W. Reginald Wheeler
China and the World War




On the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, Parliament was reconvened in China, and a new start was made upon Republican paths. Following the death of Yuan Shih-kai in June, Li Yuan-hung had been made President; Feng Kwo-chang, Governor of Kiangsu Province, and recognized leader of the Yangtze Valley region, had been elected Vice-President; and General Tuan Chi-jui, appointed Premier of the Cabinet, which was organized in September. On Sept. 15th, Parliament set to work on the drafting of the permanent constitution. The Chinese ship of state seemed to be sailing on comparatively smooth waters. This calm was not broken until the bursting of the storm over the declaration of war with Germany and Austria eight months later.

The general satisfaction over the progress in constitutional government is shown by a description of state affairs sent to America by the writer on Feb. 11, 1917

"Hangchow, China.

"The prophecy made in verse by Rudyard Kipling concerning the fate of the man who should try to 'hustle the East' is fast becoming an anachronism. It is especially inapplicable to the evolution of the government of China. A year ago the infant republic apparently had been strangled and a monarchy reared in its stead; January 1, 1916, was set as the beginning of the new dynasty with Yuan Shih-kai at its head; and preparations were being made for the enthronement; no discussion of political affairs was allowed, signs forbidding it being put up in all public places. A protest against the monarchy by Liang Chi-chao, one of the chief Republican leaders, involved him, as he himself admitted, 'in serious difficulties, exposing his life to grave dangers.' Now, however, all this is changed. The republic has been re-established, Parliament having been in session over seven months; Yuan Shih-kai is dead, and President Li Yuan-hung is at the head of the Government; the draft constitution for the republic has passed the first reading, with its articles guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of worship; Liang Chi-chao himself has visited Peking where he was honoured as few Chinese have been honoured by their countrymen. A concrete illustration of the comparative strength of Yuan Shih-kai's government and the present one is afforded by the situation in this city of Hangchow, the capital of Chekang Province. Ten months ago following the lead of Yunnan, Kweichow, and Kuangsi, Chekiang revolted against Yuan Shih-kai, and declared itself in favour of a real republic. The Governor, who was a friend of Yuan, was forced to flee; and all connection with Peking was severed. Today as a result of a minor quarrel among the Hangchow officials, the central Government has sent down its own appointee, Yang Shan-teh, as Governor, and he has been accepted by the people without disturbance. This is the first time that an outside representative of the central Government has been Governor of Chekiang, and in the judgment of experienced foreigners, his acceptance by the people is a valuable indication of the strength of the present government. In the words of Putnam Weale, of Peking, 'President Li Yuan-hung's seven months' quiet tenure of office has indeed brought the prospects of ultimate success much nearer than it was at any time under Yuan Shih-kai's so-called iron rule, proving conclusively that in civilized communities, reason has many times the value of that disruptive and criminal agency, force.'

"The whole political situation, marking the emergence of China from the realm of mediaeval, autocratic government into that of modern, representative government, is a drama of intense interest. The Chinese are passing through the same stages in political philosophy that America and France and other democratic nations have traversed. They are settling now their "Magna Charta" and their "Bill of Rights." The discussion of the constitution was begun on September 15, with C. T. Wang, whom I knew at Yale, now the Vice President of the Senate, as Chairman of the Preliminary Examination meetings. The first reading was finished and a report made on January 19th. The eleven original chapters and several additional ones were discussed. The chapters concerning the "form of State," that of a republic; the rights of citizens, including freedom of speech, and freedom of worship; the two-house system of parliament; the appointment of a Premier and Cabinet; the organization of law courts; were all passed by the necessary three-quarter vote of the quorum made up of two-thirds membership of the two houses."

There were three subjects which aroused special discussion at the Capital. They were the budget, local self-government and State religion. The matter of finance was always a trying one, as China had to rely largely on foreign loans. The money advanced by America was generally welcomed, and the announcement that America intended to encourage investment in China was greeted with satisfaction.

The provincial self-government bill was passed in the first reading January 10th after much discussion, and the President issued a mandate supporting it. He said in part:

"In the olden days the district and prefect system formed the beginning of an excellent system of government, and the services of the village elders and district councillors were reported as valuable aids to good administration. The spirit of self-government had therefore already been developed in ancient times. . . . In the Tsing Dynasty a beginning was made in self-government, and a system far from complete and satisfactory was set up. When the republic was formed the work was continued . . . and at this time of general reform, when it is necessary to build up a strong foundation of democratic administration, we should draw up a suitable system, and enforce the same within a definite time limit. . . . By such a system we may reach the stage of universal peace. This is my ambitious hope."

The question of a state religion was brought up in connection with Chapter Three of the Constitution, guaranteeing religious liberty for all. An article of that chapter stated that the Confucian ethics should be used as a basis in primary education. A movement was started among the older, conservative members of Parliament to have Confucianism as a state religion, but of the twenty "parties" or groups in Parliament, a canvass revealed that only four supported this measure, although most of them favoured an emphasis upon Confucian ethics in the school system.

