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Imperialism Colonialism amd Nationalism in East Asia

Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
Imperialism and the beginnings of
China's leaders were forced to examine ways of trying to turn the tide of
humiliation and defeat inflicted by comparatively small numbers of troops
fighting a long way from home. One major faction advocated trying to
defeat the West through its own strengths - namely, superior technology
derived from industrialisation. In 1861, a very large power struggle at court
brought greater influence to this 'modernisation' group of officials. In the
1860s, moves were taken to learn from the West by introducing modern
munitions and machinery. China purchased seven steamships from Britain
in 1862. In the middle of the same year, a central CoHege of Foreign
Languages began taking students who would be able to speak, read and
write the languages of the imperialist powers. In 1866, the College of
Foreign Languages opened a scientific department of astronomy and
The tentative beginnings of modernisation were anything but smooth
sailing. Many in the bureaucracy, induding officials at very senior levels,
continued to oppose anything to do with this Western-style modernity.
Their view was that Confucianism had served China very well for a very
long time and that China's decline was due to moral failure, not to inferior
technology. A further debate about the advantages of Western knowledge
was touched off in 1867 by the following memorial from Woren, a very
senior Mongol official and tutor to the Emperor.
Document 1.5
A conservative reaction to Western knowledge
Your slave has learned that the way to establish a nation is to lay emphasis
on propriety and righteousness, not on power and plotting. The fundamental effort lies in the minds of people, not in techniques. Now, if we seek
trifling arts and respect barbarians as teachers regardless of the possibility
that the cunning barbarians may not teach us their essential techniques even if the teachers sincerely teach and the students faithfully study them,
all that can be accomplished is the training of mathematicians. From ancient
down to modern times, your slave has never heard of anyone who could use
mathematics to raise the nation from a state of decline or to strengthen it in
time of weakness. The empire is so great that one shou Id not worry lest there
be any lack of abilities therein. If astronomy and mathematics have to be
taught, an extensive search should find someone who has mastered the
technique. Why is it limited to barbarians, and why is it necessary to learn
from the barbarians?
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
Moreover, the barbarians are our enemies. In 1860 they took up arms and
rebelled against us. Our capital and its suburbs were invaded, our ancestral
altar was shaken, our Imperial palace was burned, and our officials and
people were killed or wounded. There had never been such insults during
the last 2000 years of our dynasty. All our scholars and officials have been
stirred with heart-burning rage, and have retained their hatred until the
present. Our court could not help making peace with the barbarians. How
can we forget this enmity and this humiliation even for one single day?
Source: As quoted in Ssu-yu Teng et al., China's Response to the West, A Documentary Survey,
1839-1923, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, p. 76
1 Sum up Woren's arguments against learning from the barbarians.
2 List the reasons Woren provides to justify his view that the barbarians are China's
3 Why do you think that Woren refers to himself as 'your slave' in this memorial?
4 Form a small group in class and prepare a response to Woren's memorial.
Allocate one of the following roles to each person in the group:
• the Emperor in 1867
• a senior official from the southern part of China, opposed to Woren's
• a visiting Western professor who teaches at the College of Foreign
• a respected Confucian scholar based at the Celestial Court
• a reformist official keen to see China industrialise as soon as possible
• a 'modernist' official, opposed to Woren and concerned that his views are
retarding China.
When you have finished preparing your response, imagine that you are
presenting it at the Celestial Court.
Woren's view had a great deal of support. The Empress Dowager succeeded in seizing power at court in the 1870s. She was the aunt of the
young Guangxu Emperor, who ascended the throne in 1875. Initially she
followed a very conservative approach to modernisation.
Early attempts to build that most characteristic of Western colonial
structures - railways - were stoutly resisted by the conservative Chinese.
In the middle of 1876, a short railway leading from Shanghai was opened,
but within a few weeks a man was crushed to death in an accident. As a
result, demands for the railway to be closed were successful and the tracks
were torn up the next year.
