1900’s: Betrayal and change in China’s Perception of the West

To China: a few excerpts from a moonofalabama post.  Link is at bottom of post.  Short on words.  Read somewhere, Chinese appear to be rude and abrupt.  Apparently in China, it is rude to take up another’s time.  Once you know Chinese well they can be quite chatty. In Sri Lanka (and SA I assume) ask for direction, and they want have a long conversation on random stuff. Ahh, cultural differences.

I was under the impression the Chinese did not have westernized elite like South Asia (e.g Jinnah,Nehru, SWRDB). I had read about Sun Yat Sen, first President/Prime Minister and about his being kidnapped in the UK from one of my fathers book.  From the short article and little more digging, there was an Westernized Chinese elite.  However,  the west did not honor agreements (whats new) brokered by this Westernized Chinese elite.  I think as a result the influence of this Westernized Chinese elite was marginalized and repudiated.  Here are two examples of Westernized Chinese elite.  Wellington Koo, International law and diplomacy PhD (1912) from Columbia University. His wife Hui-Lan ‘Juliana’ Oei (Madame Koo) apparently was one of the first ladies to indulge in civilian flying and drove her own motor car about London…a little grey two-seater Rolls Royce.


To the excerpts
99 years ago, on May 4th 1919, the original Tiananmen student protest broke out. The students protested the Allied Powers’ betrayal at Versailles: The German Shangdong colony was given to Japan instead of returning it to China. This despite China’s sending of 140,000 men to work on the Western front.

Germany took the port city of Qingdao (Tsingtao) on the Shangdong Peninsula where they brought over beer tech giving birth to Tsingtao Beer.

In 1890 Germany played a leading role in attacking the Chinese capital Beijing to suppress the Boxer Rebellion together with the 8 Nation Alliance of Britain, France, United States, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan and Austria-Hungary.

As World War I wore on longer than anybody expected, the Allied Powers faced acute labor shortages. Britain came up with a scheme to recruit Chinese labors. But China was neutral so she had to be persuaded to join the war.  China wanted to have the German Shangdong colony returned. Entered U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson asked China to join the war and promised support for China to gain Shangdong back after Germany’s defeat.

While the young republican China sees Britain and France as ruthless Imperial Powers, it has an enormous regard for the U.S. which it hopes to model itself after. Top Chinese diplomat was the American educated Wellington Koo. Madam Koo, an international style icon, popularized Cheongsam/Qipao dresses.

China did as Wilson asked, entered the war against Germany and send 340,000 men to help with the Allied war effort. 140,000 went to the Western Front, 200,000 went to Russia. Chinese comprised the largest non-European labor force on the Allied side during World War I. On the Western front, the 140,000 Chinese labor were know as the Chinese Labour Corp. They dug trenches, worked in timber yards, build steamers, repair railroads. 6,000 were even sent to Iraq to work in Basra.

Unbeknownst to China, while China joined the war on the allied side at the U.S. urging, hoping to gain back Shangdong province, the U.S. and Japan signed the secret Lansing-Ishii Agreement in 1917 where they recognized each other’s special ‘interests’ in China. Japan’s interest is the German colony Qingdao. Fully believing Woodrow Wilson’s promise of self-determination, the top Chinese diplomat Wellington Koo, who won the Columbia-Cornell Debating Medal in his American school days, argued passionately for the return of the Shangdong Peninsula at the Paris Peace Conference.

The Soviets saw a chance to draw China away from the West and into their camp. They leaked details of the secret U.S.-Japan Lansing-Ishii agreement to Eugene Chen in Paris, who then leaked it to the Chinese press. Furious Chinese students took to street to protest at this betrayal especially by the U.S.

Japan then threaten to veto the League of Nations, which would not work without Japan, unless … the U.S. agreed to give Germany’s former Shangdong colony to Japan. Wilson dutifully complied and decide to honor the Lansing-Ishii agreement, selling the Chinese down the river.

Disillusioned with the West and seeking for an alternative political model leads some to look to the newly found Soviet Union. Two leading intellectuals of the May 4th movement, Li Dazhao (left) and Chen Duxiu(right), co-founded the Chinese Communist Party. While heading the Peking University library, Chinese Communist Party co-founder Li Dazhao would influence a young student working there. His name was Mao Zedong.


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I am 3/4ths Sri Lankan (Jaffna) Tamil, 1/8th Sinhalese and 1/8th Irish; a proper mutt. Maternal: Grandfather a Govt Surveyor married my grandmother of Sinhalese/Irish descent from the deep south, in the early 1900’s. They lived in the deep South, are generally considered Sinhalese and look Eurasian (common among upper class Sinhalese). They were Anglicans (Church of England), became Evangelical Christians (AOG) in 1940's, and built the first Evangelical church in the South. Paternal: Sri Lanka (Jaffna Tamil). Paternal ancestors converted to Catholicism during Portuguese rule (1500's), went back to being Hindu and then became Methodists (and Anglicans) around 1850 (ggfather). They were Administrators and translators to the British, poets and writers in Tamil and English. Grandfathers sister was the first female Tamil novelist of modern times I was brought up as an Evangelical even attending Bible study till about the age of 13. Agnostic and later atheist. I studied in Sinhala, did a Bachelor in Chemistry and Physics in Sri Lanka. Then did Oceanography graduate stuff and research in the US. I am about 60 years old, no kids, widower. Sri Lankan citizen (no dual) and been back in SL since 2012. Live in small village near a National Park, run a very small budget guest house and try to do some agriculture that can survive the Elephants, monkeys and wild boar incursions. I am not really anonymous, a little digging and you can find my identity.

