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These members of the Chinese Labor Corps, as it is called, are all picked men. As is well known, the population of China may be divided roughly into two distinct types. One, that occupying the southern half of the country, is of medium or short stature and is connected racially with the populations of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan. The other, taller and better developed physically, occupies the northern provinces and is related to that group of the human family of which the eastern Mongols, the Manchus, and the northern Koreans are representative members. There are also very fundamental differences between the cultures of northern and southern China, into which, however, it is not necessary to go here.
It is from the northern provinces that the men of the Labor Corps are recruited. Very high qualifications are insisted upon, mental, moral, and physical. The corps is under regular and rigid military discipline, the men being under the charge of regularly commissioned officers of the British service who, through familiarity with China or for some other special reason are better able to make themselves useful in this work than as members of the combatant forces.
The pay provided for the members of the corps is much better than anything that they could earn in China, while very liberal allowances are made for their families during their absence and in the event of death or disability. Naturally their physical well-being is most carefully looked after, provision is made to keep them amused and cheerful, and there is, finally, a strict stipulation regarding their repatriation after the close of the war. That these men have already proved their usefulness is evidenced by the efforts made to increase their numbers, and there is indeed scarcely any limit to the variety of ways in which they may be profitably employed, in the loading and unloading of ships and railway trains, in road-making and construction work of all kinds, and above all in agriculture-in the production of that food which, we are told, is to win the war.
1 See the very valuable paper by Dr. Berthold Laufer, entitled "Some Fundamental Ideas of Chinese Culture,” in The Journal of Race Development, Vol. V, No. 2, October, 1914.
Upon the steamer in which the present writer returned to America early in the present year there were about a thousand of these men, all passenger accommodation except that of the first class having been taken over for them. Each man was dressed in a neat uniform of dark blue modeled upon the garments to which the North Chinese laborer is accustomed, and bore upon his left arm a red brassard with his number in the corps. Each was also provided with a stout waterproof canvas dunnage-bag containing his kit and personal belongings. As a body these men left little to be desired. Almost all were young, and though full of fun and good natured horseplay they were docile, orderly, neat, and thoroughly amenable to discipline, while a well developed esprit de corps had already begun to show itself. To a man they appeared to be in robust health, strong, willing, and capable of working both hard and continuously. After the regular morning health inspection, deck sports were held, tugs-of-war and the like, and there was nothing at all perfunctory about the way in which they entered into these. Among the men were several with a particular gift for waggery and buffoonery, a sort of thing quite as much appreciated in China as it is elsewhere, and these individuals were constantly exercising their talents for the edification of their comrades. That they were well fed goes without saying; the rations were ample, and of much better quality than those to which the average Chinese laborer is accustomed at home.
These men were not simply mercenaries, enlisting in this enterprise and risking attacks by submarines on the voyage and aeroplane raids once in cantonments in England or France, merely for the sake of wages higher than they could hope to earn in their native villages. There was apparent among them, in spite of their rollicking, devil-may-care good nature, a genuine feeling of responsibility and seriousness, a very real desire to reflect credit upon themselves, upon their families, and upon the newly established Chinese Republic of which they were citizens. The reality and depth of this sentiment were shown in the clearest possible way by the contents of the letters which they wrote home during the voyage across the Pacific. In these there was manifest almost without exception an astonishingly clear comprehension of the issues at stake in the war, and also a sincere anxiety on the part of each man to “do his bit” toward bringing about an Allied victory.
Another idea, quite widely prevalent among these men, was especially significant. It was that in time they would return to China, after learning a vast deal about the ways of the Occident and the factors which contribute to success under the conditions of modern civilized life, and that they would then be in a position to aid in the advancement of their own people.
