Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control in China and Japan," 31 Oct 1922.
Typed draft speech. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress , LCM 128:491 .
Sanger gave this address at a Welcome Home Mass Meeting, held at Carnegie Hall in New York on the occasion of her return from a World Tour. Other speakers included Heywood Broun, Rabbi Sidney Goldstein, Josephine Bennet, and Lydia Allen DeVilbiss. Handwritten corrections were made to the typed draft by Margaret Sanger.
Your generous greeting overwhelms ↑delights↓ me. To me it expresses your faith and your conviction in the importance of the movement. I am dedicated to serve. I am glad to be with you tonight because your enthusiasm reassures me. It gives me hope that we need no longer fight this battle alone. I want to believe that your being here tonight means that you share with me the vision of a new world, that may become through the instrument of birth control a beautiful reality.
In the first place, I want you to know that I did not go to the Far East as a self-appointed prophet to reform the habits of the yellow race. I have never tried to shout the message of Birth Control into unwilling ears. We have advocated this doctrine only to those who have expressed a willingness to bear ↑or↓ interest in it. We do not believe in imposing upon anyone the principle or the practice of Birth Control. For a year previous to my departure, repeated invitations had come to me from Japan. On the part of Young Japan there has arisen a great desire to awaken their countrymen to the menace of overpopulation. A group of young Japanese intellectuals, called the Kaizo, or "Reconstruction" formulated the plan of inviting to Japan representatives of the most challenging ideas of our Western civilization. They invited Bertrand Russell, to lecture on Reconstruction, Professor Einstein on the theory of Relativity, H. G. Wells on International Peace and myself on Population and War. I was invited to follow Mr. Russell. You see, they put me in good company.
I agreed to visit Japan to deliver five addresses, under the auspices of the Kaizo group. With great joy I set forth last February to carry the message of birth control into the Orient. I booked passage on the Taiyo Maru, and, escorted by my thirteen year old son Grant, crossed the continent to San Francisco. Two days before my sailing, the Japanese Consul refused to visa my passport. With many apologies and great regret he informed me that the Imperial Government had cabled directions that, if she applied for permission to visit Japan to lecture on Birth Control, Mrs. Sanger should be refused. Would I be permitted to enter as an individual, if I promised silence? The word came back--"No."
I was surprised, but not dismayed, for this official opposition was not new to me. As a matter of fact, the Imperial Japanese Government was only imitating the attitude of my own democratic government. And I knew, from past experience, that wherever this autocratic opposition to Birth Control is expressed by the official mind, there is always a tremendous popular interest not far away. I knew the new generation of Japan was interested, and I resolved to overcome this obstacle, not merely for my own satisfaction, but for the international good of the movement.
Because I could not obtain that visa, the steamship company cancelled my booking. For a time defeat stared me in the face. The voyage seemed impossible; I would have to turn back. But then I remembered that I had overcome greater obstacles than this one. My Irish blood was up. I would not take this autocratic "No" as the final answer.
Sometimes diplomacy is a better weapon than defiance. I decided to fight this battle behind the barricades of diplomacy. If the Imperial Japanese Government would not tolerate me, perhaps China would. There was no trouble in obtaining a Chinese visa. I returned to the office of the steamship company, secured passage for Shanghai, obtained the same stateroom on the Taiyo Maru I had previously booked, and sailed from San Francisco on the day I had originally planned.
Aboard the Taiyo, I discovered as fellow passengers more than one hundred and fifty Japanese returning from the Washington Peace Conference, including the two delegates Admiral Baron Katonow Prime Minister of Japan, and Mr. Hanihara, who at that time was vice-minister of Foreign Affairs. Besides these distinguished Japanese, there was another party of delegates, under the leadership of Mr. John Mott, on their way to Peking to attend the conference of the World Christian Student Federation. A meeting had been arranged for me in Honolulu, and although our boat arrived at one in the afternoon and sailed at five, I was able to speak to an audience which filled the hall to its capacity. I was received with no less enthusiasm by the Japanese than by the American residents there. The Japanese press had even arranged a dinner for that evening, in the event the Taiyo Maru remained. I could not accept therefore, but during my few hours stay, the nucleus of a Hawaiian Birth Control League was organized.
