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Reform essay Reform essay Document Transcript

  • Yenning Lee<br />Period 6<br />October 6, 2010<br />Why Did China’s Reform Movements of the 19th Century Fail?<br />Life in China during the late Qing dynasty was harsh and the standards of living were extremely low. Famine struck the nation killing a total of an estimated 9.5 million to 20 million people from 1850 to 1873, as a result of the population explosion and various episodes of natural disasters. China was in dire need of reforms as political problems, corruption and general incompetence of government officials hindered rescue of Chinese citizens from their harsh lives. The Qing dynasty’s general hatred towards the foreigners, along with its willingness to agree to unequal treaties and inability to adapt to ideological change was also responsible for China’s failure to modernize and develop for the good of its own people. It is not to be said that the court of the Qing dynasty stood by idly while their citizen suffered as they did attempt numerous reforms to improve the lives of the people. However, the negative accumulation of governmental issues, the unwillingness to let go of Confucian ideologies and the Qing’s inability to deal with unequal treaties ultimately caused the failure of the Chinese reforms in the 19th century. <br />From the beginning the general goal of reformation in China had never been to develop the nation but “achievement of a more perfect moral-political order” (Roberts, 81). The Qing court had never intended for modernization in China and the Self-Strengthening policy was never regarded as a national policy supported by the government. An example of the lack of government support from the Qing court can be exhibited with the initiation of producing western weapons and ships in China during the Self-Strengthening movement. The failure to develop an effective western style arsenal and navy was due to the fact that the government did not provide funding for the projects. These programs were highly expensive and the workers were inexperienced however, without a readily available financial resource and proper extensive training in these fields, military expansion proved to be a failure; artillery created were of poor quality and the navy created was manned by undertrained men who did not understand their jobs (Roberts, 78). The members of the Qing court were mostly pre-occupied with retaining their power rather than making a conscious effort to develop the nation, one of the most prominent figures that exhibit this attitude is the Empress Dowager Cixi. Over the course of her lifetime, the Qing court saw the ascension of either minor or incompetent Emperors of China as a result of Empress Cixi’s excessive nepotism. Empress Dowager uses her influence to manipulate Qing officials into doing her bidding and (Roberts, 64). She was responsible for causing rivalries between provincial and the central bureaucracies, an act that although preserved her status within the Qing court had destroyed possibilities for a unified and cooperative centralized government. During the time of the Qing rule, the only organization that had even come close to receiving support from the Qing court was the Zongli Yamen. However, as an office created with the intention of handling relations with Western powers, the Zongli Yamen was often had their actions and arrangements curbed by members of the Qing dynasty, namely the Empress Dowager. Empress Dowager is by no accounts the sole figure to exhibit the incompetence of the Qing dynasty however, it was her obvious reluctance to change reflected the ideologies and political behaviors of Qing officials at the time. <br />The inability of the Chinese people to let go of Confucian ideals is also a factor in the failure of the reforms in China. The Confucian school of thought, although can be regarded as the very sole fabric of East Asian civilization is an infringement to modernization in a world where the West is the greater power. Although the Chinese wanted to enjoy the success that westerners had with their improved technology and general standards of living, the government and to a certain extent, the people themselves were hesitant on changing their core Confucian values. The superstitious Qing court initially refused the construction of railways fearing that it would throw the fengshui of the nation into disharmony (Roberts, 76). Due to this lack of government support, Chinese workers had to transport coal primitively and inefficiently, using horse-drawn trams and water canals. Although the importance of education during the Tongzhi restoration was emphasized, the government did little to change the curriculum since the philosophy of the reforms were rooted in Confucian traditions. The introduction of mathematics and astronomy was rejected from the language school of Beijing because the grand secretary claimed they were “of very little use” (Roberts, 75). There were a few attempts at trying to expand the education system during the Self-Strengthening movement however, such as Rong Hong’s program that sent Chinese boys to study in America to learn western subjects and the livelihood of the west. However, after words reached Qing official Li Hongzhang that the students were becoming Americanized both socially and politically, the program was cancelled (Roberts, 79). New subjects such as telegraph operation, mining and several foreign languages were eventually introduced in some schools however their importance was downplayed since the education system still surrounded the traditional civil service examinations. As Historian Mary Wright stated, “the performance of [China] was brilliant but the final result dismal failure..[a] constituent element of the Confucian system itself”, the Confucian superstitions that the Chinese held on to could not possibly have let them co-exist peacefully with the new found science and technology of the western world (Roberts, 75). Moreover, the Confucian emphasis on harmony in society could not have possibly allowed the Chinese to adopt a capitalistic economic behavior similar to the West. The conservative nature of the Chinese also made it an easy target for the Westerners to take advantage of. <br />China has had a strenuous relationship with the west ever since their initial exposure to Christian missionaries. The trade trend of foreigners with China had eventually destroyed the nation both socially and economically. Following the defeat of the Chinese in the Opium war, the Qing court had no choice but to sign unequal treaties with the west (and Japan with the Treaty of Shimonoseki). From 1842 to 1901 China had signed 14 treaties with foreign powers varying from granting extraterritoriality to paying indemnity for the wrongs they may or may not have caused (Tamura, 112). These unequal treaties gave the foreigners power over China and were free to trade any way they wanted. Imported foreign goods were often times higher quality than the ones produced locally in China due to the advancement of western technology and coupled with the low cost they were available in, China soon found its local businesses destroyed (Roberts, 80). This shortage of income and poor financial performance from the Chinese as a result of unequal treaties made it hard for the government to protect its own domestic industries since consumers strived to find the best deals possible. China’s lenience in granting treaties to just about any nation that demanded for one came from the Qing court’s idea that the westerners would leave them alone if they followed their requests (Roberts, 113). Although the western powers initial intentions was only to break Chinese isolation in order to trade with them, the Qing court’s carelessness in granting unequal treaties caused the failure of China’s economy which was essential to the reform effort (Padmanban, 349). <br />The Qing dynasty’s attempt at reforms to tackle the threat of western powers in the mid to late 19th century was generally unsuccessful mostly due to the fact that the government did little to support these reforms. With various Qing figures such as the Empress Dowager Cixi, the actions of the Tongzhi restoration and Self-strengthening movement were only supported to an extent that the Qing officials would still be able to retain their positions in power. The Self-Strengthening movement had never been a national policy or a clear step towards modernization and industrial development. While the Tongzhi restoration was an attempt to reaffirm old traditions and revitalize the government rather than modernization and the Chinese people were afraid to develop new technologies due to age old Confucian superstitions. The unequal treaties imposed onto China by western traders also contributed to economic strife in the nation and hindered any governmental plans for national development. The Qing dynasty’s reluctance to change the nation for a better good, the local citizen’s lack of modern education and irrational Confucian superstition and the economic disadvantage imposed upon China by unequal treaties that caused the reform efforts of the 19th century to fail. <br />