WHEN historical evolutions have reached their climax, either in a catastrophe or in the creation of a new equilibrium or both in one, they usually appear astonishingly logical. Looked at thus in retrospect, the development of Sino-Japanese relations from the date of the first clash in 1895 is no exception. Evidently China and Japan were fated to fight again. Nor is this conclusion, one feels sure, the product of ex post facto rationalizing, the systematizing of incidents and accidents. From the beginning there has been a tragic momentum towards a clash. The reasons why this is true bear directly on the present deplorable situation and will continue to influence the future relations of the two countries.

The mystery of the Meiji Emperor's decision in 1867 that Japan should embrace modern civilization, absorbing the thought and adopting the technical achievements of the West, has failed so far to make a sufficient impression on western peoples. That astonishingly abrupt and precise decision confronted the historian, the sociologist and the psychologist with a problem of unparalleled interest and importance. Instead of recognizing it as such, Europeans and Americans looked on it more with curiosity than with the "wonder" which Plato considers the beginning of all wisdom. Very soon even that curiosity subsided; Japan's resolve to "turn to the West" became a matter of course to Europeans and Americans -- and very profitable at that. Equally complacent and thoughtless was the attitude taken by the modern world toward the fact that China chose deliberately to lag behind Japan, with the result that today she must be considered on the whole the most conservative, the most "unmodern" nation in the civilized world. Through the decades following 1867 Japan gained over China rapidly and constantly (not to speak of her gains relative to the West). She had resolved to submit to the tremendous sacrifice which westernization entailed for her. With equal determination China stood back.

From such a discrepancy in the conceptions of their respective destinies, dating back to a certain day in the Victorian sixties, the present war between Japan and China was bound to spring. Here on the one hand was Japan, a nation of some sixty millions in the home islands, acquiring a relatively high standard of life and a great position as a World Power as a result of her decision in favor of industrialization. That decision meant that in due course she would require more and more stability in her markets. Her industrial progress has now reached a point where her policy must become increasingly "dynamic." In order to maintain her achievements she can only extend them further. The whole economic history of the western world is proof of this. And here, on the other hand, was China, slowly moving along her beaten track, still basing the life of her 400 millions on a thousand-year-old agricultural tradition, unperturbed by the immense events taking place in her neighborhood, acquiring only here and there a fragmentary western veneer, and still sheltering much of her capital wealth in the foreign settlements.

This sharp difference in the evolution of the two nations accounts for the position which Japan now holds. The fact that she was the predominant nation in the Eastern Hemisphere -- its only Great Power -- was taken for granted all over the world so long as China seemed content to lag behind in spite of her superior resources. But it was obvious even when Japan and China parted ways seventy years ago that whenever China cared to try to catch up with Japan the whole Far Eastern fabric would be imperilled. It would be shattered by the progress of China's modernization; and what had been the source of Japan's dominance would become the cause of grave dissent and later of an open clash. If China rose, Japan's fundamental structure was threatened. There was no escape from that. Had China been able to concentrate her great forces on the fulfilment of the same aim as Japan adopted under the Meiji, if she could have proceeded step by step along a parallel line, the abyss would not have opened. A parallel development would probably have produced a more natural balance of power. Japan would not have become accustomed to the idea that China was a colony (in fact even if not de jure), to the idea that she had the right and duty to make the hundreds of millions of Chinese eager for Japanese industrial goods and (as a result of the development of a good administration in China) well enough off to buy those goods. What is now taking place is the beginning of an inevitable attempt to balance the two national civilizations on the same level. China was undoubtedly entitled to do this as soon as she wished. But for Japan this inexorably means the hour of her fate, if not indeed her fatal hour. For the difference in level prevailing hitherto between the two peoples is still the real basis of Japan's position in the world. The tension which now prevails would probably never have appeared if Japan had lived through the same long dull process of western infiltration that China lived through until the day when the Kuomintang came to power, a full sixty years after Japan had experienced her unique "psychological moment."


