The Problem of China Quotes


The following are some of the quotes I find interesting from Bertrand Russell’s The Problem of China. The book is available in the public domain thanks to Project Gutenberg. The reader should notice that the book was written in the 1920s.

I read the book almost entirely on my phone. The epub format of the book rendered beautifully in ReadEra.

The second danger is that they may be driven, in the course of resistance to foreign aggression, into an intense anti-foreign conservatism as regards everything except armaments. This has happened in Japan, and it may easily happen in China.

In considering the effect of the white races on the Far East as a whole, modern Japan must count as a Western product; therefore the responsibility for Japan’s doings in China rests ultimately with her white teachers.

The “civilized” nations of the world, with their blockades, their poison gases, their bombs, submarines, and negro armies, will probably destroy each other within the next hundred years, leaving the stage to those whose pacifism has kept them alive, though poor and powerless.

Human beings they undoubtedly were, and yet it would have been far easier for me to grow intimate with a dog or a cat or a horse than with one of them.

at last I began to feel that all politics are inspired by a grinning devil, teaching the energetic and quickwitted to torture submissive populations for the profit of pocket or power or theory.

What makes us superior is Newton and Robert Boyle and their scientific successors.

The Americans alone held aloof, proclaiming the policy of Chinese integrity and the Open Door.

So long as the foreign officials are responsible to the Chinese Government, not to foreign States, they fulfil a useful educative function, and help to prepare the way for the creation of an efficient Chinese State.

Despite constant civil war and political chaos, the Customs revenue consistently grows, and last year exceeded all records by £1,000,000. The increased duties sanctioned by the Washington Conference will provide sufficient revenue to liquidate the whole foreign and domestic floating debt in a very few years, leaving the splendid salt surplus unencumbered for the Government. The difficulty is not to provide money, but to find a Government to which to entrust it.

the capitalist system involves in its very essence a predatory relation of the strong towards the weak, internationally as well as nationally.

The anarchy in China is, of course, very regrettable, and every friend of China must hope that it will be brought to an end. But it would be a mistake to exaggerate the evil, or to suppose that it is comparable in magnitude to the evils endured in Europe. China must not be compared to a single European country, but to Europe as a whole.

You may travel through China from end to end, and it is ten to one that you will see no signs of war.

if the birth-rate is as great as is usually supposed, no permanent cure for their poverty is possible while their families continue to be so large.

But the military beginning of our intercourse with the Middle Kingdom has now receded into the background; one is not conscious, in any class, of a strong hostility to foreigners as such.

But after making all necessary deductions for the poverty and the disease, I am inclined to think that Chinese life brings more happiness to the Chinese than English life does to us. At any rate this seemed to me to be true for the men; for the women I do not think it would be true.

there is an inexhaustible supply of industrious coolies ready to work very long hours for wages upon which an English working-man would find it literally impossible to keep body and soul together.

public opinion is still ready to be influenced by those who have intellectual qualifications. The Tuchuns, many of whom, including Chang-tso-lin, have begun by being brigands,[36] are, of course, mostly too stupid and ignorant to share this attitude, but that in itself makes their régime weak and unstable.

They have had, painfully and with infinite difficulty, to free their minds from the beliefs instilled in youth, and to turn their thoughts to a new science and a new ethic.

It must not be supposed that an able Chinaman, when he masters our culture, becomes purely imitative. This may happen among the second-rate Chinese, especially when they turn Christians, but it does not happen among the best. They remain Chinese, critical of European civilization even when they have assimilated it. They retain a certain crystal candour and a touching belief in the efficacy of moral forces; the industrial revolution has not yet affected their mental processes.

When they become persuaded of the importance of some opinion, they try to spread it by setting forth the reasons in its favour; they do not hire the front pages of newspapers for advertising, or put up on hoardings along the railways “So-and-so’s opinion is the best.” In all this they differ greatly from more advanced nations, and particularly from America; it never occurs to them to treat opinions as if they were soaps. And they have no admiration for ruthlessness, or love of bustling activity without regard to its purpose. Having thrown over the prejudices in which they were brought up, they have not taken on a new set, but have remained genuinely free in their thoughts, able to consider any proposition honestly on its merits.

The candour and honesty of the pioneers survive, with more determination to be socially effective. This may be merely the natural character of youth, but I think it is more than that.

Our theories of politics are only true in the West (if there); our theories of forestry are equally true everywhere.

