Seven hundred howling university students swarmed through Nanking Government offices last week. They wanted the monthly food subsidy for students (now $48,000 CN, or about two black-market U.S. dollars) doubled to meet still-rising inflation. When officials said "No chance," they shouted back coarsely: "Where has the money gone? How much do you spend to eat?" They marched into a Government mess hall, ate the lunches laid out for the Cabinet and staff, called for more.
Other Chinese besides the bureaucrats who missed their lunch were pained by this incident. It violated the cherished Confucian precepts of self-discipline and respect for rulers and elders. Yet this was contemporary Chinathe China of uncompromising civil war and unlimited inflation (last week the cost of living in Tientsin was 16,790 times as great as before the war). This was the disordered China which made even sympathetic Americans say "To hell with that mess; let's keep out of it."
View Across an Ocean. In the long run, of course, the U.S. could no more ignore China than it could ignore Europe. But while the U.S. view of Europe had cleared rapidly, as winds from Moscow blew away delusions, the average intelligent American's picture of China was still composed of one part truth, one part pro-Communist propaganda and one part inevitable misunderstanding of a very different way of life. Americans thought something like this: "Chinese Communists are extremists, no doubt, but they have had more provocation than Communists in other countries. Chiang Kai-shek may be all right (certainly that good-looking wife of his is) but Chiang is surrounded by reactionary politicians."
If the American reads much about contemporary China, especially in the left press, he would soon come upon the name of Chen Li-fu, head of what was called the "notorious" CC clique. This Chen was presented as the embodiment of what was wrong with China; he was the villain behind the screen, the devil who wrecked all compromise and blocked all progress.
If this picture is correct, then the U.S. and China will be poles apart for many a bitter, crucial year. Perhaps the best way to examine the picture is to examine Chen Li-fu. Perhaps he seems a villain not because he is one, but for two other reasons: 1) he is the Chinese whom Communists (and their U.S. friends) hate most, and 2) he symbolizes that side of China which is hardest for Americans to understand. What he represents has existed in China for 2,000 years, and will exist for many more. If Americans are going to know China, they will have to know the grave, grey man, with the face of an aristocratic saint, who sometimes wears a rumpled Western business suit and sometimes a blue mandarin gown, who sometimes plots little intrigues and sometimes dreams great dreams.