Title

A Call to Arms to Grieve Over Themselves: Chinese Intellectual Trends in the Early Twentieth Century

Date of Award

2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Wynn Gadkar-Wilcox

Abstract

On August 11, 1872, the Chinese government sent a total of 120 young men, who ranged from seven to thirteen years old, to the United States of America for fifteen years of study. The Chinese government paid stipends to these young students and certified that their degrees would be treated in a way analogous to those of the traditional Chinese examination system. As a consequence, the modern Chinese enlightenment movement started, and the millennia-old Chinese traditional educational system—as well as the neo-Confucian thought that undergirded it—was challenged, and generations of Chinese youth had the opportunity to be exposed to, and sometimes to resist, Western Culture and society. At the same time, this action also was a de facto concession by the Qing dynasty that the once-proud Chinese nation had already been left behind by the world and specifically by the West. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese intellectuals could decide either to keep traditional systems of thought and education or they could learn Western thought and technology. This study examines the literature and writing of key scholars in the early twentieth century who embraced the movement to acquire ideas and technological expertise from the West, and particularly from the United States of America. It argues that such a reform was necessary, but that the tendency of these reformers to focus excessively on self-criticism and self-pity, lamenting and criticizing the lack of prior progress in China, actually inhibited the application of new ideas, leading to a century of excessive political chaos.

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