by Alec Ash
Financial Review - May 22 2018
In 1902, Liang Qichao, a reformist intellectual of the late Qing dynasty, wrote a futuristic story called A Chronicle of the Future of New China. In the unfinished manuscript, he depicts Shanghai hosting the World Fair in 1962 ("Confucius year 2513"), on the 50th anniversary of a successful reform movement.
By then, he imagines, China has developed a multi-party system and dominates a peaceful new world order in which Westerners study Chinese to improve their job prospects. This vision of a modern, technologically triumphant China would prove prescient – except for the multi-party system and peaceful world order – in 2010, when the Shanghai World Expo impressed visitors with its slick graphics, high-tech gadgets and other emblems of modernisation. Liang's optimism for China's rejuvenation was vindicated, only 50 years later than he thought.
Liang's intention was not to predict the future, however, but to change the present. The message, if it reached those in power, fell on deaf ears, and the Qing court continued to reject Western science and democracy.