Liang Ch'i-ch'ao

From New World Encyclopedia
Portrait of Liang Qichao (Tung Wah News, April 17, 1901)

Liang Ch'i-ch'ao or Liang Qichao (Liang Qichao, 梁啟超, Liáng Qǐchāo; Courtesy: Zhuoru, 卓如; Pseudonym: Rengong, 任公) (February 23, 1873 – January 19, 1929) was a Chinese scholar, journalist, philosopher and reformist who is considered the foremost intellectual leader of China during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Liang was a disciple of Kang Youwei (康有為, 1858-1927) who attempted to use the Confucian classics to spur political reform in China. After participating in the Hundred Days of Reform, Liang spent 14 years in exile in Japan, where he continued to advocate for political reform in China and helped found a number of journals and political organizations.

Liang believed that journalism had an important role in educating the public, and used his writing to advocate democracy and republicanism. His journalistic writings influenced an entire generation of Chinese young people. Liang returned to China in 1912 after the establishment of the Republic of China. As a founder of the Progressive Party (Chinputang), he sided with Yuan Shikai (袁世凱), against the nationalist Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), but organized a successful resistance when Yüan attempted to overturn the republic and have himself declared emperor. After retiring from politics, Liang continued to educate through his writing, translating Western philosophical works into Chinese and writing several books on history.


Early life

Liang Qichao was born in a small village in Xinhui (新會), Guangdong Province on February 23, 1873. Liang's father, Liang Baoying (梁寶瑛, courtesy name Lianjian 蓮澗), was a farmer, but a background in classics allowed him to introduce Liang to various literary works when Liang was six years old. By the age of nine, Liang started writing thousand-word essays and became a district-school student soon after.

Liang was married twice during his life to Li Huixian (李惠仙), and Wang Guiquan (王桂荃). They had nine children, all of whom became successful individuals through Liang's strict and effective education. Three of them were scientific personnel at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Liang Qichao in his youth

Liang passed the Xiucai (秀才) degree provincial examination at the age of eleven. In 1884, he undertook the arduous task of studying for the traditional governmental exams. At the age of 16, he passed the Juren (舉人) second level provincial exams (the equivalent of a Master's degree) and was the youngest successful candidate at that time.

In 1890, Liang failed in his Jinshi (進士) national examinations in Beijing and never earned a higher degree. He took the exams along with Kang Youwei, a known [[[reformism|reformist]]. The examiner was determined to fail Kang in retaliation for his heterodox challenge to existing institutions, but since the exams were all anonymous, he could only presume that the exam expressing the most unorthodox views was Kang's. Instead, Kang disguised himself by writing an examination essay espousing traditionalist ideas and passed the exam, while Liang's paper was assumed to be Kang's and he was deliberately failed.

Inspired by the book Information About the Globe (瀛環志略), Liang became extremely interested in western ideologies. After returning home, Liang went on to study with Kang Youwei, who was teaching at Wanmu Caotang (萬木草堂) in Guangzhou. Kang's teachings about foreign affairs fueled Liang's interest in reforming China.

In 1895, Liang went to the capital Beijing again with Kang for the national examination. During the examination, he was a leader of the Gong Zhe Shangshu movement. After failing to pass the examination for a second time, he stayed in Beijing to help Kang publish Domestic and Foreign Information. Liang also helped to organize the Society for National Strengthening (強學會), where he served as secretary. For a time, he was also enlisted by the governor of Hunan, Chen Baozhen to edit reform-friendly publications, such as the Hunan Daily (Xiangbao 湘報) and the Hunan Journal (Xiang xuebao 湘學報).

Reform Movements

Kang Youwei – a mentor of Liang Qichao.

As an advocate of constitutional monarchy, Liang was unhappy with the governance of the Qing Government and wanted to change the state of political affairs in China. He and Kang Youwei wrote down their ideas for reform and submitted them to Emperor Guangxu (光緒帝, 1871-1908; reigned 1875-1908) of the Qing Dynasty. This movement is known as the Wuxu Reform or the Hundred Days' Reform. Their proposal asserted that China was in need of more than " self-strengthening," and called for many institutional and ideological changes such as eliminating corruption and remodeling the state examination system. In June of 1898, the Emperor began issuing edicts designed to reform the government and institute a constitutional monarchy, and called Kang Youwei to advise him. Yuan Shikai, Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后,1835-1908), strongly opposed the reforms and, along with her supporters, condemned the "Hundred Days of Reform" as being too radical. In September, 1898, she took over the government, consigned the Emperor to house arrest, and ordered the execution of the reformers. Kang Youwei and Liang, who had been warned the day before by the Emperor, fled to Japan, where Liang remained in exile for the next 14 years. In Japan, he continued to actively advocate democratic notions and reforms by using his writings to raise support for the reformers’ cause among overseas Chinese and foreign governments.

