Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

In What Ways and to What Extent Was China Modernized During the Republican Period (1912-49)?

Category China, Republican
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In what ways and to what extent was China modernized during the Republican period (1912-49)? After the fall of Qing Dynasty in 1911, the unprecedented, new form of government emerged in China immediately. Whereafter the betrayal of the Republic of Yuan Shikai (1913-1916) and the turmoil of Warlordism (1916-27), China was in a relative stable situation till the Nationalist Government was established in Nanjing in 1928, a period first possible for any modernization effort.

That is, most of the modernization efforts, both externally and internally, which including diplomacy, financial, industry, education, of the Republican period (1912-49), were done in the Nationalist Government period, from 1928-37, and subsequently disturbed and made impossible by the Sino-Japanese War. The external modernizations made by the Nanjing Government were unprecedented, which revealed by the revival of tariff autonomy and recovery of foreign concessions. Diplomatically, during the Nanjing Government period, the tariff autonomy was regained, to replace the fixed tariff of 5 percent ad valorem imposed after the Opium War in 1842.

Adding to this, in 1928, two guiding principles in which treaties and agreement s that had expired would be abolish and renegotiated according to legal procedures. That is, the foreign powers agreed in principle to give up their consular jurisdiction. Furthermore, several municipal foreign concessions, including the one in Hankow, Kiukiang, Chinkiang, Weihaiwei, Amoy and Tientsin, were recovered. And in 1943 finally the United States and Britain voluntarily abolished all unequal treaties with China. The century-long humiliation upon the Chinese was finally abolished while China could gain a place in the foreign diplomatic map.

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Internally, political structure was modernized in terms of the clear establishment of separating powers as changed from the absolute Chinese monarchical rule. The dominant feature of the Nanjing Government was its five-yuan structure, including the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, the Judiciary Yuan, the Examination Yuan and the Control Yuan. Each Yuan owned their special authorities in the Government politics. This fulfilled The Three People’s Priciples, the Five-Power Constitution, the Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, proposed by Dr Sun Yixian.

In 1928, the Nanjing Government also brought China into the Period of Political Tutelage. Although the Executive Yuan was different to the Western practice, in terms of the organ was responsible to the party (KMT) and the president of the republic (Jiang Jieshi), basically, the political structure was modernized in the Nanjing period. Besides, people mind was modernized in terms of voicing their opinions actively and bravely. The 1911 Revolution gave a new sense to the people that mass opinion could place a weigh in the society, which was unprecedented in Chinese history.

This could be reflected by several mass movements since 1912, Chinese people were brave to voice their opinion upon social, mostly, and foreign affairs. The most notable were the May Fourth Incident in 1919, and the May 30th Atrocious Incident in 1925. Chinese people in the former successfully voiced their nationalism of which not accepting the unfair treatment in the Paris Peace Conference, used mass power to give pressure on the exiting government, forcing it to release strikers, and striking a general boycott on Japanese goods.

The Chinese participated in both incidents were diverse, including students, workers and merchants alike. This showed the modernized, mature mind of Chinese people. Politics was modernizing in terms of the circulation of different opinion freely: the emergence of the Nationalist Party and Communist Party. Although the Nationalist Party, the KMT (Kuomintang), was established and in power immediately after the 1911 Revolution, the rapid intellectual development was not barred from that.

Amid those eagerness to acquire western ideologies and reforming China, different “isms” were introduced. Confronting to the relatively more capitalistic KMT, the CPC, the Communist Party of China, emerged at the same time. Until 1949, the two ideology-confronted parties were working in China, which showed a relatively modernized Chinese society that could allow different ideologies. Practically, many modernization efforts were made by the Nationalistic Government domestically. In the financial aspects In the industrial development aspects,

In the education aspect, But all the modernizations mentioned above were constrained to a limited extent. This was mainly because the interference of internal and external upheavals: the warlord periods and the Sino-Japanese War. These modernization efforts could only be done in the Nationalist Government period, from 1928-37, this confined the scope and the extent. Secondly, there was no any social and economic reform. Thirdly, all modernization efforts were confined to the coastal areas, and untouched by the vast rural mass.

Also the classes incurred in several mass movements were yield to the hard life in wars and no longer willing to voice their opinion. Fourthly, there were no modernizations on the majority population: peasants. Fifthly, the multi party politics was never realized in China, and the introduction of constitution never materialized six years after 1928. Only external modernizations were realized and truly beneficial to Chinese, the majority Chinese. The internal material modernizations were only confined to the Nationalistic Government period, and limited places in China.

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