Chinese essence and Western instrument: reformation process of China in nineteenth century
Although China was a powerful country during the Middle Age of Europe, it was quickly surpassed by Europe since the industrial revolution. After realizing it's lagging behind, many Chinese decided to learn from the West and initiated many kinds of activities. From the western technology to the ideology of the West, many concepts were introduced and tried in China but most of them ended with failure.
Being proud of Chinese own culture, most Chinese reformer refused to completely learn the operation pattern of the West. They believed that the reason for China's lagging behind was the backward in technology and idea. They tried to study and use the Western instrument and maintained "Chinese essence" as well.
In this article, I'm going to conclude and analyze the reformation process of China in nineteenth century. What's the influence caused by them? Why did they end with success/failure? What can we learn about their cases? Exploring these questions are very meaningful.
2 Formulation of "Chinese essence and Western instrument" and the Westernization Movement
In the first 20 years that China contacted with the West, the great majority of officials and scholars refused to admit they were inferior to westerners. For example, Wang Wentai's (1796–1844) "A Short Study of the English Red-haired Barbarians" also stated that Englishmen "walk like the wind on their ships but cannot stride rapidly on land, and they have difficulty flexing their legs and feet so that they cannot get up once they fall to the ground. "(Geng 2015)
Under the invasion of European powers, China entered an age of "semi-colonization". China was neither formally colonized by another country, nor did it totally escape colonization. The situation was made possible by a treaty system which was imposed and maintained not by a single country, but by all the major Western core countries. (Aiguo 2000)
In this situation, a powerful official Li Hongzhang wrote in his letter to the emperor of Qing dynasty: "Such crisis has never been seen in three thousand years." Another official, Zhang Zhidong, who shared the same political view with him raised the statement "use western instrument to support and use Chinese essence to maintain the country". (Zhang 1898) And scholar Wei Yuan raised that "we should tackle foreigners with foreign things and negotiate peace with the foreigners through the use of foreign methods". (Geng 2015)
Moreover, a famous scholar Feng Guifang proposed at that time that "China had always been known as a great country unrivalled in the world regarding natural, geographical and material factors, but its shameful submission to the Four Powers is not because it is inferior regarding natural, geographical and material factors, but because its people are indeed inferior."(Geng 2015)
Those officials raised two major goals: ziqiang (self-strengthening) and qiufu (pursuit of wealth). It had become clear to everyone by this time that China was no longer the 'Middle Kingdom' as they used to think.
At first, few officials recognized that the problem was the lack of industrialization. In fact, even after 1840, there was a long period that not many things offered by the West were admired by the Chinese. Most of Chinese thought these inventions were just "strange and frivolous tools".
However, every Chinese official found they were backward than the West in one area: weapons. This was the major lesson the Qing government learned from its wars with the West. For this, they had to make some changes.
The method to improve the military force and intensify their weapon did not merely come from the failure with the foreign powers. From the end of eighteenth century to the beginning of nineteenth century, China faced with serious threats not only from the outside, but also faced with serious challenges from rebellion within. Domestic rebellions kept shocking the dynasty. The Qing government was quite willing to strengthen itself with foreign weapons in order to beat domestic rebellion. Therefore, immediately after a treaty reached with the invaders of English and French, the Qing government proposed to them to put down the Taiping rebellion. After that, the Qing government's process mode of domestic and foreign challenges suggested that no serious ideological barriers existed if such cooperation would help maintain the rule of it. The Westernization movement had done a lot in strengthening the regime as well as strengthening China as a nation.
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Though its statement said "use the Western instruments", the Westernization movement initially focused on the military. The initial facilities, a few small workshops in arsenals, were opened in the early 1860s. Jiangnan Arsenal, the first large-scale military enterprise, was established in Shanghai in 1865. After that, a couple of military enterprises were set up in the next few years. The nascent military industry was mainly created and managed by provincial governments and financed by the state. (Aiguo 2000) After about ten years, the government's business was extended from the military to civilian industries. But the target of the government was mainly profiteering rather than industrialization.
The Westernization movement focused on the development of a military industry. But we can absolutely say, it ended up with a failure. The factories produced advanced ships and weapons, but it failed the test during the following wars with the foreign powers. The Qing's army was defeated during a French invasion in 1884 and again in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, in which the Japanese beat the Qing Northern Ocean Navy whose instruments are the most advanced among Chinese-made ships and weapons. After the Sino-Japanese War, the Westernization movement was brought to an end by the government.
