China Scorned
The Fateful Deception Behind a Century-Long Grudge Match

How China’s bitter disappointment at the Paris Peace Conference sparked the outrage that would lead to the country’s long revolution—and the grudges that persist today.

Published on: June 22, 2014
Brent Crane is a freelance journalist based in Beijing.
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  • Curious Mayhem

    A very interesting article, one that uncovers some previously obscure things.

    I wish, though, that liberal academics would stop idolizing and misrepresenting Wilson: he was a man of the South, from Virginia, and a firm believer in racial segregation and the Lost Cause. (He was eight years old when the Civil War ended and later become the president of Princeton, the most “southern” of the Ivy League schools.) In fact, he imposed racial segregation on a previously non-segregated District of Columbia.

    Wilson’s refusal to accept the racial equality cause, however cynically it was intended by Japan, did not go against his beliefs. It’s all part of a larger problem that liberal academics have, of dealing with the Democratic party’s origins and much of its history as the party of the South, slavery, secession, and segregation.

    (I say “cynical” because the Japanese were later to make much hay in Asia with anti-European, anti-imperialist propaganda in the 1930s and 40s, all the while building their own very oppressive empire.)

    • LarryD

      Did not President Wilson segregate the US military?

      • Curious Mayhem

        You know, I don’t know. There were units of black soldiers (commanded by white officers) in the Indian wars of the late nineteenth century, the so-called “Buffalo soldiers.” The Army was then almost completely disbanded until 1917.

        The WWI army was certainly racially segregated and remained so until 1944, when integration began in fits and starts. The US armed forces were completely desegregated by Truman in the late 1940s.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Wilson was a bad president, down there with Buchanan and Obama.

    • Curious Mayhem

      The historian John Lukacs said and wrote that Americans made two fatefully bad choices of president in the 20th century, one being Wilson in 1912. (The other was Carter in 1976. While fairly conservative, Lukacs was not a Reagan fan. He did recognize, however, the need for the corrective.) In this view, TR would have been a much better president, and it’s difficult to disagree.

      For example, while pro-Allied, TR wanted to use American economic leverage to force a settlement in Europe rather than send American ground troops. He was not opposed to the use of the US Navy to stop German U-boats. He presciently foresaw that the US could not be a neutral arbiter while also fighting on the Allied side.

      And being a Republican, TR was of course opposed to racial segregation and would not have imposed it. In those days, such a policy could only go so far, because of state sovereignty and the popularity of segregation among southern whites. But insofar as federal policy went, there’s no doubt what TR’s approach would have been.

      For Americans, WWI was the original disillusioning crusade, sometimes deceptive, more often messianic-delusional. The result was almost entirely Wilson’s fault, even as politicians of both parties, and sympathetic foreigners, tried to get him to be more sensible. Had he been, he would have gotten his League commitment and continued American involvement in world affairs, possibly preventing WWII.

      The academic hero-worship of Wilson is completely baffling, except that Wilson was himself an academic, as well as a moralistic and priggish Calvinist. The verbal portraits left by both Keynes and Churchill, who watched the Versailles conference in person, are devastating and unforgettable.

      • stefanstackhouse

        Add to all that, Wilson was a racist, maybe one of the worst that we have ever had in the White House, at least since the Civil War.

  • Kevin

    Interesting, but probably puts too much blame on Wilson. The rest of the victors were just as bad in their own way. But even if the Chinese prevailed on Shandong they would still have had a weak divided state that would have fallen prey to Japanese depredations. Victory on the Shandong question would not have given the liberal elite the power or wisdom to overcome China’s massive problems of 1919 – it still would have fallen into warlord ism and civil war and war with Japan (which it was too weak to win).

  • Fat_Man

    This piece strikes me as history as a shaggy dog story. I am not an expert on Chinese history of any period, but I have to believe that there are more substantial causes behind the revolutions and wars that caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of Chinese people than a diplomatic kerfuffle.

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