The History of Modern China
The modern China is a country that is politically stable than the China of the 19th Century, a country that has since developed into a strong, democratic, prosperous and culturally advanced socialist nation. But this was no the case in the ancient times. Archeological findings report that some of the ancient Chinese practices still flourish even in the modern China; this makes the Chinese history the most unique one in the whole world. The Chinese have refused to let go a bit of their ancient cultures even with civilization. There has been a continuity of ancient Chinese culture through over 4,000 years to the present day. The Chinese society has progressed through a series of five major stages in their history from the ancient times to the present day. The Stages if arranged from the first to the most recent will be: – The Primitive Society, Slave Society, Feudal Society, Semi-feudal and Semi-colonial Society and finally the Socialist Society. The Chinese value their real and mythical origin so much and have therefore kept records of their past, records which are now running into volumes and volumes (Bedeski, 541).
Modernization per se can be referred to as the science of discovery and the technological inventions which eventually leads to establishment of modern industries, civilization and the rise and fall of nations. In the quest to modernize China, there rose a lot of issues, with its proponents and opponents engaging in numerous battles to have their ideas rule the times. Reports indicate that it is the West who first initiated modernization to the ancient China. Before that, the Chinese led a humbled traditional and simple life. Though in this their simplicity, they saw themselves as superior to their neighbors. Their simple technology and the superiority of their idiographic written language made them have great influence even across the boarders to their neighbors like the Koreans, Japanese and the Vietnamese. The assimilation process of the Chinese continued from century to century through the conquest and colonization until what we presently have as the Modern China.
When the West invaded China, there were two options open to the Chinese conservatives to maintain the status quo. One was to resist by rebelling against the foreigners and drive them away, and the second alternative was to strengthen China by peaceful reforms to enable it overcome the outside interference. They realized that violent resistance will never help them out and so reformation ruled. The reformers believed that the matter was to be treated in urgency and should never be delayed at any cost. This belief sparked revolutionary activities that were aimed at overthrowing the dynasty. While on the other hand, the die-hard conservatives strongly believed that the future of China did lie on the cultural practices which they must never be shunned in favor of the Western culture (Coye Molly & Jon Livingston, 97).
The Ancient China
The Chinese at first unanimously fought to oppose the rule of those perceived as foreigners at all cost. There main fear was that the “aliens” will erode their pure culture which they had fought so hard to preserve. They tried so hard to oppose every bit to introduce any culture from foreign land, as they perceived it to be demonstrably inferior to their traditional standards. They could not even tolerate the fact that they could be ruled by an “alien”. But in the in the13th century the Mongols broke this record by conquering China and putting it under their rule and again for the second time in the 17th century by the Manchus (Coye Molly & Jon Livingston, 103).
Enter the West.
China had all along believed that their domain as self sufficient and the centre of the Universe was real and was bound to stand forever. This view that they had of the world was still evident in the19th century when they confronted the West for the first time. They had assumed that the relationship that they had with the Europeans will only be defined by their tributary system that was set by their emperor and representatives of other states on the China’s boarders. But when western modernization broke, the result was disastrous. In the mid-19th century they had their military humiliated by the West who had got more superior weapons and technology. They therefore never made any successful adjustments as earlier planned. This marked the on set of modernization in China.
Modernization brought about social dissatisfaction and the people began to push for more rights, hence leading to revolutionary wars, with the Revolutionaries and Reformers on one side and the Conservatives on the other. Each group had its own school of thought. The West started with very friendly offers in trade, offers that were so tempting for the Chinese to let go but they did not only stop at trade, the Roman Catholic missionaries tried to recruit members and establish a church in China. The missionaries received massive opposition from the Chinese conservative group, such that in 1800, after about five good centuries after their arrival, only a few hundred thousand Chinese had been converted. The Jesuits too helped in the introduction of such new practices like: – cannon casting, music, art, mathematics, cartography, geography, and architecture (Bedeski, 577).
Emergence of Modern China
During the Ming times, the Chinese had peace and self satisfaction, a fact that encouraged little change in the attitude of the ruling elites. But this only prevailed before modernization took root. In the days before modernization, the Chinese used to live by farming around the Yellow River, where they grew crops like wheat, rice and millet. They did their cultivation using stone tools. Apart from farming the only other thing that they were involved in was basic pottery. The growing population which stood at well over 300 million by the start of the 19th century required an improved industry or proper trade to absorb the surplus of labor. China therefore experienced an intense economic pressure and felt obliged to adopt the foreign practices of the West that they had earlier rejected (Coye Molly & Jon Livingston, 118).
