Two Chinese Rulers Making The Same History?

As Chinese rulers 'behind the screens', the Dowager Empress Ci Xi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the present 'Supreme Helmsman', Deng Xiaoping, seem to be poles apart. Ci Xi has gone down in Chinese history as a notorious conservative, while Deng retains a certain reputation for China's current economic reforms. Nevertheless in reality both figures have contributed to the same history. They both permitted two significant advances towards modernisation in Chinese Society, but suppressed the two attendant movements of radical reform and democracy.

The first period of advance, or rather, a movement of Westernisation took place between 1862 and 1894, largely during the period of Ci Xi's dominance. During this time, schools were created for the study of foreign languages, students were sent to study abroad, Western technology and industrialisation were introduced, a modern navy and customs system were set up and the first Chinese foreign service office introduced.

The second period of advance was the reform and opening to the West in the 1980s under Deng's supremacy. During that time China moved towards a market economy and Western technology, management and culture was introduced to a significant extent in a second movement of Westernisation. However, there are other darker parallels - between the fate of the reform of 1898 and the democratic movement of 1989.

In 1895, participants in the imperial examinations at Beijing submitted a written statement to the authority of the Qing, appealing for a politico-social reform. Though their petition was refused, some of the radicals continued to urge upon the rulers the importance of the reform. Soon the young emperor was influenced, being concerned about the nation falling behind the times. Under this impetus reforms got underway in 1898, their main purposes being to adopt Western learning in education, to develop a capitalist economy and to establish a constitutional government.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.



Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week