In late December 1898, soon after the bitter disappointment of the Hundred Days, when the Guangxu emperor had tried and failed to introduce institutional changes from above, Liang Qichao founded The China Discussion (Qingyibao) in Japan as a forum for the exploration of new ideas for political reform in Qing China. Liang’s own recommendation, announced in the lead commentary of the inaugural issue, was not, as one might have expected, to elevate the level of social consciousness among the Chinese citizenry or to transform the autocratic structure of the Qing state. It was, rather, to “tear down the boundaries between Manchus and Han” (ping Man-Han zhi jie).1
Liang’s surprising prescription was based upon a social Darwinist reading of history. “Racial competition,” in which races necessarily struggled with one another for existence, was considered the driving force of history. In this competition, which occurs not only on a worldwide basis but also within individual countries, only “superior races” will survive, while “inferior” ones will inevitably perish. When life began, all races were equal. Why, then, did some “improve” to become superior, differentiated from and triumphant over the inferior ones? The key was race mixing. “Racial improvement arises from the amalgamation of many different races.” The more extensive the mixing, the more successful the improvement. Races that do not mix face extinction.
Liang Qichao drew a historical parallel between contemporary China and China during the ancient Spring and Autumn era. Then, the inhabitants of the peripheral states and the people of the Central Plain looked upon each other as racially different. “They [the various races] were mutually suspicious and had nothing to do with each another. They were no different from today’s Manchus and Han.” Since then the people of China (Zhina) “have gradually advanced to civilization and become a superior race.” The reason was that “all these races had mixed together; only because they had mixed together were they able to survive.” Meanwhile, numerous other groups had perished because they had not intermixed. Liang pointed out that
there still are some races—such as the Miao, Tong, and Yao—who live interspersed among people of a superior race and do not mix. Their extinction, however, cannot be long delayed. Why? Because if they do not amalgamate, they must struggle; and when they struggle, one side must lose. Victory or defeat depends entirely upon who is superior or inferior. Today, as between the Manchus [Manren] and the Han [Hanren], it takes no expert to establish which is the superior race and which the inferior.
Admittedly, at the time of Liang’s writing, the Manchus ruled over the Han, but this was a temporary aberration. Racial conflicts were not resolved in a single moment; resolution might take as long as several centuries. In the end, brain would inevitably triumph over brawn. By extension, so would the superior Han eventually prevail over the inferior Manchus.
Liang suggested that it was not too late for the Manchu rulers of China to take remedial action, which, in view of the imperialist threat, would affect not only the Manchus but all of Asia. The worldwide struggle for survival had come down to that between the white race and the yellow race, with the outcome yet to be decided. The fate of the entire yellow race depended on the survival of China, whose population makes up 70 to 80 percent of the race. However, as the Manchus were in control of China, the prospects were grim. With brain being superior to brawn, “were those valiant Manchus [Manzhou] of a couple hundred years ago alive today, they still could not stand up intellectually to the foreign powers. As for today’s Manchus [Manren], they have lost their fierceness but have not changed their dull nature. Even if they wished to avoid the disaster of extinction, how could they do so?” Although the key to success in the racial struggle was racial improvement through mixing, China’s rulers would rather that the entire yellow race suffer eternal destruction than change one day of their life of pleasure and luxury.
Liang lamented the shortsightedness of the Manchu rulers. “They look upon the Han, without reason, as an alien race who mean them ill; all the while they are oblivious that the harm that the truly alien race [i.e., the whites] will inflict will be a hundred million times greater.” Liang concluded by speculating on the catastrophic consequences that awaited the Manchus from both the Han and the white race if they did not begin to reform by eliminating Manchu-Han differences:
If their oppressive policies continue much longer, they will engender a great upheaval, in which resolute scholars all over the country will either declare independence, as in America, or start a revolution, as in France and Spain. By then, of course, it will be too late for the Manchus to regret. Or if it does not happen like this, then after a few more years of today’s reactionary government, there will be partition. As partition takes place, the secret societies will rise and run amok. Since the government’s authority cannot penetrate to the local level, the people will have free rein to take their revenge. Whatever else might happen, the Manchus in the provincial garrisons will surely be annihilated.
After partition both Han and Manchus will be enslaved. But the Han, because they have a large population and are not lacking in intelligence, will still be able to conspire to join together to regain their independence. The Manchus, on the other hand, are not only few in number but also stupid and weak. Although they will have escaped the vengeance of the Han, they will forever serve as beasts of burden for the white people.
Moreover, Han farmers and artisans are industrious and frugal. In the past the Han have been critical to the success of labor-intensive enterprises the world over; it was they who developed the wasteland in South America, Africa, and around the Pacific Ocean. Consequently, even if the Han territory is partitioned, the Han people will still have some influence in the world; though subjugated, they will survive in the end. The Manchus [on the other hand] have for the past two centuries eaten without farming and been clothed without weaving. Not one among their five million people is capable of being a scholar, farmer, artisan, or merchant. When partition occurs and their political, financial, and military powers have all fallen into the hands of the white race, if they want some food or lodging then, will they still get it? Therefore, what the Manchus themselves have decided to do is precisely a self-chosen road to destruction. This truly is an example of “quenching one’s thirst by drinking poisoned wine.”
Liang Qichao’s short article is noteworthy because it not only helped introduce the concepts and terminology of social Darwinism to the Chinese reading public but also was the first reasoned critique since the Taiping Rebellion of the Manchu court and the Manchu people and, more generally, of Manchu-Han relations. Moreover, his condemnation of the five million Manchus for their parasitic lifestyle (they “eat without farming and are clothed without weaving”) foreshadowed the anti-Manchu propaganda that the republican revolutionaries unleashed soon afterward. And his prophecy that a “great upheaval” awaited the Manchus if the court refused, as a start toward other reforms, to remove the barriers between Manchus and Han came true a decade later in the Revolution of 1911.
This book addresses many of the issues that Liang Qichao raised or touched upon. Who were the Manchus, and who, correspondingly, were the Han? What did opponents of the Qing, notably the republican revolutionaries in the post-Boxer era, criticize the Manchus qua Manchus for? How valid were those criticisms; that is, to what extent and in what ways were Manchus and Han, after more than two hundred years of Manchu rule over China, still significantly different from each other? How effectively did the Qing court deal with those criticisms? Did it, as Liang urged, tear down the boundaries between Manchus and Han? With regard to Manchu-Han relations, what did the court do, or fail to do, that estranged it from China’s elite and thus brought on the revolution in 1911? What happened to the Manchu rulers and to the broad masses of the Manchu people during the revolution as well as afterward? In sum, what can be learned about the late Qing court from the way it handled, or rather mishandled, this thorny and controversial issue of Manchu-Han relations? Thus, the book is concerned equally with ethnic relations and political power as they pertain to Manchus and Han, especially in the ten or so years before the Republican revolution.
Studies of the 1911 Revolution have evolved greatly over the last several decades. Early works, particularly those by Chinese historians (such as Xiao Yishan’s comprehensive history of the Qing dynasty), focused almost exclusively upon the role of the revolutionaries, particularly Sun Yat-sen.2 Then, in the late 1960s, scholarly attention began to shift away from the revolutionaries, who necessarily had conducted most of their conspiratorial activities from abroad, and toward the nonrevolutionary reformers who operated within China. They were what Joseph Esherick, in his study of Hubei and Hunan, calls the “urban reformist elite” and what Marxist historians in the post-Mao era (such as Hou Yijie, in his history of the constitutionalist movement in the late Qing) see as an emergent “national bourgeoisie” at war with feudal conditions.3 The 1911 Revolution thus came to be seen no longer as the last in the series of military insurrections and popular uprisings that the revolutionaries had organized but rather as the consequence of the reformist elite’s growing dissatisfaction with and alienation from the Qing court. Such revisionist studies, however, generally paid no more attention to the court than had those by the earlier generation of orthodox historians. As a result, it was never quite clear what the court did, and why, that so alienated the reformist elite and caused them to withdraw their critical support, without which the dynasty was doomed.
In contrast to the relative abundance of studies on the early Qing rulers, there are only a couple of monographs in English on the late Qing court: Mary Wright’s on the Tongzhi Restoration and Luke Kwong’s on the palace intrigues surrounding the Hundred Days of 1898.4 Despite the longevity and the political importance of her rule, there is, as yet, no book-length published study of the empress dowager Cixi, though popular biographies of dubious veracity (often traceable back to the 1910 account by Bland and Backhouse) abound.5 Such neglect, particularly for the last decade of the dynasty, prevails among Chinese scholars as well.
The principal reason is, of course, the progressive weakening of the central authority during the nineteenth century and the accompanying (it is widely assumed) growing impotence of the Qing court. Hence, research on the post-Boxer decade generally focuses not on Cixi or other equally unstudied court figures, such as Yikuang (Prince Qing), but rather on such ostensibly powerful provincial officials as Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai, about whom Daniel Bays, Ralph Powell, Jerome Ch’en, and Stephen MacKinnon have written.6 When historians have considered the late Qing court at all, it has usually been to emphasize one or both of two themes: the attempt begun by Cixi, dating from the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, to reverse the long-term trend toward political decentralization; and the incompetence of Cixi’s young and inexperienced successor, Zaifeng, whose brief regency ended in revolution. These two themes can be seen as converging in January 1909, when Zaifeng abruptly, perhaps foolishly, stripped Yuan Shikai of all of his political and military posts. Yet Yuan’s dismissal, which he neither contested nor resisted, also shows beyond a doubt that as late as three years before its demise, the Qing court was hardly so impotent as it is usually portrayed.
This book casts new light on the late Qing court by examining how Cixi and Zaifeng dealt with the issue of Manchu-Han relations that Liang Qichao raised in late 1898 and on which the revolutionaries subsequently focused much of their propaganda. In particular, the assassination in the summer of 1907 of the Manchu governor, Enming, prompted Cixi to conduct a full-scale review of the issue. She (and later, Zaifeng) tried to undercut the revolutionaries’ appeal by reducing various differences between the Manchu minority and the Han majority. At the same time, however, they undermined their own efforts by not only recentralizing authority but also “reimperializing” it. Begun in 1861, when Yixin (Prince Gong) was appointed to the Grand Council, the court’s long-term attempt at reimperialization—which historians heretofore have overlooked as they focused on the parallel trend of recentralization—culminated in the naming of the immensely unpopular “imperial kinsmen’s cabinet” in May 1911. This was one of the court’s key decisions that greatly disappointed the reformist elite and led to their withdrawal of support when the revolution broke out five months later. This book considers how the court responded, both militarily and politically, to the Wuchang Revolt in October and what role it played in hammering out the agreement that paved the way to the Qing abdication the following February. Finally, it discusses the fate of the court after the revolution, down to the expulsion of the “last emperor” from the Forbidden City in 1924 and the unpunished desecration of the Qing imperial tombs in 1928.
As for the broad masses of the Manchu people, whose relations with the Han is the other main subject of this book, their history and identity are inextricably intertwined with the Eight Banner system. Started by Nurhaci, from whom all Qing emperors were descended, the banners were the armed force that in 1644 conquered China proper for the Qing and that subsequently, when garrisoned throughout the empire, served as an army of occupation. The founding members of the banner system were the Jurchen of eastern and northern Manchuria, whom Nurhaci’s son and successor Hong Taiji renamed “Manchus” (Manzhou). They were soon joined by members of other ethnic groups in the region, principally Mongols and Han Chinese. The banners, however, were composed of not only banner soldiers but also all of their dependents, male and female, old and young, who were collectively known as the “banner people” (qirert). Membership in the system was hereditary, and the banner people as a group were classified differently from most of the rest of the population, the “civilians” (min). The question of the relationship between the banner people and the Manchus is a vexing one. It is complicated by the inability of the English language to distinguish among several different Chinese terms—notably Manzhou, Manren, and Manzu—all of which can justifiably be rendered into English as “Manchu.” This book contends that the banner people (of whom Hong Taiji’s Manzhou were one component) were synonymous with the Manchus of the post-Boxer decade (whom Liang Qichao in 1898 generally labeled as “Manren”) and also that they constitute the defining basis for the Manchu “nationality” or ethnic group (Manzu), who in the 1980s became the second largest minority ethnic group (after the Zhuang) in the People’s Republic of China. It shows how the Manchus were transformed from a hereditary military caste—which they were for most of the Qing period, as members of the banner system—into the ethnic group that they are today. Correspondingly, if the Manchus are thus defined as equivalent to the banner people, then the Han may be equated, by and large, with the nonbanner “civilians.”
Although the Manchus qua banner people loom large in the writings about the early Qing, they practically disappear from history by the early nineteenth century.7 Until now, for example, only three books in English have focused to any significant extent on the Manchus in the late Qing. One is Robert Lee’s examination of the effect of Han migration to the Manchus’ homeland, Manchuria; another is Roger Des Forges’s political biography of the Mongol bannerman Xiliang; the third is Pamela Crossley’s history of one Manchu banner family from the Hangzhou garrison from the 1790s to the end of the Qing and beyond.8 While there are a greater number of Chinese-language studies of the banner system in the late Qing, as might be expected, they are only a fraction as numerous as those on the early Qing. The leading researchers are Chen Yishi, Jin Qicong, Ma Xiedi, Wang Zongyou, and Zheng Chuanshui, whose writings are cited throughout this study.
The Manchus became an all-but-forgotten people by the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is widely believed that they had become so assimilated into the culture of the majority Han population that they were no longer identifiable as a separate and distinct group. This belief rests, in part, upon the undeniable degeneration of the Eight Banners as an effective fighting force in the course of the eighteenth century (if not earlier) and their displacement by various other, predominantly Han, armies that emerged in the nineteenth century. Since the issue of Manchu identity was tightly bound up with the Eight Banners, the collapse of that system leads easily to the conclusion that the Manchu people who comprised the system had lost their raison d’être and, along with it, their distinctive identity. In particular, Chinese historians, motivated perhaps by cultural defensiveness, have long emphasized both the rapidity and the degree of the Manchus’ decline. Zheng Tianting, for example, dates the military disintegration of the Manchus as early as one generation after their conquest of China proper: “By 1673, when the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories began, the Eight Banner troops (including the Hanjun) were nearly incapable of waging war, and the Manchu Qing rulers could only make use of the Han people’s Army of the Green Standard.” Similarly, Ch’en Chieh-hsien points to the extent of the Manchus’ acculturation in the core area of language. Noting that “modern linguists have estimated that fully one-third of Manchu vocabulary is derived from Chinese,” he concludes that “the mother language of the Manchus, like some other aspects of their primitive culture, proved unable to resist assimilation after contact with the [Han] Chinese.” Chinese historians are not alone in proclaiming the Manchus’ absorption into Han culture. Mary Wright, in her influential study of the Tongzhi Restoration, categorically states that by 1865, when an edict was issued that seemingly liberated the banner people from the constraints of the banner system, “most of the last restrictions separating the Manchus from the [Han] Chinese” had been eased.9
If this were so, why then would Liang Qichao at the end of 1898 still be calling for the erasure of Manchu-Han differences? And how could the anti-Manchu propaganda of the post-Boxer decade be justified? The revolutionaries claimed that the Manchus were an alien ruling minority who enjoyed a privileged existence separate from the subject Han majority. The republicans were opposed not only to the Qing court but also to the Manchu people as a whole. Zou Rong’s widely circulated pamphlet of 1903, The Revolutionary Army (Gemingjun), expressed this broad anti-Manchu sentiment most vividly, as he called for the “annihilation of the five million and more of the furry and horned Manchu race [Manzhou zhong].”10 Similarly, the leading revolutionary organization, the Alliance (Tongmenghui), in 1905 demanded, along with the overthrow of the dynasty and the establishment of a republic, the “expulsion of the Tartars,” by whom it meant, of course, the Manchus. Scholars who minimize the continuing differences between Manchus and Han generally dismiss the revolutionaries’ anti-Manchu rhetoric as sheer propaganda, devoid of content and lacking in substance. In her thoughtful introduction to a collection of essays on the revolution, Mary Wright characterizes such anti-Manchu expressions as unimportant and groundless. Reiterating her earlier view that a “Sino-Manchu amalgam” had achieved “full maturity in the mid-nineteenth century,” Wright concludes that “the ethnic issue was irrelevant.”11
This book refutes Mary Wright on both of these points: that is, the extent of the Manchus’ acculturation after the mid-nineteenth century and the relative importance of the “ethnic issue” in the 1911 Revolution. The process of cultural assimilation was not all one way. Just as the Manchus were unquestionably “Sinicized” (or, more precisely, “Hanified”), so also were the Han to some (though admittedly far less) extent “Manchufied.” Nevertheless, despite the cumulative effect of mutual acculturation, down through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century Manchus and Han were still sufficiently different from each other as to justify many of the revolutionaries’ criticisms of the Manchus as Manchus. Consequently, if the alleged amalgamation of Manchus and Han was by no means complete at the turn of the century, or even at the time of the revolution, then the ethnic issue was hardly irrelevant. It most assuredly was relevant to the vast numbers of Manchus who, as Zou Rong had demanded, were hunted down and slaughtered during the revolution. The establishment of the Republic was not nearly so bloodless as it is usually described.
In sum, the continuing inability of the Qing court—beginning with Yixin’s appointment to the Grand Council in 1861 and the edict of 1865 on the Eight Banners cited by Mary Wright and coming down through the New Policies of the post-Boxer decade—to solve the problem of Manchu-Han differences helped to undermine elite confidence in the regime and thus to create the conditions that enabled the revolution to succeed. Even so, the problem was not entirely resolved until more than a decade after the revolution, as it was only in the mid- and late 1920s, concurrent with the expulsion of the emperor from the Forbidden City in 1924 and the desecration of the Qing tombs in 1928, that the Eight Banner system was completely disbanded. Only then, thirty years after Liang Qichao’s commentary in The China Discussion, were the boundaries between Manchus and Han fully torn down.