workings of the System

Supporting Information for
What Led China to Where She Is Now

Wang Ronghua

Celestial stem

The ten Celestial Stems (Chinese: 天干; pinyin: tiāngān), sometimes known as Heavenly Stems, are the elements of an ancient Chinese cyclic character numeral system: Jia (甲), Yi (乙), Bing (丙), Ding (丁), Wu (戊), Ji (己), Geng (庚), Xin (辛), Ren (壬), Gui (癸). They were used for dates as early as the Shang Dynasty, and are now used with the twelve Earthly Branches in the Sexagenary cycle. They are associated with the concepts of yin and yang and the Five Elements.

Celestial Stem Pinyin Yin and Yang (陰陽)  Five Elements (五行)
陽 (yang)
木 (wood)
火 (fire)
火 (fire)
火 (fire)
土 (earth)
土 (earth)
金 (metal)
金 (metal)


Earthly Branches

The Earthly Branches (Chinese: 地支; pinyin: dìzhī) provide one Chinese system for reckoning time.
This system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of 歳星 Suìxīng (Jupiter, the Year Star).
In correlative thinking, the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the twelve months of the year, twelve animals (mnemonics for the system), directions, seasons, months, and Chinese hour in the form of double-hours. When a Branch is used for a double hour, the listed periods are meant. When used for an exact time of a day, it is the center of the period. For instance, 午 (the Horse) means noon or a period from 11am to 1pm. (The jie qi system provided single hours and 15-degree arcs in time and space.)
Chinese seasons are based on observations of the sun and stars, not the weather. Many Chinese calendrical systems have started the new year on the first new moon after the winter solstice.

 Sexagenary cycle

The calendar is calculated by combining the Ten Heavenly Stems ("shi tian gan" 十天干) and the Twelve Earthly Branches("shi er di zhi" 十二地支). These two sets of terms were used to enumerate years of the civil calendar. Combining the series form a greater cycle of 60 terms, as the least common multiple of 10 and 12 is 60. The first term is formed by adding the first stem to the first branch, then the second stem to the second branch, and so on.
Imperial Court of the Qing


Empress Dowager
The Emperor

Ministries: Personnel (Lì Bù—吏部)
Finance (Hù Bù—户部)
Education (Lǐ Bù—礼部)
Defense (Bíng Bù—兵部)
Justice (Xíng Bù—刑部)
Communications (Gōng Bù—工部)
Imperial Affairs (Nèi Wù Fǔ—内务府)
Nationality Affairs (Lǐ Fān Yuàn—理藩院)
Administrative Agencies:
Imperial Kindred (Zōng Rén Fū—宗人府)
Meteorology and Calendar (Qìn Tiān Jiān—钦天监)
Ancestral Shrine & the Alters (Tài Chāng Sì—太常寺)
Horse Affairs (Tài Pǔ Sì—太仆寺)
Supervision (Dū Chā Yuàn—都察院)
The Highest Court (Dà Lǐ Sì—大理寺)
Protocol Affairs (Hóng Lú Sì—鸿胪寺)
Imperial College (Guó Zǐ Jiān—国子监)
Imperial Services (Luán Yí Wèi—銮仪卫)
Accommodation & Security (Guāng Lù Sì—光禄寺)
Imperial Academy (Hàn Lín Yuàn—翰林院)
Secretary Service (Tōng Zhèng Shǐ Sí—通政使司)
Imperial Family Affairs (Zhān Shì Fǔ—詹事府)
Army Composition—Banners:
Yellow Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Huáng Qí—镶黄旗)
Proper Yellow Banner (Zhèng Huáng Qí—正黄旗)
Proper White Banner (Zhèng Bái Qí—正白旗)
White Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Bái Qí—镶白旗)
Proper Red Banner (Zhèng Hóng Qí—正红旗)
Army Composition—Banners:
Yellow Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Huáng Qí—镶黄旗)
Proper Yellow Banner (Zhèng Huáng Qí—正黄旗)
Proper White Banner (Zhèng Bái Qí—正白旗)
White Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Bái Qí—镶白旗)
Proper Red Banner (Zhèng Hóng Qí—正红旗)
Army Composition—Banners:
Yellow Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Huáng Qí—镶黄旗)
Proper Yellow Banner (Zhèng Huáng Qí—正黄旗)
Proper White Banner (Zhèng Bái Qí—正白旗)
White Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Bái Qí—镶白旗)
Proper Red Banner (Zhèng Hóng Qí—正红旗)
Red Banner with White Edges (Xiāng Hóng Qí—镶红旗)
Proper Blue Banner (Zhèng Lán Qí—正蓝旗)
Blue Banner with Red Edges (Xiāng Lán Qí—镶蓝旗)
Left and Right Wings of Each Banner (Bā Qí Liāng Yì—八旗两翼)
Imperial Guards (Shì Wèi Chù—侍卫处)

