John A. Hobson

Imperialism, A Study


Chapter IV
Imperialism in Asia


The great test of Western Imperialism is Asia, where vast peoples live, the inheritors of civilisations as complex as our own, more ancient and more firmly rooted by enduring custom in the general life. The races of Africa it has been possible to regard as savages or children, “backward” in their progress along the same general road of civilisation in which Anglo-Saxondom represents the vanguard, and requiring the help of more forward races. It is not so easy to make a specious case for Western control over India, China, and other Asiatic peoples upon the same ground. Save in the more recent developments of the physical sciences and their application to industrial arts, it cannot be contended that these peoples are “backward,” and though we sometimes describe their civilisations as “arrested” or “unprogressive,” that judgment either may imply our ignorance of the pace at which civilisations so much older than our own must continue moving, or it may even afford unconscious testimony to a social progress which has won its goal in securing a well-nigh complete adjustment between human life and its stable environment.

The claim of the West to civilise the East by means of political and military supremacy must rest ultimately upon the assumption that civilisations, however various in their surface growths, are at root one and the same, that they have a common nature and a common soil. Stripped of metaphor, this means that certain moral and intellectual qualities, finding embodiment in general forms of religion, law, customs, and arts of industry, are essential to all local varieties of civilisation, irrespective of race, colour, climate, and other conditions; that Western nations, or some of them, possess these qualities and forms of civilisation in a pre-eminent degree, and are able to impart them to Eastern nations by government and its accompanying political, religious, and industrial education. It certainly seems as if “humanity” implies such common factors. The ethics of the Decalogue appears to admit of a wide common application; certain rights of the individual, certain elements of social justice, embodied in law and custom, appear capable of universal appeal; certain sorts of knowledge and the arts of applying them appear useful to all sorts and conditions of men. If Western civilisation is richer in these essentials, it seems reasonable to suppose that the West can benefit the East by imparting them, and that her government may be justified as a means of doing so.

The British Empire in India may be taken as the most serviceable test. We did not, indeed, go there in the first instance for the good of the Indians, nor have our various extensions of political power been motived primarily by this consideration; but it is contended that our government of India has in point of fact conferred upon the people the benefits arising from our civilisation, and that the conferring of these benefits has of later years played a larger and a larger part in our conscious policy. The experiment has been a long and varied one, and our success in India is commonly adduced as the most convincing argument in favour of the benefits accruing to subject races from Imperialism.

The real questions we have to answer are these: “Are we civilising India?” and “In what does that civilisation consist?” To assist in answering there exists a tolerably large body of indisputable facts. We have established a wider and more permanent internal peace than India had ever known from the days of Alexander the Great. We have raised the standard of justice by fair and equal administration of laws; we have regulated and probably reduced the burden of taxation, checking the corruption and tyranny of native princes and their publicans. For the instruction of the people we have introduced a public system of schools and colleges, as well as a great quasi-public missionary establishment, teaching not only the Christian religion but many industrial arts. Roads, railways, and a network of canals have facilitated communication and transport, and an extensive system of scientific irrigation has improved the productiveness of the soil; the mining of coal, gold, and other minerals has been greatly developed; in Bombay and elsewhere cotton mills with modern machinery have been set up, and the organisation of other machine industries is helping to find employment for the population of large cities. Tea, coffee, indigo, jute, tobacco, and other important crops have been introduced into Indian agriculture. We are gradually breaking down many of the religious and social superstitions which sin against humanity and retard progress, and even the deeply rooted caste system is modified wherever British influence is felt. There can be no question that much of this work of England in India is well done. No such intelligent, well-educated, and honourable body of men has ever been employed by any State in the working of imperial government as is contained in the Civil Service of India. Nowhere else in our Empire has so much really disinterested and thoughtful energy been applied in the work of government. The same may be said of the line of great statesmen sent out from England to preside over our government in India. Our work there is the best record British Imperialism can show. What does it tell us about the capacity of the West to confer the benefits of her civilisation on the East?

Take first the test of economic prosperity. Are the masses of the people under our rule wealthier than they were before, and are they growing wealthier under that rule? There are some who maintain that British government is draining the economic life-blood of India and dragging her population into lower and more hopeless poverty. They point to the fact that one of the poorest countries in the world is made to bear the cost of a government which, however honestly administered, is very expensive; that one-third of the money raised by taxation flows out of the country without return; that India is made to support an army admittedly excessive for purposes of self-defence, and even to bear the cost of wars in other parts of the Empire, while nearly the whole of the interest on capital invested in India is spent out of the country. The statistical basis of this argument is too insecure for much reliance to be placed on it: it is probably untrue that the net cost of British government is greater than the burden of native princes which it has largely [1] superseded, though it is certainly true that the extortionate taxation under native rule was expended in the country on productive work or unproductive native services. Whether the increasing drain of wheat and other food-stuffs from India exceeds the gain from improved irrigation, and whether the real income of the “ryot” or other worker is increasing or diminishing, cannot be established, so far as the whole country is concerned, by any accurate measure. But it is generally admitted, even by British officials strongly favourable to our rule, that we have not succeeded in giving any considerable economic prosperity to India. I quote from a recent source strongly favourable to our rule:

“The test of a people’s prosperity is not the extension of exports, the multiplication of manufactures or other industries, the construction of cities. No. A prosperous country is one in which the great mass of the inhabitants are able to procure, with moderate toil, what is necessary for living human lives, lives of frugal and assured comfort. Judged by this criterion, can India be called prosperous?

“Comfort, of course, is a relative term ... In a tropical country, like India, the standard is very low. Little clothing is required there. Simple diet suffices. Artificial wants are very few, and, for the most part, are not costly. The Indian Empire is a peasant Empire. Ninety per cent. of the people live upon the land ... An unfailing well of water, a plot of land, and a bit of orchard – that will satisfy his heart’s desire, if indeed you add the cattle needful to hire, ‘the ryot’s children,’ as they are called in many parts. Such is the ryot’s ideal. Very few realise it. An acre may stand for the modus agri, the necessary plot of ground. A man to an acre, or 640 men to the square mile, is the utmost density of population which India can comfortably support, except near towns or in irrigated districts. But millions of peasants in India are struggling to live on half an acre. Their existence is a constant struggle with starvation, ending too often in defeat. Their difficulty is not to live human lives – lives up to the level of their poor standard of comfort – but to live at all and not die ... We may truly say that in India, except in the irrigated tracts, famine is chronic-endemic.” [2]

A century of British rule, then, conducted with sound ability and goodwill, has not materially assisted to ward off the chronic enemy, starvation, from the mass of the people. Nor can it be maintained that the new industrialism of machinery and factories, which we have introduced, is civilising India, or even adding much to her material prosperity. In fact, all who value the life and character of the East deplore the visible decadence of the arts of architecture, weaving, metal work and pottery, in which India had been famed from time immemorial. “Architecture, engineering, literary skill are all perishing out, so perishing that Anglo-Indians doubt whether Indians have the capacity to be architects, though they built Benares; or engineers, though they dug the artificial lakes of Tanjore; or poets, though the people sit for hours or days listening to the rhapsodists as they recite poems, which move them as Tennyson certainly does not move our common people.” [3] The decay or forcible supersession of the native industrial arts is still more deplorable, for these always constitute the poetry of common life, the free play of the imaginative faculty of a nation in the ordinary work of life.

