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Thread: What if China modernized succesfully like the Meiji Japan?

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    Captain LouiST's Avatar

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    What if China modernized succesfully like the Meiji Japan?

    Recently I think of something very ahistorical: suppose Qing China quickly collapses after the Anglo-Chinese War while the great powers either stayed neutral or supported the rebels. Then a new China is formed. In Chinese history, the leaders of the new dynasty usually pay much attention to the mistakes made by the former dynasty so I assume they will carry out reforms like the Meiji Modernization.

    If the modernization is successful, what do you guys think will happen? Will China become an aggressive power that is similar to Japan in the early 20th century? Will China even allied to the Axis just to "regain the prestige"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by LouiST View Post
    Recently I think of something very ahistorical: suppose Qing China quickly collapses after the Anglo-Chinese War while the great powers either stayed neutral or supported the rebels. Then a new China is formed. In Chinese history, the leaders of the new dynasty usually pay much attention to the mistakes made by the former dynasty so I assume they will carry out reforms like the Meiji Modernization.

    If the modernization is successful, what do you guys think will happen? Will China become an aggressive power that is similar to Japan in the early 20th century? Will China even allied to the Axis just to "regain the prestige"?
    Who would the rebels be, one of the historical ones or an ahistorical one? If we go with historical rebellions I can only see the taiping rebellion as a possible candidate. They did have a few leaders that supported the building of railroads and such, but it's really hard to say how they would have developed as they IMO were a rather strange group.

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    Modernization in the 19th century couldn't be done just be internal reforms within China. The Chinese would need to send thousands of people abroad to learn and study, invite legions of foreigners to train their armies, and most importantly they would need to be left alone by the Europeans for a while.

    If you look at Japan, "modernization" for them took something like 40 years, until they were at a point where they could fend off military aggression from Europeans. Until that time, they had to endure lopsided trade treaties and humiliation from everyone who bothered to send gunships to Tokyo bay. But Europeans more or less let them do their thing, because Japan gave them what they wanted... toll-free import/export business.

    China might have a harder time being left alone throughout those decades. The British had shown they weren't above starting a war to keep their own drug dealers safe from Chinese cops. If China remains peaceful, the French and Americans would also want a part of the cake and the Chinese would have a devil of a time fending them off.

    China's chaos and disorder in some ways actually helped them - the chaos discouraged the Europeans since they saw they could not run such a chaotic place on the cheap, like they ran India. What would they think if China remains (or becomes again) a paragon of stability? "Oh great let's go and steal a part of this peaceful land!"

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    China was also vast. India was cheap to run, but it could be conquered because it was disunited. The Raj overran India with Indians, soldiers shipped in from Europe only formed just enough of a core to keep the sepoys loyal. A European army in China might control the ground it stood on and shatter any Chinese army that tried for a set-piece battle, but what of that? It couldn't extract taxes or escort merchants into the interior without cooperation by the Chinese elites, unless of course the elites were to fracture into a scrambling bunch of warlords - then you could play one against the other, as in India. You'll notice that the British, when they fought the Chinese, did so for extremely limited objectives, relative to how superior their armies were; and the other European powers stayed clear of sending troops to China except when it was in disarray from civil war.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LouiST View Post
    Recently I think of something very ahistorical: suppose Qing China quickly collapses after the Anglo-Chinese War while the great powers either stayed neutral or supported the rebels. Then a new China is formed. In Chinese history, the leaders of the new dynasty usually pay much attention to the mistakes made by the former dynasty so I assume they will carry out reforms like the Meiji Modernization.
    The problem with your idea is that it's just as likely China stays divided due to foreign meddling. The greatest threat the Qing faced, and the one most likely to topple them, was the cluster of roughly contemporary mid-19th century rebellions which included the Taiping, Nian, Miao, Dungan, and Panthay. But even if they had succeeded in defeating the Qing, it is by no means certain that one of these groups could then have created a strong united China. It would have been to the advantage of the European powers to play these different groups against each other and keep China divided.

    The best chance of an early Chinese modernization is the mid- to late-19th century, when there were a number of officials who were interested in modernization projects similar to the early Meiji ones. If figures like Prince Gong, Li Hongzhang, and Liu Mingchuan had had more support, or if the reactionary groups opposing them had been less powerful, the Qing might have been more successful in their attempts at modernization. But that's a lot of ifs, and "more successful" still isn't the same thing as being Meiji Japan. Really, I don't think there's a single country that has ever pulled off a huge social, economic, political, and technological change like Meiji Japan did.

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    Nian, Miao, Dungan, and Panthay had IMO too narrow base to be able to topple the Qing. The taiping rebellion at least had a bigger base support, but even with foreign intervention I think they would have had a hard time since they were not just at war with Qing, but with the Chinese society as a whole. So I think I agree with Calanctus that a modernization by the Qing goverment actually would have been more likely. I don't think a major Han rebellion would have started a modernization either, as that most likely would spring out of one of the many secret societies, and they were as far as I understand rather conservative anti-foreigner groups.