Working System

The Emperor gives an audience every morning Ministries take turns to be on duty;The Imperial Kindred and Meteorology and Calendar Administrations are on duty together with the Ministry of Education.The Ancestral Shine & the Altars and Horse Affairs Administrations went on duty with the Ministry of Defense;Supervision and the Highest Court went on duty with the Ministry of Justice;Imperial College went on duty with the Ministry of Imperial Affairs.The Ancestral Shine & the Altars and Horse Affairs Administrations went on duty with the Ministry of Defense;Supervision and the Highest Court went on duty with the Ministry of Justice;Imperial College went on duty with the Ministry of Imperial Affairs.The Ancestral Shine & the Altars and Horse Affairs Administrations went on duty with the Ministry of Defense;Supervision and the Highest Court went on duty with the Ministry of Justice;Imperial College went on duty with the Ministry of Imperial Affairs.Imperial Services and Accommodation & Security went on duty with the Ministry of Nationality Affairs;The Imperial Academy went on duty with the Personnel Ministry; Secretary Service and Imperial Family Affairs went on duty with the Ministry of Finance.Each of the ten military units also took turns to be on duty.Those on duty reported things important and the emperor gave immediate instruction as what to do. His instructions were recorded by secretaries. In the case of Emperor Guangxu, his instructions were sent to the Empress Dowager for confirmation the next day. But, after the reform, the emperor lost such power, everything has to be reviewed by the Empress Dowager first.


A. The advocacy of institutional reform by progressive officialsDuring the Self-Strengthening period (1862-1894), China developed Western techniques and military technologies. Yet several more progressive officials like Feng Kuei-fen () already argued that for real self-strengthening, China should develop basic Western institutions (like government organization and education) that gave rise to those techniques and military technologies. Such an advocacy formed an underlying cause for the 1898 reform.

B. The reform-minded scholars' recognition of the inadequacy of the Self-Strengthening Movement (1860-1894)Ever since 1885, when Qing China was defeated by France in Indo-China, more and more scholar-officials knew the Self-Strengthening Movement was inadequate to save China. Institutional reform was really necessary. Although officials like Chang Chih-tung (a governor-general) and Weng T'ung-ho (an imperial teacher) were Confucian conservatives, they nevertheless advocated a limited administrative reorganization based on Western methods to supplement the traditional, basic Chinese political structure. Weng himself had advocated war against Japan in 1894. But with China's defeat, he realized that changes more fundamental than those of the Self-Strengthening period were necessary.

C. The introduction of Western ideas of reform
i. By foreign missionaries -  Besides preaching their religion, foreign missionaries, especially the British and American Protestants, introduced Western knowledge and culture to China.

a.  They established schools, gave public lectures, opened libraries, and published newspapers and magazines. In particular, missionary schools educated many of the late Qing's reform-minded intellectuals. By 1889, some 16,000 Chinese had studied in such schools.

b.  Through discussions, foreign missionaries convinced quite a number of Chinese scholars and officials of the need for reform. Indeed, K'ang Yu-wei, the most important reformer in the 1898 Reform, admitted that many of his ideas on reform came from missionaries.

ii. Through treaty ports - Western social and political ideas were most easily learnt by the Chinese who lived in treaty ports and cities.

a.  In treaty ports, a new Chinese intellectual class began to appear. In the International Settlement of Shanghai, for example, where foreigners enjoyed self-rule free from the Qing government's control, these Chinese intellectuals had the opportunity of observing Western institutions firsthand and the freedom to learn foreign things. They convinced other Chinese scholars outside the treaty ports of the need for institutional reform.

b. Owing to the increased penetration of European goods and ideas' South China was more progressive than the north. It was hardly an accident that K'ang Yu-wei's native place was in Kwangtung.

