year Book for 1919 (the latest I have seen) says (p. 1):—

The taking of a census by the methods adopted in Western nations has never yet been attempted in China, and consequently estimates of the total population have varied to an extraordinary degree. The nearest approach to a reliable estimate is, probably, the census taken by the Minchengpu (Ministry of Interior) in 1910, the results of which are embodied in a report submitted to the Department of State at Washington by Mr. Raymond P. Tenney, a Student Interpreter at the U.S. Legation, Peking.... It is pointed out that even this census can only be regarded as approximate, as, with few exceptions, households and not individuals were counted.

The estimated population of the Chinese Empire (exclusive of Tibet) is given, on the basis of this census, as 329,542,000, while the population of Tibet is estimated at 1,500,000. Estimates which have been made at various other dates are given as follows (p. 2):

Year A.D.PopulationYear A.D.Population


















These figures suffice to show how little is known about the population of China. Not only are widely divergent estimates made in the same year (e.g. 1760), but in other respects the figures are incredible. Mr. Putnam Weale might contend that the drop from 60 millions in 1580 to 21 millions in 1662 was due to the wars leading to the Manchu conquest. But no one can believe that between 1711 and 1736 the population increased from 28 millions to 125 millions, or that it doubled between 1790 and 1792. No one knows whether the population of China is increasing or diminishing, whether people in general have large or small families, or any of the other facts that vital statistics are designed to elucidate. What is said on these subjects, however dogmatic, is no more than guess-work. Even the population of Peking is unknown. It is said to be about 900,000, but it may be anywhere between 800,000 and a million. As for the population of the Chinese Empire, it is probably safe to assume that it is between three and four hundred millions, and somewhat likely that it is below three hundred and fifty millions. Very little indeed can be said with confidence as to the population of China in former times; so little that, on the whole, authors who give statistics are to be distrusted.