The Qing’s Last Military and Institutional Reforms (1900-1911) | History of China

November 7, 2019 0 By Kody Olson


We have seen China suffer devastating rebellions
such as the Taiping rebellion. The country suffered a humiliating defeat
after the Sino-Japanese war and the Boxer Rebellion saw China suffer massive losses
at the hands of eight different nations. But yet…. The Qing dynasty was still standing after
all that had happened. The Qing embarked on a period of institutional
and social reforms.. These reforms, however, were an exemplary
case of too little, too late and the once mighty Qing dynasty would survive for just
little under a decade… -intro- The Japanese example Following the Chinese defeat after the Boxer
rebellion, the Imperial Qing court was convinced a new approach was required for its reign
to continue. This conviction bore a bit of resemblance
with the attitude after China got defeated during the second opium war in eighteen-sixty. As a result during this period, until nineteen-eleven,
many reforms proposed in eighteen-ninety-eight were now realized. Ironically, Empress dowager Cixi and her conservative
allies launched a coup against these reformers under the Kuang-hsu emperor in 1898 and deposed
of them. The irony is hopefully not lost on many. These reforms would be implemented, though
it would not be enough to save the Qing Dynasty. Consider it political quicksand: the more
the dynasty attempted to save itself, the deeper it sank. During the Boxer Rebellion several governor-generals
of provinces remained neutral towards both foreign powers, Boxers and Qing dynasty. Among these were Chang Chih-tung and Liu-K’un-i,
two of the most famous officials during that time. These men now presented three joint memorials
to Empress Dowager Cixi in which they outlined a program that was reminiscent of the 100
days’ reform. With several understatements apparent in the
texts, they still managed to point out the dire situation the Qing dynasty found itself
in and convinced Cixi of the necessity of reform. Now, China’s example when it came to modernisation
was its island neighbour, Japan. Reason for this was that the island seemed
to have discovered the answer to Western aggression and encroachment. During the Sino-Japanese war it already showcased
its superiority in military tactics and equipment. The years after, Japan agreed to treaties
with Western powers that weren’t on unequal footing like the other Asian powers had been
forced to sign. One of the most telling was the 1902 Anglo-Japanese
alliance. Japan could take a tougher stance against
Russia, with whom it had tense relations due to the Russians not only withholding Port
Arthur from the Japanese after the Sino-Japanese war, but occupying the Liaodong peninsula
themselves several years later. And, if you remember the video about the geopolitics
preceding the Sino-Japanese war, both countries were still dead-set on gaining influence in
Korea and Manchuria. Russian troops in Manchuria eventually led
to the Russo-Japanese war, if you’re interested in a more detailed background, I’ve made
two videos about that. Japan defeated Russia, and the war saw the
largest battle in the world to date. Japan’s victory impressed all Asian nations,
as it was the first time in modern times a Western power was defeated by an Asian one. In China especially, Japan became even more
of an example for reforms after 1905. At the top of the long list of reforms proposed
to Empress Dowager Cixi, was the reform of education in order to create a new, competent
elite. Abolishing the exam system Immediately after 1900 the government embarked
on a thorough reform of education. It adhered to the traditional Chinese notion
that recruiting talent is the most important element to realise good government. What’s interesting is that the Japanese
educational system became the blueprint and China attempted to attract Japanese teachers. Back in 1898 a modern imperial university
was established in Beijing (the Beida). The Qing government invested heavily in erecting
modern schools, although at its core the system remained weak. These modern schools, it was thought, would
supplant the traditional examination system in a decade. The traditional system could not be abolished
immediately, due to the scholar-officials with vested interest in it. After all, they enjoyed a natural dominance
in both urban and rural areas due to exactly that system. The goal of the modern schools was not to
educate the Chinese masses nor liberal education of the individual, it was to train and select
officials more effectively. One of the first steps to modernity was the
abolition of the traditional eight-legged essay. It had existed for nearly 5 centuries by that
point. Unfortunately, the traditional route of education
remained cheaper than the costly new modern schooling. Officials shunned the new government schools
and to top it all off, the new schools faced tough competition from Western missionary
schools established in strategic treaty ports and cities. Private enterprises also spurred up, a perfect
example are Chang Po-ling and Yen Hsiu, who opened a middle school in Tientsin, acquiring
a campus over the years, eventually growing into the Nankai University. Right, so I mentioned that Japan was an example
to China when it came to modernisation. Well, Chang Chih-tung sent two missions to
Japan in order to study its educational system and import its textbooks. Japanese professors were imported to China
as well, and Chang started to see Japan as a more favoured training ground for teachers
as opposed to Europe, it was cheaper, there obviously was a similar cultural element,
