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China
in
Disintegration

The Transformation of Modem China Series

,

James E. Sheridan General Editor

The Fall of Imperial China
Frederic Wakeman, Jr.
China in Disintegration
The Republican Era in Chinese History, 1912-1949
James E. Sheridan

* The People’s Republic of China
An Interpretive History of the First Twenty-five Years
Maurice Meisner

* Chinese Foreign Policy
A Conceptual History
Mark Mancall

• In preparation.

China
in
Disintegration

China in 1930

China
in
Disintegration
The Republican Era in
Chinese History, 1912—1949

James E. Sheridan

THE FREE PRESS
A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
NEW YORK

Collier Macmillan Publishers
LONDON

Copyright © 1975 by The Free Press
A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transm itted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage
and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.
The Free Press
A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
866 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022
Collier Macmillan Canada, Ltd.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 74-28940
Printed in the United States of America
printing number
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

10

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Sheridan, James E
China in d isin te g r a tio n .
(The Transformation o f modern China s e r ie s )
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. China—H istory—R epublic, 1912-19^9.
I . T it le .
DS77lt.S5U
951. Ch
7lt-289lt0
ISBN O-O2-9286IO-7

Contents

List of Maps

ix

Acknowledgments

xi

Introduction

3

Chapter
Chapter

I National Integration and the Chinese Revolution
II The Birth of the Republic

Chapter

III The Warlords

Chapter

IV Urban Intellectual Revolution

Chapter

V Coalition and Conflict

5
27
57
107
141

Chapter

VI Warlordism in the Nanking Decade

183

Chapter

VII Integration in the Nanking Decade

207

Chapter VIII The Communist Victory

245

Chapter

285

IX National Reintegration
; 
Notes

295

Suggested Reading

311

Index

325
••
V ll

List of Maps
China in 1930

iv

Warlord Division of China, January 1,1926

85

Northern Expedition, 1926-1928

166

Approximate Route of the Long March

253

Japanese Invasion of China

258

Acknowledgments

O f t h e d e b t s I have incurred in preparing this book, I am particu­

larly sensible of those to the many writers whose published studies
form the basis for so much that I have said in these pages, in most
instances without specific acknowledgment. I also have a special
feeling of gratitude to those friends who showed me portions of
their own unpublished studies relating to the republican era; I have
tried to cite every instance in which I have used material from these
sources, but I want to acknowledge here the generosity of the
scholars who wrote them. Chi Hsi-sheng allowed me to read two
chapters of a book-length study of warlordism he is preparing.
Diana Lary sent me her dissertation on the Kwangsi Clique. Odoric
Wou let me read his expanded dissertation on Wu P’ei-fu. Lloyd
Eastman loaned me a draft of his latest book, a study of the Nanking
Decade, 1927-1937. At a recent meeting, Eastman and I discovered
that each of us had been thinking of national integration as a unify­
ing concept in republican history; these were independent develop­
ments, and there was no discussion of the concept in the draft he
had earlier loaned to me.
C. Martin Wilbur was extremely kind and helpful in making
available materials from the Chinese Oral History Project of Colum­
bia University’s East Asian Institute, particularly the reminiscences
of Chang Fa-k’uei, which were developed with the aid of question­
ing by Julie Lien-ying How, and the autobiography of Li Tsung-jen,
developed with the assistance of T. K. Tong.
xi

xii

Acknowledgments

I was fortunate to have Robert H. Wiebe vigorously criticize an
early draft of this book. George Dalton gave me splendid editorial
advice on one chapter before his departure for research in Europe
deprived me of his counsel.
Portions of this book are based on work done while holding a
fellowship from the Joint Committee on Contemporary China of
the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of
Learned Societies; I am very grateful to the Joint Committee and its
sponsoring agencies. I am also indebted to Northwestern University
for its generous support. However, none of the individuals or organi­
zations mentioned above is in any way responsible for the errors, in­
adequacies, or general content of this work.
JES
January, 1975

China
in
Disintegration

Introduction

In t h e m id d l e of the nineteenth century, Western trading nations
discovered that the ancient Chinese monarchy was virtually impo­
tent in terms of modem international power. Through the decades
that followed, and into the early twentieth century, these nations
and Japan forced a host of territorial, economic, and political con­
cessions from China, and ultimately threatened the nation’s very
existence. China’s desperate efforts to meet that threat, combined
with the effects of dissident movements and foreign cultural in­
fluences, produced a fundamental breakdown in a social system that
had existed for centuries. The old order finally disintegrated in the
twentieth century in a welter of internal violence, war, and general
confusion of personal, social, and cultural values.
In the midst of the wreckage, the compelling necessity to pre­
serve the nation fostered reintegrative movements. Social classes,
political groups, and individuals fought savagely to decide who
would determine the new political framework and the new social
philosophy within which national reintegration could take place.
The Chinese Communists won the struggle because they success­
fully mobilized millions of peasants to defeat their enemies. That
mobilization itself constituted an important step toward reintegra­
tion, and the Communist-led government established in 1949 cre­
ated political institutions and launched economic programs designed
to create a cohesive and powerful nation. In that fashion, over
die course of many decades, an agrarian, traditionalistic, family3

4

C hina

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D isintegration

centered society of hundreds of millions o f illiterate peasants has
come to form a dynamic, forward-looking, swiftly industrializing,
socialist nation. After years of humiliated helplessness before the
armed might of imperialism, China has again claimed the status
of great power in world affairs, and has reasserted the ancient
dignity of the Chinese people.
This protracted revolutionary transformation occupied more
than a century, but in many ways the critical period was the 37
years, 1912-1949, from the fall of the monarchy and founding of a
republic to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China by
the Communists. During this republican period, disintegration and
disorder were at their maximum. These were the uncertain years
when China was at a turning point in its history and nobody could
guess what the future would bring. Indeed, China was so mired in
domestic troubles and beset by foreign invaders that there was some
doubt that the nation had any future at all as an independent po­
litical entity. With the advantages of hindsight, we can now see that
the republican era was a transitional period, an historical inter­
regnum between traditional and modem China. It saw the death of
one sociopolitical system and the birth of another; emperors and
mandarins disappeared in the confusion of the republic, and Com­
munist cadres emerged from it. It is therefore a period of special
interest, importance, and complexity. An understanding of its his­
tory will cast light on both the traditional agrarian empire it suc­
ceeded and the new Communist state that followed.
This book will attempt to analyze the history of the republican
era at some length. But it will be useful to begin with a quick over­
view, a survey in broad and general terms of the entire revolution­
ary transformation of modem China. This brief analysis will not
only serve to introduce events and ideas that later will be treated in
more detail, but also will allow for discussion of the concept that
gives meaning to those details—the concept of national integration.

National Integration and
the Chinese Revolution

of national integration has been a central concern of
scholars writing about new nations emerging from the tribalism and
cultural plurality of colonial Africa, and they have analyzed its
meaning in detail.1 An occasional specialist on China has referred
to that country as integrated or disintegrated, but without attempt­
ing to show precisely what that means. This oversight is surprising,
for the notions of national disintegration and reintegration clarify
the central processes of modern Chinese history.
T h e c o n c e pt

National Integration
National integration refers to the degree of cohesiveness of a
nation, the extent to which its various elements interconnect to
form a consolidated national unit. One aspect of national integration
is territorial—how closely regions and localities are linked together
by economic and political transactions and by psychological and
cultural similarities. Another is social, which refers to the extent to
which the various strata of society—from the ruling elite to the
masses—are bound together by a common culture, by national
loyalties, by functional specialization and interdependence, and by
participation in national movements and undertakings. Although it
5

6

China

in

D isintegration

is useful to distinguish between these two aspects, they are inter­
related and overlap in many ways. An examination of die various
elements of national integration will show that most of them relate
to both aspects, though usually much more to one than the other.
Either can provide the primary basis for a degree of national politi­
cal integration, but the strongest political integration is produced
when there exists a high level of both.
The quality and extent of national communication and transport
facilities are particularly important for territorial integration. Welldeveloped networks of roads, railways, navigable waterways, and
airlines, together with the necessary vehicles to travel them, all
foster the growth of a national market, and population mobility.
Movement of a large number of people provides them with famil­
iarity with their nation as a whole, creates a multitude of business
and social contacts in various regions and social strata, and cul­
tivates interest in national affairs, all of which strengthen national
integration in both of its aspects. Other communications facilities—
telegraph, radio, movies, television, newspapers, periodicals, the
post office, and books—also influence integration. Where diese are
well advanced, national consciousness will normally be keener than
where they are not.
Government authority is another significant aspect of territorial
integration. In a highly integrated nation, the judicial and fiscal
power of the government, and the services it offers, can effectively
reach to the farthest point and the lowest societal level. Where
there is only weak integration, regions and localities may be semiautonomous, or virtually free from central control.
Interdependence is also an aspect of integration. A nation is in­
tegrated to the extent that people in its different sectors and in all
social classes and groups are dependent upon one another. Inter­
dependence takes many forms, but the most common is economic.
A nation in which people rely upon others throughout the country
to fulfill a large portion of their economic needs is more integrated
than one in which many areas and groups are largely self-sufficient,
which is tantamount to saying that economic modernization fosters
territorial integration. In highly industrialized nations, each area’s
resources and products are widely diffused, and each person, firm,
and region is a specialist producer. In the United States, for ex-

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

7

ample, people in, say, southern California are linked with many
other parts of the nation through a need for products (cars from
Detroit, wheat from Kansas) and markets (for their fruits and
movies ), and through federal agencies ( Interstate Commerce Com­
mission), financial institutions (national insurance companies),
transportation facilities (cross-country railways), and the myriad
other facilities and institutions not limited to California but neces­
sary for California to function. Moreover, industrialization strength­
ens many other integrative elements. For instance, an industrialized
society has effective communications and transport, facilitating pop­
ulation mobility and fostering the expansion of a shared culture.
The same communications network that promotes cultural unifor­
mity allows the government to indoctrinate and control people in
all parts of the nation. It is economic modernization, however, with
all its diverse effects and influences, that can be the most effective
and viable basis for territorial integration.
Territorial integration is strengthened when people in all parts
of a nation share the same values and have the same historical heri­
tage, though these are elements that are even more critical in social
integration. Generally speaking, the greater the cultural differences
between the elite and the masses, the more difficult it is to achieve
social integration. Such a culture gap may come about in numerous
ways, but the most relevant to note here occurs when an elite adopts
the life-style, values, and aspirations associated with “moderniza­
tion” while the masses continue to live more or less in the traditional
fashion. In such circumstances, the elite may become alienated from
the population as a whole and define national problems and policies
in terms that are either foreign to the actual circumstances or do not
appear to the masses to meet their real needs. Social integration is
even further weakened when the elite is also internally divided.
Mass participation in the political process provides one possible
way of bridging such a gap between elite and masses. Social integra­
tion may be strengthened if the population at large participates in
elections, decisions about the common defense, and many other
public activities. Political participation brings the masses and the
elite into contact, informing each about the other, and it can foster
a feeling of common endeavor and commitment, a feeling of com­
munity.

