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St. John's University, Shanghai, China 

The "new thought" movement in China is due to the stimulus derived from 
Western science. Its center is the University of Peking. Closely allied is the new 
literary movement, which aims to make the spoken language rather than the classics 
the medium of education. A new and modern literature is thus being produced. It 
expresses the conception of evolution, and induces a vigorous criticism of the static 
and conservative Confucian culture. It boldly questions the validity of many estab- 
lished ideals and customs. This critical attitude affects the work of Christian missions. 
Any appeal to mere dogmatic authority becomes impossible. Christianity must 
present to critical minds the vital gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood 
of men; the ideal of the Kingdom of God with its social message; and the Christian 
conception of self-sacrifice in contrast to the Buddhist doctrine of self-renunciation. 

At present in China we have a striking illustration of the 
familiar saying in regard to the effect of pouring new wine 
into old bottles, for what is known as the "new thought " is dis- 
rupting the old institutions, and producing anarchical results. 

Of course the educated class is the one chiefly affected, 
but the ideas adopted by this class are spreading, and gradually 
permeating the whole of society. If we base our deductions on 
the life of the peasant — the farmer of Shantung, for instance — 
we might conclude that China, after all, is the same old China. 
The peasant lives in the same ignorance and poverty as his 
ancestors, and his material outlook appears to be the same as 
theirs. Yet even he has begun to get a glimmering of con- 
ceptions different from those handed down by tradition, and 
it is only a matter of time before the new ideas will manifest 
themselves in social disturbance. 

We are all apt to think of social revolutions as beginning 
with the masses, but on closer examination we find that they 
have their origin with the educated class. The ideas spread 
from the top downward, and when they reach the lower strata 
of society they become dynamic and lead to upheaval. 



The "new thought" movement in China is often referred 
to as the renaissance, but this is not a very accurate descrip- 
tion. Renaissance implies the rebirth or reappearance of 
something that has been possessed before and lost for a season, 
as, for instance, the renaissance of the Greek and Latin classical 
literature in the West at the close of the Middle Ages. There 
has been nothing like that in China in the present revolution. 
It is not a regaining of anything that had once been influential, 
but the coming of something that was absolutely foreign and 
altogether different from what existed before. The present 
period through which China is passing corresponds more 
nearly to the age of enlightenment in Europe in the eighteenth 
century. It is due to the new knowledge obtained by the 
study of the natural sciences, to the acquaintance with the 
theory of evolution and the interpretation of everything on 
naturalistic principles, and to the application of reason and 
criticism to all existing institutions and problems of life. 

The movement in the Chinese language is known by several 
names such as sing ssu cho, "the tide of the new thought," and 
the sing wen hwa yuan dong, "the new civilization movement." 

One of the principal sources of inspiration is the National 
University of Peking. Here the Chancellor Tsai Yuan-pei, 
a remarkable man, has gathered together a group of men who 
have received modern education in China, Japan, Europe, 
and America. Like Oxford in the time of the humanists they 
are making the University of Peking by their teaching and 
writing a center of the new movement. 

There has been founded in Peking by Mr. Fan Yuan-lieh, 
former Minister of Education, a society called the "Shang 
Chih Hsueh Huei," "Society of Progressive Knowledge," 
which has been instrumental in bringing China into relation 
with the current of modern thought in Western countries. One 
of the methods adopted has been the inviting of prominent 
Western scholars to lecture in China, such as Dr. John Dewey 
and Professor Bertrand Russell. 


The movement is spread by means of the press, for in a 
place like Shanghai one can find in the book stores as many 
as forty-seven magazines, including weeklies, monthlies, 
quarterlies, and semi-annuals. All these are pouring new wine 
into old bottles. Some of them are ultra-radical and advocate 
the most advanced opinions. A wide range of subjects is 
discussed, covering such topics as Einstein's theory of rela- 
tivity and the latest teaching in regard to eugenics. Of the 
magazines that are most influential among the student class 
might be mentioned the Sing Cho or New Tide, and the Sing 
Tsing Nien, La Jeunesse. With the latter Dr. Hu Suh's name 
is associated, one of the young philosophers of China, who is 
also a leader in the reform movement for the simplification of 
the Chinese language. 

