According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ In the aftermath of Qing defeat in the Opium War (1839-1842) and the Arrow War (1856-1859), a number of Qing officials put forth and put into action proposals meant to increase the empire’s military strength by adopting Western military and industrial technology and other Western techniques. Feng Guifen (1809-1874) was one of the leaders of this effort. Feng was a classically educated scholar who had a successful career as an official in his own right, but also as an advisor to the leading Qing statesmen of the midnineteenth century. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

In "On the Adoption of Western Learning" — a discussion on Western learning and its role in the Qing empire — Feng Guifen wrote: “Today the world is 90,000 li around. There is no place boats and vehicles do not travel, or human power does not reach. … According to Westerners’ maps, there are at least one hundred countries in the world. Of the books of these hundred countries, only those from Italy from the time of the end of the Ming and from present-day England, numbering in all several tens, have been translated. Books on mathematics, mechanics, optics, light, chemistry, and others all contain the ultimate principles of understanding things. Most of this information is unavailable to people in China. I have heard that with their new methods the Westerners have found that the movements of the earth conform closely to those of the heavens. This can be of assistance in fixing the calendar. [Source: "On the Adoption of Western Learning" by Feng Guifen, 1809-1874, from “Changing China: Readings in the History of China from the Opium War to the Present,” by J. Mason Gentzler (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977), 70.71. Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“I have heard that the Westerners’ method of clearing sand from harbors is very effective. … This can be of assistance to keep the water flowing. Also, for agricultural and sericultural tools, and things required for the various crafts, they mostly use mechanical wheels, which require little energy but accomplish much. These can assist the people to earn their living. Other things beneficial to the national economy and the livelihood of the people should also be used. There are many intelligent people in China. Surely there are some who, having learned from the barbarians, can surpass them

Early 20th Century China : John Fairbank Memorial Chinese History Virtual Library offers links to sites related to modern Chinese history (Qing, Republic, PRC) and has good pictures; Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Website on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Dynasty Explained ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi; Wikipedia article Wikipedia

"Learning from the West" by Yan Fu

Yan Fu

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “As the Qing empire suffered military defeat and economic encroachment at the hands of the Western powers and Japan in the nineteenth century, Chinese scholars searched for the roots of their country’s weakness, for the keys to the power of the West and Japan, and thus for whatever actions the Qing empire and the Chinese people could take in order to make their country rich, powerful, and able to stand up to external enemies. “One way of accomplishing these goals was to learn more about Western physical and social sciences, philosophy, religion, and culture. To this end, many Chinese scholars devoted themselves to study of Western things and to the translation of Western books. Yan Fu (1854-1921) was one of the nineteenth century’s most noted translators of Western books into Chinese.

In “Learning from the West”— which addresses learning from the West in terms of two concepts from Chinese philosophy: yong (concrete techniques) and ti (the cultural foundation or context of those techniques) — Yan Fu writes: “ I think the greatest difference between China and the West, which can never be made up, is that the Chinese are fond of antiquity but neglect the present. The Westerners are struggling in the present in order to supersede the past. Chinese consider that a period of order and a period of disorder and a period of prosperity and a period of decline are the natural course of heavenly conduct of human affairs; while Westerners consider that daily progress should be endless and that what has already been prosperous will not decline and that when things are well governed, they will not be in disorder again — all of which they take as an absolute law of academic thought and political ideas.

The foundation [ti] and the use [yong] mean the same thing. The body of an ox should have the use of carrying heavy things; the body of a horse should have the use of carrying something to a distance. I have never heard that the ox is the body or the foundation, while the horse is for use. The difference between Chinese and Western knowledge is as great as that between the complexions and the eyes of the two races. We cannot force the two cultures to be the same or similar. Therefore, Chinese knowledge has its foundation and function; Western knowledge has also its foundation and function. If the two are separated, each can be independent; if the two were combined, both would perish.

"Observations on a Trip to America" by Liang Qichao

Liang Qichao

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.

In "Observations on a Trip to America" — based on his first trip to the United States and Canada, in 1903 — Liang Qichao wrote: “Uncivilized people live underground, half-civilized people live on the surface, and civilized people live above the ground. Those who live on surface usually live in one- or two-story houses. … Some houses in Beijing have entrances going down several stone steps almost as if going underground. In New York buildings of ten to twenty stories are not rare and the tallest reaches thirty-three stories. This can truly be called above the ground. But ordinary residential buildings in big cities in America also have one or two basements and so are both above and below ground.

