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Speech at Chicago Stadium

March 22, 1943 — Chicago Stadium, Chicago IL


On my way to this great and populous city, one of the thoughts which occurred to my mind and kept tune to the rhythm of the rolling wheels of my train was the modern miracle of what is now known as the United States of America.

I recollected, too, chronicles in Ameri can history that I learned in my school days. When your Pilgrim Fathers landed from the Mayflower, America was one vast continent of wilderness. As long ago as when Germantown, Pennsylvania, was first settled, Pastorius wrote that the settlers’ cry was, “Nothing but endless forests!” Today all those areas are amongst the most highly developed and industrialized centers of this country.

Most of your forebears, in coming to America, sought freedom from the irritating restrictions of an irresponsible government of a despot. They agreed that they would govern themselves in accordance with a compact which they signed to “submit to such government and governors as they should by common consent agree to make and choose.”

Such was the unostentatious and un pretentious start of this country. These men, I venture to say, scarce dared to dream that they were laying the foundations of a great democracy which inevitably came into being because of the sound common-sense fundamentals they had incorporated in their compact. Nor, in all probability, had they any conception then of the influence that America would one day wield on the destiny of mankind in all parts of the world. They confined themselves to the simple and outright pledge to abide by the com mon will combined with the firm faith that right is might. Thus, the unmitigated strength of the Mayflower Compact lies in the fact that it was not a theory, but a practical instrument evolved for a practical purpose. In the words of the Reverend Hooker, in his famous sermon on the fundamentals of government, “the foundation of author ty is law firstly in the free consent of the people.” Later John Wise, also a minister, but son of an indentured slave, writing in Massachusetts, stated that “government is based on human free compacts.”

But the compacts did not go beyond the immediate physical realm of the settlements. History substantiates our view that the first settlers in America did not think of themselves as a nation. They called themselves New Englanders, Virginians, or Pennsylvanians. They were merely groups of people with stead fast wills, indomitable energy, and un conquerable spirit scattered under thirteen different governments.

As time rolled on, such limited instruments as the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Order of Connecticut, and innumerable church covenants and frontier agreements, which various groups had contributed as practicable and workable, found their crystallization in the Declaration of Independence. So long as the torch of liberty shines with effulgence, mankind will cherish Jefferson’s immortal words, vibrant with vigor, that “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Yet difficulty upon difficulty accumulated and challenged the young fledgling Republic even after Cornwallis met his defeat at Yorktown.

The many different groups widely scat tered and with varied local interests in these States could easily have fallen into such serious dissension amongst them selves that anarchy would have resulted had it not been that a common denominator fused them together into one great whole — a common denominator which I would call the wholesome American national fiber. For, aside from the souls mute from timorousness, the diversification of minds was truly sincere and hon est. If memory serves me right, Hamilton held to the theory that the exercise of the power of the Nation should be the duty and occupation of the comparative few, whereas Jefferson believed that all men are created equal and should be given equal initial opportunities.

To those obsessed by hard and fast rules of logic, these seemed two diametrical convictions which, at the time, appeared irreconcilable. Yet, as I see it, the present American society is actually the very evolvement of a happy culmination of Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s ideals forged into one. The seemingly repellent opposites have produced an epochal synthesis, for the fundaments of supreme reason in man, for the most part, enjoin the must and forbid the contrary.

Some of your Presidents, like Jack son and Lincoln, came from the back woods — products of the people. Some of the greatest Emperors of China also came from peasant stock. Both our peoples have been fortunate enough not to decry poverty. Though our two countries have widely varied backgrounds, histories, cultures and traditions, both recognize the inherent ability of the individual as an individual with powers to sway, to contribute to, and to help mold, the destiny of a nation.

China’s civil-service system and the opportunities thereby offered to those who strive for achievement are not want ing. The land where “the barefoot boy with cheeks of tan” may become the highest executive also declaims that here indeed a man may become what he wills himself to be.

With firmness and perseverence, I stress again, that to insure future peace and prosperity for all peoples, war, that acme of human folly, should not be per mitted to recur. Only with concerted vigilance and action by the United Nations, and, later, by others who will have gained the wisdom of adhering to the principles of live and let live, would this world be rendered perdurable for peace. We are all aware that organized effort Is nothing new.

