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Revolution and Other Essays, essay(s) by Jack London

The Yellow Peril

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_ No more marked contrast appears in passing from our Western land to
the paper houses and cherry blossoms of Japan than appears in passing
from Korea to China. To achieve a correct appreciation of the
Chinese the traveller should first sojourn amongst the Koreans for
several months, and then, one fine day, cross over the Yalu into
Manchuria. It would be of exceptional advantage to the correctness
of appreciation did he cross over the Yalu on the heels of a hostile
and alien army.

War is to-day the final arbiter in the affairs of men, and it is as
yet the final test of the worth-whileness of peoples. Tested thus,
the Korean fails. He lacks the nerve to remain when a strange army
crosses his land. The few goods and chattels he may have managed to
accumulate he puts on his back, along with his doors and windows, and
away he heads for his mountain fastnesses. Later he may return, sans
goods, chattels, doors, and windows, impelled by insatiable curiosity
for a "look see." But it is curiosity merely--a timid, deerlike
curiosity. He is prepared to bound away on his long legs at the
first hint of danger or trouble.

Northern Korea was a desolate land when the Japanese passed through.
Villages and towns were deserted. The fields lay untouched. There
was no ploughing nor sowing, no green things growing. Little or
nothing was to be purchased. One carried one's own food with him and
food for horses and servants was the anxious problem that waited at
the day's end. In many a lonely village not an ounce nor a grain of
anything could be bought, and yet there might be standing around
scores of white-garmented, stalwart Koreans, smoking yard-long pipes
and chattering, chattering--ceaselessly chattering. Love, money, or
force could not procure from them a horseshoe or a horseshoe nail.

"Upso," was their invariable reply. "Upso," cursed word, which means
"Have not got."

They had tramped probably forty miles that day, down from their
hiding-places, just for a "look see," and forty miles back they would
cheerfully tramp, chattering all the way over what they had seen.
Shake a stick at them as they stand chattering about your camp-fire,
and the gloom of the landscape will be filled with tall, flitting
ghosts, bounding like deer, with great springy strides which one
cannot but envy. They have splendid vigour and fine bodies, but they
are accustomed to being beaten and robbed without protest or
resistance by every chance foreigner who enters their country.

From this nerveless, forsaken Korean land I rode down upon the sandy
islands of the Yalu. For weeks these islands had been the dread
between-the-lines of two fighting armies. The air above had been
rent by screaming projectiles. The echoes of the final battle had
scarcely died away. The trains of Japanese wounded and Japanese dead
were trailing by.

On the conical hill, a quarter of a mile away, the Russian dead were
being buried in their trenches and in the shell holes made by the
Japanese. And here, in the thick of it all, a man was ploughing.
Green things were growing--young onions--and the man who was weeding
them paused from his labour long enough to sell me a handful. Near
by was the smoke-blackened ruin of the farmhouse, fired by the
Russians when they retreated from the riverbed. Two men were
removing the debris, cleaning the confusion, preparatory to
rebuilding. They were clad in blue. Pigtails hung down their backs.
I was in China!

I rode to the shore, into the village of Kuelian-Ching. There were
no lounging men smoking long pipes and chattering. The previous day
the Russians had been there, a bloody battle had been fought, and to-
day the Japanese were there--but what was that to talk about?
Everybody was busy. Men were offering eggs and chickens and fruit
for sale upon the street, and bread, as I live, bread in small round
loaves or buns. I rode on into the country. Everywhere a toiling
population was in evidence. The houses and walls were strong and
substantial. Stone and brick replaced the mud walls of the Korean
dwellings. Twilight fell and deepened, and still the ploughs went up
and down the fields, the sowers following after. Trains of
wheelbarrows, heavily loaded, squeaked by, and Pekin carts, drawn by
from four to six cows, horses, mules, ponies, or jackasses--cows even
with their newborn calves tottering along on puny legs outside the
traces. Everybody worked. Everything worked. I saw a man mending
the road. I was in China.

