State and society in early Republican politics, 1912-18



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State and society in early Republican politics, 1912-18
The China Quarterly; London; Jun 1997; Mary Backus Rankin;

Issue: 

150

Start Page: 

260-281

ISSN: 

03057410

Subject Terms: 

History
Social conditions & trends
Politics
Culture

Geographic Names: 

China

Abstract:
The political and social climate in China after the 1911 revolution is examined.

Full Text:

Copyright Oxford University Press(England) Jun 1997

The 1911 Revolution profoundly disrupted the mixture of bureaucratic power, cultural and religious symbolism, and force upon which the authority of the Qing imperial state had rested. Tacit agreements, shared assumptions and mutual interests defining balances between state and society could no longer determine political relationships. Thus the republican revolution opened the way for a long series of redefinitions, and changed the political contexts in which actions would take place. As knowledge of the early years of the Republic grows, so does appreciation of how actions were contingent upon unpredictable new circumstances.

Historical interpretations of the early Republic have often focused on two themes. One is political failure, both of the revolution and the state. In this view, the revolution was betrayed by Yuan Shikai, who crushed opponents and destroyed incipient democratic institutions. Revolutionaries and their militarist allies overthrew Yuan in 1916. However, Sun Yat-sen could not organize his party into an effective force. The state centre disintegrated. Power became militarized and devolved upon warlords. In the absence of effective and equitable government, rural societies were dominated by conservative gentry and local bullies who manipulated institutions to their own advantage.'

The second theme emphasizes intellectual change and cultural iconoclasm, the political disillusionment of urban intellectuals, and their dissatisfaction with familial authoritarianism. During the second half of the 1910s, such factors produced intense attacks on Confucianism, coupled with searches for individual freedom and cultural solutions for China's problems. A common interpretation suggests that these attitudes reflected liberal democratic ideas. The ensuing New Culture and May Fourth movements are often seen as more revolutionary breaks with the past than was the 1911 Revolution - the real beginnings, leading to the more varied cultural experimentation and more radical socio-political movements of the 1920s.2

These characterizations point to important aspects of the 1910s, but some specific interpretations have been questioned by historians. The politics of Yuan Shikai's presidency have been persuasively interpreted as competition between centralized bureaucratic state-building and socially based political initiative. Other historians have argued that radical students were inspired by anarchism rather than liberal individualism or that an economic boom ushered in a "golden age of the Chinese bourgeoisie."3 Such revisions underline the need to define political issues of the early Republic broadly. Although the 1911 Revolution did not realize goals of national strengthening or limited elite democracy, it gave old frameworks and integrative systems a sharp jolt from which they did not recover. Along with the disorder and uncertainty came ferment from various sources and locations. State authorities were only one of a long list of political actors that included central officials, provincial leaders, local officials, members of elite civic and voluntary organizations, publishers and journalists, warlords and their armies, revolutionaries and their forces, and the loosely organized students in urban centres.4 Instead of clear dichotomies between state power and social action, there were shifting intersections between different processes of bureaucratic centralization, militarization, elite civic participation or nationalistic protestation. Societal action continued to be locally rooted even when connected to national or inter-regional issues, and events at different urban levels constantly intersected.

Recent research in social and cultural history suggests interpretations less focused on the national centre and revolutionary parties. Studies of social institutions and local history have broadened conceptions of arenas of change and increased appreciation of how local, regional and national activities and orientations might intertwine. Renewed emphasis on agency has encouraged a view of culture and relationships emerging through practice. From this perspective, both cultural change and modernization can appear as continuous reworking and recombining of practices and attitudes in new contexts. At a time when previous certainties had been disrupted, so many relationships were in flux and so many initiatives were being undertaken, it is difficult to fit them into one or two trajectories. As events unfolded during the 1910s, those involved had perhaps even less than the usual murky understanding of what the outcome of actions would be.5

A related issue is the interaction between continuity and change during these years. Although there was no decisive event, national politics after 1911 were characterized by a series of closely spaced disjunctures: Yuan Shikai's imposition of dictatorship in 1913-14, his abortive attempt to restore the monarchy, the "Third Revolution" in 1915-16, renewed civil political activity and the entry of warlords into the Beijing government. Political crises became the norm, the context of politics changed constantly and the level of violence increased. Nevertheless, one finds many continuities between the last Qing decade and the early Republic and between the early Republic and the May Fourth period. Some arose from surviving traditional institutions, practices and attitudes. Modern-minded women and young men repeatedly sought solutions to problems arising from Confucian familial relationships. In such cases, continuing traditional conservatism stimulated increasingly radical attempts to change it.

Much of the ongoing change within society, on the other hand, was not produced by deliberate reform agendas and is better conceived as transmutation or reformulation of existing institutions, values and practices in changing contexts. Native place associations, for instance, persisted in large cities like Shanghai. However, new forms appeared along with new functions and agendas, and new vocabularies rearticulated connections between native place and nation. In more rural areas, degree-holding gentry were gradually replaced by modern school graduates or military men, thereby changing the character of local leaders and the institutions through which they acted - even when the same lineages and families remained powerful.6

Paralleling such unplanned social reformulations were continuities in the modernizing reforms instituted by both officials and local elites during the last Qing decade. Within the government, the efficient operation of some new central ministries like education, justice and communication contributed to maintaining a bureaucratic state centre while warlords controlled the top layer of government.* Within localities, modern schools, chambers of commerce and other New Policies institutions increased further during the early Republic. Ramifications of such changes permeate the political processes of the 1910s.

