THE FUTURE OF THE FAR EAST

Jan. 27, 1894 - Lafcadio Hearn

On Jan. 27, 1894, Hearn lectured before the students and faculty at Kumamoto High School. Later, probably in May or June of that year, at the request of the school publishing committee, Hearn prepared a draft of an abstract of the lecture, called "The Future of the Far East".

To think of the future in relation to the present is essential to civilization. The commonest workman in a civilized country does this. Instead of spending all the money he earns, as fast as he earns it, he will, if an intelligent man, save a large part of it as a provision against future want. This is the commonest kind of foresight. The statesman represents a much higher form of foresight. He thinks, when opposing or proposing a law, "What will be the result of this law a hundred years after I am dead?" But the philosopher carries foresight much further. He asks: "What will be the result of the present conditions in a thousand years from now?" And he thinks not merely about one country, but about the whole human race.

In speaking to you about the Future of the Orient, I wish to speak from the standpoint of the Western philosopher, and therefore, not about Japan alone, or the Far East alone, but about the whole human race.

I must begin by saying that the future of the Far East depends partly upon the action of the Far West, though not altogether. One thing, at least, is certain, that the greatest changes which are to take place in the Far East will be made by Western influence. This influence is aggressive. But it is unavoidable. It cannot cease for generations. Before we think about the Orient in the future, let us consider the Occident in the present.

The most remarkable fact connected with the progress of Western industrial civilization during this century has been the enormous increase of Western nations. In 1801, the population of England, or, rather, of all Great Britain, was 16,345,646. In 1892, the population was 37,787,953. If we look still further back, the figures are, of course, more startling. In Elizabeth's reign there were 5,600,517 people in England and Wales; in Queen Victoria's reign there are 29,001,018 (1892). But the figures of 18921 do not include the many millions of Englishmen in Canada, the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, not to mention fifty other places. The population of Germany when Gibbon wrote his history was about 22,000,000: it is now 49,500,000. The population of France was put at about 20,000,000: it was in 1893, 38,218,903. The population of Italy was only ten millions: it is now more than 30,000,000. That of Spain was about 8,000,000: it is now 17,500,000. The population of Russia (I only mean Russia in Europe) was only 12 millions: it is now eighty-one millions, without including Poland and Finland; and the conquest of Russia has raised her population still higher, to more than 103 millions. To cut the matter short, in the period of 70 years from 1719, the population of Europe doubled; and in our own century has risen to a figure enormously higher than doubling represents. Furthermore the reader must remember that the European races have given North America a population of nearly 70,000,000, besides peopling, in very recent times, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other parts of the world. Under English rule alone, that is under the present English Queen, there are nearly 344,000,000 of subjects.

Now what is the meaning of this immense growth of the western races? In the old Roman Empire the total population was probably scarcely more than 110,000,000; and both Hume and Gibbon thought that the population of Ancient Europe in the time of Augustus exceeded that of the Europe of their own day. But the population of Europe is now three times as large, and the greatest increase has been in very recent times, in scarcely more than a hundred years. What is its cause? What does it mean?

Its cause is certainly in part due to industrial and scientific progress, and in part to improved methods of supporting life and preserving health. But no improvements in agriculture, no hygienic discoveries, no scientific or industrial inventions alone would of themselves fully explain it. Under the Roman Empire, Europe probably contained more people than the soil could support. Today the population is three times as great, and the soil certainly does not produce three times as much food. As a matter of fact, the West cannot now feed itself. Its population increases simply because it has found means of obtaining outside support. Its life is artificial, not strictly natural. Probably Russia only, (perhaps Scandinavia also, though I doubt it ) can produce food enough for her own population. The greater part of Europe is fed by Russia and by nearly all other countries in the world. North America, India, Australia, Java, Canada, South America, China, Japan, Persia, every part of the globe sends food to Europe. The population of London could not live one day without help from other countries. The great fear England feels of losing her colonies by war, or her commerce by rivalry, is the fear of starvation. Even Lord Tennyson in his Ballad of The Fleet did not hesitate to use the plain word starve:

When all men starve, the wild mob's million feet
Will kick you from your place.
Certainly the death of tens of millions would be the result if Europe were suddenly deprived of the means of obtaining food from other countries.