This demonstration in Honolulu reacted upon my fellow passengers aboard the Taiyo Maru. During the next two weeks every one aboard seemed to be discussing the pros and cons of Birth Control. They began to crowd into my cabin to ask questions. Finally I was invited to address the Japanese delegation from the Peace Conference. Admiral Kato and Mr. Hanihara attended. The feelings of my own countrymen were hurt because they were not invited. So finally I had to speak to the missionaries as well. Then the passengers of the second cabin besieged me with requests, and I spoke to them also.
After I had addressed the Japanese delegates, the radio messages began to fly between our ship and Japan. In particular Mr. Hanihara was especially kind. He sent a radio message to his government, stating that, in his opinion, the subject of Birth Control, as he had heard it expounded, was in no way offensive to public morals. He recommended his government to lift the ban, to permit me to enter Japan, and to allow the free discussion of this problem.
Meanwhile, as I later learned, discussion and protest was raging in Japan. Every newspaper was expressing its opinion on the exclusion of America's undesirable citizen. Not all of them thought that I should be admitted. But the ↑great↓ majority of them were of the opinion that the Home Office made a mistake in taking such drastic action before I had at least made some remarks in Japan, upon which an opinion could be passed.
Then I began to receive radio messages from Japan--one reading: "Thousands disciples welcome you." The next: "Possible both land Yokahoma, Welcome discourse." The next day: "Possible land Yokahama Impossible discourse." Radio messages from all sorts of organizations asking me to lecture; a radio message from the medical association of Kyoto; a radio message from the "Cultural Society of Kobe"; a radio message from the New Women's Organization of Nagoya a message from a commercial group in Tokyo; another from an industrial group of Yokohama; a greeting from the doctors of Nagoya; one, even, from the Young Men's Christian Association of Tokyo. And still I did not know whether I would be permitted to land. But it was some satisfaction, at any rate, to know that the opposition of the government had aroused the Japanese press and public to a discussion of Birth Control. For once people begin seriously to discuss Birth Control, our battle is more than half won.
Such was the situation when we arrived at Yokohama harbor on the tenth of March. As the Taiyo Maru entered the bay, she was surrounded by a fleet of small craft. Government officials, health officials, representatives of the police department, and a mob of newspapermen and cameramen flocked on board. I learned later that no less than seventy permits to board the Taiyo Maru had been issued to the representatives of the press. Then I had to submit to the severest test and strain of my journey.
First with a government official, an interpreter and a stenographer I was closeted for an hour. At the end of that time the official had committed himself to the effect that, providing the American consulate general in Japan would make a formal and official request to permit me to land, the ban might be raised. Now I had already, by radio, sent a message to the American Consul asking him, as an American citizen, to use his power in this direction, stating that I wished at any rate to visit Japan, if not as a propagandist, at least as a private citizen. And so, after this conference, I hurried off another cable telling him I was awaiting his assistance. During this time, I was besieged by reporters and photographers. I waited for the reply of our American Consul. It did not come. Not only did the representatives of my government refuse to make a formal request for my admittance, he did not even condescend to the courtesy of a reply to either of my messages. He did not explain the reasons for his indifference to the rights of an American citizen. ↑representing↓
At seven thirty that evening, without the sponsorship of the American Consul, but due to great popular pressure and protest, it was an individual that the Imperial Japanese Government opened its gates to me.
I am sorry that I cannot thank the American Consul. I must thank intelligent wide-awake young Japan, expressing itself in agitation and protest, that show the power of organized public opinion over official autocracy. Yet I could not help wondering, if the case had been reversed, and I was seeking to enter this country, would there have been the same help, the same agitation and demand on the part of our citizens?
The final order was to undergo the inspection of the customs officials. They must have thought that I possessed some magic wand to depopulate Japan. After confiscating most of my books, I was allowed to go.
