Thursday, September 04, 2008



By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 04, 16 Asma, 165 BE

With intense pleasure this summer the world received the news that in the Olympic gold medal race China had beat out the much vaunted United States. This came sooner than many expected but it was inevitable given that there are five times more Chinese than Americans. As long as the quality of education in China continues to rise we can expect the Chinese to surpass America in every other area of human endeavour. Baha'is have known this from the beginning, ever since Abdu'l-Baha wrote in 1875,

"Observe to what a degree the lack of education will weaken and degrade a people. Today, from the standpoint of population the greatest nation in the world is China, which has something over four hundred million inhabitants. On this account, its government should be the most distinguished on earth, its people the most acclaimed. And yet on the contrary, because of its lack of education in cultural and material civilization, it is the feeblest and the most helpless of all weak nations. Not long ago, a small contingent of English and French troops went to war with China and defeated that country so decisively that they took over its capital Peking. Had the Chinese government and people been abreast of the advanced sciences of the day, had they been skilled in the arts of civilization, then if all the nations on earth had marched against them the attack would still have failed, and the attackers would have returned defeated whence they had come." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 110)

Thus the Master contrasted the so-called "Boxer Rebellion" and its utter humiliation of a China sunk in ignorance, dissension and Chauvinism with that of Japan, which at the time had just started out on its spectacular entrance to prominence on the world stage.

"Stranger even than this episode is the fact that the government of Japan was in the beginning subject to and under the protection of China, and that now for some years, Japan has opened its eyes and adopted the techniques of contemporary progress and civilization, promoting sciences and industries of use to the public, and striving to the utmost of their power and competence until public opinion was focused on reform. This government has currently advanced to such a point that, although its population is only one-sixth, or even one-tenth, that of China, it has recently challenged the latter government, and China has finally been forced to come to terms. Observe carefully how education and the arts of civilization bring honor, prosperity, independence and freedom to a government and its people." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 110)

No doubt the new generation of Chinese leaders have cracked the history books, examined how Japan managed this feat in the 19th Century and now is applying the lessons of the Japanese example. I have not studied Japanese history in detail but one thing stands out even for the superficial observer: Japan made its huge and rapid leap forward by coming to a broad consensus among its teachers as to how to reform the nation. They started with agricultural reform, as well as building friendships (what we have been calling comity here) with all levels of society. Its teachers and professors realized that they had a great deal to learn from the West and they set about studying, then, in co-operation with a supportive government, reforms were implemented.

For over a century Americans have avidly expected a similar rise of China to happen "real soon now." For example, during the Second World War Winston Churchill was continually exasperated by American officials repeating the mantra: "China is the land of the Future." He replied that that may be so, but not the immediate future. Unfortunately, Churchill proved to be the better judge of the situation and the rise of China was retarded for many decades, until this year, perhaps, with the Olympic games.

This temporary static interlude in China has not deterred the Baha'is from optimism. Indeed Abdu'l-Baha Himself has been quoted as saying: "China is the Country of the Future." (more on this in a future instalment). The leadership of the Faith remains sanguine about the prospects of this potentially greatest of nations. Only a few years ago they wrote,

"Gradually, too, the message of the Faith began to find a welcome in many parts of China and among Chinese populations abroad. Baha'i literature was translated into Mandarin, university audiences in many Chinese cities extended invitations to Baha'i scholars, a Centre for Baha'i Studies was established at the prestigious Institute of World Religions in Beijing, which operates within the Academy of Social Sciences, and many Chinese dignitaries have been generous in their appreciation of the principles they discover in the Writings. In light of the high praise of the Master for Chinese civilization and its role in humanity's future, one begins to anticipate the creative contribution that believers from this background will make to the intellectual and moral life of the Cause in the years ahead." (Commissioned by the UHJ, Century of Light, 9.25, p. 105)

When I was in Louhelen this past weekend I met an American Baha'i who had visited the same Chinese school where Martha Root had taught. Martha Root, as most of my readers well know, was the most successful teacher of the Baha'i Faith, probably ever. Here is an excerpt from a memorial published just after her death. It indicates certain qualities that Martha saw in the Chinese that only now are starting to push them into prominence,

"Later on we find she had a signally successful and happy year in China, where she learned to have a real love and admiration for the Chinese and their civilization. We recall her enthusiastic reports from that land, and how she always stressed the kindness of the Chinese, their peace-loving qualities, their brilliant and penetrating intellects, their patience and self-control and that they have absolutely no egotism. In one of her stories about China, she says: `They have in China what they call a day of Humiliation. They say, "if our country is not what it should be, if the military caste is over riding it, we do not blame the militarists or the bandits. We blame ourselves, and we ourselves will change China and restore our country through education."'" (SW, Vol. 15, p. 373)

Coming up in this series are more quotes from the Writings on China, plus an article on that land written by the great teacher, Martha Root, herself.



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