WHAP: THE 1911 REVOLUTION IN CHINA—PRIMARY SOURCES
Introduction: China is Forced Open
In the aftermath of Qing defeat in the Opium War (1839-1842) a number of Qing officials put forth and put into action proposals meant to increase the empire’s military strength by adopting Western military and industrial technology and other Western techniques.
Feng Guifen (1809-1874) was one of the leaders of this effort. Feng was a classically educated scholar who had a successful career as an official in his own right, but also as an advisor to the leading Qing statesmen of the midnineteenth century.In the essay from which the following excerpt was taken, Feng discussed Western learning and its role in the Qing empire.
Excerpts from “On the Adoption of Western Learning”
"Liang Qichao, who was born in 1873 in a small southern village, not far from the Portuguese colony of Macao, died in 1929 after an intellectually tumultuous life. He wrestled continuously with the problem of how to reform China without destroying what he took to be its cultural essence and without humiliating its people with cultural annihilation. Among Liang's formative political experiences was his participation in China's first student demonstration, in 1895. The Imperial government had just signed a humiliating peace treaty with Japan following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War; in response, eight thousand young Chinese scholars, who had come to Beijing to take the national civil service exams, signed a petition expressing their opposition to the treaty. They then formed a line one-third of a mile long in front of Duchayuan, the Censorate of the Qing government, in protest. Their public demonstration proclaimed for the first time that Chinese citizens had the right, indeed the obligation, to regulate those by whom they were governed. Confucius's disciple Mencius had written, "He who restrains his prince, loves his prince." But Liang belonged to the first generation of scholars who, instead of going into voluntary exile when their entreaties were rebuffed by the Imperial government, dared to organize a constituency outside of the government to apply political pressure.
Like other forward-thinking Confucian scholars, Liang came to see "wealth and power" as the only salvation for a beleaguered China living under the threat of national extinction at the hands of Japan and the technologically advanced, rapacious Western powers. Just as intellectuals in the nineteen-eighties were debating the causes of China's backwardness and searching for ways to remedy it through "modernization," so too had Liang and his generation of reform-minded scholars sought to understand the origins of China's dynastic weakness and to suggest remedies.
A brilliant Confucian scholar, Liang came to believe that the source of Western wealth and power lay in democracy. He held that the energy generated by popular participation in the political process was what drove any dynamic society forward. But while he valued the dynamism that free, competing individuals might contribute to the building of a nation, he was vague indeed about how these Promethean, alien forces he wished to see released in China might be reconciled with the interests of the Chinese state. In fact, in optimistically Confucian fashion, he avoided entirely the problem of possible conflict by assuming that the natural order of things was harmony between rulers and the ruled. Whereas Western thinkers such as Hobbes and Rousseau (who recognized how particular interests easily come into conflict with the "general will") had immediately identified this obvious point of discord in any democratic social contract, Liang missed it completely. In holding his new convictions that individuals should and did have "rights" (quan), he never imagined that a state might become tyrannical or that its people might become rebellious."
Excerpted from Orville Schell, Discos & Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988; paperback: Anchor Doubleday, 1989). Reprinted with permission.
DOCUMENT 2: “Renewing the People” By Liang Qichao
Since the appearance of mankind on earth, thousands of countries have existed … All
countries have the same sun and moon, all have mountains and rivers, and all consist of people
with feet and skulls; but some countries rise while others fall, and some become strong while
others are weak. Why? … I know the reason. A state is formed by the assembling of people. …
If we wish the nation to be secure, rich, and honored, we must discuss the way for “renewing
1. From what philosophical or other ideas (Chinese and/or Western) does Liang
Qichao draw in making these remarks?
2. What assumptions might Liang be making about the relationship between
the people and the nation-state in these remarks?
3. How does Liang’s advice for making the country strong and independent
compare to the ideas of earlier men, such as Feng Guifen?
Introduction to Sun Yatsen, "Three People's Principles"
By 1900 the leading revolutionary in China was Sun Yatsen (1866-1925), a man very different from previous Chinese reformers. Born to a peasant family in the Guangzhou region, Sun was educated in missionary schools in Hawaii and Hong Kong and developed a world view as much Western as Confucian. In 1894 he founded his first revolutionary organization, and by 1905 he was made head of the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui) in Japan by representatives from Chinese secret societies, overseas Chinese groups, and Chinese students abroad. After sixteen years of traveling, planning, writing and organizing, his dreams were realized when the revolution of 1911 led to the end of the Qing dynasty. He gave up the presidency in favor of General Yuan Shikai, whose death in 1916 led to an era of local warlord rule. Sun died in 1925. His "three principles of revolution" were first articulated for the Revolutionary League and later formed the foundation for the Nationalist (Guomindang) Party; they included:
Nationalism. Finding evidence of proto-nationalism throughout Chinese history, Sun believed that he had enlarged and modernized the principle to include opposition to foreign imperialism and a firm sense of China as an equal among the nations of the world. He also addressed the need for self-determination for China's minorities.
Democracy. Finding important Chinese precedents for the notion of the voice of the people, Sun introduced the new notions of a republican government and a constitution as the best way to articulate and protect people's rights. Sun advocated popular elections, initiative, recall and referendum, but he felt that China was not yet ready for full democracy, requiring instead a preparatory period of political tutelage.
