The Chinese Revolution of 1949 (Part-2)

(b) Revolution of 1911 or Xinhai Revolution or Double Ten Revolution:

Chinese Revolution, (1911–12) was a revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty Qing (or Manchu) dynasty in 1912, and established the Republic of China (ROC). The revolution was named Xinhai (Hsin-hai) because it occurred in 1911, the year of the Xinhai of the Chinese calendar.

The government tried to respond to the new radical ideas by introducing reforms, promising democracy and setting up elected provincial assemblies. However, this only encouraged the provinces to distance themselves still further from the central government, which was now extremely unpopular.

All through the 19th century the dynasty had been declining, and, upon the death of the empress dowager Cixi (1908), it lost its last able leader. In 1911 the emperor Puyi was a child, and the regency was incompetent to guide the nation. The unsuccessful contests with foreign powers had shaken not only the dynasty but the entire machinery of government.

The revolution arose mainly in response to the decline of the Qing state, which had proven ineffective in its efforts to modernize China and confront foreign aggression, and was exacerbated by ethnic resentment against the ruling Manchu minority.

The revolution consisted of many revolts and uprisings. The turning point was the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911, (a mutiny broke out among the troops in Wuchang, which is regarded as the formal beginning of the revolution) and most provinces quickly declared themselves independent of Beijing. The Wuchang Uprising was a result of the mishandling of the Railway Protection Movement (a political protest movement that erupted in 1911 against the Qing government’s plan to nationalize local railway development projects and transfer control to foreign banks).

In several cities Manchu garrisons had been massacred, the regent had been forced out of office, a provisional republican government had been set up at Nanjing, and the archrevolutionist Sun Yat-sen (the leader of the United League) had returned from abroad and had been elected provisional president.

The government, ruling on behalf of the child emperor Puyi, in desperation sought help from a retired general, Yuan Shikai, who had been commander of the Chinese Northern Army, and still had a lot of influence with the generals. He was made premier. However, the plan backfired: Yuan, who was still only in his early fifties, turned out to have ambitions of his own. He did a deal with the revolutionaries – they agreed to his becoming the first president of the Chinese republic in return for the abdication of Puyi and the end of the Manchu dynasty.

A provisional constitution was promulgated in March 1912 by the Nanjing parliament, and in April the government was transferred to Beijing. This marked the beginning of China’s early republican era (1912–16). With the support of the army, Yuan ruled as a military dictator from 1912 until 1915.

The republic, established with such startling rapidity and comparative ease, was destined in the succeeding decades to witness the progressive collapse of national unity and orderly government.

Twenty-One Demands (1915)

Meanwhile the Japanese sought to take advantage of the upheaval in China and the outbreak of the First World War. A few days after the war began they demanded that Germany should hand over all their rights in the Chinese Shantung peninsula to Japan. This was followed up in January 1915 by Japan’s Twenty-One Demands to China. These were divided into five groups:

  • First they wanted Chinese approval of Japan’s concessions in Shantung (seized from the Germans), including the right to build railways and to begin new mines.
  • Expanding Japan’s sphere of influence in southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, to include rights of settlement and extraterritoriality, appointment of financial and administrative officials to the government and priority for Japanese investments in those areas.
  • Control of the Hanyeping mining and metallurgical complex in central China.
  • Barring China from giving any further coastal or island concessions to foreign powers.
  • China should accept Japanese ‘advisers’ in political. economic and military matters and must allow the police forces in some large cities to be jointly organized by Japanese and Chinese.

As soon as the demands became public there was a wave of anti-Japanese feeling and a boycott of Japanese goods. Yuan delayed accepting the demand until the Japanese eventually agreed to drop the final group. An agreement accepting the rest was signed on 25 May 1915. In fact the agreement made very little difference to the situation: it simply restated the concessions that Japan already had. It was group five of the demands that revealed Japan’s motives. Acceptance of those would have reduced China almost to a colony or a protectorate of Japan. However, Japan had another strategy in mind: they knew that Yuan had developed a desire to become emperor, and in return for his acceptance of the demands, they secretly promised that they would support him in his ambitions. A new emperor who owed h is position to Japanese support would he an excellent alternative method of controlling China. In December 1915 it was announced that it there was to be return to the monarchy in the person of Yuan itself, who would become emperor on 1 January 1916. This turned out to he a fatal mistake: most people saw the ending of then republic as a backward step, and his support dwindled rapidly. The army turned against him and forced him to abdicate. He died in October 1916.

(c) The Warlord Era (1916-28)

The abdication and death of Yuan Shikai removed the last person who seemed capable of maintaining some sort of unity in China. The country now disintegrated into literally hundreds of states of varying sizes, each controlled by a warlord and his private army. As they fought each other, it was the ordinary Chinese peasants who suffered hardships. However two important positive developments took place during this period.