Jia Mengqi concluded the failure of the Westernization movement in four reasons. First, the political system of the Qing dynasty and the obstructions of the officials; Second, China's traditional education cannot cultivate talents for reform and innovation; Third, the thought that "Chinese essence" must be maintained; Fourth, the growth of the bourgeoisie. (Jia 2018)
We can also find the reason for the failure from looking back into the development history of the West. During the early period of industrialization, England emphasized the production of cotton, which was a leading industry. And cotton production was also important during the industrialization of Japan. But for the Qing government, the development of civilian industry was just an intermediate way to 'pursue wealth' in order to make money for the military industry. Moreover, despite a small part of ruling class, the change seemed too extreme and took place too fast to them. This generated a fear of the possibility that the imitation to the West may damage the existing social order.
The reason for the failure of China and the success of Japan is not that simple. The development of the military industry should have guided China through the critical period of industrialization and brought a breakthrough. But the actual fact that happened in China is not the case. We hold a theory that the success in industrial development did bring some advantages to the China's technology. But once we want to transform the progress in technology into the right of speech among various countries. We definitely required more central support and a more comprehensive progress. (Aiguo 2015) It required a whole set of circumstances that was lacking in China, including clearly defined political orders, unity of the whole country, more deterministic and stronger leadership and more large scale resource allocation. In the Westernization Movement, government-sponsored enterprises were too small and were concentrated in a few small fields within the treaty ports. This limited their potential in fostering industrialization among the whole nation. Although there was a large amount of development caused by those enterprises, they were unable to generate enough changes to "make China great again" because of a lack of support from the people and the difficulties of market entry caused by the disturbance of some government officials who were not happy with the western instruments. The concept of "Chinese essence and Western instrument" remained the theory of only a small part of the ruling elites and was not familiar to the vast majority of the Chinese. Therefore, the industrialization of China was doomed to failure.
3 Institutional change: From Hundred Days' Reform to the decline of Qing Dynasty
After the failure of Westernization Movement, politicians and scholars were going to find some new methods. In 1898, a political reform, known as the Hundred Days' Reform, was proposed in order to generate institutional change. This reform learned a lesson from the failure of the Westernization movement: without thorough political and institutional changes, there would be no decisive economic progress. (Aiguo 2015)
On 11 June, 1898, Guangxu Emperor issued decrees that covered a wide range of subjects including politics, economics, culture and education, which marked the start of this reform. Although these decrees were progressive and will make for the development of China, they were not thoroughly implemented. On 21 September, Dowager Empress Cixi took over and Guangxu Emperor was put under house arrest, while six reformers were captured and executed. (Gao, Wei and Tian 2014)
The most important part of this reform is the reform on the imperial examinations. In the late nineteenth century, it introduced European science and mathematics as optional subjects in the 2000-year-old system of Civil Service Exams. From the invention of such system, these exams were based on the Confucian classics and they demanded decades of study of these literary classics. The content of the exams did not change for over 2000 years until their scrapping in 1905, they were gatekeeper for advancement in the Chinese state bureaucracy. (Matthews 2019) After such reform, Chinese talents of the new generation would be able to design some new inventions through his own knowledge. This will support the development of a country in the long term.
Reformers were too naïve to expect that their lofty goal could be achieved at one stroke. One of the core reformer, Kang Youwei, said, "Europe and America spent three hundred years to reach the current status. After that, Japanese spent thirty years to imitate the West and reached the current status. For China, ten years will be sufficient regarding its vast territory and massive population." Such a statement was evidently impossible. He overlooked the degree of challenge and neglected the complexity of the Chinese status. In fact, many of the policies were impossible to implement because what the reform demanded was far more than what social conditions could provide to them. (Gao, Zhang and Tian 2014)
There were pressure from institutional and political that counteracted Guangxu's efforts. Much of the imperial administration followed the pattern from the earlier Qing. A critical aspect was the procedure followed in the decision-making step. Generally, all documents addressed to the emperor were first delivered to Guangxu, who would either respond directly to them or instruct the Grand Council to review them and suggest a response to each. (Luke 2000) This caused a problem that the information that Guangxu got may not be the initial version as he was not that powerful. Although Guangxu would like to start many projects as quickly as possible, he found that many of his orders did not even spread or spread in a shortened version. As a result, his initiative was paused by the lack of coherent vision with Dowager Empress Cixi and meaningful supervision and control.
