While Ku Hung-ming had nothing but strong words and contempt for modern Western civilisation; industrialisation, individualism, materialism, and democracy – or as he puts it: democrazy – he reserved some of his harshest criticism for those of his fellow compatriots who wished to introduce such concepts into China, without carefully weighing the consequences, and without regard for the millennial traditions and institutions of Imperial China.
The present queueless Republican Chinaman is a vampire, a ‘Frankenstein,’ whom foreigners themselves have created, and this Frankenstein, this awful vampire, is the Yellow Peril of the German Kaiser. And this vampire, the queueless Republican Chinaman, when he joins with the Russian Bolsheviki, will destroy not only the civilization of China, but the civilization of the whole world. Therefore, in the words of the German Kaiser I want to say here: “Look to it, ye peoples of Europe, arise and save your most sacred possessions.”
The following article, “Abolishing the Yellow Streak,” was first published in the ‘North China Standard’ of Peking, and was subsequently republished in the ‘Living Age’ in 1924. In this polemical article, Ku roundly criticizes the early Republican government and Sun Yat-sen, ‘the returned-student mob-literati,’ for wanting to turn the Chinese into ‘imitation Western men’, and, instead of reducing the discrimination of the Western Powers, merely inviting their scorn. He also blamed some of the leading figures of the reform movement; the ‘snob-literati,’ such as Kang You-wei, for having stifled true reforms with their effete attempts at ‘an imitation paper civilization,’ rather than integrating Western learning into a Chinese framework, as was proposed by Ku’s former superior, the viceroy Chang Chih-tung (Zhang Zhidong), in his famous book ‘Learn’ (published in English as ‘China’s Only Hope’).
The terribly tragic aspect of the situation in China is, while the Chinese nation are called upon to throw away their own civilization and adopt the civilization of modern Europe, there is not one single educated man in the whole Empire who has the most remote idea of what the modern European civilization really is…
In this prescient article, Ku Hung-ming shows how the end result of the ‘White Man’s Burden’ is the actualization of the ‘Yellow Peril’. His near-contemporary, the Japanese writer Okakura Kakuzō, equally talented as regards writing in the English language, also noted this in his work ‘The Awakening of Japan’, from which the relevant excerpt is forthcoming.
Some European writers also noted this transition, contrary to the attitudes then prevailing, though voiced their concern somewhat less harshly than Ku. The following excerpt gives an idea of this view:
It is only to-day that the Chinese mind is troubled, wavering, beginning to wonder whether the old tree whose roots plunge into so immeasurable a past, whose branches have given shelter and nourishment to such countless generations, should not be cut down to make room for the plants and weeds imported from abroad. And some of the weeds are of a particularly rank species, like the conceit of the Americanized students who seriously mistake their little wick of foreign-taught knowledge for a great light by which the destinies of a whole empire should be regulated. When one hears of a specimen of Republican Young China in creaky yellow boots, ill-fitting tweeds, and an intolerable cap impudently whistling and cracking a dirty riding-crop in the Temple of K’ung-fu-tsze, the very hall where Emperors used to worship Wisdom in the purity of early dawn, one begins to fear that the death-knell has rung even to Chinese vitality.
Irreverence towards what is left of the past is stupid enough – contempt of its real greatness criminal folly. Yet this idea of completely breaking with the past, of pulling down all it has built, even of irreplaceable beauty, of paramount holiness, has often tempted political hotheads. Never without grave injury to a nation that allowed itself to be seduced by their vapid arguments. The clean slate of their theories gives scope to the drawing up of plans of such faultless symmetry, such dazzling magnificence, straightway they are taken for reality, and the millennium they grandiloquently promise is reckoned on as an absolute certainty. But there never is a clean slate – either one on which the ancient writing is still legible in much of its mellowed wisdom, or one from which it has been rubbed out in a hideous blur of dust and tears. On this begrimed slate what would a China that has mutilated and slain her splendid past write, or rather scrawl? – for no one can write but his own language. Windy tags of republican liberty, divorced from reality even in the country of their origin; undigested and indigestible scraps of European ethics in which the theory of the missionary makes a shrill discord with the practice of the commercial and diplomatic carpet-bagger; the insidious poison of an ignorant press; all the ugliness and unhappiness of a machine-driven civilization.
(‘Pencil Speakings from Peking’, A.E. Grantham, 1918, pp 21-23.)