The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WASHINGTON—The pictures that we have been seeing in the newspapers of the Chinese refugees making their way from Communist China through barbed wire, border guards, and all the other difficulties of a police state into Hong Kong and then being turned back are sad indeed.

I am glad that our government has agreed to take some of these refugees but I must say I cringed a little at the qualifications, as reported which said we would take some of "the most desirable." People who are fleeing starvation may, I think, be slightly difficult to identify as "desirable" and "undesirable". And who knows whether a baby is going to be "desirable" when it grows up. Much depends on the circumstances in which it is allowed to grow.

From a political point of view this situation may have very serious repercussions. The Chinese people have for years been accustomed to famines, floods, and national disasters of every kind. And they have suffered these catastrophes, as a rule, with a stoic quality which gives one a feeling that there must be a very heavy fatalistic conviction among them that when one's time has come it is best to compose oneself and meet death with dignity.

I cannot remember ever hearing of any very active revolt against the national disasters and the inability of their government to handle them. In European and Western countries people would be rioting and demanding of their government that they obtain food, that it be distributed to them, and that the conditions be remedied so that such disasters might be avoided in the future. But the pressure of population is so great in China that I suppose this is one of the reasons that there is no general complaint and protest.

Also, I suppose it accounts for the apparent acceptance of the conditions and indifference on the part of officials to what happens to their people. Just as one of them was able to tell Yugoslav Prime Minister Tito that Communist China was the only nation that could profit by World War III because, if 300,000 Chinese were to die, it would be a benefit and not a detriment to the population.

President Kennedy said that our gesture, under emergency powers, of taking in a certain number of the refugees from Hong Kong would not really have very much effect upon the whole situation within China, and it is quite evident that he is right.

I noted that Taiwan will take a number of these refugees, and I imagine the hope is that many of them, when the stress of food shortage is over, will be able to accept allegiance to a non-Communist form of government.

I have never had the feeling that among the Chinese people there was any real understanding or belief in communism as an ideology. The struggle to live has been too great in China at all times. The people always have been interested in any reform which would make this struggle easier or would give them any small benefit in their daily lives.

My husband, whose grandfather spent many years in China, had a deep and abiding admiration and faith in the Chinese people and the Chinese businessmen.

I have grieved that the age-old friendship between China and the United States has deteriorated so badly in the past few years and I am curious indeed to see the reaction of even these poor Chinese refugees, whom we are agreeing to receive, when they find themselves living among the people whom they have been told have only the bitterest and most antagonistic feelings toward them. One can only hope that the Chinese communities in our country will organize immediately to greet these newcomers, house them, and start them in their new lives. Otherwise, I can well imagine that their fright might be almost as great as the terror and fear of famine which they are now going through.

Somehow we in this country who have so little experience of what it is like when there is no food available have got to try to understand this situation. For us, hunger comes to people who cannot afford to buy, but there is always the chance that some kind person will buy for one or that the government will look after one's needs. But when there just is no food, neither kindness nor the government can provide it. This is the kind of situation that calls for much imagination on our part in order to understand.


(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 25, 1962

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.