and many Western books had already been translated to Japanese. After Japan won the Russo-Japanese war, the
Chinese program for educational modernisation accelerated and the state exam system was
formally abolished that same year. This event cannot be emphasized enough: it
basically tore away the fundamental confucianist basis China was built on. Traditional education made way for a mixed
Sino-Western curriculum. Western works were translated to Chinese by,
among others, Lin Shu and Yen Fu. The latter concluded that the secret to Western
power was in Western thought. He translated Huxley, Adam Smith, John Stuart
Mill, Montesquieu and many others. It truly was a massive shift in Chinese thought
and education. Institutional and Military Reform Before 1905 several important reforms had
already been issued. First of all, the central governmental apparatus
was modernized: the ancient six-ministry organ was supplemented with several other ministries,
such as education, foreign affairs, trade, police and industry. Attempts to adequately manage government funds
met with much resistance from those that were personally benefited from the traditional
tax system (1.398). The Qing government faced much resistance
from the provincial authorities as well, as these felt their autonomy was directly threatened
by the centralization of power. A more modest attempt was made to reform Chinese
law. This reform was absolutely necessary if the
Western powers would ever want to cede their extraterritorial rights. The modernisation of the army was rather successful. Many civil servants tasked with raising troops
used Japanese knowledge, experience and officers while Chinese officers such as no other than
Chiang Kai-shek traveled to Japan in 1907 to receive advanced military education. Now, the following is an interesting story:
by 1901 there were three main types of military organization. The traditional Manchu banner forces, together
with the decentralized Chinese constabulary (the army of the Green Standard). These were… pretty much useless and backward,
compared to modern military forces. Archery, sword-brandishing and lifting a heavy
stone were criteria to be selected as a soldier. You can imagine that these ancient rituals
were of no use against a modern force. The second military force in China were regional
armies under control by Chinese civil officials. Examples are the Hunan army, built up by Tseng
Kuo-fan during the Taiping rebellion. While it had been formally disbanded, together
with Li Hung-chang’s Anhwei Army, these forces continued to exist. The soldiers were regionally recruited and
weren’t part-time farmer soldiers, but professional fighters, also referred to as ‘braves’. The umbrella term for these forces, and I’ve
named two but there were several more, was the Defense Army. There was rivalry among these forces and they
lacked standardized armament, though they had more modern western weaponry as compared
to the manchu banners. And then there was the military organization
that was created in response to Japanese aggression. In the 1880s Li Hongzhang and Chang Chih-tung
set up military academies and hired German officers to train their new Chinese force. While Chang created an army based on the German
model in Nanking, the unit developed under Yuan Shih-k’ai was more significant. We met him in Korea around twenty years ago,
as Li’s pro-consul, but he now laid the basis of the so-called ‘Peiyang clique’
and became the father of the warlords. That’s no understatement, among his early
officers at least ten of them would become military governors after the Xinhai revolution
and five became presidents or premiers of the Beijing government under the republic. His army was the most disciplined, modernized,
and best paid. After Li Hung-chang and Liu K’un-i died
in 1901 and 1902 respectively, Yuan Shih Kai was the chief army builder. As you can imagine, we will hear much more
from Yuan at a later stage.(1.395-398). Economic and social changes After the Boxer rebellion, the early stages
of a modern economy became visible. During the peace of Shimonoseki in 1895 Japan
enforced their right to establish factories at treaty ports. Thanks to the most-favoured-nations clause,
other countries could now establish their own factories in these areas as well. Foreign industrial activities, using cheap
Chinese labour, stimulated Chinese competition. After 1900 this growth expanded, though still
modest, from the treaty ports to Chinese companies more inland. Everywhere in China chambers of commerce were
established and once the ministry of trade and industry was created, this economical
development was stimulated even more. During the last decade the Qing dynasty was
in power the cleavage between the gentry and merchants and industrialists started to fade. The gentry started to focus on trading and
industrial endeavours, which was indirectly stimulated by the abolishing of the state
exam system. Meanwhile, the loyalty towards the Qing dynasty
started to weaken even more, as more Chinese gentry, but other classes as well, started
to prioritize their own regional economic fortunes over dynastic stability. Preparing a constitution The Qing government attempted to solidify
the support they enjoyed, and during this process, it became very clear the loyalty
of its citizens had been worn down. After Japan defeated Russia in 1905, constitutionalism
seemed to be the type of government that provided the basis for unity between rulers and ruled. This notion was underpinned not just due to
Japan’s constitutionalism. Npw Russia, as a result of losing the war,
