Gentlemen of The Critic | China Heritage Quarterly
Gentlemen of The Critic
English-Speaking Liberal Intellectuals in Republican China
Qian Suoqiao 錢鎖橋
City University of Hong Kong
Chinese literary, cultural, and intellectual modernity has never been monolingual. Histories based exclusively on Chinese-language materials, however, have tended to underplay the role of English-speaking Chinese intellectuals in shaping Chinese modernity. The Republican period saw a new class of Western-educated, English-speaking 'returned students' come to occupy elite positions in society, and they permeated all sectors of Republican political, social and cultural life. This phenomenon was quite a contrast to the situation that has existed since 1949. Particularly influential in the Republican era was the group of intellectuals involved with The China Critic.
As has been noted elsewhere in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly, The China Critic was the first English-language journal produced and edited exclusively by Chinese. According to one of its founders, Durham S.F. Chen 陈石孚, its launch in 1928 was occasioned by the Jinan Incident of 3 May 1928 when Tsai Kung-shih (蔡公時, 1881-1928), Special Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, was assassinated by the Japanese. The new weekly announced itsself-imposed mandateas being 'to present the Chinese point of view on current affairs.' Other founding members of The Critic included Ch'en Ch'in-jen (陳欽仁, 1900-1976), a Missouri-trained journalist, Chu Shao-p'ing (朱少屏, 1882-1942), the secretary of the Shanghai YMCA, Kwei Chung-shu (桂中樞, 1897-1987), a journalist and practicing lawyer, and D.K. Lieu (刘大钧, 1891-1962), a distinguished economist. Membership of the journal's editorial board evolved over time, later members included: H.Y. Warren Chen (陈华寅, 1904-1956), Kan Lee 李干, Ms. V.T. Bang (彭望荃 , 1902-1975), Y.C. Ma (馬寅初, 1882-1982), Chang Hsin-Hai (張欣海, 1898-1972), P.T. Chen 陳炳章, T. King 金子剛, Thomas M.H. Chao (趙敏恆 , 1904-1961), as well as more prominent figures such as T.K. Chuan (全增嘏 , 1903-1984), a Western-trained philosopher, Quentin Pan (潘光旦, 1899-1967), a distinguished eugenicist who oversaw the book review column, Lin Yutang (林語堂, 1895-1976) and Lin Yu 林幽, Lin Yutang's younger brother, who was responsible for the Oversea Chinese column.
The China Critic was not a literary magazine, but rather a comprehensive news weekly. Though professionals in different fields, its members shared common ground in their Western educational background and proficiency in English. Most were alumni of Tsinghua Preparatory School and had attended Tsinghua before going abroad. In a sense, the appearance of The China Critic signaled the coming of age of this new generation of returned students. Lin Yutang had a special connection with these Tsinghua alumni, having taught many of them, for he was their English instructor at Tsinghua after having graduated from St. John's University and before going abroad himself. Given his educational background, Lin Yutang epitomized the emergence of this English-speaking class. Some of the members of The China Critic group, particularly T.K. Chuan, Quentin Pan and Lin Yu, would also become core members of the Lunyu 論語 or The Analects group.
The China Critic had an uninterrupted run for twelve years, until 1940, and was briefly resurrected after the war in 1945. Although its circulation was not as large as Lin Yutang's later Chinese-language journals, its target audience was rather special: China's English-literate public, both foreign and Chinese. The latter, by virtue of their language ability, constituted an elite social class, within which the greatest social capital belonged to returned students from England and the US. Though its readership included foreign residents in China, the journal was not primarily designed to introduce China's politics, economy, culture and current events to the West. The orientation of its editors and contributors was cosmopolitan, and they commented and reported on the social, political, economical and cultural happenings of the week in China from within. Its regular columns included Editorials, Special Articles, The Little Critic (by Lin Yutang, later alternating with T.K. Chuan), Arts and Letters, Facts and Figures, Chief Events of the Week, From Chinese Press, From the Foreign Press, Book Review (by Quentin Pan), Oversea Chinese (by Lin Yu), and Public Forum.
