Ku Hung-ming (Gū Hóngmíng, 辜鴻銘, 1857-1928) was a prolific writer and it is not easy to draw up a complete list of his writings. Over a span of almost 40 years he published a great deal of articles, letters and reviews in the press, both in China and abroad, under a variety of pen-names, and then recycled some of this material in his books. While the list of his known published books can be established more or less with certainty, the extent of his journalistic publications is much harder to pin down. The precarious position of the foreign press in China has meant that archival records often do not exist, or only partially so. The transient nature of many of these journals does not help either. Thus it has been a matter of some contention whether or not he translated such and such a text, and whether or not it was ever published, and if so, where and when.
Additionally, many of the articles and letters in question were republished in different newspapers and journals, in different countries and in different languages. As one editor said: “Ku Hung-ming was a law unto himself. He probably saw no reason why his work – good work – should not be published repeatedly, by different people all over the world.” – Neither do we.
The following article, “Uncivilized United States,” (《没有文化的美国》) was first published in the “North China Standard” of Peking, and was subsequently republished in the New York Times in 1921. Thanks to digitization, it is now available as a PDF file. By using the search function of the NYT database, one may also find a number of responses to this article, including one entitled “Poetry & Government” and another called “Civilized United States.” (Note the hackneyed caricature of a mandarin standing in front of skyscrapers.)
“If the United States were destroyed tomorrow, I want to ask what great spiritual thing have the Americans as a nation done which they can leave behind them to show to men of after generations that they were once a nation with a civilization.”
The polemical tone of the article will no doubt come as an affront to many, but one must always bear in mind the author’s intention. At the very least it should be regarded as a thought-provoking view of culture and civilization. In the coming weeks we hope to present selected excerpts from the works of Ku Hung-ming that further illustrate the traditional basis of civilization. Discerning readers should be capable of reading between the lines, beyond the deliberate provocation and sweeping statements. His work, more relevant than ever, deserves a wider readership and closer consideration, beyond sterile scholarship and vain argumentation.
“My object in writing this article is not to abuse the American people. My object is to tell people that the only way to save civilization – the first thing you must do if you want to save civilization – is to know what civilization is.”
Read or download this article here.