Just as I finished this inspection and was at last free, I was approached by several rickshaw men who came to welcome me to Japan as representatives of the Rickshaw Men's Union. One spoke a little English and courteously apologized for the unwarranted action of the Home Office. "You do not mind, he said." "Sometime Japanese Government, he little autocratic."
I did not mind. I felt almost at home.
Today, the first impression one gets of Japan is that the old order has been swept away by modern industrialism. In Yokohama and Kobe one hears factory whistles and sees the tall smokestacks of industrial plants. There are tall cranes in new shipyards. The industrial revolution, which first began about sixty years ago has penetrated into the smaller villages. The war quickened this transformation of Japanese society, and is making great changes in the lives of the working millions. This industrial change has not been a gradual one. It has come with little preparation and sharp suddenness. Without warning, Japan has been thrust from a feudal system into an industrial system not unlike our own. The Japanese people have had no background of understanding or experience upon which to meet these new conditions. This factory system has been thrust upon a complex feudal society unprepared to meet it. The masses of the people, mostly peasants, had been ruled by feudal loyalty, by clan and guild bonds, by a religion of personal submission, by century-old superstitions and racial prejudice. Under the old order, the power of money played practically no part. The industrial revolution has changed all that.
Long hours, low pay, and the ever-growing realization that there is a new class springing up which is repeating the profits of this new change, are awakening the masses to the new order of life. These masses are thirsting for education, aiming for higher standards of living, and are spurred on by the desire to get rich too. As in other industrial countries, there is evident everywhere increasing social unrest. But one of the most important facts of this condition is that from seventy to seventy-eight percent of the factory workers are women--girls and women. These women factory workers are sent out of the rural districts and the villages and contracted, practically sold, to the factories for periods of two to three years. They are housed in large dormitories. In most cases, the greater part of their wages are sent to their families by their employers. Modern Japanese industrialism has thus been able to take advantage of ancient customs and superstitions, according to which a girl child was deemed of little value. But, nevertheless, today, as their economic value increases, these girls and women are undergoing the cruel education of modern industry. They are no longer slaves to custom and tradition. They are learning to look squarely at the facts of life.
Japan, then, has definitely embraced industrialism--or perhaps it would be truer to say that industrialism has embraced Japan. But there are certain conditions which make Japan's domestic problem ever more complex and dangerous than that of any other country. She possesses an area about the size of California. But five-sixth of this area is mountainous and untillable. She has a population of approximately sixty millions, a high birth rate of more than a million, which increases this population from seven to eight hundred thousand every year. While the actual density of population is no higher than that of other countries, the density in the tillable or agricultural areas averages two thousand men, women and children to the square mile. So that as one travels through this curious little country, one finds every available inch of ground under cultivation. Rice paddies are built on hillsides. There are few playgrounds; there are no lawns and fields in which children can play properly. I never saw so many children anywhere. The babies are carried upon the backs of the older children, even in play, and while you see a country of one story houses, you also see a country of two story children.
Such, is the situation in Japan: a rapidly increasing population, a lack of tillable land. She is dependent more and more upon imports for food and clothing. She may increase her shipping and her foreign trade, but she cannot keep pace with her growing population. Thus there are two alternate policies; expansion, exigration ↑emmigration↓ aggression, imperialism, enforced by armament and militarism. On the other hand, a drastic national policy of birth control limiting the numbers, improving living conditions and aiming at the perpetuation of peace and the development of art and science. As for the first policy, that of emigration and expansion, we must realize that Japan cannot imitate the earlier colonial policies of the European powers. She cannot send her surplus millions to foreign countries. This affords but temporary relief and complicates the international problem tenfold.
Realizing that this is the admitted situation, you can understand something of the great popular interest in Birth Control in Japan. Therefore I resolved to find out why the Imperial Japanese Government was so afraid of my message. By questioning my Japanese friends I found out that the news of my coming had divided opinions into two main currents. A bill had been introduced in Parliament called the "Dangerous Thought Bill." This had been introduced by a group of reactionaries, called by the Japanese "Thought Controllers." They aimed to exclude from the country all thoughts and ideas which they considered menacing to ancient Japanese traditions. They wanted ideas to be one hundred percent Japanese. I am glad to say that during my stay in Japan, this ridiculous bill was defeated.