In 1899, Liang went to Canada, where he met Dr. Sun Yat-Sen among others, then to Honolulu in Hawaii. During the Boxer Rebellion, Liang was back in Canada, where he formed the "Save the Emperor Society" (保皇會). This organization later became the Constitutionalist Party which advocated constitutional monarchy. While Sun Yat-Sen promoted revolution, Liang preached reform.

In 1900-1901, Liang visited Australia on a six-month tour aimed at raising support for a campaign to reform the Chinese empire in order to modernize China through adopting the best of Western technology, industry and government systems. He also gave public lectures to both Chinese and Western audiences around the country. He returned to Japan later that year.

In 1903, Liang embarked on an eight-month lecture tour throughout the United States, which included a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., before returning to Japan via Vancouver, Canada.


With the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, constitutional monarchy became increasingly irrelevant in early republican China. Liang merged his renamed Democratic Party with the Republicans to form the new Progressive Party. He was very critical of Sun Yat-Sen's attempts to undermine President Yuan Shikai. Though usually supportive of the government, he opposed the expulsion of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) from parliament.

In 1915, he opposed Yuan's attempt to make himself emperor and convinced his disciple Cai E, the military governor of Yunnan, to rebel. Progressive party branches agitated for the overthrow of Yuan, and more provinces declared their independence. The revolutionary activity that Liang had frowned upon was now successful in curbing Yuan’s ambitions.

Besides Duan Qirui, Liang was the biggest Chinese advocate for entering World War I on the Allied side, because he believed it would boost China's status and ameliorate foreign debts. He condemned his mentor, Kang Youwei, for assisting in the failed attempt to restore the Qing in July 1917. After failing to turn Duan and Feng Guozhang into responsible statesmen, he left politics.

Contributions to Journalism

As a Journalist

Lin Yutang (林語堂) once called Liang "the greatest personality in the history of Chinese journalism," and Joseph Levenson, author of Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and the Mind of Modern China, described Liang as "a brilliant scholar, journalist, and political figure" and the "most influential turn-of-the-century scholar-journalist." Liang showed that newspapers and magazines could serve as an effective medium for communicating political ideas.

Liang, as a historian and a journalist, believed that both careers must have the same purpose and "moral commitment." He proclaimed, "by examining the past and revealing the future, I will show the path of progress to the people of the nation." He named his first newspaper the Qing Yi Bao (清議報), after a student movement of the Han Dynasty.

Liang's exile in Japan allowed him to speak freely and exercise his intellectual autonomy. His writing during this period affected a whole generation of young Chinese. During his career in journalism, he edited two premier newspapers, Zhongwai Gongbao (中外公報) and Shiwu Bao (時務報). He also published his moral and political ideals in Qing Yi Bao (清議報) and New Citizen (新民叢報). In addition, he used his literary works to further spread his views on republicanism both in China and across the world. He became an influential political and cultural journalist by writing new forms of periodical journals. Journalism also allowed him to express his patriotism.

Commitment to Journalistic Principles

The kind of "truth" Liang felt he was obligated to bring to his readers was more ideological than factual. New Citizen, of which Liang was editor in chief, was one of the first publications of its kind. Instead of simply reporting events to his readers, Liang gave them relevant new ideas and insights. In his newspapers and essays, Liang spread his views on democracy, republicanism and sovereignty throughout a large audience both in China and overseas. To many of his readers these were new ideas. His publications focused on educating his readers about democracy and republicanism and empowering the citizenry through these political ideas. According to the manifesto of the New Citizen, Liang strove "to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self governing."

Liang asserted that a newspaper "is the mirror of society," "the sustenance of the present," and "the lamp for the future." He categorized newspapers into four types: the newspaper of an individual, of a party, of a nation, and of the world. Ultimately, his goal was to produce a "newspaper of the world," because as he proclaimed, "a newspaper of the world serves the interests of all humanity."

Liang once declared, "How great is the force of the newspaper! And how grave is the duty of the newspaper!" Liang believed that the "freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press" were "indeed the mother of all civilization." During the WuXu Reform Liang was highly critical of the Qing Dynasty and was threatened with execution for his political views. This did not deter Liang as he continued to write articles and essays on how political change was needed in China. He chose exile in Japan in order to preserve his life and his literary and political freedom.

New Citizen Journal (Xinmin Congbao 新民叢報)

Liang produced a widely read biweekly journal called New Citizen (Xinmin Congbao 新民叢報), first published in Yokohama, Japan on February 8, 1902.

