Saving the Empire: Democracy and Rights in the Late Qing Dynasty
Ideas about democracy and rights were first introduced to Chinese political discourse in the nineteenth century during the final few decades of the Qing dynasty. The context for the introduction of these ideas was the increasing military threat posed by encroaching imperialist powers such as Britain, France and Japan. The hope was that a system of democracy and rights might provide a solution to China’s precarious national predicament by imbuing the population with a sense of loyalty and devotion to the nation and the cause of national salvation. We will see in this chapter that initially the focus was on the limited implementation of rights rather than democracy, specifically collective rights which were aimed at protecting China’s fragile national sovereignty. The Qing regime was particularly keen to enforce a national right to prohibit the further importation of foreign merchandise into China after the outbreak of the First Opium War in 1839. There were also proposals for China to assert its sovereign right to rescind the “unequal treatises” that it had been coerced into signing with aggressive foreign powers.
KeywordsChinese People Qing Dynasty Confucian Tradition Chinese Nation Late Qing Dynasty
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