In ancient Greece there was the confederacy of Delos. Coming nearer to the modern age, there was the Congress of Vienna. Then, in our own time, emerged the League of Nations. The reasons for the failures of these efforts are not far to seek. The Greek confederacy sought to combine the Hellenic States against Persia, but they soon forgot the purpose of their aim and fell to bickering amongst themselves. The Congress of Vienna meant no more than the hegemony of the Austria that Metternich conceived. The main cause for the failure of the League of Nations had its root in the narrowness of vision of those by whom it was created, and, being recent, will be adjudged by posterity.

Inherently, the weakness in each of the defunct united efforts was that it played an old game — the game of jealousy, self-seeking, and petty distrust, often euphemistically misinterpreted as the balance of power. Assuredly, the League of Nations proved to be an improvement on the others, but the chink in its armor became apparent because it concerned itself mainly with the inconsonant policies of a few nations. The fissures and flaws in the League Covenant revealed themselves only under stress, for the inadequacies did not ap pear in times of peace and calm. But, under the gathering momentum of the tempest, the structure could not with stand the tension of the impact.

That no alinement of nations in the past had been found successful does not invalidate the possibility and the necessity for concerted effort. Nor, for that matter, do they preclude the wisdom of our continued cooperation when victory is won in the active maintenance of peace against future collusion of rapacious Powers.

In this connection we must take heed from China’s painful experience. Manchuria in 1931 portrays a lesson which should be indelibly imprinted on our minds, that documents in themselves affixed with imposing-looking and important seals are mere foolscaps; just as a robot in itself without the breath of life remains inanimate. The good faith and responsibilities of the signatories of a pact must extend beyond mere compliance with the letter of the text. Neither can peace be pursued by warping the truth and finding comfort in the fact that the infeasibility of joint duty in chastisement means no chastisement at all. Had wise counsel prevailed in the Manchurian Incident, and had aggression been cauterized at its source, today the whole world would not be travailed by the holocaust of war.

But the self-righteous, perhaps, would seek to justify their lethargy by the reply that hindsight is easy, foresight difficult. What higher tribute than this could be paid to the wisdom of those who foresaw the inevitable implications from the shadows cast before the tragic events? What more conclusive proof is needed than that theirs were warning voices which echoed small and still across the vast wilderness of indifference and nescience? Should we in the future allow ourselves to sink again into the morass of realization only by hindsight, and place foresight beyond the pale of man’s rationale? This we must ultimately, nay, immediately, ask ourselves.

Some minds reveal their claim to intellectual capacities by erecting barriers to the closer cooperation of peoples after this war. It is, notwithstanding, true that the culture of a nation is peculiarly its own and that unless what is borrowed becomes part of the skein or pattern of our daily life, it will bear the harsh lines of foreign matters. Six years of war and suffering in China speak more eloquently than words that we deem the preservation of our own culture subservient to the maintenance of world civilization. Precisely because we refuse to be content with our culture as a separate entity we in China are fighting to help build the mosaic of world civilization, the perpetuation of mankind’s common and pledged principles which cannot be sub verted or surrendered — no matter how painful they may seem for a time.

We in China stand firm in the belief that those principles are inborn, and that, so long as men live and progress, those principles cannot be compromised.

We should support the four freedoms which epitomize all that we want. We should also support the men who fathered the Atlantic Charter, for we believe that their purpose was not to tantalize the sorely tried and staunch peoples fighting against violence nor was it prompted by the necessity to meet the dire needs of the moment, but because they were convinced that a better world based on those universal principles must come into being.

It is the easier thing to court popular approbation of one’s countrymen; it is the harder thing to act and speak as- cording to the dictates of one’s con science, especially when conscience tells one that to prevent future destruction and carnage, one must think not only in terms of the good of one’s own country, but in terms of the good of other people’s.

China realizes that her building a “great wall” to isolate herself from the rest of the world, in the nineteenth century, was a mistake, and today those men who were responsible for erecting this barrier are pointed out to every Chinese school child as examples of mental myopics who saw only the expediency of temporary solutions. Their names will go down in infamy.

