I. THE NIGHT OF ASIATHE sudden development of Japan has been more or less of an enigma to foreign observers. She is the country of flowers and ironclads, of dashing heroism and delicate tea-cups,-the strange borderland where quaint shadows cross each other in the twilight of the New and the Old World. Until recently the West has never taken Japan seriously. It is amusing to find nowadays that such success as we have achieved in our efforts to take a place among the family of nations appears in the eyes of many as a menace to Christendom. In the mysterious nothing is improbable. Exaggeration is the courtesy which fancy pays to the unknown. What sweeping condemnation, what absurd praise has not the world lavished on New Japan? We are both the cherished child of modern progress and a dread resurrection of heathendom-the Yellow Peril itself!
Has not the West as much to unlearn about the East as the East has to learn about the West? In spite of the vast sources of information at the command of the West, it is sad to realize to-day how many misconceptions are still entertained concerning us. We do not mean to allude to the unthinking masses who are still dominated by race prejudice and that vague hatred of the Oriental which is a relic from the days of the crusades. But even the comparatively well-informed fail to recognize the inner significance of our revival and the real goal of our aspirations. It may be that, as our problems have been none of the simplest, our attitude has been often paradoxical. Perhaps the fact that the history of East Asiatic civilization is still a sealed book to the Western public may account for the great variety of opinions held by the outside world concerning our present conditions and future possibilities.
Our sympathizers have been pleased to marvel at the facility with which we have introduced Western science and industries, constitutional government, and the organization necessary for carrying on a gigantic war. They forget that the strength of the movement which brought Japan to her present position is due not less to the innate virility which has enabled her to assimilate the teachings of a foreign civilization than to her capability of adopting its methods. With a race, as with the individual, it is not the accumulation of extraneous knowledge, but the realization of the self within, that constitutes true progress.
With immense gratitude to the West for what she has taught us, we must still regard Asia as the true source of our inspirations. She it was who transmitted to us her ancient culture, and planted the seed of our regeneration. Our joy must be in the fact that, of all her children, we have been permitted to prove ourselves worthy of the inheritance. Great as was the difficulty involved in the struggle for a national reawakening, a still harder task confronted Japan in her effort to bring an Oriental nation to face the terrible exigencies of modern existence. Until the moment when we shook it off, the same lethargy lay upon us which now lies on China and India. Over our country brooded the Night of Asia, enveloping all spontaneity within its mysterious folds. Intellectual activity and social progress became stifled in the atmosphere of apathy. Religion could but soothe, not cure, the suffering of the wounded soul. The weight of our burden can never be understood without a knowledge of the dark background from which we emerged to the light.
The decadence of Asia began long ago with the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century. The classic civilizations of China and India shine the brighter by contrast with the night that has overtaken them since that disastrous irruption. The children of the Hwang-ho and the Ganges had from early days evolved a culture comparable with that of the era of highest enlightenment in Greece and Rome, one which even foreshadowed the trend of advanced thought in modern Europe. Buddhism, introduced into China and the farther East during the early centuries of the Christian era, bound together the Vedic and Confucian ideals in a single web, and brought about the unification of Asia. A vast stream of intercourse flowed throughout the extent of the whole Buddhaland. Tidings of any fresh philosophical achievement in the University of Nalanda, or in the monasteries of Kashmir, were brought by pilgrims and wandering monks to the thought-centers of China, Korea, and Japan. Kingdoms often exchanged courtesies, while peace married art to art. From this synthesis of the whole Asiatic life a fresh impetus was given to each nation. It is curious to note that each effort in one nation to attain a higher expression of humanity is marked by a simultaneous and parallel movement in the other. That liberalism and magnificence, resulting in the worship of poetry and harmony, which, in the sixth century, so characterized the reign of Vikramaditya in India, appear equally in the glorious age of the Tang emperors of China (618-907), and at the court of our contemporary mikados at Nara. Again the movement toward individualism and renationalization which, in the eighth century, is marked in India by the advent of Sankaracharya, the apostle of Hinduism, is followed, during the Sung dynasty (960-1260), by a similar activity in China, culminating in Neo-Confucianism and the recasting of the Zen school of Buddhism, a phase echoed both in Japan and Korea. Thus, while Christendom was struggling with medievalism, the Buddhaland was a great garden of culture, where each flower of thought bloomed in individual beauty.
But, alas! the Mongol horsemen under Jenghiz Khan were to lay waste these areas of civilization, and make of them a desert like that out of which they themselves came. It was not the first time that the warriors of the steppes had appeared in the rich valleys of China and India. The Huns and the Scythians had often succeeded in temporarily inflicting their rule on the borders of these countries. After a time, however, they were either driven out, or else tamed and finally absorbed in the peaceful life of the plain. But this last Mongol outburst was of a magnitude unequaled in the past. It was destined not only to reach the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, but to cross the Ural and overflow Moscow. The descendants of Jenghiz Khan in China established the Yuen dynasty and reigned at Peking from 1280 to 1368, while their cousins began a series of attacks on India which ended in the empire of the Grand Moguls. The Yuens still adhered to Buddhism, though in the degenerate form known as Lamaism; but the Mogul emperors of Delhi, who came in the footsteps of Mahmud of Ghazni, had embraced the Arabian faith as they sped on their path of conquest through southern Asia. The Moguls not only exterminated Buddhism, but also persecuted Hinduism. It was a terrible blow to Buddhaland when Islam interposed a barrier between China and India greater than the Himalayas themselves. The flow of intercourse, so essential to human progress, was suddenly stopped. Our own timehonored relations with our continental neighbors even began to wane after the Mongol conquerors of China attempted to invade Japan in the latter part of the thirteenth century, forcing Korea to act as their ally. Their belligerent attitude continued for nearly forty years; and though, thanks to our insular position and the prowess of our warriors, we were able successfully to repel their attacks, remembrance of their aggression was not to be effaced, and even led to retaliatory steps on our part. The memory of our ancient friendship with the courts of the Tang and Sung dynasties was lost. One of the latent causes of our late war with the Celestial Empire may be found in the mutual suspicion with which the two nations have now regarded each other for many centuries. By the Mongol conquest of Asia, Buddhaland was rent asunder, never again to be reunited. How little do the Asiatic nations now know of each other! They have grown callous to the doom that befalls their neighbors.
