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China: Political Reforms

Wang Anshi initiated some of China’s first reform programs in the eleventh century. Some of these were continued by the Southern Song emperors well into the twelfth century. Although things did not work out well for him despite his good intentions and radical ideas, Wang Anshi’s reputation recovered. His political reforms were recorded in the Bible Timeline Poster with World History between 1100 and 1200.

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Wang Anshi and His “New Policies”

Wang Anshi implemented reforms called the “New Policies” during the reign of the Emperor Shenzong (1065-1085) after he was promoted to the position of Chief Councillor. The reforms, however, failed after the program encountered stiff opposition from the landowners, aristocrats, and entrenched bureaucrats whose careers (and profits) he had endangered. However, it was the loan and tax reform programs that he implemented for the farmers that unraveled all his efforts. This occurred after a drought had wiped out the farmers’ production and made them unable to pay the debts they owed to the government.

“Wang Anshi”

Wang Anshi left the capital in disgrace, and despite his good intentions, his name was demonized for nearly a thousand years until it was hailed by communists as the first of the socialist reforms in China. He died in 1086, but a number of reform policies were revived by Emperor Zhenzong (1085-1100) when he curbed the power of Wang Anshi’s opponent and influential Song Chancellor Sima Guan. His successor and younger brother, the ill-fated Emperor Huizong, was an ardent supporter of Wang Anshi’s reforms. He implemented these initiatives during his reign between 1100 and 1126. During Huizong’s reign, however, Wang Anshi’s reform programs were nothing but slogans that were used by opportunistic politicians against their rivals. Corruption was so widespread during this period that the common people were forced to launch rebellions.

The twelfth century was a tumultuous period for China after the invasion of the Jurchen nomads, the mass migration of Song refugees from north to south China, and the establishment of the city of Lin’an (present-day Hangzhou) as the Southern Song (1127-1279) capital. The baojia system, a community-based law enforcement program, was among Wang Anshi’s reform programs which flourished during the Southern Song dynasty until China was folded into the Mongols’ Yuan Dynasty in the late thirteenth century.

Picture by Public Domain, Link
Fairbank, John King, and Merle Goodman. China: A New History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
Grousset, Rene虂. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970.
Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China, 900-1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Ropp, Paul S. China in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
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