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Title: The Chinese Philosopher and the European War
Author: Stacy Aumonier
eBook No.: 2200231h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2022
Most recent update: 2022

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The Chinese Philosopher and the European War


Stacy Aumonier

From the "In Lighter Vein" section of The Century Magazine, Jan 1917.
An anti-war parable.

It may seem a remarkable fact that in the World War in which nearly all nations are engaged, the oldest, wisest, and greatest nation is not only not participating, but is apparently looked upon as a negligible quantity by the belligerent powers. Surely no greater tribute could be paid to the wisdom and the greatness of the Chinese.

Some one has said that "No man was ever so wise as some Chinamen look." But will not these cataclysmal European happenings demonstrate a denial of this statement? Will they not prove that some one is as wise as some Chinamen look, and that person the Chinaman? In his rock garden near Peking the Chinese philosopher sits fanning himself. His mind communes with the spirits of his ancestors, and meditates upon the unforgetable wisdom of the Lord Confucius.

He recalls how a few idle centuries ago the continuity of these peaceful meditations was disturbed by the sudden arrival of restless infidels on his shores. Even now he can see their strained, feverish faces. To the trained eye they differed from one another; they spoke different languages, wore different clothes, had different casts of countenance, but to the all-seeing eye they were fundamentally the same. They preached the same doctrine—a doctrine they labeled "progress, civilization." They professed several mushroom faiths, the dominant one being called "Christianity," concerning which they differed profoundly, and split up into many subdivisions. The Chinese philosopher recalls the faces of their emissaries who came to him and said:

"Wake! You must advance, you must bestir yourself!" He can almost recall the tones of mild remonstrance of his own voice.

"To what end?"

"To progress. To become civilized, to enter into the great world competition."

They hardly stayed to listen to the serene philosophy which his master would have inspired him to instill into them if they had stayed to listen, they were in so restless a hurry. They said:

"If you do not do this, we will destroy you."

They were off again to struggle with one another for good positions on his shores, there to carry on their strange and unaccountable practices of buying and selling, and distributing soul-destroying spirits to the undisciplined, and to erect tin temples to their parvenu Gods. He saw their fussy gunboats on his rivers destroying human life.

Some there were who were disturbed by these actions, and came to him and said:

"What shall we do concerning this? Shall China stretch forth her hand?"

And he had answered:

"China is linked to the sun and moon by immemorial ties. Look into your heart, my children, and read the words of the All-Wise."

And then, as the centuries rolled by, he observed that it was not China they destroyed; it was one another. The wind bells tinkle under the eaves of the pagoda. Soon in all her glory the sun will be setting. A messenger enters and kneels in low obeisance.

"Excellency, the Western World is at war. Already ten million men have fallen by the sword."

"Ai-e-e!" He draws the wind through his teeth with a whistling inflection. "What Western World is this?" he asked at length.

"They who enunciate the doctrine of progress, civilization, culture, O Excellency!"


He meditates upon this for some time. He harbors no feelings of animosity against these people who had threatened to destroy him; only his heart is filled with a strange, pitying misgiving that there should be so much lack of culture, so little appreciation of the value of inner progress, and so exaggerated a sense of the value of outer progress.

Wood-pigeons are cooing in their cot above the temple, and the sound, mingling with the low chanting of a priest, tends to emphasize the tranquility of the evening. Ten million men! It is very sad, very deplorable; but he banishes these melancholy thoughts, for he knows that his mind must be occupied with far more important matters. It is the hour when, in strict accordance with immemorial precepts, he must look into his own soul.


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