The fundamental defect of all schemes so far proposed for the reformation of Chinese finance is that, while many of them are quite good in their own way, they are woefully lacking in the correct perspective of affairs. It is not generally understood that reform in one branch of the body, politic is impossible and impracticable without at least a modicum of change in the rest. The affairs of a government offer a very close resemblance to the well-being of the human body. It is impossible to have one limb absolutely healthy while another is diseased. While it is practicable and even necessary to attend to the sore in that part of the human anatomy, it is sheer folly to suggest that the cure of the ills of one portion of the body could be attended to without reference to the others. The organization of a government is quite similar. If the police is corrupt such corruption makes its effect felt on the administration of justice; that again reacts on the confidence of the public in the government as a whole. The good or bad effects of the condition of one organ of the body politic travels like the vibration of a sounding-body when it comes in contact with a foreign material.
Many men of wide experience, and no doubt thoroughly capable of grappling with schemes of reform, have made several proposals with regard to the amelioration of the condition of the government in this country. The schemes, if only they could be worked out, are admirable; but, as it is well nigh impossible to effect such reforms in the manner proposed by these well-meaning people, the schemes are unfortunately valueless. The proposer of each scheme has his own pet nostrum; and like a quack doctor proclaims that his cure is the most effective and capable of ridding the country of all the ills it is suffering from. One scheme is to adopt a gold standard which, it is stated, will prove the regeneration of China. Another is to prevent the Native Banks issuing drafts or orders. A third proposes a capitation tax; and it is stated that with a population of 400,000,000, and each individual paying as small a sum as half a tael, this tax would yield enough revenue to make this country independent of all foreign help. The fourth proposal is to levy an almost prohibitive duty on all imported goods; it is averred that by such means the Customs Revenue could easily be increased from Tls. 43,000,000 which was the revenue of 1913 to Tls. 100,000,000. The fifth scheme is to tax land according to its full yield of crops and a revenue of about Tls. 300,000,000 a year is promised; even such a levelheaded administrator as Sir Robert Hart succumbed to the spell of this proposal. The sixth is to make the public pay through the nose for its salt, and one benevolent man expects to obtain Tls. 80,000,000 out of this source. The seventh scheme is to sell concessions to foreigners and make the latter pay large sums that would, it is stated, help to relieve the financial embarrassment of the Government.
The schemes stated above are entirely for financial reform. There have been besides numerous proposals for the reformation of the administration of justice and the police and the raising of the standard of officialdom in this country. Like the rest, these proposals are far from constructive. What China lacks at the present time is a sufficient number of constructive statesmen - men who are not visionary and will take into consideration the conditions prevailing at the moment, and judgo how far a proposed change would fit in with existing realities of the situation. To reform a criminal is a very laudable object, and such an effort would certainly prove of great help to society; to make a decent citizen out of the criminal is also not an impossibility. But the careful statesman would study his subject first and judge how far and in what manner he could proceed, even though he might be certain that his endeavours would meet with success. In the same manner, to reform a corrupt government is not only possible but feasible; but it would be sheer folly to issue a proclamation that from thenceforth no officials should take bribes, that all officials should work solely in the interest of the people, and with the government, on utilitarian lines. It is well known that several kinds of dollars, cashes and notes are in circulation, the multitude of which is, to say the least, a nuisance; if all these monies could be replaced by a single or uniform currency it would prove of great advantage to the administration and trade. The government ought to remedy the situation and no doubt is endeavouring to do so; but if the Government were to issue a proclamation that only one kind of tael or dollar should be accepted, and that the dollar should be only worth a hundred cents - no more and no less, it would result in a series of riots all over the country and the people as a whole would do everything in their power to prevent the objects of such a regulation. It is axiomatic that with every ill of the body politic there is built up a certain amount of interest - however contrary to the well-being of the public such may be. The disturbance of such interests, if adequate safeguards are not taken, is productive of more evil to the body politic than when they are allowed to exist. It is the duty of the statesmen to see that the equilibrium of the state is preserved before putting into effect any proposal for the cure of the ills of the body politic. So far, it could be confidently stated that no scheme has been put forward, which is either thorough or capable of securing the best results with as little dislocation of the machinery of the government as possible.
No scheme of reform would prove beneficial or successful unless it is comprehensive. The best laid plans for the reform of currency would go to naught if native banking remains what it is to-day. The most feasible plan for the reform of currency and banking would be of no avail if the regulation of taxation remains as haphazard as it has been for a long time, or as it remains to-day. Even if banking, currency and taxation were to be tackled at one and the same time, and a successful solution arrived at, such reform would prove difficult of application when the collection of taxes or regulation of the banks are impeded by want of sufficient communications. Even should there be unprecedented increments in the mileage of railways and communications, little change would result if the sources of revenue remain without much of a change, and the country is stagnating industrially.