It was an up hill task for the emperor that served during the Qing Dynasty to maintain the old order as he was to go against the surging challenges from the seafaring Western powers. In the past, before the West invaded China with their numerous technologies, the Neo-Confucian scholars had adopted the axiomatic cultural superiority of the Chinese civilization and the way they perceived the world. Any other thought other than this to suggest innovation or encourage the adoption of the any foreign practice was unthinkable (Bedeski, 549).
The pressure resulted to the emergence of a change of thought and perception by the locals on the angle by which they took local practices against those of the intruder, and so they embraced trade with the West. The die hard conservatives like Chang Chih-tung and Hung-chang had a lot of influence which forced the reformers to think hard on their stand to bring change to China. They gave the reformers sleepless nights. But eventually they failed and it became apparent that China will be modernized after all. But the ideas of these die-hard conservatives were never wholly rejected but still persist to date in the modern China.
The idea of China taking onto the new order did not auger well with those that valued the status quo. The intellectuals posing as reformers and revolutionaries who drafted the modernization program did not factor in many issues, or we can say that they just overlooked them and ignored their implications. They were therefore given a shot in the arm when the so called die-hard conservatives protested against the new policies and amassed a major support to mobilize their followers who were like minded. They then decided to stage protests against the reformers’ ideas. The protests escalated so fast and developed into a major security concern in China and the rest of the world. One of such protest is the June 4th massacre of 1989. It exposed the reformists’ lack of understanding of the China’s features of the New Order. They had ignored to take into considerations the order of culturalists, moralistic and spiritualists who failed to understand the reasons as to why they had to adopt the alternatives.
Unlike the Chinese, their neighbors, the Japanese decided to embrace the Western functions much earlier without any delay, shunning their traditional cultures. But the Chinese on their part decided to be a little more cautious with the intruding new styles. Until 1900 the die-hard conservatives had still rejected the reforms but others had accepted it to a certain extent. The die-hards eventually got convinced, or they just got tired and kept quiet and were ignored by several Chinese nationals. Their arguments on rejecting the West were valid as far as they were concerned. They reasoned that the Westerners will impose unequal treaties on China, forcing them to accept humiliating compromises to their traditional system and governance. The conservatives also warned that the traditional Chinese was coming to the end of its rope if the existing local practices will be abandoned in favor of the Western culture (Wenran Jiang, 2005)..
Apart from Chang Chih-tung and Hung-chang, another opponent of modernization was Prof. Wang’ of the Beijing’s Tsinghua University who preferred the old way as a way to solve the emerging problems of the economy-he supported the re-introduction of the Communism state. The idea to reject the Western Practices left Chinese so much behind as compared to their neighbors, the Japanese, so far that they decided to recover the lost time by the reverting on a project dubbed “the second revolution”. The project addressed economic and organization reform programs. This saw the invitation of foreign specialists to help assist the modernization program.
In the later years in the modern China, we have witnessed some of the negative impacts that modernization has brought to. There has been increased environmental pollution due to the rapid industrialization. Both air and water pollution is severe. The release of poisonous gas contributed to people contracting lung complication that eventually causes death. It is reported that one out of four people who die in China, die of lung disease caused by the pollution effect.
Reformers and Revolutionaries
The idea of the reformers was to strengthen China to become a modern state with strengthened self interest. They also argued that reformation was necessary at the wake of modernization to put an end to some social ills like corruption and laxity. New organs were therefore formed to supervise and execute reform programs. In general they wanted reformation in China to be, in all governmental sectors for instance: -Military, Education, Political, Economy and Legal Sectors. They also agreed that though civilization would help heal the nation of the inner corruption and foreign aggression, it could not be the only way. It therefore also called for self discipline among all the participants.
The Chinese modernization brought about several changes even in their system of governance which they changed to socialism. This transition took place in the period 1953-1957. It was characterized by the efforts to achieve industrialization, agricultural collectivization and political centralization. The basis or pillars by which modernization took root was on four major grounds, namely: – Agriculture, Science and technology, National defense and lastly Industry.
Just as the reformers, the revolutionaries were for the idea that China needed a change. They therefore fought for democratization in China. They were involved in the opening up of vistas and made viable contributions to the proposed reforms as well as opening up the socialists modernization drive that promoted peace in the large China. The revolutionaries also got themselves involved in running of some programs that were geared to help China achieve economic and social development, alleviate rural poverty through intellectual support and build schools and health centers (Wenran Jiang, 2005).
