Paths to Modernization
Chinese debates on development were marked by the views of three groups. These are as follows:
- Reformers such as Kang Youwei (1858-1927) or Liang Quichao (1873-1929) tried to use traditional ideas in new ways to meet the challenges posed by the West.
- Republican revolutionaries such as Sun Yat Sen were inspired by ideas from Japan and the West.
- The Communist Party of China (CCP) wanted to end age-old inequalities and drive out the foreigners.
Modernization in China can be traced back to its first encounter with the West in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Jesuit missionaries introduced Western sciences such as astronomy and mathematics. The impact of the West gathered momentum in the nineteenth century when Britain used force to expand opium trade leading to the first Opium War (1839-42). This war undermined the ruling Qing dynasty and strengthened demands for reforms and change.
Qing reformers such as Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao realized the need to strengthen the system. They initiated policies to build a modern administrative system, a new army and an educational system. They also set up local assemblies to establish constitutional government. They could see the need to protect China from colonization.
Chinese way of life was deeply influenced by Confucianism. But it was now seen as a major barrier to new ideas and institutions. Students were sent to study in Japan, Britain and France so that they could bring new ideas. In 1905, just after the Russo-Japanese war, the centuries old Chinese examination system (similar to civil services examination) was abolished.
Establishing the Republic
Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925): He is regarded as the founder of modern China. Manchu empire was overthrown and republic was established in 1911 under Sun Yat Sen. His programme was called the Three Principles (San min chui). The principles were nationalism, democracy and socialism.
On 4 May 1919, an angry demonstration was held in Beijing to protest against the decisions of the post-war peace conference. China was the ally of the victorious side that was led by Britain. But China did not get back the territories seized from it. The protest became a movement. People demanded an attack on tradition and asked for saving China through modern science, democracy and nationalism. Their other demands were: driving out the foreigners, removal of inequalities, and reduction of poverty. They also wanted the abolition of the practice of foot-binding, equality in marriage and economic development. Country entered a period of turmoil. The Guomindang (National People’s Party) and the CCP emerged as major forces which wanted to unite the country and bring stability.
Guomindang identified the ‘four great needs’ as clothing, food, housing and transportation. After the death of Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kaishek (1887-1975) emerged as the leader of the Guomindang. He launched a military campaign to control the ‘warlords’ and to eliminate the communists. He advocated a secular and rational Confucianism. He also wanted to militarize the nation. He also prescribed certain codes of conduct for men and women.
The social base of Guomindang was in urban areas. Industrial growth was slow and limited. In cities the industrial working class numbered 500,000. But only a small fraction was employed in the modern industries. Most of the workers were petty urbanites (xiao shimin), traders and shopkeepers. Wages were low, working hours was long and working conditions were bad. With the growth of individualism, people started to raise concerns about women’s rights, family, love and romance. Spread of schools and universities helped in bringing social and cultural change. Journalism flourished which was a testimony of the changes. The Guomindang failed due to its narrow social base and limited political vision, and it sought to impose military order rather than addressing people’s problems.