  • The May the Fourth Movement began on that date in 1919 with a huge student demonstration in Beijing, protesting against the Warlord and against traditional Chinese culture. The movement was also anti-Japanese; especially when the 1919 Versailles settlement officially recognised Japan’s right to take over Germany’s concession in Shantung province. Though Japan promised to return control of Shantung to China eventually—it did so in February 1922—the Chinese were deeply outraged by the Allied decision to favor Japan at Versailles. It was this humiliation at the hands of Japan that seemed to stir up the whole country to support the movement. Thousands of university students went on strike al the failure of the government to protest strongly enough at Versailles. Once again there was a boycott of Japanese goods. This was popular with Chinese industrialists who benefited from the boycott: they supported the students, many of whom have been jailed, while factory workers and railway workers went on strike in sympathy. It was a remarkable show of mass patriotism. The government finally had no choice but to give way: the students were released: the ministers, who had signed the Twenty-One Demands agreement in 1915 were sacked and the Chinese delegation at Versailles refused to sign the peace treaty.
  • The other problems addressed by May the Fourth Movement- the need to tame the warlords, and the desire to m0dernise Chinese culture – took longer to achieve. However, as the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party gradually grew stronger, they succeeded in bringing the warlords under control by 1928. Chinese culture was partly based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who . died in 487 BC. He had developed his philosophy during a period of anarchy in China and it was designed to solve the problems of how best to organize society so that all could live in peace. He stressed the necessity for loyalty in all relationships and for the strict upbringing of children. ‘Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, and a son a son.’ If people acted properly according to their place in society, then the moral integrity and social harmony of the nation would be restored. For centuries Chinese emperors and rulers had embraced Confucianism because it justified their autocratic and conservative rule. After the 1911 revolution and May the Fourth 1919, some writers began to produce questioning and challenging works calling for modernization in politics, science and individual rights in place of traditional Confucianism. But the practical effect of these writings was limited: the warlords were totally unmoved by this new thinking, and Chiang’s Nationalists suppressed intellectual and political freedom after they had set up their government in Nanjing in the late 1920s. They even promoted Confucianism because of its conservatism and because it was a good means of distinguishing themselves from Mao and the communists. It was not until the student protests of 1989 that the May the Fourth ideas surfaced again.


(a) The Kuomintang

The main hope for the survival of a united China lay with the Kuomintang, or National People’s Party, formed in 1912 by Or Sun Yat-sen. Between 1905 and 1912, Sun developed a political movement called the Revolutionary Alliance.

Sun Yat-sen had trained as a doctor in Hawaii and Hong Kong and lived abroad until the 1911 revolution. He was dismayed by the disintegration of China and wanted to create a modem, united, democratic state. Returning to China after the .revolution, he succeeded in setting up a government at Canton in southern China (1917). His ideas were influential but he had very little power outside the Canton area. The KMT was not a communist party, though it was prepared to co-operate with the communists, and developed its own party organization along communist lines, as well as building up its own army. Sun himself summarized his aims as the Three Principles:

  • nationalism – to rid China of foreign influence and build the country into a strong and united power, respected abroad.
  • democracy – China should not be ruled by warlords, but by the people themselves, after they had been educated to equip them for democratic self-government.
  • land reform – sometimes known as ‘the people’s livelihood’; this was vague – although Sun announced a long-term policy of economic development and redistribution of land to the peasants and was in favour of rent restraint, he was opposed to the confiscation of landlords’ property.

The Three Principles of the People were claimed as the basis for the ideologies of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong. The Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China largely agreed on the meaning of nationalism but differed sharply on the meaning of democracy and people’s welfare, which the former saw in Western social democratic terms and the latter interpreted in Marxist and communist terms.

Sun gained enormous respect as an intellectual statesman and revolutionary leader, but when he died in 1925 little progress had been made towards achieving the three principles, mainly because he was not himself a general. Until the KMT armies were built up, he had to rely on alliances with sympathetic warlords, and he had difficulty exercising any authority outside the south.

Sun was a uniting figure in post-Imperial China, and remains unique among 20th-century Chinese politicians for being widely revered amongst the people from both sides Communist Chinese and Nationalist KMT (later ruled Tiwan).

(b) Chiang Kai-shek

General Chiang Kai-shek became leader of the KMT after Sun’s death. He had received his military training in Japan before the First World War, and being a strong nationalist, joined the KMT. At this stage the new Russian Soviet government was providing help and guidance for the KMT in the hope that Nationalist China would be friendly towards Russia. In 1923 Chiang spent some time in Moscow studying the organization of the Communist Party and the Red Army. The following year he became head of the Whampoa Military Academy (near Canton), which was set up with the help of Russian cash, arms and advisers to train officers for the KMT army. However, in spite of his Russian contacts, Chiang was not a communist. In fact he was more right-wing than Sun Yat-sen and became increasingly anti-communist, his sympathies lying with businessmen and landowners. Soon after becoming party leader, he removed all left-wingers from leading positions in the Party, though for the time being he continued the KMT alliance with the communists.

In 1926 he set out on the Northern March to destroy the warlords of central and northern China. Starting from Canton, the KMT and the communists had captured Hankow, Shanghai and Nanking by 1927. The capital, Beijing, was taken in 1928. Much of Chiang’s success sprang from massive local support among the peasants, who were attracted by communist promises of land. The capture of Shanghai was helped by a rising of industrial workers organized by Zhou En-lai, a member of the KMT and also a communist.

During 1927 Chiang decided that the communists were becoming too powerful. In areas where communists were strong, landlords were being attacked and land seized; it was time to destroy an embarrassing ally. All communists were expelled from the KMT and a terrible ‘purification movement’ was launched in which thousands of communists, trade union and peasant leaders were massacred; some estimates put the total murdered as high as 250 000. The communists had been checked, the warlords were under control and Chiang was the military and political leader of China.

The Kuomintang government proved to be a great disappointment for the majority of the Chinese people. Chiang could claim to have achieved Sun’s first principle, nationalism, but relying as he did on the support of wealthy landowners, no moves were made towards democracy or land reform, though there was some limited progress with the building of more schools and roads.

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