The Chinese question [22 December 1897]

[Editor: An article expressing concerns over defence matters facing Australia if several European countries were to take over parts of China. Published in The National Advocate, 22 December 1897.]

The Chinese question.

A few years ago the Chinese problem that troubled Australia was the possibility of an invasion from the countless hordes of the Mongolian Empire, a blotting out of white Australia under a wave of yellow humanity. Those curious creatures the silver-standard advocates added, so far as they could, to the alarm aroused by China with statements as to the superiority of a nation with an inferior currency over people laboring under the gold superstition. It does not require a very great effort of memory to recall pamphlets and articles innumerable pointing to the extreme danger of Australia being annihilated by a Chinese invasion; these effusions were often adorned with learned arguments culled from the history of ancient Hunnic and Tartar raids on Europe. In the light of recent events they would be very amusing reading. Before the prowess of the Japanese, China fell prostrate, and was only saved from national extinction by the moderating counsels of European diplomatists. And now the only obstacle to the partition of the vast Empire of the Mongols among half-a-score of nations is the mutual jealousy of the European Powers.

Within the past month Germany has boldly seized a slice of Chinese territory as the headquarters of a missionary band “preaching the gospel of the Kaiser’s consecrated person.” Russia has found it necessary to meet this move by a seizure on her own part of Port Arthur. China looks upon these thefts in helpless indignation, and has invited England to step in and take a slice of territory too, apparently as a desperate expedient to secure protection against the rapacity of foes to whom she can herself oppose no effective resistance. John Bull never refuses an invitation to dinner when a slice of territory is the piece de resistance; possessed already of an “Empire on which the sun never sets,” he is yet always anxious for further acquirements. A sphere of British influence on the mainland of China is therefore a probable contingency. France, not to be out of the running, will possibly seek to extend her Asiatic area by moving the Cochin-China boundary up; and then three foreign nations will be established within a few days sail of Australia.

That is the New Chinese problem. Hitherto Australia has enjoyed the inestimable advantage of remoteness from the armaments of Europe. But the partition of China threatens to bring the fleets and armies of Russia, France and Germany to our very doors. And the teeming millions of Chinese men, inert and helpless for attack as they may be under the direction of their own rulers, would probably prove fairly effective soldiers if officered and drilled by Europeans. The Hindostani natives had little idea of warfare until the advent of the British in India. Now they make excellent Sepoys. Under General Gordon, Chinese troops proved to be of great value and wonderful courage. A European partition of China might mean, therefore, the development of a military China, and make possible the landing of a quarter of a million Mongolians, led by Germans, on the shores of Australia. The prospect is not a pleasant one.

The National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW), 22 December 1897, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
piece de resistance = (French, literally meaning “piece of resistance”) the most outstanding item, feature, event, or aspect of a collection or group of items; the showpiece; the highest accomplishment; a noteworthy item (may also refer to the main dish of a meal)

rapacity = excessive covetousness, greediness, insatiableness, voraciousness; the condition of being rapacious: having or displaying a strong and excessive wish to take things for oneself, or to plunder, particularly the drive to acquire money or to possess things, especially using force, or using unfair, immoral, or predatory methods

sepoy = a native of the Indian subcontinent employed as a soldier in the service of a European power, particularly regarding the native soldiers used by the British; may also refer to a black person in general, especially black male fighters or military men

[Editor: Corrected “counteess” to “countless”.]

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