How did the self-strengthening movement affect China?self-strengthening movement 1860s

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, this movement had very little impact on China.

During this time, the Chinese were trying to accomplish something like what the Meiji Restoration accomplished in Japan -- they were trying to modernize their country in response to the humiliating defeats that the West had inflicted on it.

However, the reforms did not accomplish very much.  The reformers did not grasp the idea that much of the Westerners' strength came from its political ideas and institutions.  Therefore, attempts to modernize were not really successful.  (It is not clear that they could have been, given the state of Chinese development.)

Because they were unsuccessful, I do not believe these reforms had any real impact.

epollock | Student


Recognizing their military and political weakness vis-à-vis the Western powers, the Qing court began searching for a way to reestablish dominion over its own country and restore the glory of the traditional China’s Confucian system. The Self-Strengthening Movement sought to empower China by adopting many of the West’s inventions including, naval vessels, arsenals, railways, shipyards, telegraphs, artillery, etc. When put to the test, however (prematurely some would argue), these adaptations proved entirely inadequate despite China’s apparent advantage on paper. The failure of the Self-Strengtheners left a vacuum at court that was soon filled by the Reformers led by Kang Youwei. The Reformers sought to empower China via limited Westernization: the adoption of Western institutions such as education, communications, government systems, etc. By juicing up Confucian society with Western institutions, Kang hoped to rescue the Qing court and traditional Confucian culture from Western dominance. The Hundred Days Reforms, however, failed as well by alienating conservatives at the Qing court and failing to provide any solid evidence of change.

The failure of the Reformers left the conservatives in sole control of Qing policy, opening the door for court support of the Boxer Uprising. The Boxers rose initially to challenge the role of Chinese Christians in society. Seizing the opportunity, the court steered the Boxers’ anger towards Westerners, thereby transforming the uprising into an anti-imperialist crusade to attack and drive foreigners from China. The Boxers’ eventual failure, however, meant the death for the traditional system since it confirmed the superior firepower of the West and the desperate inability of the Qing court to effectively manage the problem.

moustacio | Student

The self-strengthening movement represented China’s first attempt at reform in response to Western incursions. Proponents of the movement were Confucian-educated scholars, who had rose to prominence during the Taiping Rebellion by raising local troops to defend their domains. Their leaders were a Hunan official, Zeng Guofan and his protege, Li Hong Zhang. The movement consciously sought to adopt Western learning to save China from the intruding foreign powers and their guiding ideology was the “ti-yong” idea, which emphasised on using Chinese learning as the essence, while utilising Western learning for practical developments. Such ideas affirmed the belief that there was a fundamental structure of Chinese moral and philosophical values that gave continuity and meaning to the Chinese civilisation. Holding on to that belief, China could afford to adopt quickly and dramatically all forms of Western practices, which would in turn allow them to equalise their status with the West in the future before finally providing them with the capabilities to suppress the barbarians. In short, the movement aimed to combine Western technology with Confucian moral values to remake a revitalised state and economy for the Qing dynasty, which appeared to be a path of viable growth to a more secure future for China. Overall, the movement was largely unsuccessful - China was still fundamentally conservative and the Qings had no true understanding of what China required to deal successfully with the foreign powers. While some aspects of Western technology were indeed adopted (e.g. the erection of a steamship company, a new coal mine, a telegraph company and some modern textile wheels), the traditional Chinese economy remained largely unchanged/ Although they recognised the need for some change, the leaders of the movement themselves were basically conservative in nature and they failed to achieve anything substantial.