In conclusion, the reform was too radical, it will invite a great reaction from the rulers who can easily stopped it. They would at once crush it if the reform brought too much loss to them. Meanwhile, since it was too conservative to tackle the fundamental problems of the regime, it would not gain wide support from the public. In conclusion, failure was unavoidable.
From the view of Yuan Jie and Wang Pengfei, the failure for the Hundred Day's Reform can be concluded into three terms: The reformers lacked power and authority; the reform met with resistance from the die-hards; the social foundation for reform is weak. (Yuan and Wang 2018)
After the failure the Hundred Days Reform, the Qing government itself launched a countrywide reform at 1901 because of the pressure from officials of numerous local governments, which was called the Late Qing Reform.
First, in politics, reform advocated to set up system, allowed the officer to write to emperor, changed the old institutions, advocated integrity style, set up the legal system, brought out the idea to develop "the civil law, commercial law, litigation law, international law". Reform claims overhaul management and adjust bureaucratic system.
Second, in economy, the reform advocated protecting and rewarding industry and commerce, establishing agricultural and industrial institutions, and preparing budgets and final accounts. The Reform advocated and rewarded private capital to run factories. Thus, China's national capitalism obtained the preliminary development.
Third, in military, In terms of military affairs, the reform advocated eliminating the old army and training the new navy and army. The Reform eliminated the green camp and set the new army. On August 29, 1901, the Qing government ordered the country to stop the military examination.
Fourth, in education, the reform advocated abolishing the eight-part essay, changing the theory of trial and test, establishing the metropolitan university, setting up middle and primary schools in various places, advocating western learning, and encouraging to send people to study abroad. The new policy advocated the abolition of imperial examinations, the establishment of schools.
Fifth, in customs, the reform advocated abolishing the privilege of the flag-holders to be supported by the state and allowing them to earn their own living. The new policy allowed Manchurian marriage with Han people, advocated Manchurian equality with Han people, and discouraged women from binding their feet. (Wang 2016)
The Reform ended in 1911 because of Xinhai Revolution. Though the Qing government aimed at easing contradictions, it obviously failed. After the outbreak of the Xinhai revolution, all the provinces declared their independence under the encouragement of the constitutionalists. Then, Yuan Shikai, the official representative of the Han, took the opportunity to force the abdication of the emperor of the Qing dynasty, thus ending the reign of the Qing dynasty. Zhu Chenxu concluded the reasons as three parts.
First, feudal and conservative political system;
Second, the contradiction between the collective reform consciousness and enthusiasm and the disappointing policy effect;
Third, the nationalist tendency of the Manchu nobles led to the alienation of the Han bureaucrats. (Zhu 2019)
In the Late Qing Reform, the real power of reform in the government did not properly combine the reform and pushed the conservative forces and the neutral forces both to their opposite sides at the wrong time. The late Qing government issued the first constitution, the imperial outline of the constitution, in 1908. This constitution promised a parliament within a year or two, modeled on the dual monarchies of Germany and Japan. The rise of the Han bureaucracy changed the political and military pattern of the Qing court, but in order to maintain the absolute authority of the Manchu's, the Qing court excluded the Han bureaucracy from the Council and introduced the so-called royal cabinet, which led to the anger of the whole people since they felt that they were deceived.
From the historical results, these two reforms all failed. The Hundred Days Reform was defeated due to the brutal suppression of the die-hards, and the Late Qing Reform failed to save the ruling of the Wing dynasty. But after all, many measures of the two reforms partly complied with the social needs at that time. Therefore, they had their historical progressive significance. The Hundred Days Reform brought about the unprecedented enlightenment and liberation of thought. The Late Qing Reform spread many measures to develop economy, education and culture, which promoted the development of China's modernization cause.
Thus, the Hundred Days Reform and Late Qing Reform not only clearly showed the problems of late-Qing imperial rule but also raised tensions between the scholars and the rulers. The rapid growth of academia and the Press after the Sino-Japanese War raised the question of elite empowerment. The conflicts between the two classes could no longer be solved in a peaceful method.
In the first twenty years of the twentieth century, under the invasion of foreign powers, the domestic pressure became another obstacle for the country's development. While the constitutionalists counted on Qing rulers to redeem their promises about constitutionalism, the revolutionaries had no trust for their promise. Many agreed that without a new leading power, any kind of reform would end up with failure. The Xinhai Revolution, resulting in the establishment of a new political force, ended the Qing dynasty and the age of empires in China. However, the remaining force of the Qing Dynasty continued to keep active. The country was divided by several warlords who had strong military force. The new government, Republic of China, spent about two decades to unify most area of China.
