Reappraising Zhang Zhidong: Forgotten Continuities During China’s Self-Strengthening, 1884-1901

in Journal of Chinese Military History
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Abstract

The recent historiography of China’s late nineteenth-century Self-Strengthening movement emphasizes the successes in Chinese state building. My research expands upon this trend through the perspective of the prominent governor-general Zhang Zhidong 張之洞 (1837-1909) and his military reforms. From 1884 to 1901, Zhang consistently pursued the creation of new military academies and western-style armies with the aim of providing an army capable of defending China. At the turn of the century, Zhang’s military apparatus was arguably one of the best in China. However, his role as a military pioneer of this era was often obscured by the wider narratives of Chinese reforms or subsumed under the reforms of more notorious officials such as Li Hongzhang or Yuan Shikai. Ultimately, the study of Zhang Zhidong’s reforms reveals an often-missed continuity in successful military reform starting in the 1880s and contributes to the developing historical narratives of successful late Qing state building.

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