The Critic's Nanjing Decade
The launching of The China Critic coincided with the establishment of the Nationalist government in Nanjing. However unstable and even chaotic the country's socio-political situation, a unified government represented the promise of much-needed reconstruction for a country riven by regional conflict and foreign incursion. Editorials by 'The (China) Critic Gentlemen', as the editorial group was sometimes referred to at the time, make it clear that they saw themselves as contributing to the country's reconstruction and development. Indeed, the Nanjing Decade (1927-1937) witnessed rapid progress in social modernization, and Western-trained professionals were at the forefront of social building. The Critic gentlemen's liberal and cosmopolitan disposition did not mean that they always stood against the government or spoke truth to power from a detached standpoint. As Shen Shuang has pointed out LINK, The China Critic was most likely funded by the Nationalist government through the Sun Yat-sen's Institute for Advancement of Culture and Education headed by Sun Fo (Sun Ke), who was also the sitting President of the Legislative Yuan, and 'several members of The China Critic's editorial board also held important positions in the Nationalist government around the time of the founding of the magazine. Some worked in the Legislative Yuan headed by Sun Ke, Sun Yat-sen's son, who frequently wrote for The China Critic, especially in the first few issues.' Notwithstanding these close ties to the government, the journal's voice was, on the whole, independent, its liberal critique evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The China Critic hoped that its commentaries on various aspects of social reconstruction would help put the country on the right track of modernization.
The defining feature of The Critic gentleman, as a modern cosmopolitan liberal, was that he was a 'critic.' To be a 'critic' in the modern sense is the hallmark of liberal cosmopolitanism. A modern Chinese liberal cosmopolitan critic maintains a critical disposition towards both China and the world despite his cosmopolitan training and Chinese identity. In face of the dominant discourses of nationalism on the right and communist revolutionary cosmopolitanism on the left, to maintain a sane and open critical disposition was a courageous and difficult task in modern China. The Critic gentlemen's success in meeting this standard is reflected in their editing and writing practices. I will here cite some examples to highlight this feature, primarily focusing on Lin Yutang's Little Critic column, but also with reference to Quentin Pan's Book Review column and Lin Yu's Oversea Chinese column.
Lin Yutang started contributing to The China Critic in its inaugural year, but he did not become a columnist until 3 July 1930 when he started 'The Little Critic' column, which, as one colleague recalled, 'immediately caught on with the reading public. The weekly pieces Dr. Lin wrote and published in this column were all light essays on any imaginable subject. They were so delightful and entertaining that they were eagerly devoured as soon as a copy of the weekly came to hand.' Lin's contributions to The China Critic were of paramount importance to his career and influence. Many of these English writings later re-appeared in Chinese versions in Lin's other journals; collectively they also contain the main ideas and attitudes for his later bestselling books, including My Country and My People and The Importance of Living. Interestingly, the title of the column aptly captures the social role Lin envisioned for himself in the 1930s.
In his first piece, Lin attempted to define what he meant by the title 'The Little Critic'. His column would shun the big issues or serious topics that usually dominated newspaper headlines, such as the London Naval Conference or the progress of Nationalism in China. In reporting such serious topics, one had to wear a tie ('dog-collar' in Lin's words), tighten oneself up and be respectful. Moreover, one had to be constantly alert to the whims of the censors. 'The thing has gone so far now that they have put a few censors to see that the few natural human barks issuing from the dog-collar should neither be so loud as to disturb the extremely sensitive nerves of the censors' masters, nor take place when all villadom and officialdom are getting ready to go to bed.' As a result, the serious big papers in China 'have lost even the capacity to pronounce a "damn" as humanity ought to pronounce it'. The Little Critic would leave the serious issues to the big newspapers. He, instead, would concentrate on commenting on things familiar to him and in his own manner. And if he felt like barking, he would bark: 'We do not mean to say that we are going to bark louder, but let us bark humanly. After all, a man can be quite a human being when he takes off his dog-collar and his stiff shirt, and comes home sprawling on the hearth-rug with a pipe in his hand. In this unbuttoned mood shall we speak.' When he later collected his 'Little Critic' essays in a book, Lin acknowledged that his writings for the column had basically followed the principle he set out in advance, but he said that that initial statement contained a grave error: the official 'we' ought to be replaced by the personal 'I'. This was a crucial correction, as it is precisely through the personal I/eye that 'The Little Critic' presented his panoramic view of Chinese life in transition to modernity. In his memoirs, Lin attributed his later success to this style:
It all started with my writing in the 'Little Critic'. I had established myself as an independent critic, neither a Kuomintang man, nor for Chiang Kai-shek, and at times a merciless critic. I had dared to say when cautious critics refrained for the sake of pacifying everybody. At the same time, I had been developing a style, the secret of which is [to] take your reader into confidence, a style you feel like talking to an old friend in your unbuttoned words.
