Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
ACROSS the great colonial zone of Southeast Asia stretches one of the ragged edges of American and British thinking about the course of the war which we are fighting and about the aims which we hope to achieve by victory. Little is available in print about the multifarious problems that lie in wait for us in the vast territory between British Calcutta on the west and French Indo-China on the east, and such as there is either lacks official authority or clear thinking. It can be conservatively summed up, however, by saying that though there is not enough to prove a fixed pattern of planning there is enough to indicate a cast of thought.
Now a prevailing cast of thought usually expresses itself in habitual assumptions and a habitual approach to problems. People who are affected by such habits are often unaware of them, and are capable of thinking that they have decided on an original solution of a novel problem when they have in fact done no more than give a new name to something that either is not new at all or only partly new. Indeed, the phase in which, in the thinking habits of a society, the new and the old are intermingled, making it difficult to decide on new definitions, is probably a more critical aspect of the phenomenon of change than the phase in which old and new become sharply and suddenly divided.
We may go still further and say that from the study of the whole sweep of history a general law may be deduced, affirming that in human affairs genuinely sudden and "revolutionary" changes are abnormal. The normal process of change is one in which the new begins to draw apart from the old rather gradually. As they draw apart, a kind of web comes to be stretched between them, concealing the gap that is in fact opening between the old and the new. As this web is gradually drawn thinner and more taut it often simply wears away, and people become accustomed by degrees, and without surprise or alarm, to the fact that the present has become separated from the past, and that they can never return. Sometimes, on the other hand, the web of connection or continuity is drawn taut so rapidly by the rate of change that it tears apart suddenly, giving people no time to accustom themselves to the naked cleavage between past and present. When this happens, one part of society may find itself satisfied, on the whole, with being on the new side of the cleavage that has opened up; while another part may find itself left behind on the old side, or believing that it still is on the old side, or that the cleavage is not final and that someday it can return to the past. At such times both portions of the sundered society may be thrown into confusion and conflict, each against the other and also each within itself.
When we judge these historical processes the test of political competence is the ability to detect the phenomena of change before there is an open gap; to judge the texture and strength of the web which connects that which is changing with that which has not changed; to assess the rate at which the web is being drawn tighter and thinner; to anticipate the time at which a final gap will open between past and present; to foresee whether the cleavage will lie nearer to the side of the old or the side of the new, or midway between them; and to carry out with the minimum of disruption those political adjustments which have become inevitable.
There are several margins in this global war where the web that veils the final appearance of great and permanent historical changes is wearing very thin. One of them is in Asia. Our peoples and our governments in the Western world are in a general way aware of this, and accordingly there is little danger that we will run into complete disaster as a result of failing entirely to perceive either the processes of change or the necessities of our adjustment to them. There very decidedly is a danger, nevertheless, that we shall run into trouble by misjudging the critical areas of change, the rate of change, and the timing of our adjustment.
Various aspects of this problem are illustrated by our recent policy in China and by the adumbrations of our policy (for we have not yet openly committed ourselves to a policy) in southeastern Asia. In 1942 both Britain and America of their own accord gave notice to China of their intention to renounce the special rights and privileges which they held under the treaties of the extraterritoriality system. The new treaties have now been signed. We have thus of our own initiative brought to an end the century of the Unequal Treaties, extending from 1842 to 1942. In so doing we have changed not only the legal status of China but our own status relative to China.
Yet we are still a very long way from changing completely, or even adequately, something that is much more important: the habit of thought bred into us by a hundred years of the old status. The simplest definition of this continuing habit, which affects a far wider area than China alone, is the assumption that Asia is a geographical area which has things done in it, and to the people in it, by the Western nations. Conversely, it is often assumed that Asia is not a part of the world which can be expected to do things that alter the destiny or destroy the power of decision of the Western peoples. In this respect even Japan is commonly regarded as a usurper, not as an original political force. Thus in military terms we are resolute in our decision to drive the Japanese "back to where they belong." But in political terms we have hardly even examined the disturbing fact that it was because we were hopelessly out of date in our political thinking that we were strategically so vulnerable to Japan's assault.