The new literary movement is closely connected with the 
intellectual revolution. It consists in the adoption of the spo- 
ken language — the pei-hua — in place of the old classical style, 
for literary purposes. 

The leaders of the new thought movement in Peking had 
to overcome the strongly rooted prejudices of the scholars of 
the old school before they could obtain recognition for the new 
and simpler form of composition. Vulgate writing, especially 
vulgate poetry, was regarded with contempt and ridicule as late 
as the spring of 1919. But the victory has been won. At the 
last meeting of the National Educational Association held in 
October, 1919, a resolution was passed recommending that all 
textbooks in the primary schools and a part of those in the 
higher primary should be written in the spoken language; 
and in January, 1920, the Ministry of Education officially 
proclaimed that beginning with the next autumn the spoken 
language should be used in teaching Chinese in the first two 
years of the primary schools. 

The use of the simpler and more natural mode of expression 
of thought has led to a great increase in the literary output. 
No longer cramped by being obliged to employ a highly artifi- 


cial and archaic instrument, the old literary language, the 
young students of China are attempting to bring about the 
creation of a new literature. The pei-hua as the literary 
medium for prose and poetry is obtaining a recognized place, 
and becoming increasingly more popular. It has been esti- 
mated that more than four hundred periodicals are published 
in the spoken language. This new medium of literary expres- 
sion is also used in the editorials of many of the leading 
dailies and in the "supplement" pages for reports of edu- 
cational and philosophical lectures and the translation of 
short stories. 

In order to appreciate more fully this new intellectual 
movement it is well to consider for a moment the character 
of the long-established ethical and social system of China. It 
owed its foundations to the labors of Confucius, Mencius, and 
other ancient teachers. It was made to apply to the five 
principal relationships into which human beings are brought : 
those of ruler and subject, parent and child, husband and wife, 
older brother and younger brother, and friend with friend. 

Confucius entirely disclaimed any originality in laying 
down ethical regulations, and spoke of himself as a transmitter, 
not an originator. He held that his teaching had the sanction 
of antiquity and was absolute in its nature. It was something 
that could not be changed and would be of the same value 
for all succeeding generations. Its general character, there- 
fore, is inflexible and static and gives us the explanation of 
the highly developed conservatism of the Chinese. 

As long as China was isolated from the rest of the world 
her ancient system worked fairly well, and its maladjustments 
were not apparent. It produced a social equilibrium that 
was able to resist disturbing influences. Like the Hebrew law 
it was fenced about by traditions, precedents, and meticulous 
ceremonial observances, which made it become increasingly 
stereotyped. Few ventured to employ their critical faculties 
in regard to it, and all submitted to a rigid orthodoxy. He 


who proposed an innovation was regarded and treated as a 
heretic and a dangerous disturber of the peace. 

Sometimes one hears the Confucian system of morality 
referred to as pure ethics divorced from religious ideas. This 
is, of course, a misconception and is partly due to the fact that 
the average modern Chinese seem more interested in the 
discussion of ethics than of religion. 

The ethical principles conserved and handed down by 
Confucius rest upon primitive religious conceptions such as 
the following: Heaven or Shangti is regarded as the principle 
of order and harmony in the universe, and obedience to this 
principle (or to him, if we take a personal interpretation) 
promotes order and harmony. Heaven has endowed man 
with a moral nature which is good. If a man follows his 
original nature, he will naturally live in the right relationship 
with others and there will be "peace under heaven." A high 
value is placed upon knowledge because by it man comes to 
know his own nature and discovers how he may reform what- 
ever is amiss in his conduct. 

Ancestral worship implies the extension of the filial relation- 
ship which exists in this life, back into the past, and makes it 
one that is perpetual. 

From this brief outline we can understand why the social 
and ethical system of China has ceased to be progressive or 
to adapt itself to new conditions, and we can realize more 
fully the revolutionary effects of the new thought. 

