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Hundred Days Of Reform In China History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Hundred Days of Reform (1898), which in Chinese history, was referred to an imperial attempt at renovating the Chinese state and social system. It occurred after the Chinese was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) .

After the Sino-Japanese War, many non-governmental groups sprang up across China urging reform on the Western model. This model included not only political, and economic model, but also every aspect in life. The failure of the Sino-Japanese War undoubtedly came as a shock to conservative Chinese bureaucrats and the reform was awaked.

One of these was founded by a civil service examination candidate, Kang Youwei. Kang youwei was a leader who once led a group of other candidates in the writing of a “Ten Thousand Word Memorial.”, which advocated rejection of the peace treaty and reforms of the institution. But their petition was ignored by the imperial Qing government because it had previously been confident in the superiority of their traditional ways. At the same time, another group of conservative reformers, led by Zhang Zhidong, called for the development of Western-style industrialization without the abandonment of China’s cultural heritage.

Spurred by this group, alarmed by the slow dismemberment of China by Western powers and in the wake of the Sino-Japanese War, the government began to reflect the past and consider the idea of reform seriously. This was the beginning of the Hundred Days Reform, which was undertaken by the young Emperor Guangxu and his reform-minded supporters.

Edicts of Hundred Days Reform and the Positive Influences

On June 11, 1898, the emperor acceded to one of Kang’s requests and issued his first reform decree, urging his subjects to learn useful foreign information. Faced with the national crisis, some clear-headed senior officials of the Qing court spared no effort to support the reform, and with their help, Kang Youwei’s suggestions were enacted by the Emperor. On June 16, 1898, Kang was had the first interview with the emperor Guangxu. After that, Kang, his famous disciple Liang Qichao, and other followers became trusted imperial advisers.

Here list some essential preconditions of reform: Modernizing the traditional exam system, because the traditional exam system was the root of rigid concepts and it did great harm to the whole society; Elimination of sinecures (“sinecures” refers to positions that provide little or no work but give a salary), as a result, a great sum of money can be saved at this urgent moment; Creation of a modern education system and encouragement to studying math and science instead of focusing mainly on Confucian texts, etc.; By copying western countries’ systems and change the government from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with democracy; Apply principles of capitalism to boost the economy, rapidly industrialize all of China through manufacturing, commerce, and capitalism, as the economy is the most vital foundation; Completely change the military buildup to strengthen the military in order to resist the invasion, etc.

More than 40 edicts were issued and they would have transformed every conceivable aspect of Chinese society if enacted. As a whole, the reformers declared that China needed more than “self-strengthening” and institutional and ideological change must be innovated. To some extent, the edicts were a symbol of Chinese people’s sincere hope of independence and ceaseless self-improvement.

Those edicts surely have great positive influences on Chinese society. First, the old civil service examination system based on the Chinese Classics was ordered abolished, and mass education along with a Western type curriculum was promoted, including a new system of national schools and colleges. As a result, western industry, medicine, science, commerce, and patent systems were introduced and adopted. Government administration was revamped, the law code was changed, the military was reformed, and corruption was attacked.

Was Hundred Days Reform only a Utopian Movement?

The best-known and probably most controversial work of Kang Youwei was the Da Tongshu. The title of this book literally means “The Book of Great Unity” and it derived from the name of a utopian society imagined by Confucius. In this book, Kang Youwei proposed a utopian future world: the whole country will be ruled by one central, democratic government free of political boundaries.

What’s more, Kang Youwei had desire to end the traditional Chinese family structure defines him as an early advocate of women’s independence in China. He also proposed that state-run institutions, such as womb-teaching institutions, nurseries, government-run retirement homes for the elderly and schools will finally replace the concept of “family”. The more astounding thing was that Kang also advocated the idea that homosexuality should be permitted, as presumably there are no differences in love between a man and a woman and between two men or two women.

Kang Youwei was surely one of the first advocates of Western communism in China. He saw capitalism as an inherently evil system and believed that government should establish socialist institutions to overlook the welfare of each individual. At one point he even advocated that government should adopt the methods of “communism”, although it is debated what Kang meant by this term. His work is permeated with the Confucian ideal of “ren”, or “humanity”.

The imperial edicts mentioned above for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment, and postal services. In addition, the edicts attempted to modernize agriculture, medicine, and mining and to promote practical studies instead of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. The court also planned to send students abroad for firsthand observation and technical studies. All these changes were to be brought about under a de facto constitutional monarchy.

From Kang Youwei’s works, we can see a gleam of hope but also great limitations. At that time, national crisis was the paramount issue we had to face with, so the reform to change the previous system and strengthen the country itself was supposed to be the most vitally important task. However, Kang Youwei ignored the danger close at hand but depicted a Utopia that could not be realized in a short time.

Result and Conclusions

The Hundred Days Reform attacked corruption, the army, the traditional educational system and threatened the privileged classes of traditional Chinese society. The empress dowager, Cixi, was the representative of conservative forces rallied behind. With the army, she imprisoned the emperor in his palace. As new-born Bourgeoisie in China at that time, Kang Youwei and Liang Qizchao were unable to compete with the traditional feudal classes, so they escaped to Japan. But six other young reformers kept resisting and as a result they were executed. Consequently, the Hundred Days Reform declared to an end. This was the main factor that finally led Hundred Days of Reform to failure. The failure of the Hundred Days of Reform marked the last attempt at a radical revolution by the imperial regime in China.

In the following decade, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the Imperial Examination in 1905, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an experiment in constitutional and parliamentary government. The suddenness and ambitiousness of the reform effort actually hindered its success. What’s more, the establishment of the New Army, consequently gave rise to warlordism.

However, through the overview of the history, we can see that the failure of the reform movement also gave great impetus to revolutionary forces within China. Changes within the establishment were seen to be largely hopeless, and the overthrow of the whole Qing government increasingly appeared to be the only viable way to save China. Though the reformers did not take the right measures in the political reform process, this goal and sentiment directly made contributions to the success of the Chinese Revolution in 1911, only in the following decade.

Reform is a great social system project, which requires the coordination of all aspects of the society. Actually, many revolutions in Hundred Days of Reform severely deprived the power of Empress Dowager, military secretary, departments and local governors.

As a patriotic political movement for national salvation, Hundred Days of Reform inspired the people of patriotism and national consciousness. As whole, positively, it was dramatically threatening to all levels of Chinese society. To defend the invasion and relieve national crisis, the reformers took political reforms, national salvation as the goal, hoped that China move towards independence, democracy and properity, and finally escape the aggression of imperialist powers through the reforms. Reformers attacked feudal ideas fiercely, opening the ways for the flourishing of the enlightenment, promoting the awakening of the Chinese. In a word, the Hundred Days of Reform is an event of great significance, at least, an ambitious project in the modern history of China, leaving many valuable assets in the history of Chinese civilization.

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