Discussion of W.I. Thomas, "The Significance of the Orient for the Occident"


Professor Thomas has taken a view very natural to a man who realizes the intellectual possibilities of a union of the Orient and the West; who sees that through the approach between the oriental and the western civilizations our life will be very much enriched; who feels, as a critical student of our own civilization, its defects, and sees how they may be remedied by what the oriental may have to teach us. I think it is very proper for him to take

(743) this optimistic view in his opening paper; there is certainly great hopefulness in the situation.

But if we are to consider the subject what conflict stimuli exist, and the existence of which we cannot deny, it is the less pleasant duty of those who are to engage n this discussion to insist more fully on those points of difference by the presence of which the situation is overcast, because, even with this hopeful view of the outcome, the only wise ground to take is to recognize that these great divergences in views and interests do exist and will exist until we have reached a new synthesis of East and West. Now I do not wish to take up by any means a summary or general discussion of these stimuli. I wish simply to refer to one or two of them.

The most evident, the most obvious is, of course, that which we call race prejudice, that cover with which a race surrounds itself unconsciously, or even, in later stages, consciously, for self-protection, and which works such a great injustice in the relations between individual and individual. Now we may consider ourselves tolerably free from race prejudice as against the oriental. But we occasionally meet with it in the most unexpected quarters; so for instance the letters of Lafcadio Hearn show that he felt the deepest antipathy for the Japanese -- he, the man who entered most intimately into their psychology, who has portrayed their civilization in the most attractive manner. Professor Thomas spoke of Japan as essentially modern; and from one point of view her rapid progress certainly enables us to speak of Japanese in those terms. But in Hearn's opinion the Japanese race is primitive as the Etruscans, and so distant from us that we cannot understand it. If Lafcadio Hearn could have these feelings of distance with reference to the men among whom he had lived and whom in many ways he admired, we can understand the lack of sympathy among the merchants or traveling men who come into contact or competition with them.

The second stimulus is the lack of space. Think of what it would mean if another great area of China should be reduced to aridity, as has happened in the past. What does it mean to the world today that the Japanese inhabit a land that is small and overpopulated? We know ourselves what it means with respect to our own country. This surplus of population is seeking outlets and is seeking them to a large extent in North and South America. The development of Japanese immigration into South America is extending, and there is a source for future conflict and misunderstanding on account of the Monroe Doctrine which very few have thought of; so that the voyage of our fleet to the Pacific may be looked upon as the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine against Japan as well as its former declaration against Europe.

There are of course many other stimuli for conflict, but the third obvious one is that of commercial and industrial rivalry. In this case the stimulus is very concentrated, and embodied in a small group of men, namely the

(744) oriental merchants; in China, as you know, these merchants are congregated in the extra- territorial ports. Now there was never an organization effected in the world in which conflicts of interest assume a sharper emphasis than the foreign settlements of China, because they are republican in form, and are governed by alien laws, while their denizens insist that the entire force of European and American nations shall stand back of them. When Mr. Taft was at Shanghai he horrified the Europeans by speaking of the sovereign rights of China over Shanghai, because it seemed to involve the admission that China might assume the exercise of that sovereignty at some future day.


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