Living standards were poor in the overcrowded cities and “the emergence of political parties caused disputes with the emperor and his ministers, leading to frequent elections and political assassinations. Many intellectuals worried about the loss of identity in a changing world; others were concerned at lack of economic opportunities for the enlarged educated class” (Chapter 33, Pearson, 2009).
The Chinese government, however, had a much larger territory to govern, and far more internal strife with which to cope. It was weakened by the Opium Wars with the West, which had left it carved into spheres of influence. It also had to pay interest on loans it had incurred fighting the war. Cheap, manufactured foreign goods put many local tradesmen out of business. The sheer expanse of China made it difficult for the ruling Qing Dynasty to control the different provinces in the country, much less create a system of unified modernization in the face of local opposition, as was done in Japan.
To pay its debts, China had to levy high taxes upon its peasants, taxes that were made even higher by the efforts of corrupt Qing officials to line their own pockets.
“The peasants organized several rebellions, such as the Tai Ping and Boxer Rebellions, nearly succeeded in overthrowing the Qing government. Added to the political unrest of the Qing Dynasty, a series of natural disasters in China ruined crops. Famine and poverty began to spread in the late 1800s” (“19th Century China,” USF, 2009).
Furthermore, the leaders of China could not take the dispassionate view of the West and embraced by the Japanese — China was still reeling from the political loss of face as well as the economic blow of Opium Wars. Unlike Japan, it had faced the West head-on, and lost. To the Chinese, the West was the region that had forced it, against its will, to import opium. China was also forced to give up Hong Kong to British rule for 99 years, to be returned to China in 1997. Thus the idea of Westernization was anathema to China.
“Chapter 33: Russia and Japan: Industrialization Outside the West.” Pearson Education.
October 28, 2009.
19th Century China. USF. October.