How is this food supply to be maintained? By commerce, by fast steamers, by rapid communication. Continually the population increases; and continually faster ships are built, and new commercial undertakings are begun, and new colonies are established. The West is forced, by her new necessities, to compel all countries to help her to live. Already her industrial civilization has spread round the world; and the pressure of it is being felt today on the shores of China and of Japan.

As population increases in the West, it tries to relieve itself by emigration. But it cannot emigrate fast enough to escape the result. The result is increase of competition, which means increased difficulty of living, which explains the very progress that is at the same time Western strength and Western weakness. Men progress because they must, not because they like the pain of struggle and of labour. In countries where men can live without labour, there is no progress at all. All these wonderful inventions in science, in art, in industry, the telegraphs that circle the world, the countless railroads, the applications of mathematics to the perfection of machinery, the application of chemistry to millions of new discoveries, are simply the result of the necessity of living, that is, of getting something to eat. Under all forms of progress, the motive power is simply hunger. And this is the eternal law. It is simply because of the necessity of living that the Western races are striving to spread themselves all over the world. And they spread rapidly because in the present century they discovered the means of spreading rapidly. In other centuries they would have starved to death at home.

Various natural obstacles they have found in their way. They cannot people the Tropics, because the climate kills them. But many countries which they could people they have depopulated. The native races disappeared before them, the Indians from America, the Maoris from various Pacific islands, the Tasmanians from Tasmania, the black Australians from Australia, even the Spanish half-breeds from New Mexico and Texas. India, of course, resists: the West cannot people India; the climate protects her dark races.

But when Western industrialism reached the Far East, China, its further advance was opposed by something very different from natural obstacles. It was opposed by an intelligence of which the West had previously no suspicion. To conquer China was almost impossible, and even, if possible, would have cost too much. To disintegrate China, by obliging her to adapt herself to Western manners and customs and beliefs, was much more impossible. China was a mass too enormous, too solid, to be either broken or to be remodeled. China resisted. It was evident that all the West could hope for from China was trade. Trade was given, or rather forced; but Western merchants found they were dealing2 with their equals. Even Chinese trade could not be taken from Chinese hands. It is still there. It will always remain there. At a later day the West discovered that the Chinese were not simply equals in trade and commerce, but superiors, and very dangerous rivals, even in what is called the highest form of financial cooperation.

If the Chinese had not been dangerous before, it was simply because they had stayed at home. But after the West forced China to open her ports, the Chinese began to go to other countries. They began to people the Pacific Coast of North America and of South America. They poured into the West Indies. They emigrated to Australia and Java. They built up the colony of Singapore, one of the most valuable of England's eastern settlements. They threatened to fill up the East. Wise men began to say that it would have been much better to have left China alone.

America was the first country to take fright. In California, it was found that no one could compete with the Chinese. They absorbed commerce, they monopolized trade, they drove labor-competitors out of the market. There were revolutions, riots, murders. Gradually the Western States3 became afraid. A law was passed two years ago to stop Chinese emigration. The American people understood that in commerce and industry they could not compete with Chinese.

Australia did the same thing. It was found that if the Chinese were not prevented from settling in Australia, the English could not live there. Australia protected herself by laws excluding Chinese emigration.

In Java, the Dutch colonists took fright in another way. They attacked the Chinese, and killed more than 5,000. At present the Chinese are allowed to settle in Java; but under certain laws, and the Javanese race is slowly disappearing in consequence. For the Chinese can live in any climate, and can conquer in any sort of industrial competition. The climate of Java is unsuited to Europeans; consequently the Dutch permit the Chinese to settle.

