The policy of self-empowerment and reform attempts - The history of the East

13.2. The policy of self-empowerment and reform attempts

The weakness of the Ch'ing empire and the vigorous strengthening of colonial capital in China, which was demonstrated during the opium and subsequent wars with the West and the Taiping uprising, brought to life a natural reaction of self-preservation. Its manifestation was a self-help policy , which became the general line of the empire in the last third of the 19th century. The rulers of the empire, set up before an obvious fact, starting from the all-powerful Empress Cixi and her closest assistants like Li Hong-chang and ending with local officials, were forced to recognize the superiority of European weapons and Western technology. The desire to borrow all this and put it to the service of China and was the basis of the policy of self-empowerment. In other words, the leaders of Ch'ing China decided to take the lead in modernizing the country, leaving behind the colonial powers only the right to trade operations and financing of industrial and other construction. Of course, colonial capital also quickly strengthened its position in China at the end of the 19th century, creating its own enterprises and expanding its foreign trade turnover, but the main growth of industrial potential and the entire infrastructure was mainly due to the centralized efforts of the Chinese state.

Here it is necessary to make a substantial reservation. It is not a well-thought-out and officially accepted at the highest level the new economic policy. Quite the contrary, the upper echelons of the empire, headed by Cixi, were relatively uninterested in the problems of self-empowerment, and were not ready for this. Another matter is the influential figures of the empire, who in fact held in their hands the power over certain regions of the country and who had strong armies and huge funds at their disposal. Existing as if by themselves, they at the same time not only were not in opposition to the center, but practically acted on its behalf, being vested with high powers, retaining the highest official posts. The regionalization of a huge empire was not something new for China. On the contrary, at least from the end of Han it was the norm in those conditions when the central authorities were unable to maintain their positions or cope with the peasant uprising. In these cases, the initiative was taken on by the so-called strong houses on the ground, creating their own armies, which came into conflict with the insurgents and then made the affairs of the empire. So it was at the end of Han. Something similar became a reality after the suppression of the Taiping rebellion.

The highest dignitaries of the empire, such as Li Hong-chang (1823-1901), Zeng Go-fan (1811-1872), Zuo Zong-tan (1812-1885) and some others, already from the beginning of the 1860's. began on the path of vigorous construction in their regions of arsenals, shipyards, mechanical enterprises, in order to rearm their own armies and thereby strengthen the armed might of the empire. In part, this activity was financed by the treasury, in part due to extortion from the propertied strata of the region, which was under the control of this dignitary, to a large extent due to the Taiping looted during the war. Companies that built arsenals and factories, shipyards and mines did not stop before attracting private capital, i.e. means of merchants, landowners, Confucian scholars-shenshi (who passed the exams and therefore had a decent earnings). But the owners who contributed it, as a rule, did not have a voice when solving problems related to the production and finances of the company. At best, they regularly received their share of income in the form of interest on invested capital. In practice this meant that the principle of bourgeois production, borrowed from foreigners, in the Chinese realities of the late nineteenth century. found a form of almost state, in any case semi-state capitalism .

Theoretically, this was justified in the classic slogan of the idea of ​​self-empowerment: "Chinese science is the basis, the western is [something] applied". Its meaning is that the Chinese Confucian base in all respects is not questioned, whereas everything borrowed from the West is adopted in order to supplement the basis. To this we should add that in China began to appear numerous works that developed this postulate in the sense that, in fact, all the great inventions and achievements of the West are nothing but the result of once borrowed ideas from China. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that now all these somewhat modified ideas of the Chinese have the right to adopt.

The growth of foreign trade in China led to the accumulation of considerable funds in the country through customs duties. These funds, as well as foreign loans, also went to forcing a policy of self-empowerment, primarily on the creation of an arms industry. However, a large part of them stuck to the hands of a gigantic apparatus of power, up to the empress, who preferred to build palaces for money, which were intended for the rearmament of the army. The regionalization of the country and the corruption of the government apparatus greatly weakened the empire and largely neutralized the possible successes of the policy of self-empowerment, while protectionism and corruption led to the appointment of important dignitaries to important posts of worthless protégés. Hence the lack of effectiveness of the policy of self-empowerment, which became apparent already at the first serious tests. Such tests were the war between China and France for Indochina (1884-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Both wars, during which the empire collided with well-armed and skillfully led armies, led China to defeat and considerable losses. Vietnam, and then Korea and Taiwan ceased to be vassals in relation to China's territories, parts of the empire.