made plans to move towards a parliamentary government via the Duma themselves. I have detailed Russia’s first parliament
and constitution in a separate video, if that interests you. The Qing issued representative bodies for
which Japan, once again, served as the blueprint. Empress-dowager Cixi announced in 1908 the
incremental introduction of a constitution and parliament. The transition period would be 9 years (just
like in Japan, where a parliament was promised in 1880, and it finally met in 1889). The first step would be the implementation
of a provincial assembly in 1909. Whereas Chang Chih-tung sent two delegations
to Japan to study the education system, the Qing court sent two delegations to Europe
and the United States, and one to Japan. The delegates met with Prince Ito, the President
of the advisory council to the emperor. Ito emphasized the importance of an emperor
maintaining supreme power, standing ‘above the population’ if you will, while promoting
crucial elements such as public debate. But, rather important and game-changing, that
same year in 1908 Empress dowager Cixi passed away. But there was an emperor she dethroned during
the conservative coup 10 years earlier, right? Emperor Kuang-hsu, who was only 37 and didn’t
suffer from health problems. Well… he died under… mysterious circumstances
exactly one day before Cixi passed away. Cixi had, in fact, appointed the 3 year old
Puyi as her successor. Prince Chun, Puyi’s father, became the prince-regent. Prince Chun barely managed to influence Chinese
policy, and the de-facto strongest man of the country was general Yuan Shih-kai. While Yuan offered his services to the emperor,
Prince Chun feared Yuan’s influence, dismissing him. Yuan complied, though bitterly offended. Dismissing Yuan would have far-reaching consequences
for the Qing dynasty. Chang Chi-tung died in October that same year. Alright, so the Qing dynasty faced another
problem when it came to administrative functions. The central administration was reorganized
under the aforementioned 11 ministries, but the Qing did not want to create an agency
to control and coordinate these ministries. Simply put: the person at its head would assume
too much power. The representatives of all 16 new provincial
assemblies, however, did meet, and its delegates turned out to be rather unruly and difficult
to control. Regional interests trumped national interests
and the delegates demanded to speed up the establishment of the constitution and parliament. In turn, parliamentary representation was
promised by the regent, Prince Chun, to be realised by 1913 instead of 1917. In 1911 the first minister cabinet was established
by Prince Chun, though it didn’t really work in favour for the dynasty. Fairbank and Reischauer write that “with
incredible ineptitude he appointed eight Manchus, one Mongol bannerman, and only four Chinese”! It was one of the last twitches of the dying
dynasty. The Railway Controversy Provincial versus central interests came to
a climax over railway-building. Western powers had managed to acquire rights
to establish and control their own railways. As these railways were considered the tools
of economic imperialism, the local Chinese gentry and merchants started to gather their
own funds to establish their railways. This patriotic “rights recovery” movement
did so in two ways: they either bought foreign railway companies if possible, and secondly
they funded the actual building of Chinese railroads. The Qing government feared that these local
initiatives to establish railways would further weaken the dynasty. And, just as important, the dynasty itself
did not have enough funds to start working on a national railroad. The funds that it did have were managed by
corrupt officials. All these reasons led to the decision to nationalize
the railroads in 1910. Funds, once again, proved the biggest obstacle. Under Sheng Hsuan-huai centralization of railways
had, in part, already taken place, and he now agreed to a loan from a group of foreign
bankers, the so-called Consortium. The final contract by the consortium coincided
with an imperial decree, advocated by Sheng, which nationalized and bought out all local
railroads, bringing them under Beijings supervision. A wave of protests erupted, and if you ponder
on this act for a little, I’d imagine you too come to the conclusion that in essence
it seemed that Sheng, and by extension the Qing, were selling China to foreign bankers. In order to prevent this nationalization of
railways, riots erupted in Szechuan in 1911, which quickly spiralled out of control. This time the gentry took a leading role in
the rebellion. The fatal blow the Qing government received
was an unexpected and unplanned military riot in Wu-chang on the 11th of october 1911. This riot spread at such a fast pace, that
all the Qing court could do, was call upon Yuan Shih-k’ai. Today has been all about the failed reforms
the Qing issued the decade after the Boxer rebellion. These reforms were too little, too late. Next week we’ll look at the Wuchang rebellion
which was the beginning of the Xinhai rebellion. The End of Empire and abdication of Puyi,
the last emperor, would follow shortly after. After a poor attempt at dictatorship by Yuan
Shikai, the Chinese Warlord Era begun, a time when the peripheral areas were divided among
a number of competing warlords. If that sounds interesting, consider subscribing
to my channel and checking back next week. Thank you for watching this video and what
is a person or event from Chinese history you would like to know more about, and perhaps
see a video of? Let me know your thoughts in a comment! See you next time.