The early Republic is defined here as the period from the establishment of the revolutionary provisional government in January 1912 to the May Fourth Movement in 1919. This was a phase in a long revolutionary process that had roots in the late Qing and continued through the 20th century. The 1911 Revolution did not either usher in a strong modern state or remake society, but it did introduce a powerful radical current into Chinese politics. The early Republic inherited the "revolutionary party," whose members were willing to fight against "tyrannical" governments that strayed too far from their ideals of nationalism, republicanism and democracy. A mystique of revolution with Sun Yat-sen as its leader was kept alive and redefined first against Yuan Shikai and then against warlords, imperialists and the inequities of Chinese culture and society. More fundamental redefinitions would occur during the 1920s, but the political transmission between 1911 and the Nanjing regime (1927-37) followed a revolutionary thread.

1911 was a complex revolution, and its different aspects carried strongly over into the early Republic. Revolutionaries were the ones who injected violence as an oppositional political tactic into the new politics developing at the beginning of the 20th century. Officers and soldiers of the Qing new army were brought into politics by revolutionary and nationalist ideas, and post-revolutionary militarism was fostered by armies supporting revolution as well as by Yuan Shikai's troops and those of warlords. Late Qing urban elite movements for constitutionalism, self-government and reform, which contributed so much to the 1911 Revolution, fostered an emergent urban elite civic culture in the early republican environment. Nationalism, arising in anti-foreign demonstrations before 1911, stimulated politics of protest of the late 1910s culminating in the May Fourth Movement. Even though revolutionaries did not control politics, the themes associated with 1911 had a continuing place in the emerging civic culture and the heritage of 1911 was an obstacle to centralized state-building.

Crisis in Central State Authority

The Chinese state had for many centuries been defined by combinations of imperial and bureaucratic power. The Qing New Policies had modified the administrative structure, establishing new ministries and abolishing the old examination system. The 1911 Revolution left much of the bureaucracy intact, and Yuan Shikai carried on Qing centralizing and modernizing policies within a republican format. Yuan's conviction that a strong centre was required for modernization, national strengthening and maintaining order was shared by other political leaders, including Sun Yat-sen who believed that too much democracy would impede the "rapid, peaceful and orderly" mobilization of resources.8

The authority crisis, arising from the collapse of the centralized bureaucratic monarchy, had several aspects. Because the locus of political authority had become uncertain, Beijing governments had to solidify control by recentralizing power and continuing state-strengthening modernization to survive. Legitimacy, on the other hand, now not only derived from the way governments exercised power but also depended on satisfying expectations and aspirations of diverse groups within changing urban society. Militarization increasingly affected the exercise of central power, the ability of the centre to control the provinces and the support forthcoming from society.

By the end of the 1910s, the formal state structure sometimes seemed almost irrelevant amidst the fighting, fragmentation, governmental corruption and urban demonstrations, but it did provide a fairly consistent framework in which central power was exercised or contested. It combined the restructured bureaucracy inherited from the Qing New Policies with the republican constitutional order first set out in the 1912 provisional constitution. The New Policies' inheritance was relatively stable. Such new central ministries as interior, finance, industry and commerce, education, and foreign affairs and technical programmes to collect statistics, promote trade and standardize education carried through the political turmoil despite name changes, modifications and mixed local success. Professionalized government bureaus were gradually established in provincial capitals as well. The Nanjing government thereby inherited at the end of the 1920s a substantial modern professional administrative capacity even though central political leadership had collapsed after 1916.

The constitutional structure was politicized, contested, volatile and often modified by coercion. Nevertheless, the general outline continued to reflect the provisional document of 1912. There was a president and vice-president. A premier, responsible to the president, headed the cabinet composed of ministry heads. The initial provisional council of provincial representatives (canyiyuan) became an upper legislative body. The parliament (guohui), first elected in the autumn of 1912, would be twice dissolved, once recalled and once re-elected during the decade.9 Coercion and corruption increasingly shaped the functioning of constitutional governmental organs, and initial hopeful beginnings of representative participation in the Qing provincial assemblies were undercut.

The general structure persisted despite two attempts to restore the monarchy, suggesting an urban public commitment to republicanism buttressed by new symbols like constitutions and flags, supported by participatory aspirations, and nourished in assemblies and local organizations. Central power-holders might maintain their positions for a while by military force, coercion and bribery, but they violated the entire constitutional structure at their peril. The dictatorial use of executive authority and contentious disarray of parliamentary politics reflected more than personal ambitions, factional feuds and corruption. There were serious disagreements over how authority should be constructed and apportioned. How, too, could a new republican legitimacy resting on national strength, modernization, cultural and social reform, and political participation be defined and achieved? How could unity and local self government be combined?

It does not seem an exaggeration to say that Yuan's four years in power ensured that the modernizing programmes at the end of the Qing would continue, but his chances for success were doomed by unwillingness to accommodate the politicized segment of the elite populace. This political failure continued and amplified the late-Qing conflict between centralized state-building and demands for political participation.'o Yuan sought to continue Qing plans to centralize administrative control and extend bureaucracy downwards into society. His scheme for local government in Shandong, for instance, was an extension of his programmes under the Qing to bring local men into the new county and sub-county agencies under the direction of the magistrate. Had he had the power and the time he would have further strengthened the state centre by eliminating the provinces and their politically powerful governors, thereby making county magistrates directly responsible to ministries in Beijing. These and other ambitious plans were immediately undercut by lack of funds. Fiscal weaknesses inherited from the Qing were compounded by military expenses to maintain control and the difficulties of collecting taxes in many areas.