$

C hina

in

D isintegration

Ideology can be a powerful integrative force, too, by giving to
all individuals not only the same view of themselves and of the rest
of the world, but a sense of common purpose as well; it fosters a
sense of national unity and identity. Ideology also gives legitimacy
to the political system; it supports authority and lends it a moral
dimension that enhances its capacity to command the energies and
loyalty of the entire people.
Finally, nationalism is a prime component of both aspects of in­
tegration, territorial and social. There are many definitions of na­
tionalism. Hans Kohn says that nationalism "is a state of mind, in
which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due the
nation-state.” Carleton J. H. Hayes sees nationalism as "a fusion of
patriotism with a consciousness of nationality.” Boyd Shafer defines
it as "that sentiment unifying a group of people who have a real or
imagined common historical experience and a common aspiration
to live together as a separate group in the future.”2 There are many
other definitions of nationalism, but nobody has successfully formu­
lated a brief statement that covers all the diverse phenomena
incorporated in the term “nationalism” in one or another specific his­
torical context. For present purposes, we may say simply that na­
tionalism is the state of mind of people who feel themselves to be
members of a nation, and who give to the nation their primary po­
litical loyalty. When that feeling is widely shared, it becomes an
important element of national integration.
The meaning of nationalism—the scope of the nationalist state
of mind—has changed as the number of people involved in and
conscious of national affairs has expanded. When the nation-state
first emerged from the dissolution of medieval empires in Europe,
the nation was identified with the person of the sovereign. His
rights and powers came from God, and nobody else counted in the
conception of the nation. Even international law "was primarily a
set of rules governing the mutual relations of individuals in their
capacity as rulers.”3 After the Napoleonic Wars, the nation came to
be identified, for practical purposes, not with the sovereign but with
the middle class, and the peasants and workers remained powerless
and uninvolved. In the late nineteenth century, this condition too
began to change:

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

9

The rise of new social strata to full membership of the nation
marked the last three decades of the 19th century throughout
western and central Europe. Its landmarks were the development
of industry and industrial skills; the rapid expansion in numbers
and importance of urban populations; the growth of workers’ or­
ganizations and of the political consciousness of the workers; the
introduction of universal compulsory education; and the extension
of the franchise. These changes, while they seemed logical steps
in a process inaugurated long before, quickly began to affect the
content of national policy in a revolutionary way. . . . Henceforth
the political power of the masses was directed to improving their
own social and economic lot. The primary aim of national policy
was no longer merely to maintain order and conduct what was
narrowly defined as public business, but to minister to the welfare
of members of the nation and to enable them to earn their living.
The democratization of the nation . . . had meant the assertion of
the political claims of the dominant middle class. The socializa­
tion of the nation for the first time brings the economic claims of
the masses into the forefront of the picture.4

By the early twentieth century, mass participation was the rule
in Western nations. Nationalism, the state of mind of those who con­
stitute a nation, became, necessarily, a mass phenomenon in the
West. And through Western imperialism, the peoples in Asia and
Africa, who had not experienced the same historical development,
were brought forcibly into sustained contact with nationalistic
attitudes. Ultimately, in self-defense, the Asians and Africans sought
to create modern nations of their own. Their view of nationhood
also involved the development of industry, the spread of education,
and all the other characteristics of the nationalist European states
that had created the modern phase of nationalism—these traits had
come to define modernization, modem power, the modern nation.
Mass participation itself had become an element of modernization.
Nationalism can relate to national integration in two ways.
People that are increasingly integrated by the creation of a nation­
state, with its unified laws, a common currency, countrywide eco­
nomic interdependence, widely shared technological growth, and
extended communications and educational facilities, will come to
think of themselves as forming a nation. They will develop a na-

IO

C hina

in

D isintegration

tional state of mind as a consequence of forming a national com­
munity of interests and. transactions. This process underlay the
historical development of Western nation-states.
However, it is possible for a national state of mind to exist where
economic and technological modernization have not yet happened,
or are only beginning. Anti-imperialist resentments, for example,
can cultivate a feeling of nationalism that can then be directed to
the task of intensive economic modernization. During the past two
centuries or so, just such a process has converted a portion of the
intellectual elite to nationalism in various colonial, or semi-colonial,
traditionalistic agrarian countries, including China. But the elite
can achieve little without mass support; the creation of a modem
nation requires, as we have noted, mass involvement. Yet national­
istic ideas are not inherently persuasive, particularly to peasant
masses whose experiences and needs have always been local. Na­
tionalistic indoctrination of the masses is most rapid and effective
where it is linked closely with the satisfaction of strongly felt local
needs. When such indoctrination is achieved, a mass nationalism
can be generated even where economic modernization and terri­
torial integration are extremely undeveloped.
With some oversimplification, we can say, then, that nationalism
can be both an effect and a cause. In the first instance the feeling
of nationalism is an outgrowth of national integration, particularly
in its territorial aspects, produced by economic modernization. In
the second case, the feeling of nationalism comes first, fostering
social integration, and setting up a complex of goals that includes
economic modernization and a high degree of national integration.
The first, which has been the normal pattern in the long-established
states of the West, requires an extended period of time, as economic
and technological changes gradually alter the living patterns, values,
and expectations of the population. The second, which with some
variation has been the more recent pattern in a number of eco­
nomically underdeveloped colonial countries, requires the forcible
and swift alteration of values and expectations, and tries to bring
economic and technological conditions into line with both as quickly
as possible.
Many of the factors that determine the extent of national integra-

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

11

tion also operate on small as well as large scales. We can speak of
the integration of villages, or other local communities, and also of
international integration. But whatever the scale, it is apparent that
integrative forces can be joined in a great variety of combinations
and intensities. Although we can speak of disintegrated or malintegrated communities, just as we can of integrated communities,
we cannot define precisely the point at which one becomes the
other, the point two writers call the “threshold of integration.”5 This
problem highlights the fallacy of the view that the phrase “national
integration” is a tautology because the concept of nation necessarily
implies integration.6 Despite a kernel of truth in this view, it ob­
scures the fact that integration is relative. Some communities, in­
cluding some nations, are “loosely” or “weakly” integrated, whereas
others are “tightly” or “strongly” integrated.
The process by which weakly integrated, traditionalistic peoples
have in modem times become more integrated through nationalist
movements has been called “social mobilization.” Karl Deutsch has
explored the ramifications of this concept, and Chalmers Johnson
has applied it to China for the period of the anti-Japanese war
( 1937_1945)* The image conveyed by the phrase social mobilization
is one of recruiting and welding together small groups to create
larger, more cohesive units for special purposes. It is nation build­
ing. But as Deutsch has pointed out, the process involves two stages:
“The . . . uprooting or breaking away from old settings, habits, and
commitments; and . . . the induction of the mobilized persons into
some relatively stable new patterns of group membership, organi­
zation and commitment.”7 Where elements of a national community
exist—but where there is a “weak” national integration—the first
stage of “breaking away from old settings, habits, and commitments”
may produce a weaker national integration, or disintegration, a
changing condition that lasts until stable new patterns of organiza­
tion and commitment are created. This process has occurred in
China during the past century and a half. China has gone from a
condition of weak integration under the Manchu Dynasty, to ex­
treme disintegration during the republican period, to a condition of
reintegration that is being increasingly consolidated by moderniza­
tion under the Communists.