Livelihood. Sun believed in both economic egalitarianism and economic development. He sketched out a complicated plan to equalize land holdings and ensure that taxation was both widely and fairly implemented. Dedicated to industrialization but concerned about China's difficulty in securing investment capital and also about social unrest, Sun advocated nationalization of key industries as the best way to ensure both economic development and political stability.
In 1918, the Republic of China, established in 1912, had collapsed into chaos. President Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), who had no use for democracy and ruled with an iron hand, had died in 1916. Without him, the various military commanders of the country (many of whom had not been happy with Yuan to begin with) became de facto rulers of whatever territory they could control — which ranged from a county or two to one or more provinces. The central government itself continued to exist in Beijing, but had no real power within the country.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) hoped to make his Guomindang, or Nationalist Party, into a strong organization that could bring coherence, unity, and effective government back to China. In doing so, Sun prepared statements of his ideology and goals. A Program of National Reconstruction, published in 1918, was part of that project. This document drew on statements of Sun’s revolutionary thought going back to the period before the 1911 Revolution. Thus, some of the rhetoric addresses issues (such as the need to overthrow the Manchus) that had been resolved by 1918.
DOCUMENT 3 “The Three Stages of Revolution” (1918) By Sun Yatsen The first stage [of revolution] is the period of destruction. During this period martial law
is to be enforced. The revolutionary army undertakes to overthrow the Manchu tyranny, to
eradicate the corruption of officialdom, to eliminate depraved customs, to exterminate the
system of slave girls, to wipe out the scourge of opium, superstitious beliefs, and geomancy, to abolish the obstructive likin trade tax and so forth.
The second stage is a transitional period. It is planned that the provisional constitution
will be promulgated and local self government promoted to encourage the exercise of political
rights by the people. …
The third phase is the completion of reconstruction. During this period, constitutional
government is to be introduced, and the self governing body of a district will enable the people
directly to exercise their political rights. …
It is not to be denied that the Chinese people are deficient in knowledge. Moreover, they
have been soaked in the poison of absolute monarchy for several thousand years. …
… China … needs a republican government just as a boy needs school. As a schoolboy
under republican rule, must have a farsighted revolutionary government for their training. This calls for the period of political tutelage, which is a necessary transitional stage from monarchy to republicanism. Without this, disorder will be unavoidable.
1. How does Sun Yat-sen understand the roles of the revolutionary
government and of the people respectively? How do the two (people and
government) relate to each other, and how is that relationship to develop
and change over time?
2. How does Sun view the Chinese people? Compare his view to that of Liang
Qichao in his observations on his trip to North America.
3. How does Sun imagine the revolutionary government developing and
changing over time? What factors might lead government to develop in
directions different from those that Sun imagines?
How long might it take to complete these three stages?
The Republic of China was in a shambles in 1924. The national government in Beijing was a virtually powerless prize over which warlords fought; it had no real authority over the country, which was administered (more or less) in a patchwork fashion by hundreds of independent warlords. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the intellectual “father” of the
Republic of China, was in Guangzhou, working, with Soviet assistance, to turn his Guomindang or Nationalist Party into a tightly organized Leninist political party in command of an army strong enough to defeat the warlords and reunite China.
As a part of the rebuilding of the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen gave a series of lectures on the Three People’s Principles. The Three People’s Principles (Democracy, Nationalism, and People’s Livelihood) were the ill-defined “ideology” of the Nationalist revolution. Sun had begun articulating these three principles as a revolutionary conspirator prior to the 1911 Revolution. Now, as the leader of a political party, Sun wanted to sharpen the definitions of the Three People’s Principles and fit them to the needs of the mid-1920s.
Document 4: “The Principle of Democracy” (1924) By Sun Yatsen After China has established a powerful government, we must not be afraid, as Western
people are, that the government will become too strong and that we will be unable to control it.
For it is our plan that the political power of the reconstructed state be divided into two parts.
One is the power over the government; that great power will be placed entirely in the hands of the people, who will have a full degree of sovereignty and will be able to control directly the affairs of state — this political power is popular sovereignty. The other power is the governing power; that great power will be placed in the hands of the government organs, which will be powerful and will manage all the nation’s business — this governing power is the power of the government. …
What are the newest discoveries in the way of exercising popular sovereignty? First,
there is suffrage, and it is the only method practiced in the so called democracies. …
The second of the newly discovered methods is the right of recall. …
… If the people think that a certain law would be of great advantage to them, they
should have the power to decide upon this law and turn it over to the government for
execution. This third kind of popular power is called initiative.
If the people think that an old law is not beneficial to them, they should have the power
to amend it and to ask the government to enforce the amended law and do away with the old law. This is called the referendum and is a fourth form of popular sovereignty.
1. Looking at it from Sun Yat-sen’s point of view in 1924, why should he want a
powerful government? Why does he contrast his desire with a Western fear
of powerful government?
2. Sun lays out four ways in which popular sovereignty will be exercised. Are
there ways in which popular sovereignty could be exercised that Sun fails to
mention? If so, why might he not mention them?
3. Considering the models of government available at the time (1924), which
other models around the world does Sun’s vision most closely resemble?