Mary E. Marcy

Progress in China

(February 1910)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 10 No. 8, February 1910, pp. 689–691.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ECONOMIC Progress is not marching but fairly running in China to-day and it is almost impossible for us to keep well informed of the far-reaching changes that follow at her heels.

Yellow journalism is just now the sensation of the day and every Chinese newspaper is sold five times. In the morning it is read in the homes of the rich. In the afternoon it passes on to the dwellings of the less prosperous. In the evening it is sold to those still lower in the financial scale and within a day or two has passed down to the poorer families which are able to read.

The cartoon reprinted here is from a Chinese newspaper and serves to illustrate the change in the attitude of the people. Formerly, the newspapers declare, China looked upon the outside world through the wrong end of the glasses, but now she has learned properly to regard her sister nations.

We have heard so many accounts of the Celestial Empire from our point of view that it is rather interesting to know how the Chinese formerly regarded us.

One traveler reports that a prominent Chinese who visited America declared that our table manners would fill any “civilized being with disgust”; that we ate great hunks of raw beef and devoured our food by means of knives, resembling for all the world the “sword-swallowers.”

“It is terrible,” he said, “to see these barbarians in their moments of recreation. Often the men seize the women and drag them around great rooms for hours at a time to the tune of the most hellish music.”

They are disgusted, too, at the respect many Americans accord the army and the police. In China a soldier and a policemen are lowest in the social scale. And the hatred of the people for a policeman is really noteworthy. Evidently the constabulary in the Empire is much like the police forces in other places; only, in China, these men pay large sums of money to secure their jobs. They receive no salary, so that it is evident they get an income in other highly objectionable ways.

Silk Worms

Formerly all the work of reeling and spinning from the cocoons was performed by hand, but at present machinery is, being used largely. After the China-Japanese War steam spinning mills were installed. The material for supplying all the new mills was inadequate, so many Chinese peasants set to rearing great quantities of worms. But the supply of mulberry leaves, on which the worms producing the high grade of silk, subsist, ran short and many of the farmers had all their work in vain.

The worms fed upon oak leaves produce the raw silk from which ecru pongee silk is made.

Nearly all the Chinese farmers own their own land, which rarely passes out of a family. The sons who marry brings their wives home and the old folks and the young ones live together. In Southern China the farmers often raise four crops a year upon their land. The land remains always rich and productive, for the people spend almost as much care in fertilizing as in sowing it.

Now that the Empire has awakened to a realization of her immense mineral resources many of those poor farmers whose land covers great beds of coal or rich copper or iron deposits, will find themselves very wealthy.


In China, as elsewhere, the necessity to work has always been regarded as a disgrace among the leisure classes. The more useless a Chinese aristocrat proved himself and his household to be, the more honored became his name. The feet of the women were tightly bound in childhood and the finger nails of both sexes were permitted to grow several inches in length. This assured the world that they could not do any useful work even if they so desired.

But with the new methods of production and the subsequent changes in every other sphere, China has produced her “antis”. There are anti-reformers, anti-educationalists, anti-progressionists, and now they have an Anti-Foot Binding Society. “Antis” to the old and “antis” to the new.

The Pekin Woman’s Journal, a daily paper edited by a Chinese woman, is largely devoted to educational matters and is a strong supporter of the anti-foot binding movement.

A story is told of a missionary who was very loud in denouncing the Chinese foot binding. “But,” said an astonished Celestial, “your own women bind up their WAISTS.”

When the railways were first built in China, men and women who had carried commodities from place to place, to earn a living, found their old customers patronizing the railroads.

Then the plotting began. An ancient Chinese belief held that if a member of a family which had been wronged by an enemy, killed himself upon the enemy’s grounds, failure would attend the undertakings of wrongdoer.

Coolies began to kill themselves upon the doorsteps of men known to be connected with the railroads. Some stabbed themselves and others were hired to drown themselves in the enemy’s cistern. But the rail roads were extended; new roads were laid out. The company prospered. Evidently the belief of their revered ancestors was in error. Thus one by one the old superstitions are passing away.

Very naturally, there exists to-day a strong opposition to the new regime in China, and many are the predictions of a revolution in the Celestial Empire in the near future. We do not think these predictions will be verified.

The initial steps of the introduction of machine production are usually followed by an era of prosperity to the majority of the people. It is only when competition grows keen and trustification sets in that a really revolutionary army of the working class arises that will usher in the new day of economic freedom.

Top of the page

Last updated on 31 May 2022