Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Impermanence and Travel Reading: Japan's invasion of China as seen in 1937

I was able, since I subscribe to Harper's, to download an article on Japan's invasion of China that was rather prophetic when it was published in January, 1937. It was, as would be expected from the time, rather racist and blithely unaware of the extent of Japan's war crime terrorism in China. It was probably the latter effect that united the country...

China remained the same for so long because her civilization was superior. No one, Mongol or Manchu, Moslem or Muscovite, least of all the Western barbarian, could offer her anything better. It is only recently that the West has developed anything worth teaching to the wise old East..

Then it took time to break down Eastern complacence, to teach the old dog new tricks. But at last China is in the mood for change-in fact the seeds of change are already deep planted. According to Lin Yutang, Chinese literature has undergone a more profound change during the past thirty years than during the preceding two thousand. Material and scientific change has been even more sweeping. If all this has been accomplished by mere suggestion and example, what may be done by compulsion exercised deliberately and on a great scale? It is hard to suggest anything to a Chinese; but he yields easily to force. Japan will use force. For the first time in China's history a people with better ways of getting things done are about to invade and impregnate China, open up its natural resources, build factories that require technical workers, start schools, teach modern industrialism, and drive home the teaching if necessary at the point of the bayonet.  Outwardly (and we are not speaking now of the eternal verities) life will be transformed in China during the next century.

Revolution among a quarter of the human race-it is now more than a fifth and Chinese fecundity is rapidly bringing it to the quarter mark-cannot but have sharp repercussions upon the other three quarters. The chief repercussion will be upon Japan. It will not be surprising if Japan's first statesman of a century from this morning may sit, moodily staring at the floor, bitterly regretting that Japan ever put foot in China.

Not that the Japanese campaign in China will not be successful-temporarily. It promises to be a magnificent success. But there is just as clear promise that this success will be followed by colossal, world-shaking failure. And from that failure
the nations may see the China that enrolls one human being out of every four emerge as the world's greatest Power...

When China thus outstrips Japan and resumes her ancient position of leadership, Japan will have only herself to thank. For she is to-day assiduously laying the foundations of China's future greatness. Japan is carrying over into China the conception of government by law in place of government by whim. China's only common-sense government has been that of the village. Each village was a petty republic. Above it, remotely, was the Emperor; but he interfered so little and was so far away that he could be reverenced and dismissed as the Son of Heaven. What rule he did exercise was apt to be whimsical. But whim had not yet descended to badger the village and the family. Then China became a so-called republic. All that really happened was that the monarchy fell to break up into many small monarchies, as a great spider's pouch bursts to spill a horde of little spiders, each scurrying off with sure instinct in search of prey. The warlords, each carving out for himself a petty kingdom, have brought government by whim within the mud wall of every village and into the home of every family. The American tendency to over-optimize any good news from China may have led us recently to suppose that General Chiang has eliminated the warlords and unified the nation. That has not happened and there are forces at work that will prevent it from happening. China does not change so fast...

It was amazing to me how prescient this article was, despite the fact that the article had not one mention of Mao Zedong in it.  It's easy to see in retrospect, despite the fact that Mao was a cruel tyrant under whose regime millions died unnecessarily, why the Chinese hold him in esteem even today, and why, no matter how many calls for "democracy" are aimed at China, they just will not countenance a weaker central government - though even today there are said to be huge issues with corruption at local governmental levels.  Mao "made the nation strong" so it could not be colonized.

Did I mention this has deep implications for the United States?  What  are we doing having people running things who are hell-bent on dismantling our central government?  It would be nice to think that Facebook will solve all the problems we have, organizing people in ways that will re-establish a government for the people, but I'm not encouraged. The electoral scheme and political system we have now is arranged for the continued looting, albeit by private means, of most Americans, as chronicled in Matt Taibbi's Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking AmericaWoody Allen wrote, "More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."  

The wisdom - that's something you don't hear from any politicians these days. Who will have the wise words that will save Nansen's cat?  Who will serve the people? Well, anyway, sometime soon (tonight? tomorrow night?) Barack Obama's going to make a speech.  I hope we won't be embarrassed.

I do wish though that the up-and-coming world's preeminent power  plays nicer with its people despite the fact that it has a strong tradition of Buddhism, which is actively being encouraged by the government.  Then again, they too have their own host of problems, and predicting the future is by nature an activity that can only be error-prone in the extreme.  Why not see if American Idol is on tonight?


Petteri Sulonen said...

Yeah. The thing that scares me the most about American political discourse is the across-the-board disdain for government. Government is tough. Representative government in an open society is IMO one of the greatest achievements of humanity, and every bit as complex and difficult a thing as, say, the Internet and all that it implies. As such governments go, yours was among the best of the bunch; only some parts of Western Europe had anything comparable.

And for the last thirty years, you've been cheerfully selling it off for the scrap metal. Mind-boggling. Perhaps you've had it so long that you no longer realize what it actually means.

I've often thought that anarcho-capitalists should be forced to live for five years in Lebanon. That'll show them what a non-functioning government really means.

Thanks for digging that up. It was interesting.

Mumon said...


I've often thought that anarcho-capitalists should be forced to live for five years in Lebanon.

I know someone with family in Lebanon; it is horrendous, I think to live between Hezbollah & the IDF.

Me, I wish the "small government" types would move to Somalia, though. They'd be right at home with that piracy thing.

Petteri Sulonen said...

...and corrupt billionaires, warlords, refugees, drug dealers, and fundamentalists of every shape and color. If you're there more than five years, though, you get used to it.

"On the seventh day, God made Lebanon and saw that it was too good, so then He made the Lebanese."

That's a joke the Lebanese tell of themselves. It's weird how they succeed brilliantly whenever they emigrate, regardless of sect, but they can't run their own country literally to save their lives.

Mumon said...


It is tragic. Then again they're in the neighborhood of the folks who invented war and such; they've been invaded for thousands of years. And to them I might ask the same question I'd ask my ancestors from Poland, or, for that matter, the ancestors of the Aleuts: Why did you stay there that long? Did you think this was a s good as it gets?