No wonder that foreigners criticize the Chinese, saying that their civilization is inferior and their thinking immature, that they even have no idea of liberty and no word with which to express the idea, yet at the same time criticizing the Chinese for being disunited as a sheet of loose sand. These two criticisms are ridiculously contradictory. What do foreigners mean when they say that China is a sheet of loose sand? Simply that every person does as he pleases, and has let his individual liberty extend to all phases of life; hence China is but a lot of separate sand particles. Take up a handful of sand; no matter how much there is, the particles will slip about without any tendency to cohere—that is loose sand. But if we add cement to the loose sand, it will harden into a firm body like a rock, in which the sand, however, has no freedom. When we compare sand and rock, we clearly see that rock was originally composed of particles of sand; but in the firm body of the rock the sand has lost its power to move about freely. Liberty, to put it simply, means the freedom to move about as one wishes within an organized group. Because China does not have a word to convey this idea, everyone has been at a loss to appreciate it. We have a phrase that suggests liberty—”running wild without bridle,” but that is the same thing as loose sand—excessive liberty for the individual. So foreigners who criticize us, who say on the one hand that we have no power to unite, are loose sand and free particles, and say on the other hand that we do not understand the meaning of liberty—do they not realize that it is everybody’s liberty which is making us a sheet of loose sand and that if all are united in a strong body we cannot be like loose sand ? These critics are “holding their spear against their own shield.”
From Sun Yat-Sen’s Three Principles of the People 三民主义
The Chinese people have only family and clan solidarity; they do not have national spirit…they are just a heap of loose sand…Other men are the carving knife and serving dish; we are the fish and the meat.
Sun Yat-Sen, China as a Heap of Loose Sand (1924)