Some Phases of Internationalism, May 9, 1923 (excerpts)


Shanghai a Place for Experimentation

THE little slant-eyed maiden with the slick black braid caught up close to her head with the hundred twists of red silk thread betokening "Good Joss," her tiny feet painfully hobbling over the hard cobblestone pavements, -- the diminutive sad eyed cherub whose rosy cheeks have turned a pasty grey and whose hands fumble continuously for the remains in the one pocket of his slack blouse, -- the old cigarette crone who hobbles and wheezes along the gritty cinder path toward the large grey building whose chimneys vomit forth black smoke genii -- may soon become but poignant memories if the plans advocated by Miss Jane Addams become reality, instead of at present an [elusive] figment of an optimistic imagination.

"Nothing is so bad that it cannot be remedied, at least in some degree," said Miss Addams, speaking of the life of the toilers in China.

"It has been tremendously interesting to me to see with my own eyes what great strides the international city of Shanghai has made along certain lines. The world considers Shanghai as a model in many things. You have centered here the complex problems of modern civilization, -- problems of race, of language and of religion. That the representatives of the various nations who have joined together to form this settlement live in peace and accord with one another and have evolved a just and workable code of laws is splendid. I am told that during the last score of years the general well being of the municipalities has improved more than 1,000 [percent]. That is a record of which any city might be justly proud.

"Shanghai seems to me to be an ideal 'locus' for experimentation, and therefore, I was very much surprised to find that the progress along labor lines was decidedly backwards. Many of the toilers are in a deplorable condition. A bowl of rice, a bit of meat, and a few bamboo shoots is all that divides many of them from absolute starvation. Labor and time-saving devices, and safety appliances are for the most part unknown.

"Talking with managers of many of the cotton factories and silk [filatures], in which child and aged labor is employed to a large extent, I found that many arguments were advanced for the underpayment, and consequent [undernourishment] of children, -- arguments and reasons which civilized nations have regarded for many years as obsolete and valueless. In this connection let me add that the labor problems of Oriental countries are no whit different from those of any other country. Human nature rises triumphant over any man made laws and rebels against those tactics which are not in accord with the common sense tactics of humanity.

"It is all very well to say that it is much better for the child to be earning his living in the factory doing a repetitive action thousands and thousands of times a day. The factory owners and managers claim it is better for the child to be in the warm well ventilated factory than out in the streets living the doubtful life of a ne'er do well. They say that within the factory the child learns diligence by his application to the several tasks at hand, that he also learns the value of money and will, therefore make a thrifty, self-respecting citizen and not become a charge on the community.

"On the surface these arguments appear to be sound logic but there is no provision for the human element or for individual peculiarities. Time after time statistics compiled by those authorities who are entirely disinterested in labor have proved that unless the human factor is taken into consideration to a large extent the success of any undertaking will be ephemeral.

"Children are no automatons. This is especially true after the first enthusiasm has worn off and the joy of the new game has developed into a steady, dull grind. It is also true that the profits of the factory which employs a large amount of children are not as large as the one whose personnel is composed of workers of more mature years. This may sound like an astounding statement but I assure you it is the truth since statistics compiled by social workers all over the world have established it to be the truth beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt.

"It is only natural that the wages of the child should be less, -- approximately three-eighths to one half of these of more mature years, -- but on the other hand considerably more than double the number of children must be employed to do a sum of work, in order that the output may equal [page 2] that of other factories whose operators are more skilled and have more endurance by reason of their greater age. I am speaking now entirely on the practical side and leaving out all consideration of the human element. The child tires out more easily and his attention varies in proportion to the amount of hours employed.

"I repeat that the child can never be an automaton because it is not inherent in his nature. He loves to sing and dance and play, to dream day dreams, to have aspirations and ambitions toward the accomplishment of some great achievement.

"When those natural desires are crushed long before he reaches the age of adolescence how will it be possible for him to force these early hopes and dreams to become realities?

"In addition to the necessity for the abolishment of child labor, Shanghai needs more schools. To estimate the success of the China of the future we must look to the rising generation, and education is a great incentive toward achievement. In this connection I might state that I do not mean schools where the tuition is so high that the coolies' children are prohibited from mingling with those of a more fortunate financial station in life. China is now a republic and the school should be the common meeting place for all classes. I think the Chinese themselves now realize the necessity and it is only natural that they should turn to the foreigners in their midst for inspiration and aid in working out a solution for many problems of both an industrial and a civil character. Foreigners living in Shanghai have a great privilege in showing them by precept and example the very best that the Western world can offer."

P. K.

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