Sir George Birdwood, in his great work on The Industrial Arts of India, written more than twenty years ago, gives a significant judgment upon the real meaning of a movement which has ever since been advancing at an accelerating pace: “If owing to the operation of certain economic causes, machinery was to be gradually introduced into India for the manufacture of its great traditional handicrafts, there would ensue an industrial revolution which, if not directed by an intelligent and instructed public opinion and the general prevalence of refined taste, would inevitably throw the traditional arts of the country into the same confusion of principles, and of their practical application to the objects of daily necessity, which has for three generations been the destruction of decorative art and of middle-class taste in England and North-Western Europe and the United States of America. The social and moral evils of the introduction of machinery into India are likely to be greater.” Then follows a detailed account of the free picturesque handicrafts of the ordinary Indian village, and the author proceeds: “But of late these handicraftsmen, for the sake of whose works the whole world has been ceaselessly pouring its bullion into India, and who, for all the marvellous tissue they have wrought, have polluted no rivers, deformed no pleasing prospects, nor poisoned any air; whose skill and individuality the training of countless generations has developed to the highest perfection – these hereditary handicraftsmen are being everywhere gathered from their democratic village communities in hundreds and thousands into the colossal mills of Bombay, to drudge in gangs for tempting wages, at manufacturing piece goods, in competition with Manchester, in the production of which they are no more intellectually and morally concerned than the grinder of a barrel organ in the tunes turned out from it.”

Even from the low standpoint of the world-market this hasty destruction of the native arts for the sake of employing masses of cheap labour in mills is probably bad policy; for, as the world becomes more fully opened up and distant countries are set in closer communication with one another, a land whose industries had so unique and interesting a character as those of India would probably have found a more profitable market than by attempting to undersell Lancashire and New England in stock goods.

But far more important are the reactions of these changes on the character of the people. The industrial revolution in England and elsewhere has partaken more largely of the nature of a natural growth, proceeding from inner forces, than in India, and has been largely coincident with a liberation of great popular forces finding expression in scientific education and in political democracy: it has been an important phase of the great movement of popular liberty and self-government. In India, and elsewhere in the East, there is no such compensation.

An industrial system, far more strongly set and more closely interwoven in the religious and social system of the country than even were the crafts and arts in Europe, has been subjected to forces operating from outside, and unchecked in their pace and direction by the will of the people whose life they so vitally affected. Industrial revolution is one thing when it is the natural movement of internal forces, making along the line of the self-interests of a nation, and proceeding pari passu with advancing popular self-government; another thing when it is imposed by foreign conquerors looking primarily to present gains for themselves, and neglectful of the deeper interests of the people of the country. The story of the destruction of native weaving industry [4] for the benefit of mills started by the Company will illustrate the selfish, short-sighted economic policy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. “Under the pretence of Free Trade, England has compelled the Hindus to receive the products of the steam-looms of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Glasgow, &c., at mere nominal duties; while the hand-wrought manufactures of Bengal and Behar, beautiful in fabric and durable in wear, have had heavy and almost prohibitive duties imposed on their importation to England.” [5] The effect of this policy, rigorously maintained during the earlier decades of the nineteenth century, was the irreparable ruin of many of the most valuable and characteristic arts of Indian industry. “In India the manufacturing power of the people was stamped out by Protection against her industries, and then Free Trade was forced on her so as to prevent a revival.” [6]

When we turn from manufacture to the great industry of agriculture, which even now occupies nine-tenths of the population, the difficulty of alien administration, with whatever good intention, is amply illustrated. Not a few of our greatest Indian statesmen, such as Munro, Elphinstone, and Metcalfe, have recognised in the village community the true embodiment of the spirit of Eastern civilisation.

“The village communities,” wrote Sir C. Metcalfe [7], “are little republics, having nearly everything that they can want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindu, Pathan, Moghul, Mahratta, Sikh, English, are masters in turn; but the village communities remain the same.” “The union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little State in itself, has, I conceive, contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of the people of India through all revolutions and changes which they have suffered, and it is in a high degree conducive to their happiness and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence. I wish, therefore, that the village constitutions may never be disturbed, and I dread everything which has a tendency to break them up.”

Yet the whole efforts of British administration have been directed to the destruction of this village self-government in industry and politics. The substitution of the individual ryot for the community as the unit of revenue throughout Bombay and Madras struck a fatal blow at the economic life of the village, while the withdrawal of all real judicial and executive powers from the zemindars or headmen, and their concentration in British civil courts and executive officers, virtually completed the destruction of the strongest and most general institution of India – the self-governing village.

Both these important steps were taken in furtherance of the new Western idea of individual responsibility as the only sound economic basis, and centralised government as the most efficacious mode of political machinery. The fact that it should be considered safe and profitable suddenly to subvert the most ancient institutions of India, in order thus to adapt the people to English modes of life, will be taken by sociologists as one of the most amazing lessons of incompetence in the art of civilisation afforded by modern history. Indeed the superior prosperity of a large part of Bengal, attributable in part at any rate to the maintenance of a local landlord class, who served as middlemen between the State and the individual cultivators, and mitigated the mechanical rack-rent of the land-tax, is a sufficiently remarkable testimony to the injury inflicted upon other parts of India by sudden ill-advised application of Western economic and political methods. [8]


When we turn from industry to the administration of justice and the general work of government in which the ability and character of British officialism finds expression, we are led to further questioning. Is Great Britain able to Anglicise the government of India, is she doing so, and is she thereby implanting Western civilisation in India? How much a few thousand British officials, endowed with the best ability and energy, can achieve in stamping British integrity and efficiency upon the practical government of three hundred million people of alien race and character it is difficult to judge. Numbers are not everything, and it is probable that these diffused units of British authority exercise directly and indirectly a considerable influence upon the larger affairs of government, and that this influence may sometimes permeate far down among native official circles. But it must be kept in mind that those few British officials are rarely born in India, have seldom any perfect understanding of the languages of the people, form a close “caste,” never mingling in free social intercourse with those whom they govern, and that the laws and regulations they administer are largely foreign to the traditionary institutions of the Indian peoples. When we remember how large a share of real government is the personal administration of detail, the enforcement of law or regulation upon the individual citizen, and that in the overwhelming majority of cases this work must always be left to native officials, it is evident that the formal virtues of British law and justice must admit much elasticity and much perversion in the actual processes of administration.

