Chang Chih-tung, the Viceroy of Hupeh and Hunan, occupies a unique place among the officials of China at this time. He is a man of profound scholarship, wide information, great mental energy, and restless activity. He is endowed with a strong will and no little courage and daring. As a public officer he is distinguished for his loyalty, his purity, and unselfish devotion to the good of the people under his jurisdiction and to the wellbeing of the Empire at large. In one respect he is looked upon as a phenomenon among the officials of his day. The love of money does not seem to be in him. He might have been one of the richest men in the Empire, for his opportunities of accumulating wealth have been many and peculiarly favorable. As a matter of fact, he is known to be a comparatively poor man for an official of his rank and standing. All the wealth that flows into his yamen is spent on public works and public charity. His Excellency may have his weaknesses and eccentricities, and no doubt he has, but making all due allowances for these, it must be admitted that he is to-day one of China’s greatest men. A truer patriot or an abler statesman than the Viceroy of Liang Hu, China does not possess.
Any book written by Chang Chih-tung could not fail to command attention among the Chinese, themselves. They are proud of the man and charmed with his literary style. His is a master hand which few of the scholars of the land can equal and none excel. The interest of this book, however, does not centre in its literary style, though in that respect it leaves nothing to be desired, but in the momentous importance of its theme and the great ability displayed by the author in the handling of it. This is the reason the book has been so widely read and discussed by both natives and foreigners since its publication in the spring of last year. The author’s aim in writing the book is stated by himself in the preface. China is in danger of perishing. That is the terrible fact which weighs so heavily on the Viceroy’s mind. How can China be saved? That is the momentous question to which he addresses himself in this work.
Throughout the book the author shows a remarkable knowledge of the outer world and its affairs. His knowledge is by no means perfect, and he often blunders in his statements. But no one can read the volume without being struck with the extent of his information on most of the subjects with which he deals. He will be struck also with the evident desire of the author to be fair in his treatment of the foreigner and all matters connected with him. He does not always succeed; it must be admitted. This, however, is to be ascribed not to the want of desire to be fair but to defective knowledge and pardonable prejudice in favor of his own country and people, Chang Chih-tung is a Chinese to the backbone. To him there is no country like China, no people like the Chinese, and no religion to be compared with the Confucian. ” Examine,” says he, ” the history of China for 2,000 years back and then compare it with the Western history of fifty years! Does the government of these foreign countries present such a record of generosity, benevolence, loyalty, and honesty as ours? Although China is not so wealthy and powerful as the West, her people of whatever condition, rich or poor, high or low, all enjoy a perfect freedom and a happy life. Not so all the inhabitants of Western lands. Their governments may be strong, but the lower classes of the people are miserable, unhappy, and maliciously wronged. These governments certainly cannot be compared with our China.” That is pretty strong, and the book has more passages quite as strong. But they are mere sallies and need not be taken seriously. Taking the book as a whole, it is impossible not to be impressed with the fact that the author is trying to be fair to the outside countries and peoples. No thoughtful Chinese can possibly read it without forming a more exalted opinion of both than that which generally prevails among his countrymen.
But the author does not spare China in his denunciations. Some of the heaviest lashes found in the book are those laid on the backs of his own people and their rulers. Says the Viceroy: “Of all countries, China alone has for these fifty years proved herself almost irreclaimably stupid and not awake. Many of the officials and people are proud and indolent. Among our officials there is not one man of discernment; we have no real scholars and no skilful artisans. We are not represented abroad, and at home have no schools. So our incompetencies are not supplied. With nothing to stimulate the mind, harden the nature, or supply the deficiencies, there seems nothing left for China but to perish miserably in the slough of despond and despair.” Again, ” Old custom is a bugaboo, a password to lying and deceit.” That is pretty plain and honest, and there are not many men in China who dare speak out after that fashion. But the book abounds in such passages, and they show clearly that the Viceroy is thoroughly alive to the state of things at home and that China is, in the eyes of this great statesman, morally rotten as well as materially helpless.