But from the perspective of "keeping Chinese essence and learning from the West", the revolution can be regarded as a practice in learning the political institution.
"The national assembly was the organ of political power designed by sun yat-sen. Sun yat-sen believed that political power was to be exercised by one representative from each city in the country and by convening a national assembly to exercise direct civil rights. He pointed out that the five main government agencies are directly responsible to the national assembly. In the outline of the founding of the People's Republic, he said that sovereignty lay with the national assembly, which had the right to vote and recall government officials, to create and review laws." (He 2013)
From the organization of the Republic of China, we can find conspicuous marks from the modern western political institution. But actually, though they made great amount of efforts, such an institution proved to be very incompatible with China's current status. Since it demanded more than the country could provide, simple imitation was too idealistic. Hence the revolutionary is regarded as overly opportunistic at that time. Moreover, over the decades, the public gradually did not believe in any kind of reform and something like that. Their view on the revolutionaries was just like on their predecessors of the Hundred Day Reform. This contributed to frustration to the revolution.
Despite various shortcomings, Xinhai Revolution removed monarchism and at least returned the power to the public to some degree. It was a starting point of new era of political and legal modernity. For that it deserves the praise as the start of democratic politics and rule of law in China. (Gao, Zhang and Tian 2015) Considering the short intervals between the Hundred Days Reform, the Late Qing Reform and the Xinhai Revolution in the junction between nineteenth and twentieth century, we can consider it together as the first trial to "modernize" China under the domestic pressure and the invasion from overseas. The Hundred Days Reform and the Late Qing Reform would like to find a way of revolutionary "reform" without sanguinary conflict.
From this view, the Xinhai Revolution can be regarded as an extension of the Reform. They both sought for a brand new political form. The difference is only at their methods to realize their goal. Xinhai Revolution, which could be seen as a radical revolution, succeeded in establishing a new political system, whose contribution to the establishment of Chinese law system was not negligible. But, to address warlords' manipulation of the constitution, it introduced the system that the country was only ruled by one party, which would cause many troubles to Chinese legal construction.
We should still admit that it was a historical highlight, which made a great progress to China's modernization. But modernization was at the beginning. After Xinhai Revolution, China welcomed several new revolutions. Although most of them didn't accomplish what they attempted at first, Chinese continued on learning from the west, a more advanced area.
4 Spiritual world: the fusion of Chinese and western thoughts in twentieth century
Great amount of deaths and sanguinary conflicts at the end of the Qing Dynasty had resulted in change in the structure of the state power but still failed to bring a new social order that fulfilled the vision of revolutionaries. The nation's internal and external troubles kept going.
Visionaries had come to realize that behind the material goods and skills of the west lie ideologies and systems that deserve serious exploration by the Chinese. In this case, some intellectuals gradually realized that they should set their goal on changing people's ideological concepts, so that every person among the country might understand his or her responsibilities and rights as a single citizen.
In short, several decades after the westernization movement, China's forward-looking classes had risen above not only the blind assumption that westerners were mere barbarians, but also the notion that the west had advanced power only in material terms. They have begun to fully understand western culture and to understand things from the perspective of diversity.
Sun once said: "Of the four hundred million citizens of China, one cannot say that many are able as yet to clearly understand the significance of republicanism. Those who do not understand and possess no such thinking oppose republicanism. However, their opposition is manifested in their minds and not necessarily in their actions. To put republican thinking in their minds and ensure that they do not oppose it, one must influence them and co-opt them by mental means." (Sun 1984)
The thorough reform must be built from the bottom of the society. Then every person could fulfill his or her duties and rights in the awareness of being his or her own master. Only thus would it be possible to set up a stable new society and system. Then came the most important culture movement among the whole modern Chinese history, the New Culture Movement.
Who first raised the concept of New Culture Movement is a meaningless problem. The movement consisted of the debate and proposal of numerous person. But the first one who caused the countrywide debate was Hu Shih.