The military defeat logically led to another onslaught on China by the colonial powers, which strengthened their economic and political positions in the decrepit empire. The main financial and economic force in China are foreign banks. In the course of the so-called battle for concessions, the powers gained control of the rapidly developing railway construction. A lot of money foreign capital invested in shipping, cotton and some other industries. True, in parallel with this, the creation of state-owned enterprises, especially mining, metallurgical and textile ones, continued. But all of them, as a rule, were economically inefficient, technically backward. The first steps at the end of the century began to be done by the Chinese national private industry, although private factories and other enterprises were, as a rule, small and economically weak. On the whole, China's capitalist development was growing, but its forms were typical of traditional eastern structures. The enterprises of foreign capital and state, state ones still prevailed in the country. For the development of national capital, the necessary, in particular legal, conditions were not created.

This discrepancy was quite felt at the end of the XIX century. China's advanced minds, already borrowing a lot from European experience and having learned much about the West, increasingly advocated the need for serious domestic reforms that could free the country from the shackles of its traditional structure and open the door for active transformation. The movement for reform is associated primarily with the name of the outstanding Chinese thinker Kang Yu-wei (1858-1927), who tried to combine a brilliant traditional Confucian education with a profound analysis of the contemporary era.

In his famous work, "Datong Shu (The Book of Great Unity, 1887) Kang Yu-wei, on the basis of the ancient Chinese teachings on social justice, as well as the utopian doctrines he borrowed from European philosophers, attempted to create a general theory of general welfare in the face of the customary absence for China of private property protected by law and skilfully organized social economy. In this theory there have been many of those egalitarian aspirations that have been inspired by the insurgent Chinese peasants since the Han "yellow bandages" up to the Taypins.

The merit of Kang Yu-wei was that he did not limit himself to the exposition of theoretical utopias, but rather zealously took up practical matters, exposing in his memoranda the throne of arbitrariness and corruption prevailing in the country, speaking in defense of the oppressed people. Of course, all this was not new in the history of China. Until relatively recently, a few centuries ago, the Confucians of the Ming dynasty had equally passionately denounced the vices of the temporaries and called for the restoration of the lost Confucian order. But Kahn did not repeat their calls. Unlike his predecessors, who also advocated for reforms, he called for reforms aimed at changing the entire system of government. Based on the authority of Confucius, Kang Yue-wei demanded the introduction of a constitutional monarchy on a parliamentary basis, democratization, active adoption of Western standards, including the introduction of new laws, support for private entrepreneurship, decisive changes in the economic administration, education and culture, etc.

In the mid-1890's. the memoranda of Kang Yu-wei and his supporters have gained broad enough support. In 1895, the Association for the Strengthening of the State was established, whose members advocated reforms. With sympathy he reacted to Kang Yu-wei's proposals and the young emperor Guangxi . Throughout the country, organizations of the Association began to appear, newspapers and magazines were published, in which the ideas of reformers were propagated. The struggle for reform broke out with particular force after the famous "strong" incident in April 1898. In response to the murder of two German missionaries, Germany occupied the Jiaozhou Bay area with the city of Qingdao on the Shandong peninsula, followed by large pieces of Chinese territory began to seize England (Kowloon), France (Guangzhou coast) and Russia (Port Arthur and Far).

These captures, which signified the transition to the partition of China by the colonial powers, were a very painful signal for the empire and could not but cause an outburst of indignation in the country. Supporters of reforms began to create alliances for the protection of the state, and in the summer of 1898, Guangxi decided to carry out reforms. Kang Yu-wei and his supporters (most notably Liang Tsi-chao, Tan Sung-tung) developed a comprehensive reform program , which included the promotion of industry, the abolition of a number of old and the introduction of new administrative institutions, the opening of schools and universities, the publication of books and magazines, the reorganization of the army, the promotion of modern science, etc. However, both reformers and Guangxu himself had little real power to implement this program. The highest positions in the country were occupied by their open opponents, obviously sabotaged innovations, and behind the back of the opposition and Guangxi itself stood the waiting for development of events, the all-powerful Cixi. It was obvious that without decisive actions success would not be achieved for reformers.

The most radical of the reform leaders suggested Guangxi to remove Cixi and her supporters. The coup was scheduled for October 1898, when large maneuvers of troops were to be held. However, General Yuan Shi-kai, who was attracted by the reformers to implement this plan, gave out their plans, after which Cixi, ahead of the events, ordered the arrest of Guangxi and the leaders of the reformers. Tan Sy-tung and many other reformers were executed. Guangxu lost the throne. Kang Yu-wei and Liang Qi-chao, who managed to escape, relying on the help of England and Japan, managed to escape, but their cause was lost. One Hundred Reform Days failed to produce results, gave rise to a powerful response wave of repression, which aroused sympathetic support from the masses of the Chinese population. China saw in the attempt to reform the intrigues of foreigners. After the execution of a group of reformers in Beijing, open anti-foreign speeches began, for the suppression of which the security forces were summoned. At the same time, the Qing authorities, led by Cixi, were in no hurry to put things in order, again waiting for the events to go on.

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