Japan understood fully and from the beginning how portentous was the Kuomintang program of one-party government in China. There across the sea she saw cropping up the very will which she had considered her own monopoly -- the will to possess a central government and to catch up with modern times by a sudden and universal decision. For some years after they made this discovery in 1926-27 the Japanese acted under the half-illusion that they could guide their neighbor's steps, be her mentor, kindly supervise her efforts to industrialize herself and set up a modern administration. Thus would they endear themselves to the "Sons of Heaven," and in turn subordinate them to their own program of economic expansion, safe markets and a "Pax Japonica." It was a brief dream, inspired by the wish to put an optimistic interpretation on a change which they long had secretly dreaded.

The attempt made by young Japanese firebrands in 1932 on the life of the great Japanese statesman, Baron Shidehara, shattered the hope of a prolonged period in which Japan, secure on the heights of her economic and military superiority, could try to create a paternal relationship with "young China." Shidehara had nurtured that hope. The attack on him occurred shortly after the creation of the Japanese dependency, Manchukuo. From then on the conviction that Japan's traditional position could be saved only by military action, and that it had to be saved within the next few years, was openly in the ascendant in Tokyo. Nevertheless the question of how rapidly and incisively she should act remained constantly under dispute. Even the militarists were inclined to think that for the time being important -- perhaps decisive -- advantages might be secured in China by proceeding piecemeal, by avoiding a definite clash.

The Chinese were alive to the meaning of all this. They realized that their experiment in adaptation and rejuvenation would have to undergo a dangerous and decisive crisis very soon after its start. They too wished to gain time. Neither country mistook the real situation, nor did either regard any of the successive diplomatic moves, whether ostensibly friendly or openly hostile, as anything more than preliminaries to the approaching fight. The Tangku agreement of May 1933 has never been published textually by either party; the Shigemitsu-Ho arrangement of June 1935 was rendered meaningless by a Chinese declaration immediately after it had been concluded. China was always ready to gain time by talking, but she never bound herself. Time, in fact, was everything to her; and in consequence she naturally never delineated her purposes clearly. Both sides knew that if they defined their fundamental programs they would wreck all possibility of negotiation from the start. Each felt its whole destiny involved; and even a neutral observer could not help recognizing that the success of the aims of one would mean the failure of the vital demands of the other. Both alternately invoked good will and love of peace and common sense as guiding stars toward a settlement; but they never did so simultaneously except during the negotiations which took place at Nanking in 1935, and then both took care that their professions should not be made effective.


With this general picture in mind, I decided a few months ago to revisit China. I travelled through Hong Kong, Canton, Changsha, Hankow and Nanking during July and August 1937. Early in July in Hong Kong I found the competent people who "knew their China" deriding any suggestion that the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge might be the opening event of a final grand struggle. The Chinese will shirk again! The Japanese will continue to "localize" the conflict!

Actually, what was the mood of the Chinese as they entered their decisive hour? If wars can be "popular" this is a popular war in China. It is a popular war -- unbelievable as that sounds -- with the broad masses. Nor is there reason to believe that the situation is different in the North than among the teeming millions who live south of the Yangtze. True, all symptoms of propaganda activities are absent. The Nanking Government would have it so; and the public do not seem to care about the soldiers who stand stolidly at the stations waiting to be carried to their ordeal. No songs, no flags. But in spite of the absence of artificial incentives and demonstrations in the western style, I found that the interest of everybody in the war news was intense. Day in, day out, huge crowds stood gazing at the bulletins hung out at the newspaper offices. I have seen rickshaw coolies, those poorest of the poor, to whom I had given what they considered a good tip, spending it all on a paper that had just come out. How different it all was from the year 1925 when Comintern propaganda swept the country with speeches, leaflets and money -- catering to the same people and meeting a minimum of success!

