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Aspects of the Transition from Qing to Republican China by Albert Feuerwerker In this essay I want to consider a number of broad, interpretive questions to which I do not really have the definitive answers but which seem to me of central i~portance in understanding the nature of the 1911 Revolution that ended the Qing dynasty and introduced the Repubic of China. 1. What was the nature of the "social crisis" in eaPly twentieth-century China? Though individual historians will certainly differ in their reply, collectively they would include at least the following elements although they ~ay not always label them with the rubric "social crisis." a. The overthrow of the Qing dynasty, a positive achievement, mant not only the end of the imperial political system. It also marked the demise of a central focus of loyalty (the imperial institutions) and of a single, dominant set of social values {briefly, Neo-Confucianis:n) which--however one might evaluate them-undeniably · ahd served to unify and integrate Chinese society for centuries. Never again before 1949 was China to have a unified political system or a set of social values to whicvh most of its population adhered. Especially during and after the May Fourth period traditional values and social practices were subjected to increasingly effective criticism. Many experimented with an enormous variety of Western ideas and life-styles. Butmuch of this ferment was superficial. Iun the 1920 and 1930s no generally accepted "cultural integument" (to use the term of the Italian Marxist historian Gramsci for those social values which legitimize, rationalize, and support any political system) had successfully replaced the discredited Neo-Confucianism. b. Paralleling the collapse of the old centralized political system and of the values that justified it, and indeed contributing importantly to this collapse, was a disintegration of the traditonal unified ruling class. Perhaps "differentiation" or "diversification" are more appropriate terms to describe this development. Under the empire the primary road to power and social influence--if not always to wealth--had been the acquisition of a coveted degree, especially of the jinshi and juren degrees which qualified the candidate to hold office in the imperial bureaucracy. The common Confucian education and shared aspirations and political careers unified the degree holders {and others from the same social background who were unsuccessful in the examinations) into a single ruling class. Western scholars frequently use the borrowed term "gentry" to characterize this social stratum, but "elite" is possibly preferable as it carries with it leas historical baggage. We may divide this privileged class into the "bureaucratic elite" (those holding or qualified to hold office) and the "non-bureaucratic elite". (influential local persons, sometimes without examination degrees). While they might differ in the extent of their orientation to the central government or to more local concerns they were united by a common background and education and by the shared necessity to control sufficient amounts of the surplus produced by the agricultural labor force to permit the elite as a whole (although the fate of individual families might be more precarious) to continue to dominate. From the mid-nineteenth century important changes began to occur within this ruling class. Its size was inflated by increased examination quotas and the sale of official titles and poets. Probably more important was the formation of new sub-groups within the privileged elite. These included a prestigious military elite (the militia leaders who formed armies to defeat the Taipings and the officers of ihe "new armies" trained and equipped on Western models after · 1895 and especially after 1901); foreign affairs (yangwu) experts drawn from the staffs of powerful provincial officials such as Li Hongzhang or Zhang Zhidong who conducted negotiations with the foreigners and managed some of the negotiated economic affairs; compradores and independent merchants marketing foreign goods (nearly all of whom purchased official titles to mark their assimilation into the ruling elite}; entrepreneurs and shareholders in modern commercial and manufacturing enterprises; Western-style intellectuals (mainly the children of the traditional elite) who flocked to study abroad (especially to Japan) or in the "new schools" established in China after 1905; professional politicians (such. as those who led constitutional and education associations or were elected to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 1-21
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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