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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Thompson, Roger R.

Second Advisor

Mathieu, Ed

Third Advisor

Pearce, Scott


The conventional history of China’s late nineteenth-century Self-Strengthening movement charted a failure of military reforms. My research explores this period through the perspective of the prominent governor-general Zhang Zhidong. From 1884-1901, Zhang consistently pursued new military academies and western-style armies aiming to secure the nation against foreign imperialist incursion. At the same time, the governor’s understanding of regional differences as well as his increasing experience in military affairs distinctly shaped his effective new military institutions. At the turn of the century, Zhang Zhidong’s military apparatus was arguably one of the best in China. In the wider analysis of Chinese military history, the governor’s career contrasted with other historical figures by its peripatetic nature and its continuity through the Sino-Japanese War and Boxer Rebellion. Zhang’s many jurisdictions showed not only his consistent dedication to military power as a means to national sovereignty, but also created numerous military institutions for study. More importantly, the continuity in the governor’s effective military reforms underlined fundamental historical misunderstandings about the nature of late-Qing China. First, Zhang’s successful military institutions contended with China’s deterioration narrative from 1895 to the dynastic fall in 1911. Second, the reason for historical misinterpretation stemmed from the obscuring of both late-Qing historians’ and the historical actors’ perceptions by the influences of western imperialism. Ultimately, the study of Zhang Zhidong’s military reforms shows a discontinuity in the conventional historical narrative, and thus creates space for increased Chinese agency in their own history.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subjects – Names (LCNAF)

Zhang, Zhidong, 1837-1909

Subject – LCSH

China--History, Military--19th century

Geographic Coverage

China; Guangdong Sheng (China)--History, Military--19th century




masters theses




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