From an economic point of view, however, the benefits of modernisation proved impossible to deny. Railways were inevitably at the forefront
of this modernisation. Despite the catastrophe of 1876, foreign powers
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
proceeded with the building of other railways. They built a series of
railways through much of China, and most of the main ones are in place
to this day. The following picture, from a Shanghai magazine of 1884,
shows a Chinese impression of a foreign steam train.
Document 1.6
A Chinese view of Western modernisation
Source: John Gittings, A Chinese View of China, Pantheon Books, New York, 1973, pp. 76-7
In what ways has the artist depicted some of the different responses from the
Chinese towards the introduction of railways in this illustration 7 Suggest at least
three different examples.
2 Do you think the artist was in favour of the introduction of this railway line or
opposed to it? How did you come to your decision?
3 How reliable might this impression, reprinted from a Shanghai magazine of 1884,
be as an item of evidence about Chinese reactions towards the foreign railway?
Do you think that visual impressions are as useful as written records when it
comes to investigating attitudes towards the impact of Western technology in
China? Discuss your ideas with another student.
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
The later decades of the nineteenth century saw the introduction of a
range of things in China that we still associate with the 'modern' world
today. There were many other examples of modernisation apart from the
railways. Amongst the more obvious examples was the Jiangnan Arsenal,
set up in Shanghai in 1865 and completing its first steamship in 1868. The
Fuzhou Dockyard in Fuzhou in China's south-east began formal
operations in January 1868 and, in 1878, work began at the Kaiping Coal
Mines in Tianjin.
Modernisation also affected culture. One of the most important moves
was to send students to the West to study what had made the Western
nations so powerful. The Chinese authorities hoped that these things
could be introduced into China. In 1872, the first group of thirty Chinese
students left Shanghai bound for the USA. Five years later, the first group
of students and apprentices bound for Europe set sail for England and
France, where they studied manufacturing and transportation.
The authorities may have wanted the technological advantages of
Western industrialisation and imperialism, but they were adamantly
opposed to the suggestion that China should adopt Western political
institutions or ideas. Under the unequal treaties, China had been forced
to allow Christian missionaries to work in China - at first only in the main
coastal areas, but later, inland as well. These missionaries were the cause
of serious problems concerning cross-cultural tolerance. Their converts
received favourable treatment, sometimes in the form of a better standard
ofliving. This gave rise to the term 'rice Christians'. Many were able to have
legal cases handled according to foreign law, which treated them much
more leniently than did Chinese law. In the 1860s, a series of anti-Christian
riots took place in widely scattered parts of China.
The climax of these was the 'Tianjin massacre'. In this unhappy incident,
popular anger against a French Catholic orphanage led to a mass siege of
the church on the afternoon of 21 June 1870. The people believed--the
orphanage was kidnapping Chinese children to convert them to Catholicism. The French consul shot at, but missed, two very senior Chinese officials,
and was himself killed by the crowd. The people then went on to mutilate
and kill every French person they could find and plunder and set fire to the
French consulate, the orphanage and the church. By nightfall, over thirty
Chinese converts and over twenty foreigners, including seventeen French
people, had been killed.
One of the major issues raised by imperialism in China, including the
arrival of missionaries, was that of extraterritoriality. Foreigners in China
believed it was their right to have any legal cases adjudicated according to
the laws of their own country, not those of China. It was normal for
colonists to bring with them the laws of their mother country. The Qing
government agreed to allow extraterritoriality in China by signing a series
of agreements with various powers, including Sweden, Norway, Britain,
Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Prussia, Italy and
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
Mexico. The following description of how extraterritoriality worked was
written by a Chinese in 1912.
Document 1. 7
With regard to controversies in China in which Chinese subjects are not
involved, the principle which China observes is that of non-intervention.