I came to the city of Antung, and lodged with a merchant. He was a
grain merchant. Corn he had, hundreds of bushels, stored in great
bins of stout matting; peas and beans in sacks, and in the back yard
his millstones went round and round, grinding out meal. Also, in his
back yard, were buildings containing vats sunk into the ground, and
here the tanners were at work making leather. I bought a measure of
corn from mine host for my horses, and he overcharged me thirty
cents. I was in China. Antung was jammed with Japanese troops. It
was the thick of war. But it did not matter. The work of Antung
went on just the same. The shops were wide open; the streets were
lined with pedlars. One could buy anything; get anything made. I
dined at a Chinese restaurant, cleansed myself at a public bath in a
private tub with a small boy to assist in the scrubbing. I bought
condensed milk, bitter, canned vegetables, bread, and cake. I repeat
it, cake--good cake. I bought knives, forks, and spoons, granite-
ware dishes and mugs. There were horseshoes and horseshoers. A
worker in iron realized for me new designs of mine for my tent poles.
My shoes were sent out to be repaired. A barber shampooed my hair.
A servant returned with corn-beef in tins, a bottle of port, another
of cognac, and beer, blessed beer, to wash out from my throat the
dust of an army. It was the land of Canaan. I was in China.

The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency--of utter
worthlessness. The Chinese is the perfect type of industry. For
sheer work no worker in the world can compare with him. Work is the
breath of his nostrils. It is his solution of existence. It is to
him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure
have been to other peoples. Liberty to him epitomizes itself in
access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labour
interminably with rude implements and utensils is all he asks of life
and of the powers that be. Work is what he desires above all things,
and he will work at anything for anybody.

During the taking of the Taku forts he carried scaling ladders at the
heads of the storming columns and planted them against the walls. He
did this, not from a sense of patriotism, but for the invading
foreign devils because they paid him a daily wage of fifty cents. He
is not frightened by war. He accepts it as he does rain and
sunshine, the changing of the seasons, and other natural phenomena.
He prepares for it, endures it, and survives it, and when the tide of
battle sweeps by, the thunder of the guns still reverberating in the
distant canyons, he is seen calmly bending to his usual tasks. Nay,
war itself bears fruits whereof he may pick. Before the dead are
cold or the burial squads have arrived he is out on the field,
stripping the mangled bodies, collecting the shrapnel, and ferreting
in the shell holes for slivers and fragments of iron.

The Chinese is no coward. He does not carry away his doors amid
windows to the mountains, but remains to guard them when alien
soldiers occupy his town. He does not hide away his chickens and his
eggs, nor any other commodity he possesses. He proceeds at once to
offer them for sale. Nor is he to be bullied into lowering his
price. What if the purchaser be a soldier and an alien made cocky by
victory and confident by overwhelming force? He has two large pears
saved over from last year which he will sell for five sen, or for the
same price three small pears. What if one soldier persist in taking
away with him three large pears? What if there be twenty other
soldiers jostling about him? He turns over his sack of fruit to
another Chinese and races down the street after his pears and the
soldier responsible for their flight, and he does not return till he
has wrenched away one large pear from that soldier's grasp.

Nor is the Chinese the type of permanence which he has been so often
designated. He is not so ill-disposed toward new ideas and new
methods as his history would seem to indicate. True, his forms,
customs, and methods have been permanent these many centuries, but
this has been due to the fact that his government was in the hands of
the learned classes, and that these governing scholars found their
salvation lay in suppressing all progressive ideas. The ideas behind
the Boxer troubles and the outbreaks over the introduction of
railroad and other foreign devil machinations have emanated from the
minds of the literati, and been spread by their pamphlets and

