“Whilst it is safe to infer that the motives that underlie the significant access of activity in military matters in Yuen-nan differ in no way from those which have led to the feverish increase in armaments in other parts of the world, such ideas that have yet been formed on actual preparations for possible war are most crude. On paper the appointments in the army and the accuracy of the figures of the complement of rank and file admit of no question, but the practical utility of their labors is quite another matter, and a matter which does not appear to produce among the army officials any great mental disturbance in their delusion that they are progressing. Yuen-nan is in need of military reform, reform which will embrace a start from the very beginning, and one of the first steps that should be taken is that those who are to be in the position of administering training should find out something about western military affairs, and so be in a position of knowing what they are doing.”
The above was my conscientious opinion in the middle of last year. Now—in June of 1910—I have to write of enormous improvements and revolutions in the drilling, in the armaments, in the equipment, in the general organization of the troops and the conduct of them. Yuen-nan is still peculiarly in her transition stage, which, while it has many elements of strength and many menacing possibilities, contains, more or less, many of the old weaknesses. All matters, such as her financial question, her tariff question, her railway question, her mining question, are still “in the air”—the unknown x in the equation, as it were—but her army question is settled. There is a definite line to be followed here, and it is being followed most rigidly. Come what will, her army must be safe and sound. China is determined to work out the destiny of Yuen-nan herself, and she is working hard—the West has no conception how hard—so as to be able to be in a position of safeguarding—vigorously, if necessary—her own borders.
One question arises in my mind, however. Should there be a rebellion, would the soldiers remain true? This is vital to Yuen-nan. Skirmishings on the French border more or less recently have shown us that soldiers are wobblers in that area. The rank and file are chosen from the common people, and one would not be surprised to find, should trouble take place fairly soon, while they are still raw to their business, the soldiers turn to those who could give them most. It has been humorously remarked that in case of disturbances the first thing the Chinese Tommy would do would be to shoot the officers for treating him so badly and for drilling him so hard and long.
What is true of the capital in respect to military progress I found to be true also of Tali-fu.