Hu Shih had gradually noticed the need for a literary revolution through his own literary practice since his study in the USA. In the summer of 1915, he claimed for the first time that Chinese prose in the classical style "is a half-dead language" while vernacular Chinese, as a daily language, was a living language. He concluded that most articles written in that "halfdead" classical Chinese were empty since they were divorced from the realities of society and revolution in people's lives. In his theory, "verbiage takes precedence over substance". (Geng 2015)
He firstly put forward the concept of "literary revolution." During March of 1916, Hu had concluded from his study of Chinese literary history that the evolution of that history "is a history of the supersession of old literary forms by the new, a history of 'new literature' arising as the occasion demands to replace 'dead literature'." (Geng 2015)
The publication of Hu Shih very soon caused attention among other scholars. The first to respond was Qian Xuantong. In a letter in the vol. 2, no. 6 of New Youth, he praised Hu Shih's study and showed his appreciation upon Hu. In this same letter he raised the banner calling for "punitive action" against "utterly absurd and misleading contentions." After that, Liu Bannong and other professors from universities across the country successively joined the discussions on literary revolution. (Geng 2015)
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There were objections, but they did not prevent the literary revolution from becoming the dominant ideology of the day. Two months after the tide, opponents of the literary revolution, mainly conservative professors at Peking University, founded a publication which they named National Heritage, the principal figures in which were Liu Shipei, Huang Kan, and Lin Sun. (Geng 2015). Their publication folded up after only four editions, as their thinking and their articles proved to be no match for the new era.
The real opposition did not have many supporters, and their opposition is not a absolute objection. While they oppose the new culture movement, they also recognize or advocate the innovation and progress on culture. Mei guangdi and Hu Shih were good friends, but he really disagreed with what Hu Shih said and did. In his opinion, the value of Chinese culture, the profound Confucian thoughts of sages, and the advantages of old Chinese customs and systems were all destroyed by the name of Hu Shih's fake new culture. (Ma 2019) According to Mei Guangdi's understanding, the so-called new culture movement, represented by Chen Duxiu and Hu Shih, only regarded the theory of mind and self-cultivation in Cheng-Zhu's neo-Confucianism as the authentic Confucianism, and made such an authentic Confucianism bear the faults of modern China's backwardness, which was obviously wrong. According to Mei guangdi, the new culture movement's rejection of Confucius and Confucianism may be true, but it may not reject the "true" Confucianism. This judgment has similar characteristics with the so-called new Confucianism at that time. They all tried to defend Confucius and Confucianism, and the way of defense was to say that since the Han dynasty the so-called Confucius and the so-called Confucianism were false. They were all misleading from previous dynasties, so they should not only criticize Confucianism.
After the training of new literal thoughts, all followers to the new literary school were full of vitality and confidence. The debate surely brought vitality to the society of China.
Looking back to the movement itself. To talk about the concept of "New Culture" in the New Culture Movement. Chen Duxiu stated in his article "What Is the New Culture Movement About?", "To ask what the "New Culture" is, we must ask first what "culture" is. Culture stands in contrast to military and political affairs (i.e., actual political operations, not political philosophy which should be categorized as a part of culture) and in contrast to industrial development. Likewise, the "New Culture" stands in contrast to the old. Culture encompasses science, religion, morality, fine arts, literature and music." (Fang 2019)
The ultimate goal of the new culture was people's new thoughts. All debates on literature was merely a method to change people's thoughts.
To take about thoughts, we need to talk about the morality. Morality is the rule that regulates people's thought and behavior, so it penetrates into every aspect of human social life. In the process of social change, moral change is bound to occur. It would be a very long and complicated process to abandon the old morality and establish a new one. At the beginning of the Republic of China, politics and morality were in chaos.
Chen Duxiu stated that "The fault lies in its dividing people as the high-born and the lowly and in its imposing one-sided duties on the lowly. And in consequence the ruler abuses the minister, the father abuses the son, the mother-in-law abuses the daughter-in-law, the master abuses the servant, and the older one abuses the younger one. Those who perpetrate various immoralities and iniquities in society regard doing so as their natural right, while all of the victims must submit to the slave morality and may not disobey. Most of the weaker ones die nursing a bitter sense of wrong, whereas the powerful are encouraged to further acts of perversion". (Geng 2015)
The New Culture Movement praised and inspired thousands of young men and women. They gradually woke up and no longer tolerated the old tradition and moral shackles, alone to seek education or find their favorite occupation. Some left their homes to protest arranged marriages, or committed suicide because they would not obey orders or forced marriages from their families or parents. They chose to stay away from their parents and families because they could no longer bear the old family restrictions. Countless young people broke free from the shackles of their old family and religious forces and then evolved into new social powers.