In China's province of Yunnan the quality of our now prevailing thought can be tested in several ways against the nature of the problems with which we shall have to deal. Yunnan is the geographical frontier between China, French Indo-China and Burma. Just to the south, the northern part of Thailand wedges up almost far enough to prevent the junction between Burma and Indo-China. Farther to the west the borders of Burma, northeast India and Yunnan merge rather than meet in a wild and poorly surveyed marchland of mountain and jungle. Ethnically also, Yunnan is a frontier land. Of its population of approximately eleven million, more than half are not Chinese. Its many tribes and peoples illustrate the cultural process by which the Chinese people has been formed. Some of them are related to stocks which, anciently considered barbarian by the Chinese, have now become part of the amalgam of the Chinese people. Many of them are ethnically, culturally and linguistically intermediate between the Chinese and the peoples of Indo-China, Thailand and Burma.
Technologically, Yunnan is part of the pregnant and diverse frontier between the overwhelmingly agrarian China of the past and the new China which, partly as the result of the shock of war, is poised at the edge of an accelerating process of industrialization. Historically, Yunnan is the frontier where British penetration by land routes of the hinterland of India and Burma dwindled away during the past century, while during the same hundred years -- the hundred years of the Unequal Treaties -- there came into being and flourished an international system of controlling and exploiting China from ports along the coast, without deep penetration of the hinterland except along the waterway of the Yangtze, which represented an extension inland of the maritime system. Politically -- and this brings us to the uncertain zone between the past on one side and the present and future on the other -- Yunnan is the frontier between China, where we have begun to prepare our minds for a future that will be very different from the past, and colonial Southeast Asia and India, where, though we are too uneasy about the past to have much faith in it, we are neither decided about the future nor ready to decide about it.
This is the frontier where we should begin to think about the future of Southeast Asia as a whole, because this is the geographical dividing line from which we can work in one direction toward self-governing China and in the other toward the colonial regions of Asia which are not self-governing. We -- America and Britain -- are not working from this dividing line at present, but toward it. Looking landward from the coast of China, we accept the idea of self-government and freedom. Looking landward from the Bay of Bengal and the Java Sea, we do not. On the one side we have committed ourselves, not simply to the freedom and equality of one people, but to a whole body of ideas associated with that freedom. On the other side, we have not yet detached ourselves from commitment to the lack of self-government of a number of other peoples. Here again what is involved is not a simple political definition but a whole body of associated ideas. What is to happen when, after the end of the war, these two complexes of ideas meet, and we find ourselves involved with both of them?
An uneasy premonition of this future problem is already troubling men's minds. There is talk -- a little of it open, much more that has not yet come into the open -- about "how are we to deal with the future imperialism of China, and Chinese pressure to expand into Indo-China and Burma, and perhaps Thailand?" This talk is dangerous, and a symptom of politically incompetent thinking, because it jumps far ahead to worry about the hypothetical future. There may or may not be a Chinese imperialism in the future. There is an actual and present British, Dutch and French imperialism; there is a certain amount of actual and present American imperialism, and there is a deep
American economic and political involvement in British and Dutch and French imperialism. To raise an alarm about an imperialism that might manifest itself at some time in the future is of course one way of justifying an imperialism that actually exists in the present. But if imperialism as such is bad and a danger to the world's peace, then the duty of honest statesmen is to deal with the imperialism that exists, instead of by-passing it in order to debate the dangers of an imperialism that might exist at some time in the future.
I believe the proper historical point at which to begin a discussion of the land frontier between colonial subjection and national independence in Southeast Asia is the building of the Burma Road, by the Chinese, in 1938. Until this time, the modern history of communications in China had been a history of penetration into China. Beginning about half a century ago, the Russians had built a railway out of Siberia into Manchuria; the British had built one joining Mukden with Peking; the British and Germans had built a system linking Shanghai with Peking; the French and Belgians had built one from Hankow to Peking; the Japanese controlled one from Korea deep into Manchuria. Then the Chinese had begun to recover control. In about 10 years, under the National Government, they had unified operation, under a government department, of the railways in which foreign capital was still invested. They had built other lines which were entirely their own. The first railway which they had financed and engineered as an all-Chinese enterprise was that which opened up Inner Mongolia. This was before the establishment of the National Government. In later years, they had built more lines and had begun a rapid development of motor highways. The "opening up of China" was already becoming a planned and orderly function of the Central Government.