Now I found every evidence of decision, of devotion, of passion. This is the great surprise to those who are entitled to consider themselves experts in things Chinese. But I found that while they agree that they are witnessing a nation-wide movement of enormous force they do not believe it can be compared unreservedly with a nationalistic upheaval on the western pattern. They consider it to be fostered by what might be termed personal motives more than by nationalistic feeling or discipline -- by the wrath of the Chinese people, their offended pride, their humiliation resulting from what they rate as Japanese arrogance, superciliousness, and a scandalous pretense to the rôle of "elder brother," a dignity which the "Sons of Heaven" consider has belonged to them for thousands of years. Old beliefs have been revived in China by the Japanese onslaught, and combine with the most modern motivations. The history of Japanese rule in Manchuria and in North China during the last five years is seen as a story of suppression and scornful treatment of the Chinese there, and the population in the regions still uninvaded expect to suffer the same indignities if ever Japan should get a hand in Chinese affairs under any guise whatsoever. Even the simplest people are looking as far ahead as that. It means little to them that Japan denies expansionist intentions provided China will "coöperate." The coolie feels that his own individual life is at stake, and this reinforces the determination not to submit which comes from his inborn idea of the gradations of humanity -- according to which, he knows, he is at the top! His passion is engaged in what he considers a struggle for survival; and Chinese passion, especially in the south, which at present must be considered as China proper, is very strong once it has been roused.

In the strata of society commonly called bourgeois I did not find the same feeling, at least not to the same degree. The business class was expecting huge financial losses. Many of them had good friends in Japan, for even amidst political strife close business relations had been developed with Japan during recent years. They sincerely regretted in the early stages of the conflict that Japan had ordered back all Japanese nationals in China and had closed all the Japanese banks. The deserted streets in Canton, Hankow and Nanking, where formerly there had been prosperous Japanese trading colonies, offered a sad sight indeed. The better-off Chinese showed a patent wish for reconciliation and some arrangement profitable to both sides. Capital levies imposed by mayors and governors were accepted with little to-do, but without much enthusiasm. There have been instances of attempts to trade with the enemy, even with the Japanese expeditionary force itself, at high prices. Even at this terrible juncture one finds cases where official quarters demand "squeeze." This is negligible, however, in comparison with the energy with which officialdom has been concentrating the strength of the country on the war. As for the intellectual class -- university presidents, writers and representatives of the "free professions" -- it showed a different sort of enthusiasm and devotion from that of the masses. These men and women unquestionably hate the rulers of Japan, often in the personal way that the coolies do, but in general their feelings and ideas come much nearer to the kind of patriotism western peoples exhibit in a national crisis. This was to be expected. Perhaps a shade of Confucian detachment taints the intellectuals who know the West only from contact with it inside China. Time alone can show how far these differ from the Chinese who have been abroad and have come in touch at first hand with nationalistic absolutism as it prevails almost everywhere in the Americas and Europe. Today, certainly, they all stand with the Nanking Government and Chiang Kai-shek.

The picture in Japan was different. I found much less headlong passion there than in China. There is no lack of strong determination to go through with the struggle, but one is conscious of less surging personal indignation, less complete abandonment to the issue. In September both the Government and the public still preferred to speak of the Chinese "incident" rather than of war. Everybody understands that a grave hour has struck. Everybody sees the war as part of the long line of demands which history has made and will make on his country, perhaps more than on any other. It forms part of his duty; and duty rules Japan in this stage of her life more than ever. It quite overshadows personal patriotic excitement. Whereas the Chinese masses reacted emotionally to what happened at the Marco Polo Bridge, and strongly influenced the attitude of the Nanking Government, the Japanese know that present events have developed according to the will of those at the top. Many intellectuals have their own private thoughts about the Government's procedure. Traces of the liberal tendencies of bygone days still make themselves felt under the surface. Some wonder what will be the effect on Japan's inner structure when the victorious army returns from the war. But all this does not affect in the least the loyalty of any individual. Each is accustomed to the exigencies of national duty and is prepared to make every bit of his existence conform. In so doing he is motivated less by an abstract "categorical imperative" than by the concrete, constant and acute realization that for Japan life is a perpetual crisis. The conception is deeply laid in the Japanese mind. The Japanese is not used to a state of repose as is the Chinese. The Japanese in his small islands feels himself surrounded by overwhelming dangers and pushes ahead to reach "safety" -- faraway and ever-receding. He feels his country imperilled and its life complicated by the very means he has applied to secure its salvation. This constant apprehensiveness and heroic sense of duty showed itself when the nation was ordered to mobilize peacefully to acquire western order and technique. It is no less potent now when the Mikado calls on the nation to offer its individual lives. The outer appearance given by the Japanese of stolidity and even immobility is part of their technique of survival. It does not betray their inward feverishness. In the present situation the Government provides a setting for a certain show of enthusiasm; decorated trucks pass through the populated streets of Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe, loaded with cheering men and women; soldiers are brought individually to their regiments, officers to their trains, and flag dances are performed on such occasions; flags are everywhere. The cinemas abound with warlike films. But the public at large is not demonstrative. This war is considered a serious business. Everybody has to comply with the demands made on him. Everybody does. This is another leg on the long path of work and labor for survival. Japan, with all her progress and civilization, has always been more somber, stiller, than China. Today she is stern, remote from China's self-confident assurance of eternity.


