After visiting San Francisco and seeing the behavior and conditions of the Chinese in Chinatown, reformer Liang Qichao returned to China despondent over the plausibility of republican principles and virtues taking solid and healthy root in China anytime soon. He felt that the Chinese were not yet ready for the responsibilities for democracy and personal freedom. “If we were to adopt a democratic system of government now,” he said, “it would be nothing less than committing national suicide.” His new line of thinking led him to the conclusion that China’s best chance for advancement depended NOT upon the adoptioin of democracy, but upon the advent of an enlightened despot. “I returned from America to dream of Russia,” he stated. He believed that only a benevolent dictator could rule with the “iron and fire” needed “to forge and temper our countrymen” into better-prepared citizens. As before with the philosophy of Destructivism, Mao Zedong will take Liang Qichao’s words to heart.
Liang Qichao thought that, after the rule of enlightened despots for perhaps fifty years or so, the Chinese then might be ready to take on self-government. “After that, we can give them the books of Rousseau and tell them about the deeds of Washington.” Of Western democracy and freedom, he once remarked that, “it is not that they are not beautiful. They are just not suitiable for us.”
Liang Qichao also happened to be the man who pulled the trigger firing China’s May Fouth Incident of 1919. In Paris to be near the negotiations which would decide the fate and shape of the post-War world, he learned that the Allies were going to hand-over to Japan defeated Germany’s special privileges in China’s Shadong Province. Hearing this, he immediately sent an informing telegram home. His news, once disseminated, led to a massive student demonstration at Bejing’s Tiananmen Gate (today’s Tiananmen Square looks very much different than where the students of the May Fourth Incident demonstrated… thanks to large-scale remodeling by Mao Zedong several decades later). Our authors tell us that the May Fourth Incident was the beginning of a new significance for Tiananmen… it would from now on be exactly what the world consciousness considers it today… a center for demonstrations.
At the demonstration, the Manifesto Of All Students Of Bejing was circulated. Among its statements was the following promises… “Today we swear two solemn oaths… 1. China’s territory may be conquered but it cannot be given away. 2. The Chinese people may be massacred but they will not surrender.” In this way, the Treaty of Versailles ending World War One helped to further turn the Chinese away from the West… which in that era almost inevitably meant the Chinese would step closer to Communism as the only (at least apparently) alternative option. At this time, few intellectuals or leaders in China were seriously clamoring for a return to the Old Ways– that option was pretty much off the table. The Communists and their sympathizers swelled their ranks during this time, and China would spend the next few decades in bloody factional fighting, the main forces being the Nationalists (eventually to be led by Chiang Kai-Shek) versus the Communists (eventually to be led by Mao Zedong).
BTW… Learning how the Treaty Of Versailles pushed the Chinese even farther away from the Western world makes me definitely wish to enter the Treaty Of Versailles into contention for The… Worst… Treaty… Ever.
Other HAMMERING SHIELD posts on the politics of modern China…