Originality and enterprise have been suppressed in the Chinese for
scores of generations. Only has remained to him industry, and in
this has he found the supreme expression of his being. On the other
hand, his susceptibility to new ideas has been well demonstrated
wherever he has escaped beyond the restrictions imposed upon him by
his government. So far as the business man is concerned he has
grasped far more clearly the Western code of business, the Western
ethics of business, than has the Japanese. He has learned, as a
matter of course, to keep his word or his bond. As yet, the Japanese
business man has failed to understand this. When he has signed a
time contract and when changing conditions cause him to lose by it,
the Japanese merchant cannot understand why he should live up to his
contract. It is beyond his comprehension and repulsive to his common
sense that he should live up to his contract and thereby lose money.
He firmly believes that the changing conditions themselves absolve
him. And in so far adaptable as he has shown himself to be in other
respects, he fails to grasp a radically new idea where the Chinese

Here we have the Chinese, four hundred millions of him, occupying a
vast land of immense natural resources--resources of a twentieth-
century age, of a machine age; resources of coal and iron, which are
the backbone of commercial civilization. He is an indefatigable
worker. He is not dead to new ideas, new methods, new systems.
Under a capable management he can be made to do anything. Truly
would he of himself constitute the much-heralded Yellow Peril were it
not for his present management. This management, his government, is
set, crystallized. It is what binds him down to building as his
fathers built. The governing class, entrenched by the precedent and
power of centuries and by the stamp it has put upon his mind, will
never free him. It would be the suicide of the governing class, and
the governing class knows it.

Comes now the Japanese. On the streets of Antung, of Feng-Wang-
Chang, or of any other Manchurian city, the following is a familiar
scene: One is hurrying home through the dark of the unlighted
streets when he comes upon a paper lantern resting on the ground. On
one side squats a Chinese civilian on his hams, on the other side
squats a Japanese soldier. One dips his forefinger in the dust and
writes strange, monstrous characters. The other nods understanding,
sweeps the dust slate level with his hand, and with his forefinger
inscribes similar characters. They are talking. They cannot speak
to each other, but they can write. Long ago one borrowed the other's
written language, and long before that, untold generations ago, they
diverged from a common root, the ancient Mongol stock.

There have been changes, differentiations brought about by diverse
conditions and infusions of other blood; but down at the bottom of
their being, twisted into the fibres of them, is a heritage in
common--a sameness in kind which time has not obliterated. The
infusion of other blood, Malay, perhaps, has made the Japanese a race
of mastery and power, a fighting race through all its history, a race
which has always despised commerce and exalted fighting.

To-day, equipped with the finest machines and systems of destruction
the Caucasian mind has devised, handling machines and systems with
remarkable and deadly accuracy, this rejuvenescent Japanese race has
embarked on a course of conquest the goal of which no man knows. The
head men of Japan are dreaming ambitiously, and the people are
dreaming blindly, a Napoleonic dream. And to this dream the Japanese
clings and will cling with bull-dog tenacity. The soldier shouting
"Nippon, Banzai!" on the walls of Wiju, the widow at home in her
paper house committing suicide so that her only son, her sole
support, may go to the front, are both expressing the unanimity of
the dream.

The late disturbance in the Far East marked the clashing of the
dreams, for the Slav, too, is dreaming greatly. Granting that the
Japanese can hurl back the Slav and that the two great branches of
the Anglo-Saxon race do not despoil him of his spoils, the Japanese
dream takes on substantiality. Japan's population is no larger
because her people have continually pressed against the means of
subsistence. But given poor, empty Korea for a breeding colony and
Manchuria for a granary, and at once the Japanese begins to increase
by leaps and bounds.

Even so, he would not of himself constitute a Brown Peril. He has
not the time in which to grow and realize the dream. He is only
forty-five millions, and so fast does the economic exploitation of
the planet hurry on the planet's partition amongst the Western
peoples that, before he could attain the stature requisite to menace,
he would see the Western giants in possession of the very stuff of
his dream.