The Chinese, even the most modern, look to the white nations, especially America, for moral maxims to replace those of Confucius. They have not yet grasped that men’s morals in the mass are the same everywhere: they do as much harm as they dare, and as much good as they must.

So long as the sun warms the earth, let no Christian be so bold as to come to Japan, and let all know that if King Philip himself, or even the very God of the Christians, or the great Shaka contravene this prohibition, they shall pay for it with their heads.

Bertrand Russell quoted the above paragraph from James Murdoch’s book A History of Japan.

Japanese history begins in the fifth century A.D., whereas Chinese history goes back to about 2,000 B.C., or at any rate to somewhere in the second millennium B.C. This was galling to Japanese pride, so an early history was invented long ago, like the theory that the Romans were descended from Æneas.

This question of fictitious early history might be considered unimportant, like the fact that, with us, parsons have to pretend to believe the Bible, which some people think innocuous. But it is part of the whole system, which has a political object, to which free thought and free speech are ruthlessly sacrificed.

It results naturally from the situation that the Japanese have two somewhat incompatible ambitions. On the one hand, they wish to pose as the champions of Asia against the oppression of the white man; on the other hand, they wish to be admitted to equality by the white Powers, and to join in the feast obtained by exploiting the nations that are inefficient in homicide.

It never occurs to a Japanese, even in his wildest dreams, to think of a Chinaman as an equal. And although he wants the white man to regard himself as an equal, he himself regards Japan as immeasurably superior to any white country. His real desire is to be above the whites, not merely equal with them.

The American Government, at that time, could honestly hold out hopes, because it was ignorant of the secret treaties and agreements by which the Allies were bound. The Allies, however, can offer no such excuse for having urged China to take the further step of declaring war. Russia, France, and Great Britain had all sold China’s rights to secure the continued support of Japan.

President Wilson had consented to this gross violation of justice, America refused to ratify the Treaty, and was therefore free to raise the issue of Shantung at Washington. The Chinese delegates at Versailles resisted the clauses concerning Shantung to the last, and finally, encouraged by a vigorous agitation of Young China,[82] refused to sign the Treaty. They saw no reason why they should be robbed of a province as a reward for having joined the Allies.

All the other Allies agreed to a proceeding exactly as iniquitous as it would have been if we had annexed Virginia as a reward to the Americans for having helped us in the war, or France had annexed Kent on a similar pretext.

But what part Russia is going to play in the affairs of China it is as yet impossible to say.

We suspect the motives which led to the suggestion and we thoroughly doubt its feasibility. China will bitterly oppose any Conference plan to offer China international aid." He adds: “International control will not do. China must be given time and opportunity to find herself. The world should not misinterpret or exaggerate the meaning of the convulsion which China is now passing through.

In the New Republic for November 30, 1921, there is an article by Mr. Brailsford entitled “A New Technique of Peace,” which I fear is prophetic even if not wholly applicable at the moment when it was written. I expect to see, if the Americans are successful in the Far East, China compelled to be orderly so as to afford a field for foreign commerce and industry; a government which the West will consider good substituted for the present go-as-you-please anarchy; a gradually increasing flow of wealth from China to the investing countries, the chief of which is America; the development of a sweated proletariat; the spread of Christianity; the substitution of the American civilization for the Chinese; the destruction of traditional beauty, except for such objets d’art as millionaires may think it worth while to buy; the gradual awakening of China to her exploitation by the foreigner; and one day, fifty or a hundred years hence, the massacre of every white man throughout the Celestial Empire at a signal from some vast secret society. All this is probably inevitable, human nature being what it is. It will be done in order that rich men may grow richer, but we shall be told that it is done in order that China may have “good” government. The definition of the word “good” is difficult, but the definition of “good government” is as easy as A.B.C.: it is government that yields fat dividends to capitalists.

When Young China has done its work, Americans will be able to make money by trading with China, without destroying the soul of the country. China needs a period of anarchy in order to work out her salvation; all great nations need such a period, from time to time.

I have seen Chinese of the highest education, men as cultured as (say) Dean Inge, treated by greasy white men as if they were dirt, in a way in which, at home, no Duke would venture to treat a crossing-sweeper.

The Germans at last, impelled by terrors largely of their own creation, challenged the whole world, and fell; it is very much to be feared that Japan may do likewise.