The twenty chapters into which the work is divided are of varying interest. Some have peculiar interest to the Chinese reader, and some to the foreign reader. There are two or three which ought to command the special attention of every well-wisher of China. In reading Chapter III. we are interested to find that on examination of Western governments and ways, the Viceroy has discovered that the people of the West do maintain the doctrine of the relation of subject to sovereign; that they hold in common with the Chinese the relation of father to son; that they possess the relation of husband and wife; and that they have not abolished entirely the idea of etiquette. It is refreshing to see the Mosaic Decalogue quoted by His Excellency in order to convince his countrymen that foreigners do really honor their parents, though they do not worship their manes after the Chinese fashion.
In Chapter VI. the Viceroy gives his views on Republics, Parliament, etc. His Excellency will have none of them.
Chapter IX. is one of the most interesting in the book. The vice of opium-smoking is denounced in the strongest terms; but the Viceroy has no faith in government prohibition as a means of suppressing the use of the drug. That, he tells us, has been tried and found wanting. Whilst there is much good sense in what is said in this chapter about the habit being generated by sloth and the want of employment, one cannot but feel that the treatment of the whole subject is superficial, and that the remedy recommended is poor and altogether inadequate.
The suggestions of the Viceroy about converting the temples into schools, and other changes along this line, are very remarkable both in character and aim. He shows himself to be not only a reformer, but a reformer of the most radical and daring stamp. His educational scheme is a truly magnificent one, and would have been crowned with signal success but for the coup d’etat. We owe it to that unfortunate coup that it is not now in full working order in many, if not all, the provinces.
The chapter on Religious Toleration is admirable in every way. It might be published by the China Religious Tract Societies almost as it stands. It would make a very useful sheet tract for general distribution. The Viceroy deprecates all religious persecutions as wrong and impolitic. The way to advance Confucianism in his opinion is to “reform the government and not everlastingly combat other religions.”
Enough has been said to show that this is no ordinary book. But what is the sum of the whole matter? Has the Viceroy found a satisfactory answer to the question: How is China to be saved? on what does he rest his hope for the future of his country? He rests his hope on two things — namely, the renaissance of Confucianism and the adoption of Western science and methods. The old is to form the moral basis, and the new is to be used for practical purposes. But this would simply be to pour new wine into old bottles with the inevitable result of spoiling both. The enthusiasm of the Viceroy for Confucianism is natural and doubtless very sincere. What he needs to see is that Confucianism is effete and altogether too weak to bear the weight of a reformation such as he desires. We pray for the material prosperity of China. But would material prosperity be to the Chinese in their present moral and spiritual condition a real blessing? Would it not be a bane rather than a blessing? What the Chinese need above all else, and what they must have if they are ever to attain to real greatness is moral and spiritual life. But where is this life to be found? Surely not in Confucianism. Confucius was a good man and one of the world’s greatest sages; but this life it is not in his power to give. Christ alone is the bestower of this life, and Christ alone can save China. Christianity alone can form a safe and an adequate basis for the reformation which the Viceroy seeks; but, alas! he does not see it.
In publishing this work, Chang Chih-tung has rendered a great service to his country, and has laid his countrymen under lasting obligations to him. In his preface he quotes an old saying which runs thus: “If a man will not understand in what misfortune consists, disgrace is sure to follow; but if he will only face the difficulty, happiness will ensue.” This is precisely what His Excellency has been attempting to do in the preparation of this work. He has been facing the difficulty, and he has been doing so honestly and fearlessly. Had China at this time twenty statesmen possessing the ability, the intelligence, the integrity, and the moral courage of Chang Chih-tung, the Empire might yet be rescued from its present calamity, and its days might be prolonged on the earth. But where is a second Chang Chih-tung to be found?
Our best thanks are due to the Rev. S. I. Woodbridge for this translation of the work. His was no easy task, but he has succeeded admirably. This is not a verbal rendering of the original, but something far better. He has been working, as he himself tells us, “with a free hand, believing that a strict adherence to mere words is slavish, and that the spirit and genius of translation consist in conveying the thought of one language into another by the shortest and quickest route.” This is a sound principle and the translator has done well in adopting it in rendering this valuable work into English. By adopting this course, Mr. Woodbridge has succeeded in giving us a translation which is at once true and readable, a combination not always met with in attempts of the kind. He deserves our best thanks for the work he has done, and our heartiest congratulations for the able way in which he has done it.
Griffith John. London Mission, Hankou China,