12

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Integration in Traditional China
Traditional China was strongly integrated on the local level and
somewhat less tightly integrated on the provincial level. On the
national level, however, territorial integration was weak even
though social integration was strong.
From time immemorial, China has been an agricultural country
of peasant masses living in villages where their affections focused.
Nonetheless, the peasants did have needs outside the village; they
sought to sell some of their agricultural and handicraft products to
people from neighboring villages in order to obtain some of their
neighbors’ produce, local commercial goods, or an occasional item
from far away. To meet these needs, market towns developed to
serve a cluster of villages; anthropologist William Skinner, who has
analyzed their structure, has designated these towns as a “standard
market area.”
The density of villages in each cluster depended upon geographi­
cal, economic, and other local conditions, but 19 or 20 villages in a
cluster was about average. Although economic needs led to their
formation, these village clusters also served as the framework for the
peasants’ recreational and social life. They provided marriage part­
ners, friends, and constituted the unit for control and guidance by
the local gentry. Rural organizations, such as secret societies, line­
age groups, and occupational associations, all took the standard
marketing area as their unit of organization and activity. Weights
and measures were standardized and closely regulated throughout
each area, varying from one standard marketing area to another.
Each adult knew virtually every other inhabitant in his cluster of
villages, which fostered common spéech patterns along with a kind
of parochial patriotism. All these traits reflect a high degree of inte­
gration on the village-cluster level. “Insofar as the Chinese peasant
can be said to live in a self-contained world,” says Skinner, “that
world is not the village but the standard marketing community.”8
These clusters of rural communities, however, were only loosely
bound to the larger national entity. Some long-distance trade oc­
curred in luxury items, but not a great deal. Transportation facilities

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

13

were primitive in many regions. Most goods were shipped by human
power, an expensive mode of transport that sharply limited the
range within which exchange could take place. Most agricultural
activities required little or no labor or resources from people or
agencies outside of the community, including the central govern­
ment. Each peasant family tended its own land, although at harvest
time neighbors and relatives helped. Those rich enough to own
draft animals rented them to the poor, and the poor rented their
muscles to the rich. These transactions, however, seldom extended
beyond the basic market area. One economic historian reports that:
An appraisal of the actual performance of the Ming and
Ch’ing governments and the effect of that performance on farm
output . . . [shows] that Chinese farmers did sometimes benefit
from official activities, but that the actions that benefited them
most tended to be those carried out by local authorities. Only
rarely did the rural Chinese economy require much that the cen­
tral government in Peking was able to give.9

Despite one prominent scholars insistence that flood and irrigation
facilities required centralized control, it was the villages themselves
or district government agencies that managed water control, at least
after the fourteenth century. One dramatic indication of the eco­
nomic self-containment of localities and regions is that there were
so many local and regional famines, and so little effective aid from
nearby localities and regions.
N
Ties other than economic were similarly weak beyond the basic
rural community. Associations such as secret societies operated
within the standard market area. Trade and merchant guilds were
local in character. Even kinship ties diminished with distance. There
was little geographical or occupational mobility, partly because of
poverty and the dearth of travel facilities and partly because of the
powerful ethnocentric affection Chinese had for their home locali­
ties. Traditional Chinese would have understood perfectly the Bos­
ton matron who sympathized with the man who traveled four days
by train from the West Coast to Boston saying: "I have never trav­
eled that far. But then, I am already here.”
Language played an ambivalent role. The Chinese written lan­
guage, stable and changing little over the centuries, and with only
negligible regional variation, exercised a powerful integrative influ-

M

China

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D isintegration

ence in the country as a whole. Yet only a minority of Chinese were
literate. The vast majority knew only spoken Chinese, and variations
in the spoken tongue were great. Several mutually unintelligible
dialects divided China into major linguistic regions; local differences
in spoken Chinese were also common within linguistic areas, empha­
sizing the isolation and specific identity of each local community.
Local integration was so strong, and national integration so
feeble, that one scholar has found it “surprising . . . that China
held together at all.”10 W hat were the national integrative bonds?
What did hold China together? The most important forces of na­
tional integration were the monarchy, the state bureaucracy, a gen­
eral uniformity of culture with the Confucian value system at its
core, and, perhaps surprisingly, the local gentry.
There is no reason to believe that the mass of the Chinese peo­
ple had intense feelings of loyalty to the Chinese emperor. Even so,
they accepted him, tacitly acknowledging the legitimacy of his rule,
and were vaguely aware that large numbers of other peasants, as
well as town dwellers, similarly acquiesced in his suzerainty. They
knew that his mere existence and the ritual functions he exercised
as emperor somehow symbolized the unity of all Chinese. The em­
peror, moreover, had power to appoint and remove provincial and
local officials, to punish criminals, and to issue decrees that affected
the lives of the people. The emperors nationwide power had a cru­
cial influence on national integration.
The national bureaucracy was a powerful integrative force. As
an agency of the court, its functions were to carry the authority of
the monarchy to all parts of the country. Bureaucrats were selected
by examinations, which fostered the development of an educational
system throughout the country that used identical texts and spread
the same values and world view. The ideals of public service it
taught were not qualified by regional considerations. Moreover, the
national character of the bureaucracy was reflected in the recruiting
system, which was both nationwide and uniform and used quotas
to ensure that every region was represented. The national quality of
the bureaucracy was particularly symbolized by the law of avoid­
ance, which forbade an official to hold office in his home province,
where local obligations might interfere with his national duties and
loyalties. Because the bureaucracy was the chief source of wealth

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

15

and power in the nation, it was the natural career goal for all ambi­
tious and able men, including peasants. Thus the aspirations and
dreams of those in all localities and in all social strata were focused
on a national institution.
Such aspirations helped make the local gentry one element of
national integration. This gentry consisted of the local political and
economic elite, including the Confucian literati who had studied
for the examinations. It was especially composed, however, of those
who had passed one or more of the civil-service examinations and
had not attained office. When officials retired from the bureaucracy,
they often returned to their rural homes and became part of the
local gentry, which had two characteristics, local and national. Its
members had superior local roles as landlords, businessmen, and
spokesmen for their localities. In that capacity, they represented
their localities and defended local interests against the national. But
the gentry also functioned as a kind of unofficial lowest echelon of
the central bureaucracy. National officials treated the local gentry
with special courtesy, and normally dealt with localities through it.
The local gentry thus constituted the administrative connection be­
tween the localities and the national bureaucracy, and in that fash­
ion served, like the bureaucracy itself, as a component of territorial
integration.
Because of its dual aspect, too, the local gentry fostered na­
tional social integration. It was a class of people that functioned
within, and contributed to local communities, and it was accepted
as such by the peasantry, with whom the gentry had constant and
close contact. But the gentry also represented the Confucian literati
that ruled the nation at all levels. By exemplifying and preaching
values accepted by the masses, the gentry was living evidence that
Chinese society was operating in accordance with sound principles.
These principles were expressed by Confucian orthodoxy, the
major element in integrating traditional China. The precise denota­
tion of “Confucianism” has changed through history; Han Confu­
cianism differed from Chou Confucianism, and Sung Confucianism
—the official orthodoxy until the twentieth century—was not the
same as that of the Han. Moreover, within each of these variants
were intellectual currents that though purporting to be Confucian
differed from the mainstream of Confucianism. Without attempting

i6

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to define comprehensively Confucianism as it existed in the Ch’ing
Dynasty, it is worth noting some of its most salient features, features
that were so thoroughly accepted by all Chinese as. to have a power­
ful integrative force.
Central to Confucianism was a patriarchal family system in
which status was determined by age, sex, and generation; elders
dominated younger, and male dominated female. Filial piety was
the chief virtue, but all other obligations of superiority and sub­
ordination inherent in the family hierarchy—such as those between
older and younger brothers and between generations—were also
strictly observed. Confucian values spread far beyond the family to
permeate all of Chinese life and institutions. Chinese law, for ex­
ample, enforced the Confucian tenets of family relationships and
discriminated according to Confucian notions of age, generation,
and sex. Familial values acquired religious force through the prac­
tice of ancestor worship.
Confucian economic thought emphasized the basic importance
of agriculture. Commerce was nonproductive, parasitic by nature,
and engaged in only by little men preoccupied with selfish motives
of profit. This fundamental Confucian value was a potent force in
traditional and modem China, but it does not follow that commerce
was unimportant in traditional China nor that Confucianists were
invariably hostile to it. In certain periods, such as the Han and the
Sung, commerce flourished, and created great fortunes. However,
merchants never acquired political power. And though at all times
some Confucian families were drawn by the lure of wealth to dip
into commercial activities, they were invariably careful not to en­
danger their positions as Confucian scholars or bureaucrats.
Confucianism also stressed the unity of the empire under a
monarchical, centralized government. The monarch and his officials
were supposed to rule through moral force. Not only was moral
mle—rule in accord with Confucian prescriptions—held to be the
most effective way to gain obedience and social harmony, but a
monarch who departed from that rule would lose the Mandate of
Heaven, the supernatural sanction of his authority. According to
the Confucianists, the chief exemplars of moral mle were the an­
cient sage kings, and the entire educational system was devoted to
studying their achievements and the principles that presumably

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

17

inspired them. Confucianism, then, was profoundly traditionalistic;
it aimed not at a great future, but at the recreation of a golden past.
These Confucian values and assumptions were thoroughly drilled
into all educated Chinese, and in large measure they filtered down
through the centuries to become part of the value system of the
mass of the people. Chinese at every social level accepted them and
generally tried to live in accordance with them. Thus Confucianism
cultivated a profound social integration expressed by similar pat­
terns of life in all parts of the country, and by values and a world
view shared by peasants as well as the elite.
Confucianist integration was flawed, however, by conflicting
class interests. Members of the gentry, as landowners, exploited the
peasantry economically, and as allies of the bureaucracy they exer­
cised political power, as in the collection and remission of taxes, at
the expense of the peasantry. There were, of course, many other
groups in Chinese society whose interests connected with, but were
not exactly the same as, those of either the peasantry or the elite.
Porters, pedlars, vagabonds, secret societies, and bandit groups were
all important strands in the complex fabric of Chinese society. But
even these diverse elements fell naturally into local groups, and by
and large they accepted the fundamentals of the Confucian value
system in which they all lived and functioned. Perhaps the simplest
illustration of that fact is that most peasant revolts were local in
nature and aimed to change the personnel who manipulated the
Confucian order—officials and the emperor himself—but not the
order itself.
Confucianism advanced territorial integration by promoting the
idea of a broad political community of all men under Heaven, and
it specifically legitimized the rule of the emperor and his officials
over all parts of the country. But other aspects of Confucianism had
an opposite influence. Confucian emphasis on the primacy of family
relations inhibited the development of truly national loyalties. And
Confucian economic ideas were at least partly responsible for China s
very weak economic integration. The chief integrative force of Con­
fucianism was social, and over the centuries it produced an extraor­
dinarily high degree of social integration. Premodem China often
disintegrated territorially, but because of Confucianism the social
cohesion of the Chinese people was never significantly damaged.

i8

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Only in the twentieth century did China disintegrate both socially
and territorially.

