National Geographic : 1942 Sep
China Opens Her Wild West In the Mountain-girt Heart of a Continent a New China Has Been Created During the Years of War BY OWEN LATTIMORE Political Advisor to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek; Director, Walter Hines Page School of International Relations, Johns Hopkins University UNDER a sunny wall near the gate of an ancient temple sat an old Chinese countrywoman. In front of her she had put a big basket, which she had carried on her back. It contained cigarettes, matches, candy, spools of thread, needles, little mirrors, and other oddments which she hoped to sell to people going in and out of the temple. In the meantime she and a neighbor, an other old woman, were gossiping peacefully in the California-like sunshine that floods the far southwestern Province of Yiinnan all through the winter. It might have been almost any corner of China, on almost any day in the last hundred years, except for the wall behind the two old women. On the wall was a propaganda picture, painted in bright colors (page 338). In the middle, in a sort of cloud to show that he was far away at the front, a soldier was charging with fixed bayonet. At the left, painted much larger to show that he was right here in this part of China, a peasant with trousers rolled above the knees was plowing a rice field with a water buffalo. At the right, in big, plain characters easily read by peasants who have to puzzle out each word, was the slogan of the poster painting: "At the front, strive to kill the enemy and de fend our land; in the rear, strive to plow and plant and build." A smaller inscription declared that this patriotic picture was the work of the Provin cial Middle School of the city of Tali (Color Plates I and IV). Off to War in American Trucks Only fifty yards away something was going on that gave grim reality to the brave picture and bold words painted by boys and girls of high-school age. A group of conscripted re cruits for the army was being assembled by a sergeant and a corporal. Their uniforms were only a few days old, and they were more eager than skilled in forming ranks and ex ecuting orders. When the roll had been called, they swarmed into a big, battered American truck. Some of them looked bright-eyed and laughing, excited by a sense of adventure; others were going with sober, serious faces to meet the unknown. For me there was one especially dramatic note in this little scene of the ancient tragedy of young men going off to a war forced on them by distant aggressors of whom they knew almost nothing. Probably not one of those boys had ever been more than 30 miles-a long day's walk-away from home. They had grown up in the lovely valleys of this remote province, one of the least touched by foreign influences in the last hun dred years of China's contact with the outside world. Very likely not one of them had ever ridden in a motorcar. Until four or five years ago there was hardly a car in the whole province, except at Kunming, the capital. Yet now that they were leaving home, per haps to die, they were being taken off in an American truck; by the raw new gashes of the Burma Road or its successor they would swoop through their own homeland, across ranges where for centuries men had trudged by narrow trails, following their pack mules (map, pages 344-5).* War Speeds China's Full Awakening Taken together, the cause for which they were going and the way in which they were going symbolized what is happening in the China of our time: To defeat a military in vasion, the Chinese are speeding up the devel opment of their own country by every indus trial, technological, modernizing agency of the 20th century. Everywhere in Free China you can see this kind of contrast. It is typical of China that the change is both chaotic and constructive; and it is also typical of China that on the whole the forces of growth, of healing and con struction, clearly have the upper hand over the forces of violence and destruction. The Chinese are the heirs of the world's oldest living continuous culture. Their an cient history overlaps that of the Pharaohs. But the Pyramids of Egypt are monuments of a culture of the past; there have been big breaks in the history of Egypt. * See "Burma Road, Back Door to China," by Frank Outram and G. E. Fane, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1940.