AN OPTIMIST LOOKS AT CHINA
By Hu Shih
AN OPTIMIST LOOKS AT CHINA, by Hu Shih, in the Asia Magazine, March 1935.
Hu Shih，胡适（1891-1962）, China’s best-known scholar and teacher.
It is in the direction of abolishing the numerous evils of the old tradition that China has achieved the greatest success in the past few decades. She has successfully prohibited the foot-binding which has been a terrible curse to Chinese womanhood for at least a thousand years. The hereditary absolute monarchy has been overthrown, and with it are gone all those institutions which for centuries have been its paraphernalia: the imperial household with its unlimited number of wives and concubines, the institution of eunuchism, the parasitic nobility born to power, and many others. With the revision of Chinese law and the reform of legal procedure, the ancient tortures and inhuman punishments were abolished. The opening of new schools marked the disappearance of the mechanical and exacting form of literary composition, known as the Octopartite, which had been required as the standard form in all state examinations, and for the mastery of which the best years and energies of the whole educated class of the past six centuries had been sacrificed.
These are a few of the more fundamental departures from the old tradition. They are not merely isolated items of reform; they are indicators of fundamental changes in attitudes toward the most important phases of life. The binding of women’s feet, for example, was not merely an isolated institution of extreme cruelty and brutality, but also the clear and undeniable evidence of a general attitude toward womanhood which ten centuries of native religion and moral philosophy had failed to condemn and rectify. The abolition of foot-binding, therefore, is not merely the passing away of an inhuman institution, but an indication of the coming of an entirely new attitude toward womanhood. In that sense, it is veritably a moral revolution.
This revolution with regard to womanhood, which began with the agitation of Christian missionaries against foot-binding, has been going on all these years. It includes the opening of schools for girls, the gradual spread of coeducation in practically all universities and colleges, the entrance of women into professional and even official life, the recognition under the new Civil Code of their equal rights to inherit property with their brothers, and the rapid changes in the law and custom concerning marriage and divorce. The revolution is far from completion; but it has already achieved in a few decades what twenty-five centuries of Confucianist humanitarianism and twenty centuries of Buddhist mercy had never dreamed of achieving. May we not call this a great progress?
decades. A decade is a ten-year period.
prohibited, prevented or forbade the practice of foot-binding.
curse, a thing whose effects are disastrous.
a thousand years. When was foot-binding introduced?
hereditary absolute monarchy, a government where all authority was in the hands of an emperor who, when he died, passed the power over to a successor, most usually his eldest son.
overthrown, cast out from power; put an end to.
centuries. One hundred years make a century.
paraphernalia, accessories, institutions which have grown up with and have been closely allied with the hereditary absolute monarchy; odds and ends of equipment that went along with that system of government.
the imperial household, the domestic establishment of the emperor.
concubines, secondary wives.
eunuchism. A eunuch is a castrated male person, originally as one in charge of a harem or employed in a palace as a chamberlain or manager. Eunuchism is the practice of instituting such persons.
parasitic nobility, the class of nobles who by birth or rank inherit certain privileges which Dr. Hu Shih claims they do not deserve and ought not have. Because these nobles have a living which they do not have to labor for, because these nobles live on the fat of the land merely because they are nobles and without having to work for that living, Dr. Hu calls them parasites, animals living in or on other animals from which they draw their nutriment or food.
revision, changing by amending or correcting.
legal procedure, mode of conducting matters in a law court.
exacting, demanding strictly correct observance of certain rules.
Octopartite, consisting of eight parts. The 八股 is referred to here, in which the candidate, after introducing his theme, must treat it in four paragraphs, each consisting of two members, made up of an equal number of words and sentences. The theme was always chosen from the Four Books （四书） or the Five Classics （五经）. The writer could not express any opinion of his own or at variance with those opinions expressed by Chu Hsi and his school. This form of evil was instituted by the Emperor T‘ai Tsu of the Ming dynasty in 1371.
past six centuries, since 1371.
sacrificed, given up for. The educated class had given up everything else, had not done anything else, because they had to prepare for this particular form of state examination.
departures, going away; deviations from; setting out on a course of action different from that of the past.
isolated items of reform, items of improvement or change for the better that stand apart or are not connected with other changes. Dr. Hu claims that all these changes are not unconnected.
indicators, indications or signs that show or point out.
rectify, make or set right; correct from a wrong, erroneous, or false state; amend.
veritably, truly; deserving the name apart from all exaggeration.
co-education, joint education, especially of both sexes in the same institution.
Confucianist humanitarianism. Confucius （551-478 B.C.） was concerned with human （not divine） interests; hence his doctrine may be called humanitarianism. Confucius taught 仁义道德．
Buddhist mercy. Gautama Buddha （557-480 B.C.） founded Buddhism on the doctrine of mercy （慈悲）. Buddhism came into our country in the year 68 A.D., during the reign of Ming Ti of the Later Han dynasty （后汉明帝）.
- In what direction has China achieved the greatest success in the past few decades?
- What are the departures from the old tradition indicating of?
- What does the revolution in regard to womanhood include?