Reflected Glory in a Bottle

PRELUDE The Carving of the Melon China suffered a series of military defeats between the years 1840 and 1900, which made her a target for foreign economic and political partition. Unprepared mentally and technologically to meet this chal- lenge, the Manchus "sold space to gain time," but each concession only served to sharpen the Western powers' appetites, for they were eager to "carve up China like a melon." Internally the situation was not much better. Population growth, natural disasters, and a growing disillusionment with the Manchus resulted in several rebellions. One—that of the Taipings—threatened the very existence of the Ching dynasty. This movement, led by Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, the self-proclaimed younger brother of Christ, tapped the anti-Manchu feelings of the southern Chinese and sought to replace the existing dynasty with the Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace (Tai-p'ing t'ien-kuo). Before it was finally crushed by the imperial forces in 1864, the rebellion had lasted some fifteen years and ravaged sixteen provinces. In order to protect their commercial interests and privileges, the Western powers had assisted the Manchus with officers and weapons during the rebellion, an act that only served to further - emphasize the weakness of the regular Ch'ing armies. Now Western businessmen saw new economic possibilities. They could use cheap Chinese labor in the factories they proposed building inland, where there was still more to exploit. If they could only obtain the concession to build railways and telegraphs, then they could also insist on mining rights. A "self-strengthening movement" arose in the 1860s, and it exerted a profound change on China's future conduct. Scholars such as Feng Kuei-fen correctly pointed out that China was unable to defend herself not because she was weak, but because she refused to change her institutions. Reform was necessary. The educational system had to be brought up to date and the military forces modernized. Li Hung-chang was especially supportive of the latter idea. Under his direction smaller, more mobile armies were trained in the use of modern weapons and supplied by native arsenals. The Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi had just consolidated her power at