History of Modern China

In 2015 will be my nineth year in China, therefore a little review of the last century history in China seems mandatory to have a better understanding of today Chinese society and the direction the goverment is taking in the earlies 2000s.

This segment will be divided in different parts in oder to make these articles for readers-friendly.


Describing modern China is important, because it market the separation from the 5000 years old traditional structure to the nowdays one.


Of modern Chinese history it is difficult analyze because of the multiplicity of sources and the historic & political evolution of the country.

In the early twentieth century it seemed that China was destined to be divided into as many colonies, thi was the century of Chinese modernization and there were great debates for the choice of instruments to implement it to achieve it.

In the costal and northen areas of the country there was desire to reassert legal and political control, an operation not only to be consolidated internally but it was also about foreign policy. For example the neighbour Japan enjoyed many commercial rights with the West that China didn’t.

The Chinese Twentith Century can be divided into 3 periods:

  • Later Imperial period: Collaps of the Imperial instutions, consolidation of the foreign colonies and new political arena.
  •  1911-1949: Republican periodCharacterized by civil wars, a division of China into political units and the Japanese invasion of 1937-1945.  For our convenience we split it between  Early Republican period (1911-1916) and Post Republican Period (1916-1937).
  • 1949to the present day: The Socialist Period:
    Early Socialist Period: From Mao rose to the power and the revolutionary movements;
    Late Socialist Period: Characterized by the economic reforms of 1979 onwards.

Later Imperial period:the collaps of the chinese impere

Imperialism in china

The second half of the nineteenth century in China is characterized by major social and economic crisis that led to a progressive decline of the Qing power. The dynasty was unable to meet the need for innovation and the internal problems of the country.

After 1848’s “FIRST OPIUM WAR were implemented new policies favors for western colonies, such as the creation of new markets, extraterritoriality of foreign citizens, and territorial concessions. This is time when China starts to percieve the need for innovation. The Unequal Treaties” will be abolished only in 1949.

Numerous popular uprisings, such as the Second Boxers revolution (1860-1862), TaiPing, enniu, etc., accentuated the divisions between central government and regional level. In the coastal areas foreign colonies were sicking modernization and new technological projects were implemented. 

The Imperor solution was to open a research group whose purpose was the study of western industries to learn from them. almost 60 years before Japan adopted a similar approach after the country reopened his territory to foreing commerce and was decided to invite foreign experts to support any fields, from military to architecture, from education to music.

As a result of Japan modernization and Chinese insability, between 1894’95 broke down the Sino-Japanese War. Japan has always been seen as a country whose culture had always borrowed from the Chinese, but this time gets to the record as the most militarized country in Asia against China, gaining control of Taiwan (until 1945) and parts of Russia few years laster in 1905 (first war against Western powers won by an Asian Country).

The outcome of this war is that Chinese intellectuals as Kaywei, Yang Qiqiao and many others urged the need to change the political system and organization in the Chinese territory.

In 1898 The Onehundred Days Reform”, a political movement whose aim was to innovate the Chinese system, could not come into act because of the coup d’etat of the Empress. Progressive scholar-reformers who had impressed the court with the urgency of making innovations for the nation’s survival. Influenced by the Japanese success with modernization, the reformers declared that China needed more than “self-strengthening” and that innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change.

In 1898-1899 another revolt, known as the Boxer Rebellion, marked the point of greatest weakness of China, which was followed by huge consequences:
A) Allowances of war. Together was also guaranteed the abolition of customs and many forms of maritime taxations. As there was no money in Chinese central bank, the country could not be carried out any modernization processes. (United States created scholarships for Chinese students to support the country).
B) China then came to apply for International Loans used to implement projects.
C) After the treats western countries were allowed to allocate foreign troops in Chinese territory.

In other words this meant that China has been divided in different spheres of influence.

A cartoon describing the policies of Open Door Politics in china, between the main actors: UK, France, Germany, US and Japan.

A cartoon describing the policies of Open Door Politics in china, between the main actors: UK, France, Germany, US and Japan.

In 1900 to overcome the differences from sphere ot the other the USA introduced the policy of “Open Doors Policies“. As a matter of fact John Hay’s “Open Door Policy” calls for equal trade rights amongst Europeans in China.

The internal revolts against the invaders were seen as a sign of weakness, even is now has been regarded as a form of patriotism, still it shows the instability of the institutions.

In 1901 The government lunched to lay out a systematic project “New Politics” (新政) that would come into full operation in a decade. It happened instead that the project fastened the collapse of the country.
The program was pushing for the establishment of the following projects:

    Modern military academies were created, the officers were sent to study abroad and  important values ​​such as loyalty and sense of belonging to the country were utilized to strenghten the stability of the academies;
    1905 the well known State Exams, which had a millenary history in selecting the political class in China were substitued by a new system. Modern universities were founded to create a modern political class able to adapt to the new international arena. The program attempted to create a compulsory education, to send abroad te students especially for military and scientific disciplines, and to bring back grown people with new political ideas.
    Several delegations were sent abroad to meet their foreign cuounterparts. The institutional model was based on the Japanese one, because it recognized a great power in the figure of the emperor. Japan in this period was regarded as a irrivernet politcal figure and as a the most moder Asian power at the same time.
    In 1909 were established the provincial assemblies. And the Constitutioanl Monarchy build in 1911, had now created in 1912 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior (police forces of the modern conception), the Ministry of Trade and Communication.

Next Article:
                  The Early Republican Period 1911-1916

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