“No one can deny that this system of civil and criminal administration is vastly superior to anything which India ever possessed under former rulers. Its defects arise chiefly from causes extraneous to it. The unblemished integrity and unswerving devotion to duty of the officials, whether English or Indian, who occupy the higher posts, no one will call in question. The character of the subordinate officials is not always so entirely above suspicion, and the course of justice is too often perverted by a lamentable characteristic of the Oriental mind. ‘Great is the rectitude of the English, greater is the power of a lie’ is a proverbial saying throughout India. Perhaps the least satisfactory of the government departments is the police. A recent writer says, ‘It is difficult to imagine how a department can be more corrupt.’ This, too, may be an over-statement. But, taken on the whole, the rank and file of the Indian police are probably not of higher integrity and character than those of New York.” [9]

Now one sentence of this statement deserves special attention. “Its defects arise chiefly from causes extraneous to it.” This is surely incorrect. It is an essential part of our system that the details of administration shall be in native hands: no one can contemplate any considerable displacement of lower native officials by English; the latter could not do the work and would not if they could, nor could the finances, always precarious, possibly admit of so huge an increase of expenditure as would be involved by making the government of India really British in its working. The tendency, in fact, is all the other way, and makes for the more numerous employment of natives in all but the highest grades of the public service. If it is true that corruption and mendacity are deeply rooted in all Eastern systems of government, and that the main moral justification of our rule consists in their correction by British character and administration, it is pretty clear that we cannot be performing this valuable work, and must in the nature of the case be disabled from even understanding where and how far we fall short of doing so. The comment made by Mr. Lilly upon Indian police is chiefly significant because this is the one department of detailed practical government where special scandals are most likely to reveal the failure of our excellent intentions as embodied in criminal codes and judicial procedure. One would wish to know whether the actual native officer who collects the land-tax or other dues from the individual ryot practises the integrity of his British superior official or reverts to the time-honoured and universal practice of the East.

How much can a handful of foreign officials do in the way of effectual check and supervision of the details of government in a country which teems with populations of various races, languages, creeds, and customs? Probably not very much, and ex hypothesi they, and so we, cannot know their failures.

The one real and indisputable success of our rule in India, as indeed generally through our Empire, is the maintenance of order upon a large scale, the prevention of internecine war, riot, or organised violence. This, of course, is much, but it is not everything; it is not enough in itself to justify us in regarding our imperial rule as a success. Is British justice, so far as it prevails, and British order good for India? will seem to the average Briton a curious question to ask. But Englishmen who have lived in India, and who, on the whole, favour the maintenance of our authority, sometimes ask it. It must, in the first place, be remembered that some of the formal virtues of our laws and methods which seem to us most excellent may work out quite otherwise in practice. The rigorous justice in the exaction of the land-tax and in the enforcement of the legal claims of usurers is a striking instance of misapplied notions of equity. Corrupt as the practice of Eastern tax-gatherers has ever been, tyrannical as has been the power of the usurer, public opinion, expediency, and some personal consideration have always qualified their tyranny: the mechanical rigour of British law is one of the greatest sources of unpopularity of our government in India, and is probably a grave source of actual injury.

There is even some reason to suspect that Indians resent less the illegal and irregular extortion of recognised native autocrats, whose visible authority is familiarly impressed on their imaginations, than the actually lighter exactions of an inhuman, irresistible and immitigable machine, such as the British power presents itself to them.

It is pretty clear that, so far as the consent of the governed in any active sense is a condition of success in government, the British Empire in India has not succeeded. We are deceived by Eastern acquiescence, and our deception may even be attended by grave catastrophe unless we understand the truth. Mr. Townsend, who has brought close thought to bear upon the conditions of our hold of India, writes thus:–

“Personal liberty, religious liberty, equal justice, perfect security – these things the Empire gives; but then are these so valued as to overcome the inherent and incurable dull distaste felt by the brown men to the white men who give them? I doubt it greatly.” [10]

The reasons he gives for his doubt are weighty. The agricultural populace, whom we have, he holds, materially benefited, is an inert mass: the active classes endowed with initiative, political ambition, patriotism, education are silently but strongly hostile to our rule. It is natural this should be so. We have spoiled the free career open to these classes under native government; the very order we have imposed offends their instincts and often thwarts their interests. The caste system, which it is the boast of our more liberal laws and institutions to moderate or disregard, is everywhere consciously antagonistic to us in its self-defence, and deeply resents any portion of our educative influences which impairs its hold upon the minds of the people. This force is well illustrated by the almost complete failure of our energetic Christian missions to make converts out of any members of the higher castes. The testimony of one of the most devoted of Roman Catholic missionaries after thirty years of missionary labours deserves attention:–

“During the long period I have lived in India in the capacity of a missionary, I have made, with the assistance of a native missionary, in all between two and three hundred converts of both sexes. Of this number two-thirds were Pariahs or beggars, and the rest were composed of Sudras, vagrants and outcasts of several tribes, who, being without resources, turned Christians in order to form connections, chiefly for the purpose of marriage, or with some other interested views.” [11]

This view is borne out in the general treatment of Christian missions in Mr. Barrie’s report on the census in 1891. “The greatest development (of Christianity) is found where the Brahmanic caste system is in force in its fullest vigour, in the south and west of the Peninsula, and among the hill tribes of Bengal. In such localities it is naturally attractive to a class of the population whose position is hereditarily and permanently degraded by their own religion.”

If British Christianity and British rule were welcomed by large bodies of the ryots and the low-caste and Pariah populations, the opposition of the native “classes” might seem a strong testimony to the beneficence of our rule, as an instrument for the elevation of the poorer working people who always form the great majority. Unfortunately no such result can seriously be pretended. There is no reason to suppose that we hold the allegiance of any large section of the people of India by any other bond than that of fear and respect for our external power. Mr. Townsend puts the matter in a nut-shell when he affirms: “There is no corner in Asia where the life of a white man, if unprotected by force, either actual or potential, is safe for an hour; nor is there an Asiatic State which, if it were prudent, would not expel him at once and for ever.” [12] There are, according to this view, no psychical roots to the civilisation we are imposing upon India: it is a superficial structure maintained by force, and not grafted on to the true life of the nation so as to modify and educate the soul of the people. Mr. Townsend is driven with evidently deep reluctance to the conclusion that “the Empire hangs in air, supported by nothing but the minute white garrison and the unproved assumption that the people of India desire it to continue to exist.” [13] It was indeed pointed out by Professor Seeley, and is generally admitted, that our Empire in India has only been rendered possible by the wide cleavages of race, language, religion and interests among the Indian populations, first and foremost the division of Mohammedan and Hindu.

But it may be fairly contended that the forcible foundation of our rule and the slowness and reluctance of the natives to appreciate its benefits are no proof that it is not beneficial or that in process of time we may not infuse the best principles of Western civilisation into their life.

