CHAPTER VI NEWSPAPER READING
Extolling the excellency of the T’ung Records, Li Han says: ” If a man acquaints himself with them he will know all about the world without leaving his own door, and be able to fathom the disposition of the people without becoming an official.” This saying can be applied to the Chinese and foreign newspapers of the present. Although congenial friends may be few, one can still receive instruction through the medium of the press.
Foreign countries abound with myriads of periodicals, official and popular magazines, filled with information about governments, commerce, new inventions, the army and navy, and everything valuable. Every country is like one family, and the people of the world are thus brought into close relation. In the time of Commissioner Liu, of Canton, the newspapers published abroad were read with his encouragement, but since his time no one has imitated his good example. In Shanghai, newspapers have flourished since the time of T’ung Chi, but they have heretofore been of an inferior sort, dealing only with paltry mercantile matters and quoting very little from reliable foreign contemporaries. The Taotai of Shanghai now translates matters of present interest every month and forwards the information to the Tsungli Yamen and the Superintendents of Trade for the Northern and Southern Ports. But the Taotai cuts out all the disagreeable things and sends nothing that could offend or be distasteful to the Chinese Government; and what he does translate is stale (two months old) before it reaches its destination. This is little better than nothing! In 1895 certain liberal-minded men in Shanghai set up printing presses and issued much reliable information translated largely from foreign newspapers. Their example was followed by other public-spirited men in all the provinces. Although the papers they published were not all that could be desired, they opened the eyes of the Chinese, waked them up from their stupor, and tore away the key of knowledge from the grasp of the blind. Then the bigoted scholars and the greenhorns alike discovered that there are other countries besides China, and that impractical bookworm, the befogged and besmoked literatus, found out for the first time that there is a present as well as a past. It is a mere quibble to say that these newspapers are not an inspiration and impulse to every man of common sense.
To-day the foreigners are harassing China, and disturbances at home and abroad are perilously increasing. Matters of diplomacy, war, etc., which our high officials dare not speak about above a whisper, are proclaimed aloud from the housetop by the foreign newspapers, so that the whole world hears. And not only our affairs, but those of Japan, Europe, and all countries; the alliances, ruptures, battles, annexations, designs, plots, etc., are published, so that one can see all sides of a question and be on his guard. This is an admirable arrangement, and we thoroughly indorse the papers as being of much advantage to one’s country. But newspapers possess a better advantage still. They show us our complaints. This is the best of all. Duke Huan, of T’si, died because he did not know what his sickness was, and Ts’in perished through ignorance of his faults. The blind following of custom by the people for the most part fixes the destiny of a country. We do not perceive our own faults, and if we did, would not dare to speak unreservedly about them. Every way seems just in our own eyes, but our strong neighbors come and search us out. If the Emperor and officials of our country, who read the newspapers and are exercised thereby, should fear the consequences of inaction and reform, would this not make for China’s welfare? Readers of foreign newspapers perceive at once that the Chinese are unmercifully abused. We are compared with drunkards and rotten stuff. The partition of our country by foreigners, and the question of who can seize the largest portion, are freely discussed. This discussion arouses the ire of every patriotic Chinese. But stop. Let us put the question: Is it wise to be angry? Ought we not to court the acquaintance of those who frankly tell us our faults as Chu Ko did; and following the example of Chow Tsz, bewail the diseases that are eating away the life of China? An ancient saying runs: “The wise man holds on to the friends who are willing to criticise him.” Let us dress this in modern apparel thus: “The wise country holds on to its critical neighbors.”