new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde


They Have Said

New Times and Ethiopia News (London) 2 September 1939: 5. 

We publish with sorrow and respect this posthumous article of the late Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde), who suffered and grieved for China.

Tientsin and a World 

Robin Hyde 

So many voices, all confused; then each one singled out, saying whatever it had to say. An old man said it best. He got up, white-moustached, quiet. 
‘There are very many in England who cannot sleep at nights because of China.’

Confucius says: ‘He who will not look far off soon sees troubles come near.’

Marshal Chiang Kai-shek says by cablegram during the Tienstin talk: ‘China is a bulwark of the South Pacific.’

Mr. Chamberlain says: ‘Our fleet in Far Eastern waters is not enough . . . We could send a further fleet there, but do not wish to do so at the present time . . . My blood boils . . .’

The Daily Paper says: ‘It has been decided that the four Chinese held in the British Concessions shall be handed over to the Chinese (!) district courts. Fresh evidence has come to light, establishing a prima facie case.’

Ordinary opinion says: ‘Fresh evidence, picked up from a remarkably cold trail, and heard in secret at Tokio! It took weeks of Japanese threats, physical and psychological abuse, menace to British subjects outside Tientsin, and a final extension of demands going all the way from a faked currency to omnipotence of Japanese police, before this ectoplasmic evidence rewarded the seance. Call it fresh – it's tinned red herring, with the usual modestly effaced label on the can.’

Professor Norman Bentwich and Miss Marjorie Fry say: ‘Not so fast! A writ of habeas corpus.’

British Police and British Law advise, whenever they get the chance to give advice in time: ‘Don't pay anything to a blackmailer; otherwise you go on paying.’

President Roosevelt says a great deal in two actions. He closes the session for Congress, abrogates America's 1911 treaty with Japan.

American Isolationists say: ‘Off with his head!’ Fairly neutral Americans say: ‘What will Britain do next?’

The process of thinking things over says: ‘Obviously, President Roosevelt has risked not only any political ambitions he may have, but any hope of public service to his nation. That seems a wise action, as well as a brave one; he acted first and foremost as an American, because he had correctly estimated the stakes in the Far East – he and the other American non-isolationists. It wasn't a matter of money or diplomacy, it was a choice between keeping or losing nothing short of America's own democracy. It was impossible that such a nation should continue to take the major share of the blood-spoils in China, keep on for years shipping munitions which killed more civilians than soldiers, and continue democratic. Of course, there's a completely profiteering section in almost any country – as isolated among paper money as if ranged up in the padded cells, where they ought to be. But speaking generally, American 'toughness' is a thin protective membrane over a sensitiveness much more deep. America shut up in her darling isolation, would have exploded, or disintegrated into Fascism.’

Roosevelt's two actions can't be set aside as gestures, no matter what happens to them down among the isolationists. What he has done is to put a very plain hand on the table. If he wanted to, his rivals wouldn't let him take it back. So it operates either as (1) or (2).

In (1) he succeeds in giving a great measure of help to China; in smoothing out America's internal troubles, by giving her suppressed but fiercely smoking idealism a direct vent into a lamp chimney; in solidifying the world-idea of U.S.A., as somehow – probably because of the many contradictions – it has not yet been solidified.

(2) could be disastrous – good-bye to all that! Roosevelt's signature over so plain a hint of practical intervention in China's and Japan's affairs has to be either an international success or a failure. In China the worst it can be is a success followed by a disappointment. In Japan the results shouldn't be hard to count up. What about in Europe? Will they take it for what it's worth – the first real effort at world interest since 1919 – or will they prefer the old diplomatic custom of scrambling under the table for any crumbs of advantage? That is probably what America expects of Europe.

There used to be a President Wilson. A second shrinkage in the world's wash of a great American idea, a contribution to the values of the surviving democracies. And not only one administration, but the political character of the United States as we think we know them, might disappear. The political character would instantly reappear, of course, but it would not be quite the same idea.

Great Britain, with her Chinese concessions, her very large Far Eastern interests, and up till the past few months her direct encouragement of the Chiang Kai-shek regime, has the chief responsibility of friendliness of any nation among those which have lived and prospered on Chinese soil; and she has also a responsibility towards America's new move in China. Except for the U.S.S.R., she has set the pace in China, and asked for co-operation. To effect, or begin, or start making feints at a radical change of policy at this juncture would mean losing the two greatest friendships open for her winning. Out of China she has had enormous profits, enormous prestige while the word imperialism carried any prestige. To exchange a feeling of rather comical superiority for the friendship of a great and cultivated nation shouldn't cause any acute agony at this date.

A distinguished Chinese authority recently in America points out that if America now retreats, locks herself up in iron bars and swallows the key, the American attitude towards European troubles of the future may retrograde.

