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Reform essay
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Reform essay

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  • 1. YenningLee Period6 October6, 2010 Why Did China’s Reform Movements of the 19th Century Fail? Life inChinaduringthe late Qingdynastywasharsh and the standardsof livingwere extremely low.Faminestruckthe nationkillingatotal of an estimated9.5millionto20 million people from1850 to 1873, as a resultof the populationexplosionandvariousepisodesof natural disasters. Chinawasindire needof reformsaspolitical problems,corruptionandgeneral incompetence of governmentofficialshinderedrescueof Chinesecitizensfromtheirharshlives. The Qingdynasty’sgeneral hatredtowardsthe foreigners,alongwithitswillingnesstoagree tounequal treatiesandinability toadapttoideological change wasalso responsible forChina’sfailureto modernize anddevelopforthe goodof itsownpeople. Itisnot tobe saidthat the court of the Qing dynastystoodby idlywhiletheircitizensufferedastheydidattemptnumerousreformstoimprove the livesof the people.However,the negativeaccumulationof governmental issues,the unwillingnesstoletgoof Confucianideologiesandthe Qing’sinabilitytodeal withunequal treaties ultimatelycausedthe failure of the Chinese reforms inthe 19th century. From the beginningthe general goal of reformationinChinahadneverbeentodevelopthe nationbut“achievementof amore perfectmoral-political order”(Roberts,81). The Qingcourt had neverintendedformodernizationin Chinaandthe Self-Strengtheningpolicywasneverregardedas a national policysupportedbythe government. Anexampleof the lackof governmentsupportfrom the Qingcourt can be exhibitedwiththe initiationof producingwesternweaponsandshipsinChina duringthe Self-Strengtheningmovement.The failuretodevelopaneffective westernstyle arsenal and navywas due to the fact that the governmentdidnotprovide fundingforthe projects.These programswere highlyexpensive andthe workerswere inexperiencedhowever,withoutareadily available financial resource andproperextensive traininginthese fields,militaryexpansionproved to be a failure;artillerycreatedwere of poorqualityandthe navycreatedwasmannedby undertrainedmenwhodidnotunderstandtheirjobs(Roberts,78). The membersof the Qingcourt were mostlypre-occupiedwithretainingtheirpowerratherthanmakinga consciouseffortto developthe nation,one of the mostprominentfiguresthatexhibitthisattitude isthe Empress DowagerCixi.Overthe course of herlifetime,the Qingcourtsaw the ascensionof eitherminoror incompetentEmperorsof Chinaasa resultof EmpressCixi’sexcessivenepotism.EmpressDowager usesherinfluence tomanipulate Qingofficialsintodoing herbiddingand (Roberts,64).She was responsible forcausingrivalriesbetweenprovincial andthe central bureaucracies,anact that althoughpreservedherstatuswithinthe Qingcourthad destroyedpossibilitiesforaunifiedand cooperative centralized government. Duringthe time of the Qingrule,the onlyorganizationthathad evencome close toreceivingsupportfromthe Qingcourtwas the Zongli Yamen.However,asan office createdwiththe intentionof handlingrelationswithWesternpowers,the Zongli Yamenwas oftenhadtheiractionsand arrangementscurbedbymembersof the Qingdynasty,namelythe EmpressDowager. EmpressDowagerisbyno accounts the sole figure toexhibitthe incompetence of the Qingdynastyhowever,itwas herobviousreluctance tochange reflectedthe ideologiesand political behaviorsof Qingofficialsatthe time.