The menace to the Western world lies, not in the little brown man,
but in the four hundred millions of yellow men should the little
brown man undertake their management. The Chinese is not dead to new
ideas; he is an efficient worker; makes a good soldier, and is
wealthy in the essential materials of a machine age. Under a capable
management he will go far. The Japanese is prepared and fit to
undertake this management. Not only has he proved himself an apt
imitator of Western material progress, a sturdy worker, and a capable
organizer, but he is far more fit to manage the Chinese than are we.
The baffling enigma of the Chinese character is no baffling enigma to
him. He understands as we could never school ourselves nor hope to
understand. Their mental processes are largely the same. He thinks
with the same thought-symbols as does the Chinese, and he thinks in
the same peculiar grooves. He goes on where we are balked by the
obstacles of incomprehension. He takes the turning which we cannot
perceive, twists around the obstacle, and, presto! is out of sight in
the ramifications of the Chinese mind where we cannot follow.

The Chinese has been called the type of permanence, and well he has
merited it, dozing as he has through the ages. And as truly was the
Japanese the type of permanence up to a generation ago, when he
suddenly awoke and startled the world with a rejuvenescence the like
of which the world had never seen before. The ideas of the West were
the leaven which quickened the Japanese; and the ideas of the West,
transmitted by the Japanese mind into ideas Japanese, may well make
the leaven powerful enough to quicken the Chinese.

We have had Africa for the Afrikander, and at no distant day we shall
hear "Asia for the Asiatic!" Four hundred million indefatigable
workers (deft, intelligent, and unafraid to die), aroused and
rejuvenescent, managed and guided by forty-five million additional
human beings who are splendid fighting animals, scientific and
modern, constitute that menace to the Western world which has been
well named the "Yellow Peril." The possibility of race adventure has
not passed away. We are in the midst of our own. The Slav is just
girding himself up to begin. Why may not the yellow and the brown
start out on an adventure as tremendous as our own and more
strikingly unique?

The ultimate success of such an adventure the Western mind refuses to
consider. It is not the nature of life to believe itself weak.
There is such a thing as race egotism as well as creature egotism,
and a very good thing it is. In the first place, the Western world
will not permit the rise of the yellow peril. It is firmly convinced
that it will not permit the yellow and the brown to wax strong and
menace its peace and comfort. It advances this idea with
persistency, and delivers itself of long arguments showing how and
why this menace will not be permitted to arise. Today, far more
voices are engaged in denying the yellow peril than in prophesying
it. The Western world is warned, if not armed, against the
possibility of it.

In the second place, there is a weakness inherent in the brown man
which will bring his adventure to naught. From the West he has
borrowed all our material achievement and passed our ethical
achievement by. Our engines of production and destruction he has
made his. What was once solely ours he now duplicates, rivalling our
merchants in the commerce of the East, thrashing the Russian on sea
and land. A marvellous imitator truly, but imitating us only in
things material. Things spiritual cannot be imitated; they must be
felt and lived, woven into the very fabric of life, and here the
Japanese fails.

It required no revolution of his nature to learn to calculate the
range and fire a field gun or to march the goose-step. It was a mere
matter of training. Our material achievement is the product of our
intellect. It is knowledge, and knowledge, like coin, is
interchangeable. It is not wrapped up in the heredity of the new-
born child, but is something to be acquired afterward. Not so with
our soul stuff, which is the product of an evolution which goes back
to the raw beginnings of the race. Our soul stuff is not a coin to
be pocketed by the first chance comer. The Japanese cannot pocket it
any more than he can thrill to short Saxon words or we can thrill to
Chinese hieroglyphics. The leopard cannot change its spots, nor can
the Japanese, nor can we. We are thumbed by the ages into what we
are, and by no conscious inward effort can we in a day rethumb
ourselves. Nor can the Japanese in a day, or a generation, rethumb
himself in our image.