Lin's being a 'merciless critic' once jeopardized the survival of the journal. On 13 March 1930, the newly constituted Nationalist (KMT) government in Nanjing prepared to welcome the official visit of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Nanjing officials feared that an unsightly slum along the main highway, filled with hundreds of shabby huts inhabited by poor rural migrants, would cause the government to lose face in front of the Western royal visitor. So on a rainy night, with no warning and no alternative shelter offered, the huts were torn down and the inhabitants were driven out by force. Reports of the action appeared in The China Times newspaper in Shanghai, but were so categorically denied by the government that The China Times had to issue an apology. However, as the Chinese saying goes, 'fire cannot be wrapped up by paper' 紙包不住火, and photographs taken at the scene of the demolished huts and tents were later published in The China Times,to the great embarrassment of officials. Lin Yutang commenting on this incident in The China Critic, wrote:
Unless two plus two makes five in China, we must believe either that the Mayor's publicity office is carrying the special art of diplomats a little too far, or else The China Times staff correspondent has succeeded in taking spiritist pictures. Being no believer in spiritism, I am inclined to believe that it is the photographs that do not lie.
To Lin, the attempts of government officials to cover up the incident and lie in the face of pictorial evidence was risible. The humorous critic was, however, testing the limits of government censorship. The publication of Lin's exposé so enraged the Nanjing authorities that 'K.P. Chu, the manager of The China Critic, immediately took the night train [to Nanjing], apologized and promised to behave like a good citizen for the good of the country.'
The rival journal for The China Critic was the English-language newspaper People's Tribune, edited by T'ang Leang-Li (湯良禮, 1901-1970), which served as the mouthpiece of the Nationalist Party and was sympathetic to Wang Jingwei's (汪精衛, 1883-1944) faction. In his correspondences with Richard Walsh, the American publisher for Lin Yutang, the latter told Walsh that it was this T'ang and his People's Tribune that had been giving a lot of pressure to The China Critic on a number of occasions.
A Critique of a Critic
The case of Lin's book My Country and My People is a good example how censorship created problems for independent writers and the kind of pressure Lin was put under by T'ang. Lin's correspondences with his publisher, Richard Walsh, reveal that the most anxiety-ridden part of My Country was a planned second chapter. Lin admitted to Walsh that although he had said enough 'naughty' things about the government in Chinese, usually they were 'sugar-coated', whereas: 'This chapter, I am afraid, is unalloyed bitterness, and I don't feel like sugar-coating it.' Lin was nevertheless concerned about official retaliation, and in particular attacks from certain sectors of the English-reading Chinese public that worked for the Nationalists. After many twists and turns in the discussion whether to publish the chapter, author and publisher eventually decided that it would appear as the epilogue 'with certain deletions,' and with two lines added at the beginning of section II: 'The following must not be taken as reflecting on the National Government, but rather on the immensity of the task which the Government is faced with in its gigantic work of evolving order out of chaos.'