Questions of rights, whether personal or of property, arising in China
between subjects of the same treaty power are subject to the jurisdiction and
regulated by the authorities of their own government. Those occurring in
Chinese territory between the subjects of two different powers are disposed
of in accordance with the provisions of treaties existing between them. In
such cases the general practice is that they are arranged officially by the
consuls of both parties without resort to litigation; but where amicable
settlement is impossible, the principle of jurisdiction followed is the same as
in those between China and a foreign power, namely, that the plaintiff
follows the defendant into the court of the latter's nation.
Source: V. K. Wellington Koo, The Status of Aliens in China, p. 179, as quoted in
En-sai Tai, Treaty Ports in China (A Study in Diplomacy),
University Publications of America, Arlington, Virginia, 1976, p. 16S
According to this source, what does non-intervention mean in terms of foreigners
in China?
Do you think that in cases where amicable settlement is impossible, a foreigner
would ever be subject to China's laws? Refer to the document to justify your
point of view.
What do you think the attitude of this Chinese source is towards extraterritoriality? How did you arrive at your opinion?
How reliable might this document be as an item of evidence about the extent of
extraterritoriality in China during the Qing government?
Identify some modern examples of extraterritoriality or a similar situation.
Comment on their significance and compare them to the situation in China in
the nineteenth century.
Now consider some modern situations where foreigners are subject to the laws
and judicial system of the country in which they are working or travelling. What
sorts of controversial issues arise when foreigners break the law? Discuss with
another student some of those cases that have been reported in the media. What
advice would you give someone travelling or working in another country in terms
of the legal and judicial system?
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
The last decade of the nineteenth century
The imperialist onslaughts against China gathered momentum as the
nineteenth century neared its end. Japan underwent successful modernisation following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Not long afterwards it
began to show signs of becoming an imperialist country itself in China and
elsewhere (see chapter 7). Competition for influence in China's main
tributary state, Korea (see chapter 6), was the primary reason for the
outbreak of the first Sino-Japanese War in August 1894. In the following
edict, the Guangxu Emperor explains why China was fighting against
Document 1.8
Imperial edict on the war against Japan
It was found a difficult matter to reason with the Wojen [literally 'dwarfs', a
term of contempt for the Japanese]. Although we have been in the habit of
assisting our tributaries [in this case referring to Korea], we have never
interfered with their internal government. Japan's treaty with Korea was as
one country with another; there is no law for sending large armies to bully a
country in this way, and compel it to change its system of government. The
various powers are united in condemning the conduct of the Japanese, and
we can give no reasonable name to the army she now has in Korea. Nor has
Japan been amenable to reason, nor would she listen to the exhortation to
withdraw her troops and confer amicably upon what should be done in
Korea ... As Japan has violated the treaties and not observed international
laws, and is now running rampant with her false and treacherous actions
commencing hostilites herself, and laying herself open to condemnation by .
the various powers at large, we therefore desire to make it known to the'
world that we have always followed the paths of philanthropy and perfect
justice throughout the whole complications, while the Wojen, on the other
hand, have broken all the laws of nations and treaties which it passes our
patience to bear with. Hence we commanded Li Hung-chang [Hongzhang]
to give strict orders to our various armies to hasten with all speed to root the
Wojen out of their lairs.
Source: As quoted in Harley Farnsworth MacNair, Modern Chinese History, Selected Readings,
Commercial Press, Shanghai, 1923, pp. 532-4
According to the Emperor, what was China's relationship with Korea like before
the Japanese sent in their army?
2 List the accusations against Japan made by the Emperor in this edict.
3 Do you think these accusations justify the Emperor's orders to 'root the Wojen
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
out of their lairs'? Justify your view and make reference to the document in your
4 Consider the language used by the Emperor in the last sentence of this document. What does it suggest about his attitude towards the Japanese 7 Do you
think that the Emperor's attitude might be representative of the Chinese people
at this time? Explain your point of view.
5 Prepare your response to this question with another student. Imagine that you
are Li Hongzhang and you are about to announce that China is at war with Japan,
as the Emperor has commanded. Prepare your speech to the key generals of the
various Chinese armies at your disposal. In this speech you need to explain why
war is being declared against the Japanese, to stress the need to defend the
Emperor's honour and to arouse Chinese nationalism.
