IT is one of the commonplaces of the modern world to say that the Unchanging East is on the move. The causes of this movement are well-known and the evidence of it is to be seen in widespread alterations in the physical machinery of life, and even more significantly in a partial revolution in the attitude of Asiatic mankind to their own political and religious traditions. The awakening of nationalism is the most conspicuous, and politically the most troublesome, of all the manifestations of the new insurgent spirit in Asia; but, for the future destiny of the peoples involved, it cannot be regarded as the most significant. Nationalism in the East is the political reaction against Western power, and owes its inspiration to the European nationalist movements of the nineteenth century which flowed from the French Revolution. But since the doctrines of nationalism were only one part, and not the most pregnant, of the message brought from the West to the shores of Asia we must seek the meaning and direction of the whole contemporary Asiatic movement in something wider than a political interpretation. If the effect of the Western impact on the East had been confined to political change, and the social and religious structure of Asiatic society had remained immune, it would be possible, nay, even inevitable, to regard the change itself as superficial. Indeed, as it is, there are Western observers who believe that no fundamental change has taken place, and that it is therefore an error to pursue any policy, either in foreign relations or in trade, based on the assumption that the revolution in the East has achieved anything more than a passing, if violent, storm on the face of the waters, leaving the depths beneath undisturbed.

There is manifestly room for very different opinions, and none at all for dogmatism. Yet I have something approaching a conviction that the process of change is real and that those who deny the reality and depth of the transformation of Asia have ignored many vital factors in the situation. I shall not try to discuss them all here: for instance, the effect of the spirit of Western scientific inquiry upon the Asiatic mind, or the influence of Christianity in promoting Asiatic religious reform from within; but, even if in passing we can do no more than note those great influences, we must bear in mind the part they have played, and will play, in influencing the attitudes of Indians, Chinese and Japanese toward nearly all the major problems of life.

Of the many other evidences of change we shall take but two, one social, the other political. The first is the new place of the woman in modern Asia. When the women of a nation, even if only in the educated minority which composes the directing class, claim a position of equality, demand and receive an education comparable to that which is given to the young men, and refuse to subordinate their destiny as individuals to the tradition of family life as hitherto known in China and in India, a social revolution of the first magnitude is on the way. And this is in fact happening over an ever-increasing area of the social life of the East. It has proceeded farther in China and in India than in Japan; but it has already taken such a hold upon the lives of the younger generation that we can almost say that the widest breach in ancient custom in the East has been made by the emancipation of the daughters and young wives of the middle classes from the almost tyrannous discipline of the family system. The generations as they follow one another will not lightly relinquish this freedom, and thus a new social mentality is created, and along with it at least the possibility of political democracy. The older generation watches with dismay the loosening of the family bond and sees nothing but chaos in the freedom of the new generation: but no one who has seen at first hand its results among the young women of India and China can doubt that they are preparing a new contribution to their own national development which will be fruitful both in the social and in the political spheres.

Now it is true that the new motive of emancipation operates only in the educated community, and that the vast mass of the nation, in every case, is still hardly touched by it. But it does not follow that the change now in progress is therefore superficial. All such revolutionary processes begin in small groups of determined people with a purpose, and revolutions are always the work of passionate minorities whose political arena is provided by the non-revolutionary mass beneath them. The great body follows the small alert head, and begins to move long before it has any real conception of the cause or the goal of its movement; but it does move, and in Asia it has been moving with a greatly increased momentum ever since the war.

Coming to the second part of the evidence taken from the political sphere, we may note that here also the significance of the future is to be read in the revolutionary attitude of a purposeful minority. It concerns the sanction from which the political régime of government derives its authority. In the past, personal rule resting on a divine sanction prevailed throughout the East. Today, not only is the whole world strewn with the corpses of monarchies overthrown by revolution, but the central belief in autocracy itself upon which they once rested has been undermined and the peoples of Asia have discovered a practical alternative in the idea of government based on popular consent. The divine right of kings cannot long survive among nations that have been educated, and when once the conception of democracy finds its way into the national mind autocracy is doomed. This commonplace of Western politics is still a novelty in the East and the tradition of the personal ruler still prevails in the mind of the masses. It might therefore seem that a restoration is practical politics, say in China, and that one of the greater War Lords might conceivably reëstablish the Dragon Throne. So he might. But his success would be due, not to any genuine revival of the old belief in the Mandate of Heaven exercised by the Emperor as the Son of Heaven, but to the immaturity of the rival idea of popular government, whose protagonists have not yet had time to establish it securely. The revolutionary minority might be driven into opposition and exile, but the influence which created it would abide and arise once more to expel the autocrat.