D. The rise of a generation of politically conscious and more progressive-minded young scholars
i.  Translations of Western books on a variety of subjects were abundant in late 19th-century China. They were read by many young Chinese scholars, who therefore became increasingly reform-minded.
ii. The improved communications between different places helped in the growth and spread of national consciousness among Chinese scholars.
iii.  To a certain extent, educational reforms before 1894 made it possible for Chinese students to receive a Western-style education.
iv.  Traditionally speaking, the scholar class in China had the responsibility of saving the country in time of crisis. With the repeated national humiliations that China suffered after 1840, the young scholars became especially sensitive to national problems and were ready to defend their country. By the late 1880s, this generation of progressively minded young scholars had already become a considerable political force.

E. The effects of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)

China's quick defeat in the Sino-Japanese War further convinced many Chinese scholar-officials that more fundamental reform was both urgent and necessary. The humiliating treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 aroused much public anger in China. Some 600 young students from all over China signed a 'Ten Thousand Words Memorial' that rejected the Shimonoseki agreement and advocated institutional reform. The leader was K'ang Yu-wei (Kang Youwei). Despite the official and traditional prohibition against any political grouping, young scholars began to form associations known as hsueh-hui (study societies) to save the country. After 1895, many patriotic societies of this kind appeared. Their local branches spread over the provinces. These societies had four aims:

i.  To urge the Qing government to reform its institutions.
ii.  To carry out reform activities in the provinces.
iii.  To popularize Western ideas by translating more Western and Japanese books and publishing newspapers to advocate such ideas.
iv.  To fight against Christianity by changing Confucianism into a state religion. Social programs were to be worked out to compete with the social welfare measures of Christianity in China. Many of these societies had the support of influential officials like Yuan Shih-k'ai and Chang Chih-tung. The younger and idealistic scholars like K'ang Yu-wei, however, were dissatisfied with the limited and moderate reforms carried out by Yuan and Chang in the provinces. These idealistic scholars favoured broader and deeper institutional changes initiated from Peking.

F. The effects of the Scramble for Concessions (1895-1899)

Foreign imperialism was intensified in the Scramble for Concessions. It further showed the necessity and urgency of institutional reform. By 1898, Germany had seized Kiaochow from China, and other powers were fighting for their own spheres of influence. K'ang Yu-wei repeatedly wrote memorials to the Qing court to advocate institutional reform. Many such reform proposals were circulated in Peking among the young scholars.


G. The political struggle within the Qing court

Meanwhile, a political struggle took place between the Kuang-hsu (Guangxu) Emperor  and his aunt, the Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi (Cixi), within the Qing court. Although Kuang-hsu was the Emperor, real power was held by Tz'u-hsi. A 'northern' group of conservatives like Hsu T'ung supported the Empress, while a 'southern' group led by Weng T'ung-ho supported the Emperor. Although both agreed on the need for reform, the two groups struggled for the leadership. The Northern Party attempted to bring Chang Chih-tung to Peking to lead the movement. This led the Southern Party to call in many reform-minded young scholars, including K'ang Yu-wei, to support itself. There were the following reasons:
i.  Since K'ang Yu-wei advocated political centralization, reforms undertaken by him would strengthen the Emperor's power and weaken the Empress Dowager's influence.
ii. Young scholars would not readily challenge the leadership of the more senior officials in the Southern Party.
iii.Weng T'ung-ho was himself attracted by K'ang Youwei's progressive reform proposals.
iv.  Members of the Southern Party like Weng T'ung-ho knew little about Western ideas and institutions.
Consequently, Weng T'ung-ho introduced K'ang to the Emperor Kuang-hsu. The Emperor began reading Feng Kuei-fen's ideas of institutional reform and Western translations as early as the late 1880s. The Emperor was deeply impressed by K'ang's reform ideas and was more and more determined to put into effect institutional changes. Dissatisfied with the Empress Dowager's continued domination over the Qing court, Kuang-hsu intended to make use of a reform movement led by himself to regain power, though on the other hand he really wanted to save China. On June 11, 1898, he issued the first reform decree, telling the people to learn foreign knowledge. The Hundred Day Reform had begun.