Even 'with some carefully worked out deletions' and the disclaimer at the beginning, the epilogue still read like a bitter indictment of the current authorities. From the English-speaking Chinese public, the book received three representative reviews: one, by John C.H. Wu in T'ien Hsia Monthly, hailed Lin as 'one of the very few Chinese thinkers who only need [sic] patience and humility to make themselves heirs to, or at any rate, legatees of, the inexhaustible cultural heritage of mankind'; a lukewarm open letter to Lin Yutang by Yao Hsin-nung, published in The China Critic; and, as may be expected, a withering attack from People's Tribune. Yao praises the book as 'one of the few best books yet written about China' and for its autobiographical appeal, 'but it seems to me what you mean by "my people" is merely the ruling intellectual class in its broad sense rather than the four hundred millions as a whole.' By way of an authorial reply, The China Critic inserted a 'Note' by Lin ahead of the 'open letter', in which Lin claimed that he was a 'Peasant Boy of Lungch'i': 'I have assisted at harvest and caught fish and shrimps in mountain streams and gathered fuel on the mountains. No one can accuse me of not knowing the farmers of China, for they are my people and not the long-gowned gentry, nor the English-speaking Chinese in foreign dress.'
The attack from the People's Tribune came in the form of an open letter signed with the fictitious name 'Junius Sinicus', which begins: 'So the famous Little Critic now ranks among the "Big Guys" who are known to the world as "bestsellers". You have certainly succeeded in "selling" your country and your people.' Aside from its sarcastic tone and personal attack, the People's Tribune's letter accused Lin of 'selling' of his country and his people on the following grounds. First, Lin's exposé of China's defects and failings of the government pleased foreigners and the foreign media in China, most of whom were hostile towards China's Nationalist government and governmental push towards reconstruction, as shown in their rave reviews of the book. The reviewer cynically suggested that Lin should instruct his publisher to make his books available in Japan and Manchukuo, where China was held in contempt. Secondly, Lin's book depicts a dark and hopeless picture of China under the Nationalist government, yet he himself offers no remedies whatsoever. The reviewer further reminds readers that Lin holds an important semi-official position and receives his regular salary from the State Treasury.
In a letter to Walsh, Lin referred to the review as 'just the thing I anticipate from the Chinese "patriots" with a terrible sense of inferiority,' and called it 'syphilitic', but he never replied to the charge publicly. Lin also told Walsh not to worry about his safety as he had taken precautions to protect himself. In China, everything was personal and you would be all right in case of any trouble so long as you have some personal connection 'high above', as he well knew. He served as an editor for the T'ien Hsia Monthly precisely to seek 'umbrella protection' as the magazine was published under the auspices of the Sun Yat-sen Institute for the Advancement of Culture and Education, whose head, Sun Fo, Lin knew appreciated his book.
It would be absurd, of course, to say that The Critic gentlemen, liberal cosmopolitan intellectuals that they were, were not themselves patriotic or nationalistic. The crucial difference between their brand of patriotic nationalism and that represented by People's Tribune is that the latter demanded uncritical conformity with government's ideology, while the former insisted that the intellectual integrity of independent critique was itself indispensable in upholding patriotic and nationalist agendas. This critical-nationalist disposition is also reflected in the Oversea Chinese column edited by Lin Yu and the Book Review column edited by Quentin Pan.
Lin Yu was much quieter and less-well-known than his famous older brother, but he was also a graduate of St. John's College, where he had excelled in English. He had a life-long interest in the Chinese diaspora, not least because he later emigrated to the Philippines himself. Overseas Chinese played a major role in the making of modern Chinese nationalism, and Lin Yu's column brought unprecedented attention to this population, also introducing the voices of overseas Chinese. As Lin Yu wrote: 'This column is dedicated to the promotion of the welfare of our overseas brethren. We shall devote our attention to their glorious achievements as well as to the grievous treatments they now receive, to the actual conditions, under which they now live, as well as to the problems which they are now facing, and which are crying for satisfactory solutions, if China is to safeguard the interests of her heroic sons abroad.' In Lin's vision, the column was a forum for Chinese scholars at home to present their research into overseas Chinese issues, as well as for overseas Chinese to present their own opinions concerning their achievements and struggles abroad.
