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Our policy in the Far Eastern crisis must depend upon how we interpret the situation within China and Japan. What are the significant tendencies in those countries? Will the new Chinese nationalism survive? Can the Japanese stand the economic strain?
American policy must be based on the answers to such questions, but the only answers we can get are guesses, based on a foundation of astounding ignorance and a superstructure of variegated misinformation. The situation would be ludicrous if it were not so dangerous. Any premises we accept are likely to lead us astray.
China May Not Absorb Conquerors Again
For instance, students of China who have not studied modern history often repeat the old saw that China has been conquered several times before and always absorbed her conquerors, and so we can expect the same thing to happen again. This is dubious logic.
It is true that in past centuries China was conquered and ruled more than once by invaders who subsequently adopted Chinese ways and were largely absorbed into the Chinese scheme of things. It is possible that this may happen again, but at least two things make it decidedly improbable.
A Different Situation Today
There are now elements in the situation. One is the fact that the present invader, Japan, is intensely nationalistic, which means culturally nationalistic. The Mongols and Manchus, and even the Japanese centuries ago, were not unwilling to adopt the then superior civilization of China. But it is inconceivable that modern, chauvinistic, industrialized Japan should do so.
If China cannot absorb Japan, what are the chances of Japan's dominating China permanently? Here the second new element enters the situation. China absorbed her earlier conquerors chiefly by reason of her own greater cultural vitality. In part it has been this same vitality of the old Confucian way of life which has delayed China's modernization. In the last decade the tempo of modernization has markedly increased, but instead of evaporating, the old culture seems to be forming the basis for a rapidly growing modern nationalism,--as one might expect. Modern China is becoming more and more conscious of its own heritage.
China Cannot Forget Her Past
In short, I doubt if Japan can check the growth of Chinese patriotism. It is too late. Every new railroad, every Japanese sentry, every step in the inevitable industrialization of China will tend to increase it. A people who until eighty years ago regarded themselves, not without justification, as the center of the civilized world, are not likely to forget their past. Remembering it, they are not likely to acquiesce in the domination of invaders who, in order to maintain their power, must seek to reverse the current of China's modern intellectual development. Friction will result, for a long time to come.
There is another side to the picture. The Japanese policy will probably be one of indirect control of China, through puppet governments, in an effort to avoid the difficulty just mentioned. Success in such a policy will require inexhaustible forbearance and finesse, more than can be expected of the military mind; but temporary success in large areas of China is not improbable. Chinese nationalism has only just begun to wipe out the old opportunist individualism, and the Japanese will be able to trot out a horde of antiquated politicians of the "Chinese traitor" class, who for a full rice bowl will act as a toothless front for Japanese control. This has succeeded, so far, in Manchuria.
Are Puppet Governments the Answer?
Puppet governments are expensive, however, and it is in this respect that Japan's resources will be strained. Her puppet governments can keep their Chinese subjects quiet only by an outlay of money,--for Japanese gendarmes to maintain order, for puppet Chinese armies of soldiers who must be fed in order to keep them from banditry (a form of unemployment relief), and for public industrial works to make the conquered territory return a profit to Japan.
This is a high price to pay, for it means that, in order to control Chinese territory permanently, Japan must develop it and speed industrialization. And yet if industrialization goes forward, will Chinese nationalism lag far behind? Remember that Manchuria had been Chinese for hardly more than a generation, whereas North China is the oldest inhabited part of the country.
Japan Must Go On
Japan will be further strained in proportion as she is obliged to combat the nationalist government by conquering more and more territory. Will control of the coast be enough? Can she stop half-way in the conquest of China? The tendency will be sooner or later, to go on.
The Japanese face a further problem. Their puppet government, like all governments in China, can remain stable only if the Chinese populace tacitly acquiesce in it. Will arrogant Japanese advisers be able to conciliate the peasantry at the same time that they try to make them pay for rehabilitating the country?
Wishful thinking should not blind us to Japan's capacities. She may be expected to succeed, up to a certain point. The great danger is that Japan will succeed only half-way,--destroy in large areas the control of the Chinese nationalist government and yet lack the means to maintain really stable puppet governments. In short, the Sino-Japanese problem has barely been created. The one certainty is that trouble will continue in China for many years to come
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