Kang Youwei (c. 1905)
19 March 1858|
Nanhai County, Guangdong, Qing Empire
|Died||31 March 1927
Qingdao, Shandong Province, Republic of China
|Known for||Leader in the Gongche Shangshu movement
Leader in the Hundred Days' Reform
|Notable work||Reformation of Meiji Emperor (日本明治變政考), and Reformation of Peter the Great (俄大彼得變政記)|
|Children||15 children, including Kang Tongbi|
|Relatives||Kang Youpu (brother)|
Kang Youwei (Chinese: 康有為; 19 March 1858 – 31 March 1927) was a Chinese scholar, noted calligrapher and prominent political thinker and reformer of the late Qing dynasty. He led movements to establish a constitutional monarchy and was an ardent Chinese nationalist and internationalist. His ideas inspired a reformation movement that was supported by the Guangxu Emperor but loathed by Empress Dowager Cixi. Although he continued to advocate a constitutional monarchy after the founding of the Republic, Kang's political theory was never put into practice.
Kang was born on 19 March 1858 in Nanhai County, Guangdong province (now the Nanhai District of Foshan City). According to his autobiography, his intellectual gifts were recognized as a child by his uncle. As a result, from an early age, he was sent by his family to study the Confucian classics to pass the Chinese civil service exams. However, as a teenager, he was dissatisfied with the scholastic system of his time, especially its emphasis on preparing for the eight-legged exams, which were artificial literary exercises required as part of the examinations.
Studying for exams was an extraordinarily rigorous activity so he engaged in Buddhist meditation as a form of relaxation, an unusual leisurely activity for a Chinese scholar of his time. It was during one of these meditations that he had a mystical vision that became the theme for his intellectual pursuits throughout his life. Believing that it was possible to read every book and "become a sage", he embarked on a quasi-messianic pursuit to save humanity.
Kang called for an end to property and the family in the interest of an idealized future cosmopolitan utopia and cited Confucius as an example of a reformer and not as a reactionary, as many of his contemporaries did. The latter idea was discussed in great detail in his work Kongzi Gaizhi Kao (孔子改制攷), or Study of the Reforms of Confucius. He argued, to bolster his claims that the rediscovered versions of the Confucian classics were forged, as he treated in detail in Xinxue weijing kao (A Study of the 'New Text' Forgeries).
Kang and his noted student, Liang Qichao, were important participants in a campaign to modernize China now known as the Hundred Days' Reform. The reforms introduced radical change into the stale Chinese government, many of which were already being implemented. By most popular historical accounts, Dowager Empress ended the reforms and ordered Kang executed by slow slicing. Kang also organized the Protect the Emperor Society, which claimed that the weak emperor was being unduly locked up for his role in the assassination attempt on his adoptive mother/aunt. Kang relied on his principal American military advisor, General Homer Lea to head the military branch of the Protect the Emperor Society. Kang even traveled throughout the Chinese diaspora, supposedly to promote constitutional monarchy but mostly to promote his own self-interest. He competed with the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen's Revive China Society and Revolutionary Alliance for funds and followers.
Some advocated that a Han be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng, which Kang briefly endorsed before dropping the idea and returning to the idea of a Qing monarch, or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace.
Kang remained an advocate of constitutional monarchy and launched a failed coup d'état in 1917. General Zhang Xun and his queue-wearing soldiers occupied Beijing, declaring a restoration of Emperor Puyi on July 1.
The incident was a major miscalculation. The nation was highly anti-monarchist. Kang became suspicious of Zhang's insincere constitutionalism and feared he was merely using the restoration to become the power behind the throne. He abandoned his mission and fled to the American legation. On July 12, Duan Qirui easily occupied the city.
Kang's reputation serves as an important barometer for the political attitudes of his time. In the span of less than twenty years, he went from being regarded as an iconoclastic radical to an anachronistic pariah. In Jung Chang's biography of the Empress Dowager, he is depicted as a self-serving zealot, who was always seeking personal power above national considerations.
|Courtesy name (zi)|
|Courtesy names (hao)|
|Traditional Chinese||更生 or 更甡|
|Hanyu Pinyin||Xīqiáo Shānrén|
|Yale Romanization||Sāi-chīu Sāan-yàhn|
|Hanyu Pinyin||Tiānyóu Huàrén|
|Yale Romanization||Tīn-yàuh Fa-yàhn|
|¹ K'ang Yu-wei: A Biography and a Symposium gives Guǎngxià 廣夏|
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Kang's best-known and probably most controversial work was Da Tong shu (大同書). The title of this book derives from the name of a utopian society imagined by Confucius, but it literally means "The Book of Great Unity". The ideas of this book appeared in his lecture notes from 1884. Encouraged by his students, he worked on this book for the next two decades, but it was not until his exile in India that he finished the first draft. The first two chapters of the book were published in Japan in the 1900s, but the book was not published in its entirety until 1935, about seven years after his death.