There was nothing jingoistic in this, nothing of resentment for the humiliations inflicted upon China by the various European powers under the Manchu régime; nothing, in short, even remotely suggestive of any menace to the peace and welfare of mankind, once China attains that place among the nations of the world to which she is justly entitled. The Chinese philosophy of life is not an aggressive or a predatory one. It is, on the contrary, based more firmly probably than that of any other nation upon the principles of justice and democracy and fair play for all. The socalled “Yellow Peril” was in the main nothing but a very clever piece of camouflage on the part of H. I. M. the Kaiser, an attempt to divert the attention of the world from the true source of future peril. So far as it has ever had any real existence at all, it has been due to the nomadic nations of Central Asia, the barbarous Huns, Bulgars, Magyars, Mongols, and Turks, whose gigantic raids have from time to time overwhelmed large portions of the civilized world, and from whom civilized China has suffered in precisely the same way and to a far greater degree than have the nations of Europe. It can not be too often reiterated that it is not the color of a man's skin, but the mode of his life and the manner of his thinking, that render him a menace or a blessing to his fellows.
The question hitherto has been, “What can America do to help China?” It is perhaps not too much to say that but for the stand taken by this government during the early years of the present century, China would now have been partitioned by the European powers, if not into actual dependencies, at least into protectorates and “spheres of influence,” in which event the opportunity now presented to the Chinese people for the working out of their own salvation must have been postponed for many generations. Again, the return of a large part of the Boxer indemnity, so frequently adverted to as an example of American love of justice and bona fides, has probably exerted a greater influence than any other single episode in the entire course of China's relations with the western powers, in winning her to a willingness to give modern civilization a fair trial, and to adopt therefrom such elements as shall enable her to bring her own material culture abreast of the times. Few, probably, of the peasants and carriers and muleteers and boatmen with whom one comes in contact in traveling through the interior of China ever heard of the Boxer indemnity and its return, or of John Hay and the Open Toor; but everywhere one finds prevalent a feeling that somehow Americans are particularly good friends of China, that they have no territorial aspirations endangering her integrity, and that both as a nation and as individuals they are actuated by those same motives of justice and logic and fair play which exert so powerful an influence upon the Chinese mind also.
It is fortunate from every point of view that this friendly feeling should exist. Especially is this true just now, because the time has arrived when, if the people of the United States choose to do so, they may, with China's friendly cooperation, remedy a deficiency fraught with as great peril to the cause of civilization as any that war conditions have revealed. This deficiency is in the supply of agricultural labor, regarding which complaints are constantly being voiced on every hand.
We hear it reiterated—and it can not be repeated too often—that food is going to win the war. The supplying of the necessary food was one of the responsibilities assumed by us upon our entry into the war, as a part liquidation of the debt we owe to those peoples who have been fighting our battles for us across the Atlantic while we have been making up our minds that we were not too proud to do our own fighting. If then, for any reason whatsoever, the people of this country fail to increase the production of foodstuffs up to and even beyond the amount required to supply adequately all the peoples depending upon us, there will have occurred one of the most tragic and most inexcusable instances of national betrayal to be found in the history of the world. The failure of the North German princes to support Gustavus Adolphus against the Imperialists, the way in which Austria repaid Poland for rescuing her from the Turk in 1683, or the recent defection of Russia from the common cause, will appear meritorious acts by comparison.
Suppose we ask ourselves, “Are we providing an adequate supply of essential foodstuffs for our Allies and ourselves? Does there exist anywhere, either here or abroad, any shortage of food that can be traced to insufficient production in this country? Does there remain anywhere in the United States any land, suitable for agricultural uses and not otherwise employed, that is not being utilized to its maximum capacity?” The answers to all these questions are painfully clear. The situation then is this: that as long as any lack of food exists anywhere among the peoples of the Entente nations capable of being remedied by increased production here in America, just so far do we as a people fail in the performance of one of the most important parts of the responsibility which we voluntarily assumed a year and more ago. Further, the blame for every death from malnutrition among our Allies which might have been prevented by increased food production in this country may rightly be laid at our doors. There was no constraint upon the people of the United States in accepting a state of war with the Central Powers, save that laid upon us by the common foe. We took nearly three years in which to consider the advisability of such a step, and the responsibilities which it would entail. If, then, after pledging certain definite forms of assistance to our new Alliesforms among which the supply of provisions occupied a