China—Its People and Their Life
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 May 1918, p. 226-234
Johns, Professor Alfred, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some small share in the doings of our Empire, especially during the last four years, by those located in that far-away-corner of the world, Western China. The pro-German nature of China when the war broke out. China's lot thrown in with the Allies after 2-1/2 years of war, and to what that is attributed. Examples of activities carried out for the purpose of helping the Empire. Some of the speaker's experiences in China over the last seven years. The revolution in China. Attempts to restore the Manchu monarchy. The Chinese language, and the circumstance under which the speaker received his first lesson in Chinese. The West China Educational Union. Literacy figures. Two or three pictures of Chinese life. A Chinese dairy; transportation; mineral wealth; hygiene; religion.
Date of Original
2 May 1918
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
B.A., M.D.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
May 2, 1918


feel very highly honored in being asked to address you today. In my humble judgment we who are located in that faraway-corner of the world, Western China, have had some small share in the doings of our Empire, especially during the last four years. When the war broke out, China was decidedly pro-German and many proGerman papers and pamphlets were scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land. In Chengtu City there is an arsenal equipped with German machinery and formerly manned by Germans. The Chinese army was trained by Germans, and we can see the goose step practised right in the city of Chengtu. However, as you know, after two and a half years of war, China has thrown in her lot with the Allies, and this fact is largely attributable to the untiring zeal of the various consuls and missionaries in their effort to educate public opinion, and also to the results of the propaganda spread throughout the length and breadth of the land by means of a


Professor Johns graduated from the University of Toronto, with the Gold Medal in Mathematics, in 1908, and almost at once went to West China, where he became Professor of Mathematics in the West China Union College at Chengtu in the Province of Szechwan. He has held this position for the past seven years. He has been a keen observer and close student of Chinese affairs, so that he has a very complete knowledge of developments in China.


paper called "The Truth," which was edited and printed in Shanghai. In Chengtu, too, we have a Patriotic League of Britains, and various activities have been carried on for the purpose of helping the Empire as much as we can. A year ago last January, for instance, we held a Red Cross concert and raised $500, and we also obtained subscriptions towards the building of aeroplanes and a battle cruiser for the British Empire. English is taught in the University of Chengtu and is the most popular subject on the curriculum. Lastly I might mention that one-tenth of our missionary force is already in France in charge of the Chinese coolies who have gone over there to relieve the Frenchmen in order that they may go into the firing line; the missionaries act as officers and interpreters to the coolies.

It is difficult for one to select from seven years' experience in China what one should say on an occasion like this, because, as you know, there have been stirring times in China in the period stated. Eight years ago this fall we proceeded on one of the Canadian Pacific Railway vessels to Shanghai. We then transferred to another vessel which took us to Hankow where we changed boats again and proceeded to I'chang. Then we were compelled to take a Chinese houseboat on which we lived for ten weeks during the trip from I'change to Kiating, where we disembarked and proceeded on our four days journey overland to the capital city of Chentgu.

We had been in Chengtu only a few months when the Revolution broke out in 1911, and after a preliminary besiegement in the hospital there for three months, we made our way to Shanghai. Later on a serious famine broke out near the coast in Nganhwai and Kiangsu, and we were called upon to help distribute grain to the famine-stricken people in those districts. Although I had been in China but one year I was asked to take charge of one of those food stations where we were able to feed about 25,000 people, and we afforded employment to upwards of 4,000 men. The money for that grain was provided by the good people of Canada and the United States and other parts of the world, and it was our duty to see that it got to the people for whom it was intended. During this famine we built a dyke two miles long, forty-five feet wide at the bottom, fifteen feet wide at the top and nine feet high, and the laborers were paid in grain. We believe we did something for the Chinese at that time.

Then we returned to Chengtu. The Revolution, as you are aware, was successful and the Manchus were thrust from the throne of China, the old badge of servility, the queue, was removed from the heads of the Chinese people, and the Chinese Republic was established. The Chinese, have, perhaps, the most beautiful equivalent for "Republic" to be found anywhere: "the people's country."

Then came a counter revolution which failed, and Yuan Shikai was firmly established as president of the republic of China. After a time, however, Yuan Shikai's mind was filled with ambition and he conceived the idea of creating himself Emperor of China, and proclaimed himself Emperor a little over two years ago. You know the result, of course. Very soon he realized he had made a mistake and tried to retract and said, "No, I will cancel the monarchy"; but the people would have none of him after that and, fortunately-he died, and that relieved the situation.

While we were in Japan last spring on our way home, another attempt was made to restore the Manchu monarchy but that, too, failed; so the Chinese seem destined to live for the future in "A people's country."

