The Republic of China

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At the end of the 20th century China was undergoing an identity crisis. For 100 years China had been humiliated and forced into accepting the conditions the western powers brought to them. Starting with the opium wars and the opening of China to the west everyday Chinese were increasingly exposed to foreign ideas and cultures. Three main reactions became common in Chinese society.

A liberal, modern school of thought believed that China should adapt western influences fully, and by embracing these beliefs be able to compete with the west on equal footing. The conservative segments of the Chinese populace believed that these cultural influences were eroding the Chinese identity and threatened the country as a whole. These conservative Chinese usually had long entrenched loyalties to the current economic situation. For example many of these Chinese were part of the scholar-official class and therefore had vested interest in seeing the Confucian system continued on. A middle group also existed who seeked to reconcile these two extreme points of view by adapting some Western ideas and technology well not shedding their unique Chinese identity.

The 1800s in China is marked by these three groups responding to ever increasing external pressure from the west as well as a number of internal conflicts. The usual approach to reforming the obviously broken system under the late Qing was to attempt to integrate specific western technologies and ideas into the already existent Chinese mentality. The problem, however, was that these approaches did not address the underlying weaknesses in Chinas society. They also discounted the floodgate effect that allowing any western technology began.

To illustrate this let us examine the introduction of Western military technology and how it snowballed into an increased penetration of all western thought. As the Chinese scrambled to adopt to western arms in the face of the devastating defeats in the opium war they were forced to also import the western technologies and expertise to maintain these weapons. This meant that they also needed language schools for the Chinese students. These schools inevitably led to the spread of Western knowledge far outside of a specifically military field because the students would assimilate and share the knowledge that came with the language. Thus by trying to put off a drastic modernizing reform program the Chinese adopted stop gap measure which managed to keep China supported but not to address the underlying issues.