Literature and society are combined to realize the symbiotic development of new literature and new thoughts. This mechanism of literary production has brought the wide dissemination of new thoughts and the vitality of new literary creation, which really brought about the development of Chinese thoughts.
5 Combination of East and West: overview on the tough decades
In the process of absorbing and learning western civilization, modern China experienced a gradual change from the simple understanding to the instrument level of learning military technology, then to the institutional level of learning western politics, law and so on, and then to the learning of western spirit and civilization. (Luo 2009)
The initial thoughts of self-improvement were represented by Gong Zizhen, Lin Zexu and Wei Yuan. They mainly studied western artifacts and being relatively shallow and restricted by traditional thoughts. Following the westernization movement of military learning and resisting foreign invasion, they developed some civilian industry. But the main of the movement was still limited to physical level, thinking that China's system of cultural relics was far better than the west, the way of learning from the west was only focusing on military and industrial instruments. They held the belief that "traditional Chinese values for the essence with modern western instruments for the body".
After that, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Tan Sitong, Yan Fu and other reformists advocated that to make China rich and powerful, we should not only learn from the west in terms of instruments, but also fundamentally change China's political system. Under the severe crisis, they called for political reform. But the reform ended due to the weakness, the mistakes and conservative attitude. The failure of the reform movement made more and more advanced scholars realized that to save the country from ruin, they must destroy the rule of the autocratic and corrupt Qing government and build a new government.
The following revolution overthrew the autocratic monarchy, but failed to fundamentally change the social structure in China. Chinese people still suffered from oppression by warlords, the landlord class, and so on. The thoughts of people still didn't achieve real development. Therefore, thoughts such as enlightenment, democracy, science was lifted by the scholars. Calling for raising the height of learning from the West to cultural level, so as to increase the national public quality and manufacture modern thoughts to deal with the challenge of western civilization. In the process of New Culture Movement, since the western powers suffered from serious domestic crisis while Russia achieved victory with the leading of Soviet movement, some Chinese scholars gradually shifted their target of learning from the capitalist civilization of Britain, France and USA to the socialist civilization of Russia. At last, the communist party of China came into being.
Thus we say, China's modern absorption of western civilization experienced a gradual and spiraling historical evolution from learning the outer shell of western civilization to learning the inner core of its civilization, from imitating the capitalist civilization of western powers to imitating the socialist civilization of Russia.
Modern China's study on western civilization was not a simple process of imitation and mechanical copying, but a process of creative transformation of modern western civilization on the basis of preserving the excellent traditional civilization, eliminating the dross and absorbing highlights, and more importantly, a process of integration of Chinese and western civilization. When carrying out the reform and reform movement, the reformists such as Kang and Liang adopted the reform strategy of "combine western culture to Confucianism". In other words, they carried forward and reformed the traditional Confucianism to serve the cause of reform while absorbing the western reform idea. In the early years of the 20th century, Wu Tingfang, an envoy of the Qing dynasty to the United States, also pointed out in his speech the traditional virtues of the Chinese people, such as love of peace, filial piety and honesty. He indicated that China will preserve these traditional virtues while importing and learning western technology and enhancing its business ties with the West. Sun yat-sen directly pointed out that China should "take the example of democracy in Europe and the United States, and at the same time assimilate the old culture of thousands of years". (Sun 1984) Even in the era of New Culture Movement when the traditional customs were hard criticized, Hu Shih held that "we cannot forget the truth that we are Chinese with yellow skin and black eyes".
With various methods, Chinese leaders at that time both held the same idea of "combining Chinese essence and Western instrument" to save China from the domestic and overseas crisis.
6 Same road towards different destination: Comparison between China and Japan in modern history
When studying the history of China, we can find that Japanese history of development was similar to Chinese history to some extent. Both countries kept their isolation before nineteenth century and was unwilling to communicate with western countries until being forced to open the door by military invasion. Both countries tried to reform but failed, which was the Westernization Movement in China in the late Qing dynasty and "screen fan industry" in Japan at the end of the same period. However, after the Meiji restoration in Japan, the development of the two countries diverged. China remained so that the colonial crisis went on while Japan had succeeded in transforming itself into a modern country.
