Red China—Five years of Dramatic Events
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Mar 1965, p. 265-277

Duncan, James S., Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The People's Republic of China today, standing before us as a formidable reality. The People's Republic of China and its influence on the kind of world in which we, our children, and our children's children will be living. Events over the last five and a half years since the speaker was last there. The "Great Leap Forward"; China's economic breakdown. The difficulty of accurate assessment as to the actual progress made because of the lack of published statistics. The speaker's impressions. China's strength in her spirit of self reliance. Scientific and industrial development. Signs of modernization in the larger cities. China, as a whole, as a country of great backwardness and poverty but with a richness in terms of the quality and stamina of her people. Briefly, Sino-Soviet relations. Governing a country of over 700 million people. The Chinese Government leaders. The issue of recognition of China: when, and at what cost. A conclusion that the statu quo ante is still the best solution for the present. Suggestions for the United States to continue to explore every avenue leading to better relations. Canada's attitude towards China.
Date of Original:
18 Mar 1965
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Full Text
MARCH 18, 1955
Red China--Five Years of Dramatic Events
AN ADDRESS BY Mr. James S. Duncan, C.M.G., LL.D.
CHAIRMAN, The President, Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn


It has been my great privilege, as President of The Empire Club, to have presented twenty speakers since the beginning of this Club year, all of them eminent and many of them well known to you. I would like to take some credit for the fact that, not once, have I resorted to the hackneyed phrase that proclaims the familiarity of the audience with the speaker to be such that the several minutes of data that invariably follow are quite unnecessary. Today I come closer to succumbing to this cliché of requiring no introduction than on any previous occasion.

James S. Duncan, a one time member of both The Empire and Canadian Clubs and a past President of The Board of Trade is known to every man in this room as friend, speaker or writer, and to most as all three. There may be a few here who have come to this city recently from some cloistered corner where his pipe and carnation have not been seen nor his accomplishments fully reported. It will be my privilege to tell you something of this man, but I rise chiefly to say, "Welcome back, Sir, from your outpost of Empire. We have missed you and your wise counsel."

Like Socrates, James Duncan is a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world. Born in Paris, France, he joined Massey-Harris in Berlin as a young man and came to Canada two years later in 1911. In World War I, he served in the United Kingdom forces with distinction. During the last World War as Acting Deputy Minister of Defence for Air in 1940 he directed Canada's great contribution to the allied war effort, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He also served as Chairman of a committee of UNRRA and as a member of the National Research Council.

His roles with Massey-Harris following the wars until his resignation as Chairman and President in 1956 involved him over the globe. From 1956 to 1961 he was Chairman of the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario. Despite his heavy business responsibilities he further dedicated himself to public service in heading our Board of Trade, our Community Chest, the Canadian Council of the International Chambers of Commerce and various national conferences and missions. Rulers, governments and colleges here and abroad have honoured him.

He is an authoritative Sinologist who in the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson "brings home knowledge because he carries knowledge with him". We are anxious to have him draw aside the bamboo curtain but not for the reason given to John Cameron Swayze after speaking at a ladies' luncheon on China. Following his pre-prandial address, when Swayze queried their choice of subject, the Chairman replied, "We wanted the talk to be appropriate. We are now going to serve a chow mein luncheon."

In recent years many words that never crossed his mind have been attributed to the Chinese sage whose ethical and moral convictions have shaped the Chinese character for 2,500 years. But one thing that Confucius did say serves admirably to present our guest of honour: "In order to learn to be one's true self, it is necessary to obtain a wide and extensive knowledge of what has been said and done in the world; critically to inquire into it; carefully to ponder over it; clearly to sift it; and earnestly to proclaim it."

It is my high honour to present such a man who will address us on "Red China-Five Years of Dramatic Events"--Mr. James S. Duncan, C.M.G., LL.D.


I am indeed indebted to you Mr. Hilborn, for your kindly and generous introduction. I am not only appreciative of the privilege of addressing the distin guished membership of Canadian, Empire and Board of Trade Clubs, but of the pleasure of meeting once again so many old friends whose company I so greatly enjoyed in the days when I lived and worked in Canada.

