Bertrand Russell and “The Problem of China”

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Uhas come in China in 1920 Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, was delighted with the reception he received. “They greet me as a second Confucius, and invite me to tell them exactly what they owe to their country,” he wrote to his paramour. “It’s a terrible responsibility.”

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However, Russell accepted the challenge. After a stay of almost ten months, he returned to England and in 1922 he published a book called “The Problem of China”. It’s still relevant a century later, offering enough wisdom to counter occasional periods of folly.

Russell’s comments are sometimes clever. He explained, for example, how “Japanese aggression is the most pressing problem in China’s relations with foreign powers.” He also noted that the Russian Bolsheviks enjoyed the “enthusiastic sympathy of the younger Chinese students” and could gain wider appeal.

One young person Russell met during his stay was Mao Zedong. The name of the future Communist leader does not appear in the book. But Russell said that “a strong reformer with literary skill could carry most of Young China with him. “

Russell believed that China was held back by Confucianism’s emphasis on filial piety, which, he argued, caused corruption and “prevented the growth of public spirit”. He saw a growing Chinese clothing sector, with the potential to be “as good as the Lancashire sector”. He believed that contact with the West would help China’s industrial development, which he predicted would “advance rapidly in the coming decades”. But he warned China that “development should be controlled by the Chinese rather than by foreign countries.”

Critics slam Russell for not spending much time in the country and for holding China to different standards than other countries. Some of his comments are wistful, such as his description of Shanghai as “a big city, about the size of Glasgow”. Others are cringe-worthy, such as his view of the Chinese as “relaxed, urbane, seeking only justice and freedom”. Compared to “white races”, they have “much less desire… to tighten over others,” he wrote. Tibetans and Uyghurs may not agree.

“I don’t think I will write about China. It is a complex country, with an ancient civilization,” Russell said in letters, before changing his mind. In his letters he often feels like an obstacle. In one, for example, he refers to China as “rotting and rotting, like the late Roman Empire”. He also complains that “most of the students are stupid and timid”, but in the book he says that they are “capable and very enthusiastic”.

“The Problem of China” was widely read in the country and praised for its relatively positive evaluation. (It is still available today.) Russell believed that China, with its resources, population and patriotic spirit, could become “the greatest power in the world after the United States”. But he also offered a warning: “The danger of patriotism is that, as soon as it has become strong enough for a successful defense, it is apt to turn to foreign aggression.” ”

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