REFORMERS, MODERNIZATION AND REFORM EFFORTS IN CHINA IN THE LATE 1800s

CHINA IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY

20080217-first shanghai train 1876 tale of shnag.jpg
First Shanghai train
Until 1850 or so, most Chinese believed the world was flat. "By the end of the 19th century the pressure from the world of ideas," wrote Yale history professor Jonathan Spence in Time magazine, "had led to strident and insistent demands for new structures of justice, new realms of freedom of aesthetic endeavor and the dissemination of information, and abandonment of autocracy for either a genuinely circumscribed constitutional monarchy or popularly passed republican form of government."

In late imperial times the agricultural land in the north was worked by people who owned the land while the land in the south was owned by landlords who didn’t work the land themselves. Peasants who worked the land in the south either paid a fixed rent in crops or a fixed rent in cash or paid their landlords with a share of their harvest. It was more of commercial operation than a feudal one. In the north peasants paid high agricultural taxes that were not abolished until 2006.

The threat presented by colonialism and Western power, forced the Chinese to take a hard look at themselves and re-evaluate their system of beliefs. In many cases traditional ideas about Confucianism, the Mandate of Heaven and authority were tossed out and Western ideas of capitalism, modernism, militarism and ultimately socialism and Marxism were embraced.

Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cixi’s Luxurious Life xinhuanet.com ; Book on Cixi royalty.nu; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; Hartford Courant hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia

Foreigners in China: 19th Century Tea Trade in China Harvard Business School ; Early Chinese Emmigrants to America: Central Pacific Railroad Museum cprr.org/Museum ; Chinese Americans Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Taiping Rebellion: Taiping Rebellion.com taipingrebellion.com ; Wikipedia Taiping Rebellion article Wikipedia ; Books About Taiping Rebellion questia.com; Boxer Rebellion National Archives archives.gov/publications ; Modern History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall ; San Francisco 1900 newspaper article Library of Congress ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Cox Rebellion PhotosCaldwell Kvaran ; Eyewitness Account fordham.edu/halsall ; Sino-Japanese War.com sinojapanesewar.com ; Wikipedia article on the Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on the Opium War : Emperor of China’s War on Drugs Opioids.com ; Good Images from the Period on MIT’s Visualizing Cultures MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures and MIT’s Visualizing Cultures ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Websites on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Art cosmopolis.ch ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: 1) The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston; 2). Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Platt is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 3) God's Chinese Son by Yale's Jonathan Spence is also about the Taping Rebellion. Other Books from the period. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell (Picador, 2011); 2) China: Alive in the Bitter Sea by Fox Butterfield; 3) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 4) China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History by Charles O. Hucker; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) The Chan's Great Continent: China to Western Minds by Jonathan Spence (Norton, 1998). 7) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); 8) The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999); 9) Sea of Poppies by Amitva Ghosh (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008) is a novel set during the Opium Wars mostly in India but also in China that was shortlisted listed for the Man Booker Prize. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Reform Movements in China after the Opium Wars


China in 1875

After China's defeat in the Opium War of 1842, thinkers tried to understand what made the West so strong and how China could best respond. Debates debates about reforms took place from the mid-nineteenth into the early twentieth century, as arguments for more radical reform, including revolution, increased.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “After China's defeat in the Opium War, there was great concern about the superiority of the West and fierce debate about how to respond. In 1842 Wei Yuan (1794-1856), a scholar and adviser to the government, concluded that the West had beset China because of the West's more advanced military technology. He outlined a plan for maritime defense which included "building ships, making weapons, and learning the superior techniques of the barbarians." In the decades that followed, other scholars went further than Wei, calling not only for the purchase and eventual manufacture of Western arms but also for the establishment of translation offices and institutions where students could study Western languages and mathematics in addition to Chinese classics. This approach came to be known as "self strengthening;" its principle goal was to maintain the strong essence of Chinese civilization while adding superior technology from abroad. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Still later, scholars like Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) in 1872, argued that self-strengthening programs should be widened to include industrial ventures and transport facilities, focusing on increasing China's "wealth and power" by establishing profit-oriented ventures. The construction of modern coal mines and railroads followed. But for many reasons these projects did not succeed: many of them were not central to the state's concerns, scholars were still bound by the traditional examination system based on the Confucian classics, and growing foreign imperialism was taxing China's economy and society as much as its military.” <|>

China Begins Modernizing


Chinese cruiser Haitien

In the late 1800s China began imitating Western technology. The Chinese were especially anxious to learn the European trades of shipbuilding and gunsmithing. In the 19th century a reformist named Feng Gui-fen said: "A few barbarians should be employed and Chinese who are good in using their minds should be selected to receive instructions so that in turn they may teach many craftsman...We should use the instruments of the barbarians, but not ape the ways of the barbarians. We should use them so we can repel them."

Not everyone believed that imitating the West was the answer to China's problems. In his 1919 travelogueTravel Impressions of Europe, the Chinese traveler Liang Chi'ch'ao wrote: "We may laugh at those old folks among us who block their own road to advancement and claim we Chinese have all that is found in Western learning. But we should laugh even more at those who are drunk with Western ways and regard everything Chinese as worthless, as though we in the last several hundred years have remained primitive and have achieved nothing?"

Among the leading reformists in the late 19th century and early 20th century were Zheng Guanying, who helped China build its first series of modern industries; Wang Tao, a thinker and publisher of China’s first modern newspaper; and Liang Qichao, a key figure in the Hundred Day Reform 1898 and the constitutional movement that led to the drafting of China’s first constitution in 1908

Li Hongzhang, the Chinese foreign minister of the late 19th century, had to make various compromises on Chinese sovereignty, including cession of railway rights to Russia, which led to his being reviled by his contemporaries. A century later, Li's reputation is still controversial in China, but he is widely regarded as an original thinker who played a difficult hand with skill.

