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  • The Hundred Days’ Reform, June 11, 1898.

    Beatriz Camino

    The Hundred Days’ Reform, June 11, 1898.

    The Hundred Days’ Reform, also known as the Wuxu Reform, was a short-lived national, cultural, political, and educational reform movement that lasted for 103 days, from June 11 to September 22, 1898, during the late Qing dynasty.


    In 1895, while Liang Qichao and his mentor Kang Youwei were travelling to Beijing to take the imperial exams, their ship, despite being in Chinese territorial waters, was boarded and searched by a Japanese vessel—Japan had recently delivered a decisive defeat to China. This incident enraged both Kang and Liang, who were already concerned about China’s inadequate response to the aggression it had been facing from Western powers since the Opium Wars, and now from Japan as well.

    Their anger intensified upon learning the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan and renounce its claims to Korea. Kang then gathered all the young candidates for the imperial exams and presented a collective petition to the young Emperor Guangxu, who was completely controlled by his aunt, Empress Dowager Cixi. They urged him to reject the treaty and initiate a series of reforms similar to the Tanzimat of the Ottoman Empire. Kang subsequently organised a propaganda campaign and established study societies like the “Society for the Study of National Strength”.  

    The Hundred Days' Reform

    In early 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi allowed the young Emperor Guangxu, then twenty-three years old, to rule with full authority. Guangxu immediately summoned Kang Youwei to the Forbidden City, where they discussed the necessary reforms. Beginning on June 11, a series of decrees began to be published aimed at transforming China in all areas, from local administration to international cultural exchange.

    These reforms included abolishing the traditional examination system and establishing Peking University to offer courses in sciences, liberal arts, and Chinese classics. They also involved creating agricultural schools and other educational institutions across all provinces and cities, building a modern education system that emphasised mathematics and science, and encouraging imperial family members to study abroad. Furthermore, the reforms sought to transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, apply capitalist principles to strengthen the economy, modernise China’s military and establish a naval academy. Additionally, the reformers plotted to forcibly remove Empress Dowager Cixi from power.

    However, the conservative ruling elite opposed the reforms, deeming them too radical and advocating for more moderate and gradual alternatives. Conservatives, like Prince Duan, suspected a foreign plot due to the introduction of foreign advisors into the Qing government and wanted to expel foreigners from China entirely.

    End of the Reform

    On September 22, 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi launched a coup d'état with the support of the conservatives and the armed forces, seizing control of the government. Emperor Guangxu was placed under house arrest in the Summer Palace, where he remained until his death in 1908.

    The reforms were reversed and their main proponents, known as the “Six Gentlemen of Wuxu” (Tan Sitong, Kang Guangren, Lin Xu, Yang Shenxiu, Yang Rui, and Liu Guangdi) were executed. Policies such as the abolishing of the old writing style were reinstated, the removal of offices and agencies was reversed, and the establishment of certain newspapers, civil societies, and schools was suspended. The two principal leaders, Kang Youwei and his student Liang Qichao fled to Japan, where they founded the Baohuang Hui (Protect the Emperor Society) and unsuccessfully advocated for a constitutional monarchy in China.


    A decade later, some of the reforms were implemented through Cixi’s New Policies, which included the abolition of the Imperial Examination, educational and military modernisation modelled after Japan, and an experiment in constitutional and parliamentary government. However, these efforts were largely unsuccessful.

    The failure of the initial reform movement significantly boosted revolutionary forces within China. Many saw internal changes as hopeless, making the overthrow of the Qing government the only viable solution to save the country. These sentiments directly contributed to the success of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, just over a decade later.


    China, Fengtien Province, Guangxu, silver Yuan Year 40 (1903) AU DETAILSCHINA - Empire, Chihli Province, Year 34 (1908) Dollar, AU details NGCPCGS AU55 | China, Kiangnan, Silver 7 Mace & 2 Candareens [1904].

    NGC XF45 | China, Chihli, Pei Yang [Tianjin], Silver 7 Mace & 2 Candareens, Year 34 of Kuang Hsu.CHINA - Empire, Guangxu, Anhwei Province, ND (1902-06), 10 Cash, about EF detailsNGC F15 | China, Chihli, Pei Yang Arsenal [Tianjin], silver Yuan, Year 24.


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