Early 20th Century Chinese Economic Reform Essay

Total Length: 850 words ( 3 double-spaced pages)

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Yan Fu “On Strength”

Yan Fu breaks from prevailing Chinese philosophical norms and traditions to embrace a categorically European approach to history and foreign affairs. Starting by explaining Darwinian theory and its implications for human society, Yan Fu shows how competition between societies is inevitable. Yan Fu reviews Darwin’s Origin of Species and explicates the other main component of the theory of evolution: natural selection. Humans are no different from the animals that Darwin analyzed for preparation of his thesis. Therefore, Yan Fu leaps quite dangerously into the territory of social Darwinism.

Building on Spencer’s initial work on social Darwinism, First Principles, Yan Fu shows how societies form governments according to their environmental needs just as animals organize their social structures and evolve particular characteristics. Each society will have values, norms, ideals, and institutions that reflect the historical, geographic, and economic context. However, societies are also dependent on their ability to balance the needs of the collective with the need for individual autonomy. Self-preservation is the key to the survival of a society, just as it is with an animal species.

Sustaining a society requires physical strength, intellect, and ethics, according to Yan Fu. Therefore, a society that has a vested interest in self-preservation would endeavor at all costs to promote these three core features. Brute force alone is insufficient; the society must also exhibit intellectual prowess and ethical integrity. Yan Fu extols the virtues of Western societies, claiming that they have been successful precisely because they have been able to strike a balance between individual liberty and the collective need for rules and social order. Following, Yan Fu claims that Chinese society needs to adopt the Western value of freedom if it is to remain competitive.

“Moderate Reform and the Self-Strengthening Movement”

The late nineteenth century was a tumultuous time in Chinese history. The Manchus clung to their dynasty tenaciously, and Western encroachment was all but inevitable. The author claims that the late nineteenth century was a period of revival and restoration, characterized by a relaxation of pressure from the Western powers coupled with the restoration of domestic peace and tranquility.

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In fact, China was able to withstand pressures to change dramatically from its Confucian past. Confucian values persisted, preserving the age-old ethical guidelines that formed the foundation of Chinese society. In essence, China would be able to preserve its Confucian values even in the midst of global and domestic turmoil. It was also Confucian values and ethics that made peace possible: not as some would suggest, the adoption of Western ways of life, weapons, or worldviews.

However, there was also a need to humbly accept the need for some reform. The moderate reforms that took place offered some concession to Western superiority in terms of weapons technologies. Self-strengthening depended on improving China’s ability to defend itself and thus, its traditions. It was necessary to adapt to modern Western weapons, in order to preserve the Neo-Confucian ideals including self-reliance.

Feng Guifen also recognized the value of reform, noting that China has much to learn from its Western counterparts. Western models of labor reform, resource use, and particularly technological growth all need to be adapted to Chinese ends. Feng Guifen also argues for a Western-style reform of the educational system and to expand both Chinese curriculum and pedagogy. Self-awareness and insight wil allow a more balanced perspective that blends the need for self-preservation and commitment to Confucian ethics with the need for incorporating new ideas and ideals. The guiding principle of change is pragmatism.

“Three Kuan-tu Shang-pan Enterprises”

This article describes the organizational structure of three emerging Chinese capitalist enterprises, which together comprised the economic empire of Sheng Hsuan-huai. These are referred to as kuan-tu shang-pan firms. The China Merchants’ Steam Navigation Company was also part of….....

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"Early 20th Century Chinese Economic Reform" (2018, February 27) Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

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"Early 20th Century Chinese Economic Reform", 27 February 2018, Accessed.18 July. 2019,