V. THE WHITE DISASTERTO MOST Eastern nations the advent of the West has been by no means an unmixed blessing. Thinking to welcome the benefits of increased commerce, they have become the victims of foreign imperialism; believing in the philanthropic aims of Christian missionaries, they have bowed before the messengers of military aggression. For them the earth is no longer filled with that peace which pillowed their contentment. If the guilty conscience of some European nations has conjured up the specter of a Yellow Peril, may not the suffering soul of Asia wail over the realities of the White Disaster.
To the mind of the average Westerner it may seem but natural to regard with feelings of unmingled triumph that world of to-day in which organization has made of society a huge machine ministering to its own necessities. It is the rapid development of mechanical invention which has created the present era of locomotion and speculation, a development which is working itself out into various expressions, as commercialism and industrialism, accompanied by a tendency toward the universal occidentalization of etiquette and language. This movement, resulting in a rapid expansion of wealth and prestige, originated in a profound realization of the glory of manhood, of comradeship, and of mutual trust. The restlessness that constantly moves its home from the steamer to the hotel, from the railway station to the bathing resort, has brought about the possibility of a cosmopolitan culture. The nineteenth century has witnessed a wonderful spread in the blessings of scientific sanitation and surgery. Knowledge as well as finance has become organized, and large communities are made capable of collective action and the development of a single personal consciousness.
To the inhabitant of the West all this may well be food for satisfaction; to him it may seem inconceivable that others should think differently. Yet to the bland irony of China the machine appears as a toy, not an ideal. The venerable East still distinguishes between means and ends. The West is for progress, but progress toward what? When material efficiency is complete, what end, asks Asia, will have been accomplished? When the passion of fraternity has culminated in universal cooperation, what purpose is it to serve? If mere self-interest, where do we find the boasted advance?
The picture of Western glory unfortunately has a reverse. Size alone does not constitute true greatness, and the enjoyment of luxury does not always result in refinement. The individuals who go to the making up of the great machine of so-called modern civilization become the slaves of mechanical habit and are ruthlessly dominated by the monster they have created. In spite of the vaunted freedom of the West, true individuality is destroyed in the competition for wealth, and happiness and contentment are sacrificed to an incessant craving for more. The West takes pride in its emancipation from medieval superstition, but what of that idolatrous worship of wealth that has taken its place? What sufferings and discontent lie hidden behind the gorgeous mask of the present? The voice of socialism is a wail over the agonies of Western economics,-the tragedy of Capital and Labor.
But with a hunger unsatisfied by its myriad victims in its own broad lands, the West also seeks to prey upon the East. The advance of Europe in Asia means not merely the imposition of social ideals which the East holds to be crude if not barbarous, but also the subversion of all existing law and authority. The Western ships which brought their civilization also brought conquests, protectorates, ex-territorial jurisdiction, spheres of influence, and what not of debasement, till the name of the Oriental medieval superstition, but what of that idolatrous worship of wealth that has taken its place? What sufferings and discontent lie hidden behind the gorgeous mask of the present? The voice of socialism is a wail over the agonies of Western economics,-the tragedy of Capital and Labor.
But with a hunger unsatisfied by its myriad victims in its own broad lands, the West also seeks to prey upon the East. The advance of Europe in Asia means not merely the imposition of social ideals which the East holds to be crude if not barbarous, but also the subversion of all existing law and authority. The Western ships which brought their civilization also brought conquests, protectorates, ex-territorial jurisdiction, spheres of influence, and what not of debasement, till the name of the Oriental even as an embodiment of the White Disaster itself. But our mental standpoint of a few generations back was that of the conservative Chinese patriot of to-day, and we saw in Western advance but the probable encompassing of our ruin. To the down-trodden Oriental the glory of Europe is but the humiliation of Asia.
If we place ourselves in the position of a Chinese patriot of to-day we shall be able to understand how the march of contemporary events appeared to our grandfathers. Their fears were not altogether without reason, for to the wounded imagination of Orientals history will tell of the gradual advance of the White Disaster which was descending on Asia. The Italian Renaissance marks the time when, freed from its chains, the roving spirit of Western enterprise first began to seize upon any corner of the globe where was aught to be gained. When Marco Polo returned from the Chinese court, he bore tidings of the untold treasures of the extreme Orient. America was merely an accidental discovery on the part of Spain in her attempt to reach the coveted wealth of India. We can recall those days of Portuguese cruelty and Dutch treachery, when the cow's hide gained a colony and the concession for a factory resulted in the establishment of an empire.
The beginning of the seventeenth century shows the rise of the East India companies of the French, Dutch, Danish, and English, the gratification of whose political ambitions, however, remained as yet unsatisfied owing to the struggles of mutual rivalry, the solidity of the Mussulman power of Delhi, and their awe of that great Turkish empire which still bravely bore the brunt of Western advance and often hurled it back to the walls of Vienna. But the brightness of the Crescent was fast waning before the combined persistence of the West, and soon the disastrous treaty of Kutchuk-Kainarji inaugurated the imposition of Russian interference in the affairs of the Porte. In 1803 the last of the Grand Moguls became a British pensioner. In 1839, Abdul Medjid ascended the throne of Osmanli under the "protection" of European powers.
