America

Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat


By Wu Tingfang


Chapter 1. The Importance of Names

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."

Notwithstanding these lines, I maintain that the selection of names is important. They should always be carefully chosen. They are apt to influence friendships or to excite prejudices according to their significance. We Chinese are very particular in this matter. When a son is born the father or the grandfather chooses a name for the infant boy which, according to his horoscope, is likely to insure him success, or a name is selected which indicates the wish of the family for the new-born child. Hence such names as "happiness", "prosperity", "longevity", "success", and others, with like propitious import, are common in China. With regard to girls their names are generally selected from flowers, fruits, or trees. Particular care is taken not to use a name which has a bad meaning. In Washington I once met a man in an elevator whose name was "Coffin". Was I to be blamed for wondering if the elevator would be my coffin? On another occasion I met a man whose name was "Death", and as soon as I heard his name I felt inclined to run away, for I did not wish to die. I am not superstitious. I have frequently taken dinner with thirteen persons at the table, and I do not hesitate to start on a journey on a Friday. I often do things which would not be done by superstitious persons in China. But to meet a man calling himself "Coffin" or "Death" was too much for me, and with all my disbelief in superstition I could not help showing some repugnance to those who bore such names.

Equally important, if not more so, is the selection of a name for a state or a nation. When the several states of America became independent they called themselves the "United States of America" -- a very happy idea. The Union was originally composed of thirteen states, covering about 300,000 square miles; it is now composed of forty-eight states and three territories, which in area amount to 3,571,492 square miles, practically as large in extent as China, the oldest nation in the world. It should be noted that the name is most comprehensive: it might comprise the entire continent of North and South America. It is safe to say that the founders of the nation did not choose such a name without consideration, and doubtless the designation "United States of America" conceals a deep motive. I once asked a gentleman who said he was an American whether he had come from South or North America, or whether he was a Mexican, a Peruvian or a native of any of the countries in Central America? He replied with emphasis that he was an American citizen of the United States. I said it might be the United States of Mexico, or Argentina, or other United States, but he answered that when he called himself a citizen it could not mean any other than that of the United States of America. I have asked many other Americans similar questions and they all have given me replies in the same way. We Chinese call our nation "The Middle Kingdom"; it was supposed to be in the center of the earth. I give credit to the founders of the United States for a better knowledge of geography than that possessed by my countrymen of ancient times and do not assume that the newly formed nation was supposed to comprise the whole continent of North and South America, yet the name chosen is so comprehensive as to lead one naturally to suspect that it was intended to include the entire continent. However, from my observation of their national conduct, I believe their purpose was just and humane; it was to set a noble example to the sister nations in the Western Hemisphere, and to knit more closely all the nations on that continent through the bonds of mutual justice, goodwill and friendship. The American nation is, indeed, itself a pleasing and unique example of the principle of democracy. Its government is ideal, with a liberal constitution, which in effect declares that all men are created equal, and that the government is "of the people, for the people, and by the people." Anyone with ordinary intelligence and with open eyes, who should visit any city, town or village in America, could not but be impressed with the orderly and unostentatious way in which it is governed by the local authorities, or help being struck by the plain and democratic character of the people. Even in the elementary schools, democracy is taught and practised. I remember visiting a public school for children in Philadelphia, which I shall never forget. There were about three or four hundred children, boys and girls, between seven and fourteen years of age. They elected one of their students as mayor, another as judge, another as police commissioner, and in fact they elected for the control of their school community almost all the officials who usually govern a city. There were a few Chinese children among the students, and one of them was pointed out to me as the police superintendent. This not only eloquently spoke of his popularity, but showed goodwill and harmony among the several hundred children, and the entire absence of race feeling. The principals and teachers told me that they had no difficulty whatever with the students. If one of them did anything wrong, which was not often, he would be taken by the student policeman before the judge, who would try the case, and decide it on its merits, and punish or discharge his fellow student as justice demanded. I was assured by the school authorities that this system of self-government worked admirably; it not only relieved the teachers of the burden of constantly looking after the several hundred pupils, but each of them felt a moral responsibility to behave well, for the sake of preserving the peace and good name of the school. Thus early imbued with the idea of self-government, and entrusted with the responsibilities of its administration, these children when grown up, take a deep interest in federal and municipal affairs, and, when elected for office, invariably perform their duties efficiently and with credit to themselves.

It cannot be disputed that the United States with its democratic system of government has exercised a great influence over the states and nations in Central and South America. The following data showing the different nations of America, with the dates at which they turned their respective governments from Monarchies into Republics, all subsequent to the independence of the United States, are very significant.

Mexico became a Republic in 1823, Honduras in 1839, Salvador in 1839, Nicaragua in 1821, Costa Rica in 1821, Panama in 1903, Colombia in 1819, Venezuela in 1830, Ecuador in 1810, Brazil in 1889, Peru in 1821, Bolivia in 1825, Paraguay in 1811, Chile in 1810, Argentina in 1824, and Uruguay in 1828.

