Liang Qichao - A Famous Chinese Scholar, Journalist, Philosopher and Reformist
Liang Qichao (梁启超; February 23, 1873–January 19, 1929) was a Chinese scholar, journalist, philosopher and reformist during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), who inspired Chinese scholars with his writings and reform movements. He died of illness in Beijing at the age of 55.
Liang Qichao was born in a small village in Xinhui, Guangdong Province on February 23, 1873.
Liang's father, Liang Baoying, was a farmer, but a background in classics allowed him to introduce Liang to various literary works when Liang was six years old. By the age of nine, Liang started writing thousand-word essays and became a district-school student soon after.
Liang had two wives in his life: Ms. Li Huixian and Ms. Wang Guiquan. They brought nine children to Liang; all of them became successful individuals through Liang's strict and effective education. Three of them were scientific personnel at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Liang passed the Xiucai (秀才) degree provincial examination at the age of 11. In 1884, he undertook the arduous task of studying for the traditional governmental exams. At the age of 16, he passed the Juren (举人) second level provincial exams (analogous to a master’s degree) and was the youngest successful candidate at that time.
In 1890, Liang failed in his Jinshi (进士) degree national examinations in Beijing and never earned a higher degree. He took the exams along with Kang Youwei (康有为, 1858-1927), a famous Chinese scholar and reformist. The examiner was determined to flunk Kang for his heterodox challenge to existing institutions, but since the exams were all anonymous, he could only presume that the exam with the most unorthodox views was Kang's. Instead, Kang disguised himself by writing an examination essay espousing traditionalist ideas and passed the exam while Liang's paper was assumed to be Kang's and picked out to be failed.
Inspired by the book Information About the Globe, Liang became extremely interested in western ideologies. After returning home, Liang went on to study with Kang Youwei, who was teaching at Wanmu Caotang (万木草堂) in Guangzhou. Kang's teachings about foreign affairs fuelled Liang's interest in reforming China.
In 1895, Liang went to the capital Beijing again with Kang for the national examination. During the examination, he was a leader of the Gong Zhe Shangshu movement. After failing to pass the examination for a second time, he stayed in Beijing to help Kang publish Domestic and Foreign Information. He also helped to organise the Society for National Strengthening (强学会), where Liang served as secretary. For time, he was also enlisted by the governor of Hunan, Chen Baozhen to edit reform-friendly publications, such as the Hunan Daily (Xiangbao 湘报) and the Hunan Journal (Xiang xuebao 湘学报).
As an advocate of constitutional monarchy, Liang was unhappy with the governance of the Qing Government and wanted to change the status quo in China. He organized reforms with Kang Youwei by putting their ideas on paper and sending them to Emperor Guangxu (光绪帝, 1871-1908; reigned 1875-1908) of the Qing Dynasty. This movement is known as the Wuxu Reform or the Hundred Days' Reform. Their proposal asserted that China was in need of more than "self-strengthening", and called for many institutional and ideological changes such as getting rid of corruption and remodeling the state examination system.
This proposal soon ignited a frenzy of disagreement, and Liang became a wanted man by order of Empress Cixi (慈禧太后,1835-1908), the leader of the political conservative party who later took over the government as regent. Cixi strongly opposed reforms at that time and along with her supporters, condemned the "Hundred Days' Reform" as being too radical.
In 1898, the Conservative Coup ended all reforms and exiled Liang to Japan, where he stayed for the next fourteen years of his life. While in Tokyo he was befriended by the influential Japanese politician (and future Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. In Japan, he continued to actively advocate democratic notions and reforms by using his writings to raise support for the reformers’ cause among overseas Chinese and foreign governments. He continued to emphasize the importance of individualism, and to support the concept of a constitutional monarchy as opposed to the radical republicanism supported by the Tokyo-based Tongmeng Hui (the forerunner of the Kuomintang).
In 1899, Liang went to Canada, where he met Dr. Sun Yat-Sen among others, then to Honolulu in Hawaii. During the Boxer Rebellion, Liang was back in Canada, where he formed the "Save the Emperor Society" (保皇会). This organisation later became the Constitutionalist Party which advocated constitutional monarchy. While Sun promoted revolution, Liang preached reform.
In 1900-1901, Liang visited Australia on a six-month tour which aimed at raising support for a campaign to reform the Chinese empire in order to modernise China through adopting the best of Western technology, industry and government systems. He also gave public lectures to both Chinese and Western audiences around the country. He returned to Japan later that year.
In 1903, Liang embarked on an eight-month lecture tour throughout the United States, which included a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, DC, before returning to Japan via Vancouver, Canada.
With the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, constitutional monarchy became an increasingly irrelevant topic in early republican China. He merged his renamed Democratic Party with the Republicans to form the new Progressive Party. He was very critical of Sun Yatsen's attempts to undermine President Yuan Shikai. Though usually supportive of the government, he opposed the expulsion of the Nationalists from parliament.
In 1915, he opposed Yuan's attempt to make himself emperor. He convinced his disciple Cai E, the military governor of Yunnan, to rebel. Progressive party branches agitated for the overthrow of Yuan and more provinces declared their independence. The revolutionary activity that he had frowned upon was utilised successfully. Besides Duan Qirui, Liang was the biggest advocate of entering World War I on the Allied side. He felt it would boost China's status and ameliorate foreign debts. He condemned his mentor, Kang Youwei, for assisting in the failed attempt to restore the Qing in July 1917. After failing to turn Duan and Feng Guozhang into responsible statesmen, he left politics.