Are we doing this? Is the nature of our occupation such as to enable us to do it? Apart from the army, which is the aspect of the Empire most in evidence, there is a British population of some 135,000, less than 1 to every 2000 of the natives, living neither the normal life of their own country nor that of the foreign country which they occupy, in no sense representative units of British civilisation, but exotics compelled to live a highly artificial life and unable to rear British families or to create British society of such a sort as to embody and illustrate the most valuable contents of our civilisation.

It is certain that the machinery of government, however excellent, can of itself do little to convey the benefits of civilisation to an alien people. The real forces of civilisation can only be conveyed by contact of individual with individual. Now the conditions of free, close, personal contact between British and Indians are virtually non-existent. There is no real, familiar, social intercourse on equal terms, still less is there intermarriage, the only effective mode of amalgamating two civilisations, the only safeguard against race hatred and race domination. “When intermarriage is out of the question,” writes Dr. Goldwin Smith, “social equality cannot exist; without social equality political equality is impossible, and a republic in the true sense can hardly be.” [14]

The vast majority of whites admittedly live their own life, using natives for domestic and industrial service, but never attempting to get any fuller understanding of their lives and character than is required to exact these services from them or to render official services in return. The few who have made some serious attempt to penetrate into the Indian mind admit their failure to grasp with any adequacy even the rudiments of a human nature which differs, in its fundamental valuations and its methods of conduct, so radically from our own as to present for its chief interest a series of baffling psychological puzzles. It is indeed precisely from these students that we come to understand the impossibility of that close, persistent, interactive contact of mind with mind which is the only method by which that “mission of civilisation” which we profess is capable of fulfilment. Even those English writers who seem to convey most forcibly what is called the spirit of the East as it shows forth in the drama of modern life, writers such as Mr. Kipling and Mrs. Steel, hardly do more than present a quaint alluring atmosphere of unintelligibility; while study of the great Indian literature and art which may be taken as the best expression of the soul of the people exhibits the hitherto unbridgeable divergence of the British conception of life from the Indian. The complete aloofness of the small white garrison is indeed in no small measure due to an instinctive recognition of this psychical chasm and of their inability to enter into really vital sympathy with these members of an “inferior” race. They are not to blame, but rather the conditions which have brought them there and imposed on them a task essentially impossible, that of implanting genuine white civilisation on Asiatic soil. It must clearly be understood that it is not a question of the slowness of a process of adaptation: the really vital process of change is not taking place. We are incapable of implanting our civilisation in India by present methods of approach: we are only capable of superficially disturbing their civilisation. Even the external life of the vast bulk of the population we hardly touch; the inner life we do not touch at all. If we are deceived by the magnitude of the area of our political control and the real activity of the machinery of government into supposing that we are converting the Indian peoples to British Christianity, British views of justice, morality, and to the supreme value of regular intense industry in order to improve the standard of material comfort, the sooner we face the facts the better. For that we are doing none of these things in an appreciable degree is plain to most British officials. Of the nearest approaches to such success they are openly contemptuous, condemning outright the Eurasian and ridiculing the “stucco civilisation of the baboo.” The idea that we are civilising India in the sense of assisting them to industrial, political, and moral progress along the lines either of our own or their civilisation is a complete delusion, based upon a false estimate of the influence of superficial changes wrought by government and the activity of a minute group of aliens. The delusion is only sustained by the sophistry of Imperialism, which weaves these fallacies to cover its nakedness and the advantages which certain interests suck out of empire.

This judgment is not new, nor does it imply the spirit of a “little Englander.” If there is one writer who, more than another, is justly accredited with the stimulation of large ideas of the destiny of England, it is the late Professor Seeley. Yet this is his summary of the value of the “imperial” work which we have undertaken in India: –

“At best we think of it as a good specimen of a bad political system. We are not disposed to be proud of the succession of the Grand Mogul. We doubt whether, with all the merits of our administration, the subjects of it are happy. We may even doubt whether our rule is preparing them for a happier condition, whether it may not be sinking them lower in misery; and we have our misgivings that perhaps a genuine Asiatic Government, and still more a national Government springing up out of the Hindu population itself, might, in the long run, be more beneficial, because more congenial, though perhaps less civilised, than such a foreign, unsympathetic Government as our own.” [15]


While India presents the largest and most instructive lesson in distinctively British Imperialism, it is in China that the spirit and methods of Western Imperialism in general are likely to find their most crucial test. The new Imperialism differs from the older, first, in substituting for the ambition of a single growing empire the theory and the practice of competing empires, each motived by similar lusts of political aggrandisement and commercial gain; secondly, in the dominance of financial or investing over mercantile interests.

The methods and motives of the European Powers are not open to serious dispute. The single aim of Chinese policy from time immemorial had been to avoid all dealings with foreigners which might lead to the establishment of inter-governmental relations with them. This did not imply, at any rate until recently, hostility to individual foreigners or a reluctance to admit the goods or the ideas which they sought to introduce. Arabs and other Asiatic races of the West had traded with China from very early times. Roman records point to intercourse with China as early as Marcus Aurelius. Nor were their relations with the outside world confined to trade. Christianity was introduced some fifteen hundred years ago by the Nestorians, who propagated their religious views widely in the Central Kingdom; Buddhist foreign missionaries were well received, and their teaching found wide acceptance. Indeed few nations have displayed so much power of assimilating foreign religious notions as the Chinese. Roman Catholic missionaries entered China during the Mongol dynasty, and later in the Ming dynasty. [16] Jesuits not only propagated Christianity, but introduced Western science into Pekin, attaining the climax of their influence during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Not until the arrival of the Dominicans introduced an element of religious faction, attended by political intrigue, did Christianity come into disrepute or evoke any sort of persecution. With the introduction of Protestant missions during the nineteenth century, the trouble has grown apace. Though the Chinese as a nation have never displayed religious intolerance, they have naturally mistrusted the motives of Westerns who, calling themselves Christians, quarrelled amongst themselves, and by their tactless zeal often caused local rioting which led to diplomatic or armed interference for their protection. Almost all lay European authorities in China bear out the following judgment of Mr. A.J. Little:

“The riots and consequent massacres resulting from mission work throughout Indo-China may be justified by the end; but it is certain our relations with the Chinese would be far more cordial than they are, were we not suspected of an insidious design to wean them from such habits of filial piety and loyalty as they possess, to our advantage.” [17]

The main outlines of Chinese policy are quite intelligible. Though not averse from incidental contact with Europeans or with other Asiatics, traders, travellers, or missionaries, they have steadily resisted all attempts to disturb their political and economic system by organised pressure of foreign Powers. Possessing in their enormous area of territory, with its various climatic and other natural conditions, its teeming industrial population, and its ancient, well-developed civilisation, a full material basis of self-sufficiency, the Chinese, following a sound instinct of self-defence, have striven to confine their external relations to a casual intercourse. The successful practice of this policy for countless centuries has enabled them to escape the militarism of other nations; and though it has subjected them to a few forcible dynastic changes, it has never affected the peaceful customary life of the great mass of little self-sufficing industrial villages of which the nation is composed. The sort of politics of which Western history is mainly composed has meant virtually nothing to the Chinese. It is the organised attempt of Western nations to break through this barrier of passive resistance, and to force themselves, their wares, their political and industrial control, on China that gives importance to Imperialism in the Far East. It is not possible here to trace, even in bare outlines, the history of this pressure, how quarrels with traders and missionaries have been utilised to force trade with the interior, to establish treaty ports, to secure special political and commercial rights for British or other European subjects, to fasten a regular system of foreign political relations upon the central government, and at the conclusion of the nineteenth century to drive China into wars, first with Japan, next with a confederacy of European Powers, which threaten to break up the political and industrial isolation of forty centuries, and to plunge China into the great world-competition.

The conduct of European Powers towards China will rank as the clearest revelation of the nature of Imperialism. Until late years Great Britain, with France as a poor second, had made the pace in pursuit of trade, covering this trading policy with a veneer of missionary work, the real relative importance of the two being put to a crucial test by the opium war. The entrance of Germany and America upon a manufacturing career, and the occidentation of Japan, enhanced the mercantile competition, and the struggle for the Far Eastern markets became a more definite object of national industrial policy. The next stage was the series of forceful moves by which France, Russia, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan have fastened their political and economic fangs into some special portion of the body of China by annexation, sphere of influence, or special treaty rights, their policy at this stage culminating in the ferocious reprisals of the recent war, and the establishment of a permanent menace in the shape of international political and financial conditions extorted from a reluctant and almost impotent central government by threats of further violence.

It is now hardly possible for any one who has carefully followed recent events to speak of Europe undertaking “a mission of civilisation” in China without his tongue in his cheek. [18] Imperialism in the Far East is stripped nearly bare of all motives and methods save those of distinctively commercial origin. The schemes of territorial acquisition and direct political control which Russia, Germany, and France have developed, the “sphere of influence” which has oscillated with “an open door” in our less coherent policy, are all manifestly motived by commerce and finance.

China seems to offer a unique opportunity to the Western business man. A population of some four hundred millions endowed with an extraordinary capacity of steady labour, with great intelligence and ingenuity, inured to a low standard of material comfort, in occupation of a country rich in unworked minerals and destitute of modern machinery of manufacture or of transport, opens up a dazzling prospect of profitable exploitation.

In our dealings with backward races capable of instruction in Western industrial methods there are three stages. First comes ordinary commerce, the exchange of the normal surplus produce of the two countries. Next, after Great Britain, or some other Western Power has acquired territory or invested capital in the foreign country with the aim of developing the resources, she enjoys a period of large export trade in rails, machinery, and other forms of capital, not necessarily balanced by the import trade since it really covers the process of investment. This stage may continue long, when capital and business capacity cannot be obtained within the newly developed country. But a third stage remains, one which in China at any rate may be reached at no distant period, when capital and organising energy may be developed within the country, either by Europeans planted there or by natives. Thus fully equipped for future internal development in all the necessary productive powers, such a nation may turn upon her civiliser, untrammelled by need of further industrial aid, undersell him in his own market, take away his other foreign markets and secure for herself what further developing work remains to be done in other undeveloped parts of the earth. The shallow platitudes by which the less instructed Free Trader sometimes attempts to shirk this vital issue have already been exposed. It is here enough to repeat that Free Trade can nowise guarantee the maintenance of industry or of an industrial population upon any particular country, and there is no consideration, theoretic or practical, to prevent British capital from transferring itself to China, provided it can find there a cheaper or more efficient supply of labour, or even to prevent Chinese capital with Chinese labour from ousting British produce in neutral markets of the world. What applies to Great Britain applies equally to the other industrial nations which have driven their economic suckers into China. It is at least conceivable that China might so turn the tables upon the Western industrial nations, and, either by adopting their capital and organisers or, as is more probable, by substituting her own, might flood their markets with her cheaper manufactures, and refusing their imports in exchange might take her payment in liens upon their capital, reversing the earlier process of investment until she gradually obtained financial control over her quondam patrons and civilisers. This is no idle speculation. If China in very truth possesses those industrial and business capacities with which she is commonly accredited, and the Western Powers are able to have their will in developing her upon Western lines, it seems extremely likely that this reaction will result.


The inner significance of the joint attack of Western Powers in China lies here. It is the great speculative coup of international capitalism not fully ripened for international co-operation, but still hampered by the necessity under which the groups of capitalists lie, of using national feelings and policies to push their special interests. So long as it is necessary to use diplomatic pressure and armed force in order to secure some special field of investment in railroads, mining rights, or other development, the peace of Europe is endangered by national intrigues and bickering. Though certain areas may be considered as more or less definitely allocated, Manchuria to Russia, the southern provinces of Tonking, with Hainan to France, Shan-tung to Germany, Formosa and Fokien to Japan, for industrial exploitation and for political control, there are large areas where the industrial and future political control, as spheres of influence, is likely to cause grave discord. Yunnan and Quan-tung on the southern boundary are disputed territory between England and France, the Chinese Government having given to each of these Powers a similar assurance that these provinces should not be alienated to any other Power. Great Britain’s claim to the vast indefinite area known as the Yang-Tse basin as her separate sphere of influence for industrial concessions and political dominance is now exposed to the serious avowed encroachments of Germany, while Corea remains an open sore between Russia and Japan. The United States, whose interest in China for investment and for trade is developing faster than that of any European Power, will certainly insist upon an open door, and will soon be in a position to back her claim by strong naval force. The present epoch, therefore, is one of separate national policies and special alliances, in which groups of financiers and capitalists urge their Governments to obtain leases, concessions, or other preferences over particular areas. It is quite possible that the conflicts of national Imperialism thus provoked, skilfully used for self-defence by the Chinese Government, may retard for a long time any effective opening up of China by Western enterprise, and that China may defend herself by setting her enemies to fight among themselves.

But it is idle to suppose that the industrial attack on China can be ultimately evaded. Unless China can be roused quickly from the sleep of countless centuries of peace and can transform herself into a powerful military nation, she cannot escape the pressure of the external powers. To suppose that she can do this, because her individual citizens show a capacity for drill and discipline, is to mistake the issue. The whole genius of the Chinese peoples, so far as it is understood, is opposed to militant patriotism and to the strongly centralised government required to give effect to such a policy. The notion of China organising an army of six millions under some great general, and driving “the foreign devil” out of the country, or even entering herself upon a career of invasion and conquest, ignores the chief psychological and social factors of Chinese life. At any rate this is the least likely of all early issues in the Far East.