Guangxu and Attempts at Reform in China


Emperor Guangxu

Guangxu, the second to last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, is best known for his unsuccessful attempt to modernize China by instituting reforms to the system of government in 1898, the so-called Hundred Days Reform aimed to adopt a constitutional monarchy. The reforms turned out to be short-lived, just like the emperor himself.

Enlightened Qing Dynasty statesman tried to introduce Western technology and modernize China while keeping the Qing dynasty intact. Ignoring conservatives in his court, the 27-year-old Emperor Guangxu launched a reform movement called Hundred Day Reform in 1898 in which he set about abolishing institutions that had held back China's progress. As part of his modernization campaign he hoped to establish transportation networks, beef up the military, translate Western books, educate the masses and get rid of "bigoted conservatism and impractical customs."

The reforms failed when the Empress Dowager Cixi staged a palace coup and Emperor Guangxu was imprisoned in the Hall of Impregnating Vitality on an artificial island in the Forbidden City, where he studied English and international affairs but never again wielded any power. The coup took place on September 21, 1898 and was carried out by Manchu generals and members of the Manchurian elite. Once installed as the leader of China, the Empress Dowager canceled all the reforms except those involving the military.

Isabel Hilton wrote in The Guardian, “In 1898, Guangxu, who had good reason to dislike his "royal father" launched a radical reform programme under the guidance of two former imperial scholars, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, and against the resistance of the more conservative elements at court. Kang – portrayed here one-dimensionally as a scheming upstart – persuaded the emperor that Cixi was an obstacle that had to be neutralised. Cixi moved first: by September 1898, she had deposed and imprisoned Guangxu and taken the reins again herself. Those reformers who did not escape were executed. Also executed were two entirely innocent men, whose trials Cixi had stopped to prevent the emperor's role in the plot to assassinate her becoming public. [Source: Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, October 25, 2013]

Near the end of her rule, the Empress Dowager made a few feeble attempts at reform. She ended the 2000-year-old Confucian exams system in 1905, outlawed cruel punishments, improved the legal and education system and modernized railroads. But these reforms were too little, too late. Central authority began to crumble after her death in 1908.

Guangxu’s Death

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Guangxu
On November 11, 1908, the 37-year-old emperor died suddenly in the Summer Palace where he had been under house arrest since 1898, when the Empress Dowager Cixi launched a coup against him. Even though the death was officially announced to be caused by disease, it has been the subject of speculation. Even in his own day, the cause of death was disputed. The emperor's doctor's diary recorded that Guangxu had ‘spells of violent stomach ache’, with his face turning blue. Such symptoms are consistent with arsenic poisoning. Actually, three persons were suspected behind the murder. The empress, her eunuch Li Lianying, and general Yuan Shikai, who betrayed Guangxu in the last days of the reforms and directly caused their failure. [Source: Danwei.org +++]

In November 2008, study released right before the 100th anniversary of Guangxu's death, concluded that that the cause of Guangxu's death was indeed arsenic poisoning. The Beijing News reported that the tests, which took five years to carry out, showed lethal doses of arsenic present in the emperor's hair and clothes, which were retrieved from his tomb. The tested arsenic level is not only higher than normal, it is also higher than the level found in a mummified body of other people living in the emperor's own time. It was also found that the arsenic levels in the roots of Guangxu's hair were higher than at the tips, thus ruling out the possibility of chronic poisoning from long term arsenic intake from medicines. “ [Ibid] The day after Guangxu's death, his adversary and persecutor, the Empress Dowager Cixi, also died. Could it be that knowing she was in her last days, she gave the order to kill him so that he would not outlive her? Or was it general Yuan Shikai who feared that once the emperor resumed power, he would be the first one to be eradicated for treachery? Science has no answer for these questions. “ ++_

Kang Youwei and Other Early Reformers

Among the leading reformists in the late 19th century and early 20th century were Zheng Guanying, who helped China build its first series of modern industries; Wang Tao, a thinker and publisher of China’s first modern newspaper; Kang Youwei (1858-1927), the founder of the "Self Strengthening" movement in the 1860; and Liang Qichao, a key figure in the Hundred Day Reform 1898 and the constitutional movement that led to the drafting of China’s first constitution in 1908.


Kang Youwei in 1920

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Kang Youwei (1858-1927) was a scholar and official educated in both the Confucian classics and in Western history and philosophy. Typical of scholars of his generation, Kang was concerned about the weakness of the Qing and devoted himself to the problem of how to make the country rich, strong, and able to stand up to the constant pressure and challenges posed by the Western powers and Japan." [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

The Qing Emperor Guangxu was influenced by reformers like Kang Youwei, who attempted to bring about changes based on Western ideas of progress and freedom and urged the Qing court to modernize China by building railways and improving ports, factories, weapons and metal and textile factories. At the end of the 19th century, most of the railways, mines and communications lines in China had been built for foreigners for their own use. Kang was also a key player in the Hundred Days Reform. Chinese and Western historians primarily recognize Kang for his role in the political reforms of 1898---which failed---and do not pay much attention to his utopianism or have much respect for his scholarship.For a time Kang was exiled in Sweden.