Then I found out that a rumor had spread throughout the country, before I arrived, that I was a secret agent of the American government, sent to deplete the population of Japan by my own special magic and miraculous method. They said that I was the advance agent of an American invasion.
I was indignant that the police governor had refused me permission to speak in public, and I resolved to find out the real source of opposition. I arranged the second day after my arrival to call on the police governor of Japan, whose bureau was located in Tokyo. I went to the police department nursing my indignation. But it was impossible to remain angry in the face of the extreme courtesy with which I was received. Although it was but ten in the morning, tea was served and current topics--with the exception of birth control, was politely discussed. Then, through an interpreter, I was told that my name had created confusion and amusement, owing to the similarity between Sanger and "Sangai San" which means "destructive to production." The chief of police and assistants had read my books. They had been translated and published without my permission, and were already making convert even in the police department. The outcome of this interview was that I was permitted to speak in public--not on Birth Control, but on population, to private groups and before clubs and such organizations, on the subject of birth control, without police interference.
As a result, I was able, during my brief stay, to make thirteen addresses in the various cities of Japan. The extent of the interest that had been aroused in the subject was indicated by the fact that out of 101 monthly magazines published in Japan, no less than 81 carried in their April issues leading articles on the subject of Birth Control. Government and police opposition had won for us a hearing that non-interference might not have gained.
But the deeper significance of this triumph is to be found in the growing power of Young Japan and liberal opinion. Ten years ago, the drastic decree of the Imperial Japanese Government would undoubtedly have been accepted as final. But when it was announced that I had been excluded, all sorts of protests, all sorts of agitation and the most outspoken comments followed the action of the government officials. Due to popular pressure, the Home Office permits me to enter if I maintain silence. Still further protests, still greater agitation, still sharper criticism, and the Home Office compromises further. "She may speak, but not publicly." More agitation, more protests; then "She may speak publicly but not on Birth Control." I attribute these victories to the awakening intelligence, the courage and the bravery of the new generation of Young Japan.
After battling in this country and in this city with gross wholesale, unthinking stupidity, cloaking itself with the name of religion and Democracy, it is a joy to be received even by one's opponents with intelligent respect and courtesy. I did not meet with prurient and vulgar leers and ribald laughs. At the Peers Club, I spoke to a gathering of twenty-five of the most eminent dignitaries of the country. They were highly educated gentlemen, so familiar with the English language that no interpreter was necessary. In this exalted atmosphere of keen sophisticated intelligence, I could speak with perfect freedom without misunderstanding or misinterpretation. I could not help comparing the breadth and subtlety of the minds of these officials of the Imperial Japanese Government with the unspeakable vulgarity and leering crudity of the politicians of New York, when we tried to bring the problem of Birth Control to the attention of our state legislators at Albany.
From Japan I went to Korea and addressed a group at Seoul, consisting of bankers, missionaries, physicians, business men. There was a great opportunity for one to settle down in Korea, for the Koreans are alert, ambitious and are anxious to partake in the new thought of the western world.
From Korea I went to Peking and there was able to address 2500 students in the Government University of Peking. I also spoke at the Rockefeller Institute as well as at a gathering of bankers, who gave a luncheon in my honor.
I was particularly interested in the method of the Chinese in their grasp of the subject, and in their method of quick action when once they have a subject in hand. The chancellor of the university invited me to dinner after the afternoon meeting. There were present a number of the professors and some others who were considered the "intelligentsia" of Peking. There were some splendid suggestions made that afternoon for carrying on the work, and the formation of a league was formed that night; but the immediate need was for practical methods, and they took the pamphlet "Family Limitation", translated it into Chinese, and the next morning that material was on the press, and five thousand pamphlets were printed and ready for distribution the next day.
If anyone wishes to refute the Malthusian theory, it is worth while before wasting his time, to take a trip to China, for there the population question with all the horrors that Malthus depicted, is vindicated.
