The Age of Westernization
1900-1929
Cartoon represting foreign forces as various animals slaying the Chinese "dragon"
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Picture of Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai with the words "The Chinese Republic Forever"
The End of an Empire
& the Birth of a Republic?
Map of the First Sino-Japanese WarDefeat at the hands of Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 irrevocably shattered China’s traditional sense of self-assurance, and what remained of the pre-modern Chinese world order was rapidly undermined thereafter. ... In 1898, one important official, while apparently arguing conservatively for maintaining “Chinese learning for the fundamental principles,” simultaneously also acknowledged that in a time of “drastic transformation” substantial modernizing reforms were appropriate. After 1898, even this relatively moderate approach tended to be abandoned in favor of more radical modernization. The Japanese victory in 1895 had sounded an alarm, and following the Boxer disaster in 1900, even the Qing government recognized the need for rapid reform. China had been exposed as vulnerable — a once mighty empire reduced to being the “sick man of Asia” — and in need of some fairly dramatic measures to pull itself out of the past and adjust to modern world realities. New (xin) suddenly became a highly fashionable buzzword in early twentieth-century China, beginning with the Qing Dynasty’s “new policies” and “new schools” in the first decade and reaching its climax with the “new culture” of the May Fourth Movement in the second decade of the century — epitomized by the title of its most famous journal, New Youth. (HEA, 259)
 
Map showing "Spheres of Influence" in China, followed by peasants reading Anti-foreign material by the "Boxers", followed by Empress Dowager Cixi cowering with her Advisers
 
Two "boxers" (members of the "Fists of Righteous Harmony")
 
Boxer Talisman to Protect Against Canon FireBoxer Talisman to Prevent BleedingThe Boxers United in Righteousness, as they called themselves, began to emerge as a force in northwest Shandong during 1898. ... Some Boxers believed they were invulnerable to swords and bullets in combat, and they drew on an exclectic pantheon of spirits and protectors from folk religion, popular novels, and street plays. Although they lacked a unified leadership, Boxers recruited local farmers and other workers made desperate by the disastrous floods that had been followed by droughts in Shandong; they began to call for the ending of the special privileges enjoyed by Chinese Christian converts and to attack both converts and Christian missionaries. ... [By the spring of 1900, still] without any coordinated leadership, Boxer groups began to drift into Peking and Tianjin in early June. Roaming the streets, dressed in motley uniforms of red, black, or yellow turbans and red leggings, and with white charms on their wrists, they harried — and sometimes killed — Chinese converts and even those who possessed foreign objects — lamps, clocks, or matches. The Boxers also killed four French and Belgian engineers and two English missionaries, ripped up railway tracks, burned the stations, and cut telegraph lines. Powerful provincial officials wavered, as did the Qing court, sometimes protecting foreigners by meeting Boxer force with force of their own, at other times seeming to condone or even approve the Boxer show of antiforeign “loyalty.” (The Search for Modern China, 222-223)
 
Empress Dowager Cixi in 1903
 
Praising the Boxers now as a loyal militia, on June 21, 1890, the empress dowager issued a “declaration of war” against the foreign powers, which stated in part:
 
The foreigners have been aggressive towards us, infringed upon our territorial integrity, trampled our people under their feet. ... They oppress our people and blaspheme our gods. The common people suffer greatly at their hands, and each one of them is vengeful. Thus it is that the brave followers of the Boxers have been burning churches and killing Christians. (SMC, 223-224)
On August 4, 1900, a foreign expeditionary force of about 20,000 troops, consisting mainly of soldiers from Japan, Russia, Britain, the United States, and France, and operating under a complex joint-command structure, left Tianjin. Boxer resistance quickly crumbled, key Qing commanders committed suicide, and the Western troops entered Peking and raised the Boxer siege on August 14. ...
 
U.S. Marines Fighting Boxers in the Foreign Legation Quarter
 
British and Japanese Troops Attack the Forbidden City
 
Allied Troops Occupying the Forbidden City
 
British Auction the Loot Taken During the Boxer Rebellion
 
[A] formal peace treaty known as the Boxer Protocol was signed in September 1901. ... [The Qing] agreed to pay an indemnity for damages to foreign life and property of 450 million taels ..., a staggering sum at a time when the entire annual Qing income was estimated at around 250 million taels. The Chinese were to pay the indemnity in gold, on an ascending scale, with 4 percent interest charges, until the debt was amortized on December 31, 1940. With all interest factored in, total Chinese payments over the thirty-nine-year period would amount to almost 1 billion taels (precisely 982,238,150). (SMC, 224-225)
 
