The history of China since the mid-nineteenth century has been closely intertwined with global economic, political, and intellectual developments. Despite its best efforts and better judgment, the Ch'ing dynasty was forced to deal with the West on the West's own terms, even as it sought to acquire the most obvious elements of Western strength without jeopardizing its own cultural and institutional uniqueness. For Republican governments that followed the collapse of the Empire in 1911, the fact that China was inescapably caught up in the whirlpool of international currents was at once dangerous and promising.
The risk lay in being overwhelmed by the imperialist expansionism of more powerful, "modernized" states. The promise lay in China's status as a "late-comer" to the modern world. If China was hardly a "blank piece of paper" on which new directions could be written, it did have the advantage of studying the experiences of other, relatively "modern" nations. As China's political and ideological structures collapsed with the Ch'ing, and as the nation's social fabric became increasingly threadbare in the twentieth century, leading Chinese political and intellectual figures had laid before them a plethora of potential foreign models for development from which to pick, choose, and adapt to their own circumstances. If the ultimate goal was a return to Chinese wealth and power, the means by which this was attempted often involved the emulation and appropriation of the experiences of other nations.
One way that foreign models came to China was as "isms," as political or philosophical constructs with universal application. Republicanism could appeal to a generation of Chinese revolutionaries both as the most modern political form yet developed and as the best means of preventing a restoration of the old order.' Constitutionalism seemed to the reformers of 1898 as a process of invigorating the ties between ruler and ruled, and to politicians of the Peking government after 1916 as a method of establishing an orderly structure for the resolution of differences. Sun Yat-sen and other early Kuomintang leaders studied European socialism during the years 1905-7, not as a cure for the ills of capitalist industrialization but as a preventive. To the youthful founders of Chinese communism, Marxism-Leninism offered a recipe for national renewal that involved both the overturning of existing social relations and the expulsion of imperialist influences from the land. And in the 1930's, fascism appeared to some Kuomintang leaders as a means for both mobilizing and disciplining the populace; it was the leading "ism" of the day. ............................