Zhang Zhidong, a Confucian scholar-official of the late Qing dynasty, advocated a philosophy of modernizing reform: “Chinese learning as the essence, Western learning for practical development.”
Zhang Zhidong was a Confucian scholar-official of the late nineteenth century who was closely associated with China’s Self-Strengthening Movement. Appointed by the Qing government as viceroy of Liangjiang, Zhang Zhidong promoted Western-style industrialization through the establishment of a modern coal and steel complexes in the lower Yangzi River region.
Zhang Zhidong, born in Nanpi in Zhili (modern-day Hebei) Province, was a Confucian scholar-official who was closely associated with China’s Self-Strengthening Movement. His service in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) government began in 1863 when he passed the highest-level civil service exam and earned the jinshi (presented scholar) degree. He then held several supervisory posts related to the Confucian examination system and education in Sichuan, Zhejiang, and Hubei provinces from 1867 to 1877. Zhang was known for his promotion of scholarship and exemplary rectitude in administrative affairs during this time. In 1879 he was admitted to the Imperial Academy. There he earned a reputation as a commentator on Chinese political reform and foreign relations.
Zhang became governor of Shanxi Province in 1882. This was the first of several administrative posts that culminated in his tenure as governor-general of Hubei and Hunan provinces. During his eighteen years as governor-general Zhang was known as a political reformer and modernizer even as he remained devoted to Confucianism and the Qing dynastic order. Zhang’s philosophy of reform was Zhongxue wei ti, Xixue wei yong (Chinese learning as the essence, Western learning for practical development).
Zhang Zhidong’s View of the Examination System
Wendy Larson, a scholar of Chinese literature, film, and theory, writing on Zhang Zhidong:
One of the most forceful attacks on the examination system was engineered by Qing reformer Zhang Zhidong, who felt the exam was too literary and did not test candidates in a sufficient scope of affairs. His suggestion, similar to that of Ouyang Xiu in 1044, was to emphasize the dissertation and discussion in essays on the shi and fu poetry and to abandon the bagu writing style. He also petitioned to have the test of small formal calligraphy eliminated. Symbolic of an interpretation of writing as form equal to or more important than content, calligraphy is often mentioned by critics of the examination as one type of uselessly applied textual effort…. When the abolition of the examination system was announced and took place in 1905, however, Zhang Zhidong began to develop plans to establish a School for the Preservation of Antiquity; he petitioned the throne to establish this school on July 9, 1907, and it was opened August 28 of the same year. The school was to concentrate on Chinese subjects, emphasizing national literature, both prose and poetry, as well as the spoken and written language.
Zhang obviously perceived the value of the examination system as a unifying influence in the spiritual and conceptual realm of Chinese though and realized that while its abolition would allow China to progress in previously undeveloped ways, a chaotic spiritual gap may result from the lack of guiding and unifying ideology.
Source: Larson, W.. (1991). Literary authority and the modern Chinese writer. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 33
The Qing court in 1901 appointed Zhang viceroy of Liangjiang in Guangxi Zhuang. He promoted development of railways and sponsored the Han-Ye-Ping iron and steelworks in the lower Yangzi River region to strengthen the Chinese state and economy. In addition he founded an institute of higher learning that was the foundation of modern University of Nanjing.
Source: Lazich, Michael C. (2009). ZHANG Zhidong. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2621–2622. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
ZHANG Zhidong (Zh?ng Zh?dòng ???)|Zh?ng Zh?dòng ??? (ZHANG Zhidong)