Chinese Reform in the Late Nineteenth Century.
After the successful suppression of the Taiping rebellion and the disheartening defeat to the British in the Arrow War, the Chinese recognized a need for modernization. The period of the 1860's marked the beginning of the effort to adopt more Western techniques in military and technology. It was not a simple matter due to the Chinese unwillingness to bend to foreign cultures. The essential quandary that would play out over the next half-century dealt with the conflict between Westernization and the Chinese way of life that had directed them for years. The reforms started as a moderate endeavor, but by the end of the nineteenth century had become revolutionary in nature and paved the way for the mass nationalism that swept over China in the following century.
The first wave of reform came as a response to the superior power of the British military. Under the supervision of Zeng Guofan the Chinese built a navy that was extensive and modeled after the Western navies. This was the first step in the "self-strengthening" movement that characterized the 1860's. This era was one of moderate reform, with China looking to Western technology and improving relations with the European powers. This period was marked by the Chinese scholars concerned with the improvement of existing institutions. As de Bary and Lufrano succinctly state regarding the Chinese perspective of that time, .
"A reexamination in these terms tended, therefore, to focus on two types of weakness: military inferiority to the West, which called for the employment of new methods, and moral inadequacy with respect to traditional ideals, which called for self-criticism and an intensified effort to uphold old standards." .
The movement was not without its critics. One was the Confucian Woren; a conservative Mongol who believed the influx of Western ideas would lead to a moral degeneration among the Chinese people.