Post-revolutionary politics were also more complex. Yuan had to contend with political parties seeking power in a national assembly, revolutionaries contesting his authority, provincial and local elites establishing their own self-government organs, provincial administrations with autonomous ambitions, and all those groups who in one way or another were angered by new national taxes or additional foreign loans. As a high Qing official, Yuan had already shown little tolerance for independent initiatives by social elites. His response to the mounting participatory drive in 1912-13 was to arrange the assassination of Kuomintang parliamentary leader Song Jiaoren, crush the "Second Revolution" in 1913 and dissolve all assemblies in 1914.

Gentry, businessmen and much of the urban professional elite initially favoured Yuan as an experienced and effective leader who could preserve unity and order, but support was eroded when revolutionary opposition pushed him into maintaining power through repression and terror. His military appointees arrested, tortured and executed alleged revolutionaries on sometimes slight evidence after the Second Revolution. Newspapers and organizations suspected of opposition were closed. Nanjing was pillaged for two weeks after Zhang Xun's troops retook the city, and the repression in Hunan and Hubei began with the startling execution of 16 prominent gentry members of the former Hunanese government. Yuan declared martial law in the summer of 1913 and the following year promulgated press and police laws formalizing censorship and banning public meetings. These laws were often ignored, but the political atmosphere made even people accustomed to privileges arising from social status and wealth feel insecure. The repression was widespread enough to suggest that the power of Yuan and his appointees was significant, and after the Second Revolution he temporarily made considerable progress in consolidating his control.'1

There certainly were gentry and merchants who favoured Yuan's strong measures, but generally speaking the repression, coupled with his attempt to become emperor, persuaded those who placed a high premium on stability that it would be prudent not to support him when Sun Yat-sen's allies launched the "Third Revolution" in 1916. The ambivalence of support for Yuan was illustrated in Shanghai. Gentry and merchants in that city had vigorously established local self-government and supported constitutionalism. They had loaned large sums to supply revolutionary armies in 1911, held civil positions in the city's revolutionary government and ensured a secure base by maintaining order with merchant corps. However, after the Tongmenghui's Shanghai military government had raised money by extortions, numerous taxes and kidnappings, the alienated merchants and gentry were very willing to support Yuan Shikai. During 1912 they expanded their self-government activities, and co-operated with chambers of commerce elsewhere to promote ideas of economic modernization, peace, unity and limited constitutional democracy.

Although a few city leaders joined the Shanghai branch of the Kuomintang, most held aloof from "party matters," including the assassination of Song Jiaoren. Most did not support the Second Revolution, but neither did they unreservedly back Yuan Shikai. Instead they tried to persuade both Yuan and Sun Yat-sen to negotiate and then sought to protect the city when war broke out. As fighting over the Jiangnan Arsenal became imminent, the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce boldly protested to the commanders of both armies: "Shanghai is a marketplace of China, not a battlefield. The arsenal is a public factory of the Republic, not a prize in the struggle between north and south armies. Whichever side initiates hostilities will be in opposition to the people, and the people will consider them rebels." After the end of the fighting, Yuan's military commander in Shanghai interpreted such neutrality in defence of city and trade as treason. Among those who fled to avoid arrest was the highly respected self-government leader, Li Pingshu. The Shanghai Municipal Government Office was soon turned into an official bureau when Yuan abolished all local self-government councils in February 1914.12

Although the Second Revolution failed to advance the radical cause it clarified political relationships, first by revealing differences between revolutionaries and progressive social elites that had been obscured by mutual opposition to the Qing, and subsequently by driving a wedge between these self-government elites and Yuan Shikai. In 1914 Yuan made a fateful turn away from his heritage of Qing authoritarian bureaucratic reform toward unsuccessful dictatorship. His immediate political legacy was to strain further the already uneasy relations between state authority and politicized social elites. He used state power in ways that impeded co-operation with social groups, perhaps forestalling a developmental partnership, however undemocratic, between officials and progressive social leaders.13

Although the relationship between the state and urban elites was very different from that between officials and villagers, one can suggest an analogy to the breakdown of the symbolic and normative cultural nexus that one historian suggests had infused countless interactions and negotiations between officials and village leaders, fostering unity between rural society and government during the Qing.l4 The resulting bonds were eroded during the Republic as governments became more impersonal, extractive and regulatory, and officials attacked the religious beliefs in which symbolic bonds between centre and village were embedded. During the Qing a process of interchange, interaction and dialogue between local elite leaders and officials in effect combined tacit state approval of local public activity with elite recognition of state legitimacy and authority. In this arena, too, governmental power had strong symbolic underpinnings, and local officials did not normally press authority beyond the cultural bounds defined through continual interactions with local notables. Redefinition and reformation of these relationships had already increased conflict between the state and social leaders at the end of the Qing. After 1911, symbolic representations sustaining the imperial political structure became obsolete, as had old mechanisms giving elites a stake in the national polity through formal examinations and informal connections.

The Yuan Shikai government (like the Qing before it) missed an opportunity to redefine ties of state and elite society in terms of preserving order, modernizing and strengthening China, and broadening opportunities for participation in government. Although gradual fragmentation of elites would have made it difficult to redefine the old bonds into a more participatory relationship, governmental repression made it impossible. Tensions between governmental authority and societal activism would not be resolved during the Republic. Yuan, in effect, failed to create a new republican nationalist legitimacy and squandered the goodwill of progressive urban elites. Most immediately, his failure to mobilize societal support for orderly reform and modernization under central bureaucratic direction encouraged the rise of military power as a political determinant.