How may we then find a true basis for coexistence and cooperation to cement better understanding between nations and between peoples? Goodwill and de sire for cooperation will do as a starting point, but left to themselves, they will make little headway.

Your sense of the aesthetic in appreciating the artistry of Chinese craftsman ship, your praise of the fragility of egg shell porcelain, and our admiration for your intricate machinery and our approbation of your suspension bridges should not be construed to mean that complete understanding of the nature of our two peoples or their greatness is the logical deduction.

Perhaps I may pause here to give you an illustration of what I mean. To understand music in the true sense of appreciation, one must know the rudiments of theory and harmony, the sequence of concord, the atonality of dis cord, the characteristics differing major from minor melodies, and something about the life and motives of the com poser when he set down the composition. All these tend to convey a true under standing of music, for much as cognoscence is all-desirable, yet intelligent appreciation, too, has its unerring merits. Were it otherwise, a symphony would merely be a mass of sounds devoid of cadence and beauty.

I may go a little further and tell you something of my own experience. As you probably know, I came to America when I was a child and returned to my native land after I had finished college ten years later. Upon my return home, the élan of youth made me eager to contribute my service in the interests of my country. To my surprise, my parents insisted that as I had been away for so long, I should spend my time studying Chinese history and literature. They pointed out that until I learned more of the history and culture of my people, I could not understand the intricacies of China’s problems, and that In whatever field I wished to direct my efforts and whatever contributions I hoped to make, would be consistently nullified by lack of comprehension of the basic structure and needs of Chinese society. In subsequent years, and especially during these war years when I have worked so closely with every section of our people, I have realized to the full the wisdom and foresight of this counsel.

I have attempted to illustrate to you the importance of fostering better understanding between our two peoples through knowledge of each other’s his tory and culture. Integrity and imagination, however, must also play their part. Invariably the great spirits in hu man relationships have honesty and imagination — honesty in appraising themselves, first, as they see them selves; second, as they think others see them; and third, the imagination to place themselves in others’ positions while appraising themselves. The first two, being subjective, cannot be all-sufficing; the third, an objective approach is needed to complete the picture.

I mentioned that your forebears clung to the faith that their experiment of abiding by the common will would work, and that their ideals of a government for the people, of the people, and by the people, would finally prevail. Let us re member, however, that before America grew to be the present great democracy, dissensions, secessions, and civil war cleaved the Nation and almost rent asunder the national fabric beyond repair.

But today there are peoples and nations who are yet bent on trampling underfoot the inalienable rights and dignity of men. They have no , the eyes to see that over the blue horizon, beyond the smoky ruins following in the wake of bursting bombs, there is a vision of a new world — a world founded on practiced justice and equality for all mankind. The following anecdote may help us to understand the power of faith.

When Confucius was on his way to return to the kingdom of Lu from the kingdom of Wei, he and his party rested on the bank of a river. Below was a waterfall of several hundred feet. On the opposite bank a man started to swim across the river. Confucius sent a disciple to stop him: “Cannot you see that here is a waterfall of several hundred feet with miles of whirlpools beneath it where not even fish or turtles can live?” The man replied, “Do not mind me”; and quickly swam across. In astonishment Confucius asked him, “What skill or magic do you possess so that you can jump into this whirlpool and come out safe?” The man replied, “When I plunge into the river, I have faith in my self. When I swim in the current, I keep my faith in the water. My faith protects me in the current and I do not think about myself.”

Turning to his disciples, Confucius said, “If a man can swim across such a river through faith, what cannot be accomplished by having faith in man?”

To translate, however, faith into reality, you and I must recapture faith in our fellow men in the spirit of your pioneer fathers who forged in the van of the movement westward and forward in cutting across the wilderness and endless forests. We should march onward with staunch hearts and steadfast will in the cultivation of what William James calls tough-mindedness — tough-mindedness while searching for rectitude and truth in the triumph of a just and permanent peace.

Let us, then, together resolve to keep on fighting in the faith that our vision is worth preserving, and can be preserved. For, is it not true that faith is the sub stance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?


Source: Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Addresses Delivered Before the Senate of the United States and the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 18, 1943, together with Other Addresses Delivered During Her Visit to the United States, (Washington: US Government Printing Office) 1943, pp. 15-18.