Perhaps it may interest you to hear something about the Chinese language, and I would like to give you a picture of the circumstances under which I received my first lesson in Chinese. Mrs. Johns and I were, as I have said, on a Chinese houseboat for ten weeks. We ate there and slept there, and were pulled up the river at the rate of about 25 miles per day. At that time we were supplied with a Chinese teacher. You would naturally conclude that such a gentleman would be capable of speaking the English language as well as his own, but this "teacher" did not know a word of English, and we, of course, did not know a word of Chinese. Anyway, we made a table and a couple of chairs out of some wooden boxes and I sat down on one side of the table and my teacher on the other side facing me, and between us I placed our Chinese grammar, on one side of the pages of which were lists of Chinese characters, and their corresponding English equivalents appeared on the other side. Well, I simply pointed to the first character and he had brains enough to tell me how to pronounce it. He said "maw" and I said "maw" which in Chinese, means "horse." Then he said "new" and I said "new," which means "cow"; and then he said "nzo" and I tried to say it but it did not come out right, and after trying again I had to give that word up for that day. On the following and subsequent days the same programme was carried out, and while it was very discouraging at first, the idea gradually took shape in my mind and I learned a few useful sentences such as "Is there any news today?" or "What is the meaning of this character?"

There are some things which strike you as being very easy in the Chinese language. In the first place, it is monosyllabic and there are no long words in it. Secondly there is no inflection, no changes in the word for moods, tenses, singulars, plurals and genders, and the omission of these features simplifies the language. Also it is very condensed : "The man is good" in Chinese would simply be "man good," etc. But the language has its difficult points, too. There is the literary language, which is very highly condensed and very hard to read and very, very hard to write. Then there is the official language, the language of the mandarin, in which the proclamations are issued and in which most of the newspapers in China today convey their news. Finally there are the ordinary dialects for the people, words for which there are no characters in books; they are just localisms, sounds without any character to represent them.

Another difficult feature of the Chinese language is the intonation of words, and it is very important indeed to produce these tones correctly. One of our missionaries told a story of how a riot was nearly caused on account of the improper intonation of the word for Lord. The word for Lord is "chop" and the word for pig is "choooo," and the Chinese missionary made a mistake in intonation with the result that a cartoon appeared showing a man bowing down before a pig which had been nailed upon a cross.

With regard to writing, there is no alphabet as we know it, but there are 214 radicals in the Chinese language and they are put together in different ways to make different words. Each character is made up of two parts, the radical and the phonetic. The first part gives the key to the meaning of that word and the second part gives the key to the sound of the word.

The speaker spent a most interesting ten minutes at this point, in giving illustrations of Chinese characters, and showing how a very simple additional mark will change entirely the meaning of the original character. It is to be regretted that we cannot reproduce here this part of his address.]

I would like to tell you something about our West China Educational Union. In 1905 the Chinese Imperial Government did away with the old system of examination, and decided to have a University in every Province, High School in every county, and a higher Primary School in every township and a lower Primary School in every village. But, unfortunately, they lacked two things, teachers and funds, and so our West China Union University was left without a rival. Up to the year 1905 all the Protestant Missions in West China had been working separately, but they saw that the Chinese were desirous of securing a western education, and realized that unless they united, the work could not be done as it should be done. So in 1906, they formed in West China what is called "The West China Christian Educational Union," the result of which is that any Protestant Mission in West China can register its schools, and the text books and examinations are uniform. They had no text books on hygiene and geography in those days, and I can assure you that their compilation presented no easy task to the missionaries who undertook the work.

The Province of Szechwan, in which the City of Chengtu is located, is almost as large as the Province of Ontario and larger than France, so that you can form some idea of what room we have for expansion out there. At the present time in China, probably only one woman in one thousand can read and write, and about two percent of the population altogether can read. Think of it! Two per cent.! And only about one percent of the population go to school, whereas in Canada and the United States, and other parts of the world, fifteen per cent. of the population are in school all the time. Let me give you an example of the kind of teachers they have in China. I had charge of five primary schools for which teachers had to be secured, and as there is no system of certification or anything of that kind in China, one is compelled to take somebody's word for the teacher's general fitness, etc., and on that recommendation they are accepted. I remember one man coming to me and I said "Well, I will have to give you a little examination," and so I picked up a Chinese book and asked him to read certain chapters-of course, I had read them over myself beforehand-(laughter) and I would decide, if he .made mistakes, that he was not a very good Chinese scholar. Then I would write out a little sum in simple addition and subtraction and he would do it but would fail to do simple problems in multiplication. and long division. In the geography test I asked him

"Q. How many continents are there in the world? A. Five.

Q. Name them? A. I have forgotten.

Q. How many provinces are there in China? A. Eighteen.

Q. Name them? A. I have forgotten.

Q. Can you tell me in what direction "Pekin" lies from Chengtu? A. North.

Q. Why do you say that? A. Because "Pekin" means "northern capital." (As a matter of fact, it was mostly east from where we were.)

Q. Where is Kiating? (which is a station just one hundred miles south of Chengtu). A. East.

Q. Why do you say it is east? A. Because we have to go out of the east gate of Chengtu City to get there."

That is the kind of men we had to work with when we started. We had a scheme of schools in this Educational Union,-Primary Schools for children from six to nine years of age, and then higher grade schools for the children from ten to twelve years of age, and then a Middle School something like our High Schools and Collegiates and finally the University, and I am glad to be able to report that in ten years we have made some progress. We have about 250 Primary and Middle Schools altogether, and about 10,000 pupils attending those schools, but when you consider that there are eighty million people in the three provinces of Szechwan, Yunnan and Kweichow, of which eighty million at least ten million should be going to school, you can see that ten thousand is a verv small number and that we are still touching only the fringe of things.

