Self Strengthening Movement Essay

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China’s Self-Strengthening Movement (1860 - 1894) is often regarded as a failure. To what extent do you agree with this assessment?

‘Why are the Western nations small and yet strong? What are we large and yet weak? We must search for the means to become their equal ... At first they may take the foreigners as their teachers and models; then they may come to the same level and be their equals; finally they may move ahead and surpass them. Herein lies the way to self-strengthening.’1

Following Feng Guifen’s [the innovator the movement] view on Self Strengthening, why then did the the movement fail? The period of 1860 through to 1864, between the end of the Third War with the West and the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War, were
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Along with Prince Gong’s active role in ‘seeking to improve China’s diplomatic relations and advance the military’11, the dominant leaders of modernization sought to ‘take the foreigners as their teachers and models; then they may come to the same level and be their equals; finally they may move ahead and surpass them’. Their ideas were supported by a number of provincial governors and scholar-officials who began to ‘seek out an effective path for reform’12. These efforts would become known as the Self-Strengthening Movement. The leading theorist of the movement was the scholar-official Feng Guifen who believed in order to ‘strengthen the Qing state, traditional Confucian culture and institutions must be preserved’ and ‘supplemented by Western weapons and technological learning’. Although the reforms proposed modernization, a cultural change was needed for it to truly be in effect. With the establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Zongli Yamen), Zeng advised to send students to Western countries for technical training and in result a mission was sent to the United States of America the following year. However after a few years the students were instructed to return to China claiming that they spent to much time on Western learning and not enough on their Chinese studies. Although, the officials most likely feared that the students were ‘learning democratic or republican ideas’13
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