China History

One Hundred Years of Revolution

On October 10, 1911, the Xinhai Revolution began. By February, the Empire of the Great Qing had fallen.

The Xinhai Revolution lead to the birth of the Chinese KMT, which had as its goal That a government of the People, by the People, and for the People, shall be Established in China.

It also lead to the disintegration of the Chinese state on multiple occasions, and probably a hundred million civilian deaths.

The century of the Chinese Revolution is now over.

It probably should have never begun.

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7 thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Revolution
  1. It’s been a bad century for China.

    May God have mercy on them, and grant them s happier next hundred years.

  2. Really? China should not have revolted against imperialists? I can see how people like you fear the destruction of a corporate structure, but why would the Chinese want to return to Dynasties? Or do you believe the society that was created because of the revolution is now the incumbent force that needs to be dealt with, as a structure, and not as a revolutionary force? In other words, you’re just against revolution, not communism as such, as expressed in the corporate structure now in place in China? You do realize that you would be one of the first to go, if the world was dominated by the Chinese?

  3. Larry,

    The imperialists the Xinhai Revolution was fought against were the Manchus, the Qing Dynasty, and specifically the Aisin Gioro Clan.

    The Qing were hardly democrats, but then the Communists aren’t either. 100 million lives is a high price to pay when the largest change is the nature of foreign direct investment in China (a guided-market approach based in Beijing v. a guided-market approach distributed among coastal centers with foreign backers).


    +1 (or in Hebrew, “Amen”)

  4. I personally have been much more sympathetic to the Hundred Days’ Reform. A successful Wuxu Reform probably would have enabled a slower and more stable transition. Its results, however, probably would not be too dissimilar to your post on if a KMT-ruled China would look like India today.

    Likewise, I guess the chance of a successful Hundred Days’ Reform were probably pretty small, even if Cixi and Yuan Shikai hadn’t been factors.

    The Meiji Restoration could succeed because the Japanese did not think that learning from other countries was beneath them (they were always learning from others, China first, and then the West), and because Japan under the shoguns was not centralized to the degree which stopped progress.

    China, on the other hand, had always been the center of its universe, and power was centralized in the staunchly anti-modernization imperial court. Accepting that China could learn anything from foreigners probably would have been impossible without the very real threats of dynastic collapse and national dismemberment that finally did the Qing in.

  5. James,

    A truly fascinating comment, as you can tell by the amount of time it took me to digest it!

    China historically has been open to accepting technology from barbarians, and has often been the technologically weaker power throughout its history. [1] So I think instead of seeing the collapse of the Qing as typical of Chinese history, the manner in which it collapsed (surrounded by hostile ‘barbarians’ on all fronts who it was incapable of learning from or coopting) was the anomaly.

    I think the timing of the collapse of the Qing, along with the rise of nationalism around the world, is not a coincidence. The Xinhai Revolution may have been China’s first race war.

    An echo of the same dynamic can now be found in Syria. The Manchu (Alawite) ruling elite knows exactly what the Han (Arab) majority has in store for them, and their only hope of buying them off over time first requires a military victory over a restive population in the short term. I wonder if they can pull it off.


  6. Thank you for the compliment! It’s also been taking me some time to think of a response. Your mention of Syria made me think that, through the distance of time, perhaps I’ve over-romanticized the Qing instead of seeing it for the corrupt and tyrannical regime that it was. Of course, they did not have the technology to be as bloodthirsty as Assad’s regime today, although Cixi’s relationship with the Boxers makes me wonder what means she would use to stay in power.

    It seems I haven’t been giving Ancient China enough credit when it comes to accepting foreign ideas. I’ll have to check out China Marches West.

    Another point where China might’ve been able to stave off internal chaos would be if Yuan Shikai had not crowned himself emperor and only been president for life. Sure, Sun Yat-sen would still hate Yuan for being a dictator, but if Yuan had believed in the republic, I think he would have become something like an earlier version Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan – someone who secured the country for the future while leaving a controversial authoritarian legacy.

    Of course, for this to be possible, Yuan would’ve have to have been a different person.

  7. James,

    Excellent comment!

    The most dangerous time for a decaying government is when it realizes its mistakes, correctly observes the world, and begins reforms. The France of Louis XVI was more liberal and modern than that of Louis V — the Libya of 200s was more liberal and modern than that of the 1980s — the China of 1988 was more liberl and modern than the China of 1978.

    Reform raises expectations and exposes to the people how weak the government was to begin with.

    Before all that, though, the Boxer Rebellion strikes me as the same anti-elite, anti-intellectual, anti-foreign, anti-modern, pro-Leader wave of rioting that later on was called the Cultural Revolution.

    Yuan strikes me as a figure similar to Putin — a tactical genius and a strategic idiot. Both could brilliantly maneuver for worthless prizes, but none had much idea to do once those were won, except look around for another worthless prize. Both men were product of the systems they spent their career ones — both Yuan and Putin were members of the operational elite who were kept purposefully blind to the strategic consequences of their work.

    One wonders how the story of the recent decade would have been different if the Chechens had a leader as tireless and ambitious as Sun…

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