The language, for instance. Who is there, who knows anything about it, who would wish to see the Chinese character drop out of the national life? Yet it is bound to come to some extent, and in future ages the written language will develop into pretty well the same as Latin among ourselves. Romanization, although as yet far from being accomplished, must sooner or later come into vogue, as is patent at the first glance at business. If commerce in the Interior is to grow to any great extent in succeeding generations, warranting direct correspondence with the ports at the coast and with the outside world, the Chinese hieroglyph will not continue to suffice as a satisfactory means of communication. No correspondence in Chinese will ever be written on a machine such as I am now using to type this manuscript, and this valuable adjunct of the office must surely force its way into Chinese commercial life. But only when Romanization becomes more or less universal.
This, however, by the way.
My point is, that no matter how Occidentalized he may become, the Chinese will never lose his national characteristics—not so much probably as the Japanese has done. What the youth has been at home, in his habits of thought, in his purpose and spirit, in his manifestation of action, will largely determine his after life. Chinese mental and moral history has so stamped certain ineffaceable marks on the language, and the thought and character of her people, that China will never—even were she so inclined—obliterate her Oriental features, and must always and inevitably remain Chinese. The conflict, however, is not racial, it is a question of civilization. Were it racial only, to my way of thinking we should be beaten hopelessly.
And as I write this in a Chinese inn, in the heart of Yuen-nan—the “backward province”—surrounded by the common people in their common, dirty, daily doings, a far stretch of vivid imagining is needed to see these people in any way approaching the Westernization already current in eastern provinces of this dark Empire.
This is what I wrote sitting on the top of a mountain during my tour across China. But it will be seen in other parts of this book that Western ideas and methods of progress in accord more with European standards are being adopted—and in some places with considerable energy—even in the “backward province.” In travel anywhere in the world, one becomes absorbed more or less with one’s own immediate surroundings, and there is a tendency to form opinions on the limitations of those surroundings. In many countries this would not lead one far astray, but in China it is different. Most of my opinion of the real Chinese is formed in Yuen-nan, and it is not to be denied that in all the other seventeen provinces, although a good many of them may be more forward in the trend of national evolution and progress, the same squalidness among the people, and every condition antagonistic to the Westerner’s education so