National Geographic : 1911 Dec
PRESENT CONDITIONS IN CHINA* BY FREDERIC MCCORMICK CHINA is the most interesting and at the same time the most exasper ating subject. No two authorities of our time agree about it. Among them a China discussion is a fine chorus of contradiction. The land of the great wall, ancient porcelain, the pigtail, gunpowder, print ing, jade, embroidery; "Kitai," or Cathay, the land of literature and art, the flowery realm of tea and silk, home of the mari ner's compass, the Celestial, or, more graphic, Middle Kingdom-this is the playground of rebellion, contagion, fam ine, violence, death, change, and every event of universal revolution. Hitherto, war to this realm meant the rebellion of the outer barbarian, as the Han, or Chinese, called his foreign ene mies. That is no more. The center has rebelled; China has war within. Such a land in civil strife is, indeed, the land of gunpowder. China is as large as the United States, lies in the same latitudes, has similar physical characteristics, and the same kind of climate. It looks the same to the traveler until he comes to a walled city, with its pagodas, or meets several people. And several are always to be met with, because there are perhaps 275 million of them altogether. POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CHINA China is populated with human beings. The great head of them (in foreign minds), the late Empress Dowager, called them "my black-haired people." I have lived intimately with them, and for some time was a member of a distin guished Chinese family in Peking. I never ate any rat, nor any cat, nor any dog, to the best of my knowledge and belief. I went frequently, as a dinner guest, to a fine Chinese friend, who al ways told me, when we sat down at the -table (quietly, on the side), that on his last visit to my house he had caught a perfectly bully stray dog in my street, and had saved it up especially for me. His cook, he said, who was a noted one in the neighborhood, had done his best, and the dog would be along in a few minutes. But I must say that during some years of campaigning in China, such as when the Court was driven out of Peking, when we took the country people by sur prise and they did not have time to pre pare food for us, we ate such things as we found, and about which I never cared to inquire. And in fact, always, ever after, when this subject comes up, I think right up to that point and stop. Chinese are honest, like other folks. I always find it necessary to say this, be cause in a census which I have taken I find it the only subject respecting China of positively universal concern. The question is always asked, and the Chi nese and Japanese compared. To the cosmopolitan and to the correspondent it is like asking if the people of L street are more honest than those of M street. In wardly we know that the question of honesty is the same the world over, and comparisons are impossible. The Chinese do not all live on rice nor chop suey. More people live on chop suey in New York than in all the Chinese cities I have visited. Chop is English for trade-mark, or sign, and suey means water. I am told that the chop suey is the diagram at the loading line of a ship, and is the invention and peculiar prop erty of Lloyd's, of Great Britain. Such is the identity of this great common her itage which,. along with kerosene, ciga rettes, flour and religion, and the open door, unites China and America. The Chinese do not all wear queues, and did not before the cutting of the queue was sanctioned a few years ago. They are not all even of the same * An address to the National Geographic Society, November 17, 1911.