Military Components of Political Power

Whether they trace warlordism back to the Qing 19th-century regional armies, see it beginning under Yuan Shikai or believe it arose after Yuan's death, historians have related militarism to weakening state authority, devolution of power and disintegration of national structures.'5 The central state certainly weakened, but concepts of devolution and disintegration tend to assume that power was static and the property of either the state or warlords. However, the exercise of power was constantly changing in the early 20th century, and new forms were being created. As observed for the late Qing, politics was not a zero-sum game.'6 Interaction of militarization with other political processes perhaps raises more fundamental issues than national disintegration

Warlordism has been described as unfolding unevenly as civilian politicians sought help in resolving political conflicts by force, thereby empowering and politicizing military men. In a province such as Hunan, military governors co-operated with civilian elites and progress was made in instituting a kind of authoritarian self-rule." Opportunities for military intervention increased, however, during the Yuan Shikai years. By the end of 1916, warlordism was penetrating the tops of governmental structures, diverting revenues and fragmenting power.

Nevertheless, military power per se was not necessarily disintegrative even though central government was eventually undermined. It buttressed the civil authority of the Qing and Yuan Shikai. In Zhejiang, it was more associated with commanders appointed from Beijing than with autonomy. In the north after 1916, powerful warlords fought to control the national government rather than for independence. Even in the remote south-west, military governors remained involved in national politics, and Lu Rongting in Guangdong maintained uneasy ties with Beijing to buttress himself against local rivals. Many warlords appear to have demanded partial autonomy, but saw advantages in retaining ties with Beijing. Fluctuating relations rested on time-honoured methods of negotiation and accommodation as well as military force, allowing the concept of a political centre to survive the weakness of specific governments.18

The two revolutionary uprisings also contributed to militarization, and especially the Third Revolution encouraged formation of more local forces amidst widespread fighting. The Kuomintang itself came close to becoming an unsuccessful military coalition. However, Sun Yat-sen managed to keep commitment to revolution alive when he withdrew to Guangzhou with some parliamentary members and much of the Chinese navy in 1917 after the national parliament was dissolved and Zhang Xun briefly restored the Qing monarchy. His government there failed to establish an effective army, could not rely on the provincial militarists with whom it competed for resources, and did not win over the Guangdong civil elites who balked at paying for Sun's national ambitions. On the other hand, by establishing his government in the name of protecting the constitution and steadily affirming his defence of the Republic, Sun distinguished his movement morally and politically from warlords controlling Beijing. His tenacious insistence that he was a national figure with whom the Beijing government had to reach agreement maintained the revolutionary thread even if he did not determine national events.

The continual fighting was hardest on rural societies. Fear and uncertainty pervaded villages and towns in areas like the north China plain where armies, bandits and local defence forces competed and intermixed. Strongmen needed to protect communities were too often unscrupulous, but without such protection inhabitants were worn down by the uncertainties of daily life and the exactions of passing armies. Existing infrastructure declined and there was little money or incentive to make repairs or undertake new investments.'9 In Beijing and other cities, administrative structures were more secure, but shallowly rooted, repressive and greedy governments plagued the urban populace and did little to foster economic development. Nevertheless, militarism left more room for elite civic and associational activities restricted by Yuan Shikai. These rebounded at the same time as warlordism became established, and the interactions of these two processes did much to shape politics in the late 1910s.

Ambiguities of Self-Government and Participation

Central power-holders, militarists and local civil elites all appealed to the idea of self-government, but gave it different meanings during the debates and power struggles of the early Republic. Sorting out the claims and the realities requires, first of all, a distinction between local selfgovernment (zizhi) as a supplement to bureaucratic administration and as a vehicle for societal initiative. Secondly, it needs to be recognized that elite participatory ambitions often put a higher premium on taking part in government than on safeguarding autonomy and defining rights against the state.

Contradictory implications of local self-government had been evident ever since the Qing included this concept in its constitutionalist programme. The court planned to formalize the long-established societalelite role in local affairs through establishing local councils and professional organizations at the base of a unitary bureaucratic framework. This policy unintentionally gave societal elites public forums from which to argue with local officials and discuss national issues impinging on local affairs. Proliferation of county and town councils during 1912-13 attests to the interest of local elites in this form of local participation. Yuan's order dissolving all provincial and local deliberative bodies in early 1914 reflected not only his suspicions of revolutionaries among assemblymen but also his conviction that participatory aspirations per se threatened central control. His subsequent self-government regulations carried on the Qing policy of bringing local men into the bottom of rationalized governmental structures under the control of magistrates.zo

On the provincial level, the 1911 expedient of dividing authority between revolutionary military governors and civil governors drawn from prominent gentry supporters or co-opted Qing officials survived. Military governors became a permanent fixture, acting sometimes as independent warlords and sometimes as representatives of Beijing. Provincial self-government became a convenient slogan for the militarists, but was also used by civilian reformers opposed to Yuan's control. Debates among politicians and in the press over such issues as the division of power between civil and military governors and whether to abolish the provincial administrative unit were really about Yuan's centralizing policies. Proponents of provincial self-government advocated a de facto federalism that had not yet been conceptualized as a "movement" as in the 1920s. In practice, there was a considerable military component with room for civilian participation in provinces like Hunan. Perhaps even more clearly in the Lower Changjiang provinces, self-government encompassed strong sentiments of provincial pride and native place loyalties that combined with the late-Qing idea that the nation could be rebuilt from below.2'

