(CHINA in REVOLUTION, to 1927 – continued)

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CHINA in REVOLUTION, to 1927 (2 of 7)

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Sun Yat-sen turns Revolutionary

A leading opponent of monarchical rule was Sun Yat-sen (Son Zhong Shan), the son of Christianized peasants. He had been educated in Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, while under the care of an older brother. He graduated from a Hong Kong medical school in 1894, and he was forced into exile in 1895 for having been a member of a secret society involved in revolutionary plots. Sun was earnest, and his earnestness led Chinese in his hometown to drive him out of town for offending local deities. He began touring America and Europe to gain financial support from overseas Chinese and anyone else who would support his goals for China. Sun saw China as antiquated and as run by privileged mediocrities. He favored China becoming a strong world power and recovering territories it had lost to foreign powers. He wanted to see China advance in education and to advance economically, including its agriculture, its communication and transportation systems. He wanted the elimination of the old feudalistic internal barriers to trade and only minimum restrictions for industry. These, he believed, would make China powerful enough to resist foreign domination.

Sun Yat-sen

Sun Yat-sen, China's liberal revolutionary

In 1905, Sun arrived at the port of Yokohama, Japan (near Tokyo) and there he met with Chinese student leaders and formed an organization that was supposed to be a union of all secret societies dedicated to overthrowing the Manchu monarchy. He spoke of the need for unity among all who opposed Manchu rule, the need for a vanguard that led the masses, and the need for a "guided democracy" in China. Sun left Japan believing he had achieved a degree of unity among the student revolutionaries there. But rather than unity, there was factionalism and strident debating. Some among them saw evil in modern capitalism and in other western institutions. Some of them believed that what China lacked was identity as a nation, and they wanted a unified state that would give their fellow Chinese a sense of patriotism that would add meaning to their lives. Some other students leaned toward anarchism. They admired what they learned in Japan about Russia's student rebellion – Russia's Narodniks – whose tactics in the late 1800s had been direct action, terrorism and assassination. A few wanted China to copy Western democracy, with checks and balances, federalism and the guarantee of human rights. A few others favored exterminating all Manchus, whom they described as incapable of reform and an evil race.

Student revolutionaries returning to China often settled in the port cities dominated by the foreign powers. Like China's other revolutionary intellectuals they had little contact with the bulk of the population: the peasantry. They were without contacts with grassroots labor struggles or contacts with reform groups who were becoming more vocal on specific issues such as anti-gambling, education or improved public works.

Sun Yat-sen established the headquarters of his revolutionary alliance outside China – in Hanoi. His headquarters remained there during the half dozen or so rebellions that erupted in China in 1906 and 1907. His organization had no contact with most of these rebellions, but in 1907 he organized the sending of supplies and men to a peasant uprising in the western part of Guangdong province, bolstering the rebel force from about five hundred to four thousand people. But within four months of its inception, that rebellion was crushed.

The figurehead Manchu emperor, Zaitian, died under mysterious circumstances on 14 November 1908 at the age of 37. Dowager Empress Cixi died two days later at the age of 73. An infant became emperor – China's last emperor. This was Puyi, who was under the regency of a Manchu prince: Chun.

On October 9, 1911, an accidental explosion in the city of Wuchang revealed a cache of weapons and a list of military officers who belonged to a secret revolutionary group not associated with Sun's organization. To defend themselves following this exposure the young officers revolted, and they had a power that Sun and his organization lacked. Enlisted men under them obeyed their commands, and military units sent against the rebel units turned against the Manchus and joined the rebellion. The rebel soldiers took over Wuchang, occupied the contiguous river cities of Hankow and Hanyang and proclaimed China a republic. The rebellion was in the vicinity of sixteen foreign warships anchored at Hankow. The rebels feared intervention by the foreign powers. They went out of their way not to disturb foreigners or foreign businesses in any way. And the British, who had feared a resurgence of Boxerism, were relieved and pleased.

The revolt of soldiers against Manchu rule was impressive enough that city after city declared against the Manchus. Without restraint, and with fear and some confidence, local militias, consisting in part of angry men from peasant families, destroyed police stations, cut telegraph lines, opened jails and looted warehouses. In several cities, Manchu garrisons were massacred. Here was the spread of revolution that Sun had been hoping for. During the rising Sun had been in the United States, and the revolution was succeeding without his help.

Puyi's regent, Chun, tried to save Manchu rule by granting a constitution, but by the end of November, less than two months since the explosion at Wuchang, most of China's provinces had proclaimed their independence – the exceptions being the province of Hunan and the province of Hebei (which includes Beijing). In Hebei province, the old general, Yuan Shikai (a Chinese rather than Manchu), held forth at the head of the emperor's foreign-trained armies. An opportunist, he had backed the Empress Dowager when she had seized power in 1898. Respecting the power of the foreigners in China, Yuan Shikai had protected foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion. And now, during the uprising against the Manchus, he sought to protect his own power.

The rebel military commanders over-estimated the strength of Yuan's armies, and they believed that Yaun could continue to hold the support of the foreign powers. The rebel military commanders asked Yuan to betray the monarchy and join in an armistice with them in order to avoid a destructive civil war. They offered Yuan the position of provisional president in a new republican government. Yuan accepted. This terrified the Manchu court, and the Manchu monarchy abdicated, ending millennia of monarchical rule in China. Chinese men were now cutting off their pigtails – a symbol of obedience to the Manchu dynasty.


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