How were the Chinese able to thus compete with the West? Partly by their intelligence, but much more by their extraordinary sobriety. Being accustomed to live at least times ten more cheaply than Western people, they possessed an economical advantage that no superiority in capital could overcome. Being unequalled as workmen, they could not only do with their hands any work that Western artisans could do, but they could also do it for less than half-the-cost.

What should happen then, were the Chinese to employ Western industrial machinery and Western scientific knowledge in their competition? It would be a very serious thing for the West. It would mean that Western commerce would be driven out of the Orient. It would mean even more than that. While Western population was doubling and tripling and quadrupling, and Western expansion was continuous, the Orient had remained almost stationary. But, when the West attempted to force its gates, a dynamic power of inexhaustible and almost inconceivable magnitude was set in motion. The Orient also began to expand. If it adopts the machinery of the West to help its expansion, then the West will have to face such a danger as was never even dreamed of fifty years ago.

Very fortunately for the West, China moves slowly. She has not yet adopted to any extent the industrial methods and the machinery of Western countries. She is only preparing herself for war. Threatened by Russia, she found a friend in England. England is pledged to help China against Russia. China is pledged in return to help England to defend India against Russia. English officers are teaching the military arts of the West to China. Chinese factories are already manufacturing the best kind of rifles. The Chinese can call out l,200,000 soldiers already; and when these shall have all been armed and disciplined like Western troops, no power dare attack China. But it is quite certain that China will eventually also adopt Western sciences and industries. That will be the greatest danger. For it is not by war that the future of races will be decided. It is by industrial and scientific competition.

The commercial sort of intelligence is not, however, the highest. The highest is the scientific intelligence. China has never given any proof of capacity in this direction. But another Oriental race has, Japan. Japan has proven herself able to compete with the West in the highest departments of intellectual progress. I do not think the Japanese are equal to the Chinese as merchants. But they are in other respects a race of far higher type. I do not wish to be thought trying to flatter a national sentiment; and when I say that Japan has proven herself able to compete with the West in the highest field of intellectual research, I do not mean the present intellectual level in Japan is as high as that in England or France. It is not. But the successes achieved abroad in Germany, in America, and elsewhere by Japanese men of science have been quite enough to prove that the highest capacity is there. It may be still to a great extent potential undeveloped; but its development is a mere question of time. And the time will not be long. Jointly, then, China and Japan representing the Far East, have shown themselves able to compete with the West in commerce and also in the intellectual battle of races.

But the ability is not the only point I wish to dwell upon; the necessity is equally important. Both China and Japan must compete with the West in order to defend themselves. What will be the result?

The industrial expansion must continue on both sides; and the populations of both Orient and Occident must increase. The World can support only a certain number of millions, perhaps between two and three thousand millions; but the struggle must go on. And as its intensity increases, the struggle must be a struggle for the possession of the Whole World. Then the weaker races must give way. How give way? Disappear from the face of the Earth. Which will give way, Far West or Far East?

It is a question of economy. Economy will answer it.

When there is a struggle between two races, and all the intelligence is on one side; the intelligence conquers, of course destroys or supplants the ignorant race. When the struggle is between equally matched races, the result may be a union. But when the two races are equal as to intelligence, while differing greatly in power of endurance and in economical capacity, the more enduring and economical race must win. When the Chinese workman, for example, is able to do the same work as the English workman, and also able to live five times more cheaply, the English artisan is driven out of the market. And any race, however highly gifted, may be driven out of the competition for life driven out of the World, in short, by an equally intelligent race able to live at a much lower cost.

Imagine that you want to buy an engine, a steam-engine. You are shown two steam-engines, each of the same horse-power. But one engine burns twice as much coal as the other. It costs twice as much to run it. Which engine will you buy? Of course that which burns the least coal!

The human body is, after all, an engine; the fuel by which it runs, is food. We have seen that all progress is caused by the question of food. The difficulty of living, of getting something to eat, is the cause of all effort. Well, the Western body may be compared to an engine of a certain power; and the Eastern body to another. If you imagine them able to do exactly the same amount of work, their relative value must be determined by the cost of their fuel. Now an Englishman requires to live what would support at least seven or eight Orientals. What is the inference?