The extension of native place loyalties into newly constructed national identity was encouraged by the political expansiveness of the 1900s and the first year of the Republic. This process continued in the cities during the 1910s, but might exhibit more defensive overtones. In a speech at a January 1917 rally in Hangzhou opposing Beijing's appointment of outsiders as military and civil governors of Zhejiang, the radical provincial assembly member, Shen Dingyi, asserted: "Zhejiang is the Zhejiang of the people of Zhejiang. If Zhejiangese can not protect Zhejiang, then the people of the nation can not protect the nation.... The whole country's affairs are the responsibility of the people of Zhejiang. Likewise, the whole of China should bear some responsibility to the people of Zhejiang.

If the Zhejiangese are not self-governing, then one by one they [in Beijing] will appoint outsiders..."22

After Yuan's death, self-government stood for three agendas. It justified provincial warlord governments, encompassed reformist aspirations of intellectuals and progressive gentry disillusioned with the centre, and embodied desires of local men to protect their home areas from predatory outsiders. Reformist self-government sponsored in Nantong by the nationally prominent native son, Zhang Jian, was an alternative to degenerate central regimes. Such progressiveness strengthened local selfconsciousness, but did not imply desire for autonomy as much as conviction that reform fared better in non-official contexts.23

Participation involved the related but different question of who could take part in government at all levels. The principle found institutional expression in both elective assemblies and associations - either the state-authorized, elite-run professional organizations or voluntary private societies. Legislative assemblies, first elected in 1909, had the shallowest historical roots and proved to be fragile vehicles for political participation. Yuan Shikai's dissolution of assemblies in 1913-14, with attendant political repression, has been called a blow from which "elite-based political liberalism" did not recover, and later constitutions have been characterized as tools in factional struggles.24 These observations seem particularly true for the Beijing government. In some southern provinces, at least, provincial assemblies continued to cause headaches for military governors. Assertive assemblymen did not alter balances of power, but throughout the 1910s and into the 1920s they remained a factor that could not be simply ignored.zs

Local elite organizations and associations were more substantial, safer vehicles for participation in local governance. Insofar as societal elites had an institutionalized role in public affairs (gongshi) during the Qing, it was performed through local institutions providing local services and by native place associations (huiguan) that became involved in the affairs of the city where their members resided. Gentry and merchant leaders interacted constantly with state officials who authorized their organizations, and were often able to pursue their own agendas by negotiating, appealing to their connections and using their local prestige. Their institutions had an ambivalent relationship with official yamen. They were not autonomous, but nevertheless enjoyed sometimes considerable latitude within culturally and politically constructed boundaries and derived part of their power from local societies or groups. This earlier experience in public organization facilitated expansion of new organizations and associations after 1900, and the contingent nature of state authority in local settings carried over into republican contexts.26

Yuan Shikai temporarily dampened this expansion, and the unreliable, incomplete statistics from the late 1910s make the timing of recovery unclear.' Organizational activity and political expression did rebound, however, and the economic prosperity during the latter 1910s probably contributed to greater political aggressiveness of the hybrid urban-elite of gentry, merchants, professionals and intellectuals. Civic organizations again became expansive vehicles for local participation. Fatuan, such as chambers of commerce or educational associations, and private voluntary associations, newspapers and journals not formally authorized by the state might form a (not necessarily united) complex within urban elite society, pulled together by the personal connections and overlapping memberships of those involved and by generally shared goals of modernity and national progress.zs A weakening political centre did not only mean opportunities for military men. Devolution also provided scope for urban elite public-activism that did not have the same disintegrative force.

Relations between the state and the organizations in the changing urban public arenas were often not competitive, and in this respect were reminiscent of those prevailing in late-imperial local public spheres, existing between official and private domains.29 However, the situation changed in several ways during the 1900s and 1910s. Once the Qing's prohibition was lifted, a private organizational element was introduced by voluntary associations and the old boundaries between official, communal/public and private were thereby disrupted. Major private associations, like the Red Cross or the YMCA, joined fatuan in performing civic functions. They thus became involved in similar negotiatory interactions with local (and sometimes national) officials, but the most prominent organizations also brought with them the stature gained from international connections and their identification with modernity and national purpose.3

Services, information and organization provided by civic complexes of fatuan and private associations benefited both state and locality. These organizations contributed to integration and infrastructural enhancement usually discussed in terms of officially led modernization and statebuilding, but at the same time increased their capacities, elaborated their structures and broadened local constituencies. Thus elite civic participation, while neither inherently supportive of or in opposition to the state, enlarged social resources that might be used for either purpose. Fatuan might act more like representatives of interest groups than adjuncts of government.31 These elite organizations also had a potential for mobilizing against government that was essential to the success of the 1911 Revolution and again became a political force in the late 1910s.

