The purpose of the self-strengthening movement in China was to help the country recover from the repeated failures in wars in the middle of the 19th century. The Chinese authorities intended to reform the military and economic sectors to strengthen the state’s position in comparison to the European countries at that time.


In the middle of the 19th century, the policy for the self-strengthening movement in China was one of the most decisive ways for the government to restore its power and revive the country after a series of failures in warfare. Historical research defines this stage in Chinese history as a protecting reaction of the late Qing Empire to the overall advancement of the world in diverse spheres.

Indeed, while China of the 19th century led an isolationist policy of trade, other countries of the western world developed their economies, technologies, industries, and politics.

Despite China’s great economy, it remained fragile in the encounters with the European countries and suffered significant losses in wars. Thus, the authorities faced an urgent need to reform the economic and military sectors to be able to maintain stability in comparison with the competing western countries.

The industrial revolution enabled the economic and technological advancement in the countries of the West, while China remained isolated and limited to its traditional approach to governance.

The self-strengthening movement was initiated as a way of protecting the Qing government by enforcing modernization in technologies, industry, economy, and other crucial spheres of the state’s performance. Another term used for this process is westernization that implies the introduction of the progress and achievements of the West into the context of China. In such a manner, the dynasty wanted to raise its standards to those existing in the world.

The historians recognize three main phases of the self-strengthening movement in China, during which many leaders and politicians pursued diverse reforms specific to particular spheres of expertise.

Zeng Guofan was one of the leaders who made a significant contribution to the process of the modernization of China and military improvement in particular. By opening foreign schools, adopting western approaches to trade and warfare, Qing dynasty tried to reestablish its power over the state.

Although the self-strengthening movement had a particular effect on the overall modernization of the military sector, the overall results of the movement were insufficient. The failure of the movement was influenced by the overall scepticism of the main stakeholders in the reformation activities, as well as the overall foreignness of Qing dynasty to the Western tradition.

The reforms were either perceived not seriously or were adopted sporadically. Indeed, the leaders of the modernization pursued the interests of the regions over those of the state, thus holding back the developmental achievements in the field of modernization.

The self-strengthening movement became a starting point for other reforming decisions. Tongzi restoration was the aftermath of the self-strengthening movement. The following reformation of China on the basis of restoring the dynasty’s influence. These actions adhered to the goals of strengthening the decisive elements of the Chinese economy and governance.

Some economic and industrial areas were improved but the overall impact of the reformation was unsuccessful. Therefore, the movement was an important issue in the history of China but it was poorly adopted and did not provide anticipated results.