These two factors, the emancipation of women and the birth of the conception of popular consent in government, are in themselves sufficient to prove that the new Asia is a reality. They do not stand alone, for the spread of education daily strengthens them, and the new influences brought to bear upon the economic life of the East, in attacking the fortress of established custom from another angle, give the general movement an added impetus. The movement is still in progress -- progress so rapid, indeed, that even a comparatively short absence from any of the countries of the East today tends to put the observer's knowledge out of date. It is therefore difficult to state the results of the past ten years -- the period of this survey -- in terms of assured achievements or established institutions. Tendencies and phases, apparent variations in the direction or the intensity of the different national movements, outstanding events in the whole tumultuous onrush: these are the principal factors in the estimate which, in itself, can be little more than a guess at the future result. At the same time, the three representative nations, India, China and Japan, stand at different stages in the new development, and generalizations which have an apparent truth when applied to the whole panorama of Asiatic politics must be seriously modified in respect of each of these units in turn.

II

In the past ten years the Indian situation has developed along lines foreseen in advance. The Act of 1919, which ushered in a new era of reformed government, prescribed that a review of progress should be made in 1929. This review, beginning with the Simon Report, has now reached the point where a new constitution is on the eve of enactment by the Imperial Parliament. The way in which the new reform has been prepared reveals the growth of political India; and it may be said that the Round Table Conference of 1930-31 was historic, both in actual achievement and in the evidence it gave of the rapid rise of India towards equality of status during the previous ten years. The Conference was a striking departure in India's constitutional development, for by it Great Britain sought to share with India the labor of a new reform, and thus made the political leaders of India active participators in what had hitherto been reserved to the practically exclusive authority of Parliament in London. It was therefore an act of far-reaching political significance for the British Government to proceed by this method of the Round Table Conference, for by it the transfer of sovereign authority from London to India was carried a long step farther. Of even deeper import for the future was the unanimous resolution of the whole body, Indian Princes included, to found the new Indian polity on a federal basis embracing all the political units in the peninsula. All India was thus pledged to the realization of a great ideal, and in accepting it the Princes in particular cast the die of a great decision. Hitherto they have stood apart from the main stream of political development in British India; henceforth their new association with the self-governing provinces will open the door to far-reaching reforms within their own States.

Up to this point, where the principles of future action were laid down, it is appropriate to call the Conference historic. The second session of the Conference revealed the inherent difficulties of the problem. On the one hand the Princes had their second thoughts, prompted by the feeling that they had too readily accepted a place in Federal India without clearly knowing what it might entail for them. On the other, the communal question once more cast its disturbing influence over the political arena; dissension within the Hindu community combined with the Hindu-Moslem feud to postpone the practical solution of immediate electoral and other questions and finally threw back upon the British Government the onus of making a decision.[i] It is not necessary, in these pages, to emphasize the significance of this failure of Indians to compose their differences at a moment when agreement amongst themselves would have shown them in possession of indigenous statesmanship capable of coping with their own greatest problem. Such a refusal to accept the whole implication of self-government is no very happy omen for the future. None the less the constitution about to be enacted will proceed on the assumption that only by placing responsibility squarely on Indian shoulders will the capacity to govern develop in modern India. The raw material of the new measure is to be found in the reports of the Simon Commission, of the Round Table Conference and of its subsequent Committees; it will be time enough to discuss its proposals when they are published next winter. Meanwhile there is a problem of inner substance which, in its bearing upon India's destiny, is more vital than any constitutional provision.

It is the habit of the press to present Indian affairs as a drama of conflict between the British Raj and Indian Nationalism. The conflict is no doubt a fact; but it cannot be described as serious warfare no matter how hotly the battle may seem to rage round the measures taken from time to time by the Government of India to deal with open threats to the peace of the country. England is committed beyond recall to the ideal of Indian self-government: the dispute is one of pace and method, not of final aim: and everyone knows that the parliamentary rhetoric of Mr. Winston Churchill is only a colored fringe embroidered on the main pattern which he cannot alter. The goal is set; and England moves with India at a remarkable pace towards it.

