The End of the Dynasty
& the Birth of a Republic

 
The Qing Constitution
The Last Gasp of a Dying Dynasty
 
The first dramatic gesture in the direction of constitutional reform was made by the empress dowager Cixi in 1905, when she ordered the formation of a small study group of five princes and officials — three Manchus and two Chinese — who would travel to Japan, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Italy to study their governments. ... Upon returning to China, it recommended to the empress dowager that some kind of constitutional reform be implemented and suggested Japan as the most effective model, since there the reigning imperial family had been maintained in power. In November 1906 the empress dowager issued an edict promising to prepare a constitution and reform the administrative structure of China by reshaping the existing ministries and adding new ones, by curbing the powers of the governors-general, and by convening a national assembly. It was only eight years since Emperor Guangxu and his supporters had been prevented from pushing through much milder reforms, but the crisis was now so clear that the empress dowager’s decision was widely accepted by both Manchu and Chinese officials. [SMC, 235]
 

In late 1908 the court announced that full constitutional government would be established over the next nine-year period, the same time span for change that had been followed by the Japanese after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Although the Qing emperor was to maintain almost total power over the new parliamentary structure, the budget, the armed forces, foreign policy, and the judicial system, the need for a working system of electoral government at the central, provincial, and local levels was now accepted. The death of the empress dowager Cixi in November 1908, which followed by one day the death of the unfortunate emperor Guangxu — still under palace detention after his failed reform attempt of a decade before — did not deflect the general direction of reform. If anything it increased the sense of urgency, since the Manchu regents for the new emperor, Puyi — a baby at his accession, like his two predecessors — formed an advisory cabinet packed with Manchus, foolishly failing to see that this would heighten Chinese suspicions that the whole system of constitutional reform was going to be manipulated to protect the ruling dynasty. [SMC, 237]
 

The Cost of Change
The Manchu’s position was extraordinarily difficult. With the banner garrisons being slowly cut back or reassigned to civilian occupations and the planned New Army not yet under complete central control or up to full strength, the Qing had no clear military dominance over the country. Each fresh initiative — schools, public-works projects, diplomatic establishments overseas — brought rocketing expenses. ...
 
The Cost of Defeat
East Asia: A New History, 348

Reparations extracted from China by foreign powers, after successive defeats:

(Note that the value of an ounce of silver varied widely over time; in 1887 it was worth U.S. $1.20 but by 1902 it had fallen to $0.62.)
.
1842 21 million ounces of silver to Great Britain at the end of the 1839-1842 war
1858 4 million ounces of silver to Britain and 2 million ounces to France
1860 8 million ounces of silver to Britain and 8 million ounces to France
1862-9 Approximately 400,000 ounces of indemnities cumulatively for violence against missionaries
1870 490,000 ounces of silver to France after the Tientsin massacre
1873 500,000 ounces of silver to Japan after the Japanese expedition to Taiwan
1878 5 million ounces of silver to Russia
1881 An additional 9 million ounces of silver to Russia as the price of Chinese reoccupation of the Ili valley in northern Xinjiang
1895 200 million ounces of silver to Japan
1897 30 million ounces of silver to Japan, for her withdrawal of troops from Liaodong
1901 450 million silver dollars to the Western allies as the Boxer Indemnity
1922 66 million gold francs to Japan, for her evacuation of part of Shandong
 
In 1911, army expenditures alone represented almost 35 percent of the projected national budget of 338 million taels. This budgetary total was already 40 million taels higher than the deficit budget of 1910. The advisory national assembly, meeting at Peking, responded by slashing some 30 million taels from the army budget. Even so, the resulting budgetary deficit was huge and had to be met by increased agricultural taxes, a wide range of new duties on tea, wine, salt, and tobacco, higher transit and customs dues, and special taxes on all real estate and land-registration deals. ... As if these problems weren’t enough, the very weather conspired against the Qing. Torrential rains in the Yangzi and Huai valleys during 1910 and 1911 caused catastrophic flooding, ruined millions of acres of crops, drove up grain prices, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and forced millions of refugees into major cities for relief. [SMC, 244-5]
 
