CHAPTER XXII. THE REIGN OF KWANGSU
What would China be worth to Russia? This question is answered by Mr. Colquhoun at considerable length. What the utilization of China would mean can be realized, he says, only by a full appreciation of the extraordinary resources of that country, judged from various points of view. The Celestial Empire has the men with which to create armies and navies; the materials, especially iron and coal, requisite for the purposes of railway and steam navigation; all the elements, in fact, out of which to evolve a great living force. One thing alone is wanting, namely, the will, the directing power, which, absent from within, is now being applied from without. That supplied, there are to be found in abundance within China itself the capacity to carry out, the brains to plan, the hands to work. When, moreover, it is understood that not merely is the soil fertile, but that the mineral resources, the greatest, perhaps, in the whole world, are, as yet, practically untouched, the merest surface being scratched; when we further consider the volume of China's population, the ability and enterprise, and, above all, the intense vitality of the people, as strong as ever after four millenniums; when we reflect on the general characteristics of the race; it seems indisputable that the Chinese, under wise direction, are destined to dominate the whole of Eastern Asia, and, may be, to play a leading part in the affairs of the world. Even although the Celestial Empire appears to be now breaking up, it is capable, under tutelage, of becoming reconsolidated. Often before now, when conquered, has China either thrown off the yoke or absorbed its conquerors. But never before has the conqueror come, as does the czar to-day, in the guise of a great organizing force. To much the same effect wrote Michie, whose opinion is of weight, and from whom we have already quoted: "The theory that China's decadence is due to the fact that she has long since reached maturity and has outlived the natural term of a nation's existence does not hold good. The mass of the people have not degenerated; they are as fresh and vigorous as ever they were; it is the government only that has become old and feeble; a change of dynasty may yet restore to China the luster which belongs legitimately to so great a nation. The indestructible vitality of Chinese institutions has preserved the country unchanged throughout many revolutions. The high civilization of the people and their earnestness in the pursuit of peaceful industry have enabled them to preserve their national existence through more dynastic changes than perhaps any other country or nation has experienced." Mr. Colquhoun, for his own part, testifies that, in peaceful pursuits, in agriculture, in the arts and manufactures, no limit can be placed to the capabilities of China. Even in the paths of war, he deems it difficult to foretell what, under skillfull direction, may not be accomplished. It is true that, touching this point, there is a wide difference of opinion. Prjevalski said, apropos of the Tonquin campaign: "She [China] lacks the proper material; she lacks the life-giving spirit. Let Europeans supply the Chinese with any number of arms that they please: let them exert themselves ever so energetically to train Chinese soldiers: let them even supply leaders: the Chinese Army will, nevertheless, even under the most favorable conditions, never be more than an artificially created, mechanically united, unstable organism. Subject it but once to the serious test of war, speedy dissolution will overtake such an army, which could never hope for victory over a foe animated with any real spirit." On the other hand, high testimony has been borne by other travelers and military critics to the excellent quality of China's raw material for military purposes. Wingrove Cooke, the "Times" correspondent with the allied forces in 1857-58, who is generally accounted one of the best critics of Chinese men and affairs; Count d'Escayrac de Lauture, one of the Pekin prisoners in 1859-60; Chinese Gordon and Lord Wolseley, have all spoken highly of the courage and endurance of the Chinese soldier. The following summary of his capabilities was given by one who had had experience with Gordon's "Ever-Victorious Army": "The old notion is pretty well got rid of that they are at all a cowardly people, when properly paid and efficiently led; while the regularity and order of their habits, which dispose them to peace in ordinary times, give place to a daring bordering on recklessness in times of war. Their intelligence and capacity for remembering facts render them well fitted for use in modern warfare, as do also the coolness and the calmness of their disposition. Physically, they are, on the average, not so strong as Europeans, but considerably more so than most of the other races of the East; and, on a cheap diet of rice, vegetables, salt fish and pork, they can go through a vast amount of fatigue whether in a temperate climate or a tropical one, where Europeans are ill fitted for exertion. Their wants are few; they have no caste prejudices and hardly any appetite for intoxicating liquors." It is Mr. Colquhoun's opinion, based upon prolonged observation, that, if China were conquered by Russia, organized, disciplined and led by Russian officers and Russian administrators, an industrial and military organization would be developed which India could not face, and which would shake to its foundations the entire fabric of the British Empire. If, he says, the Chinese failed to profit by their numerical superiority and their power of movement in Tonquin, it must be remembered that they were as ill-equipped and supplied and nearly as unorganized and unofficered as they were in the Chino-Japanese war. Transport, commissariat, tents, medical service, all the paraphernalia employed in organized army work, were then, as in the late campaign, absolutely unknown.