The Role of the West as A Force for Change in Modern Chinese History
The West as a force played a very important role in modern Chinese history, it directly or indirectly changed China in different aspects.
Qing dynasty’s power in China was heavily weakened since Opium War; government began to lost trust from people. After many unequal treaties, China gave out Hong Kong, Taiwan island and was forced to open treaty ports. These ports served as little enclaves of the West where Western law prevailed in lieu of Chinese law. When China was defeat in Sino-Japanese War, The question in China changed from "How little should we reform?" to "How much should we change?" Thus, 4 different groups with different ideas emerged. The West as a force pushed Qing dynasty’s collapse and incoming Chinese revolutions.
From seeing itself as the centre of the world, the Middle Kingdom to “Use Western technology to preserve the Chinese way of life”, China realized the power of the West. Therefore, formerly the Chinese had perceived themselves as a cultural entity, an awareness of China as a nation was created. Increased Chinese resentment regarding unequal treaties and unequal treatment of the Chinese in the treaty ports, this sentiment eventually turned into Chinese nationalism. Moreover, the notion of China being violated was established. This notion was the essential ingredient in the Chinese Revolution in the 20th century.
Treaty ports appeared in China as a result of the treaties. Western technology, business practices, ideas, politics, etc. entered through the treaty ports. In addition, schools were opened to provide an alternative to Confucian education. Christian schools allowed women to receive an education for the first time. Orphanages, hospitals and other social services began to improve life in China’s ports. Meanwhile, as a result of the Opium War, many individuals in and around Canton and Shanghai lost their jobs and were displaced. Various secret societies and sects emerged; they started several rebellions in South-East China.
The first alternative to Confucianism came through the treaty ports. The “virus” of the West was introduced through the treaty ports, spread fast and was uncontrollable. The missionaries were in the interior of the country and they challenged the Chinese gentry for local authority. Finally, Chinese decided that they needed to learn Western languages. Westerners supplied opening the first language school in Beijing. Also, China began sending diplomats abroad. After 1905, everything that the Chinese government did backfired. China decided to modernize the army, but the army in turn became a hotbed for revolution because the Chinese in the army were now educated.
As a result of opium trade and paying indemnity, there was a great deal of economic dislocation. To save Confucianism, the dynasty and China, The Self-Strengthening Movement started, which is China’s response to having the West in China. Tools China borrowed from the West for this purpose: ship building, guns, natural science and various other items. Therefore, a government weakness was that it did not support industrialization. Foreign competition wiped out any industry from competing at all. There was no capital accumulation to drive modernization and a lack of an educational base for technology. Also, there was no motivation.
China viewed IR in terms of hierarchy and of the emperor granting rights, not in rules of diplomacy, but treaties changed it all. As unequal treaty signed, China lost more and more rights in diplomacy. Regular and low tariffs were fixed for China and China was forced to give western country extraterritoriality and most favoured nation clause. China had to agree to diplomatic relations and to accept western ambassador in China. Although, China sent its first Chinese ambassador to visit the Western world, the relations between China and western countries was one-way diplomacy.