The North China Herald was able to obtain are rare interview with Kang Youwei, a rising reformer with unique ideas.
Reporter: Welcome Kang Youwei. Thank you for your time. What do you feel is currently plaguing China?
Kang Youwei: I am happy to be here and hope this interview will help convince China of the reforms needed for China to survive. China’s fundamental issues arise from clinging to ancient institutions, most specifically the inefficient political bureaucracy and examination system. Over time all political institutions acquired deficiencies that must be dealt with. “A survey of all states in the world will show that those states which under took reforms became strong while those states which clung to the past perished.”(1) The present political system in China is a remnant of the system of past dynasties. The remnants do not reflect the intentions of our ancestors. These current institutions to not demonstrate the wishes of Confucius. They are shadows of their original form. The imperial bureaucracy and examinations system may have been effective in the past but the political environment has radically changed. In order to survive as a unbroken entity, China must change.
Reporter: Why do you believe that the present is different than the past?
Kang Youwei: Our recent defeat by Japan is the most obvious example. Japan was able to utilize the deficit in China’s influence in the Korean peninsula. Japan used a series of minor protests to send troops under the pretense that China did not have control. The tributary system is no longer a viable way to control border territories. China has been repeatedly abused by foreign powers and unless we change this trend will continue. The Treaty of Shimonoseki is a extraordinary embarrassment for China. All efforts must be made to avoid addition humiliation. How can China function when we are scoffed by the powers of the world?
Reporter: What sort of political system should China adopt?
Kang Youwei: China is unique. Even though past institutions are not serving China well today, the past should not be forgotten. I do not propose we completely abandon our institutions. Democratic republics have served western countries well. But China is not like western nations. Our customs and history are very different. Instead, for guidance we must look to Japan. The Meiji Reformation addressed similar issues with Japanese institutions. The Shogunate was not destroyed but augmented by a parliament. China must do the same. It is time that the Emperor’s powers were under the control of a constitution and parliamentary body. While some may say the imperial bureaucracy and examination systems, based on Confucian ideals, are what define China, this is not the case. Confucius himself was a revisionist, modifying past foundations of the Chinese political structure. Now in the present, we like Confucius must adapt.
Reporter: What do you believe are the first steps towards reform?
Kang Youwei: The Confusion examination system is outdated and needs to end. It wastes time and focuses on fine script and the traditional Chinese style of essay. This does not affect the candidate’s ability to govern in a modern sense. Administrative ability does not come from artful poetry. The competence of administrators needs to come from applicable subject matter. As a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, I know a wish to reform exists throughout China but the progress is haphazard. Government policy must guide the reshaping of China and the public will follow. I call upon the Guangxu Emperor to initiate the needed reforms.
From: David G. Atwill and Yurong Y. Atwill, ed. Sources in Chinese History (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010), 100-102.
1. David G. Atwill and Yurong Y. Atwill, ed. Sources in Chinese History (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010), 100.