Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/386

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312
A WAYFARER IN CHINA

merce. These are the interests that concern the people, that control their policy. In India religion holds this place, while in Japan the ideals of the old social order were military, and in a measure that is still true of the new. But in China material interests have full possession of the field, and the strong man of the Chinese nation is not the soldier or the priest, but the merchant.

And there is something very Western, very American, as America used to be, in the small part played by the Government in the life of the ordinary Chinese. If he does not misbehave and keeps out of a lawsuit, he rarely comes in contact with his rulers. He is acquainted with the saying of Mencius that "the people are of the highest importance, the gods come second, the sovereign is of lesser weight," and he knows the place of the Government, but he expects little from it, and neither does he fear it.

It is the district officer who represents to the ordinary Chinese the Government, and there are about fifteen hundred of these in the eighteen provinces, about one to every two hundred and fifty thousand of the population. The headman of the village is the only official of whom the Chinese really knows much, and he is one of the village folk, governing by homemade rules of very ancient date, and never interfering if he can help it. Policemen are few, and the various inquisitorial boards and officers that make us