19 October 2007

Watching the transition of power in China, October 1907:


October 13, 1907, Sunday

Predictions have been freely made of late that the approaching abdication of the Dowager Empress would be the signal for internal commotions in China amounting to a revolution, and possibly the breaking apart of the empire through the effort of the Chinese race to unseat the ruling Manchus. For this reason, it is inferred, and indeed proclaimed by the highest authority, the throne is bent on dissolving the distinctions, superficial and fundamental, between the two races, and resolved upon liberal reforms that will modernize China. The imperial decree of October 1 declared that preparations should be made to give China a constitution. Secretary Taft, in his speech at Shanghai, spoke in warning of “radical and sudden reforms”, but he advocated a reform along lines of internal development, education, the enlargement of trade, and predicted that this would increase commerce and advance friendly relations with this country.

The gradual reform programme of the Dowager Empress and her advisors is China’s hope in the impending crisis. A sudden cleavage from the past would bring into powerful antagonism the adherents of traditional power and the more zealous forces of reform. There is no question that civil war is feared by the reigning family…

The fleet of the United States will remain in Pacific waters during the months preceding the abdication of the Dowager Empress, which is set for the Chinese New Year. Whether our warships are sent merely on a “practice cruise” or in view of complications with Japan, or because of coming events in China, it is certain that they will be in a position of advantage should anything happen to conflict with the American policy of the “open door”…

Our Secretary of War refused to speculate upon the probable action of the United States in case the interests of American merchants were placed in jeopardy, but he did say:

“It is clear that our merchants are being roused to the importance of the Chinese export trade and they would view with deep concern any and all political obstacles to its maintenance and expansion. This feeling is likely to find expression in the action of the American government.”

From Asia Times Online, today, Multinationals Fear US-China Trade Wars:

The US Congress is about to enact legislation that would levy punitive duties on Chinese goods. This could lead to unintended consequences for both American consumers and the wider US economy.

Some 119 leading multinational companies agree - including Boeing, Citigroup, General Motors, and Microsoft. They have called on Congress to reject protectionist legislation against China, arguing that “imposing unfair barriers to trade in the name of currency valuation or product safety is not a solution to the underlying concerns”. It was “a vote for free trade”, reported the state-owned China Daily, which, as so many other Chinese observers do, argues that rising protectionism among some US lawmakers “seriously threatens the interests of China, the United States itself and the world at large”.

Again, in October 1907:

A REFORMER IN CHINA.; Achievements of Yuan-Shih-Kai Attracting Wide Attention.

October 29, 1907, Tuesday

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28. – Another Li Hung-Chang has arisen in China and his achievements are attracting attention throughout the civilized world. He is Yuan-Shih-Kai, formerly Viceroy of Chih-li, now President of the Wei-Wu-Pu, or Board of Foreign Affairs at Peking. He assumed the reins of Government in Chih-li at a time when chaos and disorder prevailed in the province… During Mr. Yuan’s term as governor, Mr. Ragsdale [American Consul-General] says he established the best of relations with foreigners, and by sturdy honest efforts won the goodwill of the natives as well. His advice, even then, was sought by Peking, and the best edicts were the result of his suggestions. Notable among these were the promises of efforts toward Constitutional government, and those relating to the suppression of the opium traffic.

Yuan Shikai, six years later*, would dissolve the national assembly, and in 1915, declare himself emperor. Today, Will Hutton wonders if one of Hu Jintao’s successor will be China’s Gorbachev.

In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev’s readiness to question communism was intertwined with his membership of the Soviet Union’s fifth generation of leaders. He did not champion perestroika and glasnost alone; much of the nomenklatura had decided that the Soviet economic and social model was dysfunctional, corrupt and endemically inefficient and had to change.

Will one of Hu Jintao’s two ‘Lis’, as the frontrunners to succeed him, Li Keqiang and Li Yuanchao, are popularly known, feel the same way as they walk out in front of the cameras in the Great Hall of the People on Friday? Will one prove to be China’s Gorbachev?

*In 1913, the New York Times also reported that Yuan Shikai’s brother was growing opium illegally.

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