Kang, the Reformer

A. Motives

i.  The Emperor and the young reformers like K'ang Yu-wei believed that institutional reform and more fundamental changes would strengthen China's defence against Western imperialism. Institutional reform was of two kinds:
a.  A new educational structure would replace the old, traditional one, so that the people would become modern citizens of a modern nation like Meiji Japan.
b.  The political system would be re-organized to achieve a greater degree of efficiency. K'ang Yu-wei, however, expected more changes. He intended to establish a constitutional and parliamentary government for China. All other reform measures, to K'ang, were secondary to political modernization.
ii.  To old scholar-officials like Weng T'ung-ho, the reform movement was also part of the struggle for power within the Qing court.
iii. Although most of the young scholar-reformers advocated reform out of patriotic reasons, it could not be denied that the reform movement was an opportunity for these young men to advance to positions of power in the government.
B. Contents
From June to September 1898, K'ang Yu-wei and his young followers prepared many edicts and decrees for the Emperor to sign. Some 200 or so reform decrees were issued in quick succession. A broad program for 'reform of institutions' was attempted. The reform measures included the following:
i. Education
a.  Abolition of the 'Eight-legged essay' in the Civil Service Examinations. (The Eight legged essay required the students to have a good memory and frequent practice. Creativity and a knowledge of current social and political problems were not necessary.) Introduction of a new syllabus based on current political and economic problems.
b.  Abolition of swordsmanship and marksmanship in the military examinations. Introduction of a new syllabus based on a knowledge of modern military tactics.
c.  Opening of a special examination on political economy.
d.  Establishment of an Imperial University in Peking. Founding of a medical school under it.
e. Establishment of primary and secondary schools in the provinces for the study of both Chinese and Western subjects. Change of traditional private schools into modern government schools. Change of Buddhist temples into public schools. f.  Publication of an official newspaper.
ii. Government administration
a. Abolition of sinecure posts (jobs with a salary but involving no work) and unnecessary offices, including the governorships of a few provinces.

b. Appointment of progressive-minded officials in government.

c.  Introduction of stricter disciplines for civil servants. Measures to check corruption

d.  Improvement in administrative efficiency by removing delays and by developing a new, simplified administrative procedure. Creation of 12 new Ministries to replace the old 6 Boards (traditionally responsible for top government administration in Peking).

e.  Encouragement of reform suggestions from private citizens.
iii. Military reform
a.  Reorganization and modernization of the army.  
b.  Founding of militia forces (part-time soldiers for local self-defence).
iv. Economic reform
a.  Promotion of railway construction.
b. Promotion of agricultural, industrial and commercial developments. Founding of banks.
c.  Encouragement of inventions. d Preparation of a government budget.
v. Others
a.  Visits to foreign countries by high officials.
b.  Improvement and simplification of law codes.
C. Results
The reform movement only lasted for 103 days.

i.  Most of the reform decrees were not carried out. Only in the province of Hunan, where there was a governor sympathetic to the reform, was a serious attempt made to put into effect the Emperor's decrees. In the rest of the empire, reform measures met with either passive non-cooperation or outright resistance. Some officials were willing but had not the ability to carry out the reform. Many officials did not even understand the reform measures.

ii.  At first, the Empress Dowager and other high officials like Chang Chih-tung and Weng T'ung-ho were not opposed to the idea of reform. But as conservatives, they disliked the radical changes proposed by K'ang and the Emperor. Opposition to the reform grew.

iii.  Many top conservative officials, eunuchs and Manzhus begged the Empress Dowager to take over power and rule herself so as to stop the reform movement.