Hong Kong-New York filmmaker Eric Chan, who made a 2011 film about Kang and his daughter called Datong: The Great Society , told China Beat, “If both Kang and Liang Qichao are considered the inaugurators of Chinese modernity, Kang was the last major intellectual of the classical millennia, while Liang was the first one blazing his way into the vernacular present. Since the shift turned out to be almost as major a shift as from Latin to the vernacular in Europe, Liang and the notable figures who followed him are more of a presence in Chinese modernity than Kang. Liang has been considered a figure who has “outshone” his master, no doubt partly due to this significant cultural/linguistic shift, even though Liang, “the ultimate fox” in your words, once lamented that he was not as an original thinker as his master. [Source: China Beat, December 5, 2011]

New Nationalism and the Rejection of Traditional Beliefs

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Qing China at the close of the 19th century saw the emergence of a new intellectual elite that increasingly perceived the political situation of the day as proof that the Chinese system did not work and that traditional Chinese beliefs were no longer relevant. China’s physical survival as a nation became the overriding concern of these new intellectuals, for their fear was of not only China’s cultural destruction but China’s political destruction at the hands of imperial powers. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos <|>]

In a desperate urge to strengthen China so that it could resist the ongoing imperialism of the West (and increasingly, of Japan), these Chinese intellectuals developed a new kind of nationalism defined by a dramatic rejection of traditional beliefs, which were seen to have “failed” China. Even the imperial government recognized that some degree of what was called “Western learning” was necessary if China was to survive this new crisis. In 1898, the Qing emperor Guangxu (b. 1871; reign, 1875-1908) appointed Kang Youwei (1858-1927), a leading intellectual of the time, to draft and implement a drastic reform program for the Chinese government. Kang’s program, now known as the “One Hundred Days of Reform,” only had a brief trial period before political pressure brought about a coup and reinstated the Empress Dowager, who favored a more conservative approach. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos <|>]

“Kang’s ideas for reform were not abandoned altogether, however, and wide-ranging reforms in education, the military, the economy and the government were implemented throughout the early 1900s, culminating in the elimination of the civil service examination system in 1905. But the reforms could not in the end save the Qing dynasty, which eventually collapsed in 1911. The political vacuum was filled by new anti-imperialist and nationalistic military and intellectual groups that shared an increasingly fierce anti-traditionalism -- a powerful rejection of the very traditional patterns that had guided Chinese life and beliefs during the Qing and earlier periods.” <|>

Reform Movements in China After the Sino-Japanese War


Sino-Japanese War

Robert Eno of Indian University wrote: “The political uproar that followed” the Sino-Japanese War, “unmasking of China’s weakness had led to a program of ambitious reform, adopted by a young emperor who daringly gave power to a party of radically progressive Confucians. But the leaders of that party were killed or driven into exile by a coup led by the aging Empress Dowager, and the young emperor was banished to an island prison within the imperial palace grounds in Beijing, where he awaited his eventual death by poison.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “After 1895, with the disastrous defeat of China by the Japanese over dominance in Korea and the subsequent "scramble" by foreign powers for Chinese concessions and spheres of influence, the more conciliatory and pragmatic programs of the "self strengtheners" were discredited as fears for China's survival mounted. It was in this period that Chinese nationalism developed, along with urgent appeals to the Qing court for more radical reform. The reform program designed by the scholars Kang Youwei (1858-1927), Liang Qichao (1873-1929), and Tan Sitong (1865-1898) had a brief trial in the so-called "Hundred Days of Reform" of 1898, but it was not until after the Boxer Rebellion defeat in 1900 that wide-ranging reforms in education, military, economics and government were actually implemented. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The reform program after 1901 did begin to address structural reforms, with changes in and the eventual abolition of the examination system, the establishment of more schools throughout the country which were to include Western subjects, support for student study abroad, the establishment of a new national army under a new army ministry, along with a new ministry of commerce, reform of the currency, and the promulgation of a commercial code. In spite of these changes and perhaps because of them, the dynasty collapsed in 1911. <|>

“Thinkers such as Liang Qichao and Sun Yatsen (1866-1925) had already abandoned not only the Manchu dynasty but also the imperial system and had argued for its replacement with a different form of government. Local assemblies had begun to meet in 1909 and the dynasty had worked out a timetable for creating a constitutional monarchy, with a constitution planned for 1912 and a parliament to be convened the following year. Sun went even further and called for a republican revolution. In the tumultuous years that followed, a number of visions for a new China were created by either mixing old and new, or by rejecting Chinese traditional ideas entirely. These efforts informed and fueled the May Fourth Movement, so named for the popular protests it engendered in China on May 4, 1919. Reform efforts also informed the reorganization of the Guomindang (Kuomintang, KMT), or Nationalist Party, which nominally reunified the country in 1926-28 and tried to build a modern state, and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, which saw itself as adapting Marxist ideas to Chinese realities. <|>

“Western "Usefulness" (Yong) Versus Chinese "Essence" (Ti)

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In the nineteenth century, how did the Chinese respond to being defeated by the Western powers and carved up into spheres of influence? At first they were confused and uncertain about which direction to move. Pressured not only from the outside, they were troubled also by their own explosive population growth, unpredictable economic swings and internal rebellions throughout the century. The Chinese were at first fearful of major changes, believing that they would poison their traditions if they adopted too much from the West. Before they agreed on reform, leaders in the scholar-official class had first to accept the need for change. Many of them instead held to the status quo which not only protected their position and power but also, they felt, had been the source of China's greatness in the past. Others argued that this was impossible, faced with the challenge on Western arms. Much of the 19th century, therefore, was a time of debate about whether or not to modernize, and if so, how much? [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


German fort in Tsingtao

Some Confucian scholars called for the study the "barbarian" technology in order to resist the Western pressures. Feng Guifen (Feng Kuei-fen) was such a man. He wrote the selection on "Western Learning" in the 1860s, when China was defeated a second time by the West and had unequal treaties imposed upon it. Because of widespread hostility to his ideas, he did not publish it until much later. Feng argued that China should adopt Western technology while retaining Chinese values. Others, like the writer Yan Fu (Yen Fu), felt this was impossible — that Western technology could not be borrowed without also borrowing Western science and the democratic system of government that fostered science. <|>

“The debate continued in the later half of the 19th century as China was slowly partitioned into various spheres of influence. The southeast of China was occupied by the French, the northeast by the Germans, the south by the British, the northwest by the Russians, and the north by the Japanese. Even the defeat at the hands of their own Asian neighbor, Japan, did not totally convince many that the need for reform and change was vital to China's survival. <|>

“Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese thinkers were immersed in debates about how to change China's technology while retaining traditional values and culture. Only gradually did some thinkers come to believe that just bringing in Western guns and machines was not enough. The ineffectiveness of reform efforts led them to believe that the traditional system itself was hindering both China's modernization and her ability to deal with the foreigners. <|>

“The quest for a "new China" began in the 1800s as the Chinese of that period debated how they could borrow from the West and Japan what was useful (yong) for economic development or industrialization without losing the essence (ti) of Chinese culture. In the primary sources below, two scholars present counter-arguments. Feng Guifen argues for adopting Western techniques without altering Chinese "foundations," and Yan Fu argues that this would not be enough.” <|>

Liang Qichao: China's First Democrat

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Liang Qichao (1873-1929) was a young colleague and follower of Kang Youwei (1858-1927) during the failed “100 Days Reform” of 1898. When the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) put an end to the reform, Liang narrowly escaped arrest (and certain execution). He settled into exile in Japan, where he pursued a highly influential career as a writer and publisher of journals, including the popular fortnightly Renewing the People (Xinmin congbao), published between 1902 and 1905. “The following is an excerpt from Liang’s essay, “Renewing the People.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


Orville Schell wrote in “Discos & Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform”: “Liang Qichao, who was born in 1873 in a small southern village, not far from the Portuguese colony of Macao, died in 1929 after an intellectually tumultuous life. He wrestled continuously with the problem of how to reform China without destroying what he took to be its cultural essence and without humiliating its people with cultural annihilation. Among Liang's formative political experiences was his participation in China's first student demonstration, in 1895. The Imperial government had just signed a humiliating peace treaty with Japan following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War; in response, eight thousand young Chinese scholars, who had come to Beijing to take the national civil service exams, signed a petition expressing their opposition to the treaty. They then formed a line one-third of a mile long in front of Duchayuan, the Censorate of the Qing government, in protest. Their public demonstration proclaimed for the first time that Chinese citizens had the right, indeed the obligation, to regulate those by whom they were governed. Confucius's disciple Mencius had written, "He who restrains his prince, loves his prince." But Liang belonged to the first generation of scholars who, instead of going into voluntary exile when their entreaties were rebuffed by the Imperial government, dared to organize a constituency outside of the government to apply political pressure. [Source:Orville Schell, “Discos & Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform” (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988; paperback: Anchor Doubleday, 1989). Reprinted with permission. <|> Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <<<]

“Like other forward-thinking Confucian scholars, Liang came to see "wealth and power" as the only salvation for a beleaguered China living under the threat of national extinction at the hands of Japan and the technologically advanced, rapacious Western powers. Just as intellectuals in the nineteen-eighties were debating the causes of China's backwardness and searching for ways to remedy it through "modernization," so too had Liang and his generation of reform-minded scholars sought to understand the origins of China's dynastic weakness and to suggest remedies. <<<

“A brilliant Confucian scholar, Liang came to believe that the source of Western wealth and power lay in democracy. He held that the energy generated by popular participation in the political process was what drove any dynamic society forward. But while he valued the dynamism that free, competing individuals might contribute to the building of a nation, he was vague indeed about how these Promethean, alien forces he wished to see released in China might be reconciled with the interests of the Chinese state. In fact, in optimistically Confucian fashion, he avoided entirely the problem of possible conflict by assuming that the natural order of things was harmony between rulers and the ruled. Whereas Western thinkers such as Hobbes and Rousseau (who recognized how particular interests easily come into conflict with the "general will") had immediately identified this obvious point of discord in any democratic social contract, Liang missed it completely. In holding his new convictions that individuals should and did have "rights" (quan), he never imagined that a state might become tyrannical or that its people might become rebellious." <<<

"Renewing the People” by Liang Qichao

In “Renewing the People” Liang Qichao wrote: “Since the appearance of mankind on earth, thousands of countries have existed on the earth. Of these, however, only about a hundred still occupy a place on the map of the five continents. And among these hundred.odd countries there are only four or five great powers that are strong enough to dominate the world and to conquer nature. All countries have the same sun and moon, all have mountains and rivers, and all consist of people with feet and skulls; but some countries rise while others fall, and some become strong while others are weak. [Source: “Renewing the People” By Liang Qichao, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 289-291; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Why? Some attribute it to geographical advantages. But geographically, America today is the same as America in ancient times; why then do only the Anglo.Saxons enjoy the glory? Similarly, ancient Rome was the same as Rome today; why then have the Latin people declined in fame? Some attribute it to certain heroes. But Macedonia once had Alexander, and yet today it is no longer seen; Mongolia once had Genghis Khan, and yet today it can hardly maintain its existence. Ah! I know the reason. A state is formed by the assembling of people. The relationship of a nation to its people resembles that of the body to its four limbs, five viscera muscles, veins, and corpuscles. It has never happened that the four limbs could be cut off, the five viscera wasted away, the muscles and veins injured, the corpuscles dried up, and yet the body still live. Similarly, it has never happened that a people could be foolish, timid disorganized, and confused and yet the nation still stand. Therefore, if we wish the body to live for a long time, we must understand the methods of hygiene. If we wish the nation to be secure rich, and honored, we must discuss the way for “renewing the people.”


burning houses during the bubonic plague in the 1890s

The term renewing the people does not mean that our people must give up entirely what is old in order to follow others. There are two meanings of renewing. One is to improve what is original in the people and so renew it; the other is to adopt what is originally lacking in the people and so make a new people. Without both of these, there will be no success. When a nation can stand up in the world its citizens must have a unique character. From morality and laws to customs, habits, literature, and the arts, these all possess a certain unique spirit. Then the ancestors pass them down and their descendants receive them. The group becomes unified and a nation is formed. This is truly the wellspring of nationalism. Our people have been established as a nation on the Asian continent for several thousand years, and we must have some special characteristics that are grand, noble, and perfect, and distinctly different from those of other races. We should preserve these characteristics and not let them be lost. What is called preserving, however, is not simply to let them exist and grow by themselves and then blithely say, “I am preserving them, I am preserving them.” It is like a tree: unless some new buds come out every year, its withering away may soon be expected. Or like a well: unless there is always some new spring bubbling, its exhaustion is not far away. <|>