“Everywhere in New York the eye confronts what look like pigeon coops, spiderwebs and centipedes; in fact these are houses, electric wires, and trolley cars. New York’s Central Park extends from 71st Street to 123d Street [in fact, 59th to 110th] with an area about equal to the International Settlement and French Concession in Shanghai. “Especially on days of rest it is crowded with carriages and people jostling together. The park is in the middle of the city; if it were changed into a commercial area the land would sell for three or four times the annual revenue of the Chinese government. From the Chinese point of view this may be called throwing away money on useless land and regrettable. The total park area in New York is 7,000 [Chinese] acres the largest of any city in the world; London is second with 6,500 acres. Writers on city administration all agree that for a busy metropolis not to have appropriate parks is harmful to public health and morals. Now that I have come to New York, I am convinced. One day without going to the park leaves me muddled in mind and spirit.

“Every day streetcars, elevated trains, subway trains, horse carriages, automobiles, and bicycles go clitter-clatter above and below, banging and booming to left and right, rumbling and ringing in front and behind. The mind is confused and the soul is shaken. People say that those who live in New York for a long time must have sharper eyes than ordinary people or else they would have to stand at intersections all day, not daring to take a step.

Liang Qichao on Poverty in New York

Laing Qichao as a teenager

In "Observations on a Trip to America", Liang Qichao wrote: “ New York is the most prosperous city in the world, and also the bleakest. Let me briefly describe New York’s darker side. Anti-Oriental agitators criticize the Chinese above all for their uncleanness. From what I have seen of New York the Chinese are not the dirtiest. In streets where Italians and Jews live in the summer old women and young wives, boys and girls take stools and sit outside their doors, clogging the street. Their clothing is shabby, their appearance wretched. These areas are not accessible by streetcar and even horse-drawn carriages seldom go there. Tourists are always coming to see how they live. From the outside there is building after multistoried building, but inside each building dozens of families are tenants. Over half of the apartments have no daylight or ventilation, and gas lights burn day and night. When you enter, the foul smell assaults your nose. Altogether, in New York about 230,000 people live in such conditions. [Source: "Observations on a Trip to America" by Liang Qichao, 1873-1929, translated by R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“According to statistics for 1888, on Houston and Mulberry streets (where most of the people are Italians, with some Germans, Chinese, and Jews), the death rate was 35 per thousand, and 139 per thousand for children under five. In comparison, the overall death rate for New York was 26 per thousand, so the hardship of these poor people can be imagined. These rates, it is said, are due to the lack of air and light where they live. Another statistician says there are 37,000 rented apartments in New York, in which over 1,200,000 people live. Such dwellings are not only unhealthful but also harmful to morality. According to a statistician again, of the 483 people living in one building on a certain street in New York, in one year 102 people committed crimes. So great is the influence of these conditions.

““Crimson mansions reek of wine and meat, while on the road lie frozen bones. Rich and poor but a foot apart; sorrows too hard to relate.” So goes Du Fu’s poem [Tang dynasty]. I have witnessed such things myself in New York. According to statistics of the socialists, 70 percent of the entire national wealth of America is in the hands of 200,000 rich people, and the remaining 30 percent belongs to 79,800,000 poor. Thus the rich people in America are truly rich, and this so-called wealthy class constitutes no more than one fourhundredth of the population. It can be compared with one hundred dollars being divided among 400 people, with one person getting seventy dollars and the remaining thirty dollars being divided among 399 people, each getting a little over seven cents. How strange, how bizarre! This kind of phenomenon is seen in all civilized countries, particularly in big cities, [but] New York and London are the most notorious. The unequal distribution of wealth has reached this extreme. I look at the slums of New York and think with a sigh that socialism cannot be avoided.”

Liang Qichao on Lynchings and Libraries in the U.S.

Laing's handwriting

Liang Qichao wrote in"Observations on a Trip to America": “Americans have an unofficial form of punishment known as “lynching” with which to treat blacks. Such a phenomenon is unimaginable among civilized countries. It started with a farmer named Lynch. Because he had been offended by a black, he suspended him from a tree to wait for the police officers to arrive, but the black man died before they came. So his name has been used for this ever since. Recently the common practice is burning people to death. [Source: "Observations on a Trip to America" by Liang Qichao, 1873-1929, translated by R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“Whenever a black has committed an offense a mob will be directly gathered and burn him without going through the courts. Had I only been told about this and not been to America myself I would not have believed that such cruel and inhuman acts could be performed in broad daylight in the twentieth century. During the ten months I was in America I counted no less than ten.odd accounts of this strange business in the newspapers. At first I was shocked but have become accustomed to reading about it and no longer consider it strange. Checking the statistics on it, there have been an average of 157 such private punishments each year since, 1884. Hah! When Russia killed a hundred and some score Jews, the whole world considered it savage. But I do not know how to decide which is worse, America or Russia.