iv.  The young reformers feared that the Empress Dowager would sooner or later interfere and depose the Emperor. They therefore planned to carry out a palace revolt by capturing the Empress. They asked Yuan Shih-k'ai to support them with troops. However, Yuan betrayed the Emperor and the reformers by telling the Empress Dowager everything about the intended revolt.

v.  The Empress Dowager immediately imprisoned the Emperor, took over the government, and gave orders to arrest the reformers, six of whom were captured and killed. K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (Liang Qichao) were, however, warned in time to escape abroad. Most of the reform measures were cancelled:

a.  The Eight-legged essay and the abolished governorships were restored.

b.  Study societies (hsueh-hui) were prohibited. The government press was closed.

c.  The people were forbidden to make suggestions to the government. , However, the Peking Imperial University and some of the provincial schools that had been established were allowed to remain. Some unnecessary offices were really abolished. The Empress Dowager opposed only the radical methods and nature of reform by men like K'ang Yu-wei, not the idea of reform itself. 

Empress Dowager who stopped the reform

A. Reform on paper
Many of the reform measures were not put into practice.
B. Opposition to the reform
The reforms attacked both Chinese tradition and the self-interests of many people.
i.  Conservatives felt that the political tradition of the dynasty had been violated by the reforms. They felt that K'ang and his followers intended to destroy Chinese culture.
ii. The Empress Dowager and her followers believed that the reform was just an excuse used by the Emperor and K'ang Yu-wei to struggle for political power.
iii.  The abolition of the Eight-legged essay, together with changes in the educational system, ruined the future of students who had been preparing for the traditional government examinations.
iv.  The abolition of sinecure posts and governorships ruined the future of many officials. The appointment of young, new and progressive minded scholars to the government endangered the political career of many existing officials. When promotion was not based on seniority but on real ability; the old and inefficient officials felt that their career prospect would be endangered. Even Li Hung-chang lost some important power because of the administrative changes.
iii.  The abolition of the Eight-legged essay, together with changes in the educational system, ruined the future of students who had been preparing for the traditional government examinations.
iv.  The abolition of sinecure posts and governorships ruined the future of many officials. The appointment of young, new and progressive minded scholars to the government endangered the political career of many existing officials. When promotion was not based on seniority but on real ability; the old and inefficient officials felt that their career prospect would be endangered. Even Li Hung-chang lost some important power because of the administrative changes.
v. Many Manzhus believed that the new reform measures were especially directed against them, because:
a.  quite a number of conservative Manchu officials had been dismissed from the Central government;
b.  all the young reformers were Chinese;
c.  K'ang Yu-wei came from South China,where there was a strong anti-Manchu tradition.
Besides, the Manzhus were jealous of the Chinese reformers, who were trusted by the Emperor.
vi.  Changes in the military forces threatened the privileges and livelihood of the Manchu bannermen and the Chinese Green Standard Army (traditional Qing armies).vii.  The attack on corruption was unwelcome by those officials who got rich by this unlawful practice.viii.  Palace eunuchs who were favoured by Tz'u-hsi feared that administrative reforms would reveal their practice of corruption.
ix.  The change of Buddhist temples into public schools angered the Buddhist monks and priests.
C. The lack of effective political power
Without strong political power, no reform could be effectively carried out.
i. The Empress Dowager's powerful influence at the Qing court
Although the Empress nominally retired in 1889, she was still in firm control of the Qing court. Her followers controlled top government departments and the imperial armies. Her eunuchs watched every move of the Emperor.
ii. Regional decentralization
Ever since the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), the dynasty's political power had been decentralized. Peking's control over the provinces was getting weak and was on the decline. As a result, the Central government's reform decrees did not receive much attention in the provinces.
iii. Weaknesses of the Study Societies
The Study Societies formed between 1895 and 1898 depended heavily upon official support for their existence. When these societies became too radical, such official support was withdrawn and they quickly fell apart. The young reformers at the Qing court had therefore lost a social power base for support in 1898. They had to depend on Yuan Shih-k'ai's military strength to act against the Empress Dowager. As it happened, Yuan betrayed them.