The press was the final, and key, element in this civil-elite amalgam. Starting in the 1870s, it spread information, defined issues and facilitated communication between different parts of the country. Neither the political movements culminating in the 1911 Revolution nor those of the early Republic leading into the May Fourth Movement would have occurred without the press. Some idea of its expansion is provided by figures on newspapers and other printed matter transported by the postal service, to which can be added at least as many copies sold locally. In 1908 about 36,000,000 copies were mailed. In 1913 the figure had increased to about 51,500,000. The numbers fell to 39,000,000 in 1915 as Yuan Shikai tightened his hold, but thereafter increased to 47,300,000 in 1916, some 58,800,000 in 1918 and surpassed 91,000,000 in 1920.32 Not all these publications were concerned with politics or criticized officials, and especially those in the Beijing area were caught between government and the oppositional social movements. Nevertheless, the press as a whole played a vital role in exposing the growing urban audience to political issues and infusing elite participation in local affairs with nationalistic and political purpose.

This locally based societal expansion failed to mature into a full civil society in the far-from-favourable republican environment. Neither provincial regimes, organs of local self-government, assemblies nor the press established secure positions in relation to state power. However, a culture of elite civic participation was developing, with an agenda that was not always the same as that of governmental officials. This culture could be fractious and faction-ridden, but it was also oriented to promoting progressive modern projects to change Chinese identity and strengthen the country, and it emphasized law and legal process.33 Although civic organizations and activities expanded, their relationships with government deteriorated. The relatively tolerant authoritarianism of the Qing had permitted the beginnings of new civic consciousness and organization, but these were vulnerable to the repression and military predation that grew during the early Republic. State-determined contexts strongly affected the political potential of civic organization, and uneven repression undermined connections between state and societal leaders without bringing the latter under control. When the centre weakened in the later 1910s, urban civil elites became involved in oppositional protest movements on a scale that surpassed that of the end of the Qing.

Expanding Student Circles

The other main participants in protest movements were students, who introduced a radical element into urban-elite activist configurations during the 1900s and 1910s. Student politics and iconoclastic attacks on old society and culture have often been identified with the May Fourth Movement and the 1920s, but historians have also noted student politics at the end of the Qing and have pointed to beginnings of the New Culture Movement in the mid-1910s. Early republican student movements formed a counterpoint to warlordism, and the expansion of student circles at the same time as generals moved into the top of the national government set the stage for confrontations.

Student circles (xuejie) arose in Tokyo and Shanghai in the early 1900s, and during 1902-03 a number of students and teachers became involved in radical politics.34 Henceforth, the image and political import of their circles was avant-garde, radical and nationalistic, even though not all students fitted this profile. During the 1900s and 1910s these circles developed a sense of identity based on new-style education, the social distinction of student status, life-styles in specific areas, national consciousness, and preoccupation with radical or reformist causes. Starting from institutional niches in modern schools and universities, students defined mutual interests and found mutual support in small associations and social groups within larger urban cultural milieus. Shanghai, with its cosmopolitan culture and the protection offered by foreign concessions, remained a primary destination and by 1916 had at least 24 student native-place associations. The circles also spread geographically; enrolment at Beijing University rose steadily from 818 in 1912 to 2,001 in 1918.35

A more general increase in schools throughout China underlay the expansion of student circles in the biggest cities. Some graduates of county elementary schools continued their studies at middle schools in provincial capitals, and some progressed still further to metropolitan universities or found ways to support themselves in the student enclaves without formally studying. When open politics revived after Yuan Shikai's death, there was a larger pool of students to become involved in patriotic protests and the early stages of the New Culture Movement.36

The New Culture Movement has been linked to Western modern and liberal values of science, democracy and individual freedom, but further study suggests that it drew on a larger range of ideas about society, culture and politics. In broader terms, New Culture was both an intellectual and a politically infused social movement, and in these respects the radical and iconoclastic parts of its message were the most salient. Its goals traced back to the last Qing decade, but were reconstrued more adamantly and in different combinations. Thus radical intellectuals before 1911 attacked the Confucian family system, sought personal freedom and saw themselves as standard-bearers leading China into the future. But ferocious attacks on Confucianism in the later 1910s went beyond earlier denunciations, and the exaltation of youth in Chen Duxiu's lead article in the first issue of New Youth (Xin qingnian) went further in overturning Chinese socio-cultural principles.37 Specifically woman's issues, too, had been raised at the end of the Qing, but during the 1910s these beginnings acquired new impetus as part of an expanded critique of culture and society.

The growing connection between attacks on Confucian culture and determination to remake society lends credence to the view that anarchism contributed strongly to ideas becoming prevalent in student and intellectual circles in the mid-1910s. There was a conjunction between anarchist convictions that social revolution required cultural remaking and the idea that cultural change required social remaking of familial and other structures. As this conjunction developed through personal rejections of traditional practices, what seems to have been a steady stream of ephemeral, intimate anarchist groups in Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai provided refuges and alternative communities for students seeking freedom from family authority.38

Concerns for equality and justice, which also related to anarchist agendas, had longer range implications in contributing to the slow coming together of radical intellectuals and urban workers. Workers' problems had been very peripheral to the 1911 radical agenda. Labour organizing begun in 1912-13 was cut off by Yuan Shikai, but strikes increased as the labour force grew along with industrial expansion during and after the First World War. There were 30 in Shanghai between 1909 and 1913 and 86 in 1914-18, mostly after 1916. Social concerns steered anarchist intellectuals, in particular, into labour organizing in Guangzhou and some other cities. Workers, in turn, participated in nationalist demonstrations like the anti-French protests in Tianjin. The way was thus prepared for the Shanghai workers' strikes supporting students during the May Fourth movement.39

Diffuse searches for personal and social liberation still intertwined with student commitments to saving China from imperialists, but the political implications were different. Nationalism drew students into coalitions with merchants, professionals, and workers protesting against foreign intrusions and governmental failures to protect China. Nationalistic opposition connected to fear and anger caused by governmental repression, corruption and exactions, and overlapped agendas of urban merchant and professional elites. The search for social justice, on the other hand, would lead some students beyond issues of Confucian familial authority, most relevant to their personal lives, to involvement in labour organization and agitation. In the 1920s, such activities would foster divisive class conflict. In the 1910s, however, anti-imperialism drew students into a broadly resurgent politics of protest.