Such is the material which those in power in the two countries must mould to their aims.

Each government has elaborated an astonishingly abstract theory about what it will gain from the war. Each theory will seem to the westerner to border on the paradoxical, and by its strangeness to give proof of how little we have managed to enter into the minds of these two peoples. In China during August it was difficult to find anybody who dared believe in victory, apart perhaps from some of the European military advisers in Nanking. But the Chinese leaders found consolation in the definite progress being made toward national unification, in the appearance of something like a national will, in the birth among the masses of a feeling of confidence in a great national future and of obligation to help make it come true. They saw that this would be the result, even if China were defeated in the war, provided meanwhile the people had demonstrated to their own satisfaction their ability to resist the enemy with honor, to be efficient in carrying out a great national task, to sacrifice their lives for the common cause. In this way China as a great nation would come to light. Never mind retreats. Never mind defeats. Never mind even territorial losses. There would still be left enough of China on which to rebuild ultimately the strength necessary to be victorious against Japan next time. And as a matter of fact the Chinese coolie near Shanghai proceeded to give reality to this surprising theory.

The Nanking Government, concocted as it is out of various and formerly divergent elements, would not show its present united front were it not for the relentless pressure exerted on it by China as a whole. If the rumor got about that anyone in the inner ring were weakening in his resistance to Japan he would be exposed to immediate physical danger. Marshal Chiang Kai-shek, being a statesman as well as a soldier, is well aware of this, and he conducted with all possible precautions his one-man conversations with Kawagoe, the Japanese Ambassador in Shanghai (the last one that was heard of was as late as August 19). Of course there are men near to him who are accustomed to think more in terms of international intercourse than of international conflict, who are for peace should the slightest possibility arise, and who meanwhile favor keeping open a "wire to Tokyo." Till the middle of September the Chinese left an Ambassador and even a military attache in Tokyo. For something still survives of the old tradition of Chinese statesmanship (even of the Chinese GHQ) to consider diplomatic moves more important than strategic ones, even in wartime. But there are also generals, all former "warlords," who are now with the Central Government: Marshal Pei of Kwangsi, who underwent defeat at the hands of Chiang Kaishek last year and lost Kwantung; the Communist General Mao Tse-tung, a highly gifted man, who with his troops has abjured the Communist creed for the time being; and General Feng Yuhsiang, more versatile than any of them. They are for this war with a vengeance, even though the meaning of it is so little in tune with their past. They have to be. This does not mean, of course, that they may not be pondering whether there might not be anarchy following a defeat, and whether they might not reap advantages therefrom.

Meanwhile the Kuomintang is trying to gauge how real are the symptoms of a miraculous Chinese rebirth out of glorious defeat. Strong dissensions exist inside the Party as to whether the ordeal should be used to start a thorough "purge" of China or whether the stirring up of interior troubles should be avoided and help accepted even from suspect sources.

