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East Asian History Sourcebook:
Emperor Kuang Hsu:
Abolition of the Examination System, 1898

The changes in the attitude of the court towards a new educational system began, as do many great undertakings, in a very simple way. We have already shown how the eunuchs secured all kinds of foreign mechanical toys to entertain the baby Emperor Kuang Hsu; how these were supplemented in his boyhood by ingenious clocks and watches; how he became interested in the telegraph, the telephone, steam cars, steamboats, electric light and steam heat, and how he had them first brought into the palace and then established throughout the empire: and how he had the phonograph, graphophone, cinematograph, bicycle, and indeed all the useful and unique inventions of modern times brought in for his entertainment.

He then began the study of English. When in 1894 a New Testament was sent to the Empress Dowager on the occasion of her sixtieth birthday, he at once secured from the American Bible Society a copy of the complete Bible for himself. He began studying the Gospel of Luke. This gave him a taste for foreign literature and he sent his eunuchs to the various book depositories and bought every book that had been translated from the European languages into the Chinese. To these he bent all his energies and it soon became noised abroad that the Emperor was studying foreign books and was about to embrace the Christian faith. This continued from 1894 till 1898, during which time his example was followed by tens of thousands of young Chinese scholars throughout the empire, and Chang Chih-tung wrote his epoch-making book "China's Only Hope" which, being sent to the young Emperor, led him to enter upon a universal reform, the chief feature of which may be considered the adoption of a new educational system.

But now let us notice the animus of Kuang Hsu. He has been praised without stint for his leaning towards foreign affairs, when in reality was it not simply an effort on the part of the young man to make China strong enough to resist the incursions of the European powers? Germany had taken Kiaochou, Russia had taken Port Arthur, Japan had taken Formosa, Great Britain had taken Weihaiwei, France had taken Kuangchouwan, and even Italy was anxious to have a slice of his territory, while all the English papers in the port cities were talking of China being divided up amongst the Powers, and it was these things which led the Emperor to enter upon his work of reform.

In the summer of 1898 therefore he sent out an edict to the effect that:

"Our scholars are now without solid and practical education; our artisans are without scientific instructors; when compared with other countries WE SOON SEE HOW WEAK WE ARE. DOES ANY ONE THINK THAT OUR TROOPS ARE AS WELL DRILLED OR AS WELL LED AS THOSE OF THE FOREIGN ARMIES? OR THAT WE CAN SUCCESSFULLY STAND AGAINST THEM? Changes must be made to accord with the necessities of the times. . . . Keeping in mind the morals of the sages and wise men, we must make them the basis on which to build newer and better structures. WE MUST SUBSTITUTE MODERN ARMS AND WESTERN ORGANIZATION FOR OUR OLD REGIME; WE MUST SELECT OUR MILITARY OFFICERS ACCORDING TO WESTERN METHODS OF MILITARY EDUCATION; we must establish elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, in accordance with those of foreign countries; we must abolish the Wen-chang (literary essay) and obtain a knowledge of ancient and modern world-history, a right conception of the present-day state of affairs, with special reference to the governments and institutions of the countries of the five great continents; and we must understand their arts and sciences."



Isaac Taylor Headland,  1859-1942:  Court life in China: the capital, its officials and people, (New York, F.H. Revell, c1909), Project Gutenberg Etext 523

This text is part of the Internet East Asian History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July1998

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