Far more reasonable is it to suppose that capitalism, having failed to gain its way by national separatist policies issuing in strife of Western peoples, may learn the art of combination, and that the power of international capitalism, which has been growing apace, may make its great crucial experiment in the exploitation of China. The driving force of the competing Imperialism of Western nations has been traced to the interests of certain small financial and industrial groups within each nation, usurping the power of the nation and employing the public force and money for their private business ends. In the earlier stage of development, where the grouping of these forces is still distinctively national, this policy makes for wars in pursuit of “national” markets for investments and trade. But the modern science of militarism renders wars between “civilised” Powers too costly, and the rapid growth of effective internationalism in the financial and great industrial magnates, who seem destined more and more to control national politics, may in the future render such wars impossible. Militarism may long survive, for that, as has been shown, is serviceable in many ways to the maintenance of a plutocracy. Its expenditure furnishes a profitable support to certain strong vested interests, it is a decorative element in social life, and above all it is necessary to keep down the pressure of the forces of internal reform. Everywhere the power of capital in its more concentrated forms is better organised than the power of labour, and has reached a further stage in its development; while labour has talked of international co-operation, capital has been achieving it. So far, therefore, as the greatest financial and commercial interests are concerned, it seems quite probable that the coming generation may witness so powerful an international union as to render wars between the Western nations almost impossible. Notwithstanding the selfish jealousies and the dog-in-the-manger policies which at present weaken European action in the Far East, the real drama will begin when the forces of international capitalism, claiming to represent the civilisation of united Christendom, are brought to bear on the peaceful opening up of China. It is then that the real “yellow peril” will begin. If it is unreasonable to expect that China can develop a national patriotism which will enable her to expel the Western exploiters, she must then be subjected to a process of disintegration, which is more aptly described as “the break-up” of China than by the term “development.”

Not until then shall we realise the full risks and folly of the most stupendous revolutionary enterprise history has known. The Western nations may then awaken to the fact that they have permitted certain little cliques of private profit-mongers to engage them in a piece of Imperialism in which every cost and peril of that hazardous policy is multiplied a hundred-fold, and from which there appears no possibility of safe withdrawal. The light-hearted, casual mood in which the nations have been drawn on to the opening up of a country with a population almost as large as that of Europe, nineteen-twentieths of whom are perfectly unknown to us, is the crowning instance of irrational government. In large measure such an enterprise must rank as a plunge in the dark. Few Europeans even profess to know the Chinese, or to know how far the Chinese they do know are representative of the nation as a whole. The only important fact upon which there is universal agreement is that the Chinese are of all the “lower races” most adaptable to purposes of industrial exploitation, yielding the largest surplus product of labour in proportion to their cost of keep. In a word, the investors and business managers of the West appear to have struck in China a mine of labour power richer by far than any of the gold and other mineral deposits which have directed imperial enterprise in Africa and elsewhere; it seems so enormous and so expansible as to open up the possibility of raising whole white populations of the West to the position of “independent gentlemen,” living, as do the small white settlements in India or South Africa, upon the manual toil of these laborious inferiors. For a parasitic exploit so gigantic the competing groups of business men who are driving on their respective Governments might even abate their competition and co-operate in the forceful steps required in starting their project. Once encompass China with a network of railroads and steamer services, the size of the labour market to be tapped is so stupendous that it might well absorb in its development all the spare capital and business energy the advanced European countries and the United States can supply for generations. Such an experiment may revolutionise the methods of Imperialism; the pressure of working-class movements in politics and industry in the West can be met by a flood of China goods, so as to keep down wages and compel industry, or, where the power of the imperialist oligarchy is well set, by menaces of yellow workmen or of yellow mercenary troops, while collaboration in this huge Eastern development may involve an understanding between the groups of business politicians in the Western States close enough and strong enough to secure international peace in Europe and some relaxation of militarism.

This would drive the logic of Imperialism far towards realisation; its inherent necessary tendencies towards unchecked oligarchy in politics, and parasitism in industry, would be plainly exhibited in the condition of the “imperialist” nations. The greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera, and in the tourist-ridden or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a large body of personal servants and workers in the transport trade and in the final stages of production of the more perishable goods: all the main arterial industries would have disappeared, the staple foods and manufactures flowing in as tribute from Asia and Africa. [19] It is of course idle to suppose that the industrialisation of China by Western methods can be achieved without effective political control, and just in proportion as Western Europe became dependent economically upon China would the maintenance of that joint imperial control react upon Western politics, subordinating all movements of domestic reform to the need of maintaining the Empires, and checkmating the forces of democracy by a skilful use of a highly centralised bureaucracy and army.

It is true that things may work out otherwise in the Far East. It is conceivable, though hardly probable, that China herself under the pressure of events may become a centralised military Empire, and, either alone, or with the aid of the neighbour whose interests are most closely bound with hers, Japan, may beat back the power of Western civilisation from her shores. Again, China, passing more quickly than other “lower races” through the period of dependence on Western science and Western capital, and quickly assimilating what they have to give, may re-establish her own economic independence, finding out of her own resources the capital and organising skill required for the machine industries, and, cutting short the second stage described above, may quickly launch herself upon the world-market as the biggest and most effective competitor, taking to herself first the trade of Asia and the Pacific, and then swamping the free markets of the West and driving the closed markets of the West to an ever more rigorous Protection with its corollary of diminished production. Lastly, it is conceivable that the powerful industrial and financial classes of the West, in order better to keep the economic and political mastery at home, may combine to reverse the policy, which has hitherto been gaining ground in the United States and in our white colonies, and may insist upon the free importation of yellow labour for domestic and industrial service in the West. This is a weapon which they hold in reserve, should they need to use it in order to keep the populace in safe subjection.

Those who regard with complacency the rapid development of China, because of a general conviction that the liberation of these great productive forces must by ordinary processes of commercial intercourse be beneficial to the Western nations, entirely miss the issue. The peaceful, equitable distribution over the industrial world of the increase of world-wealth rising from the development of China implies a successful movement of industrial democracy in the Western nations, yielding not merely increased productivity of their national resources, but a continual rise in standard of consumption of the peoples. Such a condition might, by securing ordinary processes of world-exchange, enrich the nations with a legitimate share of the prosperity of China. But the economic raison d’être of Imperialism in the opening up of China is, as we see, quite other than the maintenance of ordinary commerce: it consists in establishing a vast new market for Western investors, the profits of which will represent the gains of an investing class and not the gains of whole peoples. The normal healthy processes of assimilation of increased world-wealth by nations are inhibited by the nature of this Imperialism, whose essence consists in developing markets for investment, not for trade, and in using the superior economies of cheap foreign production to supersede the industries of their own nation, and to maintain the political and economic domination of a class.


