The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
REFORM AND REACTION

It was obvious from the course of events that the attempts at reform so far made were insufficient to save China from repeated humiliation. Leaders of Chinese thought were therefore turning their minds towards more radical changes. Sun Yat-sen (from abroad) advocated revolution and the removal of the Ch'ing dynasty: K'ang Yu-wei (a Cantonese like Sun) favoured reforms based on the classics within the existing framework of the Manchu regime. But the time was not ripe for Sun's root-and-branch doctrines to receive a sympathetic reception, and it was K'ang's more conservative programme which was to impress the young scholar-reformers and to attract the attention of the Kuang Hsü emperor.

The Reform Movement of 1898 has been described scores of times by Western writers on China, but almost invariably with the underlying assumption that it was simply another move in the inevitable process of 'Westernization'. So in order to clear the way for a more critical examination of the movement, the outline facts must first be repeated as concisely as possible.I

K'ang Yu-wei ( 1858-1927) was born at Nanhai, Kwangtung, of an old and aristocratic family which for generations had been noted for its neo-Confucian scholarship. He received the chü-jên degree in 1894 by passing a provincial examination and the following year took the metropolitan examination in Peking. At this time he submitted a petition to the throne signed by himself and some 1300 other examination candidates. This was the famous Kung-ch'ê shang-shu (Petition Presented by the Examination Candidates). It was written by K'ang and strongly urged reforms to prevent China perishing as a nation. The petition was, however, rejected.

Up to this moment K'ang had no knowledge of Western learning to speak of, but on his way to Peking via Hong Kong and Shanghai he was impressed by the honest and efficient administration of the Europeans there and suspected that since their colonies and foreign settlements were so well governed their home countries would be even better managed. This led him to investigate the causes for this superi

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