Modern China

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Jenny Xu
Fighting Fire with Fire
Following the rebellions of the mid-nineteenth century, the priority of self-strengthening China was manifested through three key ideas: Western military technology, Western knowledge, and complacency. Yung Wing’s statement that “it would be cheaper to have [machine shops] reproduced and multiplied in China” cites an economic reason for bringing Western technology to China (Doc. 9.2). When combined with Feng Guifen’s assertion, “we need… means to repel [the barbarians],” the verdict is that China must adopt Western methods to develop their own military strength. In defense of including Western sciences and languages in education, Prince Gong’s October 1861 Memorial claim that Western learning is “indispensable to the conduct of intercourse,” parallels Yung Wing’s proposal for a system of individual schools (Doc. 9.1). Lastly, the belief that “we have not made use of [our intelligence],” as worded by Feng, reasoned why the Chinese were hitherto considered inferior, although they were superior.

The three points of the Restoration reformers are connected to each other. To achieve the common goal of self-strengthening, the Chinese first had to shed their complacency; if the Chinese were indeed superior in intelligence they had to prove it. The plan was to learn from the Westerners and then to surpass them in their own designs. Therefore, in order to excel in building military machinery, the Chinese had to engage in mathematical science to develop a solid knowledge of the matter. In addition, the Chinese would learn the language and letters of the Western nations to understand the state of other nations and avoid misunderstandings like the Macartney Mission. The actual motive of the reformers would then be realized. By abandoning complacency and using Western knowledge to improve its military, the Chinese empire would be poised to strike back at foreigners using the foreigners’ own devices, thus fighting fire with fire....
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