The Burma Road, however, running through Yunnan Province to Burma, was the first modern line of communications which the Chinese themselves pushed outward to a foreign frontier. The significance of this has been largely overlooked because people in America and Britain tended at the time to think of the whole enterprise as a desperate Chinese effort to create an emergency inlet into their country for foreign munitions. The Burma Road was then thought of, and indeed still is often thought of, as a symbol of China's continuing dependence on the Western world.
What will be the significance of the Burma Road after the war? As far as some people think of it at all, they think of it, perhaps, as the line by which the Chinese might encroach on Burma. To assume any such thing is to concentrate on one possibility in a very complex situation.
Besides the truck road to Burma, the Chinese had already completed most of the engineering of a railway line from Kunming to the frontier by the time that the British lost Burma to the Japanese. There were no rails and no rolling stock, but the most difficult part of the tunnelling and grading had been done. At the end of the war, it would be the work of only a few months to complete this railway and extend it to Lashio. There could then be through rail traffic from Rangoon to Kunming and from Kunming (with a change of gauge) to Haiphong on the coast of Indo-China. The Yunnan end of the French-owned railway to Kunming would of course first have to be restored, because the Chinese have torn it up to prevent a Japanese invasion; but this could be quickly done.
If through rail communication across Southeast Asia from the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea had been opened in the nineteenth century it would have ranked in the history of colonial enterprise with the opening of the Suez Canal. But it was not. The French opened a narrow-gauge line into Yunnan from Indo-China, and the British discussed and partly surveyed a line from Burma; but colonial penetration of China by land across these frontiers never developed. The commercial and financial exploitation of China continued to be dominated by the system of treaty-protected concessions in the coastal and river ports. Now what was not done at the height of nineteenth century colonial expansion has become possible as the result of the rise of a free and powerful China. Since China will be the creator as well as the controller of the essential middle link in the line of communication by road and rail across Southeastern Asia, we may well take the Burma Road and its consequences as portents of the end of colonial imperialism in that area.
It is hard for those who do not know the old China to see at once the significance for Yunnan Province of road and rail transport and of access to the sea on two sides. It is even harder to appreciate the difference between the development of this remote corner of China that followed the opening of the narrow-gauge line from Indo-China, which was the work of French colonialism in its late, weak, and unashamedly corrupt phase, and the development which will be brought about by planned Chinese effort on a national scale.
When the Chinese were driven back from Hankow at the end of 1938 they lost the last important industrial center in their country. Ever since then the Chinese have held a fairly stable front. From Inner Mongolia to the Yangtze this front is in the main a north-to-south line. Then, from the Yangtze, it curves away irregularly to the southeast until it reaches the coast. On the usual political map, the logic of this front does not appear; but when the line is traced across a topographical map that shows differences in the height of land, it can be seen at once that the Japanese hold the vast plains of the middle and lower Yangtze and Yellow River, while the Chinese hold the higher country to the west and southwest. There are also blocks of higher land within what we loosely and not very accurately call Occupied China; but generally speaking such hilly terrain is more likely to be held by Chinese guerillas than by the Japanese.
Taken as a whole, the front proves that the armies of Chiang Kai-shek have fought a very brainy war. In the terrain which they hold, it is difficult for Japanese reconnaissance by air to keep an accurate check on major Chinese troop movements and concentrations. Moreover, when the Japanese attempt a drive into this terrain it is possible for the Chinese to dispose their forces in such a way that effective concentrations of Chinese troops cannot be cleaned out by effective concentrations of Japanese tanks, motorized troops and artillery. In order to get at the Chinese, the Japanese have to risk dividing their own forces into smaller columns, and this enables the Chinese, who are weak in planes, motor vehicles of any kind, and artillery, to "chew up" the invaders with trench mortar fire, machine guns, rifles and grenades.
Conversely, the Chinese in the open country are tied down to guerilla action. They cannot launch any major counterattack because of their lack of equipment. Once out in the open, their concentrations, no matter how swiftly they are made, can be spotted by the Japanese from the air. The Japanese can then bring against them counter-concentrations of combat vehicles and artillery with a devastating superiority of fire-power. This explains, in the first place, the long stalemate in China; in the second place, it explains why the Chinese need planes and other equipment in order to win the war -- not, as many people so obstinately persist in believing, in order to "prevent a collapse of China." The future of China, as well as the present strategic situation, is affected by the geographical disposition of the battle front. The line taken up for military reasons cuts with surgical decisiveness between the economic and social past of China and its economic and social future.
