Chinese perceptions of American democracy: Late Qing observers and their experiences with the Chinese exclusion act

Sam Wong, Brian Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Analysis of the writings of Kuang Qizhao and other Chinese self-strengtheners suggests that their emphasis on promoting education before democracy and continuing to endorse classical Confucianism were not signs of a retrograde kind of conservatism, but an entirely rational decision based on the actual experiences of late Qing observers of 19th Century American democracy. Observing the U.S. Congress's passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese officials observed the real dangers of demagogue led populism without an educated, moral citizenry and the apparent importance of Christianity to creating the moral foundation for an effective modern society. For Kuang, Confucianism was equivalent to Christianity to establish that moral basis, and not a conservative desire to preserve the old social order. Kuang would pass on his thoughts to some of China's most important reformers and officials on his return home, suggesting he and the officials he associated with had a more realistic and sophisticated understanding of American society and democracy than is currently assumed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-346
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of American-East Asian Relations
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Chinese Educational Mission
  • Chinese Exclusion Act
  • Confucianism
  • Democracy
  • Education
  • Kuang Qizhao
  • Mark Twain
  • Self-Strengthening Period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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