117 JAPAN DEFEATS RUSSIA
December 29, 1932
I HAVE been writing to you about the Far East, and I shall continue this story to-day. You may
wonder why I seek to burden your mind with the wars and disputes of the past. They are not
savoury subjects, and they are over and done with. I do not want to lay stress on them. But much
that is happening to-day in the Far East has its roots in these very troubles, and some knowledge
of them therefore is necessary to the understanding of modern problems. China, like India, is one
of the great world problems of to-day. And even as I write, a bitter dispute is going on regarding
the Japanese conquest of Manchuria.
I told you in my last letter of the scramble for concessions in China in 1898, backed by the
warships of the western Powers. They seized all the good ports, and in the province lying behind
the port they secured all manner of rights—to open mines, build railroads, etc. And still the
demand continued for further concessions. The foreign governments began to talk of " spheres of
influence " in China. This is a gentle way which modern imperialistic governments have of
partitioning a country. There are various degrees of possession and control. Annexation is, of
course, complete possession; a protectorate is something with slightly less control; " spheres of
influence " is less still. But they all point to the same thing; one step leads to another. Indeed, as
we shall perhaps have the chance of discussing later, annexation is an old and almost discarded
method which brings nationalistic trouble in its train. It is far easier to have economic control of
a country and not worry about the rest.
So the partition of China seemed imminent and Japan was thoroughly alarmed. The fruits of her
victory over China seemed to have gone to the western Powers, and she gazed in helpless anger
at this splitting up of China. Above all, she was wroth with Russia for preventing her from taking
possession of Port Arthur and then seizing it herself.
There was one great Power, however, which had so far taken no part in this scramble for
concessions in China or the plans for partition. This was the United States of America. They had
kept away not because they were more virtuous than the others, but because they were busy
developing their vast country. As they spread westwards to the Pacific Ocean fresh areas
required development, and all their energies and wealth were poured into this. Indeed, a great
deal of European capital was also invested in America for this purpose. But by the end of the
century Americans began to look abroad for investments. They looked to China, and saw with
disapproval that the European Powers were on the point of dividing it up into " spheres of
influence ", with a view perhaps to eventual annexation. America was being left out. So America
pressed for what is called the " open-door " policy in China. This meant that equal facilities
should be given to all for trade and business in China. The other Powers agreed to this.
This continual aggression thoroughly frightened the Chinese Government, and convinced them
that they must reform and reorganize. They tried to do so, but they had little chance to succeed
on account of the continuous demands for fresh concessions. The Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi had
been living in retirement for some years. The Chinese people began to look to her as a possible
saviour. The Emperor at the time, suspecting some intrigue, wanted to put her in prison. But the
old lady retaliated by removing him from power and taking control herself. She took no steps for
radical reform, as Japan had done, but she concentrated on building up a modern army. She
encouraged the formation of local bands of militia for defence. These bodies of local militia
called themselves " I Ho Tuan "—Bands of Righteous Harmony. Sometimes they were also
called " Fists of Righteous Harmony "—I Ho Chuan. This latter name reached some Europeans
in the port towns, and they translated it into " Boxers ", a crude translation of a graceful phrase.
These " Boxers " were a patriotic reaction against foreign aggression and the innumerable insults
which had been offered to China and the Chinese by foreigners. It is not surprising that they did
not love the foreigner, who seemed to them the embodiment of evil. In particular they disliked
missionaries, who had misbehaved greatly, and, as for the Chinese Christians, they considered
them traitors to their country. They represented old China making a last effort to protect herself
from the new order. The attempt was not likely to succeed in this way.
There was bound to be friction between these patriotic, anti-foreign, anti-missionary,
conservative people and the Westerners. Conflicts occurred; an English missionary was
murdered; many Europeans and a large number of Chinese Christians were killed. Foreign
governments demanded the suppression of the patriotic Boxer movement. The Chinese
Government punished those who were guilty of killing, but how could it suppress its own child
in this way ? Meanwhile the Boxer movement spread rapidly. The foreign ministers, alarmed by
it, summoned troops from their warships,
and this again made the Chinese think that the foreign invasion had begun. Soon there was
conflict. The German Minister was killed, and there was a siege of the foreign legations in
A great part of China was up in arms in sympathy with the patriotic Boxer movement. But the
viceroys of some provinces remained neutral and helped the foreign Powers in this way. The
Dowager Empress undoubtedly sympathized with the Boxers, but she was not openly associated
with them Foreigners tried to make out that the Boxers were just brigands. But as a matter of fact
the rebellion of 1900 was a patriotic effort to free China from foreign interference. A high
English officer in China, Sir Robert Hart, who was Inspector-General of the customs there at the
time, went through the siege of the legations. He tells us that the foreigners, and especially the
missionaries, were to blame for outraging Chinese feelings, and that the rebellion " was patriotic
in its origin, and that it was justifiable in much that it aimed at cannot be questioned, and cannot
be too much insisted on ".
