CHAPTER FOURTEEN China's Army and Navy

TWO thousand years ago, Roman legions on the Parthian frontier came in sight of the Dragon banners of the Han Generals. There is something that appeals to the imagination in the rediscovery of an Empire whose standards the remote forefathers of our Europe saw, distant on the horizon, so long before us.

But the Dragon banners under which countless armies, almost through human history, lived, marched, fought--more armies than have followed all our parvenu lilies or lions, covered themselves thereafter with few glories, though they were fluttered by the winds of centuries in which the Legions had long ceased to march. If the country of poets had kept a Laureate at Peking to celebrate its arms, he would have needed more than a butt of Canary to fertilise his invention. In the seventeenth century, when the armies of far-away Europe beyond the borders of civilisation were still only the mercenary regiments of Europe's petty kings, a barbarian could boast with only too much truth that "30,000 German or English foot, and 10,000 French horse, would fairly beat all the forces of China".1

Europe's boasts a little outstripped her real confidence. Even when we come into the nineteenth century we see the foreigners surrounding the Dragon in his lair with misgivings, with gusts of trepidation. They, with the military habits of mind that had spread into their art, religion, science, could scarcely grasp the existence of an unwarlike nation, content with dull peace. "There is a kind of fear of attacking China", wrote one of them in 1880, "as of attacking an unknown

____________________
1
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.

-208-

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British Diplomacy in China, 1880 to 1885
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