Science with its theory of evolution makes its appearance, 
showing that everything has been the result of a gradual 
development. The critical faculty is aroused, and begins to 
examine the use and value of general customs and social 
institutions. The currents of thought from the West flow 
into the country, questioning the old values, and advocating 
the reform of old institutions. Everything appears to be 
thrown into the melting-pot; or to use again the familiar figure 
with which we began, the new wine breaks the old bottles. 


Some would discard the past entirely and attempt the impos- 
sible feat of starting de novo. 

The family which has been the great social unit in China 
is threatened with dissolution. The spirit of democracy dis- 
places the paternal idea of government. Freedom of inter- 
course between the sexes — even free love — is substituted for 
the oriental subjection of women. Religion is regarded as 
superstition, and aesthetics are deemed sufficient for the 
stirring of the higher emotions. A philosophy which is 
materialistic or naturalistic makes a strong appeal, and is 
proclaimed as that which will meet China's need in the days 
of reconstruction. 

Dr. Hu Suh in summing up the tendencies of the new 
intellectual movement in China writes "As I see it, there are 
three such tendencies, first a movement toward democracy; 
second a movement for educational reform; and lastly a 
change in the general intellectual attitude." In regard to 
democracy he points out that a mistake has been made by 
the student class in confining their attention too exclusively 
to political matters, and urges the necessity of democratizing 
society. To quote his own words : 

We still have the masses to educate, the women to emancipate, the 
schools to reform, the home industries to develop, the family system to 
reshape, the dead and antiquated ideas to combat, the false and harmful 
idols to dethrone, the many, many social and economic wrongs to redress. 

Referring to educational reform, he speaks of the influence 
exerted by Dr. John Dewey by his emphasis on the child's 
natural powers, on self-activity, and on the social aim of 
education, and he adduces many evidences of the rapidly 
growing interest in education manifested by the introduction 
of popular lecture forums, night and half-day schools, indus- 
trial schools for poor boys and girls, and the free schools estab- 
lished by the Students Union. 

In regard to the change in the general mental attitude Dr. 
Hu Suh says : 


It has been justly said that the greatest obstacle to progress in China 
is the deductive habit of mind; that is, the willingness to accept things 
on authority, and acquiesce in ideas and ideals without questioning 
whence they are derived and whether they are true or not. A quotation 
from the classics is sufficient argument for a national policy, and a 
spurious saying of Confucius is good enough to justify the existence of 
any obsolete custom or institution. This habit is the most formidable 
enemy to innovation and progress. Its best antidote is found in the 
scientific attitude which seeks to find out truth for one's self and refuses 
to believe in anything without sufficient evidence of its credibility. It 
seems that this scientific spirit is beginning to make itself felt in the 
Chinese intellectual world today. It first shows itself in the attitude 
of doubt. The question " why " is heard everywhere. Why should we 
believe in this or that idea ? Why should this or that institution still 
exist to-day ? . . . . Truly we are today transvaluating all our values, 
literary, social, intellectual, and moral. 1 

The spread of the new thought is beginning to have its 
effect on the work of Christian missions. To a large extent 
the Christian community has been left in entire ignorance in 
regard to the currents of modern thought. This has been due 
to the fact that a large majority of the pioneer missionaries 
were men and women who were earnest propagators of what 
is now sometimes called the old theology. One of the firmest 
articles of their creed was the verbal inspiration and the 
infallibility of the Bible, and this was handed on to their con- 
verts. The danger connected with such teaching was not 
apparent at first, but now when the Christian Chinese are 
called upon to face the new thought movement they are apt to 
find their religious beliefs shaken and to become unsettled. 

Unfortunately there is a split in the ranks of the missiona- 
ries themselves. The older and more conservative are clinging 
to the theory of verbal inspiration and to an antiquated 
theology, and are in bitter opposition to all liberalizing tend- 
encies. They do not perceive the signs of the times and are 
just as much seekers after infallibility as the ultramontanist 

1 See Article, "Intellectual China in 1919," Chinese Social and Political Science 
Review, Vol. IV (1010), p. 353. 


in the Roman church. That section of the missionary body 
which has come into contact with modern thought is alive 
to the fact that if Christianity is to influence the new educated 
class in China it must be presented as a rational creed and one 
that can stand the test of experience. 