This sudden turning of the worm irritated the western Powers greatly. They hurried troops, as
they were justified in doing, to save and protect their own people who were besieged in Peking.
An international force under a German commander marched to relieve the legations. The Kaiser
of Germany asked his troops in China to behave like Huns, and probably it is from this order that
the English took to calling all Germans Huns during the World War.
The Kaiser's advice was followed not only by his own troops, but by all the foreign armies. As
these forces marched to Peking, the treatment they gave to the people was such that large
numbers preferred suicide to falling into their hands. Chinese women in those days dwarfed their
feet and could not easily run away. So many of them killed themselves. In this way the allied
armies marched on, leaving a trail of death and suicide and burning villages. An English war
correspondent, who accompanied the allied forces, says :
There are things that I must not write, and may not be printed in England, which would seem to
show that this western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery. The actual truth has
never been written about any war, and this will be no exception.
These armies reached Peking and relieved the legations. And then followed the sack of Peking—
" the biggest looting excursion since the days of Pizarro ". The art treasures of Peking went into
the hands of crude and uncultured people who did not even know their value. And it is sad to
note that the missionaries took a prominent part in this looting. Groups of people went from
house to house fixing notices on them saying that they belonged to them. The valuables in the
house were sold, and then a move was made to another big house.
The rivalry of the Powers, and partly also the attitude of the United States Government, saved
China from partition. But she
was made to drink the bitterest cup of humiliation. All manner of indignities were heaped on her
: a permanent foreign military force was to remain in Peking and also to guard the railway; many
forts were to be destroyed; membership of an anti-foreign society was made punishable with
death; further commercial privileges were taken and a huge sum of money extorted as an
indemnity; and, most terrible blow of all, the Chinese Government was forced to put to death as "
rebels " the patriotic leaders of the Boxer movement. Such was the " Peking Protocol", as it is
called, which was signed in 1901.
While all this was taking place in China proper, and especially round Peking, the Russian
Government took advantage of the prevailing confusion to send large numbers of troops across
Siberia to Manchuria. China was powerless; all it could do was to protest. But, as it happened,
the other Powers disapproved very much of the Russian Government taking possession in this
way of a large slice of territory. Even more anxious and alarmed was the Japanese Government
at this development. So the Powers pressed Russia to go back, and the Russian Government tried
to assume a look of virtuous pain and surprise that its honourable intentions should have been
doubted by any one, and assured the Powers that it had absolutely no intention of interfering with
China's sovereign rights, and would withdraw its troops as soon as order was restored on the
Russian railway in Manchuria. So everybody was satisfied, and, no doubt compliments must
have been paid by the Powers to each other for their remarkable unselfishness and virtue. But,
none the less, Russian troops remained in Manchuria and spread right up to Korea.
This advance of Russia in Manchuria and to Korea angered the Japanese greatly. Quietly but
intensively they prepared for war. They remembered the combination of three Powers against
them in 1895, when they had been forced to give up Port Arthur after the China War, and they
tried to prevent this happening again. They found in England a Power which feared Russian
advance and wanted to check it. So in 1902 an Anglo-Japanese Alliance was made with the
object of preventing a combination of Powers from coercing either Power in the Far East. Japan
felt safe now, and took up a more aggressive attitude towards Russia. She demanded that Russian
troops be withdrawn from Manchuria. But the foolish Tsarist Government of the day looked
upon Japan with contempt and never believed that she would fight.
Early in 1904 war began between the two countries. Japan was fully prepared for it, and the
Japanese people, egged on by their government's propaganda and their cult of emperor-worship,
were aflame with patriotic fervour. Russia, on the other hand, was wholly unprepared, and her
autocratic government could only govern by continuous repression of the people. For a year and
a half the war raged, and all Asia and Europe and America were witness to Japan's victories on
sea and land. Port Arthur fell to the Japanese after amazing deeds of sacrifice and enormous
A great fleet of warships was sent by Russia from Europe all the way by sea to the Far East.