For centuries the military and political history of China has been keyed to certain well-defined areas, appropriately called by a modern Chinese writer the "Key Economic Areas."[i] The most important of these areas lie to the east of the present battle front, in the lower plains of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. When, at the beginning of the seventh century A.D., the lower Yellow River was linked to the lower Yangtze by the Grand Canal, a standard was established for all barbarian invaders of China from the north, and all founders of new dynasties within China. He who could make good his control of the great, rich, productive plains -- the "Occupied China" of today -- could make valid his conquest or the founding of his new dynasty.
This was because farming -- rice in the south and wheat and millet in the north -- was not only the major pursuit of the Chinese, but the paramount, absolutely decisive occupation. Almost all Chinese were farmers; but it was the farming of the Key Economic Areas which produced a surplus that gave military and political power to control the whole country. Irrigation canals made possible a more intensive agriculture, and a higher yield per acre. Before the age of machinery, however, increased yields demanded, besides water, a high expenditure of man-hours per acre, which could only be supplied by a high population per square mile. Out of this there was created a well-rounded complex: irrigation gave a high yield; a high yield gave a high population and a revenue based on rents and land taxes. At the same time the waterways, especially the Yangtze and the Grand Canal, provided cheap transport of grain. Men moving grain by barges consumed part of the grain, but in less favored regions animals transporting grain by cart consumed much more. Consequently those who controlled the favored regions could accumulate grain at the decisive military and political points, enabling them to sustain garrisons in time of war and to tighten their economic control in years of bad harvest.
This China of the past was penetrated, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, first by the mercantile and then by the industrial influences of the West. Under the Unequal Treaties, concessions were established at Treaty Ports chosen because they were most handy to the areas of high agricultural development providing tea and silk for export, and a selling market for foreign commodities. The first factories were established in the Treaty Ports because there they had legal protection in ordinary times and gunboat protection in times of trouble.
Shanghai became the symbol of this later development, with by far the greatest accumulation of machinery in all China. Few men bothered their heads about the fact that industrial Shanghai was an economic monstrosity. The greatest center of machine-building and machine-use in China, it lay far from the iron and coal that make machinery. More coal had to be brought to run the machinery, and there was no water power to use as a substitute for coal. Shanghai's machine-made goods were cheap because they destroyed the old handicrafts of the rural villages. Shanghai grew rich, or rather made fortunes for a few, because it was also the swarming center of the most terrible poverty in China. Its machinery devoured cotton and other agricultural industrial raw material, shattering the old balance between farming and handicrafts, creating for itself a cheap supply of labor from rural unemployment, and bringing coal and iron from great distances to provide industrial energy because cheap human labor and cheap water transport made the Shanghai industrial complex as a whole as financially profitable as it was economically and socially unsound.
Against this background the present Japanese invasion throws an ironically distorted shadow. Using as one of her main pretexts her hunger for industrial raw materials, Japan has invaded exactly those areas of China which are most heavily agricultural. Several iron and coal producing areas, of which the most important is in Shansi Province, lie within the line of deepest Japanese penetration; but these areas are closely beset by guerillas, and the Japanese have been able to develop no new exploitation on a scale that comes anywhere near matching their economic needs.
Developments in Free China must be appraised not only in themselves but in relation to Japan's problems in invading what we may call the China of the Past. Japan's invasion has affected and distorted, without bringing under satisfactory control, about a third of China's territory within the Great Wall; but at the time of the invasion this territory, because of its heavy concentration of intensive agriculture, contained probably more than half of the population of China within the Great Wall.
China succeeded in evacuating from the Treaty Ports into free territory only a pathetic fraction of her machine equipment. This equipment is of course lamentably inadequate to the wartime needs of Free China; but this should be no reason for overlooking the effect it has had on the fabric and structure of Chinese economy and society. The effect is epochal, in the proper sense of the word. It marks the turning point between the history of China in the past and in the future.
In Yunnan Province all the factors that need to be studied can be seen with special clarity. In Yunnan can be found many of the phenomena of the Old China that are considered to be typical; yet these phenomena are exhibited in a manner which proves other "typical phenomena" of the old China to be either fallacious or only partly true.