So far the influence of the “opening” or “break-up” of China upon the Western world has been the subject of inquiry. Let us now ask what this "break-up” means for China. Certain plain features stand out in the structure of Chinese society. China has never been a great Empire, or had any strong national existence in the European sense. The central government has always been very slight, virtually confined to a taxing power exercised through the provincial government, and to a small power of appointment of high officials. Even the provincial government has, in ordinary times, touched the actual life of the mass of the people lightly and at few points. China may be described properly as a huge nest of little free village communes, self-governing, and animated by a genuine spirit of equality. Mr. Colquhoun names the faculty of local self-government as “a main source of national vitality.” “Groups of families constitute villages, which are self-governing, and the official who ventures to trench on their immemorial rights to the point of resistance is, according to an official code not confined to China, disavowed by his superiors, and generally finds a change of scene imperative.” “The family system, with its extension to village and town groups, is the cheapest form of government extant, for it dispenses with police, while disposing effectually of offenders against the peace or respectability of the community.” [20] Similarly the great German explorer Richthofen: “No people in the world are more exempt from official interference.”

“The great fact,” says Colquhoun, “to be noted as between the Chinese and the Government is the almost unexampled liberty which the people enjoy, and the infinitesimally small part which Government plays in the scheme of national life.” [21]

The family is the political, economic, and moral unit of society, the village commune being either a direct enlargement of a single family or a group of closely related families. Sometimes communal ownership is maintained, but usually a division takes place with each growth of family, and the operative principle in general vogue is an occupying ownership of small proprietors, paying a low land-tax to the State, the sole landlord, in return for a lease in perpetuity. The land-tax is based on profitable use, and unoccupied lands revert to the community. Patrimonial institutions prevent accumulation of large properties. Numerous provisions of law and custom provide against land-grabbing and monopoly.

“Nowhere in China would it be possible for a rich man to take possession of a spring and convey its water to his pond by subterranean drains, leaving dry the fields under which it passed. Water is as indispensable to life as air and land. No individual has the right to say ‘It is mine, it belongs to me.’ This feeling is very strongly rooted in China.” [22]

A family council, partly elective, partly hereditary, settles most important issues, punishing crimes, collecting the taxes, and settling divisions of property; recourse to legal processes is rare, the moral authority of the family commonly sufficing to preserve order.

This moral factor is, indeed, the one great vital principle in Chinese life. It not only governs economic relations, and presents a substitute for wider politics, but it figures prominently in the education and the religious or ethical system of the people. “Life seems so little worth living to a man outlawed from family and home that even capital sentences are executed by consent” [23]; and where growth of population drives male members to seek employment in the towns, the closest family associations are retained. The reverence for family history and for the moral obligations it entails constitutes the kernel of national culture and the great stimulus to individual education and ambition in life.

Upon this basis is built one of the most extraordinary civilisations the world has known, differing in certain very vital matters from the civilisation of the West.

Two points merit particular attention, because they drive down into the roots of Chinese civilisation. The first is the general recognition of that “dignity of labour” which in the West has degenerated into a cant phrase so far as the common forms of work are concerned. Manual labour is not only a necessary means of livelihood, but a genuinely absorbing personal interest for the entire body of the nation; with simple tools, and scarcely any use of machinery, minute personal skill is applied to agriculture and the manufactures; most workers have some considerable variety of occupation, and see and enjoy the useful results of their toil. The whole economic system stands on a broad basis of “bread labour,” applied in intensive cultivation of the land; destitute of Western science or Western machinery, the detailed empirical study of agriculture has been carried farther than in any other country, and this “gardening” life is the most prominent factor in the external civilisation of the country.

The second point is the wide diffusion of some sort of literary education and a genuine reverence for “things of the mind.” The high respect in which a narrow conservative and pedantic literary system is held, the extraordinary importance attached to verbal memory and trivialities of ritual in their culture, have not unnaturally aroused much astonishment and some contempt among educated Westerns. But the general prevalence of schools and libraries, the democratisation of the machinery of education, the opening of the highest offices of State to a free competition of the people, conducted on an intellectual test, are indicative of a standard of valuation which entitles China to rank high among the civilisations of the world. In no Western nation do the man of learning and the gardener rank higher in the common regard of the people than the soldier. These valuations, economic and intellectual, lie firmly rooted in the Chinese mind, and have helped through countless generations to mould the social institutions of the people. The civilisation, sprung up under these conditions, manifests some serious defects, compared with the best standards of the West. Life and conduct seem unduly cramped by detailed conventions; outside officialism there seems little scope for individual distinction; beyond the range of family, emotional life appears attenuated; the fine arts have never flourished, literature is conventional, morals are closely practical; the rigorous economy of material life seems attended by a less sensitive, nervous organisation than that of any Western nation, and individual life seems to run upon a somewhat lower level of consciousness, and to be valued proportionately less.

But it should be recognised that the merits of this civilisation are better attested than the defects, for the fruits of Chinese industry, honesty, orderly behaviour, and high regard for learning, are easily discernible by foreigners, while the more serious defects might vanish or be deeply modified by a more intimate understanding of Chinese psychology than any foreigner is likely to possess. The “barbarities” which have commonly won for China an ill-fame in Western lands, the savage punishments inflicted on criminals, the exposure of female infants, the brutal assaults on foreigners, are no normal part of the conduct of the nation, but rather sporadic survivals of brute habits and instincts, not more to be regarded as final tests of the civilisation of China than negro-lynching of that of America or wife-kicking of that of England.

If this brief conspectus of the essential features of Chinese civilisation is substantially correct, it is evident that “the break-up” brought about by the forces of Western nations will destroy the very foundations of the national order.

Its first fruits have been to impair security of life, peaceful industry and property over large areas of territory, to arouse a disorderly spirit of guerilla, to erect large public debts and so to enhance the burden of central government upon the body of the people, diminishing their communal independence. As the Western economic forces make further way, they must, partly by increased taxation needed for an expensive central government with armies, elaborate civil services and military debts, partly by the temptation of labour agents, draw large numbers of the workers from the position of independent little farmers into that of town wage-earners. This drain of population into industrial cities and mining districts, and the specialisation of agriculture for large markets, will break up the communal land system with its fixed hereditary order and will sap the roots of family solidarity, introducing those factors of fluidity, minute sub-division, and concentration of labour which are the distinctive characteristic of Western industry. The economic and social equality which belongs to ordinary Chinese life will disappear before a new system of industrial caste which capitalism will entail. The decay of morals, which is so noticeable in the declassés Chinese, will spread with the decay of the family power, and an elaborate judicial and punitory machinery will replace the rule of the self-governing family. This collapse of local status will react upon the habit of commercial integrity attested throughout China by the inviolability of business pledges; the new credit system of elaborate Western commerce will involve a network of commercial law and an education in that habit of litigiousness which exercises so dangerous a fascination over some other Asiatic peoples. The increase of wealth which this new industrialism would bring would either flow in economic tribute to the West, or would go to the endowment of a new powerful capitalist caste in China itself, who, following the Western lines, would ally themselves with imperialist politics in order to protect their vested interests. Capitalism, centralised government, militarism, protection, and a whole chain of public regulations to preserve the new order against the rising of old conservative traditional forces – such would be the inevitable outcome. The changes of external environment which have come with dangerous rapidity on Europe during the nineteenth century, forced still more rapidly on China by foreign profit-seekers, would produce reactions of incalculable peril upon the national life and character.

