China, in the 20th century

China, in the 20th century is a series that will explore an important period in modern history, Chinese as well as global. You will be able to read about events that transformed an entire society and understand why and how this changes occurred. We will start with the 100 days of reform.

The New (Beiyang) Army


The one hundred days of reform are actually one hundred and three and mark an important change of direction in the destiny of the Chinese. The reforms that took place did not manage to last, instead they fed the need of change that was in the minds of almost every Chinese scholar of the time.

Emperor Guangxu
On June 11th 1898, the Qing emperor, Guangxu, decreed that Kang Youwei will be responsible for carrying out the reforms. This great step was possible after Kang tried for eight times to persuade the emperor to accept the reforms. In that period numerous intellectuals demanded the changing of the system, seeing how China was on the verge of being torn apart by the world powers and by internal factions. Feng Guifeng, a student of Lin Zexu (the one who opposed the opium trade on moral and social grounds) proposed the revocation of the "ba gu wen", a type of essay consisting of eight parts, part of the imperial examination. Many others insisted on adopting western science and education, for example Zhang Zhidong, governor-general, advocated for studies of Western subjects. In 1897, the Current Affairs Academy was extablished in Hunan, Liang Quchao, student of Kang Youwei, being invited as lecturer.

The press also tried to push for reforms, Tan Sitong, the head of "Nan xue hui" (Hunan studies society) started the publishing of the newspaper "Hunan studies newspaper", in this way playing an important role in the reform movement. Many others wrote articles and books promoting change, like Chen Qiu who wrote numerous books advocating the parliamentary system. Also, in Hong Kong, Xua Huan Ri Bao newspaper openly eulogized the Japanese parliamentary system.

The Manchus, the ruling elite simply put, were in strong opposition to the reforms. The main ideas at that time were the self-strengthening movement, parliamentary system, constitutional monarchy, republic, educational reform through the adopting of western sciences, overall the development of the country and society by mixing the west with the east and the new with the old. Let's take the example of railways, for a good period of time, Chinese officials and even the average people, initially rejected the construction of this type of infrastructure because it challenged the way people saw their lives. Because of the speed and efficiency it was the best choice compared to roads and canals and many believed that it will destroy jobs. Ultimately the Qing discovered that railways really are useful because these could be used to transport troops.

The last years of the empire could be seen just like this, a contradiction between tradition and modernization and even with the best reforms, for things to change there was a need to destroy the old order. It is worth to mention that Yuan Shikai, who will later become China's first president, started a process of modernizing in the army.


Yuan Shikai
After the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China saw the need to have a real army, that is why King Chunqin-wang (Yi-xuan), King Qingqin-wang (Yi-kuang), Weng Tonghe, Li Hongzhang and Rong-lu recommended Yuan Shikai for training the "Xin-Jun", the New Army, at Xiaozhan. The army would grow from 4000 to 7000 and then to 12 000 (eight camps of field army, two camps of cannons, and one cam each of cavalry and engineering).

In February 1899, a Manchu army was created mapping the scheme used by Yuan Shikai, responsible for this was Ronglu. It was structured in five divisions, Ronglu being marshal and general of the middle division and Yuan being in command of the army on the right side. This new army will play a major role in future events and many of its generals became warlords after the death of Yuan Shikai.


On September 21st, 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi stage a coup d'etat, many intellectuals supporting the reforms being killed while others managed to fled to Japan, among them were Kang Youwei and Liang Quichao. There, the Baohuand Hui (Protect the Emperor Society) was organized and work on a constitutional monarchy system for China was started.

In the next part you will be able to read about the Boxer Rebellion and the Revolution of 1911.


WILKINSON, Endymion - Chinese History, a manual, Harvard University Press, London, 200