Disintegration
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the tradi­
tional bonds of national integration in China began to fray, to
weaken in effectiveness. Ultimately, they broke almost completely.
Through the second half of the nineteenth century, the mon­
archy’s power to exact obedience steadily diminished. After the
English defeated China in the Opium War (1839-1842), China suf­
fered a successive series of defeats by foreigners through the re­
mainder of the nineteenth century, and each defeat reduced the
moral and physical resources of the monarchy. In the wake of a
great agrarian-millenarian revolution in the middle of the century,
regional armies under provincial officials emerged as the predomi­
nant military power in the country. The expansion of provincial
power, growing domestic distress, the courts failure to deal effec­
tively with foreign missionary, commercial, and military incursions,
and a growing movement for constitutional government, combined
to undermine the legitimacy of the monarchy. The Chinese attrib­
uted their troubles to the alien origins of the ruling Ch’ing Dynasty,
which also undercut the dynasty’s authority. By 1911, the Manchu
Court was so devoid of power and legitimacy that revolutionaries
overthrew it with ease, thus severing completely that traditionally
integrative bond.
The cohesive influence of the traditional bureaucracy also de­
clined during this period. The waning of monarchical power from
the middle of the nineteenth century meant a reduction in the effec­
tive authority of court officials. In 1905 the court abolished the
civil-service-examination system as a means of selecting officials;
thus the Confucian intellectual and institutional aspects of the civilservice system, which had been such important sources of national
cohesion, disappeared. The whole future of the bureaucracy became
problematical, and Chinese education no longer hewed strictly to
Confucian orthodoxy. The status of the bureaucracy was further

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

19

undermined when, as the first phase of a series of constitutional re­
forms, the court in 1908 created elected provincial assemblies. These
assemblies promptly became centers of provincial power that, in
effect, challenged the remnants of central authority.
In this context, local gentry looked less and less to the national
government as the source of wealth and honor, and increasingly oc­
cupied itself with local and provincial matters. In the last years of
the Ch mg Dynasty, many members of the gentry were active in the
provincial assemblies, where they vigorously asserted local and pro­
vincial interests. The local elite also began to acquire a smattering
of Western education and began to venture into new kinds of busi­
ness activities and to express new political ideas. Some advocated
vigorous anti-imperialist policies, others economic modernization, in
most instances with a strong local or provincial orientation.
In this fashion, the major elements of territorial integration vir­
tually disappeared. Confucianism, the major bastion of social inte­
gration, was also under attack. Confucian philosophy was incom­
patible with Western industrial civilization, but under the pressure
of militarily superior imperialist powers, Chinese literati in the mid­
nineteenth century were forced to borrow a few elements of West­
ern weaponry and technology in an attempt to give China the
strength to resist further Western encroachments. When that proved
inadequate, Confucian reformers declared that more thorough West­
ernization was acceptable as long as it was for expedient utilitarian
purposes only; they maintained, however, that Confucianism should
continue to be the source of Chinas basic values. When this adapta­
tion of Confucianism also proved too limiting, some reformers were
driven to claim that Confucianism, if properly understood, approved
of modernizing innovation, an argument tantamount to admitting
that Westernization was inevitable, as indeed it appeared to be by
the end of the nineteenth century. The termination of the civilservice system and its rewards at the beginning of the twentieth
century confirmed that impression, and demonstrated that Confu­
cian political philosophy and moral values were no longer the direct
path to political power; this change in policy also diminished the
appeal and relevance of Confucianism. By the early 1900s, a few
intellectuals had gone so far as to repudiate Confucianism, though
they represented only a minute portion of the Chinese elite. A larger

20

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number was reconciled to accepting some‘Western ways, but hoped
to preserve the Confucian core of Chinese civilization. Even before
this time, Chinese businessmen had adopted ^Western modes of
business, especially in the treaty ports, and after the turn of the cen­
tury there began to emerge a small group of professionals trained
along Western lines. Despite these portentous changes, however,
the basic moral and social values of Chinese life were still essentially
Confucian, and the bulk of the elite as well as the mass of the
peasantry were still committed to them. Thus, while territorial dis­
integration was far advanced, social disintegration had only begun.
The Revolution of 1911 greatly accelerated territorial disintegra­
tion. With the elimination of the monarchy, the last major check on
provincial autonomy disappeared, and warlordism emerged. Be­
tween 1916 and 1928, the struggle among independent militarists—
warlords—tore China into fragments, and the formal political ma­
chinery of the republic that had succeeded the monarchy—the
parliament, ministries, and so forth—became largely irrelevant to
the realities of Chinese political life. At the head of their personal
armies, the warlords dominated districts, provinces, and regions,
and warred with neighboring generals for additional territory and
revenues. The Chinese people, particularly the peasants, paid for
warlord anarchy with blood, possessions, and hope.
The establishment in 1912 of a Western-style republic, however,
opened the floodgates to new and larger waves of Western influence,
which further subverted traditional social integration. During the
early years of the republic, an increasing number of intellectuals
concluded that selective Westernization could never meet China’s
needs, and that the entire Confucian tradition would have to be
repudiated as irrelevant to the modern world. This view was espe­
cially convincing to ardently anti-imperialistic young Chinese who
had been educated in some measure along Western lines. In the
years after 1915 to the early 1920s—in what was called the May
Fourth Movement—these youngsters led a great national drive to
repudiate Confucianism, and they immersed themselves in an orgy
of Westernization. Yet the May Fourth Movement was above all an
intellectual one, centered in the cities and in the universities and
spread by periodicals and books. The intellectuals seized upon
many aspects of Western thought, some of which, however, were

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

21

incompatible with others. Out of this movement came converts to
Marxism, to anarchism, liberalism, and a host of other isms. The
May Fourth Movement signaled the coming of age of a new, West­
ernized intellectual elite, with deep internal divisions. The new
elite was not a functioning part of existing institutions, and it was
largely cut off from the peasant masses of China. Indeed, rural
China—the China of the peasants—was hardly touched by it, and
continued to live by its Confucian values and traditional institu­
tions. This dichotomy between the elite and the masses resulted in
acute social disintegration.
By the early 1920s, with central government a shambles, with
provincial and local independence backed by a welter of warlord
armies large and small, with the nation’s ethical and philosophical
guidelines in disarray and disrepute, and the intellectual elite intern­
ally divided and alienated from the Chinese peasantry, national dis­
integration could hardly have been more extreme.

Reintegration
In the midst of this disunity and turmoil, one thing was clear:
the reintegration of China required the destruction of warlord
power. But beyond that there was much disagreement; leading poli­
ticians and intellectuals held conflicting views about such basic is­
sues as the form of the next government, the role of the masses in
the nation’s political life, the goals of government policies, and the
rate and kind of Westernization needed.
In the early 1920s, two political parties arose to seek national
unity, and the power to realize their own respective visions of the
nation’s future. One was the Kuomintang, which traced its history
to the revolutionaries who fought to overthrow the Manchu Dy­
nasty.* It had declined in vigor since those days, but in 1924 it was
• Kuomintang is variously translated as the National Party, the National Peo­
ple’s Party, and in other ways, but most commonly the Nationalist Party. How­
ever, it is often not translated at all; the transliterated Chinese name has ac­
quired widespread currency throughout the world, and will be used here. One
great advantage of this practice is that it avoids the possibility of confusing
“nationalist” as a noun or adjective with the name of the party. The transliter-

22

China

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restructured as a disciplined, vibrant revolutionary organization.
The other was the Communist Party, established in 1921 by intel­
lectuals who had been moved by the Russian .Revolution and the
persuasiveness of Marxism-Leninism.
The two parties at first joined forces to destroy warlordism and
to establish a strong national government that could resist imperial­
ism and improve the lives of China’s millions. The coalition also
conducted a military campaign that successfully gained control of
most of China south of the Yangtze River. At that point, however,
internal contradictions split it asunder. Cooperation turned into hos­
tility, and the two parties began the civil war that would continue
sporadically until 1949. Nonetheless, Kuomintang General Chiang
Kai-shek continued the military expedition to achieve national uni­
fication. In 1928 the armies he led defeated the remaining northern
warlords. The Kuomintang declared the nation unified, and organ­
ized what was proclaimed to be a new national government for all
of China.
Chiang Kai-shek acknowledged that China badly needed an
“integrating force,” and he thought the Kuomintang represented
that force. In that he was wrong. The Kuomintang failed in its uni­
fying efforts, and it was left to the Communists to bring the nation
together again.
Chiang made some progress in integrating China territorially.
Although the provinces nominally accepted the establishment of the
new central government, the warlords after 1928 continued to rule
most of the provinces with high-handed independence. Nonetheless,
through military and political actions, Chiang did gradually reduce
their autonomy, so that by 1936 the national government’s writ had
at least limited effectiveness in most provinces. By that time, too,
Chiang had successfully forced the Communists out of regions in
central China, where for several years they had resisted government
campaigns against them, and driven them into the barren reaches
of the northwest. Chiang’s accomplishments in territorial integraated name of the Communist Party, Kungch’antang, is rarely used, though
during the Second World War the Communists briefly followed a policy of
using only the transliteration in English language news releases to put them­
selves in the same category as the Kuomintang—thereby avoiding some of the
unfavorable connotations that the English name had to American readers.