 
Nationalism & Socialism
In the years between 1905 and 1911, as the Qing edged toward constitutional reform and tried to strengthen their control over the New Army and the railways, dissent in China continued to grow. Having begun to taste the excitement of new opportunities, assemblymen, overseas students, women, merchants, urban workers, and troops in the New Army all pushed both local authorities and the central government to respond more forcefully to their calls for reform. The government’s failure to meet their varied demands provoked ever sharper criticism in which new concepts of China as a nation — and of the socialism that might transform it — began to emerge. [SMC, 244]
 
 
Chinese Marxism
The first discussion of Marx in a Chinese publication appeared in 1899. ... The attempted Russian revolution of 1905 was exciting to those Chinese who saw the tsars as parallel autocrats to the Qing emperors, and stimulated new interest in Marxist theories, which seemed to offer an opportunity to jolt China into the modern world. ... In 1906 a summary and partial translation of Marx’s Communist Manifesto appeared in Chinese, with a rather more poetic and less violent touch than in the English or German version. The famous conclusion to the Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” emerged in Chinese as “Then the world will be for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs. Ah! Come! People of every land, how can you not be roused.” [SMC, 247]
  • Which features of communism might have been attractive to the proponents of reform? Which features might have been unattractive?
 
 
 
[Then] there was Sun Yat-sen himself, since 1905 the titular head of the broad spectrum of “revolutionary” and anti-Qing groups that were lumped together as the Revolutionary Alliance. Some of his adherents were drawn to terrorism and preached the use of assassination; most were completely committed to the idea of a republican revolution. They implacably opposed the Manchus and, as “nationalists,” they sought China’s release from what they considered the economic stranglehold of the West and Japan. Some were also determined socialists who wanted to move China away from what they saw as its “feudal” past into a new and advanced level of development that would avoid the ills of the capitalist system. A good many members of Sun’s alliance were women with various agendas for strengthening the roles of women within a new Chinese state. Sun also had strong contacts with secret societies in southern China. ... By the summer of 1911, the number of active Revolutionary Alliance members had grown from around 400 in 1905 to almost 10,000. [SMC, 248-9]

By 1905, nearly ten thousand Chinese students, most of them studying law or military subjects, were enrolled in Japanese institutions of higher learning. Confronted with the dramatic proof of Japan's success as a modernizing nation, many Chinese students felt great disillusionment with the Qing government's haphazard steps toward reform. The political activism of these students was stimulated by the presence of seasoned revolutionarieslike Sun Yat-sen, who had been forced to seek asylum in Japan after violent protests against the Qing state.
       In the fall of 1905, the merger of radical student groups established the Revolutionary Alliance (Zhonghua Tongmeng hui), with Sun Yat-sen as its leaeder. With its headquarters in Tokyo and branches in the Chinese communities of Singapore, Saigon, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Chicago, the alliance probably comprised some one thousand members in its first year of existence. ...
 
 
Since the beginning of China as a nation, we Chinese have governed our own country despite occasional interruptions. When China was occasionally occupied by a foreign race, our ancestors could always in the end drive these foreigners out, restore the fatherland, and preserve China for future generations of Chinese. Today when we raise the righteous standard of revolt in order to expel an alien race that has been occupying China, we are doing no more than our ancestors have done or expected us to do. Justice is so much on our side that all Chinese, once familiarizing themselves with our stand, will have no doubt about the righteousness of our cause.
       There is a difference, however, between our revolution and the revolutions of our ancestors. The purpose of past revolutions, such as those conducted by the Mings and the Taipings, was to restore China to the Chinese, and nothing else. We, on the other hand, strive not only to expel the ruling aliens and thus restore China to the Chinese but also to change basically the political and economic structure of our country. While we cannot describe in detail this new
political and economic structure since so much is involved, the basic principle behind it is liberty, equality, and fraternity. The revolutions of yesterday were revolutions by and for the heroes; our revolution, on the other hand, is a revolution by and for the people. In a people’s revolution everyone who believes in the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity has an obligation to participate in it, and the Military Government is merely the means whereby he can fulfill this revolutionary obligation. In short, the responsibility of the people and the responsibility of the Military Government are one and the same, and the accomplishments of the Military Government are also the accomplishments of the people. Only when they cooperate fully with each other can our revolutionary goal be attained.
       At this juncture we wish to express candidly and fully how to make our revolution today and how to govern our country tomorrow.

