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A history of china and japans struggles and trials of reform

Sun Yatsen's "Three People's Principles" Introduction 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 1794-1856a 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.

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. 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.

Harvard East Asian Monographs

The construction of modern coal mines and railroads followed. But for many reasons these projects did not succeed: 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 1858-1927Liang Qichao 1873-1929and 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.

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.

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?

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 Fufelt 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.

  • Much of the 19th century, therefore, was a time of debate about whether or not to modernize, and if so, how much?
  • 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.

Feng Guifen argues for adopting Western techniques without altering Chinese "foundations," and Yan Fu argues that this would not be enough.