Impressions of the Orient, October 12, 1923 (summary)


SELDOM has the transcendent gift of interpretation been so exemplified as at the Chicago City Club this last month when the head worker of Hull House gave her impressions of social and political ferment in the Orient. The large dining-room was filled with friends and fellow workers and at the close of the meal another room-full poured in upon them. There was a freshness, an openness, a genuineness to this welcome home that gripped you with the sense that neighborliness has not passed out of the life of the great city. Its genii are still within call to those who rub its lamp. And from the earliest settlements on, the gift of the neighbor that has transcended all others has been not to preach, nor to teach, nor to correct, not even to help, but to interpret.

The founder of Hull House, who has made articulate the spirit of youth and the city streets, has helped voice the aspirations of Greek and Italian, and other immigrant groups, has won a hearing for the consciences of women and the struggles of working men, applied that gift which is hers in such full measure to the cross-currents in the life of the Far East. Any who came anticipating that she would pass judgment on the issues which baffle folk in India, China and Japan, went away disappointed. She did not tell them in the vernacular of the day where to get off. She confessed that it was too soon for her to crystalize even her impressions. Rather she dissolved the cartoon-like shapes in which we personify a people; she brought out their inveterate humanness, their divisions among themselves, the things they are striving for and around. And, as in the Greek tragedies, the picture she left was not so much of St. Georges and Dragons, but rather of a clash between lives which on neither hand were without high purpose and nobility. This does not mean that Miss Addams showed herself unaware of inconsistencies between principles and practice or unconscious of selfish interests which bedevil evolutionary change. Nor lacked friendly humor at the perplexities in which good people find themselves -- or at the tit they offer for the tat of foreign criticisms. Those tired conservatives of the Orient, for example, (being upside down from us they may very properly be called that); those people in high places and middling places in the [Indies?], who have been holding on to the tie-strings of civilization in these post-war years and who privately express regret that in a hasty war-time moment an American president let the cat of self-determination out of the bag. There are so many bags in the East and such a variety of cats, and the tie-strings have a habit of flying around so unexpectedly!

In the Philippines, to illustrate, Miss Addams was assured on all hands that 98 [percent] of the offices are held by the Filipinos. Only 2 [percent] by Americans. But those 2 [percent] are the crux of the government. The Americans say exactly what the English say in India and believe it as thoroughly: that they are merely holding on until such time as the Filipinos can run their own affairs. The Filipinos say the time is come now. And there you are.


MISS ADDAMS pictured the complexities of China: on the one hand the military governors (set up by the former president who wanted to be emperor) now swollen with power and sending little money to the central government; and on the other hand Sun Yat-Sen, in the south, with his liberal platform, to whom the Chinese of our own cities, touched as they were with our western ideas, are devoted, but who is as yet without compelling support on Asiatic soil. In the meanwhile, banditry, and the pleasant confession of the bandits to their American captives that they learned how to do it from an American movie. And as a footnote, the remark to Miss Addams of an elderly Chinese admiral, who thought that if the world would give China time the Chinese would work their way out. He had once been captured by bandits himself he admitted -- in the 70's on a train in the West which was held up by our own Jesse James! Similarly she told of American impatience at the slowness of the Chinese in arriving at a workable constitution and of the soft-spoken reminder of the 13 years that dragged between 1776 and 1789. She told of the observance of Humiliation Day as she had witnessed it in China, anniversary of the enforcement of the twenty-two demands of Japan, and of a mass meeting of Korean women -- their slogan, Korea for Koreans -- which she felt was a match for any patriotic gathering she had ever witnessed elsewhere. And then of the liberal party in Japan and of the council of eight Japanese organizations of which the former Mayor of [Tokyo] has been a vigorous member, which is fighting the imperialists. In Japan Miss Addams had the distinction of being publicly received and officially welcomed for her services in the cause of peace. She had been received, she remarked, elsewhere in spite of being a pacifist, but never before because she was one.

The members of these active Japanese organizations are not convinced pacifists perhaps, but they are for further reduction in armaments. We fail to appreciate, she said, the way the Japanese took to heart the world wide reaction to German militarism during the war, and are applying it to their own navalism; fail to realize how seriously the people of China and Japan look upon the Washington conference; or how jealously the Japanese point to their evacuation of Shantung in their eagerness to prove their good faith to Americans. She told of the spread of education in Japan (until today they have surpassed us with 98 [percent] of their children in school), of the rise of social work there, and of the agitation for the franchise amongst the working classes and among the women.

In general, Miss Addams brought back from these movements for larger self-expression in the various countries a realization that the Orient is entering very roundly upon some of those political and social conceptions which we ourselves hold. [page 2]

It was in her interpretation of India that Miss Addams manifested her gift most strikingly: for first of all she made her audience see the situation as the English see it -- marking the change with which the leaders among them approach their stewardship. They came, they told her, not as the English of another generation, to settle there as rulers, but to prepare the way for self-government; and they found it a very much more interesting thing to do -- this work of preparation. Mrs. Besant, who a few years ago was regarded as an arch-agitator, today has very much the odor of sanctity and is sharing in the constitutional movement; insisting that she herself has not changed but that the British government has moved along. Gandhi, Miss Addams did not attempt to see, as in his confinement he is limited to two callers every three months and his wife is one of these. But it was not necessary to see Gandhi to be aware of his presence as a force in the life of the people. He of all men on the face of the earth at present is the most widely known, most dearly beloved. Of this an official gave her curious evidence. She had thought she knew something of poverty, but it was as nothing to the poverty of the fellaheen. And this official told her that in districts so far removed from the centers, fellaheen, so low in the scale that they were unaware that the English were in India, knew of Gandhi -- of a man who wished to save them from their wretchedness. Lord [Reading] told her that at one time he had talked six hours with Gandhi and considered him the most wonderful man he had ever met. Miss Addams pointed out the distinction between nonresistance and the [noncooperation] of Gandhi and between the two branches of his followers. But it would be unfair to attempt to follow her interpretation of the Indian movement. That she will do in her own way and at her own time.

While the white caps of Gandhists once worn by the hundreds of thousands are now somewhat abandoned, the moral energy which flows from their willingness to sacrifice persists. This was perhaps the most indelible impression she left with her hearers.