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Chinese Patriotism

1914 — winning oration at Amherst Conference, Amherst MA


Few Westerners give the Chinese much credit for patriotism. On the contrary, many have striven to prove that they are devoid of it. You will recall that while peace negotiations were pending after the first revolutionary outbreaks, press despatches [sic] described the opposing parties as “ropes of sand,” implying that there were lacking common interests and love of a common country to harmonize the warring elements. The fact that the revolutionists did come to an agreement with the party of Yuan Shih Kai — each side yielding something for the good of all — thus bringing order out of chaos and harmony out of discord, is undeniable proof that Chinese patriotism triumphed over selfishness in that critical period of our recent history.

It will be truly said that the Chinese people are clannish and divided by sectional jealousies and hatreds. A foreign despotism pursued the policy of ruling a vast population by sowing discord and dissension among its constituent elements. How otherwise could ten million Manchus keep in subjection the Chinese who outnumbered them by thirty to one? Yet, despite the crafty policy of the Manchus, time and again have the Chinese, influenced by a feeling of nationalism, proved their patriotism by rebelling against the alien tyrant.

The germ of patriotism is implanted in all human beings. By careful culture and with favorable circumstances, this germ may be developed into a beautiful flower and be finally carried to triumphant fruition. The two things that every Chinese child has been compelled to learn are loyalty to the emperor and filial piety. Filial piety is the starting point of Chinese patriotism. They say “We love it because it is our parents’ country.” So that, although an absolute monarch in his cunning tried to persuade the Chinese people that love of country means loyalty to him and devotion to the state because, like Louis XIV, he is the state, the Chinese have shown on several occasions that they knew the distinction between patriotism and loyalty and that, although in the case of a benevolent emperor the two sentiments may often be identical, with a bad ruler, these sentiments are generally at variance.

Even a cursory investigation will show that Chinese patriotism does not differ in its essential elements from that of other peoples; but only in the manner and circumstances of its manifestations.

Examples of collective patriotism may be found in all Chinese annals. The rise of every great native dynasty has always resulted from a powerful appeal to the patriotism of all the Chinese people, which, like a tidal wave, swept everything before it.

Even the Taiping Rebellion from 1850 to 1865 was originally a patriotic movement, having for its object the expulsion of the Manchus. It failed because its leaders permitted selfish interests to displace their love of country.

The Boxer Uprising was a patriotic movement in that it was a protest against foreign aggression. The slogan of the Boxers was “China for the Chinese.” That they were misguided and deluded does not detract from the patriotic motive by which they were actuated.

The recent revolution which dethroned the Manchu and set up a republic is sufficient demonstration that the Chinese can collectively be inspired by patriotism.

Think you we have no heroes who showed extraordinary devotion to their country and who sacrificed themselves for their country’s good?

We are apt to associate patriotism with taking up arms for one’s fatherland and yielding up one’s life in its defense. But the patriotism displayed by innumerable officials, who for the good of their country and in defense of its people opposed the oppressive measures of tyrannical emperors at the risk of their lives was of a higher order. Of such the names of hundreds and thousands may be mentioned.

During the Boxer troubles our president, Yuan Shih Kai, was Governor General of Shantung Province. The Dowager Empress had signed an edict commanding the destruction of all foreigners. When the edict reached Yuan Shih Kai’s hands for promulgation, that farseeing and enlightened statesman changed one word in it so as to make it read “the protection of all foreigners.” He risked his life, but did he not save China from dismemberment? Who will say that Yuan Shih Kai was not influenced by humane and patriotic motives?

The first battle of the republican revolution was fought at Hankow. A few thousand poorly equipped men were trying to capture the walled city. It was a hopeless attempt apparently, for the city was well fortified and garrisoned by a strong army, commanded by a Manchu general.

The latter dispatched Gen. Li Yuen Hung with his command to disperse the rebels. As he came near the embattled rebels a cry went up for him to be patriotic and turn his arms against the Manchus. Loyalty to the Emperor ordered him to shoot down his own countrymen. On his decision hung the fate of an empire and the welfare of millions. Patriotism, however, won the day. Gen. Li led his army, followed by the rebels, against the city; and the Revolution was launched then and there.

During the counter revolution, what course could Yuan Shih Kai, the provisional president, pursue to show his patriotism? Should he have yielded to the demands of his enemies and retired? What would have become of China bad be done so?

George Washington’s patriotism was clearly proved by his declining to serve a third term as president; Yuan Shih Kai showed his by holding on to power and standing by the post of danger.

The former had the future welfare of his country at heart; the latter bad the immediate perils of his country in mind. While their actions were diverse, their motives were equally good and sound. For public policy dictated the course of Washington; considerations of public safety governed the action of Yuan Shih Kai.

It is glorious to die for our country when the necessity arises, but it is harder and far nobler to live for her and consecrate our lives to her service.

President Wilson says, “The way to be patriotic in America is. not only to love America, but to love the duty that lies nearest to our band and know that in performing it we are serving our country.”

Similarly, to love China is to love the duty that lies nearest to our hand.

The present period of reconstruction demands sacrifices of every Chinese patriot. Shall we be found wanting when the call comes for us to do our part in redeeming our country from the bondage of ignorance or the ravages of civil strife?

The menace of foreign aggression hangs over China like the sword of Damocles. Should not every son· of China feel it is his duty to remove it for all time?

An American officer once toasted his country in these words : “Our Country, may she be always right. But right or wrong,— our Country.”

The sentiment that I would offer you is: China — may it be our privilege to uphold her rights as it is our duty to avenge her wrongs.

In conclusion permit me to reinforce my feeble appeal with these stirring lines written by Yan Phou Lee in 1906 and entitled “China Awakening”:

Awake my country, sweet Cathay,
Awake! Here dawns a glorious day!
Awake from slumbers long and deep!
Awake from soul benumbing sleep!

Dream not of greatness past and gone,
Of peaceful victories nobly won!
The day of greater things has come —
Duty calls thee — wilt thou be dumb?

Myriad foes encompass thee —
Awake, my country, and be free!
Let tyrants feel thy righteous rage!
Bid foes restore thy heritage!



Source: The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. X, Issues 1-6, (Ithaca, NY: Chinese Students’ Alliance in the United States of America) 1914, pp. 23-26.