The end of a great era for China

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The streets of Shanghai in 1911, during the Xinhai Revolution which toppled the Qing Dynasty (Unknown/Wikimedia)

Before China opened up in 1976, before the CCP won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, there was 1911. The momentous year saw the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and with it, the end of China’s millenniums-long dynastic cycle. Established in 1644, the Qing was China’s last dynasty, whose legitimacy anchored in the Confucianist hierarchical system.

A court made up of Manchu majority ruling over the Han Chinese, the Qing’s incorporation of traditional Chinese systems and institution would make them palatable to the Han majority. …


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Portrait of the Meiji Emperor (Uchida Kuichi / Wikimedia)

With glittering metropolitan cities and scenic sights, the island of Japan boasts one of the largest economies in the world — though it is not without its fair share of problems. A rapidly aging population, caused by the combination of a long life expectancy and a low birth rate, is one of Japan’s major challenges in the twenty-first century.

In the face of the challenges which lie ahead, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, called for the people to emulate the spirit of the Meiji people in 2018.

He was referencing a momentous event in Japanese history that happened 150 years earlier. In 1868, the centuries-long reign of the Tokugawa bakufu came to an end. In the face of foreign encroachment by Western powers, new leaders rose to overthrow the weak and inept Tokugawa government, declaring a “restoration” of power to the throne. Realizing their inferiority, the Japanese embarked on an aggressive modernizing campaign — the Meiji Restoration — in order to match up to the West. …


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The Last Shogun: Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Wikimedia)

On 3rd January 1868, more than 150 years ago, an important transfer of power occurred on the island-nation of Japan. With the resignation of the last Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, power was effectively “restored” to the imperial throne, back to the 16-year-old Emperor Meiji. Within months, the last remnants of Tokugawa forces, based in Edo, were crushed, and the feudal era of the Tokugawa Shogunate would be no more.

But this was not an ordinary political drama, a power struggle between rival cliques and opposing puppet figures and one where nothing really changed at the end of the day. Instead, sometimes referred to as the Meiji Revolution, it was the culmination of internal dissent against the decaying Tokugawa reign and the threat of colonisation by foreign forces, ushering changes that left a Japan very different from when it first began. …


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“Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in the hearts of Revolutionaries”, Propaganda Poster during the Cultural Revolution (Wikimedia/Scotty So [Public Domain])

In the summer of 1966, one man made a historic swim in the Yangtze River. This feat — at a ripe old age of seventy-three — was not just an assertion of his good health, but also a re-assertion of his authority in China’s political landscape. “The Great Helmsman of China”, Chairman Mao, was staging a comeback, and along with it — a torrent of political, social and cultural upheavals that would shake the nation to its core.

Retreat into the Political Background

“The Three Red Banners have been refuted, the land has been divided up, and you did nothing? What will happen after I die?” …


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Chinese Propaganda Poster with the caption “Long Live the Great Leap Forward”, 1960 (International Institute of Social History/Stefan R. Landsberger Collections)

Unburied corpses, starving children and even cannibalism, a great calamity has befallen China. Yet this tragedy was not one orchestrated by the heavens, but by the errors and negligence of men. Between 1959 and 1961, China was under the spell of a terrible famine, claiming the lives of more than 30 million people. Mismanagement, corruption and human error, set in the stage of poor weather, the “Three Years of Difficulty” — as it is equivocally called — is the result of an overzealous attempt to modernize China, founded on unsound advice and poor principles and crippled by the disconnect between the ruling class and its subjects. …

About

SR Chang

A student with a lot to say about the world. Passionate about History and Economics.

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