Nationalism and the Politics of Protest

The wielders of governmental power in the early Republic successfully blocked or vitiated formal institutions of political participation, but a new open politics of public opinion, mediated through the press and spread over urban localities, was far more difficult to control. An urban politics of protest arose after 1900, incorporating strengths of societal elites in local organization and dissemination of information. The oppositionist strain in this politics was fed by outrage at governmental failures to withstand foreign encroachment, which, in turn, interacted with anger at official suppression of political participation through parliaments or in local self-government. Particularly after 1911, this politics was also better suited for political opposition than either the old politics of networks, connections and negotiations, or revolutionary uprisings that frightened established elites and suffered from weak organization, poor planning and a scarcity of loyal supporters. Despite governmental efforts, protest politics flourished and impinged strongly on national affairs at the end of the Qing and again in the late 1910s.

The spontaneity of the social impetus and the diffuseness of the movements meant that mobilizations were often reactive and hard to sustain. Nevertheless, possibilities for integration existed and gradually increased over the years. Localities in prosperous cores became less isolated-from national politics as men moved back and forth between them, newspapers and the telegraph spread information, and a growing number of national or regional federations formally linked local professional associations.40 Societal integration might favour extension of state control, but in the 1900s and 1910s its impetus to social mobilization was more pronounced.

The participants in the two oppositionist streams associated with schools and radical student groups on the one hand, and elite civic organizations and reformist associations on the other, began to develop a repertoire of urban protest during the last Qing decade.4 Patriotic meetings in Shanghai had stimulated radical journals by 1903. The 1905 boycott to protest against American prohibition of Chinese immigration activated a larger number of merchants and other established elites. Two years later, the 1907 agitation in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces against a British loan to the Qing government for a railway between Shanghai and Ningbo indicates that main elements of the oppositionist repertoire had been defined. These included petitions to ministries in Beijing and solicitation of support from sympathetic officials. However, opposition was simultaneously mobilized by publicity through the press and organized through ad hoc anti-loan associations and existing local-elite civic organizations. Students joined gentry or organized their own associations. Public support was demonstrated through sometimes large public meetings, a massive fund-raising campaign, and telegrams from local groups within Zhejiang and Jiangsu and from other provincial railway companies.42 The successful use of similar methods by the Tianjin Chamber of Commerce to block a stamp tax proposed by central officials suggest that such techniques were more common at the end of the Qing than historians have previously thought.43

Thus during the 1900s public opinion, publicity and societal mobilizations became a highly visible part of politics. Results were mixed, but officials were put under pressure, and public expression of demands or dissent gave politics an oppositionist cast. The most famous late-Qing example, the provincialist constitutional movement and the three petitions to establish constitutional government, failed. The result, however, was not capitulation by social forces but a hardening of attitudes on both sides leading toward the 1911 Revolution.

Protest politics built upon itself, pulling dissatisfied elites into confrontational demonstrations, politicizing larger numbers of people and involving more segments of society. From the last decades of the l9th century, national consciousness was articulated and spread as people mobilized in response to specific incidents. Such mobilizations crossed regional and occupational lines and crystallized distrust of the government. The press spread news of foreign incursions and provided new theoretical perspectives incorporating vocabularies of social Darwinism, national sovereignty and national rights. A populist, nationalistic ethics stressed the responsibility of the people (led by elites and redefined as citizens) to become directly involved in a grandiose struggle for survival. Thus the fates of self, family, native place and province all were bound to that of the nation. Conversely, China could be preserved by resistance of "citizens" within their local arenas - a participatory message that might reinforce other causes of societal activism and link group interests to national salvation.44

Most importantly, nationalism aroused hostility to governments unable to protect Chinese sovereignty. It thus encouraged provincial constitutionalist movements at the end of the Qing, and furthered the cause of revolutionaries who linked anti-imperialism to anti-Manchuism and republicanism. Different oppositionist agendas interacted in an anti-imperialist, anti-centralizing participatory matrix that nourished hostility to the Qing dynasty and facilitated mobilization to overthrow it.

This interaction of nationalism and opposition to existing governments carried strongly over into the early Republic. Three major events from 1913 to 1918, plus numerous minor incidents and a continual stream of foreign loans, turned public sentiment against imperialists and Beijing powerholders.45 The Reorganization Loans from an international consortium in 1913 provided for foreign supervision of the Salt Administration to secure repayment. The 1915 Twenty-One Demands gave Japan large economic opportunities in Shandong and political influence through civil and military advisers. Next came the Nishihara loans in 1917-18 and the still more compromising secret 1918 Sino-Japanese Military Mutual Assistance Convention allowing Japan to station troops in northern Manchuria and Outer Mongolia. Despite Yuan Shikai's repression, merchants and professionals in Shanghai organized a boycott in 1915. Students and intellectuals in Japan returned to Shanghai in protest, and students were particularly visible at large public rallies.46 Accumulating anger burst forth under the weaker governments following Yuan, and nationalistic demonstrations during 1916-18 anticipated the May Fourth Movement.