There is not one India, however, but two; between these a very different struggle has begun, and will long continue. There is the India of Western making, led by a political minority who conceive of the future in terms of democracy, parliamentary debate and constitutional government. And there is historic India, in which popular consent had no part, in which the hierarchy of Hinduism ruled the social and religious life of the people, in which the priestly caste is still autocrat. Between these two Indias there is a divorce more profound than any political dispute; and therefore it is true to say that the battle of the future is being fought not in the visible field of the House of Commons or the Legislative Assembly in Delhi, but, invisibly and universally, in the soul of India. Institutions may be, and will be, established to give India the appropriate instruments of self-government, but the eventual purpose for which they will be employed and the extent to which their political use will foster the development of democracy will depend on the issue of this conflict. Brahman domination of Indian society is incompatible with genuine political democracy; and unless the Brahmans consent to modify their historic claims in the direction of according political rights to the depressed classes there can be no representative government based on real popular consent. The depressed classes believe, with passionate conviction, that they can hope for no emancipation through a change of heart in the Brahman hierarchy and therefore insist on special electoral rights for themselves before British control is relaxed. Those who take a more hopeful view of the general prospect can point to the fact that the existing legislatures have not fallen under Brahman control, that in Madras, for instance, throughout the greater part of the period under review, the Justice Party, a non-Brahman organization, succeeded in maintaining itself in office and excluding its ancient enemies from power. But that result was achieved under the aegis of British rule and offers no proof that in a more purely Indian régime the priestly caste would not resume control. Anyway, it is clear that a great query hangs over the horizon. When the obscuring smoke of the present constitutional battle drifts away the real conflict will be seen in its true character; and on the issue of this conflict will depend the future destiny of the peoples of India.

III

In China there is the same struggle between tradition and reform; but whereas in India historic causes have placed the conflict in a setting of political evolution in which existing institutions are reformed and expanded to meet expanding demands, the Chinese Revolution has broken this continuity and swept away the institutions of the past, leaving the ground to be occupied by improvised instruments of government which have as yet no permanence. The ultimate sanction of political authority is proclaimed to be the same in both countries. Constitutionalism is to rest on the will of the people; but in the choice of the method whereby this result is to be reached the current Chinese theory, derived from Sun Yat-sen, prescribes a period of tutelage during which the Party -- Kuomintang -- exercises political authority because the people are not ready for responsibility. The same theory, though never explicitly stated, underlies British rule in India, where the British Raj has in recent times defined its purpose as that of preparing the people for self-government. In both cases the tutelary power justified its authority by the plea that there was no other alternative; but in the past ten years the comparatively peaceful condition of India has permitted great progress from the period of tutelage to constitutionalism -- as shown by the active preparation of the new constitution this year -- while the main preoccupation of the tutelary power in China has been to maintain its authority against rivals, leaving little energy or time for the true purpose of the period of tutelage. Moreover, there has grown up in a certain section of the Kuomintang Party in China a belief in its own vested interest in government, and some of its reactionary leaders in the past few years have claimed that any early attempt even to take the first steps towards that sharing of political responsibility with the people, which seemed to be inherent in Sun Yat-sen's purpose, was in fact a violation of his doctrine. Thus the letter of his word was used to violate the spirit: and today the Party finds that, because civil war has diverted attention from its true purpose, and because some of its leaders have made orthodoxy the enemy of progress, it has lost much of the vital sap of its early life and seems unable to acquire a new momentum.

In proportion as the vitality of the Kuomintang Party has declined the importance of individual leaders has increased. Many critics of the Party ascribe the former result to the latter origin, and declare that what they call the militarism of Chiang Kai-shek is the real sterilizing cause. There is a good deal of justification in the complaint that militarism breeds militarism, and General Chiang, like others, is caught and carried in the vicious circle. But his critics are too prone to find in this an easy escape from their own responsibility. They have failed to make a constructive contribution at times when the moment was opportune, and in their disappointment at the meager fruits of the revolution they turn and rend those who have held the precarious régime together even in darkest times.

Now in the past ten years the national movement has passed through several phases. For some years after the war Peking was the center, and Canton its growing rival. Peking was in fact only a survival from past times and the real life of the political movement came from the south. The growth of the Kuomintang in Canton was concealed from the world as a whole by the fact that there was still a government of a kind in Peking with which the foreign Powers treated and it was not until a series of incidents occurred in the south that much attention was paid to the Cantonese movement. As late as 1926 foreign opinion in Shanghai, with few exceptions, refused to believe that the Party could ever capture the Yangtse Valley, for it remained in ignorance of the reorganizing work accomplished by the Russians during the previous eighteen months in Canton. Thus what we may call the second phase of the post-war period was well advanced before the north or the world outside knew that it had effectively begun. It reached its climax in the swift advance from Canton to the Wuhan cities and might have achieved even more spectacular results if the Russian alliance which made it possible had not broken under the strain. By the summer of 1927 the Kuomintang was split in two over the question of the relationship to Moscow: the Center and the Right of the Party moved down the river to create a new political center in Nanking, and the third phase opened there in the autumn. Thus in less than four years the movement passed from the Peking phase into the Canton phase (alliance with Russia) and out of the Canton phase again into the period of the Nanking Government, in which the movement still stands looking out upon an uncertain future.

