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Chapter 14 — THE GREAT WAR
1. Neutrality Work

THE Great War came.

How very different was our position from those at home; and I for one felt mean about it, so later I volunteered as a Naval Reserve Lieutenant-Commander and wondered if, in view of my previous war experience, I might get on an Admiral's staff. Admiral Limpus was a friend of mine, and Admiral Jellicoe knew something of me; yet I knew that the probabilities were that, because of my age, out-of- dateness and my deafness, I should be made a Harbour Master at some wretched port; but my application was refused. Sir John Jordan wrote that the Admiralty considered I was serving my country better where I was; yet at the time I was acting as Neutrality Adviser to the Chinese Admiral, and the power most to be guarded against in that respect was Great Britain. It was a position that was anomalous and very delicate. On the 8th August Sir Francis Aglen had written that the Chinese Government wished me to act as Neutrality Adviser to the Chinese Admiral from behind the screen; a decision was left to me, and nothing was said about the inevitable difficulties of the matter. So I went round to Sir Everard Fraser, the Consul-General, and asked him what he thought about it. I have no record of whether he already knew of the proposal, but either then or shortly after he told me that Sir John Jordan cordially concurred in it. Again not a word was said about the delicacy of the job — about what our mutual relationship might be.

The Admiral was still Li Ting-sing — more my friend and more reliable than any of the others I had dealt with. Within limits he would follow my advice. My duties in this matter of neutrality — in a strenuous form — lasted until July 1915, that is for nearly a year. I have a lot of papers, though not all, from that time — dossiers of episodes, my weekly letters to the Inspectorate, and others. They make sad reading.

There were British, French and German gunboats on the Yangtsze which had to be interned. At the river ports the British Consuls and the Commanders of the vessels played the game; they acquiesced in disarmament as a necessary feature of the situation. The Germans were troublesome and, owing to Li's weakness, were not adequately dealt with. There was a mass of small worrying affairs to deal with, but all were handled on both sides with a sense of decency — all except one.

That affair was not quite so small . . . . Here, reading proofs, I cut out quite a lot, for I find I broke a rule that I have imposed upon myself. That rule is this: — I criticise the living only in affairs that are integral to my story as a whole. I criticise the dead — as public characters — only when they are really dead and gone — for me. Some, though dead, have not entirely gone; their spirits linger in the memories of those who love them and who are my friends. And these I leave alone at whatever cost in points of interest.

In this affair of neutrality, and later, when China ' went to war,' I got, from time to time, to serious loggerheads with people of position and authority, most of whom were friends of mine. I knew quite well — I applied this to myself as well as others — how little we are reasonable creatures. We use reason — in the main — merely to bolster up our prejudices.

Sir John Jordan, visiting Shanghai, called at my office, and I told him of an incident that might form a danger to my reputation. In that charming way of his he answered, ` You are suffering like many others for the Cause; but be assured that we know you well, and that your reputation will stand a great deal more than that.'

There was one important way in which the Great War affected China that must be told. The Germans had the port of Kiaochao in China, and the Japanese attacked it, and, with an entire disregard for China, they landed near Chefoo and marched overland to take the Germans in their rear. They were our treaty allies, but to them the great issue was not whether we should win or lose, but how the war would react on their position in regard to China. If the allies won, what would not Russia, flushed with victory, do? She would eat up China in the North. There would be no concerted policy toward that country, and so, because of what Russia did, France would extend her southern colony and occupy Yunnan. Then Great Britain would have to take her share, and it would be the Yangtsze valley; and Japan would be left out in the cold. If, on the other hand, Germany won the war, she would dominate — sooner or later — the whole of Russia; and then where would Japan be, who had fought against her?

As for America — whether she was drawn into the war or not — she was not likely to intervene with force on behalf of China.

Thus there was a serious danger that in the inevitable afterturmoil of the war Japan would be swamped — unless . . .

Unless what?
Unless, of course, she took advantage of the preoccupation of the several states to consolidate herself in China, and so present a fait accompli when the war was over.

It was some such view that I think our ally took about the situation.(1) So they flung their Twenty-one Demands at the head of Yuan Shih-kai, demands which claimed, in effect, suzerainty over China. They threw them secretly, with threats of drastic measures if they were divulged; and when there was leakage of them they denied them as long as it was possible to do so. But of course it all came out, there was some diplomatic intervention, a whittling down of the demands, and in the end a face-saving farce — an ultimatum and a giving in by China on points which did not matter very much.
1 — This opinion is based on Putnam Weale's description of the time in his Fight for the Republic.