To return to the present situation in China, we find the 
new thought movement one that is full of vigorous life and 
is calculated to have far-reaching results. China is passing 
through a period which was absolutely necessary in order that 
once again she may enter on the path of progress. We must 
avoid the danger of exaggeration and not give the impression 
that the movement has spread farther than it really has. At 
the same time we would be blind if we did not see that it is 
gathering momentum and that very rapidly. 

The pragmatic test is being applied to everything. The 
Chinese influenced by the movement are inquiring in regard 
to the present social and moral order. What is its origin? 
What value has it? Should it be retained or discarded? 
In regard to religion they are asking: Is it necessary? Has 
its day passed ? In regard to the present industrial system 
they question: Would not socialism or bolshevism be better ? 

The greatest value connected with the present movement 
is the growth of a readiness to receive new ideas, and the 
revolt against the principle of authority to which the Chinese 
mind has been enslaved for so many centuries. The greatest 
danger is that it may lead to the adoption of a materialistic or 
naturalistic philosophy of life — one that will chill idealism 
and inspiration. 

We come now to the main object of this article, the con- 
sideration of what the Christian religion has to offer China 
at the present time. Once more we would emphasize that the 
propagation of a narrow and outworn theology will be of little 
value, and that the presentation of Christianity in a dogmatic 
way will not influence the thinking classes. By a dogma we 
mean the presentation of a doctrine as something that must 


be accepted on authority as absolute truth and that must not 
be scrutinized by reason. 

The fundamental teachings of Christ are what China needs 
as well as the rest of the world. It will be found that his 
teaching is like a treasury from which old and new things may 
be drawn. In an age of general skepticism, the human heart 
responds to something that helps to remove doubt and offers 
light amid the darkness. It is well to remember that one of 
the reasons for the triumph of Christianity in the western 
Roman Empire was the clarity and defmiteness of its mes- 
sage amid the confused jumble of religious and philosophical 

What is the great message that the Christian religion has 
to offer to China at the present time? First and foremost, 
the gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of 
man. The phrase "the fatherhood of God and the brother- 
hood of man" is often used glibly without any real perception 
of its connotation. The fatherhood of God was the truth 
to which Christ came to bear witness, not only by his teach- 
ing but by his life and death. He was the " author and captain 
of faith," for in the darkest hour of trial, when the forces of 
evil seemed to overwhelm him, with a faith that could not be 
destroyed, he persisted in the belief that God was his father. 

One cannot read the accounts we have of his teaching in 
the four Gospels without realizing that this faith permeated 
all he said. His great desire was to bring men and women 
into filial relationship with God, and to declare God, not as an 
absolute sovereign, but as one who cared for each one of his 
children. The brotherhood of man follows as a necessary 
corollary and gives us the great conception of the human race 
as one family. This is the basis of his ethics, arid this the 
principle upon which social relationships are to be developed. 
In so far as the world has not yet comprehended his gospel, it 
has not yet become Christian. What we call Christian civiliza- 
tion is still so largely pagan, that it has been said with much 


truth that Christianity cannot be called a failure because it has 
never been really tried. 

This surely is a gospel that China needs. It is the spiritual 
foundation upon which true democracy rests, and it is a 
historical fact that the development of democracy and the 
spread of teaching inspired by Christ have been closely con- 
nected. It alone gives us sufficient reason for the belief in 
the value of the individual and a powerful incentive for seek- 
ing the welfare of our fellow-men. 

The second great truth to which we would refer is the 
gospel of the Kingdom of God — the great social ideal of Jesus 
Christ, the ideal of a society in harmony with God, taking 
as its highest values righteousness, truth, and beauty, and 
actuated by the golden rule of loving our neighbors as ourselves. 
The Kingdom of God has been fittingly compared to an ellipse 
with its two foci, the love of God and the love of man. 