As shown above, the wear and tear of the last six years (1926-1932) has impaired the original revolutionary force of the Party, which is thus face to face today with the exacting task of reconstruction at a moment when its early power has declined. Moreover, popular support has been seriously alienated by the irresponsible tyranny of the local caucuses of the Party, and all classes of Chinese society are in a critical frame of mind. So far has this alienation proceeded that recent attempts to seek reinforcement for the Government by bringing non-party groups into active association with Nanking have had a disappointing result, and the survival of the Nanking Government still rests upon the exceptional personal quality of one or two men, notably the President and his Finance Minister, Mr. T. V. Soong. Those who have chiefly profited by the state of affairs have been the Japanese in Manchuria and the Communists in certain provinces in Central China. The effective rule of Nanking has thus been severely circumscribed; and it appears that the general recovery of Nationalism can only be gained by proof given that the Government, within the limited area of its authority, can provide the common people with a better life through a wise policy of economic reconstruction designed to employ the restricted available resources for attainable ends. This, in fact, is what the wiser Nanking leaders are seeking to accomplish with the aid of expert missions from the Secretariat of the League of Nations, and in this policy is to be seen the central beacon in the surrounding gloom.

In the constitutional sphere the principal feature of the past ten years has been the attempt to fill the vacuum created by the failure of the original parliamentary institutions of the Revolution by a provisional constitution which subordinates the whole machinery of legislation, executive administration and justice, to the central authority of the Party. It is admittedly a transitional instrument, but it is capable of expansion into a more genuinely representative system, and one of the recurring subjects of controversy during recent years has been the question whether the moment had come to strengthen Nanking by broadening the basis of the constitution and openly offering the non-party public an effective share in government. It cannot be doubted that a major cause of the growing weakness of the Party is to be found in the fact that this question has been given a negative answer.

In almost any other country such a domestic situation would seem desperate. Progress up the winding spiral of reform is slow and the achievements to be recorded are meager. Yet, measured in terms of the magnitude of the whole task, and compared with the inertia of China's past, there is a genuine core of reality even in the apparently disappointing results of the moment. For my part, I cannot doubt that a creative purpose is at work, and that as it gradually animates an ever-widening circle in the nation it will bring into play that indefinable worth which all who really know the Chinese recognize in them.

IV

To many eyes Japan seems to be the sole factor of stability in the insurgent East and the general public tends to look upon her as a bulwark against communism and disorder. But what if this supposed bulwark is itself undermined by the forces which are at work elsewhere? The question is no idle speculation; for both in her economic life and in her political being Japan is in fact so unstable that her leaders look at the future with considerable anxiety. Rural Japan is seething with discontent: industrial Japan stands on a basis too narrow to bear the weight of the superstructure of material civilization built upon it: and the parliamentary régime has fallen into discredit owing to its comparative futility and its corruption. These are the causes of the present quasi-Fascist movement led by the young officers of the Army; and though the world in general has turned its attention chiefly to the by-product of the Manchurian adventure, the Japanese themselves feel that a domestic crisis of the first magnitude is at hand. Manchuria is but the overseas facet of a many-sided problem.

So much may be stated with some confidence as the general truth of the present situation in Japan; but any attempt to forecast the future would lead into regions of speculation regarding the domestic outcome in which we have little to guide us. There are, however, immediate international implications of which Mr. Stimson gave warning in his letter to Senator Borah. They raise the whole question of Japan's relation to China, to Russia, to America, and to the League of Nations; and the manner in which Japan has raised it suggests that the present leaders of her policy have not fully realized all that is at stake in the attempt to reverse the policy pursued since the war. It is a commonplace to say that Japanese policy is dictated by her economic needs; and in the decision how these needs shall best be served two schools of thought are involved. Both adopt the slogan "Relief at home by expansion abroad;" but they give very different interpretations of "expansion." The school which inspired Japanese policy till recently believed that the development of foreign markets in all parts of the world, coupled with genuine coöperation at Geneva and a conciliatory but firm attitude in China, would secure the best results. They rejected the militarist interpretations of politics and looked forward to the genuine establishment of constitutional government of a responsible kind. Their chief domestic weakness was their identification with the corrupt parliamentary regime; and therefore, while they seemed to represent a sane realism in foreign policy, they were reputed to be the authors of some of Japan's worst troubles at home. Hence, when events in Manchuria, culminating in the failure of the railway conference in Mukden in 1931, seemed to denote the collapse of their Chinese policy, the tide turned swiftly against them and the militarist reaction leapt into the saddle.

