A Prophetic "Letter to a Chinese Gentleman"

Nataly Teplitsky

PureInsight | September 26, 2005

[PureInsight.org] I came across this almost forgotten letter in an antique book, printed in 1900 in London*. In its urgency and directness it is remarkably current, as if it were written only yesterday rather than a century ago.

This letter was written in 1899 by one of the greatest writers of all times, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828 -1910), the author of the famous "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina".

The "Letter to a Chinese Gentleman" reads:

"Individuals and societies are always in a transitory state from one age to another, but there are times when these transitions both for individuals and for societies are especially apparent and vividly realized."

And further:

"This transition consists in the necessity of freeing themselves from human authority which has become unbearable…"

Tolstoy further elaborates on the idea that this noble task is predestined to be accomplished by the Eastern nations.

"The Eastern nations are placed for this purpose in especially happy conditions… not having yet lost faith in the necessity of the supreme law of Heaven or God…the law of Tao…"

Here is some advice Leo Tolstoy gave in his "Letter to a Chinese Gentleman" more than one hundred years ago:

"You should free yourselves from unreasonable demands of your Government which exacts from you actions contrary to your moral teaching and consciousness.

"Only adhere to that liberty which consists in following the rational way of life, i.e. Tao, and of themselves will be abolished all the calamities which your officials cause you…You will free yourselves from your officials by not fulfilling their demands, and, above all, by not obeying, you will cease to contribute to the oppression and plunder of each other."

How profound and prophetic these words are! And how applicable to the current situation in China!

"If only the Chinese were to continue to live, as they have formerly lived, a peaceful industrious agricultural life. If only they were to continue following in their conduct the principles of their three religions: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, all three in their basis coinciding: Confucianism in the liberation from all human authority, Taoism in not doing to others what one does not wish to be done to himself, and Buddhism in love towards all men and all living beings, then of themselves would disappear all those calamities from which they now suffer, and no Powers could overcome them."

Hardly could Tolstoy imagine that in more than one hundred years Chinese people will still suffer from "all those calamities"…

In this historical pivotal moment in China's history, Leo Tolstoy's words sound like a wake up call and encouragement to retrace the steps of its glorious history and culture, to shake off the nightmarish slumber and sufferings imposed by the Communists' propaganda.

"In order to free oneself from the evil one should not fight with its consequences: the abuses of Governments, the seizures and plundering by neighboring nations, - but with the root of the evil, with the relations in which the people have placed themselves toward human authority. If the people recognize human power as higher than the power of God, higher than the Law (Tao), then the people will always be slaves and the more so, the more complex their organization of Power … which they institute and to which they submit. Only those people can be free for whom the law of God (Tao) is the sole supreme law to which all others should be subordinated."

*The Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants, London, 1900.

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