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "conservative anti-foreigner groups," but if you're referring to secret societies like the Boxers, I think you overestimate their hostility to modernization. The Boxers, while certainly superstitious and parochial, were mostly motivated by the tone-deaf activities of missionaries (especially Germans) and economic disruptions specific to Shandong province. They didn't have an anti-foreign ideology per se; they were purely reacting to unfavorable circumstances. They certainly weren't anti-foreign in the way that Cixi or conservative Han officials were.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Calanctus View Post
    The problem with your idea is that it's just as likely China stays divided due to foreign meddling. The greatest threat the Qing faced, and the one most likely to topple them, was the cluster of roughly contemporary mid-19th century rebellions which included the Taiping, Nian, Miao, Dungan, and Panthay. But even if they had succeeded in defeating the Qing, it is by no means certain that one of these groups could then have created a strong united China. It would have been to the advantage of the European powers to play these different groups against each other and keep China divided.
    This. Personally, I think of all the warring internal factions within China of the 19th century, only the Qing and Taiping had any chance of gaining/holding onto power over the entire country. Even if the Taiping succeeded, they'd face a lot of opposition from Qing Loyalists and non-believers -- a Qing Tiandihui if you will -- which could easily be played against one another by the Great Powers. Alternatively, it could lead to something similar to what Britain, France and the US did during the Meiji Revolution: attempt to gain influence by selling arms and instruction but stopping short of demanding territorial concessions.
    The best chance of an early Chinese modernization is the mid- to late-19th century, when there were a number of officials who were interested in modernization projects similar to the early Meiji ones. If figures like Prince Gong, Li Hongzhang, and Liu Mingchuan had had more support, or if the reactionary groups opposing them had been less powerful, the Qing might have been more successful in their attempts at modernization.
    This goes without saying. Also, you forgot Liang Qichao. Everyone forgets Liang Qichao...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tanzhang (譚張) View Post
    This. Personally, I think of all the warring internal factions within China of the 19th century, only the Qing and Taiping had any chance of gaining/holding onto power over the entire country. Even if the Taiping succeeded, they'd face a lot of opposition from Qing Loyalists and non-believers -- a Qing Tiandihui if you will -- which could easily be played against one another by the Great Powers. Alternatively, it could lead to something similar to what Britain, France and the US did during the Meiji Revolution: attempt to gain influence by selling arms and instruction but stopping short of demanding territorial concessions.


    This goes without saying. Also, you forgot Liang Qichao. Everyone forgets Liang Qichao...
    IMO the Qing loyalists as supporters of Manchus won't be as strong as the Ming Loyalists. Zhang Xun once restored the dynasty in 1917 but did not gain much support overall and was quickly suppressed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LouiST View Post
    IMO the Qing loyalists as supporters of Manchus won't be as strong as the Ming Loyalists. Zhang Xun once restored the dynasty in 1917 but did not gain much support overall and was quickly suppressed.
    That was because the Republic was popular, same reason why Yuan Shikai faced opposition when he tried to install himself as Emperor. I'm saying that the Taipings wouldn't necessarily be as popular with the general populace as the Republic was.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Calanctus View Post
    I'm not sure what you mean by "conservative anti-foreigner groups," but if you're referring to secret societies like the Boxers, I think you overestimate their hostility to modernization. The Boxers, while certainly superstitious and parochial, were mostly motivated by the tone-deaf activities of missionaries (especially Germans) and economic disruptions specific to Shandong province. They didn't have an anti-foreign ideology per se; they were purely reacting to unfavorable circumstances. They certainly weren't anti-foreign in the way that Cixi or conservative Han officials were.
    True, but they wanted an end to the foreign presens in China. That is unfavorable trade deals, "colony" areas and things like that. That would IMO bring them on full collision course with the western powers, and they needed to be on good term with those if they were to do a modernization like Japan were doing at the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by LouiST View Post
    IMO the Qing loyalists as supporters of Manchus won't be as strong as the Ming Loyalists. Zhang Xun once restored the dynasty in 1917 but did not gain much support overall and was quickly suppressed.
    The problem with the Taiping rebellion is that the Han people would get to chose between a group of corrupt and incompetent "barbarians" (manchus) on the throne and another group of "barbarians" (Hakka). The last group were not only trying to topple Qing, but were aiming to destroy the chinese civilization. They were at war with confucianism, budhism, taoism, ancestor worship and so on. That did not bring them a lot of friends among the Han people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanzhang (譚張) View Post
    That was because the Republic was popular, same reason why Yuan Shikai faced opposition when he tried to install himself as Emperor. I'm saying that the Taipings wouldn't necessarily be as popular with the general populace as the Republic was.
    Maybe Qing loyalists would not be the right term. I don't find it unlikely that many of the Han people that rallied to the Qing standards against the taiping could have ended op on the other side if there were another group than the taipings that tried to topple the Qing. I think they were more anti taiping than pro Qing.

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