I must confess, Mr. President, to a feeling of some frustration as I approach the task of saying something meaningful in so short a time concerning a country, the population of which exceeds that of all our western world, a people so interesting, in many respects so admirable, so friendly and so hospitable--and yet a nation and a Government which, in my estimation, constitutes the gravest danger which the western world is facing today!

It was but fifteen years ago that China, emerging from Japanese invasion and torn by internal strife, cast no disquieting shadow over our western world.

Today, the People's Republic of China, whose population is increasing every twelve years by numbers equal to the total population of the United States, stands before us as a formidable reality. Strong in her numbers, her Communist faith, and the enforced unity and conformity of her indoctrinated people, conscious of her growing leadership in Asia, and fanatically dedicated to the promotion of world revolution. That the People's Republic of China will have a profound influence on the kind of world in which we, our children, and our children's children will be living in is an inescapable fact.

Five and a half years had elapsed since my last visit to China in 1959. They were years pregnant with momentous events. They were years in which progress had been made in certain aspects of China's economy, but these have been overwhelmingly offset by a succession of economic calamities which would have shaken most Governments to their very foundations.

The "Great Leap Forward", an ill-planned and over ambitious drive towards great power status reached its peak in 1959. The theory behind it was that through "correct thinking" and heightened ideological fervour, the masses could be prodded on to greater effort, enthusiasm and sacrifice and that achievements heretofore considered unattainable could be realized. As Mao Tse-tung put it, "Every kind of miracle can be performed under communism." But it wasn't a miracle which took place, but a catastrophic breakdown in China's economy. It was a bitter lesson for the Government. Their planning had proved to be wrong, their doctrines faulty.

Coincidental with this man-made situation, the country experienced three bad crops in succession, 1959, '60, and '61, and in the midst of their mounting difficulties, China's fraternal partner, the Soviet Union, walked out on them. By 1960, China was experiencing a full-blown depression of staggering proportions, a phenomenon which, according to Lenin and Mao Tse-tung is exclusively reserved for the decadent capitalist world.

Steel production, estimated at 18 million tons in 1959, dropped to under 8 million and heavy industry generally followed the same pattern. Grain production dropped by almost two-thirds of the 1959 estimate, live stock herds were depleted. The situation in the communes was becoming chaotic. Food shortages became alarming, malnutrition showed up over vast areas, wheat had to be imported from capitalist countries, cotton was rationed to three feet per person per annum. Exports declined drastically; all building programmes were stopped, and hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers drafted into industry and construction were willy-nilly returned to the communes. The people's morale was at a low ebb, and their belief in the infallibility of their Government's planning was seriously shaken. Mao Tse-tung and his colleagues were at first slow to meet this calamitous situation, but when they decided to act, they did so with energy and determination and salvage measures, many of which involved the repudiation of their most cherished communistic doctrines, were courageously put into force. Aided by a series of good crops in 1962, 1963 and '64, and by the sound measures taken, including the reorganization of the communes and the return to the peasants of their coveted private plots, an improvement in the economic situation got under way in 1963 and has been gathering momentum ever since.

The most noteworthy factor concerning the tragic breakdown in China's economy is that the Government emerged from it practically unscathed. At no time did they lose control, and the fact that the Government was able to bring order out of chaos, stabilize the situation in 1962, and initiate a slow but orderly recovery in industry, and a rapid advance in agriculture has gone a long way to re-establish their prestige and leadership both at home and abroad. Their quarrel with the Soviets, ably played up, has proven to be popular with the masses who turn easily to xenophobia, and took great pride in the Government's show of independence, her refusal to be intimidated, and her courageous policy of self-reliance.

It is impossible to assess with any degree of accuracy the actual progress made since my previous visit, because ever since the second five-year plan was discarded in 1961, no statistics have been published. My impression is, however, that industry as a whole is operating at about 20% below 1959 levels, the much greater drop in heavy industry being offset by priority activities, including defence and light industries serving agriculture. Three years of good crops, greater use of fertilizer, the extention of irrigation, relaxation in the communes, and the return of the private plots to the peasants, a capitalist measure which adds 8 to 10% to the total food production, are all factors which have resulted in China's food supply being more abundant than during my last visit.