But this is only a trifling illustration. The cost of life to any of the higher Western races is four or five times at least what it is to the races of the Far East, speaking only of absolute necessities. If we speak, not of necessities only, but of facts, the cost of life in the West is twenty, thirty, fifty times greater according to which Western country we consider. And no race in the West could live at all under the conditions according to which the millions of the Far East live. They would starve to death. Their necessities are not merely the result of modern habit. They are necessities of the race. Just as you cannot feed a hawk on rice or a wolf on straw, you can not keep Western men alive upon Oriental food.

Food is the chief consideration. But it is not the only one. Different races require different comforts, different conditions. Western races require besides costly nourishment, costly comforts. They have always, in all times, required them; they require what is called large living. Historians tell us how much the condition of poor people has improved in Europe since the middle ages. This is true. But even in the middle ages, Europeans could not have submitted to an Oriental mode of life. The reason is not physiological alone; it is psychological too. Deprived of certain conditions essential to their mental happiness, Occidentals pine away. Population dwindles, and effort almost ceases.

In natural history, you have read about extinct animals. There were wonderful animals once on this planet, too strong to fear any enemies, and too happily situated to have been destroyed by either cold, heat, or drought. It is quite certain some of these disappeared simply because of the costliness of their existence. The time came when the earth could not support them. And so far as the body alone is concerned, men are liable to the fate of animals. A race may become extinct simply because the cost of its living is too high.

Assuredly in the future competition between West and East, the races most patient, most economical, most simple in their habits will win. The costly races may totally disappear as the result. Nature is a great economist. She makes no mistakes. The fittest to survive are those best able to live with her, and to be content with a little. Such is the law of the universe.

The present cost of a young man's education in England is between 16,000 and 20,000 yen, in Japanese money. I need scarcely tell you that the same education can be obtained in Japan at much less than half. In the mere question of education, the Orient will be a serious competitor of the West.

In fine, I venture to express my firm belief that the poverty of Japan is her strength. Riches may be, in the future, a source of weakness. If you do not like the word poverty, remember that the poorest country in Europe is Russia; and that Russia is nevertheless so strong that all Germany and Austria and Italy are united merely to protect themselves against her, and that the Whole World is afraid of her. Her poverty will not prevent her from mounting six millions of cavalry whenever she desires. Nor is there any reason why, in the future, the poverty of Japan should prevent her from being able to call out to defend her, at least three millions of hardy soldiers.

I believe also that the future is for the Far East, not for the Far West. At least I believe so as far as China is concerned. In the case of Japan, I think, there is a possible danger, the danger of abandoning the old, simple, healthy, natural, sober, honest way of living. I think Japan will be strong as long as she preserves her simplicity. I think she will become weak if she adopts imported ideas of luxury. The wise men of the Far East, Confucius and Mencius and the Founder of the Buddhist faith, have one and all preached the importance to national strength and happiness, of avoiding luxury and of being content with what is necessary for common comfort and for intellectual enjoyment. Their ideas are also those of the Western thinkers of today.

Well, in making these remarks to you, representing not merely my own ideas, but those of wiser and better men than I can ever be, I thought of what has been called the Kyushu Spirit. I have heard that simplicity of manners and honesty of life were from ancient time the virtues of Kumamoto. If this be so, then I would conclude by saying that I think the future greatness of Japan will depend on the preservation of that Kyushu or Kumamoto spirit, the love of what is plain and good and simple, and the hatred of useless luxury and extravagance in life.

THE END


Notes
1. Written 1893 in original, probably a typo for the previously mentioned year, 1892.
2. Written "...dealing not with their..." in original, but inappropriate to the sense of the passage, and not found in the published version in "Some New Letters and Writings of Lafcadio Hearn" (collected and edited by Sanki Ichikawa, Tokyo, Kenkyusha. 1925)
3. Written "Whole Western States" in original.

Thanks to Momoi Yuichi-sensei, Yonago Daigaku, Yonago, Japan, for this document.