The highest study of all is that which teaches us to develop those principles of purity and perfect virtue which Heaven bestowed upon us at our birth, in order that we may acquire the power of influencing for good those amongst whom we are placed, by our precepts and example; a study without an end–for our labors cease only when we have become perfect–an unattainable goal, but one that we must not the less set before us from the very first. It is true that we shall not be able to reach it, but in our struggle toward it we shall strengthen our characters and give stability to our ideas, so that, whilst ever advancing calmly in the same direction, we shall be rendered capable of applying the faculties with which we have been gifted to the best possible account.
—“The Annals” of Confucius
The Chinese comprise one-fourth of the inhabitants of the earth. There are four hundred millions of them.
They can do many things which we can not do, and we can do a few things which they have not yet been able to do; but they are learning from us, and possibly we would do well to learn from them. In China there are now trolley-cars, telephone-lines, typewriters, cash-registers and American plumbing. China is a giant awaking from sleep. He who thinks that China is a country crumbling into ruins has failed to leave a call at the office and has overslept.
The West can not longer afford to ignore China. And not being able to waive her, perhaps the next best thing is to try to understand her.
The one name that looms large above any other name in China is Confucius. He of all men has influenced China most. One-third of the human race love and cherish his memory, and repeat his words as sacred writ.
Confucius was born at a time when one of those tidal waves of reason swept the world–when the nations were full of unrest, and the mountains of thought were shaken with discontent.
It was just previous to the blossoming of Greece.
Pericles was seventeen years old when Confucius died. Themistocles was preparing the way for Pericles; for then was being collected the treasure of Delos, which made Phidias and the Parthenon possible. During the life of Confucius lived Leonidas, Miltiades, Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes. And then quite naturally occurred the battles of Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae. Then lived Buddha-Gautama, Lao-tsze, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Pythagoras, Pindar, AEschylus and Anacreon.
The Chinese are linked to the past by ties of language and custom beyond all other nations. They are a peculiar people, a chosen people, a people set apart. Just when they withdrew from the rest of mankind and abandoned their nomadic habits, making themselves secure against invasion by building a wall one hundred feet high, and settled down to lay the foundations of a vast empire, we do not know. Some historians have fixed the date about ten thousand years before Christ–let it go at that. There is a reasonably well-authenticated history of China that runs back twenty-five hundred years before Christ, while our history merges into mist seven hundred fifty years before the Christian era.
The Israelites wandered; the Chinese remained at home. Walls have this disadvantage: they keep people in as well as shut the barbarians out. But now there are vast breaches in the wall, through which the inhabitants ooze, causing men from thousands of miles away to cry in alarm, “the Yellow Peril!” And also through these breaches, Israelites, Englishmen and Yankees enter fearlessly, settle down in heathen China, and do business.
It surely is an epoch, and what the end will be few there are who dare forecast.
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