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

*3

tion were largely achieved by exacting political obedience through
military and political pressure, but he also undertook a number of
economic reforms. His government built some roads, unified the
national currency, improved banking facilities, and initiated other
measures of economic modernization. Presumably, the effects of
Chiang’s programs, and similar projects that would have come later,
would have ultimately filtered through the country, creating terri­
torial integration by means of greater communication and economic
cohesion and producing within the Chinese community changes
that would have finally facilitated social integration. But that re­
quired time, and time was short in China. In 1937 Japan invaded
the country, occupied northern China, the Yangtze Valley, and the
whole coastal region, and the Kuomintang’s modernization pro­
grams were disrupted and eventually brought to an end.
Under Chiang’s government, there were two Chinas: one was
the modern, semi-Westernized cities of the eastern coastal prov­
inces, inhabited by an urban elite of Westernized intellectuals, busi­
nessmen, merchants, professionals, and officials who had little con­
tact with life in the countryside; the other was rural China, un­
changed in its poverty, ignorance, and hardship, the helpless prey
of local officials, warlords, and the conservative local gentry. The
national elite was itself divided, and even that portion that accepted
Kuomintang leadership was not unified. It included old and new
militarists who were satisfied to rule by the gun; it included tradi­
tionalists who dreamed of restoring the past; and it included West­
ernized Chinese who lived and thought almost exclusively in the
Western fashion, somewhat like aliens in their own land. But it in­
cluded too few Chinese who had the capacity to apply modern con­
cepts and skills in a pragmatic fashion to solve Chinese problems in
a Chinese context. This elite was therefore completely unprepared
to meet the needs of China’s millions, to spur and inspire the peas­
ants to break with the old ways, institutions, and thoughts and to
work to create a new and modem nation.
Chiang not only failed to promote social integration, but his own
party and government were shot through with factionalism, corrup­
tion, and inefficiency. They ignored in practice the most progressive
aspects of the ideology they preached. Party and government per­
sonnel so abused their authority that their actions gave the lie to

*4

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Kuomintang ideology, which thus lost any power to persuade or
inspire China’s vast population.
Those who supported the Kuomintang inside and outside of
China often maintained that the efforts of Chiang and his party
during the prewar decade, 1927-1937, represented reasonable and
practicable moves in the direction of political and economic mod­
ernization, and would have produced national reintegration. That
may, indeed, be true. This book will not argue that the Commu­
nists offered the only possible route—the “inevitable” route—to
modernization and national integration. But whatever unifying po­
tential was inherent in the Kuomintang’s programs ended abruptly
when Japan invaded China in earnest in 1937. As we have noted,
the “threshold of integration” is difficult to define with precision,
but in any case the Kuomintang did not reach it. The Communists,
on the other hand, did. And here, too, the Japanese invasion was
critical, for it provided the opportunity—indeed, the necessity—for
new integrative alternatives to emerge.
During the anti-Japanese war, the Communists came to control
large territories behind Japanese lines in northern China. There
they mobilized the peasants along nationalist lines by effectively
fulfilling their urgent local needs. The Communists thereby gained
the confidence and support of the peasantry whose energies they
then channeled toward achieving nationalist and modernizing goals
—and victory over the Kuomintang.
One compelling need of the peasantry was defense. When the
Japanese invaded north China, central government troops and offi­
cials retreated, leaving the peasants defenseless. The Japanese oc­
cupied only the cities and lines of communication, not the country­
side. However, they repeatedly raided the rural areas and treated
the peasants with great cruelty. In response, the Communists orga­
nized local defense efforts and, indeed, complete local and regional
governments behind Japanese lines. These military and political
organizations fostered nationalistic and patriotic feelings of pride.
Under Communist guidance the peasant quickly came to under­
stand that the defense of his life, his family, and his village was part
of a larger defense of the Chinese people and nation as a whole. In
that fashion, vast numbers of peasants, by seeking to protect them-

National Integration and the Chinese Revolution

*5

selves and their villages, were swept into a larger national move­
ment of resistance.
At the same time, the Communists initiated political and eco­
nomic reforms that destroyed the traditional economic and political
power structures in the rural communities, and, in effect, began the
modernization of the peasantry. They gave the peasant honest gov­
ernment and reduced extortionate rent, taxes, and interest pay­
ments. Ultimately, they redistributed the land and properties of
landlords and organizations. New political institutions were created
that tied the peasants more closely to central governmental author­
ity and gave them a participatory role they never had before. There
was a surprisingly successful attempt to reduce or eliminate the
most oppressive aspects of the traditional rural social order, perhaps
best symbolized by the emancipation of women from their age-old
subservience. Communist education and propaganda stressed the
need for a new social order for the new Chinese nation.
In this way, the Communists organized a de facto state within a
de jure state they did not yet control; theirs was a cohesive, dy­
namic, modernizing enclave state in the midst of disintegrated, de­
moralized China. By the end of the war against Japan, the Commu­
nists governed almost 100 million people, perhaps a fifth of the
total population of China. Through Communist education and pro­
paganda, and especially through their own participation in a na­
tional endeavor, these millions acquired a new national spirit; mass
nationalism—modem nationalism—was bom in China. Somewhat
paradoxically, it was on the solid basis of this mass nationalism that
the Communists swept to victory over the “Nationalist” leader,
Chiang Kai-shek.
Whereas Chiang had expected economic modernization to pro­
duce territorial and, ultimately, social integration, the Communists
achieved a high level of social integration through social mobiliza­
tion and reform before they had much of an opportunity to under­
take economic modernization. That opportunity finally came when
the civil war ended in 1949 and the People’s Republic of China was
founded. The Communist government swiftly launched a compre­
hensive program of economic and technological development. At
the same time, educational and propaganda facilities were used in-

26

China

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D isintegration

tensively to cultivate in the Chinese people' throughout the country
a firm commitment to national development and power as con­
ceived by the Communist government. Many pew organizations
came into being, organizations for youth, labor, women, peasants,
students. Old associational ties and behavioral patterns were de­
stroyed and new bonds of national scope were strengthened. Fre­
quent “rectification campaigns” have served, among other things, to
reduce the gap between the elite and the masses which intense
technological modernization works to broaden. In these and other
ways, China has moved toward stronger and stronger territorial and
social integration. The process has not been smooth and unilinear,
but unquestionably China since 1949 has achieved an extent of na­
tional integration it has never known before.
This chapter has offered the most cursory sketch of China’s dis­
integration and reintegration. Now it is time to examine in more
detail one part of that process, the four decades of disintegration
that began with the birth of the republic from the 1911 Revolution.

II
The Birth of the Republic

I n t h e a u tu m n of 1911, a few soldiers in central China launched a

desperate revolt against the monarchy. Small in scope and lacking
effective leadership, their uprising appeared doomed. It was but a
puff when measured against the vast upheavals that had punctuated
China’s long history. Yet within a few short months the age-old
Chinese monarchy had disappeared, and a Chinese republic had
come into being. W hat lay behind these dramatic changes? What
did they augur for China?
Revolutionary hagiography and myth have long obscured the
Revolution of 1911. The Kuomintang has cultivated the notion that
the revolution was largely the work of Sun Yat-sen and his revolu­
tionary party, the precursor of the Kuomintang, fighting selflessly
for nationalism and democracy. This version of the revolt is an in­
complete and highly idealized view of history. The Revolution of
1911 was produced by the convergence of several historical currents
that flowed out of the nineteenth century. It is an oversimplification,
but basically true, to say that the erosion of Manchu legitimacy
fatally weakened the monarchy, so that only a mild push was neces­
sary to topple it; that the revolutionary movement provided the
push, and also the goal of a republican form of government; and
that autonomous provinces and independent armed forces deter­
mined the course of the revolution and the distribution of real
power after the dust had settled.
*7

28

China

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The Revolutionary Movement
v

After three years of sporadic violence, the British in 1842 de­
feated China in the Opium War and exacted certain commercial
concessions in the treaty that followed. That defeat was the first in
a long series suflFered by China at the hands of imperialist powers
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the first in a
network of one-sided agreements that the Chinese call the “unequal
treaties.” Each defeat persuaded more Chinese that governmental
reform was necessary. Immediately after the Opium War, in which
China was unable to defend itself against modem weapons, a hand­
ful of officials declared that China should build Western-style guns
and ships—but they were isolated voices. By the 1860s, a number
of leading officials had accepted the idea that China would have to
strengthen itself through limited borrowing from the West, particu­
larly for weapons but also for industry, communications, and organi­
zation. By the end of the century reformers were prepared to go
much further and adopt even Western political concepts, such as
parliamentary government. The Manchu Court countenanced some
modernization, particularly in the military field, but lagged far be­
hind what the most radical reformers advocated. A few Chinese
finally concluded that reform under the emperor was impossible, or
would come so slowly as to be too late. They decided that China
could save itself only by removing the Manchu rulers, and that
meant revolution.
Until 1900 the revolutionary movement was tiny and feeble. In
the years that immediately followed, however, it expanded with
rapidity as Chinese impotence in foreign afiFairs made drastic reme­
dies seem necessary. Ironically, it was the implementation by the
court of educational reforms in the early years of the twentieth
century that abetted this expansion. The reforms included the crea­
tion of Western-type schools in China and the dispatch of Chinese
abroad to study. The students who went to Europe, America, and
Japan learned how backward China was in some realms compared
with industrial nations. This honed their desire to change that state

The Birth of the Republic

*9

of affairs quickly, and led them increasingly to condemn the Manchus
for China’s retarded development.
By 1905 several small revolutionary organizations had come into
existence, and in that year most of them were brought together into
a single revolutionary organization led by Sun Yat-sen, the Tungmeng-hui. The name is variously translated, most often as Revolu­
tionary Alliance, Chinese League, or United League. Sun Yat-sen
did not share the gentry-intellectual background that was more or
less typical of the young intellectuals who made up the bulk of the
membership of the new organization. Bom in a peasant family in
Kwangtung, Sun left home as a boy to live with a brother in Hawaii,
where he was educated in Christian schools along Western lines. He
later studied medicine in a British school in Hong Kong. For several
years. Sun divided his interest between medicine and political re­
form, but finally rejected both for revolution. As his biographer
says. Sun became the country’s first professional revolutionary. He
founded his first revolutionary organization in 1895 and, with secret
society allies, launched an attack on Canton. It was a fiasco, but it
marked the beginning of Sun’s reputation as a revolutionary. Subse­
quent revolutionary activity—and the frantic Manchu reaction to
Sun—enhanced his reputation and largely accounted for the wel­
come accorded him when he arrived in Tokyo in 1905, where young
Chinese intellectuals had despaired of the nation’s salvation as long
as the Manchus mied in Peking. It was in this context that the
United League was organized in Tokyo, and though it embraced an
enormous diversity of views, ranging from anarchism to Buddhism,
it represented the mainstream of the revolutionary movement from
then until 1911.
The overriding goal of the league was to end Manchu mle in
China; all other declared political and social ends were completely
secondary. The revolutionaries claimed that the Manchu conquest
of China some three centuries earlier had been barbarous in its
cruelty, that the Manchus had discriminated against Chinese ever
since, and that racial inferiority rendered the Manchus incompetent
to deal with imperialist aggressions against China. By emphasizing
alleged racial differences between Manchus and Chinese, the rev­
olutionaries tried to marshal the full force of Chinese ethnocentrism

