Was Confucianism Responsible For China

’s Failure To Modernize Essay, Research Paper

Was Confucianism Responsible for China’s Failure to Modernize?

How significant was China’s more than 1000-year tradition of a stable, hierarchial, Confucian society in keeping China from seeing the need to modernize?

“If you can rule your own country, who dares to insult you,” was a statement that Confucious had once said. Confucious was a very influential man and many people in China abided to his statements with feelings of great credence. China’s modernization suffered severely because the people were so fixed on a Cofucian society that Confucious was largely responsible for. Imagine living in a country where everyone followed a system that, “stressed the practice of virtue-especially the cardinal virtues of faithfulness, sincerity, earnestness, and respectfulness-as the route to a stable social order and a defense against forces of corruption.” (Fairbank, pg 98) A society that strongly believes in ethnocentrism, the idea that a country’s own way of life is far better than all others, and a society not wanting to have anything to do with any other countries, fearing corruption. These examples of the Chinese’ Confucian society are some of the reasons why China had no intention for the need to modernize.

China had a very strong sense of nationalism within its people. Everyone shared the same language, tradition, and distinction from other nations. China wanted to be separate from all other nations. They without a doubt had a legitimate border for there country. They went as far as to build the Great Wall to distinguish it and guard it. Before the intrusion of foreign peoples in China, the country had no ambition for industrial or economic expansion. Although they did not begin to modernize until the 19th century, their community was still self-sufficient and productive.

China felt that they were in no need for a change. A stable society kept them content. The Chinese who were more than happy with there own Confucian society feared the reforms of the Western Nations. Before the late nineteenth century, China had little or almost no contact with the outside world, especially that of the western world. There were many efforts that were made for China to become further modernized.

Tseng Kuo-fan was a key figure in dealing with foreigners. He was set on the Confucian society and therefore did not make much progress with the foreigners. He “opposed telegraphs, railways, and other uses of Western technology as likely to harm Chinese livelihood and give foreigners too much influence” (Fairbank pg 103) He once wrote “Barbarian affairs are hard to manage but the basic principles are no more than the four words of Confucious: chung, hsin, tu, and ching-faithfulness, sincerity, earnestness and respectfulness.” (Fairbank, 101) Hsin means not to tell a lie, but it is not easy to avoid doing it.

Tseng Kuo-fan in time died in 1872, his position was taken over by Li Hungchang. Li Hungchang did not follow the Confucian ways as much as Tseng did, but he was forced to. He wanted to build the army but yet another quote by Confucious “warfare depends on men, not weapons” brought his idea to a screeching halt. Li tried his hardest to modernize China. He tried to give new ideas to help out his country but they were all shot down. The Chinese did not trust the Westerners. They could not forget how they humiliated them by their invasions of Peking, killing of their people, and the burnings of their sacred properties. China felt that they could never trust these “barbarians” and by no means ever adopt their ways of living.

Eventually Li Hung-chang got the ball rolling for modernization. He decided to compete with foreign economic enterprise in China. Li created a joint-stock steamship line, the Kaiping coal mine to fuel his ships, he started sending students from China to study abroad, and bought the machinery for the Shanghai Arsenal. It was he who was largely responsible for the modernization of China.

In conclusion, the significance of the Confucian society keeping China from seeing the need to modernize is overwhelming. So many years of modern reform were lost because of that. The lack of industrial and economic expansion, and China’s isolation as a result of the Confucian society was a tremendous loss. The 1000-year old tradition of Confucianism was by no means good for China and in my opinion hurt there country as a whole severely.


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