Experiences in China

Author Tenney, Charles Daniel

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Experiences in China.
When I first went to China no particular change had taken place in the Chinese civilization. China was ruled by an Emperor. The old examination system was still established, and the pride of the people was still unbroken. They had been so long accustomed to thinking of themselves as the leading nation in the world that and the Chinese civilization as the premier civilization of the earth that it is not strange that they had difficulty in readjusting themselves to modern conditions. Every one of the contacts which they had with the foreigners led to some changes but those changes did not affect the life and feelings of the people as a whole. Thus the war of 1830 led to the opening of several ports for international trade and to the break down of the principle of seclusion. The trouble with Great Britain and France in 1860 led to the establishment of the Interpreters' School, the T'ung Wen Kuan at Peking to train Chinese to deal with foreigners of different nationalities. It also led to the organization
of a Chinese navy and to the introduction of foreign guns into the army, and ultimately to the establishment of a Naval and a Military School at Tientsin. All these reforms were carried out in a half-hearted way, through the ignorant conservatism of the officials at Peking. Li Hung-Chang built up a navy but the maintainance funds were diverted from their proper use to the foolish and unprofitable building and decorating of the Summer Palace by the Empress Dowager. So the Chinese fleet was destroyed by the Japanese in 1894. All this while the Japanese had been forging ahead. Since the arrival of Commodore Perry in the 5th decade of the 19th Century the Japanese have been really modernizing themselves until at last they have been admitted as one of the great world powers. The Chinese, on the other hand have been spasmodic and fitful in their progress. The explanation of this difference makes an interesting study. In general, the Japanese had been trained in the Feudal system. The people were accustomed to follow, unquestioningly, their
leaders. A group of these leaders realized that Japan must be thoroughly reformed and reorganized if she were to hold her own under modern conditions. The leaders made the plans and the people followed. In China the people were more individualistic. They were not accustom­ ed to follow a leader. The pride of the Chinese also stood in their way. For ages they had considered that China was the foremost nation on earth and they could not bend to adopt the ways of the foreigners. The Japanese, on the other hand, had borrowed their civil­ ization from the Chinese, and were not so devoted to it as they would have been if they had developed it themselves.
My life in China has been divided between educational work and the service of our own government. I organ­ ized the Anglo-Chinese School in Tientsin in 1886. At that time China was very back-ward, and there were not lacking among the foreigners
those who predicted failure. They said there was no demand for a modern school in China, but I went ahead with my plans, and soon there was no lack of patronage. After I had been carrying on the school for less than two years I was surprised to receive an invitation from the Viceroy Li Hung-chang to visit the Yamen, or official residence, where he proposed to me that I should spend two hours every afternoon in acting as tutor to his sons and grand­ sons. This is common enough now but unheard of at that time. Some of the Viceroy's friends protested against his placing young boys under the influence of a foreigner. Li Hung-chang insisted upon having his own way, however. Although one of the highest officials of the Empire he had a clear impression of what was necessary. He was really progressive. At that time we looked upon the Viceroy with much awe. He was really the chief executive
officer of the Imperial Court. The ministers of the foreign powers at Peking had a sort of foreign office called the Tsung-Li Yamen, but when they had anything of great importance to be settled they came to Tientsin to arrange it with the Viceroy. I naturally felt elated to know that my school had made a name for itself in the Chinese community and I knew that with the recognition of the great Viceroy it would continue to grow. I happen to have a photo of the Viceroy taken at this period which I will pass around. One advantage of my new position was that I saw so much of the Viceroy, for he was fond of lounging about in the school-room after the day's official work was finished listening to the children recite their lessons and hearing me explain the scientific apparatus which I had.
The students in the Chinese schools now are quite apt to combine to rebel against the assertion of authority on the part of their teachers, but in that day
there was no such trouble. I remember well when the first Chinese Hsiu-Ts'ai [illegible: of] B.A. applied for admission to the school. He was a progressive young man who had fully made up his mind as to the inadequacy of the classical education as a preparation for meeting modern conditions. He wanted me to appoint a time for the ceremony. I explained to him that no ceremony was necessary, that simply registering his name would make him a member of the school. He was greatly distressed at this and explained that he wished to break absolutely with the old system of education and place himself under a foreign teacher and that this could not be done without a certain ceremony. Seeing his distress I appointed a time and he came wearing full dress with the B.A.'s button in his hat, and prostrated himself before me. After that, he was satisfied to join the classes. I remember that one afternoon, the Viceroy came
came to the school room and found the the word 'the' is repeated little grandson in tears because I had given him some light punishment for inattention. As this grandson was the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son and was a special pet of his grand-father, I was a little doubtful how he would regard his punishment. I was relieved when he heartily approved of it. Many years later I met the grandson then a full-grown man and a Marquis and I asked him if he ever remembered the old school days. He replied that he often remem­ bered the day when I punished him. After the disastrous war between China and Japan in 1894, the Viceroy Li Hung-chang was relieved of his post, and the [illegible: lustorus] Taotai, a man of great wealth and power sent for me and asked if I would consider closing my school and merging it into a Government University, the first to be organized. I have already spoken of how the different humiliations which China has suffered at the hands of foreigners have led to forward movements in the modernizing of the country. So the dissatisfaction of the Chinese with the poor showing that
they made against the Japanese led to the organization of a University. It also led to the formation of a model corps of the army which Yüan Shih-K'ai took charge of at a camp not far from Tientsin. The advance in education was what I [illegible: only] hoped for. So I readily agreed to the Taotai's proposition. I set about forming my staff at once. Among others I wrote to Dr. Jordan asking him to nominate a professor of mining and geology. He did so, and Dr. Drake, the Stanford graduate whom he nominated was with me for many years. I held examinations for students at different ports down as far as Hongkong and we soon had the new University in running order. I was unable to give high standing to the students available; but I organized a Preparatory Department of four years and the lowest class in the advanced course. I had long been of the opinion that the young men of China were second to none in natural ability and I was not disap­ pointed in the results. Several of our graduates have taken high positions
In fact, since the Republic created the office, two of them have been Premirers and others have held high office in the provinces and in the Cabinet at Peking.
In the year 1900 the reactionaries gained possession of the Central Government and started the movement which we look back upon as the Boxer Outbreak. Knowing that the reactionaries had for one of their first measures the wiping out of the University, I first armed the students and organized them as a defense corps, but after some days the foreign troops began to arrive, and I felt that through their in­ credible ignorance and [illegible: stupidity] regarding all things Chinese, they were liable to confound students and Boxers and so I was forced to disband the University. Those of the students who could left for their homes. Some fifty were unable to get away and I continued to live with them at the University, which was outside the defense lines of the word 'the' is repeatedthe Foreign Settlements. The newly arrived soldiers were not the only ones who showed ignorance of things Chinese in that
period of madness. I remember that some of my friends protested against my staying with the students at the University, saying that they would kill me some night and not believing me when I said they would as soon think of killing their own fathers. I was fortunate in my educational work in those early times. The principle of honor to parents and to teachers which is laid down in the Chinese Classics still had a firm grip on the minds of the young. In recent times under the Republic the student body has not always been true to the old doctrines. Socialism and even Bolshevism have spread among them so that they ^many of them^ are neither good sons nor good pupils. Now that we are on the subject of filial piety I wish to speak of a certain matter and that is the ceremonies performed by the Chinese in honor of Confucius, the founder of Chinese literature and in honor of the ancestors, through whom we have life. (See memo.)