The Adverse Impact of Internal Disorder and Imperialist Intrusions
Between 1820 and 1952, the world economy made enormous progress by any previous yardstick. World product rose more than eight–fold and world per capita income three–fold. US per capita income rose nearly nine-fold, European income four–fold and Japanese more than three–fold. In other Asian countries except Japan, economic progress was very modest but in China per capita product actually fell.
China’s share of world GDP fell from a third to one twentieth. Its real per capita income fell from 90 per cent to less than a quarter of the world average. Most Asian countries had problems similar to those of China, i.e. indigenous institutions which hindered modernisation and foreign colonial intrusion. But these problems were worse in China and help to explain why its performance was exceptionally disappointing.
China was plagued by internal disorder which took a heavy toll on population and economic welfare. The Taiping rebellion (1850–64) affected more than half of China’s provinces and did extensive damage to its richest areas. There were Muslim rebellions in Shensi, Kansu and Sinkiang. In the Republican era there were three decades of civil war.
The colonial intrusions led to cession of extraterritorial rights and privileges to nineteen foreign powers in a welter of colonial enclaves. There were three wars with Japan and two with France and the United Kingdom. The Boxer rebellion involved a simultaneous armed struggle with all the foreign powers. Russia took 10 per cent of Chinese territory in the 1850s in what is now Eastern Siberia and in the first years of the Chinese republic, it helped detach Outer Mongolia. After all these foreign wars, the victorious powers added to China’s humiliation by exacting large financial indemnities.
The Imperial regime and the Kuomintang were both incapable of creative response to these problems. They did not react positively or effectively to the Western technical challenge. The Ch’ing authorities were incapable of reactive nationalism because they themselves were Manchus not Chinese.
After the imperial collapse the warlord regimes pursued regional rather than national objectives. The KMT was not effective in asserting China’s national interests. It achieved very little in regaining Chinese territorial integrity and did not respond effectively to Japanese aggression. The Ch’ing and the KMT were fiscally weak and failed to mobilise resources for effective defence and development.