We agreed to cross China on foot, and accordingly on February 22, 1909, just as the sun was sinking over the beautiful harbor of Singapore—that most valuable strategic Gate of the Far East, where Crown Colonial administration, however, is allowed by a lethargic British Government to become more and more bungled every year—we settled down on board the French mail steamer Nera, bound for Shanghai. My friends, good fellows, in reluctantly speeding me on my way, prophesied that this would prove to be my last long voyage to a last long rest, that the Chinese would never allow me to come out of China alive. Such is the ignorance of the average man concerning the conditions of life and travel in the interior of this Land of Night.
Here, then, was I on my way to that land towards which all the world was straining its eyes, whose nation, above all nations of the earth, was altering for better things, and coming out of its historic shell. “Reform, reform, reform,” was the echo, and I myself was on the way to hear it.
At the time I started for China the cry of “China for the Chinese” was heard in all countries, among all peoples. Statesmen were startled by it, editors wrote the phrase to death, magazines were filled with copy—good, bad and indifferent—mostly written, be it said, by men whose knowledge of the question was by no means complete: editorial opinion, and contradiction of that opinion, were printed side by side in journals having a good name. To one who endeavored actually to understand what was being done, and whither these broad tendencies and strange cravings of the Chinese were leading a people who formerly were so indifferent to progress, it seemed essential that he should go to the country, and there on the spot make a study of the problem.
Was the reform, if genuine at all, universal in China? Did it reach to the ends of the Empire?
That a New China had come into being, and was working astounding results in the enlightened provinces above the Yangtze and those connected with the capital by railway, was common knowledge; but one found it hard to believe that the west and the south-west of the empire were moved by the same spirit of Europeanism, and it will be seen that China in the west moves, if at all, but at a snail’s pace: the second part of this volume deals with that portion of the subject.
And it may be that the New China, as we know it in the more forward spheres of activity, will only take her proper place in the family of nations after fresh upheavals. Rivers of blood may yet have to flow as a sickening libation to the gods who have guided the nation for forty centuries before she will be able to attain her ambition of standing line to line with the other powers of the eastern and western worlds. But it seems that no matter what the cost, no matter what she may have to suffer financially and nationally, no matter how great the obstinacy of the people towards