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Basse's Proposed Memorial To The Throne

(See page 178)

THE few foreigners who in the past have been granted the exalted privilege of an audience with Your Majesty, have either been royal, diplomatic, or in the high employment of your Government. In these cases audiences have, I take it, been of a purely formal nature, conveying a customary privilege on the foreigner concerned.

In my case, however, the high honour now accorded me seems to bear another character. My status is that which is derived from the Chinese rank generously conferred on me in consideration of my poor services and in consideration of my devotion to Your Majesty's person and to the cause of your country.

It is under these circumstances that I claim a privilege beyond what other foreigners could be entitled to, that is to say, the privilege of handing to Your Majesty a Memorial for your gracious consideration.

In reading this Memorial I beg that Your Majesty will realize the internal evidence that exists, that I am inspired merely by a hope of serving you — by a hope that I may be sowing a seed from which may grow the tree of benefit, not to myself, but to Your Majesty and to your country; for on my side I see no other prospect than a harvest of dislike, and I fully understand that my present action may be my position's suicide.

In past ages, Your Majesty, the Mongolian race was the most powerful in the world, and when Genghis Khan and his successors some 500 years ago overran Russia and penetrated far into the heart of Europe, it was reasonable for the Mongols to be proud of their methods and of their race, and to consider themselves the centre about which the world revolved. But in those days the leaders of the people were hardy men and warriors, whose ambition was conquest, glory and power, and such an ambition inculcated in them the virtues of bravery, endurance and devotion. There were besides, in various parts of China, administrators and engineers whose works are to this day a wonder to Western experts, and by what they have left behind them they must have been men imbued with devotion to the public good.

See the existing monuments of China's past greatness — the recorded history of her warrior heroes and their conquests, her cities, palaces and temples, the remains of her roads, her canals and her bridges!

But, Your Majesty, what is the condition now? The race itself has not altered. The same blood, uncontaminated by foreign mixture, still runs in the veins of the people — the same material from which were made the heroes of the past still exists in untold quantities. But the psychological factor in the making of heroes, where is it? Where is the desire of glory for glory's sake? Where are the sturdy virtues of the past — bravery, self-sacrifice and devotion to one's country? The germs of these still lie in the nature of the people, but in the leaders of the people — the officials — where they should spring up, bud and bear fruit, where are they? Dead, dead — scorched and annihilated by the all-devouring flame of avarice.

The present conception of honour is the accumulation of wealth. Ambition makes riches its sole goal, and bravery devotes itself to daring and unscrupulous schemes of self-enrichment. The entire energies are used up in the race after silver, and no thought for the public good exists except such as is necessary to veneer the outward appearance to the present standard of Chinese officialdom.

But, O Sovereign, not only have the virtues of the ancients disappeared, but the vices which have taken their place are not merely tolerated but are incorporated into and indeed form the motive power of the modern administrative machine of your Empire.

So that whatever the innate virtue of an official may be, he is perforce obliged, not only to acquiesce in the existence of, but also is made to participate in the evil practices of peculation and extortion in order to enable him to fulfil the functions of his position.

For this reason it is plain that the individual is not necessarily to blame; it is the system that is at fault. In countries where human sacrifice is a ceremonial practice, virtue is measured only by moderation in its use; entire abstinence does not appear possible even to the people from whom the victims are drawn. In countries where gross forms of sexual licence obtains, its evils are not plain to the people notwithstanding its obvious detrimentality. There is a proverb, Your Majesty, that a fox does not smell his own hole.

So here in your own country the existing bad practices are so bound up with the everyday routine and duties of official life that a perception of these evils in their proper magnitude is hard for a Chinese to obtain.

What I now pray to Heaven is that Your Majesty, reviewing the disastrous troubles which have fallen on China in the past few years, may get a glimpse of how big a factor the lust for money and the consequent absence of public-spiritedness has been in the matter of China's misfortunes.

There have been, and are now, schemes of reform initiated by Your Majesty's Government, such as foreign drill for your armies, a modern fleet and colleges for Western technical learning. Such schemes, however, can bear no useful fruit until honesty of administration has first been established. To plant these Western conceptions in the soil of existing Chinese official procedure is like trying to make camels work in a Canton summer, or elephants in a Peking winter. They cannot do it; they can work only in an environment suited to them.

It may be that Your Majesty will consider that the view which I have put forward is an exaggerated one, or even as a libel on your Government's administration; but I beg Your Majesty to remember that the very exaltation of your position makes a realization of the situation especially difficult for you. Your position is on a mountain top; the lesser hills are around you, but you cannot see the plain.

Many facts are doubtless kept from you, and some, such as the one I am now dealing with, it is certain that no Chinese official would dare to approach you upon.

This latter consideration, above all others, has been the determining factor in my deciding to present this Memorial. I have it borne in upon me that on me devolves, as an humble agent of destiny and as Your Majesty's most faithful servant, the pointing out of existing evils in no uncertain voice.

Look back, Your Majesty, in your country's annals and see how the most famous sovereigns of the past — those whose memories obtain the greatest reverence to-day — were those who dealt successfully with crises in their country's history.

A crisis exists now. China lies a sick and wounded dragon surrounded by beasts of prey as vultures surround the dying camel in the wilderness; no sharpening of claws or spitting of fire can possibly serve to defend her; the one and only remedy is the recovery of health, when those who batten on corpses and drink the juice of graves will go elsewhere for their meals. What therefore is needed to deal with the situation is the physician.

O Sovereign, be that doctor! Diagnose the disease, prescribe the medicine, and hand your name down to posterity as the greatest of sovereigns inasmuch as you were the greatest of nations'physicians.

The disease has been pointed out; the medicine must be decided upon according to the august wisdom of Your Majesty. I venture, however, to bring the following suggestions to Your Majesty's notice

Gather round you not those who fatuously believe that the China of to-day is in the same position now relatively to other nations as she was after the founding of your dynasty, and who act as if this were the case; but rather those who would wish her to regain that position, and who intelligently realize how much she has lost of late years in the race of nations.

Commence a crusade against dishonesty and extortion, and bear in mind that the source of a river is in the mountains, and that those immediately about your Imperial person are probably the most notable exponents of the system to which they themselves are perforce subject.

Make your Court an example of what a Yamen from a Viceroy's to a Hsien's should be.

Put riches at a discount by refusing to allow it to be a factor in official advancement.

Let your advisers elaborate an efficient scheme for the collection and the transmission of revenues, for the scrupulous care of the country's finances, and for the payment of suitable salaries to officials from a Viceroy downwards.

Institute, in fact, a radical fiscal reform, and by precept and example inculcate among your officials a sense of the value of integrity and efficiency.