Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/82

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78
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE MORAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHINESE
By Dr. FREDERICK GOODRICH HENKE
ALLEGHENY COLLEGE, MEADVILLE, PA.

THE political events which have transpired in China during the past two decades are symptomatic of profound social changes. Former changes of government had their origin primarily in a discontent with the reigning dynasty, without the further implication of a desire on the part of the people to participate directly in the government. When the ruling dynasty became corrupt and the oppression too severe, Heaven's displeasure was manifested, they thought, by allowing some powerful opponent to gain access to the throne and deliver the people. In case the new monarch was benevolent, he was gladly received and heartily supported. At the present time the educated people earnestly desire to take a definite hand in the changes; and there is an insistent demand on the part of Young China for an opportunity to take a permanent part in governmental affairs. These ideals have been but partially realized; but the general situation, of which they are a part, has aroused the interest of the civilized world, for they appear to indicate that China will, if given the opportunity, make a modern nation out of herself.

The ethical implications of the present movement are of outstanding significance, as they show that real moral advance is being made. An adequate understanding of this particular phase of the problem is best attained by a survey of Chinese moral development from the standpoint that genuine moral progress in any nation is dependent upon the advance from morality on the plane of custom and tradition to autonomous moral conduct.

The Chinese people may conveniently be divided into two principal classes, though the line of demarcation between them has never been drawn so hard and fast that it has not been possible for the individual to pass from one to the other. There are first the educated—those who read and understand the literature of the country, and who engage in some literary or official pursuit. Official standing has in the past very largely depended upon the literary degree held by the aspirant for office. In the second class are found the illiterate, who, because of their uneducated condition, have no knowledge of the literature of China, except such as they acquire indirectly. The leaders of China have come from the first class; the members of the second class, constituting a large percentage of the 426,000,000 of population, have been and are to-day living on the level of custom. Kueichu (custom) is with them a final authority, and when it is subject to alteration, as in the present period