and himself take the helm. In the following years a reform movement, undoubtedly genuine, though opinions differ as to the value of the popular support which it claimed, The reform movement, 1898. spread throughout the central and southern provinces of the empire. One of the most significant symptoms was the relatively large demand which suddenly arose for the translations of foreign works and similar publications in the Chinese language which philanthropic societies, such as that “for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge amongst the Chinese,” had been trying for some time past to popularize, though hitherto with scant success. Chinese newspapers published in the treaty ports spread the ferment of new ideas far into the interior. Fifteen hundred young men of good family applied to enter the foreign university at Peking, and in some of the provincial towns the Chinese themselves subscribed towards the opening of foreign schools. Reform societies, which not infrequently enjoyed official countenance, sprang up in many of the large towns, and found numerous adherents amongst the younger literati. Early in 1898 the emperor, who had gradually emancipated himself from the dowager-empress’s control, summoned several of the reform leaders to Peking, and requested their advice with regard to the progressive measures which should be introduced into the government of the empire. Chief amongst these reformers was Kang Yu-wei, a Cantonese, whose scholarly attainments, combined with novel teachings, earned for him from his followers the title of the “Modern Sage.” Of his more or less active sympathizers who had subsequently to suffer with him in the cause of reform, the most prominent were Chang Yin-huan, a member of the grand council and of the Tsung-Li-Yamen, who had represented his sovereign at Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897; Chin Pao-chen, governor of Hu-nan; Liang Chichao, the editor of the reformers’ organ, Chinese Progress; Su Chiching, a reader of the Hanlin College, the educational stronghold of Chinese conservatism; and his son Su In-chi, also a Hanlin man, and provincial chancellor of public instruction in Hu-nan.
It soon became evident, that there was no more enthusiastic advocate of the new ideas than the emperor himself. Within a few months the vermilion pencil gave the imperial sanction to a succession of edicts which, had they been carried into effect, would have amounted to a revolution as far-reaching as that which had transformed Japan thirty years previously. The fossilized system of examinations for the public service was to be altogether superseded by a new schedule based on foreign learning, for the better promotion of which a number of temples were to be converted into schools for Western education; a state department was to be created for the translation and dissemination of the standard works of Western literature and science; even the scions of the ruling Manchu race were to be compelled to study foreign languages and travel abroad; and last, but not least, all useless offices both in Peking and in the provinces were to be abolished. A further edict was even reported to be in contemplation, doing away with the queue or pigtail, which, originally imposed upon the Chinese by their Manchu conquerors as a badge of subjection, had gradually become the most characteristic and most cherished feature of the national dress. But the bureaucracy of China, which had battened for centuries on corruption and ignorance, had no taste for self-sacrifice. Other vested interests felt themselves equally threatened, and behind them stood the whole latent force of popular superstition and unreasoning conservatism.
The dowager-empress saw her opportunity. The Summer Palace, to which she had retired, had been for some time the centre of resistance to the new movement, and in the middle of September 1898 a report became current that, in order to put an end to the obstruction which hampered his reform policy, the emperor intended to seize the person of the dowager-empress and have her deported into the interior. Some colour was given to this report by an official announcement that the emperor would hold a review of the foreign-drilled troops at Tientsin, and had summoned Yuan Shihkai, their general, to Peking in order to confer with him on the necessary arrangements. But the reformers had neglected to secure the goodwill of the army, which was still entirely in the hands of the reactionaries. During the night of the 20th of September the palace of the emperor The Empress’s coup d‘état. was occupied by the soldiers, and on the following day Kwang-su, who was henceforth virtually a prisoner in the hands of the empress, was made to issue an edict restoring her regency. Kang Yu-wei, warned at the last moment by an urgent message from the emperor, succeeded in escaping, but many of the most prominent reformers were arrested, and six of them were promptly executed. The Peking Gazette announced a few days later that the emperor himself was dangerously ill, and his life might well have been despaired of had not the British minister represented in very emphatic terms the serious consequences which might ensue if anything happened to him. Drastic measures were, however, adopted to stamp out the reform movement in the provinces as well as in the capital. The reform edicts were cancelled, the reformers’ associations were dissolved, their newspapers suppressed, and those who did not care to save themselves by a hasty recantation of their errors were imprisoned, proscribed or exiled. In October the reaction had already been accompanied by such a recrudescence of anti-foreign feeling that the foreign ministers at Peking had to bring up guards from the fleet for the protection of the legations, and to demand the removal from the capital of the disorderly Kan-suh soldiery which subsequently played so sinister a part in the troubles of June 1900. But the unpleasant impression produced by these incidents was in a great measure removed by the demonstrative reception which the empress Tsz‛e Hsi gave on the 15th of October to the wives of the foreign representatives—an act of courtesy unprecedented in the annals of the Chinese court.
The reactionary tide continued to rise throughout the year 1899, but it did not appear materially to affect the foreign relations of China. Towards the end of the year the brutal murder of Mr Brooks, an English missionary, The Boxer movement, 1900. in Shan-tung, had compelled attention to a popular movement which had been spreading rapidly throughout that province and the adjoining one of Chih-li with the connivance of certain high officials, if not under their direct patronage. The origin of the “Boxer” movement is obscure. Its name is derived from a literal translation of the Chinese designation, “the fist of righteous harmony.” Like the kindred “Big Sword” Society, it appears to have been in the first instance merely a secret association of malcontents chiefly drawn from the lower classes. Whether the empress Tsz‛e Hsi and her Manchu advisers had deliberately set themselves from the beginning to avert the danger by deflecting what might have been a revolutionary movement into anti-foreign channels, or whether with Oriental heedlessness they had allowed it to grow until they were powerless to control it, they had unquestionably resolved to take it under their protection before the foreign representatives at Peking had realized its gravity. The outrages upon native Christians and the threats against foreigners generally went on increasing. The Boxers openly displayed on their banners the device: “Exterminate the foreigners and save the dynasty,” yet the representatives of the powers were unable to obtain any effective measures against the so-called “rebels,” or even a definite condemnation of their methods.
Four months (January–April 1900) were spent in futile interviews with the Tsung-Li-Yamen. In May a number of Christian villages were destroyed and native converts massacred near the capital. On the 2nd of June two English missionaries, Mr Robinson and Mr Norman, were murdered at Yung Ching, 40 m. from Peking. The whole country was overrun with bands of Boxers, who tore up the railway and set fire to the stations at different points on the Peking-Tientsin line. Fortunately a
- The religious aspect of the Boxer movement gave it strength. Its disciples believed that the spirits which defended China were incensed by the introduction of Western methods and ideals. Many of them believed themselves to be invulnerable to any Western weapon. (See Lord W. Cecil, Changing China, 1910, ch. i.)