Kang proposed a utopian future world free of political boundaries and democratically ruled by one central government. In his scheme, the world would be split into rectangular administrative districts, which would be self-governing under a direct democracy but loyal to a central world government.
There would also be the dissolution of racial boundaries. Kang outlines an immensely ambitious eugenics program that would eliminate the "brown and black" racial phenotype after a millennia and lead to the emergence of a fair-skinned homogeneous human race whose members would "be the same color, the same appearance, the same size, and the same intelligence".
His desire to end the traditional Chinese family structure defines him as an early advocate of women's independence in China. He reasoned that the institution of the family practiced by society since the beginning of time was a great cause of strife. Kang hoped it would be effectively abolished.
The family would be replaced by state-run institutions, such as womb-teaching institutions, nurseries and schools. Marriage would be replaced by one-year contracts between a woman and a man. Kang considered the contemporary form of marriage, in which a woman was trapped for a lifetime, to be too oppressive. Kang believed in equality between men and women and that there should be no social barrier barring women from doing whatever men can do.
Kang saw capitalism as an inherently evil system. He believed that government should establish socialist institutions to overlook the welfare of each individual. At one point, he even advocated that government should adopt the methods of "communism" although it is debated what Kang meant by this term. He was surely one of the first advocates of Western communism in China.
In this spirit, in addition to establishing government nurseries and schools to replace the institution of the family, he also envisioned government-run retirement homes for the elderly. It is debated whether Kang's socialist ideas were inspired more by Western thought or by traditional Confucian ideals.
Lawrence G. Thompsom believes that his socialism was based on traditional Chinese ideals. His work is permeated with the Confucian ideal of ren (仁), or humanity. However, Thompson also noted a reference by Kang to Fourier. Thus, some Chinese scholars believe that Kang's socialist ideals were influenced by Western intellectuals after his exile in 1898.
Notable in Kang's Da Tong Shu were his enthusiasm for and his belief in bettering humanity through technology, unusual for a Confucian scholar during his time. He believed that Western technological progress had a central role in saving humanity. While many scholars of his time continued to maintain the belief that Western technology should be adopted only to defend China against the West, he seemed to whole-heartedly embrace the modern idea that technology is integral for advancing mankind. Before anything of modern scale had been built, he foresaw a global telegraphic and telephone network. He also believed that as a result of technological advances, each individual would only need to work three or four hours per day, a prediction that would be repeated by the most optimistic futurists later in the 20th century.
When the book was first published, it was received with mixed reactions. Kang's support for the Guangxu Emperor was seen as reactionary by many Chinese intellectuals, who believed that Kang's book was an elaborate joke and that he was merely acting as an apologist for the emperor as to how a utopian paradise could have developed if the Qing dynasty had been maintained. Others believe that Kang was a bold and daring protocommunist, who advocated modern Western socialism and communism. Amongst the latter was Mao Zedong, who admired Kang Youwei and his socialist ideals in the Da Tongshu.
Modern Chinese scholars now often take the view that Kang was an important advocate of Chinese socialism. Despite the controversy, Da Tongshu still remains popular. A Beijing publisher included it on the list of 100 most influential books in Chinese history.
Kang enumerated sources of human suffering in a way similar to that of Buddhism.
The sufferings associated with the human relationship are being a widow, being orphaned or childless, being ill with no one to provide medical care, suffering poverty and having a low and mean station in life.
The sufferings associated with society are corporal punishment and imprisonment, taxation, military conscription, social stratification, oppressive political institutions, the existence of the state and the existence of the family.
He also imagined a hierarchy of religions, in which Christianity and Islam were the lowest, above them being Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. He predicted that in the future the lower religions would disappear.
- Gongche Shangshu movement
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