30

China

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against them. Moreover, the issue of race was one on which all the
revolutionaries could agree. The revolutionary camp was divided
by personalities, factions, regional differences, divergent political
views, and other factors, but everyone in it sought to overturn the
Manchu Dynasty. Unfortunately, by blaming the Manchus for all
of China’s troubles, the radicals avoided the hard necessity of ex­
amining Chinese social and political history to find the sources of
China’s weakness during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The revolutionaries also criticized the Manchus for unwilling­
ness to modernize. That criticism became less persuasive after the
turn of the century, however, when the court instituted a series of
reform measures designed to achieve precisely the kind of changes
the radicals had been demanding for years. The revolutionary camp
declared that the Manchu reforms were nothing but a smokescreen,
a cruel hoax on those Chinese who were foolish enough to believe
in them, and it demanded additional changes that the Manchus
simply could not accept. The United League sought a cluster of
interconnected goals, including the formation of a republic, na­
tional unity and military strength, and the establishment of equality
and freedom. The republic was the key. The revolutionaries held
that a republic was the most advanced form of government, and
that China should leap into the vanguard of history by adopting it.
To do otherwise, Sun Yat-sen often argued, would be the same as
building a railroad and using the earliest, most primitive type of
locomotive instead of the most modem engine. Moreover, a republic
would best assure democracy and freedom in China. Sun claimed
that elements of republican government had existed in the Chinese
past, and that some even persisted in aspects of local institutions. It
was only Manchu mle that had suppressed them and restricted their
growth; once the Manchus were driven out, China would provide
congenial soil for a republic. Furthermore, the creation of a republic
would assure China a vigorous, dynamic government that could
protect it in international affairs. The revolutionaries seldom tried
to show in specific detail how a republican government could with­
stand foreign incursions; it was an assumed consequence. The
League was not sharply antiforeign: its spokesman emphasized that
China would continue to observe its treaties with foreign powers
after the revolution.

The Birth of the Republic

31

The United League formulated another goal, social revolution,
but it was an objective so ill-defined and ambiguous that it was
clearly not a central aim. League writers espoused socialism as a
means of securing economic and social justice, but they did not spell
out what socialism meant or attempt to relate it to Chinese condi­
tions. The revolutionaries did not try to organize the peasant masses
or to orient their movement to the peasants’ needs. The official mani­
festo of the league called for the equalization of land ownership,
which was significant as one of the earliest attempts to relate the
revolutionary movement to the peasant question. Yet nothing was
done to analyze that relationship in any systematic fashion or to
implement the equal-ownership principle. In fact, when the league
was reorganized after the revolution as the Kuomintang, the equalownership principle was removed from the party’s platform.
A strong current of romanticism ran through the entire revolu­
tionary movement. Many of the young intellectuals were more pre­
occupied with the glamor and drama and heroism of a revolutionary
assault on the bastions of Manchu reaction than they were with the
study and planning required to define the problems, clarify revolu­
tionary goals, and ascertain effective methods to achieve them. Even
the top leaders of the league attempted little in the way of specific
plans for the republic they hoped to establish, or the transition to it.
In the long run, the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement
were more significant than its strengths. The founding of the United
League created a facade of unity, but in actuality the movement
was riven by factionalism, regionalism, and personal and ideological
disagreement. Personal conflict was intense and marked by gross
insults. Rampant provincialism further impaired the effectiveness
of the league; it was more like a loose union of provincial organi­
zations than a unified group of individuals, and party members
generally gave their first loyalty to provincial leaders, not to the
central party authorities. The provincial leaders often devised their
own plans for provincial activities, and implemented them without
concern for the league leadership. Central headquarters had little
staff, money, or authority. The revolutionaries sought to augment
their strength through alliances with secret societies, but these had
their own goals and methods and the alliances were rarely satisfac­
tory. Narrow anti-Manchuism provided the glue that held the revo-

3»

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lutionaries together, and there was nothing in the organization or
spirit of the movement that promised cohesion once the ManchuS
had been driven from the scene.
The number of committed revolutionaries was not large. Al­
though the records that could reveal the total membership of the
league have been lost, reconstruction frQm partial statistics indicates
that the organization may have had a membership of only about
10,000 by the time of the 1911 Revolution.1 A large percentage of
its members, however, consisted of overseas Chinese who provided
moral and financial support from the safety of other countries. Some
1,400 to 1,500 were in the United States alone: others lived in vari­
ous cities in Japan and Southeast Asia. Moreover, by 1911 a sub­
stantial portion of the membership consisted of soldiers and other
uneducated people who looked to the intellectuals for leadership.
Probably no more than 3,000 were intellectuals, and no more than a
few hundred of these constituted a nucleus of activists who kept the
organization together and planned and implemented its operations.
Of course, the power and influence of a group, particularly a revolu­
tionary group, is not necessarily directly proportional to its numbers.
But numbers are nevertheless important. Certainly they were in
China, where the revolution, once it started, would assume such a
diffuse character. Given its size and its weaknesses, the revolution­
ary movement would probably have been far less influential than it
was had it not operated in the context of diminishing Manchu
authority.

The Erosion of Manchu Legitim acy
In the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the first
decade of the twentieth, a host of factors brought Manchu legiti­
macy into question. The alien origins of the Manchus now came
back to haunt them. The Manchus had come to China in the seven­
teenth century as barbarian invaders from the region now called
Manchuria. Partly sinified even then, after the conquest they
adopted Chinese culture in full, and ruled in the Chinese way. In­
deed, they became staunch defenders of the Confucian order, and
Chinese hostility toward them was muted as long as that order was

The Birth of the Republic

33

sacrosanct. By the late nineteenth century, as Confucian political
ideas came increasingly under attack, the rationalization for the
Manchu position in China was inevitably undermined. After the
turn of the century, revolutionary propaganda encouraged Chinese
to think of the Manchus as an inferior race that conquered China by
cruel force, as merciless rapists of their country, and as their tyran­
nical oppressors for nearly three centuries.
The Manchus also had to bear the chief responsibility for Chinas
impotence vis-à-vis foreign imperialism. Their defenders might
argue that because the Manchus ruled in accordance with Chinese
values and through Chinese political institutions, China’s weak­
nesses were inherent in the Chinese system and were not created by
Manchu rule. But blame is a corollary of power, and as long as the
Manchus sat on the throne in Peking they were blamed for China’s
defeats. If they could not defend the country against foreign attack
or encroachments, they had failed in their most fundamental duty
as rulers, and no longer deserved to rule. The Japanese victory over
China only made the antagonism toward the Manchus more acute.
The Chinese had, of course, resented Western exploitation from the
outset, but the strangeness of it, the exotic quality of Western tech­
nological and organizational superiority, made the relative impo­
tence of the Chinese somehow understandable and acceptable. But
when China in 1895 and Russia in 1905 were humbled by an Asian
neighbor who had adopted Chinese arts, writing, and philosophy,
and whom the Chinese had always viewed with patronizing superi­
ority, the Manchu failure seemed more abysmal in contrast with the
Japanese achievement.
The right to rule was also slipping from Manchu hands in a
traditional sense. In the Confucian scheme of things, the monarch’s
authority was justified by the happiness and prosperity of the peo­
ple. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however,
economic distress was endemic and social violence was on the rise.
In the three years preceding the 1911 Revolution, high taxes, food
shortages, and misgovemment sparked hundreds of violent out­
breaks, particularly in the Yangtze Valley. In the spring of 1910
large-scale battles took place between clans in Kwangtung; looting,
kidnapping, and robbery were widespread in the provinces; and a
Canton newspaper reported that murder was “almost a pastime.” In
the summer of the same year, the rapacity of officials in Shantung

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engendered a revolt in which the magistratë was killed and roughly
100,000 people fought with government troops. Such outbreaks
threatened the monarchy directly; they also strengthened the no­
tion that the Manchu government had simply lost the capacity to
deal with the problems of China.
The shortcomings of Manchu leadership became even more con­
spicuous after the deaths of the Empress Dowager and the Emperor
in 1908. A child was left on the throne, under a regent who was
generally considered to be a mediocrity—perhaps an unduly harsh
judgment. Given the domestic and international pressures within
which the government had to operate, the wonder is that the Ch’ing
Court achieved as much as it did in asserting Chinese sovereignty
against foreign powers and in promoting reform. But the Manchus
could not win; every measure taken to improve the nation’s position
seemed also to undercut their power. The Manchus sent students
abroad to study, but the students promptly became radicalized. The
government promoted military modernization, but that only created
stronger provincial military establishments to challenge the central
government. The court stimulated the growth of Chinese national­
ism by wielding the concept of national sovereignty in diplomatic
struggles, but nationalistic intellectuals were increasingly effective
in stamping the Manchus as being outside the national pale.
Of all the policies that boomeranged against the Manchus, the
most important were the constitutional reforms. Shortly after the
turn of the century, a demand arose that the court institute a con­
stitutional system of government with representative organs. The
Manchus acquiesced, guided by their own inadequacies and by the
apparent success of the Japanese monarchy in fostering a constitu­
tion that allowed for representation while protecting its own pre­
rogatives. In 1907 the court announced that constitutional govern­
ment would be gradually introduced during the following nine
years. The first stage occurred in 1908 when it authorized elected
provincial assemblies through which the advice of the local gentry
could be made available to the government.
The gentry assemblymen quickly showed themselves to be sur­
prisingly effective parliamentarians, and the assemblies became po­
tent centers of provincial strength. Although their powers were to
be advisory only, they immediately began to assume legislative
functions. Under threat of mass resignation, the gentry insisted that

The Birth of the Republic

35

provincial governors accept assembly recommendations and act
upon them. The popular sovereignty inherent in the elected charac­
ter of the assemblies tended to usurp the legitimacy of the monarch
as expressed in the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. The Man­
date of Heaven was supposed to be revealed through the welfare of
the people. But the people presumably now spoke through elections,
which constituted a more direct, specific, and formal mandate than
that claimed by the court. The provincial assemblies thus under­
mined Manchu legitimacy and at the same time became centers of
gentry power.

