chapter  4
39 Pages

The Hundred Days Reform, 1898

The Hundred Days Reform in China between mid-June and late September 1898 is one of the causes célèbres in the history of late imperial China. As in many cases of modern Chinese history, its interpretation is highly contentious.1

Traditional Chinese interpretations (based on Maoist revolutionary premises) have interpreted the 1898 reform movement as the last and most progressive, but necessarily failing, reform attempt within the Chinese government before the revolution in 1911; ‘revisionist’ studies have de-emphasized the significance of the 1898 reforms, especially downplaying the role of the reformer Kang Youwei (1858-1927) in favor of the more moderate reform movement, which began under the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) after the failure of the Hundred Days and lasted until the end of the Qing Dynasty. The centennial of the 1898 reform movement in 1998 has demonstrated a markedly revived interest in the ‘bourgeois’ reform movement, partly in an effort to ‘use the past to serve the present.’2 However, Rebecca E. Karl and Peter Zarrow have pointed out that this revived interest could also be explained less ideologically as an understandable interest in parallel situations: the encounter of China with two globalizations, one at the end of the nineteenth century and the other at the end of the twentieth.3