Protesters against the enlargement of the French concession in Tianjin, led by the chamber of commerce, established a city-wide Coalition for the Preservation of National Rights and Territory in 1916. The protest repertoire expanded to include marches and street demonstrations involving as many as 8,000 people. Participants in the general strike in the French concession included lower-class shop assistants, factory workers and servants. The chamber of commerce demonstrated solidarity with these strikers by raising money to support them, and support also came from other cities in the form of donations and boycotts. This strong response to a relatively small incident was reflected three years later in the militancy of Tianjin elites during the May Fourth Movement.47

With the 1918 demonstrations against the secret military agreement, the May Fourth repertoire, including its street theatre, was virtually in place. Chinese students in Japan formed a National Salvation Corps and returned to Beijing and Shanghai to call for demonstrations. Beijing students led the response with a mass march and demonstration in front of the presidential palace. Students elsewhere organized meetings and demonstrations. Merchants in various cities and in the umbrella National Federation of Chambers of Commerce also held meetings and sent telegrams. A riot and attacks on Japanese in the Shanghai working-class suburb of Hongkou indicated the volatile potential of mixing incipient nationalism with emerging political and social awareness of urban workers.48

Newly founded associations bridged the short interval to 1919. As at the end of the Qing, nationalism was the catalyst for expansive public movements and reformist/radical coalitions protesting against government policies. The issue of law and order had separated established elites from radicals in 1913, but after the fall of Yuan Shikai there was another convergence as nationalism combined with opposition to the warlorddominated central government. Nationalism became a catalyst for inclusive social organization and a consistent wedge forcing apart heads of government and leaders of public opinion. Patriotic desires for a strong China seldom rallied support for governments in this period. They came closer to empowering disaffected urban elites, whose discontent extended the reach of local political action into national arenas.

In the second half of the 1910s, expansive protest politics changed the political culture and practice of established elites as well as student groups. Protest movements were exciting, principled moments of social convergence, offering also the relative safety of numbers. They might substitute for the political participation via assemblies and local selfgovernment that societal elites had pursued with difficulty right after the 1911 Revolution. These movements were also ephemeral, however, and this strategy for participation underlines the inability to acquire an effective place in government or guarantees of political rights. Overriding nationalist concerns may have diverted the elite opposition from pursuing such goals as voting rights and legal protections basic to liberal democratic experience in the West. Movement politics were not, in any case, a realistic strategy for inclusion in warlord governments to which local activists had little access.

Merchants, gentry and professionals were instead brought into a mode of political expression that was hard for them to sustain. They had too many private interests at risk. Moreover, as larger numbers of people from more levels of society were mobilized, established elites dissatisfied with official policies were caught up in confrontational events that they could not control. Unity was difficult when worker allies also pressed economic demands through strikes and radical students supported workers. Well-off, well-established elites easily became unwilling to accept the socially radical implications of protest politics that were temporarily obscured by nationalism. After May Fourth, the existing societal organizations were joined by numerous new associations and publications whose members pursued one or another of the many social and cultural agendas of the 1920s. Protest politics continued to challenge governmental authority, but was too transitory and unstable to weave all these divergent groups into a civil society fabric.

Historians studying early republican politics have often focused on the national governments, revolutionary actions or ideology. Attention to societal organizations and re-evaluation of warlord politics have raised new issues. These in turn invite further exploration of how political initiatives and power were being generated in numerous local arenas and how the bureaucratic centre, military commanders, urban elites and students combined, interacted and recombined. Balances between state power and social autonomy repeatedly shifted from time to time and place to place.

Politics immediately after the 1911 Revolution can be characterized as altered versions of conflicts between centralized bureaucratic state-building and the societal movements for reform, constitutionalism and revolution at the end of the Qing. Societal activists in many different places and with different private and public agendas briefly focused on assemblies as vehicles for participation. Suppression by Yuan Shikai not only effectively ended this stage, but also further damaged shared frameworks and interactive practices that kept violence on the fringe of Qing statesocietal disputes until shortly before the Revolution.

When politics revived after Yuan's death, nationalistic mobilizations against weaker Beijing governments again became a major factor in national politics - but with differences. Protest mobilizations of the late 1910s, on the one hand, call attention to growing integration arising from interactions within society rather than from being imposed from the top down. On the other hand, one wonders whether political goals had shifted and narrowed. Did these nationalistic movements of the late 1910s only aim to bring down unpopular officials without seriously trying to establish institutions for continuing participation? If so, to what extent was this because military force constrained public politics and to what extent did it reflect changes in the protest coalition and society? What would be the ultimate effect on local civic efforts and conflicts uninvolved in national politics?49



Tracing early republican politics makes clear that the May Fourth Movement was not a sharp break. It seems more like a hinge between the 1910s and the different political directions of the 1920s. Differences partly reflected quantitative increases: more violence, more effective institutionalization of governmental violence and more sustained statebuilding by the Nanjing government, still more societal organizations, and more people in politics. There were also major reorientations, however. The rather small impact of political parties during the 1910s is striking in contrast to that of the Leninist-style Nationalist and Communist parties in the 1920s. In addition, the rise of open class conflicts and the entry of workers and peasants into political arenas makes clear that politics in the 1910s, although markedly broader than before, still only involved segments of the upper levels of society. The fluid politics of the 1910s would not define the future, but study of this period can increase understanding of the possibilities for political activity and the ranges of state-societal interaction that arose in the brief opportunities during this decade.
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