Fig. 4. Lin Yuan-hung.
Second President of the Chinese Republic.

During the first week of February the discussion was most lively while this article was undergoing a second reading. Various arguments were advanced on either side, several of them sounding rather strange in the ears of foreigners. Some of the points in favour of Confucianism were: (1) The great influence of Confucius in China in the past and present; (2) the foreign mission schools teach the " Four Books" of Confucius (3) most of the Western Nations have discarded Christianity; and China should not seek to pick it up.

Against the measure: (1) Confucius was a teacher of ethics, not religion; (2) his teaching has more to do with the sovereign than the people, and is not fitting for a republic; (3) a state religion was not republican; (4) such a measure would conflict with the chapter on religious freedom. Finally, on February 9th it was voted to cease discussion, and five different amendments advocating a state religion were defeated. The Peking Gazette, edited by a young progressive Chinese, commented thus upon the meeting:

"Yesterday's meeting of the Conference on Constitution was historic for the reason that the question whether the Republic of China shall create a precedent, in the history of Republicanism by making one of the many religions, if Confucianism can be called a religion, the State religion of the country, was settled after a long and serious struggle. The Confucianists resorted to every possible means to win but the odds against them were too strong. The question of freedom of religious belief is by no means settled but the attempt to give the Republic a State religion has been definitely defeated."

A few quotations from the native press of the country will reveal the spirit of the people at that time. It should be remembered that a year before practically no expression of public opinion was allowed.

On January 12th the Min-Kwo-hsin-pao spoke as follows:

"Coming as we do in sight of the sacred instrument of Government which is to protect us from tyranny and misrule and assure to us the blessings of liberty and democracy, it is fitting that we recall the bloodshed and tribulations, through which we have triumphed over monarchy and autocracy. . . . The mere possession of a Constitution is one thing, and its enjoyment is another. We care for no hollow Constitution, but we are willing to die for a Constitution that is a reality. We know the spirit of our people, so 'Ten Thousand Years' to our Constitution."

On January 17th the Kung-min-pao expressed itself thus:

"We have a Republic but not a democracy. The Republic was established by the revolution of 1911. But Democracy is still in the making. By wresting from the Monarchy our form of government, half of the battle was won; and now we have to bend our energy to training our people in democracy."

On January 27th the Peking Jih-pao emphasized the need of moral strength back of all political changes --- its message was a thoughtful and valuable one at, that time:

"Signs of progress in the country are not lacking. Intellectually the people have taken a leap forward. The idea of democracy and general knowledge of modern learning are gradually being spread among the people. This is a hopeful sign. But knowledge without moral backbone is worse than ignorance. The morality of our people, we are sorry to say, has not kept pace with their advance in knowledge. We are in the same predicament as France was immediately after her great revolution. The people have cut adrift from old traditions, but have not assimilated new ideas and principles rapidly enough to supply the resulting moral vacuum. We can say without fearing challenge that the morality of the people is everything in the life of a nation. While we may be busy instituting reforms and improving the minds of the people, we must not for a minute lose sight of this signal fact---the soul of the nation."

In conclusion, the opinions of two foreigners, one an Englishman, the other an American, concerning the situation as it then appeared, are worthy of quotation. The first is Mr. Putnam Weale, for many years a correspondent in Peking, and author of several standard books on the Far East. On January 16th, he wrote in the Peking Gazette as follows:

"The conviction which the writer has consistently cherished, that the situation in this country is as good as could possibly be expected --- and gives reasonable promise of peaceful development in the future --- seems based on sound premises. . . . The Chinese as a people are temperamentally suited to representative government; they are reasonable, tactful, conciliatory and humorous; four saving graces which will carry them very far along the road to political success. Like a solid piece of iron which binds the nation together is its immense, majestic, abiding common-sense."

At a recent dinner in Shanghai given by the American Consul General, which was attended by prominent Chinese and Americans, the Honourable Victor Murdoch spoke as follows:

"The Republic is here to stay in China; the same brand of democracy which has built up the United States can build up China. . . . I have observed a great deal of this spirit while I have been here in China. . . . Here is a wonderful people, industrious beyond any other people, sober beyond others, good-humoured, and law-abiding. . . . No one can reach the limits of China. China is the place of the future. I have been impressed by everything I have seen in this country, with its promise of future development, but one thought that lingers longest in my mind is this: China's future development and prosperity lie in her form of government. It must be a republic to obtain results. What the old flag has done for America, the Chinese flag can do for the Chinese people. It is a banner of no dynasty but a people's flag, and people who are industrious and sober and self-governing, can endure for ever---and so can the United States and China."

This was the situation in China when the announcement of Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare was made to the World. That policy irrevocably changed the course of the Nations, and brought the American Republic to the brink of war; the great Republic in the Orient was not to escape similar effects.

Chapter Four

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