America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat         Wu Tingfang


Of all nations in the world, America is the most interesting to the Chinese.
A handful of people left England to explore this country:
gradually their number increased, and, in course of time,
emigrants from other lands swelled the population. They were governed
by officials from the home of the first settlers, but when it appeared to them
that they were being treated unjustly, they rebelled and declared war
against their rulers, the strongest nation on the face of the earth.
After seven years of strenuous, perilous, and bloody warfare,
during which thousands of lives were sacrificed on both sides,
the younger race shook off the yoke of the older, and England was compelled
to recognize the independence of the American States. Since then,
in the comparatively short space of one hundred and thirty years,
those revolutionists and their descendants, have not only made
the commonwealth the richest in the world, but have founded a nation
whose word now carries weight with all the other great powers.

The territory at first occupied was not larger than one or two
provinces of China, but by purchase, and in other ways,
the commonwealth has gradually grown till now it extends
from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, from the north where ice is perpetual
to the south where the sun is as hot as in equatorial Singapore.
This young republic has already produced many men and women
who are distinguished in the fields of literature, science, art and invention.
There hosts of men, who in their youth were as poor as church mice,
have, by dint of perseverance and business capacity,
become multi-millionaires. There you may see the richest man in the world
living a simple and abstemious life, without pomp and ostentation,
daily walking in the streets unattended even by a servant.
Many of them have so much money that they do not know what to do with it.
Many foreign counts, dukes, and even princes have been captured
by their wealthy and handsome daughters, some of whom have borne sons
who have become high officers of state in foreign lands.
There you find rich people who devote their time and wealth
to charitable works, sometimes endowing libraries not only in their own land,
but all over the world; there you will find lynching tolerated,
or impossible of prevention; there one man may kill another,
and by the wonderful process of law escape the extreme penalty of death;
there you meet the people who are most favorably disposed
toward the maintenance of peace, and who hold conferences and conventions with
that object in view almost every year; there an American multi-millionaire
devotes a great proportion of his time to the propaganda of peace,
and at his own expense has built in a foreign country a palatial building
to be used as a tribunal of peace.* Yet these people have waged war
on behalf of other nationalities who they thought were being unjustly treated
and when victorious they have not held on to the fruits of their victory
without paying a reasonable price.** There the inhabitants are, as a rule,
extremely patriotic, and in a recent foreign war many gave up
their businesses and professions and volunteered for service in the army;
one of her richest sons enlisted and equipped a whole regiment
at his own expense, and took command of it. In that country
all the citizens are heirs apparent to the throne, called the White House.
A man may become the chief ruler for a few years, but after leaving
the White House he reverts to private citizenship; if he is a lawyer
he may practise and appear before a judge, whom he appointed
while he was president. There a woman may become a lawyer
and plead a case before a court of justice on behalf of a male client;
there freedom of speech and criticism are allowed to the extreme limit,
and people are liable to be annoyed by slanders and libels
without much chance of obtaining satisfaction; there you will see
women wearing "Merry Widow" hats who are not widows but spinsters,
or married women whose husbands are very much alive,
and the hats in many cases are as large as three feet in diameter;***
there you may travel by rail most comfortably on palace cars,
and at night you may sleep on Pullman cars, to find in the morning
that a young lady has been sleeping in the berth above your bed.
The people are most ingenious in that they can float a company
and water the stock without using a drop of fluid; there are bears and bulls
in the Stock Exchange, but you do not see these animals fight,
although they roar and yell loudly enough. It is certainly
a most extraordinary country. The people are wonderful
and are most interesting and instructive to the Chinese.

* This magnificent building at The Hague, which is aptly called
the Palace of Peace, was formally opened on the 28th of August, 1913,
in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina, Mr. Carnegie (the founder)
and a large assembly of foreign representatives.
** I refer to the Spanish-American War. Have captured the Philippine Islands,
the United States paid $20,000,000, gold, for it to the Spanish Government.
*** This was several years ago. Fashions change every year.
The present type is equally ludicrous.

Such a race should certainly be very interesting to study.
During my two missions to America where I resided nearly eight years,
repeated requests were made that I should write my observations
and impressions of America. I did not feel justified in doing so
for several reasons: first, I could not find time for such a task
amidst my official duties; secondly, although I had been travelling
through many sections of the country, and had come in contact
officially and socially with many classes of people, still there might be
some features of the country and some traits of the people
which had escaped my attention; and thirdly, though I had seen
much in America to arouse my admiration, I felt that here and there,
there was room for improvement, and to be compelled to criticize people
who had been generous, courteous, and kind was something I did not wish to do.
In answer to my scruples I was told that I was not expected
to write about America in a partial or unfair manner,
but to state impressions of the land just as I had found it.
A lady friend, for whose opinion I have the highest respect, said in effect,
"We want you to write about our country and to speak of our people
in an impartial and candid way; we do not want you to bestow praise
where it is undeserved; and when you find anything deserving
of criticism or condemnation you should not hesitate to mention it,
for we like our faults to be pointed out that we may reform."
I admit the soundness of my friend's argument. It shows the broad-mindedness
and magnanimity of the American people. In writing the following pages
I have uniformly followed the principles laid down by my American lady friend.
I have not scrupled to frankly and freely express my views,
but I hope not in any carping spirit; and I trust American readers
will forgive me if they find some opinions they cannot endorse.
I assure them they were not formed hastily or unkindly.
Indeed, I should not be a sincere friend were I to picture their country
as a perfect paradise, or were I to gloss over what seem to me
to be their defects.

Chapter 1

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