With the increase in credit and capital during the latter half of the eighteenth century, the inventive energy of European industrialism is set in motion. Coal takes the place of wood in smelting, and the flying shuttle, the spinning- jenny, the mule, the power-loom, and the steam-engine all spring up in formidable array. Commercialism makes the very life of the West depend upon her finding markets for her goods. Her rôle is now to sell, and that of the East to buy. War is declared from her factories, and the protests of her more humane statesmen are drowned in the noise of thundering mills. What chance has individualized Eastern trade against the sweeping batteries of organized commerce? Cheapness and competition, like the mitrailleuse, under whose cover they advance, now sweep away the crafts. The economic life of the Orient, founded on land and labor and deprived of a protective tariff through high-handed diplomatic action, succumbs to the army of the machine and capital.
What has become of India? It is today a country where the names of Asoka and Vikramaditya are even forgotten. It is a country of rajas whose breasts are starry with dishonor, and of national congresses that dare not protest. Burma was in existence but yesterday: in the rubies of Thebaw cries the innocent blood of Mandalay. The Kohinoor is even as a teardrop of Golconda. What need to mention the painful comedies enacted in Persia and Siam or to call attention to the "protectorate" established by France over Tonkin? Protectorate! Against whom?
In 1842 a Christian nation forces opium on China at the mouth of the cannon and extorts Hongkong. In 1860, on a slight pretext, the joint armies of France and England invade Pekin and sack the Summer Palace, whose treasures are now the pride of the European museums, while the Russians always maintain a steady encroachment upon the hereditary domains of the Celestial Empire along the borders of the Amur and Ili. The kindly intervention of the Triple Coalition after the Japanese war was but a farce, for thereby Russia gained Port Arthur, Germany Kiauchau, and France a tighter grasp on Yunnan. It is true that the defilement of their sacred shrines goaded the Boxers to a passionate outburst of fury; but what could their old-fashioned arms avail against the combined armies of the allied powers? Their ill-judged efforts only resulted in the heaping of indignities upon China and the payment by her of exorbitant indemnities. In spite of repeated promises of evacuation, Russia has endeavored to establish herself permanently in Manchuria, and the persecuted inhabitants of that province behold the graveyards of their beloved forefathers turned into railway stations, while Cossack horses find stabling in the sacred Temple of Heaven. If Asia was old-fashioned, was Europe just? If China tried to lift her head, if the worm turned in its agony, did not Europe at once raise the cry of the Yellow Peril? Verily, the glory of the West is the humiliation of Asia.
To Japan the armed embassy of the United States of America in 1853 seemed a dread image of that White Disaster whose advent had proved so fatal to other Eastern countries. Eleven years before that event the Opium War in China had exposed the unscrupulous nature of Western aggression. The Dutch, who kept us informed of the European encroachment on Asia, did not hesitate to enhance the value of their friendship by painting the deeds of other Western nations in the darkest colors. In fact, unfortunately, we had already had some experience of foreign rapacity in the Russian advance from the north.
It is a curious coincidence that the first European nation-and let us hope it may be the last-whom we have met in battle array is the power whose acts first warned us of the possibility of foreign complications. Russia, sweeping down from Siberia and Kamchatka, long ago laid her hands upon our territory of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. In the end of the eighteenth century the Russians committed ravages in Yezo itself, and in 1806 the Tokugawas had to place a military governor in Hakodate to guard against their further depredations. Alarming stories of Northern encroachments were poured into our excited ears, and many daimios offered by themselves to chase back the intruders. In 1830 Naraiki of Mito, a powerful prince of the Tokugawa family, proposed to settle in Yezo with all his retainers and the entire population of his daimiate. He melted all the bronze bells of the temples in his territory, casting a number of immense cannon, and drilled his samurai in preparation for an emergency. His zeal was, however, misconstrued by the Tokugawa government and he was obliged to abdicate in favor of his son and remain in retirement. Russophobes were imprisoned for spreading false alarms, and many died in confinement. It is interesting to find among some of their memoirs prophecies of Russian aggrandizement in Asia which have been but too truly fulfilled.
The appearance of American warships in the bay of Yedo was a mighty shock. Hitherto the alarms of foreign attack had meant but little to the country at large, for it was a long cry to Hakodate or Nagasaki; but now within a day's march of the city of Yedo lay the black hulks of a formidable fleet whose admiral refused to retire until a treaty was signed. Recollection of the Tartar armada flashed through the minds of our grandfathers. Was the samurai to be intimidated in his own waters? Was not the divine land always prepared to repel an invasion? What right had a foreign nation to impose a commerce which we did not want, a friendship which we did not ask? To arms! Jhoi! Jhoi! Away with the barbarians! The arm-bells clanged throughout the country. Foam-covered riders rushed through every castle gate, spreading the momentous news. Spears were torn from their racks and ancient armor was eagerly dragged from dust-covered caskets. Night and day could be heard the clanging of steel on anvils forging the accoutrements of war. The old prince of Mito was summoned from his hermitage to take command, and his cannon lined the principal points of defense. Buddhists wore away their rosaries in invoking Kartikiya, the war-god, and Shinto priests fasted while they called on the sea and the tempest to destroy the invader.
The historic spirit that had been smoldering in our national consciousness only waited for this moment to burst forth in a fiery expression of unity. Custom and formalism were alike forgotten in this hour of common danger, and for the first time in two hundred years the daimios were asked by the Tokugawa government to deliberate over a matter of state. For the first time in seven centuries the Shogun sent a special envoy to the Mikado to consult about the policy of the empire, and for the first time in the history of our nation, the high and the low alike were invited to offer suggestions as to what steps should be taken for the protection of the ancestral land. We became one, and the Night of Asia fled forever before the rays of the Rising Sun.