If China's industry has not yet regained its 1959 volume, its base has been considerably broadened, largely as a result of the Soviet Union's embargo in 1960 on critical material, machine tools and equipment which stimulated the energetic and resourceful Chinese people to develop the skills and produce the variety of materials, alloys and other items previously imported.

China today is strong in her spirit of self reliance. She is equipping her army of between 2 to 3 million men, and is producing MIG fighters, jet engines, atomic reactors, steam and hydraulic turbo-generators, artificial fertilizer, and synthetic fibre factories, only to name a few of her manufacturing activities. She claims to be self sufficient in oil and materials essential to aircraft production. Her scientific development in metallurgy, radar, computers is noteworthy, and her knowledge and understanding of nuclear science has progressed far beyond earlier appraisals. Her first nuclear detonation which took place twelve days after my departure, caused a surprise to no one, excepting the masses of the Chinese people who are always kept in ignorance of such matters.

Perhaps China's greatest asset in the scientific and industrial development of her country is the remarkable degree of intelligence, resourcefulness and serious-minded applica tion of her young students, their sense of mission to catch up with and surpass the achievements of other countries, and their willingness to accept the sacrifices which such dedication entails. Many signs of modernization are noticeable in the larger cities and in the communes located in their immediate vicinity. Here, the people are better dressed, healthier looking, more relaxed than during my previous visit.

But China, as a whole, is a country of great backwardness and poverty. In those stark, rugged mountains and eroded lands which constitute the largest area in China, life is still unbelievably harsh. The people appear to be healthy, but their clothing, patched beyond recognition of the original material, shows every sign of acute poverty. Every foot of available land, every little pocket-handkerchief of soil, is planted with some sort of a crop. Here on a narrow band of ground bordering a gully, or a strip of land but a few feet in width on the top of an embankment, or on the flank of a mountain, vegetables, rice and other crops are seen to be growing under the vigilant care of peasants, enured to hardship and skilful in raising a crop under conditions which in any other country would be looked upon as hopeless. Everywhere, excepting in the show places where invited guests abound, men and women, old and young, are to be seen dragging or pushing heavy vehicles, sweating under incredible loads balanced on their shoulder poles, and performing all the tasks which in any other country which I have ever visited are allotted to beasts of burden.

Without any mechanical aid of any kind, railroads are built, tunnels excavated, canals and water catchments are dug, escarpments of rivers raised to lessen the danger of flood, stone masonry is placed up the flanks of mountains to prevent erosion and landslide, and the never ending labour of terracing continues unabated everywhere. Never before have I seen a people whose frugality, resourcefulness, energy, capacity for hard work and physical endurance equals that of the Chinese. In natural resources, in her agriculture, China is indeed a poor country, but in the quality and stamina of her people, she is rich beyond compare.

Time does not permit me to deal at any length with the all important subject of the Sino-Soviet relations, further than to say that their differences are based on so many deep-rooted causes that, although both parties are making strenuous efforts to plaster over the cracks in the edifice, it is difficult to see how, in the long run, their differences can be composed. Among the many causes of dissension perhaps the most important is China's stern and uncompromising condemnation of the evolution which has been taking place in the Soviet Union ever since Stalin's death, and which Mao Tse-tung calls modern revisionism. This, in his judgment, will gradually lead the Soviets back to a form of modified capitalism, and constitutes a major danger to Chinese and world communism. No policy is more vigorously enforced in China today than that dealing with the prevention of the spread of the Soviet's modern revisionism, and no aspect of life in the Soviet Union is more shrilly attacked. I am of the opinion, therefore, present reconciliatory speeches notwithstanding, that so long as China feels as strongly as she does on the subject of modern revisionism, it would be just as difficult to envisage a Chinese-Soviet rapprochement as it would be to assume that in this 47th year of the Soviet revolution her people would accept a return to the rigidities of the Stalin era.

