The period of the Hundred Days Reform may seem an insignificant time in the Chinese history. However, it was a crucial moment in the history of the Qing dynasty, which predestined the downfall of the imperial order in China. On the one hand, the Hundred Days Reform was a completely failed attempt of the imperial power to reanimate its influence and authority. In this case, this period may be treated as unimportant from the utilitarian point of view. On the other hand, it was one of the first attempts of the Chinese imperial government to improve the lives of simple Chinese people. At the same time, on the background of the reformation of the military, educational and social spheres, the young Emperor of China also wanted to remove conservative officials who prevented him and his team from implementing revolutionary reforms. Nevertheless, the main role of the Hundred Days Reform is that the failure of these reforms initiated the new period of Chinese history and laid the foundation for revolutionary movements in China.
Without any doubts, the Chinese government and personally the young Emperor Kuan-hsu had positive intentions while initiating the Hundred Days Reform. This policy was supposed to improve the cultural, political and educational situation in China. In many ways, the Hundred Days Reform policy was provoked by “Kuan-hsu Emperor’s concern over the dynasty’s weaknesses and his resolution to remedy the situation”. The Hundred Days Reform was a revolutionary measure that was supposed to eliminate old-fashioned concepts in education and politics in the Chinese society. China was extremely underdeveloped comparing to European countries, which seemed ideal for the Chinese Emperor. Moreover, he considered that the only way to save China from foreign claims and pretensions is to create a powerful and developed country, which would not be inferior to European countries. Being economically and socially weak, China was not able to oppose either European imperialist countries or even Japan, which wanted to become a superpower with the help of Chinese natural resources and population.
The great role in inspiring the Emperor Kuan-hsu for initiating the reforms played Weng T’ung-ho and Kang Yu-wei. Weng T’ung-ho was a personal tutor of the young Emperor and his main inspirer of the reforms, which were aimed at innovation and renewal of the Chinese society and a state as a whole. He played a great role in Emperor’s upbringing and his worldview. Kang Yu-wei played rather a practical role in constructing the plan of reforms. Another supporter of the Emperor Kuan-hsu who is not less important in this period was Yuan Shikai who was supposed to support the Emperor with the military force. It was impossible to do without a total renewal of the state administration and removal of old officials who were controlled by the Empress-Dowager Tz’u-hsi. The power of the young Emperor was very restrained by the former Regent Tz’u-hsi and her elimination from the circle of political opponents would let the Emperor to carry out his own political approach.
Nevertheless, in that political environment, these ideas looked rather utopic than real. In reality, it was almost impossible to carry out most of reforms, suggested by Kuan-hsu and his supporters. China was extremely underdeveloped in many spheres of human activity. Additionally, the country was greatly dependent from foreign counsellors who almost dictated the course of domestic and foreign policy to China. At the same time, the reform of education system, which removed the eight-legged essay from the examination curriculum, seems extremely progressive. This kind of examination did not fully reveal the knowledge of the students and was an old-fashioned kind of tests. Additionally, “the calligraphy would cease to be a crucial criterion in evaluating students’ performances”. It was a revolutionary moment in the Chinese education. However, it should have been taken place much earlier. The reform of Chinese system of education should have been implemented before 1898. As a result, the Chinese education was far behind the European educational system, which was a role model for the young emperor Kuan-hsu. Such measures as abolition of the eight-legged essay and decreasing the role of calligraphy would greatly improve the Chinese educational system. The young Emperor strived for establishing a new educational system in China, which would bring up new specialists. These new specialists who would not have the biases and disadvantages of the previous generation were supposed to build up a new country. Kuan-hsu was aware of the importance of the progressive educational system and it was one of the most significant aspects of the Hundred Days Reform.
Another initiative concerning the army reform is also the very significant aspect of the Hundred Days Reform. New army was supposed to protect China from interventions of foreign countries. It was especially important after the fiasco in the war against Japan, where China was completely humiliated. The new and highly developed army was not only the evidence of status of China, but also the sign of its self-sufficiency. Additionally, the Emperor was very eager to upgrade the railroad system and infrastructure in China. All these measures could greatly improve the general economic and political situation in China. The strong army and infrastructure were a direct response to continuing demands of foreign ambassadors who sought for increasing the control over political life in China. These reforms do not seem to be very difficult or unreal to implement. Although they would require a considerable period of time for implementation, in several years, the results of the Hundred Days Reform would have been evident and obvious. Nevertheless, it was impossible to implement these reforms in that contemporary political environment.
Although the Chinese Emperor tried to bring some benefit to the Chinese nation with the help of the reforms, the failure of the Hundred Days Reforms only fueled the inner tension within the Chinese society. Kuan-hsu and his inspirers Weng T’ung-ho and Kang Yu-wei planned more global revolutionary reformation in China than simple reforms in education and politics. They planned to purify the entire bureaucratic machine of Chinese imperial government, which prevented the country from progress. Furthermore, the technological and social progress in China was extremely difficult because of old-fashioned style of administration. The self-sufficiency of China was one of the targets of the Hundred Days Reform. China was a target for many European colonial governments, and only effective reforms could make China strong and independent enough to oppose European imperialists.
