Chang Chih-tung (1837-1909) was a Chinese official and reformer. A brilliant Confucian scholar, he was convinced of the peerless quality of China's traditional culture. However, to preserve it, he introduced Western-type industry, education, and military techniques.
During the 19th century China became progressively aware of the necessity of borrowing increments of Western civilization if the country was to remain independent of foreign domination. By the 1860s officials such as Tseng Kuo-fan favored only the manufacture of Western armaments. At the end of the century K'ang Yu-wei and others advocated even the adoption of Western political institutions. Chang Chih-tung stood between these two extremes, making significant economic and even educational innovations, but only as a means of preserving what he regarded as the essence of Chinese culture.
Chang Chih-tung was born on Sept. 2, 1837, in northern China near Peking. His family had served as government officials for generations, and he received a superb classical education in preparation to continue this family tradition. He began his official career in 1863 after passing the third, or metropolitan, civil service examinations with unusual distinction.
Early Conservative Career
In 1879 Chang became famous as a result of his vigorous defense of the empress dowager Tz'u-hsi for her choice of Kuang-hsü as the new emperor following the death of the T'ung-chih emperor. For his support Chang won Tz'u-hsi's undying gratitude, which partially accounted for his subsequent meteoric climb in the official hierarchy. In foreign affairs he became a leader of the "war party," which hated the foreigners and preferred to go to war rather than to encourage the imperialist powers by giving evidence of weakness. His belligerent memorials significantly affected the formation of China's foreign policy in the lli crisis with Russia (1879-1880) and in the conflict with France over Vietnam (1884-1885).
In 1882 Chang became governor of Shansi Province, and 2 years later he reached the pinnacle of the provincial bureaucracy when he was appointed governor general at Canton. He was transferred in 1889 to the governor generalship at Wuchang in central China, where he served for 18 years, except for two brief interludes (1894-1896 and 1902-1903) as acting governor general at Nanking.
Chang possessed great drive and imagination as a provincial administrator. In 1887 at Canton he founded a modern arsenal and military academy, for the war with France had convinced him—despite his xenophobic tendencies— of the need of borrowing from the West. Two years later he instituted at Canton the first modern mint in China.
Chang's most far-reaching attempts to modernize China occurred during his tenure in Wuchang. In 1890 he opened the iron foundry that subsequently evolved into the huge Han-Yeh-P'ing iron and steel works. He also established cotton mills, silk factories, and tanneries—industrial enterprises that have caused the area around Wuchang to be known as the "Chicago of China." Chang was one of China's leading proponents of railroad and telegraph construction, and the Peking-Hankow Railway was completed largely as a result of his extended efforts from 1889 to 1906. Chang was also China's leading educational innovator, and in Hupei he set up an experimental school system consisting of a teachers' college and a series of primary, technical, and high schools.
Rationale for Reform
In 1898 Chang wrote Exhortation to Study, which is one of the most significant pieces of reformist literature in China during the 19th century. Chang presented this treatise to the emperor Kuang-hsü during the midst of the Hundred Days Reform movement, and the Emperor was so pleased that he ordered it to be distributed throughout the empire.
Chang's basic reform philosophy was summed up in the famous phrase, "Chinese learning for the essential principles (t'i); Western learning for the practical applications (yung). " Chang meant that Western technology and learning (yung) should be adopted, but only to the extent that they helped preserve China's culture, morality, and sociopolitical system (t'i). In Exhortation to Study, therefore, Chang advocated the adoption of Western-style industries and modification of the traditional educational and examination system. But he vehemently opposed the adoption of Western democratic institutions or concepts of social egalitarianism.
In 1900 Chang helped prevent another full-scale war with the foreign powers when he restrained the provinces of central China from participating in the Boxer uprising. Between 1901 and 1906 he played a key role in instituting a coherent, nationwide system of schools teaching both traditional Chinese and Western subjects. Perhaps regretting the spread of Westernization in China, he was instrumental in 1906 in having the sacrifices to Confucius raised to the unprecedented dignity of being on a level with sacrifices to heaven and earth.
In 1907 Chang left the post of governor general at Wuchang to fill the posts of grand secretary and director of the new Ministry of Education at Peking. He died on Oct. 4, 1909, 2 years before his beloved Ch'ing dynasty fell to the revolutionaries.
Further Reading on Chang Chih-tung
Chang's Exhortation to Study was translated by Samuel I. Woodbridge as China's Only Hope (1900). William Ayers, Chang Chih-tung and Educational Reform in China (1971), is an important study of Chang's career that also touches on aspects other than his educational reform. A short biographical sketch is in Arthur W. Hummel, ed., Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, vol. 1 (1943). For his role in the modernization of China see Albert Feuerwerker, China's Early Industrialization (1958), and John L. Rawlinson, China's Struggle for Naval Development, 1839-1895 (1967). For his place in Chinese intellectual history see Joseph R. Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate (1958). See also Samuel C. Chu, Reformer in Modern China: Chang Chien, 1853-1926 (1965); Yi C. Wang, Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949 (1966); and Mary Clabaugh Wright, ed., China in Revolution: The First Phase, 1900-1913 (1968), and her own work, The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874 (1957).