Agriculture in Yunnan is intensive, concentrated, associated with irrigation, and dependent on a high expenditure of man-hours per acre. Trade in commodities, until the Japanese invasion, was dependent on handicraft production, because there was almost no modern industrial plant except one or two textile mills. In mountain areas, marginal tribal societies had survived for centuries; but in open land which could be farmed in the Chinese manner the agricultural technique and the social structure had long become typically Chinese even though a number of non-Chinese languages and customs had shown a remarkable ability to survive. In one most important respect, however, Yunnan was clearly different from Yellow River and Yangtze China. In an area about twice the size of France, it had a population little more than one-quarter that of France. The "typical Chinese overpopulation" was lacking. Why was this?
First and foremost, Yunnan lacks cheap inland water transport. Several of the largest rivers in Asia run through it, but they run savagely, in deep gorges, and will probably never be navigable. Cheap road transport was also lacking. Yunnan is a vast plateau, ridged with mountains. Within the network of ridges lie many plains of rich bottomland. Most of them are ancient lake beds. They tend to be oval in shape and gently hollowed toward the center. Thus they are easily irrigated, making possible relatively dense concentrations of population; but most of these concentrations are local in character, not metropolitan, because only one or two of them are relatively large in size.
As each well-populated area was homogeneous in occupation and production with almost all other areas, there was no need for bulk traffic between them. Because of the mountains dividing them, it would have been economically wasteful to bring surplus rice from one region for storage in another region, even for political and strategic purposes, because of the small loads that carts could carry over steep roads, the extra animals needed for uphill hauls, and the expense of feeding them. (Chinese agriculture was never, in any region, geared to the growing of grains for the feeding of cart-hauling animals.) Consequently, Yunnan was a land largely without even roads for wheeled traffic; a land of narrow mountain trails on which packmules carried handicraft wares and such special commodities as tea, salt and tin.
Tin mining in Yunnan showed the characteristics of mining in China generally, though perhaps in an abnormally marked way. With the complex of Chinese economy and society as a whole set in a firmly established pattern, mining alone, as one minor factor in the complex, could not develop beyond a low technological level. There was no use, no demand, and no reward to stimulate the working out of methods for the production of increasingly large quantities at decreasing costs per ton. The economy and the society, taken as an entire complex, not only offered the best rewards to capital invested in agriculture but tended to force cheap labor to remain on the land. In such a system, capital invested in tin mining could only be sure of a profit by keeping methods primitive and the amounts extracted small, and by keeping the sale of tin as nearly as possible a monopoly. As with all minerals prior to the introduction of Western industrial influence, there was neither a market demand for tin which would result in increased production, nor a pressure on the market of large, cheap quantities of the metal to encourage the development of methods for larger use. The end result was that Yunnan, although it contains an unusually wide range of mineral resources, some of them in really large quantities, and though its climate and soil would permit the growing of a diversified series of crops with industrial uses, remained, until the invasion of China by Japan, a rice-growing region almost untouched by industry.
The war suddenly pushed a number of new factors into Yunnan. Each of these factors would by itself have upset the long established balance of society and economy to some degree; taken together, they operated not as single factors, but as a new complex, powerfully modifying the old complex and capable, potentially, of superseding it.
First in importance was the introduction of modern industry, including heavy industry. An important part of the small total of machinery in Free China is concentrated at and around Kunming, capital of Yunnan. This includes textile mills, arsenals, smelters, a small plant for making high-test steel, and a hydroelectric plant which, though small, is the largest in all China. Also -- most important -- there is a government-owned plant for the manufacture of high-precision machine-making machinery. This plant, the equipment of which was bought largely in America but partly in Germany, is the only well-planned and completely rounded one in all China, invaded or free. The machines were brought into Yunnan just in time, before all shipments through French Indo-China were suspended under pressure from Japan, with America and Britain standing impotently by.
Second in importance was the building of the Burma Road, or rather that portion of the road to Burma leading through Yunnan. This was a road which private enterprise had neither the resources nor the incentive to build. Central Government and provincial authorities were able to build it primarily because they had the power to conscript labor. Once built, the road did far more than open a way into China from abroad. It completely changed the structure of production and distribution within Yunnan, giving access to new sources of raw materials and linking them by a rapid, modern method of transport with the new industrial complex at Kunming. The effects already radiate beyond the province. One spur of the road, running north to Sichang, taps an area in which significant quantities of coking coal of the finest quality lie within a few miles of large quantities of iron ore equal in quality to Swedish ore. The potentialities revealed by the truck roads will naturally become even more important after the war, when the province is linked with both Burma and Indo-China (as well as with the rest of China) by rail.