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5 years ago

sbarrkum, congratulations for writing about China. Yes China had a large English speaking elite until 1949. They would have won the Chinese civil war if the US and Europeans had backed them or if the Soviets had provided less assistance to Mao.

Strange as it sounds now the US and Mao had a great relationship and alliance during WWII and Mao’s friends in the US armed forces, DoD, State continued to lobby for the US not to side against Mao. Mao was supplied by the US through India. Many American soldiers served in India during WWII.

But here is the interesting thing; the western backed elite ultimately took over China and have now ruled China for a generation. If anything they are more free market, more pro business than Europe, Japan and America. China is the leading global resister of post modernism–having seen its destruction first hand. China has a larger economy than America and is growing fast. The world needs to focus far more on China. Kudos for leading the charge sbarrkum!

An alliance of the US, Europe, China, India, Asia could fix many the world’s problems. Pray it happens.

Suppose to do other work now, but I hope to write more about China in the future! Cheers.

5 years ago
Reply to  sbarrkum

sbarrkum, I have probably read over twenty books about Vietnam. If you are referring to Ho’s letters to Roosevelt and Truman. I thought that those letters were not delivered to both Presidents. Mistakes were also made on Ho’s side because Ho did not understand America.

In Vietnam too; eventually the South won. Vietnam is a pro business free market country with increasing freedom.

5 years ago
Reply to  sbarrkum

“AnAn please. Ho wanted an independent Vietnam, free of French (Chinese). I dont think he cared about ideology that much, just a prosperous independent Vietnam. Just a pragmatic Nationalist.”

To the degree this is true both Ho and the South Vietnamese won in the long run!

Ho de facto lost power to Lê Duẩn in 1964. Had Ho retained power I believe he would have negotiated a deal with South Vietnam and the US to end the Vietnam war. Ho was far more supportive of negotiations than Lê Duẩn.

Vietnam’s economy was a catastrophe until Lê Duẩn’s passing away in 1986. Now Vietnam is an Asian Tiger.


The US government is a confused oligarchy with no institutional memory and little institutional knowledge. Ho’s letters were not delivered to sitting US presidents by their underlings. This was a mistake.

5 years ago
Reply to  AnAn

>If anything they are more free market, more pro business than Europe, Japan and America.

Only to the point which the market doesn’t interfere with the interests of the elite in the Communist party. When they start worrying about companies getting too competitive and pro-business for their liking, they are quick to clamp down upon them. One example I remember reading about is when the State Council abruptly ordered the reshuffling of the presidents of several major Chinese telecommunication companies in 2004 to curb their competitiveness.

>China is the leading global resister of post modernism–having seen its destruction first hand.
Am I missing something? What did post modernism do to China?

5 years ago
Reply to  Mir

Killed 50 million Chinese people, including through the Chinese civil wars (before 1937, 45-49, 69-71, and the cultural revolution). During he cultural revolution there was an attempt to destroy China’s ancient history, culture, civilization, libraries, knowledge. Many Chinese records about the rest of the world were also destroyed–which means the rest of the world also knows a lot less about their history.

Post modernists similarly tried to destroy all records of Laotian, Cambodian civilization, culture, history, libraries. Which is why we know so little about the great flourishing Sanathana Dharma civilizations of Cambodia and Laos.

5 years ago
Reply to  AnAn

Uh, wasn’t post modernism a rejection of the authoritarian movements of the 20th century? I’d imagine that post modernism would be a lot less violent since they’re skeptical of the proletariat vs bourgeois narrative which was used to tear China apart.

5 years ago
Reply to  AnAn

You have an odd definition of postmodernism. Communism is about as distinctly modern as you can get.

5 years ago
Reply to  Fraxinicus

Post modernism in ancient eastern thought (as understood five thousand years ago for example) is to transcend all meta narratives and universalist notions. This is the eastern concept of freedom, nirvana, or whatever term someone prefers.

However in the 1800s a new European school of thought was born in the following sequence:
-marxism (founded by Marx, the most famous modernist who wrote over 50 articles about India as a young man)
-freudianism (who studied the east)
-structuralism and semiology (Ferdinand de Saussure); simultaneous with freudianism (who did his PhD in Panini’s Sanskrit grammar and created his ideology by deconstructing eastern civilization and culture)
-post modernism

When I refer to post modernism I am referring to the entire stream of related philosophy. All of them have evolved into a type of orientalist misunderstanding of post modernism where they replace all meta-narratives and universalist notions with their own lens–with a heavy emphasis on identitarianism, racial/sectarian/religious difference. They try to deconstruct and delegitimize all the world’s religions, cultures and philosophies as technologies of oppression, exploitation, imperialism, hegemony etc. They regard all ancient meritocratic hierarchies of competence and capacity to be exploitation and power abuse–not understanding that meritocratic hierarchies significantly benefit the vast majority of people, especially poor people.

The current global misunderstanding of post modernism (to generalize) has greatly reduced global material standards of living and quality of life for the vast majority of people versus what they would have been ceteris paribus. Post modernists now control almost all of global liberal arts academia and global K-12 primary education with the partial exceptions of China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Brown Pundits