The immense task of governing a country of over 700 million people and the success with which it has been pulled together and made to work inclines one to approach the criticism of their leaders with a certain degree of humility. Here is a country where law and order prevail--one which, if not united, is at least pursuing a common policy, one which within the limitations of an outdated and inefficient communistic system is progressing nevertheless and making noteworthy efforts to improve the painfully low living standards of her people, a country whose citizens are proud, honest, intelligent, self reliant and hard working. One which is making no call on foreign aid, causing no drain on western resources and is courageously tackling her staggering problems with her own meagre and self generated resources. But the tragedy of China, from which she and all of us are suffering and will continue to suffer is that her leaders with the ardent faith of the primitive Christians and the fervour of the evangelists, are dedicated first and foremost, not to the improvement of the living conditions in China--this takes second place only--but to the promotion of world revolution.

Lenin's teachings that the land of socialism is but a base for the promotion of proletariat revolution throughout the world is looked upon by the Chinese leaders with a dedica tion reminiscent of that with which the early Christians accepted the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ. It would be unfair to say, as many do, that Mao Tse-tung is not a patriot and a nationalist. To my mind he is both. But above all, he is a Marxist, and a fanatical disciple of Lenin; a prophet whose duty as he conceives it is to show the underdeveloped and dependent countries the way towards "liberation", and to champion the oppressed working classes of Europe, Australia and North America.

The Chinese Government leaders, many of whom suffer from a lamentable lack of knowledge and understanding of what goes on in the world beyond the frontiers of Asia, give the impression of being completely oblivious of the fact that the dependent countries are rapidly becoming independent, that assistance to the underdeveloped countries is basic to the policies of all important western countries, and that the working classes of Europe, Australia, and North America, which in the minds of the Chinese includes the entire farming population, would howl with laughter if they heard themselves described as "oppressed". If this state of voluntary ignorance of world affairs, this hatred against North America, this misrepresentation of conditions in the non communist world was confined to the Government, it would be bad enough, but the prejudiced and inaccurate concept of life beyond their frontiers is being drilled into the minds of the masses of the people with all the skill of indoctrination and propaganda for which these expert psychologists and leaders in the science of influencing of mass thinking are justly famous.

In closing, just a word concerning recognition. Everything that I have seen during my two visits to China has gone to confirm the opinion which I have always held that the nonrecognition of the People's Republic of China in 1949 by the U.S.A. was an error of the greatest magnitude. There were many sound reasons which explain, but do not condone, this error-but this is past history. The pragmatic question is, where do we go from here? That recognition will some day become inevitable is clear to all of us, but it would be a great oversimplification to assume that because nonrecognition was wrong in 1949, recognition now is the obvious answer.

The basic question is when, and at what cost.

Events have not been standing still in Asia during the past 15 years, and no appreciation of the problem involved nor America's painful dilemma can be intelligently assessed without some knowledge of developments which have taken place in Asia, and particularly in Taiwan in the intervening period. Although I believe myself to be reasonably wellinformed on such matters, I was positively astounded at the progress which has been made and the degree of modernization which has taken place in Taiwan. Taiwan represents today the most successful example of American financial aid and counsel combined with an autocratic but able and honest Government strongly wed to a system of free enterprise, and supported by intelligent, resourceful and hardworking people. Admittedly, Taiwan received important American financial aid from 1952 to 1963, but today she is economically self-supporting, and private capital, confident in the U.S.A.'s respect for an obligation freely entered into is pouring into Taiwan, from Hong Kong, South East Asia, Japan, Europe, and the United States for investment in various enterprises. Taiwan is a show window today which gives hope to the Asiatic and African nations who are seeking a way to a better life for their people and do not wish to follow the restrictive and stultifying path of communism.