Back of our own great race adventure, back of our robberies by sea
and land, our lusts and violences and all the evil things we have
done, there is a certain integrity, a sternness of conscience, a
melancholy responsibility of life, a sympathy and comradeship and
warm human feel, which is ours, indubitably ours, and which we cannot
teach to the Oriental as we would teach logarithms or the trajectory
of projectiles. That we have groped for the way of right conduct and
agonized over the soul betokens our spiritual endowment. Though we
have strayed often and far from righteousness, the voices of the
seers have always been raised, and we have harked back to the bidding
of conscience. The colossal fact of our history is that we have made
the religion of Jesus Christ our religion. No matter how dark in
error and deed, ours has been a history of spiritual struggle and
endeavour. We are pre-eminently a religious race, which is another
way of saying that we are a right-seeking race.

"What do you think of the Japanese?" was asked an American woman
after she had lived some time in Japan. "It seems to me that they
have no soul," was her answer.

This must not be taken to mean that the Japanese is without soul.
But it serves to illustrate the enormous difference between their
souls and this woman's soul. There was no feel, no speech, no
recognition. This Western soul did not dream that the Eastern soul
existed, it was so different, so totally different.

Religion, as a battle for the right in our sense of right, as a
yearning and a strife for spiritual good and purity, is unknown to
the Japanese.

Measured by what religion means to us, the Japanese is a race without
religion. Yet it has a religion, and who shall say that it is not as
great a religion as ours, nor as efficacious? As one Japanese has

"Our reflection brought into prominence not so much the moral as the
national consciousness of the individual. . . . To us the country is
more than land and soil from which to mine gold or reap grain--it is
the sacred abode of the gods, the spirit of our forefathers; to us
the Emperor is more than the Arch Constable of a Reichsstaat, or even
the Patron of a Kulturstaat; he is the bodily representative of
heaven on earth, blending in his person its power and its mercy."

The religion of Japan is practically a worship of the State itself.
Patriotism is the expression of this worship. The Japanese mind does
not split hairs as to whether the Emperor is Heaven incarnate or the
State incarnate. So far as the Japanese are concerned, the Emperor
lives, is himself deity. The Emperor is the object to live for and
to die for. The Japanese is not an individualist. He has developed
national consciousness instead of moral consciousness. He is not
interested in his own moral welfare except in so far as it is the
welfare of the State. The honour of the individual, per se, does not
exist. Only exists the honour of the State, which is his honour. He
does not look upon himself as a free agent, working out his own
personal salvation. Spiritual agonizing is unknown to him. He has a
"sense of calm trust in fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, a
stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, a disdain of life and
friendliness with death." He relates himself to the State as,
amongst bees, the worker is related to the hive; himself nothing, the
State everything; his reasons for existence the exaltation and
glorification of the State.

The most admired quality to-day of the Japanese is his patriotism.
The Western world is in rhapsodies over it, unwittingly measuring the
Japanese patriotism by its own conceptions of patriotism. "For God,
my country, and the Czar!" cries the Russian patriot; but in the
Japanese mind there is no differentiation between the three. The
Emperor is the Emperor, and God and country as well. The patriotism
of the Japanese is blind and unswerving loyalty to what is
practically an absolutism. The Emperor can do no wrong, nor can the
five ambitious great men who have his ear and control the destiny of

No great race adventure can go far nor endure long which has no
deeper foundation than material success, no higher prompting than
conquest for conquest's sake and mere race glorification. To go far
and to endure, it must have behind it an ethical impulse, a sincerely
conceived righteousness. But it must be taken into consideration
that the above postulate is itself a product of Western race-egotism,
urged by our belief in our own righteousness and fostered by a faith
in ourselves which may be as erroneous as are most fond race fancies.
So be it. The world is whirling faster to-day than ever before. It
has gained impetus. Affairs rush to conclusion. The Far East is the
point of contact of the adventuring Western people as well as of the
Asiatic. We shall not have to wait for our children's time nor our
children's children. We shall ourselves see and largely determine
the adventure of the Yellow and the Brown.

June 1904, _

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