Growth of Provincial Autonomy
The growth of provincial autonomy was less important as a
proximate cause of the 1911 Revolution than it was in determining
the course and consequences of the revolt once it began. It was
rooted in popular feeling, in geography and economics, and in the
structure of Ch’ing government.
Strong local, provincial, and regional feelings have flourished
throughout Chinese history. They might be conceived as three con­
centric circles, with localism in the center, and with loyalties and
attachments diminishing in intensity from the center to the periph­
ery. As we have already noted, a cluster of villages formed the basic
unit of rural life, and each person had a particular feeling for his
native village and surrounding locality.
People were also strongly aware of their provincial identity. The
Chinese traditionally accepted a whole lexicon of alleged provincial
characteristics: the Hunanese were fiery, and superb warriors; the
resident of Kwangtung was quick and crafty; the Chihli (Hopei)
peasant was frank, stolid, and cheerful. These stereotypes reflected
provincial differences in customs, diet, history, institutions, and at­
titudes. Linguistic differences also separated provinces from one an­
other. Many provincial boundaries were determined by topographi­
cal features that embraced natural regions, thus emphasizing their
separate identities.
Local and provincial identities fell within a larger and looser
circle of regionalism. People thought of themselves as southerners

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or northerners or southeastemers as distinct from southwestemers,
and so on. The chief-regional distinction was between southerners
and northerners, and it was associated with alleged social, political,
intellectual, and behavioral differences.
Regionalism also had an economic dimension, particularly in
connection with military power. In prfemodem China, regional re­
sources—the resources of a large and wealthy province, or of two
or three provinces—might well compare with those that the central
government could effectively tap. The size of the country was too
vast, geographic obstacles too formidable, transportation too expen­
sive, and provincial elites too jealous of their own power and pos­
sessions to permit the central government to obtain more than a
limited portion of provincial revenues. One economist has recently
argued persuasively that premodem economic forces in China far
vored regionalism rather than centralized power, “and that only
conditions outside economics prevented a breakup of China.”2
In the Ch mg bureaucracy, the authority of the viceroys faintly
reflected this regionalism in the sense that a viceroy normally
headed two provinces. (Occasionally, he represented one particu­
larly important province, rarely three.) The viceroy stood at the
head of two provincial political structures, however, not one re­
gional organization. In the late Ch’ing period the viceroy tended to
act primarily as governor of the province in which his headquarters
were located—a province, not a region, being the key political unit.
Tension of one sort or another always existed between the provinces
and the central government; a strong ruler tried to tie the provinces
more closely to the court, and the provinces assumed more inde­
pendence when the ruler was weak. Even under a powerful mon­
arch, though, the traditional organization of the state recognized the
unique sociological, geographical, and economic identity of the
provinces by according them substantial autonomy.
Under a series of weak monarchs, the accretion of provincial
power over a long time could reach a point where regional clusters
of provinces might coalesce to challenge the dynasty itself. But that
was normally a late development in the life of a dynasty. In its early
stages, provincialism did not signify a conspiracy to overthrow the
monarchy as much ais a strong tendency for independent action in
provincial affairs, and a reluctance to brook interference from the
court. Just such trends appeared in the late Ch mg period.

The Birth of the Republic

37

In the 1850s the great Taiping Rebellion exploded across cen­
tral China. The Manchu military establishment had long before
shown its incompetence to deal with even small-scale rebellion, and
was utterly useless in the face of this huge movement. As a conse­
quence, leading provincial officials assumed the task of defending
the dynasty—and the traditional Confucian social order—against
the heterodox Taipings. Tseng Kuo-fan, Li Hung-chang, and other
provincial leaders created new and relatively efficient armies that
ultimately quelled the Taiping Rebellion and the disorders that
arose in its wake. These armies were recruited regionally and fi­
nanced with regional sources of revenue. They were organized to be
loyal to their commanders, who also created personal political or­
ganizations to protect and assert their newfound power.
The regional army leaders used their armies on behalf of the
monarchy. More than that, they were personally subject to the
authority of the monarchy. (The political-military machines they
created did not flourish into the twentieth century and then over­
throw the monarchy, as is sometimes suggested. ) Nonetheless, they
accumulated enormous practical independence. The normal balance
between provinces and center was tipped in favor of the provinces,
and the central government was never able to restore it. This slip­
page of central authority was particularly noteworthy in the key
areas of finance and military.
In the best of times, the fiscal structure of the empire was ex­
tremely decentralized, with collection and control of revenue largely
in provincial hands, although subject to central authority. But when
the court was weakened or on the defensive, provinces could easily
thwart central financial control. During his campaigns against the
Taiping rebels in the 1850s and 1860s, Tseng Kuo-fan created his
own, virtually independent, financial organization. It was at that
time that likin, a tax on goods in transit, came into existence. From
then until well into the twentieth century, it would provide the
provinces additional financial muscle. By the end of the nineteenth
century, a leading reformer could lament that “the power of finan­
cial control is now vested not with the central government but with
the provincial authorities. . . . The Board of Revenue exerts no
direct [financial] control over the nation.”3
Similarly, the nation s military strength remained largely under
the control of provincial officials, which was one source of China’s

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weakness in the Sino-Japanese War. An American scholar, John
Rawlinson, reports that the captain of a Chinese ship captured by
the enemy asked the Japanese commander to allow him to keep his
ship on the ground that it belonged to the Kwangtung provincial
squadron, which had taken no part in the war. Japan’s victory in
the war prompted the Chinese Court to initiate a program of mili­
tary modernization. A high-ranking officer, Yuan Shih-k’ai, was
ordered to organize an army along Western lines, and arm it and
train it in the Western fashion. Yuan immediately undertook the
task, and swiftly created the most modem military establishment in
China. Known as the Peiyang Army, it expanded during the last
years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth
to become the most powerful single force in the country. However,
this added power for the central government was offset by the fact
that the provinces were simultaneously increasing their military
might.
As part of its program of military modernization, the court
ordered all provinces to establish military academies and to train
their officers and troops according to foreign methods. The mon­
archy tried to control these innovations through central government
representatives in the provinces, but they were never more than
visitors, and could not gain substantive control over provincial mili­
tary affairs. Thus, the monarchy achieved little in the way of re­
ducing provincial political and military powers. The importance of
provincial military expansion lay not only in its effect on relations
between the provinces and the court, but also in its impact inside
the provinces: provincial military organizations acquired increasing
clout in provincial politics.
We referred briefly in the first chapter to the dominant role of
the gentry in local and provincial politics. Though widely used,
the term "gentry” is somewhat confusing and inappropriate for
China; there is some dispute about what it precisely denotes when
applied to traditional China, although there is general agreement
that a Confucian education, as marked by examination success, was
a central qualification. But whatever the former situation, by the
early 1900s the impact of modernizing trends was broadening the
nature of the gentry. Not only Confucian learning but Western
learning as well qualified one for elite status, particularly after the

The Birth of the Republic

39

abolition of the examination system in 1905. Further, the establish­
ment of Western-style economic enterprises—mines and industries,
railroads, banks, modern shipping firms, and similar commercial
ventures—produced the nucleus of a new bourgeoisie that took its
place in the provincial elite. Provincial military leaders also played
a part. Thus, by the last decade of the Ch’ing period, local gentry
had come to include those who controlled wealth, troops, new learn­
ing, businesses and business organizations such as chambers of
commerce, and professional men; the weight of traditional scholar­
ship and examination status had declined, although it was by no
means insignificant by 1911.
As noted earlier, the gentry had functioned in a dual capacity,
as a spokesman for local interests and as an unofficial agency of
the bureaucracy. By the early twentieth century, as Manchu legiti­
macy and power waned, members of the new gentry became less
amenable to official control and asserted themselves more vigorously
as local and provincial leaders, explicitly or implicitly in opposition
to the central government. It was their thrust for independence that
made a constitutional system of government attractive to many of
the gentry in the early twentieth century, for it seemed to offer a
means of legitimizing provincial autonomy. Consequently, they wel­
comed the Manchu constitutional reforms launched in 1907, and
they promptly transformed the new provincial advisory assemblies
into centers of provincial authority, which became the chief agen­
cies of provincial interests in conflict with the central government.
Many a conflict there proved to be, and none more acrimonious than
the railroad issue.
The question of railroad construction exacerbated the tensions
between provincial and central interests in the early twentieth
century. Regional officials had originally taken the lead in building
railroads, and early in the century the gentry in several provinces
organized railway societies to undertake the construction of pro­
vincial lines. The central government understandably sought a cen­
tralized railway system. It therefore planned to obtain money
through a foreign loan in order to create a national network of
railroads and buy up the provincial rail investments. The provinces
involved became agitated over the courts plan because they saw it
as a threat to provincial interests and their own investments, and

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because they felt the court’s dependence on’a foreign loan would
open the door further to foreign encroachments on China’s sover­
eignty. Nowhere was opposition more vigorous than in the province
of Szechwan, where the problem was compounded by the fact that
a portion of the money raised for railroad construction had been
lost through corrupt and incompetent management. In the spring
of 1911, when the Manchu Court announced the nationalization of
the railways, widespread disturbances erupted in Szechwan. Finally,
in the late summer, the court sent troops into the province. In a
sense, this confrontation was the beginning of the 1911 Revolution.
In sum, by the eve of the 1911 Revolution, the provinces had
drained substantial military, political, and financial power from the
central government, had asserted themselves politically against the
court through the provincial assemblies, and in the process had
emphasized the legitimacy of provincial power. The monarchy was
not entirely without authority or influence. It was more than a
facade concealing the reality of provincial independence. But per­
haps not a great deal more.