Third in importance was the shortage of labor. Near the coast of China machinery has never taken full effect. On the one hand its long-range constructive potentialities were offset by its short-range effect in destroying a highly specialized agricultural economy; on the other hand, the cheap human labor thrown on the market by agricultural depression prevented a fully rational use of machinery. In Yunnan the centers of agricultural development on flat bottom-land are widely separated from each other by un-peopled hills. There would not in any case be enough people to supply the new activities created by industry and the Burma Road with a surplus of cheap labor; and the labor shortage has further been increased by the drafting of men and women to work on the building and maintenance of motor roads, and by the drafting of men to the distant fighting fronts, where Yunnan troops have won an especially good reputation. Shortage of labor has had remarkable effects in a country like China traditionally oversupplied with labor. It has put pressure on industry to make the most rational use of labor, and has rewarded those industrial managers who train and educate the individual worker most efficiently. Kunming has become one of the most important technological schools in China; the factories there compete with each other in giving their workers opportunities to increase their skill and knowledge.
For lack of space the total result must be described very briefly. Machines, formerly located at Shanghai for political reasons which did violence to rational economics, have been more logically placed in relation to raw materials. An attraction has been created for the eventual shifting of surplus population from eastern China to the underpopulated southwest. The basic lines of a system of rapid bulk transportation have been so laid out that they will develop immense new territories. The emphasis of industrial demand is more on skilled labor than on cheap labor. At the same time agriculture, being without a surplus of cheap labor, will be under pressure of a kind that encourages modernization and the mechanization of farming -- something that had barely begun to take place in eastern China.
All of these are considerations that ought to modify the way in which we think of Yunnan as the province of China bordering on Burma and Indo-China. Kunming in Yunnan, like Chungking and certain other inland centers, will never again be related to Shanghai as remote provinces are related to a metropolis. China, of course, will recover her whole coastline, and Shanghai, of course, will recover its importance as one of the world's great ports. But the industry, especially the heavy industry, which has already begun to take root far inland will not move back to the coast.
This will affect the whole future growth of the country. The centers of gravity both of population and of politics will shift westward. The relation of agriculture to industry will change, and with it the character of China's foreign trade and foreign relations. The forms taken by all of these changes will depend partly on what China does and partly on what other countries do. This is not a field for exact prophecy, because the possible variants are too many. All that can be foreseen at the present stage of development are the general limits within which the most important developments will take place.
Yunnan Province, for instance, is likely to become a focus of attraction for Chinese. Does this mean that a second stage is likely to supervene in which Chinese pressure will be exerted on Burma and Indo-China? Personally, I do not think so. Burma and Indo-China are more likely to gravitate toward China in political sympathy than to recoil from the threat of Chinese expansion.
Burma and Indo-China are very backward colonies. The commercial and industrial capital of their masters has developed only their fringes. In these and other colonies many Chinese immigrants occupied an intermediate position. The Englishman, the Frenchman, the Dutchman and in the Philippines the American were interested in banks and in a few large enterprises. They were too lordly to be interested in small-scale enterprise. Here the Chinese flourished. He made money out of the colonial subjects and invested his savings in ways that pleased the colonial rulers, putting them into banks or into plantations and small businesses that helped to keep the banks and shipping and insurance companies going. Often the colonial people disliked the Chinese even more than they did the real rulers of the colony; they could see from close at hand the Chinese making ten thousand dollars, and envy him; while the British or American or Dutch corporate enterprise that made money by the hundred thousand or the million was on a scale that they could only dimly apprehend. With the actual colonial rulers apparently too strong ever to be overthrown, and with the Chinese intermediate between the rulers and the ruled, and protected by the "law and order" of the colonial police, it naturally happened that the Chinese became the targets of a certain kind of dislike.
It is a mistake to assume that things will be the same after the war. Both Burma and Indo-China have deep, undeveloped hinterlands leading up to the Yunnan frontier. We think of the end of the war as meaning the reëntry into Asia of United Nations forces from the sea. But what are likely to be the thoughts of the subject peoples of the Burmese and Indo-Chinese hinterland, standing between a free China and those forces that come from the sea and look as though their mission were to restore the order of colonial subjection and racial discrimination, world without end? In their eyes the Chinese will assume an altogether new and more admirable position.