All available ground is taken up for the production of their food supply; even the roads are turned into gardens, and while China might well go on for thousands of years more, if undisturbed by Christianity and the humanitarian methods of the western nations, she cannot go on undisturbed by our interference. We cannot go into China with our sympathies and our moral codes saving the babies from infanticide, without increasing her problems. We find that after we have gone and rescued infants from the river one year, only to find an increase of "sing song" girls eking out their existence in prostitution the following year. We simply rob Peter to pay Paul in all of these methods, because we are not dealing with fundamentals.
While the Chinese woman gives birth to infants year after year, the great percentage of these infants dies, which keeps her population practically at a standstill.
If we will let China alone, she may work out in a few more thousand years very brilliant examples of the survival of the fit. In fact, some of our economists and sociologists think that she has done so today, but we cannot interfere with her in the way we have been interfering without making her problems more difficult and complex.
The women of China in my estimation are ↑have an↓ intelligently ↑grasp of life↓ beyond the women of Japan. In some ways I found them superior to the women of the occidental world, for though they may still bind their feet, and many of them are suffering from the habit of foot binding, they are not to be so much deplored not pitied as some of our English and American women, whose minds have never been unbound.
China and Japan Illustrate two different degrees of overpopulation. The population of Japan is still expanding, overflowing. Overpopulation in China has reached its tragic culmination.
The situation in Japan today is almost identical with that of the German Empire in 1910. With a limited territory the high birth rate in Germany increased the density of population so that there arose a cry for expansion, for new colonies, for new territories, for "a place in the sun." And national expansion, based on potential overpopulation, breeds militarism and the machinery of war. Today we know how Germany fared in its great effort to dominate Europe ↑spread out↓ . We know how the high birth rate or overpopulated countries fared in the war. The dangers of a militaristic policy for Japan should be apparent to all impartial observers. We ought to know more about a high birth rate as one of the causes of war. But even if Japan seeks a solution to her domestic problem by peaceful, commercial and industrial expansion, by sending out of her country its surplus millions, this is no adequate remedy. The disease must break out in some other part of the world. To export low grade labor, hordes of coolies to upset the stability of the labor markets, is to destroy all possibilities of peace in the political and industrial spheres.
In China we witness the last act in the national tragedy of over-population. Here is a great Empire prostrate in the dust. China, the mysterious fountainhead of art, philosophy and the deepest wisdom of the world, has been brought down by the breeding ↑&↓ multiplication of the worst elements of the yellow race. It is difficult for anyone who has not visited China to realize the situation. Here are masses of humans who live below the level of animals. They eat, sleep, and breed in the crowded streets and sunless alleys. Thousands haven't even a foothold on land. They are compelled to live in makeshift boats on the banks of rivers. Go through the reeking labyrinth of one of these native Chinese cities. Go on a day when a hot sun brings out all of these wretched incurably diseased specimens of what we dignify by the name of human. Go through those narrow, choked streets, as I did one day last April, and you may see these wretched creatures pawing over piles of garbage and refuse. There in these quarters, the incurably diseased and leprous breed with the profligacy and thoughtlessness of flies. I recall on unforgettable, unspeakable picture I saw in the native quarters of Shanghai--the prostrate body of a leper woman, covered with rags; her naked diseased children climbing over this inert figure, from a hole in the darkness above the rays of the sun beat down in a single shaft. Horrified by this spectacle we moved on, followed by a crowd of starving, naked children, some ↑of them↓ blind, all unspeakably diseased, crying in pitiful voices for coppers. Such are the results of obeying the age-old injunction to increase and multiply, carried to a literal conclusion. Such is the punishment of a herdlike obedience to blind instinct, of non-interference with the course of Nature.
Many of us have the greatest respect and reverence for the ancient culture of China. We appreciate the keenness and the depth of the finer expressions of the Chinese spirit. We bow before this ancient civilization of Asia, the fountainhead, in many respects of human wisdom. Therefore all the greater is the tragedy of China. The fine flame of the ancient Asiatic spirit there is flickering. It is threatened with extinction. There is the rising tide of famine, of wretchedness and the epidemic of transmissible diseases, a flood which, because of the incessant fertility of those millions, spreads like a human plague.