But we are growing. The Rev. E. W. Wallace, M.A., B.D., who is a son of Dr. Wallace of Victoria College, and who is the heart and soul of that Educational Union, is the General Secretary, and he has built it up so splendidly that people in other parts of China, having seen what is being done there, have taken over as a whole, our courses of study and our methods, and we feel rather proud of it. The University is the crown of the whole educational scheme. It is situated in the City of Chengtu which is surrounded by a wall twelve miles long, thirty feet high and about forty feet wide, and is in the centre of one of the most fertile plains in the whole world. It has been estimated that the population averages 1,700 people to the square mile. Outside this city to the south is the University property consisting of 100 acres. In the University are four missionary organizations united together, and it may be interesting for you to know how we can unite out there in China. We have in the University Quakers from England, hard-shell Baptists from the United States, Methodist, Episcopalians also from the United States, and our own Canadian Methodists, and we are all working together. (Applause.)

The aim of the University is to turn out educated preachers, teachers and doctors. We have a course of study extending over a period of six years, three years of which is taken up with the general course, and the balance in the special course, and we have four departments: Religion-just think that we can actually in a University like that teach religion in union-medicine, arts and science. In arts and science such subjects as English, History, Education, Philosophy, Botany, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics are taught. I am the whole staff in Mathematics. (Laughter.)

I would just like you to see two or three-pictures of Chinese life. First of all, I would like to show you a Chinese dairy. Prior to the advent of the missionaries in China, the Chinese people did not use milk. They did not like it and could not afford it, probably, because it takes more land to feed a cow and there is more profit in rice. In the Chinese dairy in Chengtu there is a man and a cow and a calf. When you want milk you take your cup and go down to the gate and stop the procession as it comes along and the man fills the cup and you get your milk, and pay your money, and the procession goes on again.

There are no railroads in West China and there are no roads on which you could run a Ford car; you would have to have a mono-rail car, the roads are so narrow.

The country is rich in minerals up there and you can see veins of coal projecting out of the sides of the hill. The Chinese dig in on the level, and put the coal on a little sled which they push in front of them and subsequently load its contents, amounting to 200 pounds or 300 pounds, on a man's back. He steps away, and when he gets to the bottom of the hill, it is put on a wheelbarrow and pushed, day after day, through mud which has been there in the same condition for hundreds of years. The transportation charges are very heavy on coal, and the ordinary people cannot afford it.

They did not know anything about hygiene, either public or private, before the missionaries went in, and if a man is afflicted with diphtheria it makes no difference; he goes about just the same. Dr. Service was playing the organ in church on one occasion when he saw a man come in who was suffering from smallpox. He conducted the man out again!

They have no sewerage system; everything is very primitive in that regard.

They have no Sunday out there worth mentioning. The students observe Sunday, but the ordinary man works 365 days minus about three holidays in the year, and so they get pretty slow.

When we left Chengtu on furlough to come to Canada, there was a civil war on between the provinces of Szechwan and Yunnan. They were fighting right in the city of Chengtu and five bullets penetrated our own house. Our boat sailed from Shanghai on the 26th. May, consequently we were anxious to get away, and requested the consul to furnish us with an escort. He was unable to do so-he said he didn't know which 'side was going to win. (Laughter.)

Mrs. Johns, myself, our two boys and another missionary, started out on a house boat down a very narrow little river towards Shanghai. The first day was beautiful, and, as is the custom, we anchored near a little village at night. The next morning the men started to row down the river and when we had proceeded about two miles, we in the cabin heard some shouting and heard our captain yell out that there were foreigners on board. But he was commanded to beach the boat and when he did so, eleven armed robbers jumped on board. I told them Mrs. Johns was not dressed yet; but they insisted on searching the vessel, ostensibly to see if there were any rifles on board. When they were admitted they certainly rifled our belongings thoroughly, and appropriated our gold watches, money and other articles while Mrs. Johns dressed the children. That is the kind of thing that sometimes happens out there in China.

Let me again express my pleasure at being able to have this little talk with you. (Loud applause.)

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


China—Its People and Their Life

Some small share in the doings of our Empire, especially during the last four years, by those located in that far-away-corner of the world, Western China. The pro-German nature of China when the war broke out. China's lot thrown in with the Allies after 2-1/2 years of war, and to what that is attributed. Examples of activities carried out for the purpose of helping the Empire. Some of the speaker's experiences in China over the last seven years. The revolution in China. Attempts to restore the Manchu monarchy. The Chinese language, and the circumstance under which the speaker received his first lesson in Chinese. The West China Educational Union. Literacy figures. Two or three pictures of Chinese life. A Chinese dairy; transportation; mineral wealth; hygiene; religion.