Signing the Boxer Protocol
 
 
Pages 4 and 5 of the Boxer Protocol with Signatures
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Portrait of Sun Yat-sen
A Path Forward?
Sun Yat-sen

Sun Yat-sen was a Cantonese peasant by birth — born, that is, far from the traditional centers of Chinese culture and power and speaking an unintelligible local southern dialect — but in 1879, he was sent to join an older brother in Hawai’i. In Hawai’i, Sun was placed in a boarding school where the language of instruction was English. Sun became fluent in English, and he also became a Christian. He completed his formal education in Hong Kong with training in Western-style medicine. Altogether, Sun spent some thirteen years as a student or protégé of Western Protestant missionaries, and until age forty-six he lived most of his life outside China. Inspired by his intimate knowledge of the modern West, Sun hoped to create a Western-style nation-state and republic in China, sometimes specifically taking the United States as his model. (HEA, 262)
 
Sun Yat-sen with members of the Tongmeng Hui
 
Sun Yat-sen organized his first revolutionary group in Hawai’i in 1894. In 1895, he attempted his first armed revolutionary uprising in Guangzhou ... but the uprising was delayed for two days because its preparations were incomplete, and during the interval, the police discovered the plot. ... From this time until the final success of the Republican Revolution in 1911, Sun spent a total of only one night in China.
       Sun spent much of his time abroad in Japan ... [but he] also spent some time in French colonial Vietnam, and he was particularly active with fund-raising in the United States and Britain. In a famous episode in 1896, Sun was kidnapped and held prisoner in the Qing legation in London. Fortunately for Sun, he was able to smuggle a message out to a British friend, who raised a clamor in the English press that forced his release. This incident catapulted Sun to a certain degree of international notoriety, but most Chinese people were probably still largely unaware of Sun and his revolutionary movement as late as the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in Tokyo, Japan, in 1905, a loose coalition of Chinese revolutionary groups was formed called the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui), with Sun Yat-sen as a central figure.
(HEA, 262-3)
 
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Woodblock print of the Battle of Hankou in the Xinhai Revolution
Map of China with a Bomb by Wuhan (Hankou)On October 9, 1911, as some revolutionaries were making bombs in the headquarters of a group called the Forward Together Society, located in the Russian concession in the cluster of three mid-Yangzi River cities collectively known as Wuhan, some ashes from a cigarette they were smoking fell and accidentally detonated one of those bombs. The police came and uncovered a list of members in the rubble and immediately arrested dozens. These revolutionaries were executed early the very next day, October 10, which precipitated an unplanned mutiny in the local New Army garrison. The mutinous troops seized control of the arsenal, the Manchu governor-general fled, and on October 11, the president of the local provincial assembly met with the rebels and declared his support. This was the beginning of the Republican, or Nationalist, Revolution in China. (HEA, 263)
 
Sun Yat-sen, Provisional President of the Republic of China, with members of his government
Sun Yat-sen
Provisional President of the Republic of China
January 1-March 10, 1912

 
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Sun Yat-sen's "Three Principles of the People"
The Three Principles of the People
Nationalism ~ Democracy ~ Livelihood

 
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What is the standing of our nation in the world? In comparison with other nations we have the greatest population and the oldest culture, of four thousand years’ duration. We ought to be advancing in line with the nations of Europe and America. But the Chinese people have only family and clan groups; there is no national spirit. ... We are the poorest and weakest state in the world, occupying the lowest position in international affairs; the rest of mankind is the carving knife and the serving dish, while we are the fish and the meat. Our position is now extremely perilous. (China: Its History and Culture, 178)
 
Chinese men getting their "queues" (ponytails) cut, ending their subjugation to the Manchus
 
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Chinese stamps with Sun Yat-sen and Abraham Lincoln
If we now want to combine the best from China and the best from other countries and guard against all kinds of abuse in the future, we must take the three Western governmental powers — the executive, legislative and judicial; add to them the old Chinese powers of examination and censorship and make a finished wall, a quintuple-power government. Such a government will be the most complete and the finest in the world, and a state with such a government will indeed be of the people, by the people and for the people. (China: Its History and Culture, 178)
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Nationalist flag with a touch of socialism/communism
 
What are the real conditions among Chinese farmers? Although China does not have great landowners, yet nine out of ten farmers do not own their own fields. Most of the farming land is in the possession of landlords who do not do the cultivating themselves. ... We must immediately use government and law to remedy this grave situation. Unless we can solve the agrarian problem, there will be no solution for the livelihood problem. Of the food produced in the fields, sixty percent, according to our latest rural surveys, goes to the landlord, while only forty percent goes to the farmer. If this unjust state of affairs continues, when the farmers become intelligent, who will still be willing to toil and suffer in the fields? ... If we apply the People’s Livelihood principle we must make the aim of food production not profit but the provision of sustenance for all the people. ... The fundamental difference, then, between the Principle of Livelihood and capitalism is this: capitalism makes profit its sole aim, while the Principle of Livelihood makes the nurture of the people its aim. With such a noble principle we can destroy the old, evil capitalistic system. (China: Its History and Culture, 178-9)
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"Was this a good plan?"
 
