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UGC 112 meiji Res.

UGC 112 meiji Res. - Hua 3 The Meiji Restoration(1868 and...

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EAST ASIA , Fall 2004, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 3–22. The Meiji Restoration (1868) and the Late Qing Reform (1898) Revisited: Strategies and Philosophies Shiping Hua Introduction What made the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) a spectacular success? What made the Late Qing Reform (Hundred Days Reform) a failure? The interpreta- tions vary: some are from the so-called “constructionist” perspective and oth- ers—without a preference of one over the other—are from the “de-constructionist” perspective. The former tends to offer a clear-cut expla- nation of the two events, while the latter does not. From the constructionist perspective, the success of the Meiji Restoration was due to the heroic deeds of the shishis, or to the efforts of the small groups of lower rank former elites. 1 Simi- larly, the failure of the Late Qing Reform was attributed to the entrenched power of the conservative Empress Dowager Cixi’s faction ( hou dang ) and the naivety of the reformers. 2 The simplicity of these interpretations is obvious. Therefore, some scholars have adopted a “de-constructionist” position by pointing out the limitations of the various “constructionist” approaches. For the Meiji Restoration, the success was attributed to a variety of factors with no single factor more important than others, e.g., the modernization program that had already been underway under the Tokugawa regime (1615-1868), or the domestic popular uprisings, or the international environment. 3 At the time of the Meiji Restoration, the United States’ Civil War had recently ended and France and Britain were preoccupied with China affairs. In other words, the major Western powers were too preoccupied with other affairs to interfere in the domestic politics of Japan. 4 The spontaneous aspect of the Meiji Restora- tion also received much attention from these scholars. It was believed that the Meiji Restoration was not an outcome of good design from above, because the Meiji leaders were surprised at every major turn of events. Different groups, such as the western envoys, Bukufu and daimyo, popular revivalists, and
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4 East Asia / Fall 2004 imperial loyalists each had different agendas. The reform was a highly vola- tile process with no dominant social forces in control. 5 For the Late Qing Reform, the “de-constructionist” scholars argue that Empress Dowager Cixi (1838-1908) was not against the reform, as was com- monly believed, the Emperor Guangxu (1871-1908) did not take the initiative for the reform, and the Kang Youwei (1858-1927) group did not have as much impact upon the reform as people thought. Above all, although the proposals to the throne might be radical, as many scholars believed, the poli- cies that were actually carried out by the Qing court were not. 6 This “de- constructionist” approach has the admirable quality of pinning down the limitations of the other interpretations. The problem is that no clear answers to the different outcomes of the reforms have been offered. Above all, in an eager effort to refute some prevailing interpretations, some “de-construction- ist” scholars occasionally carry their arguments too far. For instance, the alle-
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