China was disastrously defeated by the Japanese and forced to sign the
humiliating Treaty ofShimonoseki in April 1895. Under this treaty, China
had to pay an enormous indemnity to Japan, meaning that it was required
to pay for the expenses incurred by Japan in inflicting the defeat. It was
forced to cede certain territories to Japan, including Taiwan, which
became a colony of Japan until its own defeat in 1945. The Treaty of
Shimonoseki struck the last nail into the coffin of the Chinese traditional
tribute system by acknowledging that Chinese influence in Korea had
totally lost out to Japanese.
The end of the nineteenth century saw yet further imperialist attacks on
China, with a whole series of countries competing for concessions. The
best known of the arrangements agreed upon in 1898, the year of 'the
scramble for concessions', was a Sino-British convention signed on 9 June.
Under this agreement, the British took out a ninety-nine-year lease on
parts of Kowloon, the mainland area just opposite the island of Hong
Kong. In the same year, some reformers led by Kang Youwei and Liang
Qichao succeeded in persuading the Guangxu Emperor to introduce
some very radical and far-reaching changes to China's administration, all
in line with Western notions of modernity. However, the Empress Dowager
had other ideas. She had the Emperor put under house arrest and several
of the leading reformers were either arrested or executed. Kang Youwei
and Liang Qichao both left China.
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
The Boxer uprising and imperialist invasion
of China
The reaction of the Chinese masses to imperialism and the missionaries it
fostered and protected reached a climax in 1900. The movement was
called the Boxer uprising and was spearheaded by the 'Boxers'. The formal
name of the Boxer organisation was the Militia of Harmonious Fists
because of its members' belief in a kind of magic boxing. The Boxers
began in Shandong province, to the south of Beijing. They directed their
anger mainly against the Germans, to whom major concessions had been
made in Shandong through a convention signed in March 1898. The
Boxers then marched north, storming into the capital Beijing in large
numbers in June 1900, and proceeded to besiege the legations of the
imperialist powers.
The following is a translation of a Boxer poster stuck on the walls of
Document 1.10
A Boxer poster
Our Emperor is about to become powerful. The leader of the 'Boxers' is a
royal person. Within three months all foreigners will be killed and driven
away from China. During forty years the Empire has become full of
foreigners. They have divided the land. The Kwo-wen-pao [Guowen bao, a
Chinese newspaper] always talks nonsense about the 'Boxers,' since it is
under the protection of Japan. We remind the Editors that hereafter they
must not talk nonsense; if they continue to do so their building will be burnt.
The Brethren need not fear ... When the foreigners are driven away, we will
return to our hills!
Source: As quoted in Rev. Z. Chas. Beals, China and the Boxers, Munson, New York, 1901, p. 15
What do you think this poster is suggesting about the relationship between the
Boxers and the Emperor? Why do you think the writers of this poster are trying
to make this association?
2 Why is this poster critical of the Chinese newspaper, the Kwo-wen-pao? If you
were investigating such claims, what would you need to do in order to assess
their reliability? List your suggestions.
3 In what ways does this poster attempt to show the determination of the Boxers
to succeed and to reassure their supporters that they do not simply want power
for themselves?
4 Do you consider this poster to be a reliable source of information about the Boxer
uprising in Beijing? Explain your view.
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
The siege of the legations seriously frightened the powers. It led to an
unprecedented event. Normally the imperialist powers were at loggerheads and competing with each other. But eight of them united to send
troops to defeat the ragged Chinese peasants who made up the Boxer
army. The eight were Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, AustriaHungary, the USA and Japan. In the summer of 1900, they advanced on
Beijing to end the Boxer siege and to defeat and expel the Boxers.