The failure of the Hundred Days Reforms showed the weakness of the Qing dynasty. The Emperor Kuan-hsu was not experienced enough in politics, but his inability to defend his position also revealed the weakness of Chinese monarchy as a whole. Most reforms were quite new and unusual for the Chinese people. However, these reforms were also aimed at renewal of the Chinese imperial power, which greatly suffered from stagnation. Nevertheless, the conservative members of the imperial government appeared to be unwilling to any changes. As a result of the coup d’état, they threw down the young Emperor that “demonstrated the utter inability of the effete regime to renovate itself” (Kwong, 1984). Not all reforms of Kuan-hsu could bring benefit to the Chinese people or make China stronger and many of them were rather risky. However, it can hardly justify the coup d’état arranged by the Empress-Dowager Tz’u-hsi. All in all, the removal of the Emperor Kuan-hsu only delayed the fall of the imperial power in China.
The failure of the Hundred Days Reform was a signal for revolutionary movements in China. If the start of reforming the country was very hopeful, than the fiasco of Kuan-hsu and his supporters meant that there will be no changes under the rule of the conservative government, led by Tz’u-hsi. According to Kwong, in many aspects, the Hundred Days Reform period can be viewed as “the pre-history of twentieth-century Chinese revolution” and “an important point of departure for subsequent developments”. Undoubtedly, such expression of weakness as coup d’état of the Emperor and stagnation in political life of China could not leave indifferent revolutionary movements in China. Sung Yat-sen and other leaders of revolutionary organizations in China treated the failure of the reforms and crisis within the imperial power as a direct trigger for revolutionary activity. The imperial power was not able either to protect its authority in the country, or to make China independent from foreign influence.
The Hundred Days Reform failed not only because of inability of the government to implement some of them and inability of the young Emperor to protect his interests, but also because of betrayal of the army leaders to secure the implementation of reforms. According to Kwong, for many reasons the coup against Tz’u-his failed because of “Yuan Shikai, a potential ally and commander of the Newly Created Army, refused to take immediate action”. Furthermore, only because of his betrayal, Kuan-hsu Emperor was not able to secure his political course with the help of force. Unfortunately for the Qing dynasty, the political conflict between the Empress-Dowager Tz’u-his and the Emperor Kuan-hsu could be resolved only with the help of the brutal military force. In this case, Tz’u-his had much more supporters and Kuan-hsu who failed to convince military officials with his reforms. In addition to the failure to find support from the military, the Emperor Kuan-hsu appeared to be very weak-willed to protect his interests and his supporters. Moreover, his removal from the political arena was dictated by Tz’u-his who still had a strong influence in China, even though she was a retired regent. Once again the Emperor showed his weakness while having a total power in the country.
The similar destiny was waiting for Kang Youwei who was the principal ideologist of the Hundred Days Reform. He was not promoted high enough for the complete control over the reforms. The inner conflicts between the Emperor Kuan-hsu and his followers resulted in the complete fiasco of the Hundred Days Reform. The Emperor appeared to be very weak-willed and his supporters not determined enough to conduct the effective reforms. According to Ho, when Weng Tonghe found “it impossible to remain loyal to the cause of reform, he resorted to the obstructionist tactics”. The lack of determination among the supporters of the Hundred Days Reform showed the fear of the Empress Dowager Tz’u-his and inability to carry out these reforms in reality. Such weak-willed individuals as the Emperor Kuan-hsu and Weng Tonghe were not able to implement the reforms, which they initiated.
The reforms of the young Emperor Kuan-hsu were extremely hopeful for China, which was sinking in stagnation and regress. All spheres of human activity were not developing and it was significant to make considerable changes to bring some progress to the political life in China. In many ways, the Hundred Days Reform was also the way to make China self-sufficient and independent from foreign influence. Foreign imperialist forces constantly sought for control over China. These reforms were supposed to show that China is strong enough to protect itself from foreign invasion. Many of these reforms could immensely improve the life of simple Chinese people and ensure the rapid technological and scientific development of China. Furthermore, some reforms could have provided an economic progress in the country. For instance, the development of the infrastructure and especially the railroad system in China was a necessary measure in that time. Finally, the Hundred Days Reforms could have made China self-sufficient and completely independent from European and Japanese foreign officers who constantly violated Chinese domestic affairs. With the help of these reforms, China was supposed to become sufficient enough to draw back any pretensions and demands of the foreign imperialists.
In the twentieth century, China experienced many revolutionary changes and reforms, which completely changed the social mind within the country as well as the image of China within the international community. The Hundred Days Reform was the first trigger, which provoked these changes. Even though the Hundred Days Reforms was supposed to create a new progressive and highly developed China, the more important aspect of this period is its failure. Only the failure of the Emperor to implement these reforms showed the weakness of the current imperial regime in China. The reforms itself caused heated disputes within the country, but their failure provoked the revolutionary movements to be more active. First of all, these reforms failed to be implemented because of inner tension between the Emperor Kuan-hse and his supporters Weng T’ung-ho and Kang Yu-wei as well as Yaun Shikai who betrayed him and revealed emperor’s plans to the Empress Dowager. Secondly, the Emperor was not influential and determined enough to implement the reforms, which he initiated. Even after the end of her regency, the Empress Dowager Tz’u-his had a great influence on the young emperor and controlled all his actions. At the same time, one should clearly realize that the Hundred Das Reform was a period, which initiated the fall of the emperor’s rule in China. Most of these reforms were successfully implemented after some decades in China and proved its validity. Even though the period of the Hundred Days Reform was too short to change something in political life in China, its radicalism and concepts laid the foundation for the further reformation in China. If one views the history of China, the Hundred Days Reform would be the end of the beginning of the imperial power in China as well as the beginning of the new period of evolution in the country, which initiated new challenges for Chinese people.