CHINA’S ONLY HOPE

CHAPTER VII. REFORM OF METHODS

The terminus a quo of reform is the Court; the terminus ad quern is the people. Changes of method must first be made by the Emperor and afterwards be carried out by his subjects. Attempts at reform have been made within the past thirty years. When Tseng Wen-cheng was Vice-president of one of the Six Boards he apprised the Emperor of certain useless and cumbersome requirements in the Hanlin Examinations. Had he persisted in his attempts after becoming Prime Minister, the Hanlin Academy in the lapse of these three decades would have turned out some men of note. But we have never heard of his doing this. Why? Because at that time the Government had just put down the Taiping Rebellion, and Tseng was in dread of the envy of certain “present-day worthies.” Then Wen Wen-chung opened the T’ung Wen College and published books on International Law, etc., for the information of the public. His efforts would have produced at least some up-to-date men had they not been frustrated by a score of hypercautious, self-opinionated old “grandmothers” who laid their heads together and decided to have nothing to do with the T’ung Wen College[25] the Tsung-li Yamen [then just established], or the New Learning. And why, pray? Because their better judgment had been utterly subverted by a mawkish pack of lying Confucianists. How sad and distressing it is to contemplate the fact that the counsels of such loyal, virtuous, and powerful champions as Tseng and Wen, were overthrown by “talk,” and that no one since then has staked his reputation on such enterprises?

Tso Tsung-t’ang established a naval school in Fukien and foreign cloth mills in Kansuh. Shen Wen-shu also established schools, and, conjointly with the Viceroys at Tientsin and Nanking, floated the China Merchants’ Steam Navigation Company. Ting Wen-ch’eng built arsenals in Shantung and Szechuen. These were clean handed and public-spirited men, and they lived at a time when the country was at peace (from the middle of the reign of T’ung Chi to the opening years of Kwang Sü). Unfortunately, however, at that time China swarmed with individuals having noses keen to smell out “heresy,” and if these reformers had any successors, We, the Viceroy, are not aware of it. Those who came after either closed the doors of these institutions, or so crippled them by reducing their running expenses, that they have produced no practical benefit to the country worth mentioning.

But there are certain principles in China that are immutable. We cannot change the Obligations and the Records, but we can change the administration of laws; we cannot change the Holy Religion, but we can change our implements and weapons of war; we cannot change the sense of right, but we can change the modus agenduoi, the workmen and artificers. [26]

In this Dynasty there have been many innovations introduced in spite of opposition. The men who stoutly resisted the introduction of steamboats and railways would now be the very first to resist their abolishment.

The anti-reformers may be roughly divided into three classes:

First, the conservatives, who are stuck in the mud of antiquity. The mischief wrought by these obstructionists may be readily perceived.

Second, the slow bellies of Chinese officialdom, who in case of reform would be compelled to bestir themselves, and who would be held responsible for the outlay of money and men necessary for the changes. The secret machinations of these befuddled, indolent, slippery nepotists thwart all schemes of reform. They give out that it is not “convenient,” and in order to cloak their evil deeds rehearse the old story, the usual evasive drivel about ” old custom.” And if we attempt to discover what this precious old custom in the matter of education and government is, there will be remonstrances on all sides. Old custom is a bugaboo, a password to lying and deceit. How can any one believe it?

Third, the hypercritics.

We admit that the employment of foreign methods in China has not been a success, but we cannot admit that this is due to the methods. The promoters of these foreign schemes showed no enterprise except to further their own personal and private ends. The Admiralty plan failed because we were too niggardly in our appropriations and the time was not opportune. The students and court officials who were sent abroad were recalled because the Government had no settled course of action, and hence no lasting benefit accrued to China. For this, Mother Grundy, and not the method, is to be condemned. Finally, we bought the guns and machinery before we had the gunners and machinists; we put the cart before the horse, and we failed. The hypercritical talkers who decry reform on account of this failure are not acquainted with the circumstances of the case. They expected chickens before the eggs were hatched: they saw a charge of birdshot and forthwith anticipate broiled owl. Graduates were looked for before the schools were opened, and ideal fortunes were made before we opened the mines. The time were out of joint. What one party buried, the other resurrected. Matters requiring the greatest care, caution and tact were rushed through with the utmost precipitation, whilst questions of no importance were considered at length. Is it to be wondered, then, that nothing was accomplished?

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