The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History

By R. Keith Schoppa | Go to book overview
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Building State and Nation Amid
Cultural Revolution, 1901–28


Changing Historical Contexts

The last decade of the Manchus ended with a bang of activity, not a whimper. The activity varied from reformist to quite radical, even revolutionary. The year and a half that the empress dowager spent in Xi'an must have given her time to ponder China's predicament. Already in January 1901, she issued a statement about adopting the strong points from foreign countries in order to make up for China's weaknesses. During the course of the reforms up to the 1911 revolution, the first stirrings of a new China began to be felt—from modern-style economic developments to outbursts of nationalism and the appearance of new social forces. Certainly, if the Manchu reform effort was stimulated by China's plight vis-à-vis the outside world, it was also prompted by internal developments and change.

From the start, it should be seen that the stirrings of a new China were spatially uneven. Core areas of greater urbanization and degree of economic development, often along the coasts or important river systems, evidenced the greater degree of modern changes; peripheral backwaters showed the least. The resulting gap obviously tended to create different experiences and “worldviews” among the denizens of the respective zones of development. Cities were the sites of greatest change. They were being paved, lighted, and policed. They were the homes for wide-ranging reformist voluntary associations to deal with social wrongs and vices like opium smoking, foot binding, and gambling. Newspapers were being produced in great number, and more and more magazines appeared, focusing on current developments. One historian in discussing the welding of Chinese society together has estimated that the numbers of letters, newspapers, and magazines sent and received in 1910 were twenty-five times that in 1901. 1 Such an increase most certainly comes primarily from the core zones.


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The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History


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