“Is it enough merely to develop what we already have? No, it is not. The world of today is not the world of yesterday. In ancient times, we Chinese were people of villages instead of citizens. This is not because we were unable to form a citizenry but due to circumstances. Since China majestically used to be the predominant power in the East, surrounded as we were by small barbarian groups and lacking any contact with other large states, we Chinese generally considered our state to encompass the whole world. All the messages we received, all that influenced our minds, all the instructions of our sages, and all that our ancestors passed down qualified us to be individuals on our own, family members, members of localities and clans, and members of the world. But they did not qualify us to be citizens of a state. Although the qualifications of citizenship are not necessarily much superior to these other characteristics, in an age of struggle among nations for the survival of the fittest while the weak perish, if the qualities of citizens are wanting, then the nation cannot stand up independently between Heaven and earth. <|>

“If we wish to make our nation strong, we must investigate extensively the methods followed by other nations in becoming independent. We should select their superior points and appropriate them to make up for our own shortcomings. Now with regard to politics, academic learning, and technology, our critics know how to take the superior points of others to make up for our own weakness; but they do not know that the people’s virtue, the people’s wisdom, and the people’s vitality are the great basis of politics, academic learning, and techniques. If they do not take the former but adopt the latter, neglect the roots but tend the branches, it will be no different from seeing the luxuriant growth of another tree and wishing to graft its branches onto our withered trunk, or seeing the bubbling flow of another well and wishing to draw its water to fill our dry well. Thus, how to adopt and make up for what we originally lacked so that our people may be renewed should be deeply and carefully considered. <|>

“All phenomena in the world are governed by no more than two principles: the conservative and the progressive. Those who are applying these two principles are inclined either to the one or to the other. Sometimes the two arise simultaneously and conflict with each other; sometimes the two exist simultaneously and compromise with each other. No one can exist if he is inclined only to one. Where there is conflict, there must be compromise. Conflict is the forerunner of compromise. <|>

“Those who excel at making compromises become a great people, such as the Anglo. Saxons, who, in a manner of speaking, make their way with one foot on the ground and one foot going forward, or who hold fast to things with one hand and pick up things with another. Thus, what I mean by “renewing the people” does not refer to those who are infatuated with Western ways and, in order to keep company with others, throw away our morals, learning and customs of several thousand years’ standing. Nor does it refer to those who stick to old paper and say that merely embracing the morals, learning, and customs of these thousands of years will be sufficient to enable us to stand upon the great earth.” <|>

Self-Strengthening Movement

The rude realities of the Opium War, the unequal treaties, and the mid-century mass uprisings caused Qing courtiers and officials to recognize the need to strengthen China. Chinese scholars and officials had been examining and translating "Western learning" since the 1840s. Under the direction of modern-thinking Han officials, Western science and languages were studied, special schools were opened in the larger cities, and arsenals, factories, and shipyards were established according to Western models. Western diplomatic practices were adopted by the Qing, and students were sent abroad by the government and on individual or community initiative in the hope that national regeneration could be achieved through the application of Western practical methods. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

Amid these activities came an attempt to arrest the dynastic decline by restoring the traditional order. The effort was known as the Tongzhi Restoration, named for the Tongzhi Emperor (1862-74), and was engineered by the young emperor's mother, the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908). The restoration, however, which applied "practical knowledge" while reaffirming the old mentality, was not a genuine program of modernization.*

“The effort to graft Western technology onto Chinese institutions became known as the Self-Strengthening Movement. The movement was championed by scholar-generals like Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) and Zuo Zongtang (1812-85), who had fought with the government forces in the Taiping Rebellion. From 1861 to 1894, leaders such as these, now turned scholar-administrators, were responsible for establishing modern institutions, developing basic industries, communications, and transportation, and modernizing the military. But despite its leaders' accomplishments, the SelfStrengthening Movement did not recognize the significance of the political institutions and social theories that had fostered Western advances and innovations. This weakness led to the movement's failure. Modernization during this period would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. The bureaucracy was still deeply influenced by Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. Chinese society was still reeling from the ravages of the Taiping and other rebellions, and foreign encroachments continued to threaten the integrity of China. *

Recently, the Hundred Days was evoked by “Charter 08" as a shattering event for an abortive Chinese modernity, owing to which I’d argue that the Hundred Days was the original, archetypal event of a fierce intellectual contest and a bloody conflict preceding Tiananmen 89---a traumatic experience for Liu Xiaobo’s generation.

Sun Yatsen’s "Three People's Principles"


Sun Yat-sen

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “By 1900 the leading revolutionary in China was Sun Yatsen (1866-1925), a man very different from previous Chinese reformers. Born to a peasant family in the Guangzhou region, Sun was educated in missionary schools in Hawaii and Hong Kong and developed a world view as much Western as Confucian. In 1894 he founded his first revolutionary organization, and by 1905 he was made head of the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui) in Japan by representatives from Chinese secret societies, overseas Chinese groups, and Chinese students abroad. After sixteen years of traveling, planning, writing and organizing, his dreams were realized when the revolution of 1911 led to the end of the Qing dynasty. He gave up the presidency in favor of General Yuan Shikai, whose death in 1916 led to an era of local warlord rule. Sun died in 1925. His "three principles of revolution" were first articulated for the Revolutionary League and later formed the foundation for the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party; they included: [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“1) Nationalism. Finding evidence of proto-nationalism throughout Chinese history, Sun believed that he had enlarged and modernized the principle to include opposition to foreign imperialism and a firm sense of China as an equal among the nations of the world. He also addressed the need for self-determination for China's minorities. <|>

