1898 Reform Movement.doc

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Nhung Tuyet Tran

CHINA: REFORM MOVEMENT OF 1898 a) Motives for Reform ‘Reform’ meant changing China so as to make it more fit to cope with the problems it faced. There had been a growing awareness of China’s need to reform itself since its defeats by other powers in the mid-nineteenth century. By the late nineteenth century, the case for reform was stronger than ever: China had been defeated by France in 1885; even worse, it had been defeated by Japan in 1894-95, and the subsequent ‘scramble for concessions’ raised the danger that China might be partitioned amongst the powers. Indeed, the need for China to modernize at this time would seem to have been obvious. But one must remember that this was difficult for some Chinese to accept: imitation of the West could have been seen as humiliating or immoral by some traditionalist Chinese. There were many who had vested interests in the existing system. Moreover, there was the problem of what, and how much, to reform. b) The Reformers i) By the late 1890’s there was widespread acceptance of the need for some - even if limited reform. It was this acceptance which gave the radical reformers their chance. The reformers can very broadly be split between the ‘moderates’, who wanted a measure of reform in order to preserve the existing system as far as possible, and the ‘radicals’, who wanted to change to existing Chinese system for a more western-style political system. ii) A leading ‘moderate’ reformer was Weng , the imperial tutor. He had come to believe that China could not survive without some reform, but he did not wish to profoundly change the existing system. In order to strengthen his position as a leader of moderate reform, Weng looked for younger reformers (whom, he believed, would accept his leadership). One of these younger reformers was Kang Yuwei who soon supplanted Weng. iii) Kang wanted to see a radical reform in China, moving towards a Westernized system of government and education. However, Kang found difficulty in getting his views past the bureaucracy to the throne. With the help of Weng, Kang managed to present his views to high officials and thereby, indirectly, to the Emperor. iv) The Emperor, Guangxu, became persuaded by Kang’s views. In June 1898 Kang and his supporters were given influential posts in the administration and the Emperor began to issue reform decrees. This is the period of the ‘Hundred Day Reform’. 2 c) Hundred Day Reform The ‘Hundred Days’ saw a mass of far-reaching reform: i) New schools were to be established teaching both Chinese and Western knowledge. ii) A University of Peking was to be established. iii) The army was to be re-organised. iv) A modern banking system was to be established and the economic development of China to be promoted by new institutions and colleges. v)Civil service exams were to be changed. Sinecures were to be abolished. These reforms, and many others, were very far-reaching. But they were not put into practice, except by the governor of Hunan. Most officials disliked the reforms. Moreover, before they took any action they were waiting to see what the real power behind the throne - the Empress Dowager - would do. d) End of the Reform i) The Empress Dowager, Cixi, possessed real power in the sense of retaining the loyalty of officials and military leaders. (The Empe
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