They ought to have claimed for China the same consideration that they have extorted towards themselves; then they could have become, what they constantly profess to be, the champions of Asia against Europe. The Chinese are prone to gratitude, and would have helped Japan loyally if Japan had been a true friend to them. But the Japanese despise the Chinese more than the Europeans do; they do not want to destroy the belief in Eastern inferiority, but only to be regarded as themselves belonging to the West. They have therefore behaved so as to cause a well-deserved hatred of them in China.

buy up the artistic treasures of China for sepulture in their mansions.

it is impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or peace and freedom out of capitalism.

The ideal of capitalism, if it could be achieved, would be to destroy competition among capitalists by means of Trusts, but to keep alive competition among workers.

This whole question of Asiatic immigration, which is liable to cause trouble for centuries to come, can only be radically solved by Socialism, since Socialism alone can bring the private interests of workers in this matter into harmony with the interests of their nation and of the world.

On the contrary, we may expect that, when Asia has thoroughly assimilated our economic system, the Marxian class-war will break out in the form of a war between Asia and the West, with America as the protagonist of capitalism, and Russia as the champion of Asia and Socialism. In such a war, Asia would be fighting for freedom, but probably too late to preserve the distinctive civilizations which now make Asia valuable to the human family. Indeed, the war would probably be so devastating that no civilization of any sort would survive it.

it is possible to have peace by submission to exploitation, or some degree of freedom by continual war, but it is not possible to have both peace and freedom.

The success of the present American policy may, for a time, secure peace, but will certainly not secure freedom for the weaker nations, such as Chinese.

Expenditure on the navy is unpopular in America, but by its parade of pacifism the Government has been enabled to extract the necessary money out of the pockets of reluctant taxpayers.

A deputation of shipwrights and allied trades complained to Mr. Hughes, the Prime Minister, that four Commonwealth ships had been repaired at Antwerp instead of in Australia, and that two had been repaired in India by black labour receiving eight annas (8d.) a day. When the deputation reached the black labour allegation Mr. Hughes jumped from his chair and turned on his interviewers with, ‘Black labour be damned. Go to blithering blazes. Don’t talk to me about black labour.’ Hurrying from the room, he pushed his way through the deputation….” I do not generally agree with Mr. Hughes, but on this occasion, deeply as I deplore his language, I find myself in agreement with his sentiments, assuming that the phrase “black labour be damned” is meant to confer a blessing.

I have no doubt that if the Chinese could get a stable government and sufficient funds, they would, within the next thirty years, begin to produce remarkable work in science. It is quite likely that they might outstrip us, because they come with fresh zest and with all the ardour of a renaissance.

As a race, they are tenacious of money—not perhaps more so than the French, but certainly more than the English or the Americans. Their politics are corrupt, and their powerful men make money in disgraceful ways. All this it is impossible to deny.

If any nation in the world could ever be “too proud to fight,” that nation would be China.

The Chinese in the West seek knowledge, in the hope—which I fear is usually vain—that knowledge may prove a gateway to wisdom. White men have gone to China with three motives: to fight, to make money, and to convert the Chinese to our religion.

The Chinese are not, as a rule, good soldiers, because the causes for which they are asked to fight are not worth fighting for, and they know it.

We imagine ourselves tolerant, because we are more so than our ancestors. But we still practise political and social persecution, and what is more, we are firmly persuaded that our civilization and our way of life are immeasurably better than any other, so that when we come across a nation like the Chinese, we are convinced that the kindest thing we can do to them is to make them like ourselves. I believe this to be a profound mistake. It seemed to me that the average Chinaman, even if he is miserably poor, is happier than the average Englishman, and is happier because the nation is built upon a more humane and civilized outlook than our own.

Restlessness and pugnacity not only cause obvious evils, but fill our lives with discontent, incapacitate us for the enjoyment of beauty, and make us almost incapable of the contemplative virtues. In this respect we have grown rapidly worse during the last hundred years. I do not deny that the Chinese go too far in the other direction; but for that very reason I think contact between East and West is likely to be fruitful to both parties. They may learn from us the indispensable minimum of practical efficiency, and we may learn from them something of that contemplative wisdom which has enabled them to persist while all the other nations of antiquity have perished.

Shortly before I left China, an eminent Chinese writer pressed me to say what I considered the chief defects of the Chinese. With some reluctance, I mentioned three: avarice, cowardice and callousness.