These Republics have been closely modelled upon the republican form of government of the United States; thus, nearly all the nations or states on the continent of America have become Republics. Canada still belongs to Great Britain. The fair and generous policy pursued by the Imperial Government of Great Britain accounts for the Canadians' satisfaction with their political position, and for the fact that they do not wish a change. It must be noted, however, that a section of the American people would like to see Canada incorporated with the United States. I remember that at a public meeting held in Washington, at which Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then Premier of Canada, was present, an eminent judge of the Federal Supreme Court jocularly expressed a wish that Canada should be annexed to the United States. Later, Mr. Champ Clark, a leader of the Democratic party in the House of Representatives, addressed the House urging the annexation of Canada. Even if these statements are not taken seriously they at least show the feelings of some people, and he would be a bold man who would prophesy the political status of Canada in the future. There is, however, no present indication of any change being desired by the Canadians, and it may be safely presumed that the existing conditions will continue for many years to come. This is not to be wondered at, for Canada though nominally a British colony practically enjoys almost all the privileges of an independent state. She possesses a constitution similar to that of the United Kingdom, with a parliament of two houses, called the "Senate", and the "House of Commons". The Sovereign of Great Britain appoints only the Governor General who acts in his name, but the Dominion is governed by a responsible Ministry, and all domestic affairs are managed by local officials, without interference from the Home Government. Canadians enjoy as many rights as the inhabitants of England, with the additional advantage that they do not have to bear the burden of maintaining an army and navy. Some years ago, if I remember rightly, in consequence of some agitation or discussion for independence, the late Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, stated that if the Canadians really wished for independence, the Home Government would not oppose, but that they should consider if they would gain anything by the change, seeing that they already had self-government, enjoyed all the benefits of a free people, and that the only right the Home Government reserved was the appointment of the Governor-General, although it assumed the responsibility of protecting every inch of their territory from encroachment. Since this sensible advice from the Colonial Secretary, I have heard nothing more of the agitation for independence.

From a commercial point of view, and for the welfare of the people, there is not much to choose to-day between a Limited Monarchy and a Republic. Let us, for instance, compare England with the United States. The people of England are as free and independent as the people of the United States, and though subjects, they enjoy as much freedom as Americans. There are, however, some advantages in favor of a Republic. Americans until recently paid their President a salary of only $50,000 a year; it is now $75,000 with an additional allowance of $25,000 for travelling expenses. This is small indeed compared with the Civil List of the King or Emperor of any great nation. There are more chances in a Republic for ambitious men to distinguish themselves; for instance, a citizen can become a president, and practically assume the functions of a king or an emperor. In fact the President of the United States appoints his own cabinet officials, ambassadors, ministers, etc. It is generally stated that every new president has the privilege of making more than ten thousand appointments. With regard to the administration and executive functions he has in practice more power than is usually exercised by a king or an emperor of a Constitutional Monarchy. On the other hand, in some matters, the executive of a Republic cannot do what a king or an emperor can do; for example, a president cannot declare war against a foreign nation without first obtaining the consent of Congress. In a monarchical government the king or the cabinet officials assume enormous responsibilities. Lord Beaconsfield (then Mr. D'Israeli), while he was Prime Minister of England, purchased in 1875 from the Khedive of Egypt 176,602 Suez Canal shares for the sum of 3,976,582 Pounds on his own responsibility, and without consulting the Imperial Parliament. When Parliament or Congress has to be consulted about everything, great national opportunities to do some profitable business must undoubtedly be sometimes lost. No such bold national investment as that made by Lord Beaconsfield could have been undertaken by any American president on his own responsibility. Mr. Cleveland, when president of the United States, said that "the public affairs of the United States are transacted in a glass house."

Washington, in his farewell address, advised his compatriots that on account of the detached and distant situation of their country they should, in extending their commercial relations with foreign nations, have as little political connection with them as possible; and he asked this pertinent and pregnant question, "Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?" In 1823, twenty-seven years after Washington's celebrated address, President Monroe in his annual message to Congress warned the European Powers not to plant any new colonies on any portion of the American hemisphere, as any attempt on their part to extend their system in that part of the world would be considered as dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. This "Monroe Doctrine", as it has since been called, practically protects every state and country on the American continent from attack or interference by any foreign power, and it cannot be denied that it has been and is now the chief factor in preserving the integrity of all the countries on that continent. Thus the United States is assuming the role of guardian over the other American nations. In the city of Washington there is an International Bureau of the American Republics, in which all the Republics of Central and South America are represented. It is housed in a magnificent palace made possible by the beneficence of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the American multi-millionaire and philanthropist, and the contributions of the different governments. It cost 750,000 gold dollars, and Mr. John Barrett, the capable and popular director of the Bureau, has well called it "a temple of friendship and commerce and a meeting place for the American Republics." The Bureau is supported by the joint contributions of the twenty-one American Republics, and its affairs are controlled by a governing board composed of their diplomatic representatives in Washington, with the American Secretary of State as chairman ex officio. This institution no doubt strengthens the position of the United States and is calculated to draw the American Republics into closer friendship.



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