Mary E. Marcy

The Awakening of China

(January 1910)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 10 No. 7, January 1910, pp. 632–635.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THERE is something very fascinating in the spectacle of a nation numbering nearly one-third of the human race silently and majestically rousing itself from the sleep of ages under the influence of new and powerful revolutionary forces. No other awakening of our time has been one- half so colossal as the introduction of modern methods of production in China.

Through years of foreign aggression, war and murder, the Open Door Policy has been established and the bloody march of progress – but progress for all that – has gone steadily forward.

Few of us Americans realize the magnitude of the new movements in China, so boastful are we of our own wonderful economic advance at home. It is true that China has been the slowest of the great world powers to accept the new, to apply modern methods, but she has at last aroused herself and is now welcoming – even seeking and establishing them.

China is larger than all Europe. The United States, Alaska and several Great Britains might be set down within her borders and room still be left for more. Her population numbers over 430,000,000. A single state within her provinces contains a population greater than one-half the entire population of the United States.

Only a few years ago the first steam engine was introduced into China. Even today hundreds of thousands of coolies are employed in carrying small baskets of coal and other commodities to and fro to their various customers in the empire. But slowly and surely the railroads are robbing them of their old means of livelihood, and already along the route of each new railway is left a small army of unemployed.

As yet China is a house divided against itself. The population that possessed fixed employment under the old regime is loud in its denunciations of the new methods. And in many provinces it is still necessary to maintain a guard at every station to protect the railroads. But the roads are beginning to yield immense profits and the government has set its hand to the plow and will not turn back.

But new avenues of employment are opening up to the Chinese workingmen. The establishment of the great steel mills at Hankow, 700 miles south of Pekin, made necessary the employment of over 20,000 “hands,” nearly all of whom are Chinese. The same is true in other parts of the empire – the new industries demand men and China is already talking about her industrial centers. The men employed in these steel mills are paid from $5.00 to $40.00 a month. The great steel plant occupies 120 acres. The ore used comes from sixty miles down the Yangtse from a solid mountain of iron. Already there are 250,000,000 tons of iron in sight in the companies’ iron mines. The particular spot now being used, alone, contains over 150,000,000 tons. The ore is much purer than our own Lake Superior and the Swedish grades. The mines and river boats employ thousands of additional men. And all these men are head and stomach for the new and modern regime. The steel plant is owned by Chinese. Less than a score of foreign specialists are employed in the mills.

A geological specialist makes the claim that one province alone in China would easily be able to supply the coal market of the world for one thousand years.

One of the ancient Chinese superstitions was that the Evil Spirits were only able to pursue the living in a direct uninterrupted straight line. For this reason the roads and streets of China have been built to contain as many crooks and angles as possible. But with modern improvement came the inevitable changes in religious ideas. For the railroads pursue a straight course and prosperity attends them. Railroads have even been built over the ground made sacred by the bones and graves of their ancestors and good alone has come of it.

Not many years ago China was prone to look down upon her Japanese neighbors, but the victory of Japan over Russia has changed all that. That a despised neighbor was able to utterly rout the Russian enemy, whose steady and aggressive encroachments the Chinese had been unable to withstand, has given them food for thought. Furthermore the unbounded enthusiasm of the Japanese soldiers was a source of utter amazement to the Chinese government, for until very recently patriotism among the army of China was a trait unknown.

Fifty years ago the Japanese might have whipped Russia twice over and the Chinese government be still ignorant of that fact. But the aggressive foreigners had brought with them into China the telegraph and telephone, and events it had formerly taken China many years to learn were immediately communicated to her.

All these things filled the Chinese government with wonder and amazement, and today the telegraph extends from one end of the empire to the other, and with it the telephone. Then came the real newspapers. Today the Imperial Palace (formerly lighted by bean oil lamps) is lighted by electricity. And all over China the people are crying for kerosene. Hence the marvelous trade between China and the Standard Oil Company.

And China is just awakening. Already the railroads have made possible the exportation of many Chinese products. And her export trade is on the increase. And with the exportation of products formerly consumed at home, the cost of living is increasing. Statisticians claim the cost of living in China has increased 18 per cent within the last few years, while wages have not risen to meet it.

With the introduction of improvement machinery and new methods of production and its attendant proletariat we may soon look for a socialist movement in China.

The result of the Russia-Japan war has greatly accelerated the new movement in China and with the introduction of every modern machine in the productive industries that movement is receiving greater momentum.

The Chinese government has decided to emulate Japan. To do this the government needs a patriotic army – an interested people. A mighty revolution in educational ideas is taking place. Books are being published, newspapers are springing up, a growing system of compulsory education is being inaugurated.

Thousands of the young men of China are yearly being sent abroad to study. Perhaps one- half of them attend Japanese colleges. An increasing number come to the United States and a political revolution is taking place also.

The new manufacturers in China are growing in strength and power. They want a new form of government that will give them freer hands in widening the scope of their activities. The old traditional laws, petty viceroys and governors hamper and hinder them on every side.

They have pointed out these things to the Central Government. They have pointed to Germany and England, before whom China still bends an unwilling knee; and to Japan nearer home.

Night schools and day schools have been started in China. In increasing ratio the citizens of the empire are to be educated and the prince regent has announced that within a few years China shall have a constitutional government. This announcement was greeted with enthusiasm all over the empire, and the people as a whole are, for the first time, taking an interest in the government – a government in which they hope one day to have a share.

The government is not neglecting the study of foreign war tactics Thousands of Chinese youths are studying at foreign military academies. Han Yang, China, has a military academy of her own, numbering 1,000 students. She also possesses a large smokeless powder factory.

All this, with the promise of a constitutional government and their hatred of the foreign invaders, is arousing a spirit of patriotism among the people. And doubtless within a few years China will possess as strong and as enthusiastic an army and navy as Japan.

Big things may soon be expected from China. Already she is producing steel of as high a quality as the best it has taken America long years to attain. Each month finds new industrial plans formulated within her provinces. With her millions of workingmen and her limitless wealth she will speedily take her place among the great manufacturing nations. With these new methods of production she will be able to supply the needs of the whole world. Will she be able to conquer the world markets by underselling Germany and England? The Orient is awakening and before many years we may look for the modernization of the whole world. Then Capitalism shall have fulfilled its historic mission and we may hope for the new society when the hand of Labor shall reap the fruits she has sown and the workingman shall at last come into his own.

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Last updated on 31 May 2022