That, too, and vastly though Europe's post-war nightmare is lightened by whatever national friendships her few remaining democracies manage to scrape up, I can't help feeling that the American and Chinese friendships mean even more in another quarter – the South Pacific.

Nobody talks very much about Pacific countries, because they are definitely regarded as the tail end of an imperialistic policy, and one which had not turned out exactly to specifications. To regard them as young under-populated States, which far from being imperialistic are as perilously independent as seagulls in a cannon’s mouth, is not thought of as discreet in England.

Anyhow, Australia is the place which evolved Melba, Norman Lindsay, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead and some more; and irrespective of these, has about 6,000,000 people, mostly of British stock to defend the difficult coastline of a continent three-quarters empty. Australia has worked up a fine young navy and airforce, but that is not to say that Australian defences could say ‘Go home again ‘ to Japan.

New Zealand, after a very long time of being more English than any English (and certainly much more British in origin than London to-day), suddenly for its own logical reasons elected a Labour government by a huge majority, re-elected it next time with still more votes, was the nearest thing to a functioning socialistic but not communistic state in the world, and gave free public services which did not meet with the City of London's approval. It did something about its own defence, in the shape of a very substantial money contribution to the Singapore Base.

Recently it was seen begging in the City of London, where Cophetua was not very royal. Of the £10,000,000 defence loan at last secured, £6,000,000 were earmarked for defence, and 600 defence ’planes of British manufacture ordered on the spot. Cophetua did not do so badly out of his beggar-maid. The population, white and Maori, who number about a million and a half, will pay up.

China, unwittingly, but nevertheless in the most realistic and tragic way, has defended these Pacific countries; and, of course, also the Dutch East Indies, Manila and Singapore. Japan reached her hour of Fascism – a nation’s desperate determination to live as a parasite, eating away the invaded territories.  That she did not turn southwards instead of into Manchuria and North China was, of course, merely a matter of apparent convenience and a neighbourly desire to domineer. The alternative plan was considered, as at this present hour it is being reconsidered and discussed in Japanese newspapers. A daring young Japanese naval officer on the Fascist trapeze gave himself some exhilarating hours writing his book, ‘Japan Must Fight Britain.’

Hongkong, Singapore, Manila, various Pacific islands, then Australia and New Zealand fell very quickly before him. Only two factors might, he thought, make the thing precarious. If the British fleet mobilised rapidly in Far East waters, then he did not think Japan should start yet; and if Britain unscrupulously secured America as an ally, he felt sure about it.

The third Pacific defence, the tragic living barrier of 400,000,000 Chinese people sacrificed daily and hourly, while Hong Kong still remained intact, and Manila looked a very beautiful city, this Japanese writer never took into serious account. Twice Japan scratched China's skin – in Manchuria, then in 1932. The third scratch drew too much blood, and also China was unified and ready for mass resistance.

Two years – and in China the bombs and heavy armaments sold to Japan by the west; southwards, the Pacific, and perhaps ten million people, of British stock alone, who went about their lives in a fairly normal way, not because the promised strategic masterpiece of the Singapore Base gave them safety, but because China held on, and the idea persisted that .America might come in. The position, naturally, must give most of the marooned some sort of new idea about China. That a comparative handful continue to live, because 400,000,000 must continue to suffer and die, and that in spite of this material gain Great Britain, who established concessions and a Pacific Empire, may let the flood-gates in on China at a critical moment, is not a happy thought. It may not be even a correct thought, by any means; but there is too much unnecessary doubt and fear.

Say? What is there to say? A few say the name of imperialism unfortunately has a bad smell in the modern world; but all things change and decay, and there is nothing shameful in that by itself. All imperialisms, to justify themselves for their landgrabbing and killing off native populations, develop some mission – art, physique, religion, or what have you.

In the case of British Imperialism, the thing was some idea of a law functioning equally among people of all races, wherever the British happened to pitch their tents.

The law did exist, did and does function, in spite of all the grave imperfections anyone interested can easily collect in spare moments. It seems strange that this, a valid gain in so many places, should be going so cheap in Tientsin – once and forever, because in China at the present moment three blackmailers could be very seriously checked; but after the victory of Tientsin, they will not be checked in Europe.

A gentleman in the House of Commons likes Shakespeare.  ‘Antony and Cleopatra ‘ is the best:
            The soul and the body rive not more in parting   
Than greatness going off.’           



nzepc note

 Following the alleged murder of a Japanese customs officer in June 1939 four Chinese took refuge in the Foreign Concessions. On June 14, 1939, Japanese forces began a systematic harassment of French and British residents of the concessions. Japanese naval forces also blockaded the bund cutting off the concessions. The issue was negotiated with the foreign areas retaining their integrity but with Japan providing perimeter security.



Last updated 13 November, 2002