Is the cosmic process meaningless or has it a purpose? 
A naturalistic philosophy is without teleology. As Dr. F. C. S. 
Schiller in one of his essays says: 

If there is certainty about any prediction of science, it is surely, as 
I have elsewhere put it, this, that our racial destiny is to shiver and to 
starve to death in ever deepening gloom. If the view of mechanical 
science be the whole truth about the universe, the race is of just as 
little account as the individual; suns and stars and the hosts of heaven 
will roll on in their orbits just as steadily and unfeelingly whether we 
prosper or perish, struggle or resign ourselves to despair. 

The ideal of Christ fills us with a noble enthusiasm, assures 
us that the cosmic process has a purpose and that men may 
be workers together with God in the gradual realization of 
this purpose. Without some such belief we are left despond- 
ent and without incentive to struggle for social reforms. 

We hear much about the social application of Christianity 
and it is often referred to as a new conception. The church 
has often been so busy with formulating orthodox doctrine 
and developing its own institutional machinery that the 


social significance of the teaching of Christ has been obscured. 
The founder himself, however, gave us a social ideal than 
which no greater is conceivable. In China where so much is 
needed in the way of social reform and readjustment, what 
is to be the incentive? Are expediency or utilitarianism 
sufficient motives ? Will not the great social ideal of Christi- 
anity prove of the greatest value ? 

In the third place the gospel of Christ proclaims the great 
truth that we must die to live. The Christian doctrine of self- 
sacrifice differs from the Buddhist doctrine of self-renunciation. 
The latter implies that we must die to all desire so that finally 
we may be absorbed in the absolute. The former tells us 
that through death we pass to life, that through sacrifice of 
the lower desires comes self-realization, that through sacrifice 
in the service of others comes the salvation of the world. 

Scientists have dwelt almost exclusively upon the doctrines 
of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. 
Christianity emphasizes that which has been overlooked. In 
nature we find in a rudimentary stage the principles of co-opera- 
tion and vicarious suffering. These are developed in many ways 
more fully, until we come to the conception of the strong 
bearing the infirmities of the weak. The great forward steps 
in the progress of humanity have been rendered possible by 
the willingness on the part of some to spend and be spent in 
the service of others. The gospel of the death and resurrection 
of Jesus Christ is the supreme and typical example of the 
great truth that life comes through death. 

China certainly needs this gospel at the present time. It 
furnishes inspiration for patriotism. Men of unselfish charac- 
ter alone can save China. The criticism leveled at those who 
are in power is that for the most part they are self-seekers, and 
that few really care for the uplift of their countrymen and the 
salvation of their nation. Lastly, Christianity offers to China 
a spiritual dynamic. As has often been remarked, Christianity 
is primarily a religion of a person not of a doctrine. It brings 


to bear upon men's lives the spiritual influence of a living 
Christ, and thus provides a spiritual dynamic. The life of 
God is mediated to man through one who called himself Son 
of God and Son of Man. 

Hence it is the religion of experience, and one that can be 
put to the test. It exerts a regenerating force upon character, 
by bringing men into relationship with the spirit of Jesus 
Christ "who is the same yesterday, today, and forever." 
We are sometimes told that what China needs above every- 
thing else is a moral reformation. In order to effect this 
there is an earnest striving on the part of some to revive 
Confucianism. Others advocate the spread of Buddhism; and 
a cult of neo-Buddhism has been established. As in the days 
of the decline of the western Roman Empire, so now in the 
days of the disintegration of the old Chinese civilization 
serious attempts are made to resuscitate the old cults and to 
seek in them the moral force the nation lacks. China will 
find in Christianity the spiritual and moral dynamic sufficient 
to promote the true reformation of her people. 

These then in brief are some of the things Christianity 
offers to China. As we have said, above all it is a way of life, 
but at the same time it is a philosophy of life. As a philosophy, 
when tried by the pragmatic test, it works, it brings inspiration, 
it brings harmony and purpose and strength. It is a reason- 
able philosophy, but ultimately it rests upon faith. It makes 
the claim that he who makes the venture of faith will not be 
disappointed, but will come to discover more and more "the 
unsearchable riches of Christ."