Friday, October 10, 2008
Today is Double Ten Day (雙十節), marking the anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命). On this day in 1911, there was an uprising in the city of Wuchang which led to the seccession of a number of provicial governments and signaled the end of the Qing dynasty. It was an important event that paved the way for the formation of the Republic of China.
There were many reasons for the uprising, but the main cause was the weakness of the central government. The decline of the Qing dynasty mirrored events that occurred during the fall of many earlier dynasties. In fact, just about everything that heralded the end of a dynasty happened to the Qing. A series of weak emperors resulted in a hierarchical diffusion of govermental inefficiency and corruption from the top down. This lack of leadership resulted in an inability to deal with the rebellions of the 1850's (Nian, Taiping), increasing population, a poor economic outlook, natural disasters, military defeats, and the depredation of colonial powers. About the only problem that they did not experience was a femme fatale qingguo (dynasty toppler), but arguments could be made for that as well.
The prestige of the Qing fell, and it became increasingly evident that the Tianming (Mandate of Heaven) had been withdrawn. Latent anti-Manchu sentiment emerged, and Chinese intellectuals had the luxury of blaming corrupt Manchu rule for all of China's problems. Faced with their own ineffectuality, the Qing rulers realized that they had to modernize. They reluctantly approved the organization of tuanlian (local militia) by local gentry to fight their battles, and sent students abroad to absorb Western learning. Modernization included building up infrastructure, including railways; the development of a New Model Army (新軍), with officers sent abroad for training; it also meant that constitutional rule was to be adopted.
Unfortunately for the Manchu, modernization resulted in increased local power, while students exposed to Western learning began to spread of the concept of Chinese nationalism. It did not help that in their reluctance to lose power, the Qing government delayed the establishment of constitutional rule, and sought to control the provincial railways by dissolving the provincial railroad companies. It was this last event that triggered the 1911 uprising. Merchants, gentry, and students protested the Manchu decree, and local tuanlian in Sichuan took over the provincial administration after the Qing viceroy tried to arrest the leaders of the protest.
The majority of the New Model Army was ordered to Sichuan to quell the rebellion, and it was at this time, that members of the Wenxueshe (Literary Society) in the officers corps decided to stage an uprising. By this point in time, a third of the New Model Army had joined either the Wenshe or Gongjinhui (Forward Together Society). Both were revolutionary organizations influenced by the teachings of Sun Yat-sen's Tongmenhui (Revolutionary Alliance). They informed the Tongmenhui of their intentions, but were told that the time was not right. However, they decided to go ahead with the uprising on October 16th. On October 9th, Sun Wu, founder of the Gongjinhui was making a bomb in the Russian concession in Hankow, when it exploded prematurely. Russian police arriving on the scene captured suspects and documents and informed the Qing viceroy.
Jiang Yiwu, founder of the Wenxueshe decided to launch the uprising immediately for fear that the Manchus had found lists containing the names of the revolutionaries. The command post of the revolutionaries was discovered, and several members arrested and executed. Sergeants of the 8th Engineering Battalion decided that they could not delay any longer, and went on a rampage, capturing the armory at Chuwantai. Realizing they needed better military leadership, Wu Zhaolin, a company commander was forced to become their leader, with the sergeant Xiong Bingkun acting as his staff officer. By this time, they were joined by the South Lake Artillery, and they attacked the viceroy's headquarters. The viceroy Duan Zheng ran off, leaving Hubei province in the hands of the rebels. Colonel Li Yuanhong of the 21st Mixed Brigade of the Hubei New Model Army was volunteered as governor of the new military republic with the edge of a sword to his neck. Other provinces began to secede in turn. On December 29, 1911 Sun Yat-sen was elected as the provisional President of the Republic of China.