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
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
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
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
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
v)Civil service exams were to be changed. Sinecures were to be
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.