Furthermore, it is inconceivable that Yunnan will relapse into its old lethargy. It will become one of the most profitable places in China for men of energy, ambition, and special skill or experience. For this reason it is likely to be specially attractive to Chinese from the colonial possessions. These men once made money more easily under the colonial order than in China, and they were in the habit of thinking that when they had made money they could invest it more securely in the colonies than in China. Politically, they knew all about the inequity of taxation without representation, and fretted because whatever political representation they were allowed was more ornamental than real; but on the whole they were satisfied to remit money to the Kuomintang in China and to stay with their investments and their businesses in the colonies. Now, however, the illusion of the security of British, American and other banks and investments has gone forever, as far as the colonies are concerned.
We must bring our political speculations into line with these general probabilities. Broadly speaking, we know that China will have immense tasks of construction and reconstruction within her own frontiers after the war. Preoccupied with these tasks, she is not likely to want to expand beyond her natural frontiers. As for her relations with other countries, China need not fear encroachment from without for a long time to come. She is not strong enough to abuse other countries; but she is already strong enough not to be abused by other countries.
The only reasonable conclusion is that immediately after the war China's policy along her land frontiers with Burma and India is less likely to be determined by her own attitude or intentions than by the attitude or intentions of the colony-owning empires. If those countries which once owned colonies now occupied by the Japanese and which hope to recover them from the Japanese will show in good time an obviously genuine intention not to restore the old colonial order fully or permanently, there will be no danger whatever of a "new Chinese imperialism." If, on the other hand, China is made to feel that a ring of long-range imperialism, garnished with air power and sea power, is being restored and tightened around her, she will feel her own dearly won freedom menaced. And she is strong enough to react in ways very disturbing to us.
Today, there is in Asia not an adult man or woman, not an adolescent child, who does not know what freedom is. If these people are not either given the freedom which is as much their birthright as ours; or guaranteed a future freedom on terms that are specific, patently genuine, and above suspicion of political juggling, they will look to China. They will understand even better than we do the significance of the fact that China has both emancipated itself from a hundred years of Western imperialism and resisted successfully in war the imperialism of Japan. From the hinterlands that actually touch the Yunnan frontier, there will be direct and open appeals to the Chinese. How the Chinese might respond to such appeals would not be likely to depend on whether they were intent on expanding their frontiers; but it would be very likely to depend on whether they felt that their frontiers were being hemmed in by a renascent imperialism of the Western Powers.
The stand that China would prefer to take has been authoritatively stated by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek: "Having herself been a victim of exploitation, China has infinite sympathy for the submerged nations of Asia, and towards them China feels she has only responsibilities -- not rights. We repudiate the idea of leadership of Asia because the Fuehrer principle has been synonymous with domination and exploitation, precisely as the [Japanese] East Asia co-prosperity sphere has stood for a race of mythical supermen lording over grovelling subject races." How China's "repudiation of leadership" will work out in practice, however, will not depend upon China alone. A China which does not seek leadership may be forced into leadership if the weaker peoples of Asia, their hope of eventual emancipation and self-government deferred beyond reasonable expectation, fall back on China for support.
In short, Yunnan is the pivot on which events in Southeast Asia are likely to turn after the war. Whichever way they turn, the Chinese will be important. They may be important because of the example which they set for the rest of Asia in social, economic and political development, or they may be important because they back, either morally or with aid of one kind or another, the aspirations of their neighbors in Southeast Asia to become as free as China already is. In either case, however, it will probably not be the Chinese who give the first push that sets events to turning about the pivot of Yunnan. It is more likely that the push will come from us, the countries which for a hundred years have been accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the Great Powers. Whether we give the right push or the wrong one to the turn of events will depend first and foremost on whether our minds are turned toward the imperialism of the last hundred years, the winding up of which we have formally acknowledged in China but not yet in Southeast Asia, or toward the next hundred years, the opening up of which we have in fact inaugurated by our new treaties with China -- inaugurated, not for China alone, as we are inclined to assume, but for all Asia.
[i] Ch'ao-ting Chi, "Key Economic Areas in Chinese History," London, 1936.