1. Expulsion of the Manchus from China. The Manchus of today were known as the Eastern Barbarians (Donghu) during bygone years. Toward the end of the Ming dynasty they repeatedly invaded our border areas and caused great difficulties. Then, taking advantage of the chaotic situation in China, they marched southward and forcibly occupied our country. They compelled all Chinese to become their slaves, and those who did not wish to subjugate themselves were slaughtered, numbering millions. In fact, we Chinese have not had a country for the past two hundred and sixty years. Now that the day has finally arrived when the brutal and evil rule by the Manchus must come to an end, we do not expect much resistance when our righteous army begins to move. We shall quickly overthrow the Manchu government so as to restore the sovereignty of China to the Chinese. All the soldiers on the Manchu side, whether they are Manchus or Chinese, will be pardoned despite their past crimes if they express repentance and surrender. If they choose to resist the people’s army, they will be killed without mercy. The same can be also said about the Chinese who have collaborated with the Manchu government as traitors.
 
2. Restoration of China to the Chinese. China belongs to the Chinese who have the right to govern themselves. After the Manchus are expelled from China, we will have a national government of our own. Those who choose to follow the example of Shi Jingtang and Wu Sangui will be crushed.
 
3. Establishment of a Republic. Since one of the principles of our revolution is equality, we intend to establish a republic when we succeed in overthrowing the Manchu regime. In a republic all citizens will have the right to participate in the government, the president of the republic will be elected by the people, and the parliament will have deputies elected by and responsible to their respective constituents. A constitution of the Chinese Republic will then be formulated, to be observed by all Chinese. Anyone who entertains the thought of becoming an emperor will be crushed without mercy.
 
4. Equalization of landownership. The social and economic structure of China must be so reconstructed that the fruits of labor will be shared by all Chinese on an equal basis. Every tract of land in China must be assessed to determine its fair value in monetary terms, and this value belongs of course, to the landowner. Any added value, which results from social progress after the revolution, will, however, belong to the nation as a whole and must be shared by all Chinese. The ultimate goal of a responsible society is the guarantee of a satisfactory livelihood for all of its members and everyone, whomever he happens to be, shall have his own means of support, via gainful employment or some other source. Anyone who attempts to monopolize the livelihood of others will be ostracized.

To attain the four goals as outlined above, we propose a procedure of three stages. ... [During the first stage, which should not last more than three years,] the Military Government, in cooperation with the people, will eradicate all the abuses of the past; with the arrival of the second stage the Military Government will hand over local administration to the people while reserving for itself the right of jurisdiction over all matters that concern the nation as a whole; during the third or final stage [to be established six years after the nation has been pacified] the Military Government will cease to exist and all governmental power will be invested in organs as prescribed in a national constitution. [DC, 187-90]
 
 
The specific series of events that led to the fall of the two-and-a-half-centuries-old Qing dynasty was triggered by an accidental bomb explosion in Hankou, one of the three cities that composed the area of Wuhan, on October 9, 1911. This explosion might well have remained an isolated and forgotten incident, however, had it not been for the general agitation over constitutionalism, railways, the armies, Manchu power, and foreign encroachments. ...