Tsing-Hua College, delightfully situated at the foot of the Western hills, with a number of fine solid buildings,[97] in a good American style, owes its existence entirely to the Boxer indemnity money.

It has an atmosphere exactly like that of a small American university, and a (Chinese) President who is an almost perfect reproduction of the American College President. The teachers are partly American, partly Chinese educated in America, and there tends to be more and more of the latter. As one enters the gates, one becomes aware of the presence of every virtue usually absent in China: cleanliness, punctuality, exactitude, efficiency.

The Chinese Government (so at least I was told) had already established a university in Peking, fully equipped and staffed, and known as the Peking University. But the Methodist missionaries decided to give the name “Peking University” to their schools, so the already existing university had to alter its name to “Government University.” The case is exactly as if a collection of old-fashioned Chinamen had established themselves in London to teach the doctrine of Confucius, and had been able to force London University to abandon its name to them.

Having aroused the nation, prevented the signature of the Versailles Treaty and assisted the merchants to enforce the Japanese boycott, the students then directed their energies to the enlightenment of their less educated brothers and sisters. For instance, by issuing publications, by popular lectures showing them the real situation, internally as well as externally; but especially by establishing free schools and maintaining them out of their own funds. No praise can be too high for such self-sacrifice, for the students generally also teach in these schools. The scheme is endorsed everywhere with the greatest enthusiasm, and in Peking alone it is estimated that fifty thousand children are benefited by such education.

One thing which came as a surprise to me was to find that, as regards modern education under Chinese control, there is complete equality between men and women. The position of women in Peking Government University is better than at Cambridge. Women are admitted to examinations and degrees, and there are women teachers in the university. The Girls’ Higher Normal School in Peking, where prospective women teachers are taught, is a most excellent and progressive institution, and the spirit of free inquiry among the girls would horrify most British head mistresses.

Putnam Weale (Mr. Lennox Simpson) strongly urges—quite rightly, as I think—the great importance of nationalizing all Chinese railways. At Washington recently, he helped to secure the Shantung Railway award, and to concentrate attention on the railway as the main issue.

Where the bulk of the population cannot read, true democracy is impossible.

Chinese educated in mission schools, or in lay establishments controlled by foreigners, tend to become de-nationalized, and to have a slavish attitude towards Western civilization.

The aim to be pursued is of importance, not only to China, but to the world. Out of the renaissance spirit now existing in China, it is possible, if foreign nations can be prevented from working havoc, to develop a new civilization better than any that the world has yet known. This is the aim which Young China should set before itself: the preservation of the urbanity and courtesy, the candour and the pacific temper, which are characteristic of the Chinese nation, together with a knowledge of Western science and an application of it to the practical problems of China.

Of such practical problems there are two kinds: one due to the internal condition of China, and the other to its international situation. In the former class come education, democracy, the diminution of poverty, hygiene and sanitation, and the prevention of famines. In the latter class come the establishment of a strong government, the development of industrialism, the revision of treaties and the recovery of the Treaty Ports (as to which Japan may serve as a model), and finally, the creation of an army sufficiently strong to defend the country against Japan. Both classes of problems demand Western science. But they do not demand the adoption of the Western philosophy of life.

If the Chinese were to adopt the Western philosophy of life, they would, as soon as they had made themselves safe against foreign aggression, embark upon aggression on their own account. They would repeat the campaigns of the Han and Tang dynasties in Central Asia, and perhaps emulate Kublai by the invasion of Japan. They would exploit their material resources with a view to producing a few bloated plutocrats at home and millions dying of hunger abroad. Such are the results which the West achieves by the application of science.

It is not unlikely that the great military nations of the modern world will bring about their own destruction by their inability to abstain from war, which will become, with every year that passes, more scientific and more devastating. If China joins in this madness, China will perish like the rest.

if Chinese reformers can have the moderation to stop when they have made China capable of self-defence, and to abstain from the further step of foreign conquest; if, when they have become safe at home, they can turn aside from the materialistic activities imposed by the Powers, and devote their freedom to science and art and the inauguration of a better economic system—then China will have played the part in the world for which she is fitted, and will have given to mankind as a whole new hope in the moment of greatest need. It is this hope that I wish to see inspiring Young China. This hope is realizable; and because it is realizable, China deserves a foremost place in the esteem of every lover of mankind.