We can all agree that it is apparently unrealistic of the United States to withhold recognition of China and her 700 million people. But what many of us fail to realize is that the United States recognition of China would be rejected with contempt if it didn't carry with it the nonrecognition and abandonment of Taiwan. Here, then, is America's dilemma, and, my friends, is it not better to be unrealistic than dishonourable? Would any of us suggest that the U.S.A. should go back on her treaty with Taiwan? That she should abandon her 12 million anti-communist people and their rich and successful economy to be communized by China after the withdrawal of the 7th Fleet? And let us suppose that the U.S.A. would do such a dishonourable thing, what then would her image be throughout the world, and what would be the repercussion not only in Asia, but in Western Germany, England, France, or Italy, whose whole post-war policy has been built upon the confidence in America's respect for undertakings freely entered into.

Some have suggested that an offer by the United States to recognize China, but to continue to ensure the independence of Taiwan should be considered. Such an offer would undoubtedly be rejected both by Peking and Taipei, but it would at least have the merit of placing the onus of nonrecognition on China and lifting it from the shoulders of the U.S.A. This suggestion has substance, but it also has its dangers. It would seriously upset the Taiwanese Government, whose only point of agreement with Peking is apparently their joint unwillingess to consider a two-China policy, and would give rise to unrest throughout South East Asia and Japan, and the present would appear to be a singularly inappropriate moment to try this out. Furthermore, recognition on this basis would neither change China's attitude towards the U.S.A., nor her unalterable dedication to the promotion of world revolution and the ultimate destruction of the capitalist system.

My conclusions, therefore, unsatisfactory as I recognize them to be, are that the statu quo ante is still the best solution for the present. The United States should, however, continue to explore every avenue leading to a better relation in all minor areas, and continuously investigate the possibilities, remote as they are of getting closer together in trade, cultural matters, exchange of news agencies and unclassified scientific information. Time is a great healer, and although I am not optimistic in this case, China may gradually be brought to realize that even if the U.S.A. was responsible for the initial error of nonrecognition, problems have arisen in the meantime which require the sympathetic understanding of both parties.

As regards our own attitude towards China, I feel it was regrettable that we did not recognize the People's Republic as England did, and the U.S.A. should have done, in 1949 when a successful revolution gave the communists a cleancut mandate to govern. Recognition has never signified approval. But, since this was not done, I am strongly against adding to the U.S.A.'s difficulties by doing so now. It is just possible that we might derive some small advantage from a commercial point of view if we recognized China, but it would be a very minor one. Fundamentally, China will buy from us the things which she requires, and no more. We should undoubtedly foster and continue to develop the friendly relations which we have enjoyed with China over the years, but I am radically opposed to adopting at this late stage a policy which would greatly embarrass the United States at a time when she is so hard pressed. Our recognition of China would prove to be of great and disproportionate political advantage to China, because of our closeness to the United States both geographically and economically. It would undoubtedly affect the attitude of other countries who are wavering between recognition and nonrecognition. This I would consider to be unfortunate, but less so by far than the obvious damaging effect which such a change of policy on our part would have upon the United States. The timing would be bad. Recognition would bring us no apparent advantage, but it would add to the grave difficulties of our neighbour to the south, who, if she has not always been right in her policies, has always been our friend, our staunch ally, and the strong and courageous exponent of those basic causes which we both believe in and are prepared to defend.


Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. Geo. E. Gathercole, Vice-President of The Canadian Club.

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Red China—Five years of Dramatic Events

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The People's Republic of China today, standing before us as a formidable reality. The People's Republic of China and its influence on the kind of world in which we, our children, and our children's children will be living. Events over the last five and a half years since the speaker was last there. The "Great Leap Forward"; China's economic breakdown. The difficulty of accurate assessment as to the actual progress made because of the lack of published statistics. The speaker's impressions. China's strength in her spirit of self reliance. Scientific and industrial development. Signs of modernization in the larger cities. China, as a whole, as a country of great backwardness and poverty but with a richness in terms of the quality and stamina of her people. Briefly, Sino-Soviet relations. Governing a country of over 700 million people. The Chinese Government leaders. The issue of recognition of China: when, and at what cost. A conclusion that the statu quo ante is still the best solution for the present. Suggestions for the United States to continue to explore every avenue leading to better relations. Canada's attitude towards China.