The W uhan Revolution, 1911*
On October 9, 1911, several revolutionaries were preparing ex­
plosives in a basement hideaway located in the Russian section of
Wuchang. They accidentally exploded a bomb, and a police officer
rushed to investigate. Among other things, the officer found a list
of members of the Wuchang revolutionary organization. The follow­
ing day, authorities began to arrest revolutionaries and those sus­
pected of revolutionary inclinations. The rebels therefore decided it
would be better to revolt immediately than to await certain arrest,
and they launched an uprising that evening by seizing control of an
army camp in Wuchang. The Manchu governor and army com­
mander of Hupei Province both fled, leaving the antirevolutionary
forces without leadership. As a result, Wuchang was in the hands of
* Wuhan is the collective name for the cluster of three cities: Wuchang, Han­
yang, and Hankow. The 1911 Revolution is often called the Wuhan Revolu­
tion.

The Birth of the Republic

41

the revolutionaries by the following morning. The Revolution of
1911 had begun.
It was not an auspicious beginning. Despite the flight of the two
government leaders, most of the armed forces in Wuchang remained
loyal, at least for the moment. The core of the rebel group consisted
of little-known soldiers, most of low rank and reluctant to lead the
revolution. They had only the most tenuous ties with Sun Yat-sen’s
United League, and, in any event, none of the league leaders was on
the scene. The revolutionaries decided to force Li Yuan-hung, a
well-known colonel in the imperial army, to serve as their leader. Li
had absolutely no inclination to revolt, but accepted the leader­
ship as an alternative to being shot, and it was over his name that
the first proclamations of the revolution went out to the rest of the
country on October 12.
The revolutionary call elicited no response for little more than
a week, while the country waited to see what would happen. Then,
in rapid succession, the provinces responded sympathetically. The
revolution took place in the form of provincial declarations of in­
dependence from Peking. In essence, one province after another
seceded from the central government. Hupei started the ball rolling
by its proclamation on October 12; and the provinces carried it in
the following order: Shensi and Hunan, October 22; Kiangsi,
October 24; Shansi, October 29; Yunnan, October 30; Kweichow,
Chekiang, and Kiangsu, November 4; Kwangsi, November 7;
Anhwei, November 8; Fukien and Kwangtung, November 9; Shan­
tung, November 13; and Szechwan, November 22. Except for
outlying territories not centrally involved in Chinese political strug­
gles (Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria) and two distant border prov­
inces (Sinkiang, Kansu) only two of China’s central provinces re­
mained in the imperial camp: the metropolitan province of Chihli,
and its neighbor Honan.
Immediately after the outbreak of the revolt in early October,
the court summoned Yuan Shih-k’ai to lead the Peiyang Army
against the rebellion. Yuan delayed, and set conditions for his re­
turn to office, until in desperation the Manchu Court gave him vir­
tually full powers to handle the situation as he saw fit. And as Yuan
saw it, it was time to negotiate with the revolutionaries. They will-

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ingly offered him the presidency of the new republic if he would
abandon the Manchu cause. Their offer foreshadowed the arrange­
ment that was finally made. On February 12, Í912, a Manchu decree
of abdication was published, and a month later Yuan Shih-k’ai was
inaugurated as President of the Chinese Republic.
It is natural that Chinese and foreigners alike think of these
events as the fruit of the propaganda and conspiracy of the United
League. The league was the best known of the revolutionary orga­
nizations at that time, and historians associated with the Kuomin­
tang—the successor of the United League—have long looked upon
the 1911 Revolution as “their” revolution; for example, they re­
vised the Chinese calendar to date from 1912. Yet in fact the league
was only one of a broad range of groups and individuals who were
involved in bringing the Manchu Dynasty to an end, and in some
ways not the most important. Many people besides revolutionaries
were involved in effecting the change of government, and their ac­
tions generally served three goals: (1) to end the rule of the Manchus; (2) to retain a large measure of provincial autonomy; and
(3) to assure that no radical changes occurred in property rights,
class relations, or in local and provincial power structures.
The driving force behind the spread of revolution throughout
China in the autumn of 1911 was not a desire for a republic, and
certainly not a desire for social revolution. It was simple opposition
to continued rule by the Manchus on racial, nationalistic, and prac­
tical grounds. Some radical intellectuals had more far-reaching and
multiple goals, of course, but the radicals did not provide the chief
force of the revolution. The Manchus were overthrown because
their legitimacy had been so eroded that many people who were
not members of the United League or of any other revolutionary
organization thought that the monarchy had run its course. More­
over, many of those who were revolutionaries also thought almost
exclusively in terms of ousting the Manchus, giving only token
attention to what would follow. This lone objective was certainly
the motivation of those who originally launched the revolution at
Wuchang, and it explains partly their forcing Li Yuan-hung to be­
come a revolutionary leader, the last thing he wanted to do. Li was
selected for two reasons. First, he was of high rank and fairly well
known, and the revolutionaries thought the public would respond

The Birth of the Republic

43

more sympathetically to the revolution if such a person were at its
head. Second, Li was Chinese, a member of the Han race, an im­
portant qualification for any revolutionary leader precisely because
the revolt so specifically focused on the alien origins of the Manchus.
If the aims of the revolutionaries had been more sweeping, Li would
not have been considered suitable.
The anti-Manchu emphasis of the revolution was widely recog­
nized at the time. American diplomats in China reported that
hostility to the dynasty was almost universal among the Chinese,
and that even many Chinese officials sympathized with the revolu­
tionary movement. They sympathized with it because they saw it
as designed to achieve little more than the overthrow of the Man­
chus, a point on which many individuals and groups with diverse in­
terests and views were able to come together. An American financier
in China at that time aptly summarized the causes of the revolution
by saying that “the hatred of the Manchus is the common denomi­
nator of many different numerators.”4 Indeed, even after the revolu­
tion had been going on for two months, the revolutionary head­
quarters at Wuhan acknowledged that anti-Manchuism took priority
over republicanism by offering to accept a constitutional monarchy
as long as the ruler was Chinese.
However, though opposition to the Manchus was primary, it
had an inherent republican logic that emerged very clearly once
the revolution had begun. A republic was the only practicable al­
ternative to Manchu rule. What other options existed? Theoretically,
a new dynasty might be set up, but who would rule and under what
circumstances? There was no acceptable candidate to found a new
dynasty, with the possible exception of Yuan Shih-k’ai, and he was
in no position to do so. In the absence of any contender for the
monarchy, the only available alternative was that which had been
defined by years of revolutionary propaganda and agitation, a re­
public. Yuan Shih-kai’s assumption of the presidency seemed to
guarantee that it would not be socially radical. Moreover, even con­
servative Chinese had come to accept the need for Westernization
in China, and a Western form of government was not inappropriate,
particularly a form identified with highly admired Western nations.
More important, everyone feared foreign intervention if disorder
was prolonged, so many constitutionalists and others who had not

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advocated a republic were pressured to accept it, if only to settle
matters swiftly.*
There was still a more vital reason to turn to a republic as an
alternative to the Manchus. A republic, as understood—or mis­
understood—by the Chinese, offered a high degree of provincial
autonomy, a crucial point to those who enjoyed and profited from
the semi-independence that the provinces had acquired over the
preceding four or five decades. The prevailing view in Shansi in
December, 1911, when the form of national government was still
under debate, illustrates the position of the provinces. Shansi was
prepared to accept any reasonable solution, including constitutional
monarchy, but: “The essential point is that local autonomy, to the
extent recognized in modem constitutional government, shall be
guaranteed . . . members of the [provincial] government are quite
indifferent as to who occupies the Throne . . . as this will have little
connection, under the new proposed form of government, with their
local affairs.”6 This view was held even more firmly at the other end
of the empire, in Kwangtung, where the “general idea among the
thinking Chinese” was “to inaugurate a government on the system
of the American republic and that the provinces . . . shall be, within
certain limits, independent of the control of the Central Govern­
ment. Others hope, on the contrary, that each province will be given
a republic absolutely independent of the others.”7 The revolution
is sometimes said to have started several months earlier than the
Wuhan revolt, when the Szechwanese rose up in violent protest
* The intense fear of foreign intervention hung over all the activities of the
Revolution of 1911. It was not an idle fear. Not only did the Chinese have the
entire background of imperialism in China to prompt their concern, but for­
eign powers did, in fact, intervene on a number of occasions. In November
and December of 1911, the American minister to China sent repeated mes­
sages to the Secretary of State emphasizing Yuan Shih-k’ai’s need for money
and the desirability of the department’s supporting a loan to Yuan. In Decem­
ber, 1911, representatives of the United States, France, Germany, Great Brit­
ain, Japan, and Russia presented identical notes to the commissioners at
Shanghai which said, in essence, that the powers considered the Chinese
struggle to affect seriously the material interests and security of foreigners, and
thus, though they wanted to maintain an attitude of neutrality, they wished to
stress the need to arrive at a settlement as quickly as possible. In mid-January,
1912, the French minister to China visited Prince Ch’ing to urge Manchu ab­
dication. At the same time, Russia pressured China to acknowledge the inde­
pendence of Mongolia, and England denied the Chinese the right to intervene
in the inte