The journal covered many different topics, including politics, religion, law, economics, business, geography, and current and international affairs. In the journal, Liang coined many Chinese equivalents for never-before-heard theories or expressions and used the journal to help communicate public opinion in China to faraway readers. Through news analyses and essays, Liang hoped that the New Citizen would be able to start a "new stage in Chinese newspaper history."

A year later, Liang and his co-workers saw a change in the newspaper industry and remarked, "Since the inauguration of our journal last year, there have come into being almost ten separate journals with the same style and design."

As chief editor of the New Citizen Journal, Liang spread his notions about democracy. The journal was published without hindrance for five years but eventually ceased in 1907 after 96 issues. Its readership was estimated to be 200,000.

Role of the Newspaper

As one of the pioneers of Chinese journalism of his time, Liang believed in the "power" of newspaper, especially its influence over government policies.

Using Newspaper and magazine to communicate political ideas: Liang realised the importance of journalism's social role and supported the idea of a strong relationship between politics and journalism before the May Fourth Movement, (also known as the New Culture Movement). He believed that newspapers and magazines should serve as an essential and effective tool in communicating political ideas. He believed that newspapers did not only act as a historical record, but were also a means to "shape the course of history."

Press as a weapon in revolution: Liang also thought that the press was an "effective weapon in the service of a nationalist uprising." In Liang's words, the newspaper is a “revolution of ink, not a revolution of blood.” He wrote, "so a newspaper regards the government the way a father or elder brother regards a son or younger brother—teaching him when he does not understand, and reprimanding him when he gets something wrong." Undoubtedly, his attempt to unify and dominate a fast growing and highly competitive press market set the tone for the first generation of newspaper historians of the May Fourth Movement.

Newspaper as an educational program: Liang was well aware that the newspaper could serve as an "educational program," and said, "the newspaper gathers virtually all the thoughts and expressions of the nation and systematically introduces them to the citizenry, it being irrelevant whether they are important or not, concise or not, radical or not. The press, therefore, can contain, reject, produce, as well as destroy, everything." For example, Liang wrote a well known essay during his most radical period titled "The Young China," and published it in his newspaper Qing Yi Bao (清議報) on February 2, 1900. The essay established the concept of the nation-state and argued that the young revolutionaries were the holders of the future of China. This essay influenced the Chinese political culture during the May Fourth Movement in the 1920s.

Weak press: However, Liang thought that the press in China at that time was considerably weak, not only due to lack of financial resources and conventional social prejudices, but also because "the social atmosphere was not free enough to encourage more readers and there was a lack of roads and highways that made it hard to distribute newspapers." Liang felt that the prevalent newspapers of the time were "no more than a mass commodity." He criticized those newspapers because they "failed to have the slightest influence upon the nation as a society."

Literary career

Liang was famous for saying, "you must renovate fiction to renovate everything else." This referred to China's transformation during his life to Communism.

Liang Qichao was both a traditional Confucian scholar and a reformist. He contributed to the reform in late Qing by writing various articles interpreting non-Chinese ideas of history and government, with the intent of stimulating Chinese citizens' minds to build a new China. In his writings, he argued that China should protect the ancient teachings of Confucianism, but also learn from the successes of Western political life and not just Western technology. Therefore, he was regarded as the pioneer of political friction in China.

Liang shaped the ideas of democracy in China, using his writing as a medium to combine Western scientific methods with traditional Chinese historical studies. Liang's works were strongly influenced by the Japanese political scholar Katō Hiroyuki (加藤弘之, 1836-1916), who used methods of social Darwinism to promote the statist ideology in Japanese society. Liang drew from much of his work and subsequently influenced Korean nationalists in the 1900s.

Historiographical Thought

Liang Qichao’s historiographical thought represents the beginning of modern Chinese historiography and reveals some important directions of Chinese historiography in the twentieth century.

For Liang, the major flaw of "old historians" (舊史家) was their failure to foster the national awareness necessary for a strong and modern nation. Liang's call for new history not only pointed to a new orientation for historical writing in China, but also indicated the rise of modern historical consciousness among Chinese intellectuals.

During this period of Japan's challenge in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Liang was involved in protests in Beijing pushing for an increased participation in governance by the Chinese people. It was the first protest of its kind in modern Chinese history. This changing outlook on tradition was shown in the historiographical revolution (史學革命) launched by Liang Qichao early in the twentieth century. Frustrated by his failure at political reform, Liang embarked upon cultural reform. In 1902, while in exile in Japan, Liang wrote New History (新史學), launching attacks on traditional historiography.


Liang's calligraphy.