Attention to the overseas Chinese issue is certainly tied up with the Chinese nationalist agendas at home. But the topic of the overseas Chinese is very much a transnational one, any crass nationalist approach would be detrimental to constructive solutions to overseas Chinese problems beneficial to overseas Chinese interests. While the Oversea Chinese column highlights and affirms that population's contributions to modern Chinese nation-building, it also exposes the discriminatory treatments suffered by Chinese overseas, calling for fairness and justice on their behalf. In his essay 'Chinese in Singapore,' for instance, Lin Yu explicitly points out the discrimination overseas Chinese faced in their daily lives under British colonial rule. Chinese in Singapore were not allowed to compete for the civil service on equal terms with Europeans and lived in virtual segregation. Peaceful Chinese hawkers were harassed, fined and arrested on a daily basis by a police force that interpreted regulations and exerted their authority with arbitrary discrimination.
In Siam (or Thailand), in contrast, Chinese enjoyed a better situation thanks to steadily improving Sino-Siamese relations. Without the Chinese, Siam would be a nation without shopkeepers, and the Siamese government granted Chinese certain privileges such as property rights so long as overseas Chinese were naturalized as Siamese citizens. Lin Yu's comment on this issue was quite liberal and pragmatic: 'While we wish, naturally, to claim our overseas as our own citizens, let us not be blind to these special privileges which we wish to see our overseas retain.'
Quentin Pan, notably, was instrumental in setting up the Oversea Chinese column, as Lin Yu acknowledges in his editorial forewords. In the inaugural editorial for the Oversea Chinese column, Pan calls attention to 'Japan's Southward Policy' and its implications for Chinese in Nanyang, or Southeast Asia. As a eugenicist, Pan was particularly concerned about the racial consequences of Japanese expansionist and imperial intentions in Southeast Asia, as Japanese policies encouraged intermarriage and racial mixing between Japanese and natives. In addition, at home, the Japanese had been propagating an ethnological theory that the Japanese race originated from the Southeast Asia, such that their 'return' to Southeast Asia would be a 'home-coming'. Overseas Chinese in Nanyang therefore 'should be better equipped for the severe struggle that is bound to ensue.'
As noted elsewhere in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly, Pan was a renowned eugenicist concerned with the health of the Chinese race and its evolutionary fate in the modern world. His preoccupation with race is evident in his Book Reviews column, and in particular his wish for a modern Chinese racial revival. Today, it is easy to find fault with Pan's evolution-based theoretical discourses and to view his nationalistic racialism with condescension. His ideas, however, are crucial to understanding the historical context of modern Chinese nationalism, which, in his case, was decidedly critical. In his review of Environment and Race by Griffith Taylor, Pan showed his concern with the survival and rejuvenation of the Chinese race and nation in terms of contemporary principles of race evolution. Pan regards Taylor's among the three most important books on race issues published recently, the other two being The Character of Race by Ellsworth Huntington, a Yale professor, and The Racial Basis of Civilization by Professor F.H. Hankins. As Pan notes, as an Australian, Taylor favored interracial marriage, particularly Anglo-Chinese marriage, finding mixed children of Chinese men and white women to be 'healthier and better cared for than the white children in the same environment with similar white mothers.' But Pan disagrees with Taylor's reasoning that retardation of China's racial progress owed to its educational system, concurring instead with Huntington's attribution of China's racial backwardness to environmental deterioration.
In a review of The American Negro published by the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 1928, Pan introduces the latest race debate in the US. Pan notes that even though this particular American issue might seem remote to the Chinese, they were in fact willy-nilly dragged into it by the American term 'colored races'. After presenting two diametrically opposing views on the 'Negro' issue, Pan introduces a third perspective by a group of Jewish scholars. While these Jewish scholars admit that racial groups are different, they refuse to speak of such difference in terms of inequality. Pan holds that if we admit racial groups are different, there is no reason why we cannot speak of these groups in terms of inferiority and superiority, other than reasons of sentiment. Pan suspects that since Jewish scholars themselves belong to a race that has been traditionally discriminated against, they have developed a defense mechanism for objective and scientific reasoning. 'The reviewer recalls with regret that during his student days he had estranged some of his best Jewish friends for his candid views on the point of racial inequality.'