The Qing Imperial Court was divided over what to do in the face of this
crisis. Many of the courtiers supported the Boxers because they were
prepared to make a stand against the foreigners. But the anti-Boxer
courtiers gained the upper hand as time passed and the situation grew
worse for China. The day after the siege was lifted, the Imperial, Court,
including both the Empress Dowager and the Emperor, fled the capital to
set up the Court in Xi'an, capital ofShaanxi province, to the south-west of
Document 1.12
Illustration of the Court fleeing from Beijing
Source: Rev. Z. Chas. Beals, China and the Boxers, Munson, New York, 1901, p. 101
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
4 Why do you think that the individual or group responsible for producing this
poster displayed it by the roadside?
5 How reliable might this anonymous source be as an item of evidence about the
Court's flight to Xi'an? Discuss your view with another student.
The Boxer protocol and Western views of
the situation in China
After the defeat of the Boxers, the Empress Dowager and her Court
returned to Beijing, arriving there early in January 1902. Meanwhile,
China had been forced to sign what was possibly the most humiliating of
all agreements with the foreign powers: the Boxer Protocol of September
1901. Under this arrangement, China agreed to pay a gigantic indemnity,
meaning, in effect, that it had to pay to be invaded. Furthermore, it had to
open up several more cities as treaty ports and even had to deny Chinese
people the right to reside in the legation quarter.
The following comment was written before the outcome of the Boxer
Protocol was known. It had earlier been suggested that even harsher terms
than those of the Protocol should be imposed on China. Many in the West
thought China would fall apart, and some even hoped that it would.
Document 1.14
A missionary's view of the situation in China after the suppression
of the Boxers
The greatest living issue before the church and the nations today is the
Chinese question. At last China - conservative, secluded, selfish, heathen
China - has overstepped herself, and forced upon herself either the permanent dictation of the more civilised nations or dismemberment. Which
horn of the dilemma she will choose it is impossible to forecast at present.
Whether the settlement with the allied powers is near at hand, or, if so,
whether it will be satisfactory, sufficient and wise, is problematical. ..
In due time the clouds hanging over China will be dispelled, the ancient
nation will have been thoroughly scourged, she will enter upon a new lease
of life, chastened and humbled; her doors will be thrown wide open to
civilisation, commerce and Christianity, and her four hundred millions of
people will stand on the same plane as those of the other nations, and from
this great seething mass will come a great multitude, a mighty army, to swel
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
far in the future by dismemberment, partition, and the industrial dominance
of the men of the living nations.
Source: As quoted in Rev. Z. Chas. Beals, China and the Boxers, Munson, New York, 1901, p. 152
1 Which of the following statements do you consider best sums up the editor's
attitude to the situation in China?
a The editor is sympathetic to the Chinese.
b The editor is contemptuous of the Chinese.
c The editor considers that Western intervention in China is inevitable.
d The editor believes that the Chinese will rule themselves.
Explain your choice.
2 Choose extracts from the document that best support the following statements:
a The people of China are incapable of ruling themselves.
b The industrialised West will determine China's future.
c China is not advanced when compared with the West.
d China will benefit from Western intervention.
Write out the extracts next to the corresponding statement in your notebook. Of
the extracts you have chosen, which do you consider best indicates a Western
imperial view? Explain your choice to another student.
Evaluations of the Boxers in later times
Despite the disastrous defeat inflicted on the Boxers, they occupy a
significant place in the history of Chinese nationalism and opposition to
imperialism. Here are two accounts, written after the event, that relate to
the Boxer uprising. Both recognise the patriotism of the Boxers. Whilst
neither actually uses the term nationalism, its significance is implied in
both. Nevertheless, each reaches an extremely different verdict on the
Boxers and their impact on Chinese history.
Document 1.16
A People's Republic of China view of the Boxers' historical
The Yi Ho Tuan Movement [Boxer uprising], which broke out in China in
1900, shook the whole world. It was a patriotic anti-imperialist uprising,
mainly of peasants. It was a product of deepening imperialist aggression, and
of unprecedentedly aggravated national crisis ...