  • 2. The inability of the Chinesepeople toletgoof Confucianidealsisalsoafactor inthe failure of the reformsinChina. The Confucianschool of thought,althoughcanbe regardedasthe verysole fabricof East Asiancivilizationisaninfringementtomodernizationinaworldwhere the Westisthe greaterpower. Althoughthe Chinese wantedtoenjoythe successthatwesternershadwiththeir improvedtechnologyandgeneral standardsof living,the governmentandtoa certainextent,the people themselveswere hesitantonchangingtheircore Confucianvalues. The superstitiousQing court initiallyrefusedthe constructionof railwaysfearingthatitwouldthrow the fengshui of the nationintodisharmony (Roberts,76).Due tothislack of governmentsupport,Chinese workershad to transportcoal primitivelyand inefficiently,usinghorse-drawntramsandwatercanals.Although the importance of educationduringthe Tongzhi restorationwas emphasized,the governmentdid little tochange the curriculum since the philosophyof the reformswere rootedinConfucian traditions.The introductionof mathematicsandastronomywasrejectedfromthe language school of Beijingbecausethe grandsecretaryclaimedtheywere“of verylittle use” (Roberts, 75).There were a fewattemptsattryingto expandthe educationsystemduringthe Self-Strengthening movementhowever,suchasRongHong’sprogram that sentChinese boystostudyinAmericato learnwesternsubjectsandthe livelihoodof the west.However,afterwordsreachedQingofficial Li Hongzhangthat the studentswere becomingAmericanized bothsociallyandpolitically,the program was cancelled(Roberts, 79). Newsubjectssuchastelegraphoperation,miningandseveral foreign languageswere eventuallyintroducedinsome schoolshowevertheirimportance wasdownplayed since the educationsystemstillsurroundedthe traditional civilservice examinations. AsHistorian Mary Wrightstated,“the performance of [China] wasbrilliantbutthe final resultdismal failure..[a] constituentelementof the Confuciansystemitself”,the Confuciansuperstitionsthatthe Chinese heldonto couldnot possiblyhave letthemco-existpeacefullywiththe new foundscience and technologyof the westernworld(Roberts, 75).Moreover, the Confucianemphasisonharmonyin societycouldnothave possiblyallowedthe Chinese toadopta capitalisticeconomicbehaviorsimilar to the West. The conservative nature of the Chinese alsomade itaneasytargetfor the Westerners to take advantage of. Chinahas had a strenuousrelationshipwiththe westeversince theirinitial exposure to Christianmissionaries.The trade trendof foreignerswithChinahadeventuallydestroyedthe nation bothsociallyandeconomically. Followingthe defeatof the Chineseinthe Opiumwar,the Qingcourt had no choice butto signunequal treatieswiththe west(andJapanwiththe Treatyof Shimonoseki). From 1842 to 1901 Chinahadsigned14 treatieswithforeignpowersvaryingfromgranting extraterritorialitytopayingindemnityforthe wrongstheymayormay not have caused(Tamura, 112). These unequal treaties gave the foreignerspoweroverChinaandwere free totrade anyway theywanted.Importedforeigngoodswere oftentimeshigherqualitythanthe onesproducedlocally inChinadue to the advancementof westerntechnologyandcoupledwiththe low costtheywere available in,Chinasoonfound itslocal businessesdestroyed (Roberts,80). Thisshortage of income and poorfinancial performance fromthe Chinese asaresultof unequal treatiesmade ithardforthe governmenttoprotectitsowndomesticindustriessince consumersstrivedtofindthe bestdeals possible. China’slenience ingrantingtreatiestojustaboutanynationthat demandedforone came fromthe Qingcourt’sideathat the westernerswouldleavethem alone if theyfollowedtheir requests(Roberts,113).Althoughthe westernpowersinitialintentionswasonlytobreakChinese isolationinordertotrade withthem,the Qingcourt’s carelessnessingrantingunequaltreaties causedthe failure of China’seconomywhichwasessentialtothe reformeffort(Padmanban,349).
  • 3. The Qing dynasty’sattemptatreformstotackle the threat of westernpowersinthe midto late 19th centurywas generallyunsuccessful mostlydue tothe factthat the governmentdidlittleto supportthese reforms.WithvariousQingfiguressuchasthe EmpressDowagerCixi,the actionsof the Tongzhi restorationandSelf-strengtheningmovementwere onlysupportedtoanextentthatthe Qingofficialswouldstill be able toretaintheirpositionsinpower.The Self-Strengtheningmovement had neverbeenanational policyora clearsteptowardsmodernizationandindustrial development. While the Tongzhi restorationwasanattempttoreaffirmoldtraditionsandrevitalize the governmentratherthan modernizationandthe Chinesepeople wereafraidtodevelopnew technologiesdue toage oldConfuciansuperstitions.The unequal treatiesimposedontoChina by westerntradersalsocontributedtoeconomicstrife inthe nation andhinderedanygovernmental plansfor national development. The Qingdynasty’sreluctance tochange the nationfora better good,the local citizen’slackof moderneducationandirrational Confuciansuperstitionandthe economicdisadvantage imposeduponChinabyunequal treatiesthatcausedthe reformeffortsof the 19th centuryto fail.

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