Now it is possible to regard the present movement in the Japanese Army as a healthy protest against domestic evils; but in foreign affairs it seems to be inspired by a recklessness very unlike the prudent realism of the Elder Statesmen. Contemporary Japanese foreign policy is heading straight for isolation. It disturbs Russia, provokes America, and flouts the League; while it altogether ignores the more distant risk of a permanently alienated China. Against these heavy liabilities there is only the asset of control of Manchuria, and this in its turn may prove to be a liability.

The results threaten the world of Pacific affairs, involving as they do the overthrow of the system of the Washington Treaties and the revival of international rivalry in the Pacific Ocean. In the new struggle Japan would be bereft of effective allies. With Russia preoccupied with the Five Year Plan, America crippled by depression, China disorganized, and the League but a distant voice of protest, there may be momentary reasons why the Japanese Government believes it can thus act with impunity. But her policy draws a heavy mortgage on the future, and it is hardly credible that mature reflection will not bring wiser counsel. If it does not, Japan will have bought a temporary political control of Manchuria, worth hardly more to her than her previous economic control through the South Manchuria Railway, at a heavy cost to herself, and equally at the expense of that coöperation with other Powers which is essential to her economic progress.

V

The action of Japan last winter not only revealed a state of emotional tension in the Island Empire but raised the question of the function of the League of Nations in a big international crisis. More specifically, it raised the question of what part the League can play in the East. On both counts League partisans were disappointed, and it was commonly said that the League had failed. To test the justice of this judgment it is necessary to examine the scene of its action in the Manchurian crisis.

The League was new to the Far East, and almost equally the Far East was new to the League. Despite the fact that Japan was an original and permanent member of the Council -- which might have been supposed to give her a peculiar sense of obligation to it -- the principles, aims and function of the League had hardly become familiar to the peoples of the Far East when the crisis broke out. It was commonly assumed that the first function of the League was the pacification of Europe after the war. It was therefore regarded as primarily a European organ, and only after the merits of Geneva had been brought home to the Chinese by the invaluable work of the technical missions of the Secretariat was it realized in China that the League was a living factor in world affairs. As the crisis progressed the Chinese realized, and not the Chinese alone, that there were limitations to the action of the League, inherent in the Covenant itself, and also that the imperfect authority of the Chinese Government over its own territory could not be ignored in estimating what was possible.

The crisis is not over, and until the final settlement is reached it will be impossible to reckon the net gain or loss to the League. But there are certain gains and losses which can be provisionally recorded. It is a definite gain for the world to know that the nearer you can approach to a complete expression of world opinion, as in the Assembly, the more nearly does its judgment conform to the fundamental principles of the Covenant. It is also a definite gain that China, hitherto skeptical, should have placed her case in the hands of the League. The Lytton Report should prove to be a further asset on the credit side. And finally it can hardly be doubted that the League had a restraining influence even in Japan.

Against all this are to be set two serious losses:first, the repudiation by an original member of the League of her obligations under the Covenant; second, the slowness of the Council to realize that something more than a local Manchurian issue was at stake. The first can only be redeemed by Japan herself, the second has been partially atoned for by the attitude of the Assembly. Beyond that, no final opinion is valid. But the whole situation prompts certain pertinent reflections.

The test of the new collective spirit in international affairs was applied at a moment when "internationalism" was at a low ebb and Asiatic nationalism at the flood. Is it fair to say that, in consequence, the result can be reckoned as the worst that can be expected of the collective system and that, if and when the present wave of nationalistic feeling all over the world subsides, the League will certainly acquit itself better? If so, then the loss is not so serious as it seems. We must leave the surmise to the answer of the future. Something of at least equal import remains. The world of the East is in a plastic state, ready to receive the impress of influence from without. Its peoples grope their way towards a new political life in which the Rule of Law is held up to them as the guarantee of new-found liberty. If lawless force is permitted to command success in such an enterprise as the Japanese adventure in Manchuria, will not the peoples mould the character of their states accordingly and seek security in arms? And if the East is taught to rely on force, the whole world must retrace its steps from Geneva and prepare for chaos.

[i] Before these words appear in print that decision will be announced.

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  • SIR FREDERICK WHYTE, President of the Legislative Assembly of India, 1920-25; until recently Political Adviser to the Chinese Government
  • More By Frederick Whyte