China's working class had not yet mounted the political stage. The masses
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
of the people, with peasants as the main body, organised themselves to resist
and fight crime-laden imperialism. It was they who felt most deeply, in their
everyday life, the heavy weight of imperialism. After the Sino-Japanese War
of 1894 the Chinese [Qing] government, in order to pay the huge war
indemnities and foreign loans, heightened its exploitation of the people.
Moreover, foreign missionaries who wore the cloak of religion but actually
served imperialist aggression had for some time been penetrating China's
cities and countryside, building churches, lording it over the people and
committing many crimes. Driven beyond tolerance, the people had waged
struggle against the missionaries since the 1860s and 1870s, and this movement surged up everywhere in the 1890s ... The rapid rise of anti-missionary
struggles heralded the anti-imperialist revolutionary storm.
Source: Compilation Group for the 'History of Modern China' Series,
The Yi Ho Tuan Movement of 1900, Foreign Languages Press, Peking (Beijing), 1976, pp. 1, 12-13
According to this source, which class of Chinese society made up the Yi Ho Tuan
2 How does this source explain the motivation of the Boxers?
3 Which particular group is singled out for the most criticism in this document the imperialist aggressors, the Qing government or the foreign missionaries?
Suggest an explanation for this and justify your response.
4 Keeping in mind that this view of the Boxers' historical significance was published
in 1976, in what ways might this interpretation of the Boxer uprising be:
a representative
b reliable
c biased
d inaccurate?
Explain your reaction to each of the above, then indicate which you consider to
be the most appropriate evaluation of this source as an item of evidence abou~t
the Boxer uprising.
The other account, written in the 1930s, comes from the pen of Reginald
Johnston (1874-1938). He was a British colonial official, scholar, writer, a
great admirer of Chinese culture, and was personal tutor to the last of the
Manchu emperors, Puyi. Johnston remained a supporter of the imperial
system of government, but was very critical of the Empress Dowager and
other individuals who represented it. He has become well known in recent
years through his portrayal in Bernardo Bertolucci's magnificent film The
Last Emperor, released in 1987.
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
Reform and nationalism in the Qing
dynasty's last decade
One of the effects of the Boxer uprising was to force the Qing government
to make greater efforts at reform. The first decade of the twentieth century
saw an enormous degree of change and revival in China, even including
constitutional reform. The Empress Dowager herself was forced to pay lip
service, at least, to the notion that China must reform and modernise itself,
and she became a supporter of ideas she had strongly resisted not long
before. In November 1908, the Empress Dowager died within a day of the
Emperor's death. She had tried for many years to dominate both her
nephew and the Chinese state, and had succeeded most of the time. But a
new era was beginning.
One of the most far-reaching changes was made in 1905 with the
abolition of the traditional examination system through which officials
had been selected over many centuries. The system of training officials was
thoroughly changed in one blow. So was the kind of education society
believed its administrators and leaders needed for the effective running of
the state. The elite of society would no longer depend on Confucian
education, but on more modern and Western-oriented training.
The reforms of the twentieth century's first decade failed to save the
Manchu dynasty. Yet their significance within the context of their own
times should not be ignored. The Manchus should be given credit for their
attempts to come to terms with the disaster the imperialists had imposed
on them. Writing about the impact of the reforms of the last decade of the
Qing dynasty, the late American scholar Mary Wright (China in Revolution:
The First Phase, 1900-1913, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968, p. 1)
has written, 'Rarely in history has a single year marked as dramatic a
watershed as did 1900 in China.'
The various crises that befell China in the years leading up to and
including 1900 gave rise to a powerful nationalist spirit. This had a strong
impact both on intellectuals and ordinary people. One of the most
important of the intellectual leaders was Liang Qichao, whose leading role
in the reform movement of 1898 has already been mentioned. He was
amongst the first of all Chinese thinkers to develop ideas of nation and
nationalism. The following passage gives some idea of his thinking.
. . . . . . . .. .