The opposition subsided after the people had seen how their living standards, especially that of the peasants had improved, thanks to the sudden shift to adopt modern technology. With modern tools, working in the farms was made much easier hence a large track of land could be prepared which eventually led to more yield. The farmers were also guaranteed of ready market for their produce. They therefore fell for idea of modernization whole heartedly.
Even though some peasants’ lives had been reformed in a way, modernization had also led to the transformation of a lot more other things in very many concrete ways, either positively or negatively. The adoption of the Capitalism system of governance resulted to industrial restructuring, mass poverty and rise in unemployment rate. It had also led to change in labor laws. The changed laws no longer protected the interest of the worker as before. Lately, there are reported cases of drastic reduction of welfare protections, emergence of numerous corruptions and nepotism cases, pollution and criminal cases among other social ills.
The youths that were there during the reformation period embraced the idea so much with all their might. They loved to be a part of the new regime and the single individuals who would do things differently. It felt great for them to be able to pursue education up to the highest standards outside China. The advancing technology though was challenging, was quite interesting for the emerging work force. They could then learn under a comfortable academic atmosphere and worked so hard to be at par with their foreign counterparts. They embraced the idea of being recognized in the world’s academic realm.
The start and continued modernization of China has been reported to be due to the Western Multinationals. This was witnessed in the resent co-operation of the East and the West lately in the signing of joint projects in the East, trade being of a major target. Breaking the boundaries that had been instilled by the restrictions barring the foreigners from accessing China was a great plus to the business community in China. The businessmen and women could then acquire more products for their local demand as well as expand their customer base across the boarders. Results!! Good hefty profits. Business was at its best (Wenran Jiang, 2005).
We are able to say that due to the modernization that was brought about by the West, we now see a China that has enormously changed for the better, a China that is no longer backward and struggling to free herself from the colonial bondage or competition from her neighbors, but we are able to see that China that governs herself, has her own machinery, workshops, confiscated technology and a well equipped military force that is not only recognized in Asia but in the whole world.
The relationship between the United States and China is one which is very complex to understand. It is the United States that have all along been the development partners of the Chinese, but due to the state the Chinese economy as at now, they want to treat the US as their potential rivals. The battle of superiority has gripped the two states. The relationship has of late grown soar and they treat one another more cautiously. As much as each of them strives to be independent from the other, they do share a lot of economic values that make them to be more of partners than foes. For instance, in Beijing’s case United States is their major source of modern technology where they import most of the latest technological inventions and so, it provides a huge market for exports from the States. They also export their raw materials as well as semi-processed goods to the US. This makes the two partners to share a lot in the business world. And as lately seen the modernization and development of both China and US are interrelated.
The Chinese need to have sufficient energy and other raw materials. To satisfy this, they get their help from the US which aids such projects. This association is becoming more and more complicated with the Chinese having the perception that they have been forced to be under-dogs for a long time by Japanese and Korea and more recently by the U.S over Taiwan. The feeling has aggravated so much that they have therefore embarked on a strategy to become a global power by sustaining economic growth by rapid modernization to match those of the perceived enemies and competitors. If the West realizes this, then we will see a shift in the aid that the Chinese Government receives as well as a series of alignment with allies, this will go hand in hand with a widening gap between the once close associates.
We can also conclude that the efforts by the die-hard conservatives to oppose modernization failed because of several factors, among which include: – The oversea students, the modern intellectuals, local provincial scholar-gentry as well as the new armies whom the dynasty had helped to ascend to such ranks turned their backs and became disloyal. This made the efforts by the Reformers and Revolutionaries a success. This is evident in the modern China where we can now see a well unified nation, more peaceful, a country that promotes her common development as well as struggling to consolidate and broaden a patriotic united front (Eberhard Wolfram, 39).
Bedeski, Robert E. “The Evolution of the Modern State in China: Na tionalist and Communist
Continuities,” World Politics, XVII, No. 4, July 1975, 541-680.
Coye Molly & Jon Livingston (Eds.): “China Yesterday and Today”. (2nd Ed.) New York:
Bantam Books: 1979. 97-122
Eberhard, Wolfram. “A History of China”. (4th Ed.) Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. 19-55
Wenran Jiang “The Costs of China’s Modernization”: Volume 5, Issue 25 (December 06, 2005)