How does that concern us in America? you may ask. Very directly is it the concern of every one of us. We must keep alive the finer achievement of the spirit, in all parts of the world. But it is our concern in an even more direct manner. Not a day, not a month, no a year passes but that we are asked to contribute to famine funds, to the support of Christian missions in China and Japan, and to other Far Eastern philanthropies. It is an obvious fact that the great part of these funds is not devoted to the aid of what I consider the finer things of China, but to the never-ending task of temporarily relieving the miseries of the lower elements. Strip this work of its high sounding virtues, and we find that it is actually the work of relieving and perpetuating types who never should have been born at all, much less allowed to reproduce and perpetuate their miseries and their diseases. This is like trying to sweep the sea back with a broom, or to carry water with a sieve. Let these missionaries remember the Sermon on the Mount: "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit; neither can a good tree bring forth evil fruit. Each tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."
But as long as the American public prefers sentimentality to Science, this waste of funds to throw into the bottomless pit of charities and philanthropies may be expected to continue. Meanwhile the work of cleaning up our own national house is neglected, and the millions which should go into American research, American Science and to the cultivation and refinement of American life are diverted to this mad carnival of sloppy sentimentality.
China does not need our religion. And in exporting our religions to Asia, we are not doing much to bridge the chasm between the Occidental mind and the Oriental. Instead, we are developing new misunderstanding. I repeat; the Chinese do not need religion. They need our science, sanitation, hygiene, Birth Control.
You cannot measure the greatness of a country by the mere size of its population. We cannot gauge civilization merely in terms of industrial expansion and growth. National greatness is not a matter of large standing armies and invincible navies. Is a country breeding great men? Will they leave for the generations of the future a record of immortal poetry and art and philosophy? Then it is a great country, for it has attained the only immortality worth striving for. And in holding this as our ideal, in striving upward the human race should first of all be freed of the millstones of disease, famine, and the fatal burden of inherited disease. There are other hindrances in the endless march toward our unknown goal. We are not helping ourselves by adding to them the blight of inherited disease, bad breeding and blasted childhood.
After my eight months tour of the world, I am led to agree with H. G. Wells when he says that the whole world at present is swarming with cramped, dreary, meaningless lives, lives which amount to nothing and which use up the resources and surplus energies of the world. Our world is overcrowded with masses who are merely the breeding crowd of admitted misery and wretchedness. They do nothing to carry life forward. They are just the vain, defective imperfect repetitions of all that has gone before. Our charity to these masses is in reality a crime against future generations, against the finest blossoming of the human spirit. Upon these docile, herdlike masses, the sinister evil demagogues of the church and nation fatten. We cannot shirk the inevitable duty of descending, like Socrates, into the market place and to the utmost of our ability to undo the work of these blind leaders of the blind who are urging ↑the↓ unfit "full speed" ahead in these mad spawning and swarming.
The world is overpopulated in more ways than one. There are too many people for our limited intelligence. There are too many people for the social systems evolved. There are too many people for our present equipment, transportation, housing, schools--everything which should help to advance our civilization; and there are too many people for the means of subsistence in a great majority of countries.
I come back from my eight months trip around the world more convinced than ever that the people of the world are ready and eager for the practice of Birth Control. The officials of all governments are blind to its importance. The leaders of the churches are opposed to Birth Control. But as a whole, the masses themselves are looking to it as to a deliverance. Birth Control is not merely a problem of the individual women; it is not merely a national question. It is not a world problem. As John Maynard Keynes stated, at the time of our London Conference, the problem of population is going to become in the near future the greatest of all political questions. Already the very mention of Birth Control arouses some of the deepest instincts and emotions. Feelings are running, as Mr. Keynes suggested, as passionately as in the earlier struggles between religions. We stand today at one of the great transition points in human history. If civilization is to survive, men and women must grasp control away from the blind instinct of Nature
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project