|China Table of Contents
In the 103 days from June 11 to September 21, 1898, the Qing emperor, Guangxu (1875-1908), ordered a series of reforms aimed at making sweeping social and institutional changes. This effort reflected the thinking of a group of progressive scholar-reformers who had impressed the court with the urgency of making innovations for the nation's survival. Influenced by the Japanese success with modernization, the reformers declared that China needed more than "self-strengthening" and that innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change.
The imperial edicts for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment, and postal services. The edicts attempted to modernize agriculture, medicine, and mining and to promote practical studies instead of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. The court also planned to send students abroad for firsthand observation and technical studies. All these changes were to be brought about under a de facto constitutional monarchy.
Opposition to the reform was intense among the conservative ruling elite, especially the Manchus, who, in condemning the announced reform as too radical, proposed instead a more moderate and gradualist course of change. Supported by ultraconservatives and with the tacit support of the political opportunist Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), Empress Dowager Ci Xi engineered a coup d'etat on September 21, 1898, forcing the young reform-minded Guangxu into seclusion. Ci Xi took over the government as regent. The Hundred Days' Reform ended with the rescindment of the new edicts and the execution of six of the reform's chief advocates. The two principal leaders, Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929), fled abroad to found the Baohuang Hui (Protect the Emperor Society) and to work, unsuccessfully, for a constitutional monarchy in China.
The conservatives then gave clandestine backing to the antiforeign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies known as Yihetuan (Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, Righteousness and Harmony Boxers). In 1900 Boxer bands spread over the north China countryside, burning missionary facilities and killing Chinese Christians. Finally, in June 1900, the Boxers besieged the foreign concessions in Beijing and Tianjin, an action that provoked an allied relief expedition by the offended nations. The Qing declared war against the invaders, who easily crushed their opposition and occupied north China. Under the Protocol of 1901, the court was made to consent to the execution of ten high officials and the punishment of hundreds of others, expansion of the Legation Quarter, payment of war reparations, stationing of foreign troops in China, and razing of some Chinese fortifications.
In the decade that followed, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the moribund Confucian-based examination, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an experiment, if half-hearted, in constitutional and parliamentary government. The suddenness and ambitiousness of the reform effort actually hindered its success. One effect, to be felt for decades to come, was the establishment of new armies, which, in turn, gave rise to warlordism.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress