Self-Strengthening Movement Of The Imperial China – Research Paper

July 17, 2017

The self-strengthening movement of Imperial China was a movement that lasted for the time ranging from 1861-1895, and it accounted for some of the institutional reforms that were initiated at the end of the Qing Dynasty (Spence, 1999). The movement was formed after the defeat of China by Great Britain in the Opium war, among other series of military defeats of the time. The Chinese government also faced internal rebellion, more especially from the Manchu authority and also the uprising farmers of the time. This situation called for the need of improving the Chinese military on restoring the gone sovereignty. As a step towards enticing peace between China and the Western powers, Prince was appointed the grand councilor and the head of the foreign affairs, Zongli Yamen.

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Following the defeats that China experienced, the defeats were associated to the military technology superiority of the western powers which made them shine over China. Therefore, as a step on strengthening the Chinese military operations, China had no otherwise than just learning from the western powers. The main techniques that China expected to learn from the western powers included the manufacturing of guns and ships among other scientific knowledge that was behind military technology. This was to be attained through establishing arsenals, shipyard and also hiring personnel that were to provide training services. The essence of doing these was to improve the Chinese military might. China expected to champion the western powers in the future following the Chinese intelligence and wisdom that was believed to be better than that of the westerners, which was to position China at a better position of superseding them (Spence, 1999 ).

The movement’s operations can be perceived to have taken three phases. The first phase lasted at a time range of 1861-1872. It was characterized by an emphasis on the adoption of the western origin firearms, military machines, and the scientific knowledge about military operations. Training was also among the agendas, and it was to be enhanced through the establishing of a diplomatic office and a college. As an initial requirement, China signed treaties with the western powers, where two ports were made accessible for western trade, that is, Tianjin and Shanghai ( Shambaugh, Sandschneider, and Zhou, 2008). Therefore, the main goal of establishing the Self-Strengthening Movement was to develop the military industry of China. The targeted development areas included the constructing of military arsenals and also the ship manufacturing dockyard which was aimed at empowering the Chinese navy.

The establishment and the steering of the program, self-strengthening movement was spearheaded by a number of leaders that included; Zuo Zong who established Fuzhou Dockyard, Zeng Guo Fan who constructed the Shanghai Arsenal, and Li Hong Zhang who constructed the Nanking and Tientsin Arsenal. Despite their individual initiated projects, Zeng and Li also collaborated on establishing the Kiangnan Arsenal (Shambaugh, Sandschneider, and Zhou, 2008).

Training was undertaken in these sites; however the training was directed by the foreigner advisers. The three men identified above were working independently from the central government, that is, they were just regional leaders.

During the first phase, the program suffered from some deficiencies that made it ineffective. For instant, the operations of the program were undertaken by various regional leaders as provided above despite its support from the central government — this situation disabled coordination among the participants in the military industry. The failure to enhance coordination exposed the program to some inefficiencies. The inefficiencies that were experienced by the program include the following; the program was characterized to be suffering from bureaucratic inefficiency and nepotism, the program seemed to be expensive than when they could have imported the military items, quality was compromised as the ships and the rifles that were made were of poor quality compared to the standards that were produced in the western, the program fall short of raw materials and qualified human resources, there was laxity in the procurement, and the officials of the program were not aware of the unqualified foreign personnel who were hired to provide training and manage the operations of the military industry, more especially in the institutions that were established to over training.

Following the 1870 riots in China’s Tianjin city, some foreigners were killed. The killings impacted the self-strengthening movement negatively because the western powers got reluctant on collaborating as they feared of their safety (Spence, (1999). Li Hongzhang however played a great role on ensuring that the program survived despite the sour relationship that arose following the killings. This was possible because Li was the most influential leader in the movement by that time.

In the second phase of the program, the program extended its operations to other sectors with the aim of improving the Chinese economy. It lasted for the time ranging from 1872-1885. During this phase, more attention was given to the creation of wealth. It resulted in the development of various sectors of the economy that included shipping, mining, telegraphy, and railways. This was enhanced by the government providing subsidies to the private merchandisers. These merchandized enterprises were however limited to attaining efficient following the corruption, nepotism and inadequate initiative which destabilized their abilities to improve the economy (Spence,1999).

The third phase of the self-strengthening movement was marked by the decline on the interests of reforming China by using the self-strengthening movement. This was caused by Cixi and her suppers who were anti-foreign ( Shambaugh, Sandschneider and Zhou, 2008). This was at the time range of 1885-1895. There was still emphasis on improving the county’s military superiority and also the creating of wealth using the lighting industry which gained favor in a court ruling. The ruling enabled the rapid growth and development of the industries, mainly the textile and cotton weaving industry. There were also new enterprises which were established during this regime that involved a collaboration of the government and the merchant enterprises.

The signing of treaties by the western powers with China over the self strengthening movement can be perceived as a strategy that was taken by the western powers to expand their operations to China, that is, for the purpose of economic gain (Spence, 1999). This was enhanced by first establishing an enabling diplomatic relationship by assisting China to develop itself at an exchange of getting permission to run their operations in China. In other words, it was a bait to lure China on accepting the western powers to expand the market for their products that included both technological transfer and export of military weapons to China.


Despite the flaws that were experience on using the self-strengthening movement as a development tool in China as provided above, the movement can be perceived to have placed China at a higher gear of enhancing economic development and restoring of sovereignty through improved military mighty. The military mighty enabled it to avoid both external and internal attacks. Therefore, the motive of self-strengthening was good, despite the fraud that was witnessed during its implementation and operations.

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Shambaugh, D.Sandschneider,E and Zhou,H. (2008). China-Europe Relations: Perceptions, Policies and Prospects. New York: Routledge.

Spence, J. (1999). The Search for Modern China. Norton Publishers.

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