Document 1. 18
Liang Qichao on nationalism
Since the sixteenth century, some 300 years ago, the reason why Europe
developed and the world progressed was because of the impetus created by
widespread nationalism. What is this thing called nationalism? It means that,
no matter where you are, people of the same race, the same language, the
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
same religion and the same customs regard each other as relations, work
towards independence and autonomy, and organise a better government to
work for the public good and to oppose the onslaughts of other nations.
When this idea had developed to an extreme at the end of the nineteenth
century, it went further and became national imperialism over the last
twenty or thirty years. What does national imperialism mean? It means that
the power of a nation's citizens has developed domestically to the stage
where it cannot help but press outside, so that they industriously try to
extend their powers to other regions. The ways of doing this are through
military power, commerce, industry or religion, but they use a co-ordinated
policy for guidance and protection ...
Now on the eastern continent there is located the largest of ·countries
with the most fertile of territory, but the most corrupt of governments, and
the most disorganised and weakest of peoples. No sooner had those races
[from Europe] found out about our internal condition than they got their socalled national imperialism moving, just as swarms of ants attach themselves
to what is rank and foul and as ten thousand arrows focus on a target ...
If we want now to oppose the national imperialism of the powers
[effectively], rescue China from disaster and save our people, we have no
choice but to adopt the policy of pushing our own nationalism. If we are
serious about promoting nationalism in China, we have no option but to do
it through the renewal of the people.
Source: Yinbing shi quanji (Complete Works of Liang Qichao), vol. 1,
China Bookshop, Shanghai, 1916, pp. 3b, 4a-b (translation by Colin Mackerras)
How does Liang Qichao define nationalism?
2 According to Liang Qichao, what is national imperialism?
3 Do you think that Liang Qichao values nationalism as something worthwhile, or
does he see it as the means to an end (the most practical way for China to oppose
Western powers)?
4 What do you think Liang Qichao means in the last line when he refers to the .
'renewal of the people'?
5 Which of the following terms might best describe Liang Qichao:
a a realist
b a reformer
c a patriot
d a reactionary
e a nationalist?
After you have made your choice, write a brief justification of your decision an
explain it to another student.
Nationalism had clearly become a substantial force by the first decade o
the twentieth century. Chinese anger was felt both against the Manchus
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
who still dominated the Qing dynasty, and against the Western powers.
The invasion of the eight powers against China made many in China
believe that their country was about to be reduced to the status of a colony,
as the following poem indicates. The author of the poem, Chen Tianhua,
killed himself as a protest against the Qing dynasty's repression of
nationalist students.
.... . .. . ..
Document 1.19
A patriot's fear of colonialism
All we want is to recover our land and they say that is rebellion!
It is the shameless ones who would fight for them!
We are only afraid of being like India, unable to defend our land;
We are only afraid of being like Annam, of having no hope of reviving ...
We are only afraid of being like the Jews, the Jews who are without a
We Chinese have no part in this China of ours.
This dynasty exists only in name!
Being slaves of the foreigners,
They force us common people to call them masters!
: ers
Source: As quoted in C. T. Liang, The Chinese Revolution of 1911,
St John's University Press, Jamaica, New York, 1962, p. 12
1 According to this poem, in what ways are the Chinese the 'slaves of the foreigners'?
2 Refer to your own general knowledge about Western imperialism and to the
poem to answer these questions:
a Which of the eight Western powers occupied India and Annam (Vietnam) 9t
this time?
b How might knowledge of what occurred in these nations have alarmed the
c In what ways might the poet's reference to the Jews stimulate a nationalist
response from the Chinese who read it?
3 How reliable and representative could this poet's sentiments be regarding the
fear of colonialism amongst the Chinese?
