China and the Federal Union

China and the Federal Union

From "China and Federal Union," a speech Pearl Buck delivered at the Federal Union organization, New York City (April, 1942).

[The Federal Union movement proposed a permanent alliance of the world's democracies in a more selective federation than the United Nations.]

I have it in a letter from a member of the Federal Union group that the exclusion of China from any proposed union of the democracies is now an outgrown idea. This is very important, indeed. The initial step has been taken. The idea of a partial union of the democracies, that is, a union of the white, English-speaking portion of the democracies, has been discarded. It would of course have been an absurdity, an anachronism in these swiftly changing times. To exclude China today, to exclude India tomorrow, or perhaps a few weeks or even days hence, would be folly. . . .

[There] is a state of mind that at the bottom does not want China included because the Chinese are not Americans and not English, because the Chinese live in the East and not the West, because Chinese are yellow-skinned and not white-skinned, because in its secret places this state of mind refuses to know that the Chinese are our equals, and that, if they are in some ways inferior to us, so are we in many ways inferior to them. This state of mind is the fruit of ignorance. As an American I am more frightened of our ignorance of the Far East today than I am of any other thing. I realize that this ignorance unless it is mended will ruin us, if not in the war, then after the war, when the building of the new world, wherein the Far East will demand a place, must be done not by men foolish with ignorance but by wise men, who know the peoples with whom they must build. I find this ignorance everywhere, in the highest places in government, in places where there ought to be knowledge and there is not. I find it almost universal among the people.

Yet it was an American, Henry James, who said, 'All life comes back to the question of our relationships with each other.' It was an American, Thoreau, who said, 'Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told.' But we have neglected human relationships as no people on earth have done, and we have been too ignorant in our shallow-rooted democracy to read the story of that ancient greater democracy across the sea.

The fruit of ignorance is arrogance. We have not bothered to learn the Chinese language, not because it was so difficult -- a language spoken by four hundred and fifty millions of human beings is not perhaps too difficult for other human beings if they want to learn it -- but simply because we have not known enough to want to learn it in order that a great democratic history and a great democratic literature might be opened to us. In our arrogance we have complacently waited for the Chinese to learn English so that we might communicate with them if we wanted to communicate. Today when it is crucially necessary that we do communicate with them, we cannot. We don't know how. It is a shameful sign of our arrogance that our history departments have almost no Chinese history in them, our literature courses almost no Chinese literature, our philosophy departments almost none of the great Chinese systems of philosophy. And our religious schools have been the most arrogant of all.

This ignorant arrogant mind has become fixed in its patterns. It is the pattern which considers anything not American to be inferior -- unless it be English.