Gentry in China During 1900-1927
History Group Discussion Role: Local Gentry I am one of the scholar gentry in Shandong . For dynasties, the other scholar gentries and I have been the leaders of the common people. We represent them, help them to settle local disputes, preach them with Confucian ideals. We maintain peace and order and also assist the government in collecting taxes in our provinces. We have always been the symbol of morality and virtue.
However, when the foreign missionaries came to preach in China in the late 1800s, our prestige was threatened. The missionaries preached beliefs that were against Confuncianism as well as other Chinese traditions. We had to stop them from indoctrinating our people! Thus, many of us secretly funded the anti-foreign activities. But we didn’t expect such activities would lead to a massive uprising of the Boxers. We knew the foreign countries would take actions against the Qing court for supporting the Boxer Uprising.
Therefore, before Cixi declared war to the foreigners, we supported the signing of the “Southeast Mutual Protection” with the Eight Powers Alliance to guarantee our safety during their expedition. This was our first open opposition to the imperial decree but it did save us from destruction of war. After the Eight Power Expedition, the central government decided to introduce the Late Qing Reform as a means to save the dynasty. When it was first launched, I welcomed the reform as I believed that a constitutional government would benefit my interests.
By setting up local and national assemblies, we the scholar gentries would be able to secure our positions in local provinces and at the same time, control the power of the central government. We wanted the constitution to be granted as soon as possible but the Qing court seemed way too insincere in carrying out its promise. All we could say was that we were disappointed and later, furious when the cabinet was introduced. Almost every member of the cabinet was royal members! And the constitution introduced was an illiberal one which granted enormous power to the Emperor!
It was crystal clear that the Manchus were only trying to recentralize their power through the constitution. We would not believe in the Qing court anymore. We had to safeguard our interests. Thus, we started to organize our own local militias and collect our own taxes in order to strengthen our power against the central government. We did not show much support towards the revolutionaries before 1911 because peace and order was the utmost important thing that we wanted to maintain in the society.
However, due to our complete disappointment and distrust towards the Qing court, especially after the failure of the Late Qing Reform as well as their attempt to nationalize the railways, we were less reluctant to support the revolutionaries. When 1911 Revolution succeeded, we observed and waited. After confirming the success of the revolutionaries, I followed the lead of other provinces which had declared independence and declared independence for my province. In less than 2 months, there were already 15 provinces which had set up their own local governments.
We the gentry class, together with the militarists and the merchants, controlled these local governments and held political power. As our only concern was to uphold our positions in the local provinces and protect our interests, we stayed out of the power struggles within the republican government. But when Yuan Shikai tried to restore a monarchy in 1916, we decided to step in and carry out protests against his actions. We would not allow any comeback of a centralized government that would hinder our power and interests. Yuan needed to be stopped.