1920s >> 1927 >> no-270-february-1927

How we civilise the ‘heathen’

A correspondent asks for authoritative evidence to refute the suggestion that the introduction of Christianity and western civilisation into “backward” countries provides the benefit of a higher moral code. Our correspondent realises with us that this aspect is relatively a minor one subordinate always to the dominating fact that the lust which took white traders and factory owners to the lands of the black and yellow races is the same as that which governs their relations with white workers at home —the lust to exploit. The results, though they may vary in certain respects, are much the same and include in both cases the use of the whip of poverty to compel working-class women to sell their bodies for the pleasure of their masters.

During 1924 a question was raised on many occasions in the House of Commons as to the system of maintaining officially registered brothels in Hong Kong. Thus in reply to Lady Astor the Colonial Secretary, Mr. J. H. Thomas, stated (Hansard, July 15th, 1924) “the total number of registered brothels in 1923 was 296, but I am not aware of the dates at which any of them were opened.”

Earlier in the year (Hansard, March 17th), Mr. Snell asked Mr. Thomas “whether he is aware that it is part of the duties of a Government official in Hong Kong to pass young girls into the various classes of brothels in that colony ; and whether he proposes taking any action in the matter?”

To this plain question Mr. J. H. Thomas returned the following evasive answer : “The object of the practice to which my Hon. Friend refers is purely protective,” and on March 24th when again asked if he would abolish the system Mr. Thomas replied “We have to deal with it in a commonsense way.” On that day he also disclosed the fact that our Government carried on the same State enterprise in Malaya.

It is an old story but perhaps in this connection it may not be out of place to refer to the activities in this direction of the late Lord Roberts of infamous memory.

In 1886 he sent out to every quartermaster in the Indian army a circular memorandum containing the following instructions :—

“In the regimental bazaars it is necessary to have a sufficient number of women, to take care they are sufficiently attractive, to provide them with proper houses, and above all to insist upon means of ablution being always available.
“If young soldiers are carefully advised in regard to the advantage of ablution and recognise that convenient arrangements exist in the regimental bazaar they may be expected to avoid the risks involved in association with women who are not recognised by the regimental authorities.”

(It may be remarked in passing that the results for the young soldiers were almost as deadly as for the unfortunate women.)

Full particulars of this practice in India are contained in “The Queen’s Daughters in India,” from which the above and the following quotations are taken :—

“The orders specified were faithfully carried out under the supervision of commanding officers, and were to this effect. The commanding officer gave orders to his quartermaster to arrange with the regimental official to take two policemen (without uniform) and go into the villages and take from the houses of these poor people their daughters from fourteen years upward, about 12 to 15 girls at a time. They were to select the best looking. Next morning they were all put in front of the colonel and quartermaster. The former made his selection of the number required. They were then presented with a pass or licence and then made over to the old woman in charge of this house of vice under the Government. The women already there who were found diseased had their passes taken away from them and were then removed by the police out of the cantonment and these fresh, innocent girls put in their places—to go the same way home.”

In conclusion it only needs to be pointed out that this particular expression of the higher Christian morality is not the monopoly of Great Britain.


(Socialist Standard, February 1927)

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