Liang was head of the Translation Bureau and oversaw the training of students who were learning to translate Western works into Chinese. He believed that this task was "the most essential of all essential undertakings to accomplish" because he believed Westerners were successful, politically, technologically and economically.

Philosophical Works: After having escaped Beijing and the government crackdown on anti-Qing protesters, Liang studied the works of Western philosophers of the Enlightenment period, namely Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Hume and Bentham, translating them and introducing his own interpretation of their works. His essays were published in a number of journals, drawing interest among Chinese intellects who had been taken aback by the dismemberment of China's formidable empire at the hands of foreign powers.

Western Social and Political Theories: In the early twentieth century, Liang Qichao played a significant role in introducing Western social and political theories in Korea such as Social Darwinism and international law. Liang wrote in his well-known manifesto, New People(新民說):

“Freedom means Freedom for the Group, not Freedom for the Individual. (…) Men must not be slaves to other men, but they must be slaves to their group. For, if they are not slaves to their own group, they will assuredly become slaves to some other.”

Poet and Novelist

Liang advocated reform in both the genres of poem and novel. Collected Works of Yinbingshi 《飲冰室合集》 are his representative works in literature which were collected and compiled into 148 volumes.

Liang gained his idea of calling his work as Collected Works of Yinbingshi from a sentence of a passage written by Zhuangzi (《莊子•人間世》). In the sentence, it stated that ‘Although I am suffering from the worry and coldness caused by my involvement in the politic, my heart is still warm and eager to continue my work.’ (“吾朝受命而夕飲冰,我其內熱與”). As a result, Liang called his workplace Yinbingshi and addressed himself as Yinbingshi Zhuren (飲冰室主人), which literally means "Host of Yinbing Room" in order to present his idea that he was worrying about all political matters, and would still try his best to reform the society through the effort of writing.

Liang also wrote fiction and scholarly essays on fiction, which included Fleeing to Japan after failure of Hundred Days' Reform (1898) and the essay On the Relationship Between Fiction and the Government of the People (論小說與群治之關係,1902). These works emphasized modernization in the West and the call for reform.


In the late 1920s, Liang retired from politics and taught at the Tung-nan University in Shanghai and the Tsinghua Research Institute in Peking as a tutor. He founded Chiang-hsüeh she (Chinese Lecture Association) and brought many intellectual figures to China, including Driesch and Tagore. Academically he was a renowned scholar of his time, introducing Western learning and ideology, and making extensive studies of ancient Chinese culture.

During this last decade of his life, he wrote many books documenting Chinese cultural history, Chinese literary history and historiography. He also had a strong interest in Buddhism and wrote numerous historical and political articles on its influence in China. Liang influenced many of his students in producing their own literary works. They included Xu Zhimo, renowned modern poet, and Wang Li, an accomplished poet and founder of Chinese linguistics as a modern discipline. English translations of Liang's works include History of Chinese Political Thought During the Early Tsin Period (1930) and Intellectual Trends in the Ch'ing Period (1959).


  • Introduction to the Learning of the Qing Dynasty (清代學術概論,1920)
  • The Learning of Mohism (墨子學案,1921)
  • Chinese Academic History of the Recent 300 Years (中國近三百年學術史,1924)
  • History of Chinese Culture (中國文化史,1927)
  • The Construction of New China
  • The Philosophy of Laozi (老子哲學)
  • The History of Buddhism in China (中國佛教史)
  • Collected Works of Yinbingshi, Zhong Hwa Book Co, Shanghai 1936.
  • Collected Works of Yinbingshi 饮冰室合集(全十二册), Zhong Hwa Book Co, Beijing, 2003, 4th printing ISBN 710100475X

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chang, Hao. 1971. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and intellectual transition in China, 1890-1907. Harvard East Asian series, 64. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674530098 ISBN 9780674530096
  • Cheng, Zhongying, and Nicholas Bunnin. 2002. Contemporary chinese philosophy. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers. 17-36 ISBN 063121724X ISBN 9780631217244 ISBN 0631217258 ISBN 9780631217251 .
  • Huang, Philip C. 1972. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and modern Chinese liberalism. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295951753 ISBN 9780295951751 .
  • Levenson, Joseph Richmond. 1959. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and the mind of modern China. Harvard historical monographs, 26. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Shin, Tim Sung Wook. The concepts of state (kuo-chia) and people (min) in the late Ch'ing, 1890 - 1907: the Case of Liang Ch'i Ch'ao, T'an S'su-t'ung and Huang Tsun-Hsien. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1986.
  • Tang, Xiaobing. 1996. Global space and the nationalist discourse of modernity: the historical thinking of Liang Qichao. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804725837 ISBN 9780804725835

External links

All links retrieved October 25, 2022.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.