In 1929, a teenager writing under the name Hongxu published an article on rural citizenship and governance reform in a journal for rural “new literates.” Hongxu had only recently moved to Beiping (as Beijing was then called) from rural Ding County (Dingxian), where he had grown up and become involved in rural reform work. Before turning to the practicalities of rural self-government, Hongxu mused on why rural reform was necessary to begin with—settling, ultimately, on the personal failings of the Chinese people. “Why we have been oppressed by the Great Powers [can be said in] one simple sentence. It is because Chinese people could not self-strengthen,” he wrote. The Chinese people were illiterate and ignorant, he continued, and thus the nation was weak. “We must admit that it is not imperialism bullying us; in reality we have welcomed it ourselves!”...
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