With the benefit of hindsight, we might regard Pan's belief in racial inequality as naive and flawed, but I believe that Pan's point here is always to maintain a critical capacity for self-reflection even when such reflection may not offer positive images for your own race or nation. Indeed, to be a critic, and to be capable of self-criticism, is what makes The Critic gentleman.
 Durham S.F. Chen, 'Dr. Lin as I Know Him: Some random recollections,' Huagang xuebao 華崗學報, no.9 (October 1973): 257-258.
 Shen Shuang, Cosmopolitan Publics: Anglophone Print Culture in Semi-colonial Shanghai, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009, p.33.
 Lin Yutang published 'Lusin' in the 6 December 1928 issue of The China Critic. This was probably the first article to introduce Lu Xun to an English-reading audience.
 Durham S.F. Chen, 'Dr. Lin as I know him,' Huagang xuebao 華崗學報, no.9 (October 1973): 256.
 Lin Yutang, 'The Little Critic', The China Critic (3 July 1930): 636.
 Lin Yutang, preface to The Little Critic: Essays, satires and sketches on China (First series: 1930-1932), p.iv.
 Lin Yutang, Memoirs of an Octogenarian, Taipei: Mei Ya Publications, 1975, p.69.
 Lin Yutang, 'The Danish crown prince incident and official publicity', The China Critic (27 March 1930): 293.
 Lin Yutang, Memoirs of an Octogenarian, p.70. 'K.P. Chu' is most likely Chu Shao-p'ing.
 T'ang Leang-Li was an Indonesian overseas Chinese and served as Wang Jingwei's secretary. Lin Yutang must have been vindicated later when he learned that this great 'patriot' turned into a traitor as he served in Wang's puppet regime as the chief of the Propaganda Bureau during the war. The China Critic and People's Tribune seem to represent two different camps of English-speaking Chinese intellectuals.
 Lin Yutang to Richard Walsh, 5 July 1934.
 John C.H. Wu, 'Book Reviews: My Country and My People by Lin Yutang', T'ien Hsia Monthly, I:4 (November 1935): 468-473.
 Yao Hsin-nung, 'An Open Letter to Dr Lin Yutang', The China Critic (14 November 1935): 152.
 Ibid. This is reminiscent of the Pearl S. Buck controversy, except the accusation is reversed. See Qian Suoqiao, 'Pearl S. Buck/賽珍珠 As a Cosmopolitan Critic,' Comparative American Studies 3:2 (2005): 153-172.
 'Junius Sinicus', 'The Letters of Junius Sinicus: To Dr Lin Yu-Tang, Shanghai', People's Tribune, vol.XXIV (16 December 1935): 421-427. 'Junius Sinicus' ('the anonymous Chinese') was most probably T'ang Leang-Li, the editor of People's Tribune.
 Lin Yutang to Richard Walsh, 20 December 1935.
 Lin Yutang to Richard Walsh, 1 October 1935.
 Lin Yu, 'By Way of Introduction', Oversea Chinese, The China Critic (5 May 1932): 432.
 Lin Yu, 'Chinese in Singapore', The China Critic (5 March 1931): 222.
 Lin Yu, 'Here and There', Oversea Chinese, The China Critic (5 January 1933): 13.
 Quentin Pan, 'Japan's Southward Policy', in 'By Way of Introduction', Oversea Chinese, The China Critic (5 March 1932): 432.
 Jing Tsu has discussed in some detail Pan's eugenicist discourses in her book Failure, Nationalism, and Literature: The Making of Modern Chinese Identity, 1895-1937, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, Chapter 4. See also Frank Dikötter's and Leon Antonio Rocha's essays in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly.
 Quentin Pan, Book Reviews, The China Critic (31 May 1928): 19.
 Quentin Pan, Book Reviews, The China Critic (28 August 1930): 838.