One cannot but be struck by the contrast between the effect of the Mongol outburst on Buddhaland and Christendom. The maritime races of the Mediterranean and the Baltic, by their long course of mutual aggression, were well equipped to cope with the terrific onslaught of the nomadic invaders. In spite of temporary reverses, Europe may even be said to have gained some advantage from those struggles which were so disastrous to us of the East. It was then that she first developed that power of combination which makes her so formidable to-day. The Mongol outburst, which displaced the Turkish hordes and resulted in the creation of the Saracenic and Ottoman empires, gave the Frankish nations the opportunity of uniting against a common enemy. Before the walls of Jerusalem and on the banks of the Danube met in comradeship, once and forever, the flower of Christian chivalry, and there was consolidated a conception of Christendom such as papal Rome could never alone have brought into existence. The fall of Constantinople was in itself one of the chief factors of the Italian Renaissance.
The peaceful and self-contained nature of Eastern civilization has been ever weak to resist foreign aggression. We have not only permitted the Mongol to destroy the unity of Asia, but have allowed him to crush the life of Indian and Chinese culture. From both the thrones of Peking and Delhi, the descendants of Jenghiz Khan perpetuated a system of despotism contrary to the traditional policies of the lands they had subjugated. Entire lack of sympathy between the conquerors and the conquered, the introduction of an alien official language, the refusal to the native of any vital participation in administration, together with the dreadful clash of raceideals and religious beliefs, all combined to produce a mental shock and anguish of spirit from which the Indians and the Chinese have never recovered. Such scholarship as was allowed to survive, was confined to those servile minds who submitted meekly to barbaric patronage. What was left of original intellectual vigor was heard only among the despairing echoes of the forest, or in the savage laughter of the bazaar. Art thenceforth becomes either ultra-conventional or else bizarre and grotesque.
Attempts to overthrow the foreign yoke were not lacking, and some of them were even successful. But the disintegration of the national consciousness under alien tyranny made renationalization almost impossible, and the native dynasties were unable to withstand fresh waves of outside aggression. In China, the Ming or Bright dynasty, which wrested the government from the Mongols in the middle of the fourteenth century, soon became a prey to internal discords. Scarcely had the destruction attendant on the Mongol reign been repaired, when, near the end of the sixteenth century, a fresh invasion came from the north, and the Manchus tore the scepter from the native rulers. In spite of the strenuous efforts made by the wiser statesmen of this new dynasty, no complete fusion of the Manchus and the Chinese has ever been accomplished.
To-day the Celestial Empire is so divided against itself that it is powerless to repel outside attack. Europe, with her iron grasp on some of her most important ports, has even contemplated the partition of the whole of China. So in India the reactionary uprising of the Mahrattas and the Sikhs against the Mohammedan tyrants, though partially successful, did not crystallize into a universal expression of patriotism. This lack of unity enabled a Western power to shape her destinies.
Bereft of the spirit of initiative, tired of impotent revolts, and deprived of legitimate ambitions, the Chinese and the Indian of to-day have come to prostrate themselves before the inevitable. Some among them find refuge in the memory of past grandeur, thus hardening the crust of tradition and exclusiveness; while the souls of others, wafted among ethereal dreams, seek solace in an appeal to the unknown. The Night of Asia, which enshrouds them, is not, perhaps, without its own subtle beauty. It reminds us of the deep glorious nights we know so well in the East,- listless like wonder, serene like sadness, opalescent like love. One may touch the stars behind the veil where man meets spirit. One may listen to the secret cadence of nature beyond the border where sound bows to silence.
Japan, who had proved herself equal to the task of repelling the Mongol invasion, found little difficulty in resisting that attempt at Western encroachment which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, came in the form of the Shimabara Rebellion, instigated by the Jesuits. It has been our boast that no foreign conqueror ever polluted the soil of Japan, but these attempts at aggression from the outside hardened our insular prejudice into a desire for complete isolation from the rest of the world. Soon after the Jesuit war the building of vessels large enough to ride the high seas was forbidden, and no one was allowed to leave our shores. Our sole point of contact with the outside world was at the port of Nagasaki, where the Chinese and the Dutch were permitted, under strict surveillance, to carry on trade. For the space of nearly two hundred and seventy years we were as one buried alive!
Yet a worse fate was in store for us. The Tokugawa shoguns, who brought about this remarkable isolation of Japan, ruled the country from 1600 to 1968, and threw the invisible network of their tyranny over all the nation. From the highest to the lowest, all were entangled in a subtle web of mutual espionage, and every element of individuality was crushed under the weight of unbending formalism. Deprived of all stimulus from without, and imprisoned within, our own island realm groped amid a maze of tradition. Darkest over us lay the Night of Asia.