The explosion of October 9 occurred while a group of [New Army] revolutionaries were making bombs at their meetinghouse in the Russian Concession area of Hankou. Like earlier anti-Qing agitators in Shanghai, they had learned that the institutions of foreign imperialism could afford a measure of protection from Qing police, but on this occasion the size of the explosion brought the Russian authorities to investigate. As the most seriously injured conspirators were rushed to the hospital by their comrades, the Qing investigators who had been alerted by the Russians raided the headquarters and found three other revolutionaries, who were executed immediately. They also obtained the membership registers of the soldiers and others enrolled in the revolutionary societies. The revolutionaries understood that unless they could launch an uprising rapidly, their organization would be unraveled and many more members would lose their lives. [SMC, 249-50]
 
 
Events now moved too swiftly to be controlled by any individual or political party. On October 22, 1911, the New Army mutinied in both Shaanxi and Hunan provinces; in the Shaanxi capital of Xi’an, large numbers of Manchus were massacred, and in Changsha, commanders loyal to the Qing were killed. In both cases the leading members of the provincial assemblies expressed their support for the revolution. During the last week of October, three other provinces rose against the Manchus. ...
 
At the end of October, a senior northern general rebuffed the Qing order that he lead his troops south by rail, instead joining with a number of other field commanders and issuing a circular telegram of twelve demands to the Qing court. The critical demands were to establish a parliament within the year, to promulgate a constitution through that same parliament, to elect a premier and have him ratified by the emperor, to deny the emperor all rights of summary execution of criminals, to declare a general amnesty for all political offenders, to forbid members of the Manchu imperial clan from serving as cabinet ministers, and to have the parliament review all international treaties before they were approved by the emperor.
 
Within a week the Qing court had complied with most of these demands. ... These developments were clearly moving China toward a constitutional monarchy under Manchu direction — the kind so long advocated by Kang Youwei and his supporters — rather than toward the republican form of government central to the demands of Sun Yat-sen and the Revolutionary Alliance. [SMC, 252]
 
 
The Qing court’s position was immeasurably weakened when Manchu and loyalist troops were defeated in Nanjing in early December after several weeks of heavy fighting. ... Sun Yat-sen returned to Shanghai by sea from France on Christmas Day, 1911. Four days later, the delegates from sixteen provincial assemblies, meeting in Nanjing, showed their respect for Sun’s leadership and the influence of the Revolutionary Alliance by electing Sun “provisional president” of the Chinese republic. He assumed office in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, inaugurating the existence of the new republic. ... On that same New Year’s Day, Sun sent a telegram to Yuan Shikai that acknowledged how weak his own military power base really was. In this telegram, Sun stated that even though he had accepted the presidency for the time being, “it is actually waiting for you, and my offer will eventually be made clear to the world. I hope that you will accept this offer.” [SMC, 253-4]
 
 
The final blow to the Qing came at the end of January 1912, when forty-four senior commanders of the Beiyang army sent a telegram to the Peking cabinet urging the formation of a republic in China. While the most intransigent Manchu princes retreated to Manchuria, where they tried to coordinate a resistance, the emperor’s mother and her close advisers negotiated frantically with Yuan Shikai and the other Beiyang army leaders for a settlement that would guarantee their lives and a measure of financial security. When both Yuan and the senate of the provincial government in Nanjing agreed to guarantee to the boy emperor and his family the right to continued residence in the Forbidden City of Peking and ownership of its great imperial treasures, as well as a stipend of $4 million a year and protection of all Manchu ancestral temples, the court announced the abdication of the emperor Puyi on February 12, 1912. [SMC, 254]
 
 
Edict of Abdication
February 12, 1912

We (the Emperor) have respectfully received the following Imperial Edict from Her Imperial Majesty the Empress Dowager Longyu: —
 
... It is now evident that the hearts of the majority of the people are in favor of a republican form of government: the provinces of the South were the first to espouse the cause, and the generals of the North have since pledged their support. From the preference of the people’s hearts, the Will of Heaven can be discerned. How could We then bear to oppose the will of the millions for the glory of one Family! Therefore, observing the tendencies of the age on the one hand and studying the opinions of the people on the other, We and His Majesty the Emperor hereby vest the sovereignty in the People and decide in favor of a republican form of constitutional government. Thus we would gratify on the one hand the desires of the whole nation who, tired of anarchy, are desirous of peace, and on the other hand would follow in the footsteps of the Ancient Sages, who regarded the Throne as the sacred trust of the Nation. [DC, 196]