Assess the Impact of Interference by Foreign Powers on China’s Development in the 20th Century

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Assess the impact of interference by foreign powers on China’s development in the 20th century

During the 20th century China underwent a massive transformation. In the early 1900s China was a mass of land lacking any real political cohesion and so was plagued by disputes between the many ruling warlords. However, by the year 2000 China was considered a major contender on the world stage and still is today; it almost seems certain that China will become the most powerful nation on earth in the next 50 years. This major transformation is seen to be a great success of China, considering the relatively short amount of time in which it was accomplished, but the question still remains as to whether entire credit should be given to China itself or instead whether China’s successful development was more due to the forced interference of foreign powers or, to a lesser extent, their influence rather than the inspired originality of Chinese politicians. The main stimulus for development certainly seems to be economic policy (either the respective leaders of China in their adaptation of foreign policy, sometimes brought about through influence, or the forced implementation of policy by foreign powers) with the consequent effect of this being development of the social and political workings of China. The idea of “reform on the Western model” of economics and politics came as early as China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese war, with some in Chinese society clearly recognising the need to advance China’s prospects as a world power, with a more organised government, to prevent the exploitation of their vast natural resources and population by foreign powers, and seeing the Western approach as the most efficient way to fulfil their potential. However, neither influence from Western nations nor interference in the form of their tactic of divide and exploit could be said to have a great deal of positive effect on development. In fact, any notion of adapting and improving the “Western model” (a process that under Deng much later in the 20th century was so effective) was bound to fail: the Empress Dowager Cixi’s desire for full Imperial control of China would not allow for such radical thinking. So long as the “foreign devils” were to plague China, Cixi would not allow any sort of imitation of the foreign powers economic strategy to take effect. Evidence of her conviction to this was the fact that her very own nephew, Kuang-Hsu, was imprisoned for attempting to suggest such radical change. Not only did the affront caused to the upper echelons of the political hierarchy by suggesting a “reform on the Western model” hinder any positive development, but also the support for this rejection of any interference or influence by the peasantry of China, culminating in the famous Confucian based Boxer Rebellion, stunted any chance at a positive impact on development. In fact, I would say that the interference by foreign nations held back the development of China until the founding of the Chinese Republic in 1912, the dismantling of the Chinese Imperial system and prejudice against at the least foreign influence being crucial to China’s progressive development. In stark contrast to the extensive negative ramifications of foreign interference for China at the beginning of the 20th century, the comparative lack of direct interference during Sun Yat-Sen’s expansion and consolidation of the new Chinese Republic allowed China to begin to realise its potential if it were to successfully utilise its reserves of raw materials and labour. A core element of Sun Yat-Sen’s ideology was known as “minsheng”, meaning “for the people”, and this really encapsulated the benefits of a lack of foreign interference in that without constant exploitation, the tireless spirit of the Chinese workforce might be used to forge a cohesive, economic machine. This demonstrates the significance, in aiming to allow the beginnings of what would develop throughout the century to be...
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