The Nanking coalition comprises all these different factions. Their continuous skirmishing corresponds to the similar friction in the inner circles at Tokyo, though quite other matters are at stake. The greatest danger in the eyes of farsighted patriots is not the Japanese invasion but the danger that the country will split anew under the weight of economic misery, the isolation of different regions from each other, and the immediate demoralization resulting from losses and reverses. They are well aware of the risks they run in applying their theory of a "constructive defeat." But while in August there was still some possibility of patching the conflict up, passion has been too well fed by its own performances in the last few weeks to permit of any other idea at present than to fight to the last.

Japan too has her own theory of this war, her own peculiar interpretation of it. It is quite as extraordinary as the Chinese one.

Prince Konoye acted much as Marshal Chiang Kai-shek acted during the first seven weeks of the conflict. He sent off a one-man mission to see what could be done with China. He knew that the Chinese Government did not feel itself ready for war, and while the Japanese Army insisted on settling the North China incident with the local Chinese authorities in the usual way, Konoye seems to have hoped that (given Chiang Kai-shek's wish to gain strength by marking time) he might make the affair a springboard for reaching an all-round agreement, consolidating Japan's grip on North China and Manchukuo, and simultaneously placating the "young officers" at home. The ultimate design of the more conservative circles in Tokyo had always been to reach some general arrangement with the central government of China by which both countries would at least be liberated from the plague of continuous surprises, and which incidentally would give more satisfaction to Japanese militarists than they ever could get except by actual war and annexation. But both camps in Tokyo underrated the will and power of China to put up armed resistance. The Japanese who sought to stave off the conflict now quite naturally like to recall how much China contributed to the explosion by what they describe as Chinese trickery and subversiveness. Among other instances they cite Nanking's refusal to receive Mr. Ogata as Ambassador, although China had recognized his good will many times and had paid him particular honor. They say China knew very well that Ogata would have explored every alley of compromise regarding Japan's demands -- the demand that China should not "pit one barbarian against another," the demand that she should not make use of foreign countries as factors in her policy towards Japan, the demand that she should try to create satisfactory economic relations with Japan, and the demand that she should conclude an effective agreement for united action against Communism. It is characteristic of the vast scope of the essential conflict in which the two Powers are really involved that since 1935 no further specification of those items has ever been brought forward.

There is another argument used by Japanese extremists, namely that Great Britain was arming rapidly in order to come again into the international arena much better equipped than before, just as China was temporizing in order to gain in strength. Even those Japanese who know the Bismarckian dogma of the inadvisability of preventive wars were forced to admit that this particular war had in its favor every reason that ever could be adduced as making preventive action wise or necessary.

Nippon too is fighting for a new psychological attitude on the part of China -- one quite the opposite, needless to say, of the new psychology which China herself is seeking. Nippon fights against Chinese "stubbornness" and "unwillingness to see the light." She has embarked on this war in order to make China recognize her basic helpfulness and friendliness, to change China's insidious reluctance to recognize and honor these feelings. If and when China is ready to change, to bow to those generous feelings, everything can be settled easily and to the mutual advantage of both sides. To achieve this, war unhappily is necessary. China must be made to understand the greatness of her mistake. As soon as the Chinese shall have fully acknowledged defeat and recognized the superiority of the Japanese whom they now despise, then they will have reached the right mood for acknowledging that what Japan wills is best for China.

Anyone ready to listen to this theory will hear it expounded often in Japan, and by the most authoritative persons; and the listener will go away with the conviction, however reluctantly confessed, that his informer has been perfectly sincere in everything he has said. Do not the Japanese Government's domestic critics refer quite as a matter of course to this theory and denounce bitterly its futility? And Japanese who accept the official legend express grateful agreement if you tell them about the father of Frederick the Great who beat up a timid lackey who had hidden from him, shouting: "You must love me, you rascal!" One often is told that Japan does not seek territorial acquisitions if only China will agree to a "reasonable settlement," territorial gains evidently being thought unimportant alongside the desired change in mentality. But even accepting that statement at its face value, anybody who knows the real aspirations of Nanking will realize the thorough incompatibility of the basic Chinese and Japanese formulae, and his embarrassment will not be diminished by the thought that both sides are inspired by highly ethical considerations.

