The Age of Westernization

The End of an Empire
& the Birth of a Republic?
Defeat 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)
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 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)
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
January 1-March 10, 1912

The Three Principles of the People
Nationalism ~ Democracy ~ Livelihood


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)

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)
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)


Yuan Shikai
President of the Republic of China
December 22, 1915 - March 22, 1916

But then came ...

The May Fourth Movement

May 4, 1919

For 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.
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)


The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905
The Colonization of Korea

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.
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 of 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)