The most important of the Chinese nationalists of the late Qing dynasty
was undoubtedly Sun Yatsen. Beginning from 1895, he led a series of
revolts against the dynasty. Ironically, he was strongly influenced by the
West despite his nationalism and was trained there as a doctor. He had
many Western sympathisers with his nationalist aspirations, as well as many
Chinese supporters living outside their own country. In 1911, while Sun
was overseas and far from the action, an uprising erupted in the central
Imperialism, Colonialism and Nationalism in East Asia
southern city ofWuchang, which succeeded very quickly in bringing about
the total collapse of the Qing dynasty. On 25 December 1911, Sun Yatsen
arrived back in Shanghai and on 1 January, exactly a week later, was
inaugurated as President of the Republic of China. Within six weeks, the
Emperor issued an 'edict of abdication'. The centuries of the imperial
system of government in China, which had seemed so necessary and
invincible, were finally at an end.
Later Chinese leaders' views of imperialism
We shall see in the next chapter that Chiang Kai-shek was leader of China
from 1927 to 1949 and an ardent follower of Sun Yatsen. He was also a man
with strong views on Chinese history and on the West's role in it. In the
following passage he does not actually use the term 'imperialism' or
'imperialists', but certainly did so in others, showing that he was prepared
to equate the experience of nineteenth-century Europe with imperialism.
Document 1.20
Chiang Kai-shek's summation of imperialism
For the last hundred years Western science has greatly benefited Chinese
civilisation. This cannot be denied. After the Opium War, in the belief that
the Western powers were rich and strong because of their guns and ships,
the Chinese people began to study the technique of making guns and ships.
After the War of 1894, the Chinese people also began to study foreign social
and political institutions. Famous works of Western social science were
translated into Chinese. Discussion of Western social and political theories
began to appear in magazines and newspapers. For several decades after
this, as a result of discussion, popular study, comparison, and observation,
China's applied science, natural science, and social science all made progress.
In some fields, we even made important new contributions to human knowledge. The power and prestige of science was fully recognised in Chinese
thought and learning.
On the other hand, during the past hundred years, China's civilisation
showed signs of great deterioration. This was because, under the oppression
of the unequal treaties, the Chinese people reversed their attitude toward
Western civilisation from one of opposition to one of submission, and their
attitude toward their own civilisation changed from one of pride to one of
self-abasement. Carried to extremes, this attitude of submission became one
of ardent conversion and they openly proclaimed themselves loyal disciples
of this or that foreign theory ... We should bear in mind that from the Opium
War down to the Revolution of 1911, the unanimous demand of the people
China I: The Late Qing Dynasty
was to avenge the national humiliation and make the country strong, and
all efforts were concentrated on enriching the country and strengthening
the army.
Source: Chiang Kai-shek, China's Destiny & Chinese Economic Theory,
Roy Publishers, New York, 1947, pp. 96--7
According to Chiang Kai-shek, in what ways has Western science benefited
Chinese civilisation?
How does Chiang explain the change in attitude by the Chinese people towards
the West, and what does he see resulting from this?
Choose some extracts from Chiang's account that might illustrate:
• Western imperialism
• Chinese nationalism.
Copy the relevant extracts next to the correct term. Share your response with
another student.
How reliable might Chiang's views be as an item of evidence about the Chinese
response to the West?
Consider Chiang's position in Chinese history. What might have motivated him
to record such views?
During the period Chiang Kai-shek ruled China, his main enemy was Mao
Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party. On the whole,
Chiang's policies were considerably more conservative than Mao's. So,
Mao's more forthright view on the role of imperialism in China's recent
history is not surprising.
. .. . .. . . . .
Document 1.21
Mao Zedong's overall view of imperialism
Imperialism occupies the principal position in the contradiction in which
China has been reduced to a semi-colony, it oppresses the Chinese people,
and China has been changed from an independent country into a semicolonial one. But this state of affairs will inevitably change; in the struggle
between the two sides, the power of the Chinese people which is growing
under the leadership of the proletariat will inevitably change China from a
semi-colony into an independent country, whereas imperialism will be
overthrown and old China will inevitably change into New China.
Source: Mao Zedong, 'On Contradiction', Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung [ZedongL Volume I,
Foreign Languages Press, Peking (Beijing), 1965, p. 334
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