D. The inexperience of the reformers
i.  Both K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao had no previous experience in administration. Their knowledge of Western institutions was, moreover, limited.
ii.  In carrying out reforms, they were not tactful enough. In three months' time, they aimed at doing away with all of China's problems at one blow. It was an attempt at achieving too much in too short a period of time.
iii.  Both the Emperor and the reformers offered poor leadership for the reform movement. They failed to obtain support and cooperation from the conservative officials.
E. The lack of popular support from the common people
Reformers like K'ang Yu-wei came from the scholar class. They had little contact with and enjoyed no support of the common people.
F. K'ang Yu-wei's radical ideas
To Confucian conservatives, K'ang was a traitor to Confucianism. Many moderate reformers like Chang Chih-tung were frightened off by K'ang's radical explanations of the Chinese Classics and radical reform programs.
G. Conclusion
Many of the reform measures were not actually practiced. But one could doubt whether they would succeed even if they were really put into practice. The Hundred Day Reform was a sharp break with the gradual changes of the Self-Strengthening Movement. The reform movement lacked effective power and experienced leadership. It invited all kinds of opposition.
A.  The re-establishment of conservative power
The failure of the progressive reform attempt in 1898 led to a re-establishment of conservative influence. The Empress Dowager came back with full power to the Qing court and re-appointed die-hard conservative Manzhus to top official positions. The introduction of an anti-Chinese policy began, which furthered the growth of anti-Manchu feelings among the Chinese. This indirectly led to the 1911 Revolution.
B. The growth of an anti-foreign attitude at the Qing court
In 1898, as the Empress Dowager tried to arrest the reformers, K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao were helped to escape from China by the British and the Japanese respectively. In addition, foreign ministers in Peking prevented the Empress from dethroning Kuang-hsu and choosing a new Emperor immediately after 1898. Consequently, anti-foreign feelings were strong at the Qing court. This factor partly led to the Boxer Uprising in 1900-01.
C. The disappointment with reform as a way to save China
The failure of the Hundred Day Reform seemed to prove that reform from the top was useless. More and more Chinese came to believe that in order to save China, the Manchu dynasty (which opposed change) must be over thrown, and revolution from the bottom must be carried out. This contributed to the growth of Sun Yat-sen's (Sun Yixian) revolutionary movement.
D. The way for continued reform efforts
i.  Although the Empress Dowager was opposed to the Hundred Day Reform, the reform measures that were introduced had an unforgettable impression on her. After the Boxer Uprising of 1900-01, the Empress announced an official reform movement on her own. Reform measures similar to the 1898 ones werecarried out between 1901 and 1911. In short, the Hundred Day Reform quickened the Empress Dowager's decision in favour of institutional reform.
ii.  Some of the 1898 reforms were allowed to continue. They paved the way for the Late Qing Reform (1901-1911).iii.  The movement for constitutional government continued.
a.  After the 1898 failure, K'ang Yu-wei formed an important political group in Japan to advocate constitutional rule. Liang, on the other hand, began to become an influential political writer.
b.  Although the idea of constitutional rule was not actually put into practice in 1898, it was at least introduced to China. This made it easier for the adoption of constitutional government in the Late Qing Reform (1901-1911).
c.  The advocacy of constitutional government brought with it ideas of people's rights which indirectly helped the revolutionary movement.
E. The beginning of mass political movements in China
The establishment of Study Societies from 1895 to 1898 marked the beginning of Modern China's mass political movements. Whereas scholars in the past had been traditionally unwilling to form political associations and had kept themselves from being involved in political matters, they voluntarily joined societies of a political nature after 1895. The scholar class was increasingly active in politics, a trend that continued from 1901 onwards. This made it easier for the creation of local political assemblies in the constitutional program of the Late Qing Reform (1901-1911).
F. The birth of modern Chinese nationalism
The enthusiastic organization of nation-saving groups like the Study Societies represented the beginning of Chinese nationalism among the young Confucian scholars. Nationalistic consciousness among them grew. In addition, high Qing officials began to use a new, nationalistic policy in foreign matters. They were conscious of China's national rights in dealing with foreign powers. Concessions made to foreign powers were held to the minimum. 


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