Bart Simpson with a "therapy" pig running the controls of a nuclear power plant with the words "What could possibly go wrong?"
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Portrait of Yuan Shikai
Yuan Shikai
President of the Republic of China, February 14, 1912-December 21, 1915
Emperor of China, December 22, 1915 - March 22, 1916

 
Yuan Shikai's Imperial Emblem
 
Map of the Warlord Era, c. 1925
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But then came ...
Poster of the May Fourth Movement

The May Fourth Movement
May 4, 1919

Chinese students burning Japanese goods to boycott the Treaty of Versailles
Baihua: Vernacular Chinese Writing

Portrait of Lu XunFor many, the revolution of 1911 brought a sweeping repudiation of the entire old order. The most famous statement of this almost complete reversal of attitudes may be a passage in an experimental short story — one of the first to be published in the new vernacular — called “A Madman’s Diary,” written in 1918 by modern China’s most widely admired man of letters, Lu Xun (1881-1936). The main character in this story begins reading China’s histories, only to find that “my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: ‘Virtue and Morality’ [i.e., traditional Confucian values]. Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words — ‘Eat people.’” That is, unlike the dynamic modern West, China’s premodern history had no progress, and all the lofty rhetoric about Confucian virtue merely concealed the hidden reality of metaphorical cannibalism and exploitation.
 
The "Madman" reading the words "eat people" in the Confucian Classics
 
What suddenly now appeared to be the “bad customs” of old China were denounced, including such things as foot binding, opium addiction, arranged marriages, the sale of female bondservants, uncleanliness, spitting in public, and “superstition.” ... Confucianism itself, moreover, now seemed to be the biggest obstacle to modernization of all. The idea of progress rendered antiquity obsolete, and tradition now seemed sweepingly discredited because it had left China so obviously weak and impoverished. ... The proven wealth and power of the West made Westernization attractive, especially to the young, urban, and educated. (HEA, 265)
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Flags of the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party (representing an Alliance)
 
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
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Chiang Kai-shek on the cover of Time Magazine
 
Map of the 1927 "Northern Expedition"
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Japanese Imperialist Flag with map of Korea
 
Woodblock print of the Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905
 
Japanese Shinto Shrine in Korea (built in 1925 with forced Korean donations)
By the early twentieth century, in the heyday of what is called the new imperialism, much of the entire world had been reduced to colonial status. The Japanese colony in Korea was exceptional, even so, because of the extremely large number of resident Japanese colonists and because of the high degree of intrusiveness of its colonial regime. By the 1930s, there was one policeman for roughly every four hundred Koreans, and the number of Japanese colonists in Korea was more than twenty times the number of French colonists in Vietnam. Japanese rule in Korea was, moreover, at first extremely ironfisted. After annexation, all the Japanese governors-general of Korea were active-duty generals in the imperial army, with one exception, who was a retired navy admiral. From 1910 to 1920, no Korean-owned newspapers were permitted, and all Korean political meetings and public assemblies were banned. Colonial economic policy also focused initially on the exploitation of raw materials and agriculture, and little development of modern business was envisioned, especially if it was not Japanese owned.
 
Photos showing Seoul and Pyongyang before and after Japanese annexation
 
Paradoxically, Japanese colonization of Korea in some ways did promote modernization and even Westernization. For example, although Korea’s nonagricultural commercial economy had been notably less developed than either China’s or Japan’s in the nineteenth century, by the end of the colonial period in 1945 Korea was more thoroughly industrialized than any other part of East Asia except for Japan itself. Modern Western-style consumer culture also arrived in Korea together with Japanese rule. The cinema, phonographic records, radio, commercial advertising, magazines, department stores, and modern Western-style fashions in clothing all made their appearance in Korea’s larger cities during the period of Japanese rule. Modernization in Korea thus followed a complicated trajectory, including simultaneous Japanese-ization, Westernization, and also the maturation of a new sense of Korean nationalism. (HEA, 275-6)
Cover of Richard E. Kim's "Lost Names"