“2) Democracy. Finding important Chinese precedents for the notion of the voice of the people, Sun introduced the new notions of a republican government and a constitution as the best way to articulate and protect people's rights. Sun advocated popular elections, initiative, recall and referendum, but he felt that China was not yet ready for full democracy, requiring instead a preparatory period of political tutelage. <|>

“3) Livelihood. Sun believed in both economic egalitarianism and economic development. He sketched out a complicated plan to equalize land holdings and ensure that taxation was both widely and fairly implemented. Dedicated to industrialization but concerned about China's difficulty in securing investment capital and also about social unrest, Sun advocated nationalization of key industries as the best way to ensure both economic development and political stability. <|>

"Reforming Men's Minds Comes Before Reforming Institutions" by Chu Chengbo

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Qing scholars and officials of the late nineteenth century were very concerned with the empire’s weakness, which was there for all to see as the Qing experienced defeat at the hands of the British, the French, and, in 1895, the former tributary country of Japan. Concern with weakness led scholars and officials to offer a number of different analyses of the causes of weakness and to propose a variety of actions meant to address those problems. [Source:Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Chu Chengbo, an imperial official, submitted the following memorial — entitled “Reforming Men's Minds Comes Before Reforming Institutions” — to the Guangxu emperor in the wake of Japan’s defeat of China in 1895 in the Sino-Japanese War: “In the present world our trouble is not that we lack good institutions but that we lack upright minds. If we seek to reform institutions, we must first reform men’s minds. Unless all men of ability assist each other, good laws become mere paper documents; unless those who supervise them are fair and enlightened, the venal will end up occupying the places of the worthy. At the beginning of the Tongzhi reign (1862-1874), Zeng Guofan, Zuo Zongtang, Shen Baozhen, Li Hongzhang, and others, because the danger from abroad was becoming daily more serious, strongly emphasized Western learning. In order to effect large-scale manufacture, they built shipyards and machine factories; in order to protect our commercial rights, they organized the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company and cotton mills; in order to educate persons of talent, they founded the Tongwen College and other language schools; in order to strengthen training, they established naval and military academies. Countless other enterprises were inaugurated, and an annual expenditure amounting to millions was incurred. Truly no effort was spared in the attempt to establish new institutions after the pattern of the West. [Source: Excerpts from “Reforming Men's Minds Comes Before Reforming Institutions” by Chu Chengbo, a 1895 memorial to Qing emperor Guanxu (1871-1908, r. 1875-1908) “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 275-276; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“When these enterprises were first undertaken, the regulations and systems were thoroughly considered so as to attain the best. It was asserted then that although China at the outset had to imitate the superior techniques of the West, eventually she would surpass the Western countries. But [in fact] perfunctory execution of these reforms has brought us to the point now where the island barbarians [the Japanese] have suddenly invaded us, and the whole situation of the nation has deteriorated. Was it because there were no reforms or because the reforms were no good? The real mistake was that we did not secure the right men to manage the new institutions. <|>

“In some cases the authorities knew only how to indulge in empty talk; in other cases the officials succeeding those who originated the reforms gradually became lax and let the projects drop. Generally the initial effort was seldom maintained to the end; and while there was much talk, there was little action. … If the proposals had been carried out gradually and persistently China would have long ago become invincible. But these far.reaching plans failed because we only put up an ostentatious façade behind which were concealed the avarice and selfishness [of the officials]. <|>

“In order to create a new impression in the country and to stimulate the lax morale of the people, it is necessary to distinguish between meritorious and unworthy men and to order rewards and punishments accordingly. … If this fundamental remedy is adopted, the raising of funds will bring in abundant revenues, and the training of troops will result in a strong army. Institutions that are good will achieve results day by day, while institutions that are not so good can be changed to bring out their maximum usefulness. Otherwise, profit.seeking opportunists will vie with each other in proposing novel theories … and there will be no limit to their evil doings. <|>

“As to the present institutions and laws, although in name they adhere to past formulations “respectfully observed,” in fact they have lost the essence of their original meaning. If we cling to the vestiges of the past, it will be conforming to externals while departing from the spirit. But if we get at the root, a single change can lead to complete fulfillment of the Way. … We should, therefore, make the necessary adjustments in accordance with the needs of the time. If we secure the right persons, all things can be transformed without a trace; but if we do not obtain the right persons, laws and institutions will only serve the nefarious designs of the wicked.” <|>

“Comprehensive Consideration of the Whole Situation” by Kang Youwei


Kang Youwei

On January 29, 1898, Kang Youwei submitted this memorial entitled “Comprehensive Consideration of the Whole Situation” to the Guangxu emperor (1871-1908, r. 1875-1908). A few months later, the Guangxu emperor put Kang in charge of implementing a program of government reform. The project lasted only 100 days before court factions opposed to Kang inspired the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) to oust Kang and his colleagues (many of whom were executed) and to put the Guangxu emperor under what amounted to house arrest for the rest of his life. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

In the memorial Kang Youwei wrote: “A survey of all states in the world will show that those states that undertook reforms became strong while those states that clung to the past perished. The consequences of clinging to the past and the effects of opening up new ways are thus obvious. If Your Majesty, with your discerning brilliance, observes the trends in other countries, you will see that if we can change we can preserve ourselves; but if we cannot change, we shall perish. Indeed, if we can make a complete change, we shall become strong, but if we only make limited changes, we shall still perish. If Your Majesty and his ministers investigate the source of the disease, you will know that this is the right prescription. [Source: from “Comprehensive Consideration of the Whole Situation” by Kang Youwei, a 1898 memorial to Qing emperor Guanxu (1871-1908, r. 1875-1908) from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 269-270; [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Our present trouble lies in our clinging to old institutions without knowing how to change. In an age of competition between states, to put into effect methods appropriate to an era of universal unification and laissez.faire is like wearing heavy furs in summer or riding a high carriage across a river. This can only result in having a fever or getting oneself drowned. It is a principle of things that the new is strong but the old weak; that new things are fresh but old things rotten; that new things are active but old things static. If the institutions are old, defects will develop. Therefore there are no institutions that should remain unchanged for a hundred years. Moreover, our present institutions are but unworthy vestiges of the Han, Tang Yuan, and Ming dynasties; they are not even the institutions of the [Manchu] ancestors. In fact they are the products of the fancy writing and corrupt dealing of petty officials rather than the original ideas of the ancestors. To say that they are the ancestral institutions is an insult to the ancestors. Furthermore, institutions are for the purpose of preserving one’s territories. Now that the ancestral territory cannot be preserved, what good is it to maintain the ancestral institutions? Although there is a desire to reform, yet if the national policy is not fixed and public opinion not united, it will be impossible for us to give up the old and adopt the new. The national policy is to the state just as the rudder is to the boat or the pointer is to the compass. It determines the direction of the state and shapes the public opinion of the country. <|>

“Nowadays the court has been undertaking some reforms, but the action of the emperor is obstructed by the ministers, and the recommendations of the able scholars are attacked by old-fashioned bureaucrats. If the charge is not “using barbarian ways to change China,” then it is “upsetting the ancestral institutions.” Rumors and scandals are rampant, and people fight each other like fire and water. To reform in this way is as ineffective as attempting a forward march by walking backward. It will inevitably result in failure. Your Majesty knows that under the present circumstances reforms are imperative and old institutions must be abolished. I beg Your Majesty to make up your mind and to decide on the national policy. After the fundamental policy is determined, the methods of implementation must vary according to what is primary and what is secondary, what is important and what is insignificant, what is strong and what is weak, what is urgent and what can wait. … If anything goes wrong, no success can be achieved. <|>

“After studying ancient and modern institutions, Chinese and foreign, I have found that the institutions of the sage kings and Three dynasties [of Xia, Shang, and Zhou] were excellent but that ancient times were different from today. I hope Your Majesty will daily read Mencius and follow his example of loving the people. The development of the Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties may be learned, but it should be remembered that the age of universal unification is different from that of sovereign nations. I wish Your Majesty would study Guanzi [Early book on political and economic institutions that foreshadows Legalist doctrine] and follow his idea of managing the country. As to the republican governments of the United States and France and the constitutional governments of Britain and Germany, these countries are far away and their customs are different from ours. Their changes occurred a long time ago and can no longer be traced. Consequently I beg Your Majesty to adopt the purpose of Peter the Great of Russia as our purpose and to take the Meiji Reform of Japan as the model for our reform. The time and place of Japan’s reform are not remote and her religion and customs are somewhat similar to ours. Her success is manifest; her example can be easily followed. <|>

Hundred Days' Reform and the Aftermath


Ling Heuk executed after the Hundred Days' Reform

In the 103 days from June 11 to September 21, 1898, the Qing emperor, Guangxu (1875-1908), ordered a series of reforms aimed at making sweeping social and institutional changes. This effort reflected the thinking of a group of progressive scholar-reformers who had impressed the court with the urgency of making innovations for the nation's survival. Influenced by the Japanese success with modernization, the reformers declared that China needed more than "self-strengthening" and that innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

The imperial edicts for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment, and postal services. The edicts attempted to modernize agriculture, medicine, and mining and to promote practical studies instead of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. The court also planned to send students abroad for firsthand observation and technical studies. All these changes were to be brought about under a de facto constitutional monarchy. *

Opposition to the reform was intense among the conservative ruling elite, especially the Manchus, who, in condemning the announced reform as too radical, proposed instead a more moderate and gradualist course of change. Supported by ultraconservatives and with the tacit support of the political opportunist Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), Empress Dowager Ci Xi engineered a coup d'etat on September 21, 1898, forcing the young reform-minded Guangxu into seclusion. Ci Xi took over the government as regent. The Hundred Days' Reform ended with the rescindment of the new edicts and the execution of six of the reform's chief advocates. The two principal leaders, Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929), fled abroad to found the Baohuang Hui (Protect the Emperor Society) and to work, unsuccessfully, for a constitutional monarchy in China. *

The conservatives then gave clandestine backing to the antiforeign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies known as Yihetuan (Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, Righteousness and Harmony Boxers). In 1900 Boxer bands spread over the north China countryside, burning missionary facilities and killing Chinese Christians. Finally, in June 1900, the Boxers besieged the foreign concessions in Beijing and Tianjin, an action that provoked an allied relief expedition by the offended nations. The Qing declared war against the invaders, who easily crushed their opposition and occupied north China. Under the Protocol of 1901, the court was made to consent to the execution of ten high officials and the punishment of hundreds of others, expansion of the Legation Quarter, payment of war reparations, stationing of foreign troops in China, and razing of some Chinese fortifications.*

Imperial Reform Edict Issued After the Boxer Rebellion

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In the wake of the Boxer Uprising (1899-1901) and the catastrophic foreign intervention that that movement precipitated, the imperial government reconsidered the need for fundamental reforms. Government reform had already been attempted, and rejected, in 1898 when Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and his colleagues temporarily ran the imperial government, with the support of the Guangxu Emperor (1871-1908, r.1875-1908), until the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) ousted them. A mere three years later, however, the Empress Dowager issued the edict below. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