After having crossed half the world, travel-stained after thousands of miles of voyage, this
mighty fleet arrived in the Sea of Japan, and there, in the narrow straits between Japan and
Korea, it was sunk by the Japanese, together with its admiral. Nearly the whole fleet went down
in this great disaster.
Russia, Tsarist Russia, was hard hit by defeat after defeat. Russia had great reserves of power;
was it not she that had humbled Napoleon 100 years before 1 But just then the real Russia, the
common people of Russia, spoke.
In the course of these letters I am continually referring to Russia, England, France, China, Japan,
and so on, as if each country were a living entity. This is a bad habit of mine, which I have
acquired from books and newspapers. What I mean, of course, is the Russian Government, the
English Government of the day, and so on. These governments may represent nobody but a small
group, or they may represent a class, and it is not correct to think or say that they represent the
whole people. During the nineteenth century the English Government might be said to have
represented a small group of well-to-do people, the owners of land and the upper middle classes,
who controlled Parliament. The great majority of the people had no say in the matter. In India today
one hears sometimes of India sending a representative to the League of Nations or a Round-
Table Conference or to some other function. This is nonsense. The so-called representatives
cannot be the representatives of India unless the people of India choose them. They are thus the
nominees of the Government of India, which, in spite of its name, is just a department of the
British Government. Russia, at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, was an autocracy. The Tsar
was the " autocrat of all the Russias ", and a very foolish autocrat he was. The workers and the
peasants were kept down by means of the army, and even the middle classes had no voice of any
kind in the government. Many a brave Russian youth raised his head and his hand against this
tyranny and sacrificed his life in the fight for freedom. Many a girl went the same way. So, when
I talk of " Russia " doing this or doing that, of fighting Japan, all I mean is the Tsarist
Government and nothing more.
The Japanese war, with its disaster, brought more suffering to the common people. The workers
often went on strike in the factories to bring pressure on the government. On January 22, 1905,
several thousands of peaceful peasants and workers, led by a priest, went in procession to the
Winter Palace of the Tsar to beg for some relief from their sufferings. The Tsar, instead of
hearing what they had to say, had them shot down. There was a terrible slaughter; 200 were
killed, and the winter snow of Petersburg was red with blood. It was a Sunday, and, ever since,
that day has been called " Bloody Sunday ". The country was deeply stirred. There were strikes
of workers, and these led up to an attempted revolution. This revolution of 1905 was put down
with great cruelty by the Tsar's Government. It is interesting for us for several reasons.
It was a kind of preparation for the great revolution twelve years later, in 1917, which changed
the face of Russia. And it was during this unsuccessful revolution of 1905 that the revolutionary
workers created a new organization which was to become so famous later on —the Soviets.
From telling you about China and Japan and the Russo-Japanese War I have, as is my way,
drifted to the Russian revolution of 1905. But I had to tell you something of this to explain the
background in Russia during this Manchurian War. It was largely because of this attempted
revolution and the temper of the people that the Tsar came to terms with Japan.
The Russo-Japanese War ended with the Treaty of Portsmouth in September 1905. Portsmouth is
in the United States. The American President had invited both parties and the treaty of peace was
signed there. By this treaty Japan got back at last Port Arthur and the Liaotung peninsula, which,
you will remember, she had been forced to give up after the China War. Japan also took a great
part of the railway which the Russians had built in Manchuria, and half of the island of
Sakhalien, which lies north of Japan. Further, Russia abandoned all claims on Korea.
So Japan had won, and she entered the charmed circle of the great Powers. The victory of Japan,
an Asiatic country, had a far-reaching effect on all the countries of Asia. I have told you how, as
a boy, I used to get excited over it. That excitement was shared by many a boy and girl and
grown-up in Asia. A great European Power had been defeated; therefore Asia could still defeat
Europe as it had done so often in the past. Nationalism spread more rapidly over the eastern
countries and the cry of " Asia for Asiatics " was heard. But this nationalism was not a mere
return to the past, a clinging on to old customs and beliefs. Japan's victory was seen to be due to
her adoption of the new industrial methods of the West, and these ideas and methods became
more popular all over the East.