It was shortly after that affair of the Amur river that
Admiral Sah became Acting Premier. We wiped out what had
gone before, and got together on the subject of a naval fund — a
pet scheme of mine.
That there would be a period of civil war ahead was as
certain as anything could be.
To the navy, the idea of being
used as a pawn in the ambition of military leaders was repugnant; still more repugnant was the possibility of it being
divided against itself — of one part fighting against another. In
a civil war the navy in one way or the other — for example,
defending transport of troops by sea or commanding the
Yangtsze river — could control fifty per cent of the situation.
That it should become a political factor to that extent was highly
undesirable. And dominating the situation was the matter of
pay, the pay to provide for the parents, wives and children of
the men, respectable family men — not riff-raff like the soldiers.
If a central government was bankrupt owing to the secession
from it of the provinces, the navy must in due course be
tempted beyond the possibility of resistance to go over to the
side that had the money.
There was a fermentation process going on in China which
must continue for some years to come. Chief among its
elements were the military satraps and their armies. In that
process the navy was not a necessary factor; its use as an
ingredient could but increase the severity and the length of the
period of strife; above all, it would destroy that morale of a
nucleus for purely national defence which it had to a considerable degree, and the importance of which I had always
urged upon the Admirals.
Yet there was no conceivable way by which the navy could
be eliminated as a factor; but while that was so, there was a
choice of evils. The lesser one was to adopt the principle that
although the navy must never act against the central government, it would rest — though of course it would never be so
stated — with the Admirals in consultation with the Captains
to decide when a central government was unsupportable; and
then stand neutral — a grave enough evil that, but much smaller
than the alternative.
To make that scheme possible an arrangement would have
to be come to with the Loan Banks whereby in critical times
money, held by them on behalf of the Chinese Government,
should be available for the payment of the fleet. That was the
plan I advocated. Sir John Jordan approved and sympathized,
but, with his term of office drawing to a close, he could not
undertake to push it. It was over my vain efforts in this
affair that Admiral Sah and I renewed our former friendship
and that he made his generous friendly gesture of appointing
me Honorary Adviser to the Cabinet. It was doubtless intended merely as a compliment; and anyhow I never had the
chance to exercise the functions,
Here is the translation which accompanied the Chinese
' To ADVISER TYLER,
The business of the Cabinet is very abundant and all of it
requires proper attention. As you are well conversant with
matters foreign as well as those Chinese, and your knowledge
and views are broad and wide, you are appointed as an Honorary
Adviser of the Cabinet by this letter.
` We earnestly request that you will come round to the
Cabinet from time to time and give your advice as freely as you
can. SEAL OF THE CABINET.'
There is a subject about which something must be said.
All of us — diplomats, bankers, merchants and the rest — backed
the wrong horses. We pinned our faith in Yuan Shih-kai, and
he proved a broken reed; and after him we continued to back
the North against the South — the remnant of old-time officialdom and governance against the seemingly futile vagariousness
of Sun Yat-sen. Yet it was the South that ultimately won.
Does that show that our judgment was defective — that we
lacked in perspicacity? I do not think so. In effect we had
To the diplomat the nominally de facto government,
to which he was accredited, was something which he could not
go behind, and to all of us evolution was a more proper thing
to back than revolution. We had no illusions about the virtue
of the North; but at least it was something tangible, while the
South was like a dream to deal with. Yet that reality of the
North has disappeared for ever, and it is the dream that has
We, who know a little but not much of China, are astonished
at what has happened, but only with the astonishment that one
accords the conjuror on the stage; for China is the prestidigitator among the nations. Situations arise from which
seemingly there can be no escape; but the spirit of the Chinese
people waves a wand, and hey! presto! the whole affair is
changed to something else. Here is a little picture of that
sort of thing
The Boxers are besieging the Legations, and in the near-by
palace the Empress Dowager is signing an edict instructing her
viceroys to kill all foreigners on sight.
A few weeks later foreign troops are at one entrance to her
capital while she is fleeing through another to the Western Hills.
Some months pass by, and we see the Empress re-entering
her capital in state; and then she has the wives of diplomats
to tea, and receives their adulation. If that could happen,
how can one say what is impossible in China?
The victory of the Southerners has cleared the board to a
great extent. The new Chinese are left untrammelled except
by their own defects; but those are ample to provide for lots
of trouble for some years to come, and it is just as well that that
is so. A suddenly regenerated China would be a serious
nuisance to the world and a misfortune as regards herself.
She is a giant in parturition. It is well that the process should
be long and even painful; it is nature's method for securing
an appreciation of the value of the result.
Already the prospective mother is claiming recognition for
the offspring in her womb — recognition on terms of full
equality. When it is born it will get that recognition.
Our previous backing of the North did not involve the
support of one set of conceptions against another. We merely
backed the people who could get the day's work done. And so
it is to-day. We deal with the ganglion of interests centred at
Nanking — which at this moment (1) controls no more than a very
few of the eighteen provinces — because it is the only nucleus
of some measure of concerted action. Now, as before, there
is no choice about the matter. We do not know as yet what
China, as an entity, really means nor what it really wants.
1 — i.e. March 1929.
There is Nationalism, of course, the desire to be untrammelled
by extraordinary restrictions; that is something real which has
come to stay. Apart from that, we have no knowledge that
what Nanking stands for is representative of China. There is
nothing for it but to wait and see. But between that degree of
conforming to events and a vast commitment for the future,
based on faith in the continuance of a momentary stability,
there lies a monstrous difference. Such a faith cannot be
justified, and action based on it may be disastrous.
The question of the change in contact between the East and
West and the problem of the treaty ports are highly controversial matters, and, as they cannot be touched on briefly, they
are unsuitable to be dealt with here.
Then there is the academic but yet practically important
question of the more distant future of the Chinese people.
About that can anything be said? Very little; not more than
that, running through the weft and warp of the infinite happenings that form the fabric of the future and seem to us fortuitous,
there runs the thread of inevitability that China in due course
— perhaps a century hence — will be a super-power of confederated states living side by side — and not as a Yellow Peril —
with that other super-power, the English-speaking peoples;
(and a third may be the Slays coalescing with a German matrix).