Empress Dowager Cixi

According to the “Reform Edict of the Qing Imperial Government (January 29, 1901)”: “Certain principles of morality (changjing) are immutable, whereas methods of governance (zhifa) have always been mutable. The Classic of Changes states that “when a measure has lost effective force, the time has come to change it.” And the Analects states that “the Shang and Zhou dynasties took away from and added to the regulations of their predecessors, as can readily be known.” Now, the Three Mainstays (Bonds) [ruler/minister, parent/child, and husband/ wife] and the Five Constant Virtues [humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum, wisdom, and trustworthiness] remain forever fixed and unchanging, just as the sun and the stars shine steadfastly upon the earth. Throughout the ages, successive generations have introduced new ways and abolished the obsolete. Our own august ancestors set up new systems to meet the requirements of the day. [Source: Reform Edict of the Qing Imperial Government (January 29, 1901) issued by the Empress Dowager Cixi, 1835-1908 from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 285-287; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Laws and methods (fa) become obsolete and, once obsolete, require revision in order to serve their intended purpose of strengthening the state and benefiting the people. It is well known that the new laws propounded by the Kang rebels were less reform laws (bianfa) than lawlessness (luanfa). These rebels took advantage of the court’s weakened condition to plot sedition. It was only by an appeal to the Empress Dowager to resume the reins of power that the court was saved from immediate peril and the evil rooted out in a single day. <|>

“How can anyone say that in suppressing this insurrectionary movement the Empress Dowager declined to sanction anything new? Or that in taking away from and adding to the laws of our ancestors, we advocated a complete abolition of the old? We sought to steer a middle course between the two extremes and to follow a path to good administration. Officials and the people alike must know that mother and son [the Empress Dowager and the Guangxu emperor] were activated by one and the same motive. <|>

“We have now received Her Majesty’s decree to devote ourselves fully to China’s revitalization, to suppress vigorously the use of the terms new and old, and to blend together the best of what is Chinese and what is foreign. The root of China’s weakness lies in harmful habits too firmly entrenched, in rules and regulations too minutely drawn, in the overabundance of inept and mediocre officials and in the paucity of truly outstanding ones, in petty bureaucrats who hide behind the written word and in clerks and yamen runners who use the written word as talismans to acquire personal fortunes, in the mountains of correspondence between government offices that have no relationship to reality, and in the seniority system and associated practices that block the way of men of real talent. The curse of our country (Ch. “guojia, J. kokka) lies in the one word si, or “private advantage”; the ruin of our realm lies in the one word li, or “narrow precedent.” Those who have studied Western methods up to now have confined themselves to the spoken and written languages and to weapons and machinery. These are but surface elements of the West and have nothing to do with the essentials of Western learning. Our Chinese counterparts to the fundamental principles upon which Western wealth and power are based are the following precepts, handed down by our ancestors: “to hold high office and show generosity to others,” “to exercise liberal forbearance over subordinates,” “to speak with sincerity,” and “to carry out one’s purpose with diligence.” But China has neglected such deeper dimensions of the West and contents itself with learning a word here and a phrase there a skill here and a craft there, meanwhile hanging on to old corrupt practices of currying favor to benefit oneself. If China disregards the essentials of Western learning and merely confines its studies to surface elements that themselves are not even mastered, how can it possibly achieve wealth and power? To sum up, administrative methods and regulations must be revised and abuses eradicated. If regeneration is truly desired, there must be quiet and reasoned deliberation. <|>

“We therefore call upon the members of the Grand Council, the Grand Secretaries, the Six Boards and Nine Ministries, our ministers abroad, and the governors.general and governors of the provinces to reflect carefully on our present sad state of affairs and to scrutinize Chinese and Western governmental systems with regard to all dynastic regulations, state administration, official affairs, matters related to people’s livelihood (minsheng), modern schools, systems of examination, military organization, and financial administration. Duly weigh what should be kept and what abolished, what new methods should be adopted and what old ones retained. By every available means of knowledge and observation, seek out how to renew our national strength, how to produce men of real talent, how to expand state revenues and how to revitalize the military. The first essential, even more important than devising new systems of governance (zhifa), is to secure men who govern well (zhi ren). Without new systems, the corrupted old system cannot be salvaged; without men of ability, even good systems cannot be made to succeed. … Once the appropriate reforms are introduced to clear away abuses, it will be more than ever necessary to select upright and capable men to discharge the functions of office. Everyone, high and low: take heed! The Empress Dowager and we have long pondered these matters. Now things are at a crisis point where change must occur, to transform weakness into strength. Everything depends upon how the change is effected. <|>

Legacy of Kang Youwei and the Hundred Days' Reform and the Aftermath

In the decade that followed, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the moribund Confucian-based examination, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an experiment, if half-hearted, in constitutional and parliamentary government. The suddenness and ambitiousness of the reform effort actually hindered its success. One effect, to be felt for decades to come, was the establishment of new armies, which, in turn, gave rise to warlordism. *

Hong Kong-New York filmmaker Eric Chan told China Beat, Kang Youwei’s legacy is complex. If his reform efforts failed during the 1911 Revolution, but have survived as an illusory path not taken by “China,” his speculative utopian program was realized to a fault in revolutionary China during the Great Leap Forward. Mao’s relationship with Kang, fraught with respect and rivalry, was one of the most astonishing things I uncovered during my research. Apparently, Mao found his initial calling after reading Kang’s Datongshu in 1917, when he was 24. He wrote to a friend stating Datong to be his political goal, while citing the Confucian evolutionist paradigm developed by Kang. Understandably, that has been suppressed throughout his career, probably because of his insistence on his originality, but apparently also due to an urge to hide his original calling’s Confucian underpinning in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary rat race, in both his theoretical one-upman-ship within the party, and later in his state-building rivalry with the Soviet Union. But Kang cannot be blamed for the Great Leap Forward’s barbarous atrocities by design or ignorance, because of his own leeriness of a forcible utopianism. [Source: China Beat, December 5, 2011]

Image Sources: 1) Sun Yat-sen, Ohio State University; 2) Sun Yat-sen, Columbia University; 3) Cutting queue,and 4) May 4th, Ohio State University; 5) Whampoa, Wikipedia

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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