The sternness of the Japanese, it will be seen, is more in evidence today than ever before, as also their sense of discipline, their deep and almost mystical belief in the omnipotence of will. They now declare themselves capable even of putting thoughts in the place where they belong. Some will consider this to be inhuman, others superhuman. It is very human. Japan elevates the ambition of will to metaphysical heights as the result of her profound and everlasting worry regarding her own destiny. As with the Chinese, the dominant formula of Japanese action sounds irrational; but while in the case of the Chinese the underlying tone of their existence as a people, seen through all the ups and downs of their history, is confident and imperturbably self-assured, the Japanese outlook is tragic. Westerners attribute the hyper-concentration and hyper-industriousness of the Japanese to their infinite ambition. But this ambition roots in a pessimism, both conscious and unconscious, about their national position in the world, a pessimism, alas, that instead of being mitigated by enormous successes seems to be increased by them. They know that they are flanked by the whites of the north, 170 million strong, and that next door to them, where they should expect a rich field of activity, they see living a people closely related to them in color but very distant in all other respects. China and Russia, each of them, represents to the Japanese a constant, overwhelming threat, owing to its tremendous superiority of numbers and resources. Japan's reaction is to become a somber, disciplined unit, sublimating its force of will into sheer paradox. A remote parallel might be found, perhaps, in the war cry, "Make the world safe for democracy."


By her force of will Japan has involuntarily mobilized the whole East. She has provoked the formation of the pincers, one claw of which is pushing forward on land, the other on sea. The Soviet Union has decided to form an independent army in Eastern Siberia, destined exclusively to hold Japan in check. England, with a similar aim of being unhampered in her Far Eastern policy, builds a line of fortresses and strongholds along the whole coast of Asia, from Trincomalee to Penang, from Penang to Singapore, and from Singapore to Hong Kong. Siam and the Philippines are arming, to be free to make their choice in any future conflict; and to ensure that they choose her side England intends to hold a battle fleet in readiness in the waters east of Aden. All this activity can point only against Japan. The Netherlands, always loath to buy arms, follows suit. So far there is not the least trace of any advance understanding between London and Moscow about the defense of their Far Eastern interests. But the moment is bound to come when both countries will realize that they have acted from identical motives; and while it would be premature to guess the outcome of this mutual discovery or its possible reactions on European politics, the Japanese must reckon with England as an eventual addition to the enormous potential strength of China and Russia, combined or single, at some later date. Here is one more reason why at this moment they look beyond the battlefields of China to Marshal Bluecher's army in Siberia, wondering whether Moscow has the same idea about "preventive wars" as they themselves and pondering what is the logical conclusion for them to draw and what will be the logical conclusion for the Bolsheviks!

Japan is driven on, then, by the specter of nations which might rise against her and crush her under their weight. She speculates regarding all possible international permutations and combinations up to the year 2000. Every nation reflects in its general attitude towards the rest of the world the basic circumstances of its geographical position. Japan has gone into this war coerced by the belief that conditions will never be any more favorable to her than they are today, and that they will be definitely less favorable once England is rearmed and once China has acquired sufficient military equipment.

And China? There is little doubt that the moral vigor she expects to acquire in these hours of test will make her in future less amenable to foreign influence than in the past. She will try to become at long last master in her own house and attain the rank of a Power capable of entering into alliances on a basis of equality. She too looks forward over decades. Both sides in the war argue in different ways, as we have seen, but are alike in being inspired by a kind of thought very remote from anything we understand. Neither denies that common sense could effect a solution if this were an ideal world. There the West should come in. But not much credit is given to the West in this regard by the East.

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  • PAUL SCHEFFER, Editor of the Berliner Tageblatt, 1934-1936; now American correspondent of that and other German newspapers; author of "Seven Years in Soviet Russia"
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