In 1840, after China lost the Opium War, Japan felt the coming of crisis. During this period, Japanese took the proposal of "eight strategies for coastal defense", among which established some basic coastal defense construction plans. The shogunate and the early Meiji governments continued these policies after 1853.After the arrival of the black ships in 1853, the shogunate, despite its unfortunate role in history, was eager to learn from the west. Many of the institutions that have influenced Japan to this day were established during this period, such as the Japanese navy's system of long voyages. (Gu 2010)
But how did Japan finally break free from the shackles and emerge from history?
Differences took place on the political system. Japan was made up of two main parts, the shogunate and the other vassal states. The power relationship between the central government and the local government is always in a state of flowing, thus the national political environment is not stable. Although Japan is bound by prohibitions such as the lockdown order, due to the weakness of centralization, ideas at the local level are free to some extent, even open to outer thoughts.
After the ascending of Meiji emperor, the task of the first stage is to eliminate the auxiliary power, abolish the vassal system and realize a high degree of centralization. The second step is "abolish vassal and set county". This would sweep away the remaining powers of the old lords, but it would also mean greater risk for the new government. The Meiji government established and defeated the shogunate with the support of the armed forces, but "a new government without an army is far from a stable regime". After that, the system barrier of centralization was resolved from the political level. The "internal governance faction" with "Bismarck of Japan" okubo controlled the government, and its clear idea of governance was to build a new state with an iron fist, vigorously promote the three policies of enriching the country and strengthening the army, farming and developing industry, and civilization, and lead the transformation of Japan to modern times through reform. From 1873 to 1876, the major measures were: to issue the "abolition of dao order" for the gentry, so that the gentry's identity was "equal" with that of agriculture and industry; Issue jinlu bonds, "buy out" the hereditary family salary of the gentry, and allow a paper of jinlu bonds that cannot be immediately cashing to become the original capital of the bank; carry out the reform of land tax in an all-round way, abolished the ownership of land by landlords, and established the private ownership of land by "one land and one owner" and the modern agricultural tax system in the form of monetary tax payment. The implementation of the universal compulsory education of "the family without exception to learn", shifting customs so that the whole country set off the wind of "Europeanization"; establish a police system to strengthen central control over local areas. These reforms to break away from the "old habits" show that the new government is the modern school that take Europe and America as the teacher. (Yang 2019)
But for China which has a well-designed centralized system for over two thousand years, its emperors had struggled to find a way to minimize local authority so that local governments act as loyal agents of the central government. On this basis, a unique political system was formed. Such a political system indeed adapted to the development of social productivity at the ancient time and made a considerable contribution to the prosperity of ancient Chinese economy. And it had created a fairly stable political environment for China, where the power relationship between the central and local governments is always relatively fixed and determined in the principle that the central government covers all localities.
When time came to the nineteenth century, the centralization had brought about negative effects, the most significant of which was the gradual loss of the autonomy of the local government. The development of the country depended entirely on the central government. Under the autocratic rule, it almost only depended on the emperor's own abilities and opportunities. In addition, with the transformation of the imperial examination system since the Ming and Qing dynasties, the selected talents were all those who only learned the Confucian classics with few natural knowledge. Therefore, the high centralization of power and the imperial examination system to get the scholars had formed a great effect on making people ignorant. Moreover, Chinese policy of rejecting communication was strictly implemented because of its strong centralization of power, thus killing the spread of western civilization among the public in China.
From the comparison, we can see that Japan accomplish the "reborn" by completely abandoning Japanese old institution and thoughts to embrace the institution and thoughts from western countries. But for China, various reform and revolution all failed because of the fantasy of "China's are the best".
To sum up, the modernization process of Chinese society since 1840 is essentially a process from devices, institution to thoughts. However, this development process is external to Chinese society and has not caused a qualitative change in people's way of living. Although the changes in culture, spirit and social system have created a new China and improved people's material life, the way of people's existence has not changed fundamentally.
Reviewing the title of this essay, "Chinese essence and Western instrument", we may raise a question that what the Chinese essence is. In other words, what are they that the progressive people always reluctant to abandon? Among all these cases mentioned in this essay, we find that they all refused to abandon the "correct" part of Chinese traditions. But, different people will have different explanations on what are the correct parts in the Chinese traditions. For the ruler and advocator of Qing dynasty, the right part is the institution and the Confucian classics. For the revolutionaries, the national unity and culture are the "essence".
For the fighters during the New Culture Movement, the unyielding faith of unwilling to fall behind is the most important part. But when we talk about the essence of a nation and its people, any answer regarding some kinds of specific objects is ridiculous, the good characters laying in the spirit is the only thing that should not be abandoned.
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