It would seem to imply no less than the destruction of the existing civilisation of China and the substitution in its place of what? There has been no serious pretence that European nations can impose or inculcate the essentials of their civilisation on China. The psychology of the Chinese is a terra incognita: the most experienced European residents are those who are the frankest in declaring their inability to grapple with the mysteries of Chinese character and Chinese morality; where less discreet writers venture on generalisations, their pages are riddled with the wildest contradictions and inconsistencies. What is, however, pretty clear is this: the Chinaman who detaches himself from the family bond and its moral associations and adopts European manners is distrusted alike by his fellow-countrymen and by his new patrons; Christianity makes no way among “respectable” Chinese, the educated classes presenting no ground of appeal for any form of supernaturalism; though Western science may hope in time to make a legitimate impression upon the intellectual life of China, the process will be one of slow absorption from within and cannot be imposed by alien instruction from without.

That the squabbles of European potentates for territorial expansion, the lusts of merchants or financiers, the ludicrously false expectations of missionaries, the catch-words of political parties in European elections, should be driving European nations to destroy the civilisation of a quarter of the human race without possessing the ability or even recognising the need to provide a substitute, ought surely to give pause to those Imperialists who claim to base their policy on reason and the common good.

No thinking man can seriously question the immense importance of free intercourse between the West and the East, or doubt the gain that would accrue to the civilisation of the world by a wise communication to the Eastern mind of those arts which peculiarly represent Western civilisation, the laborious, successful study of the physical sciences and their application to the arts of industry, the systematic development of certain definite principles and practices of law and government, and the thought and literature which are the conscious flowering of this growth of practical achievement.

That Europe could in this way render an invaluable service to Asia is certain.

“Some strange fiat of arrest, probably due to mental exhaustion, has condemned the brown men and the yellow men to eternal reproduction of old ideas.” [24]

To revivify the mind of Asia, to set it working again along new lines of rich productivity, this might be the boon of Europe. And for this service she too might take a rich reward. The brooding mind of Asia gave to sluggish Europe in past ages the great momenta in religion and philosophy and in the mathematics; even in its sleep, or what appears to us the sleep of many centuries, it may have had its noble and illuminative dreams. The reason of the West may yet need the insight of the East. An union so profitable in the past may not be barren for the future. It is the right condition of this wholesome intercourse which is of supreme importance to the cause of civilisation. Now one thing at least is certain. Force and the pushful hand of material greed inhibit the free interaction of mind and mind essential to this intercourse. The ancient civilisations of India and China, whose duration bears testimony to inherent qualities of worth, have not been directed chiefly to the attainment of progress in the arts of material wealth, though the simpler industries have in parts of China and India attained a high perfection, but rather to the maintenance of certain small types of orderly social life, with a strong hierarchy of social and industrial ranks in India, with a fundamentally democratic character in China.

The energy spared from political and industrial struggles, and in China from military practices, has gone, partly to the cultivation of certain simple qualities of domestic life and personal conduct, partly to the wide diffusion of a certain real life of the soul, animated by profound religious and philosophic speculations and contemplations in India, or by the elaboration of a more practical, utilitarian wisdom in China. These Eastern civilisations alone have stood the test of time; the qualities which have enabled them to survive ought surely to be matter of deep concern for the mushroom civilisations of the West. It may even be true that the maintenance of these younger and more unstable civilisations depends upon unlocking the treasure-house of the wisdom of the East. Whether this be so or not, the violent breaking down of the characteristic institutions of Asia to satisfy some hasty lust of commerce, or some greed of power, is quite the most fatally blind misreading of the true process of world-civilisation that it is possible to conceive. For Europe to rule Asia by force for purposes of gain, and to justify that rule by the pretence that she is civilising Asia and raising her to a higher level of spiritual life, will be adjudged by history, perhaps, to be the crowning wrong and folly of Imperialism. What Asia has to give, her priceless stores of wisdom garnered from her experience of ages, we refuse to take; the much or little which we could give we spoil by the brutal manner of our giving. This is what Imperialism has done, and is doing, for Asia.


1. About three-eighths of the country is still under native government, with British supervision.

2. India and its Problems, by W.S. Lilly, pp.284, 285 (Sands & Co.).

3. Asia and Europe, by Meredith Townsend, p.102 (Constable & Co.).

4. Cf. the careful summary of official evidence in Mr. Romesh Dutt’s Economic History of British India, chap.xv. (Kegan Paul).

5. Eastern India, by Montgomery Martin (London, 1838), vol.iii. Introd. (quoted Romesh Dutt, p.290).

6. Romesh Dutt, p.302.

7. Letter to the Board of Revenue, April 1838 (quoted Romesh Dutt, p.386).

8. The prosperity of districts under the Bengal settlement, as compared with other parts of British India, must however be imputed largely to the fact that this settlement enables Bengal to evade its full proportion of contribution to the revenue of India, and throws therefore a disproportionate burden upon other parts.

9. India and its Problems, p.182.

10. Asia and Europe, p.101.

11. Quoted Lilly, India and its Problems, p.163.

12. Asia and Europe, p.98.

13. Asia and Europe, p.89.

14. Commonwealth or Empire (Macmillan & Co.).

15. The Expansion of England, pp.273, 274.

16. A.D. 1368 to 1644.

17. Through the Yang-Tse Gorges, edition 1888, p.334.

18. The Times correspondent, in describing the forcible entrance of the allied troops into Pekin, affords this glimpse into Christianity à la mode in China. “The raising of the siege was signalised by the slaughter of a large number of Chinese who had been rounded up into a cul-de-sac and who were killed to a man, the Chinese Christian converts joining with the French soldiers of the relieving force, who lent them bayonets, and abandoned themselves to the spirit of revenge. Witnesses describe the scene as a sickening sight, but in judging such acts it is necessary to remember the provocation, and these people had been sorely tried.” (The Times, October 16, 1900)

19. Mr. Bryce, in his Romanes Lecture, p.9, seems to hint at the probability of such a development. “It is hardly too much to say that for economic purposes all mankind is fast becoming one people, in which the hitherto backward nations are taking a place analogous to that which the unskilled workers have held in each one of the civilised nations. Such an event opens a new stage in world history.”

20. Transformation in China, by A.R. Colquhoun, p.176.

21. Op. cit., p.296.

22. Colquhoun.

23. Simcox, Primitive Civilisations, vol.ii.

24. Asia and Europe, p.9.

Last updated on 17.11.2006