“To be sure there is something despicable about the behavior of blacks. They would die nine times over without regret if they could possess a white woman’s flesh. They often rape them at night in the forest and then kill them in order to silence them. Nine out of ten lynchings are for this, and it is certainly something to be angry about. Still, why does the government allow wanton lynchings to go unpunished even though there is a judiciary? The reason is none other than preconceived opinions about race. The American Declaration of Independence says that people are all born free and equal. Are blacks alone not people? Alas, I now understand what it is that is called “civilization” these days!

“The various university libraries I have seen do not have people who retrieve books [from the stacks], but let students go and get them on their own. I was amazed. At the University of Chicago, I asked the head of the library whether or not books were lost this way. He answered that about two hundred volumes were lost every year, but hiring several people to supervise the books would cost more than this small number of books and, further, would inconvenience the students. So it is not done. In general, books are lost mostly during the two weeks before examinations because students steal them to prepare for examinations, and many of them are afterwards returned. In this can be seen the general level of public morality. Even a small thing like this is something Orientals could not come close to learning to do in a hundred years.

Liang Qichao on Chinese Flaws

Laing's calligraphy

Liang Qichao wrote in"Observations on a Trip to America": “From what has been discussed above, the weaknesses of the Chinese people can be listed as follows: “ 1. Our character is that of clansmen rather than citizens. Chinese social organization is based on family and clan as the unit rather than on the individual, what is called “regulating one’s family before ruling the country.” … In my opinion, though the power of self-government of the Aryans of the West was developed earlier, our Chinese system of local self-government was just as good. Why is it that they could form a nation-state and we could not? The answer is that what they developed was the city system of self-government, while we developed a clan system of self-government. … That Chinese can be clansmen but cannot be citizens, I came to believe more strongly after traveling in North America. [Source: "Observations on a Trip to America" by Liang Qichao, 1873-1929, translated by R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“2) We have a village mentality and not a national mentality. I heard Roosevelt’s speech to the effect that the most urgent task for the American people is to get rid of the village mentality, by which he meant people’s feelings of loyalty to their own town and state. From the point of view of history, however, America has been successful in exercising a republican form of government precisely because this local sentiment was there at the start, and so it cannot be completely faulted. But developed to excess it becomes an obstacle to nation building. … We Chinese have developed it too far. How could it be just the San Francisco Chinese? It is true everywhere at home, too.

“3. We can accept only despotism and cannot enjoy freedom. … When I look at all the societies of the world, none is so disorderly as the Chinese community in San Francisco. Why? The answer is freedom. The character of the Chinese in China is not superior to those of San Francisco, but at home they are governed by officials and restrained by fathers and elder brothers. The situation of the Chinese of Southeast Asia would seem different from those in China; but England, Holland, and France rule them harshly, ordering the breakup of assemblies of more than ten people, and taking away all freedoms. This is even more severe than inside China, and so they are docile. It is those who live in North America and Australia who enjoy the same degree of freedom under law as Westerners. In towns where there are few of them, they cannot gather into a force and their defects are not so apparent. But in San Francisco, which leads the list of the free cities with the largest group of Chinese living in the same place, we have seen what the situation is like. With such country men, would it be possible to practice the election system? … To speak frankly, I have not observed the character of Chinese at home to be superior to those in San Francisco. On the contrary, I find their level of civilization far inferior to those in San Francisco.

“Even if there are some Chinese superior to those in San Francisco, it is just a small matter of degree; their lack of qualification for enjoying freedom is just the same. Now freedom, constitutionalism, and republicanism mean government by the majority but the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people are like [those in San Francisco]. If we were to adopt a democratic system of government now, it would be nothing less than committing national suicide. Freedom, constitutionalism, and republicanism would be like hempen clothes in winter or furs in summer; it is not that they are not beautiful, they are just not suitable for us. We should not be bedazzled by empty glitter now; we should not yearn for beautiful dreams. To put it in a word, the Chinese people of today can only be governed, autocratically; they cannot enjoy freedom. I pray and yearn, I pray only that our country can have a Guanzi, a Shang Yang, a Lycurgus, a Cromwell alive today to carry out harsh rule, and with iron and fire to forge and temper our countrymen for twenty, thirty, even fifty years. After that we can give them the books of Rousseau and tell them about the deeds of Washington.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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