HIS102Y1 Study Guide - Liang Qichao, Puyi, Sun Yat-Sen
Events leading to the Revolution of 1911/12
1. Qing Reforms
The prime motive behind the program was not a genuine desire for reform
but the desire to avert revolution. Less reform was actually carried out
than promised and meanwhile, under the guise of reform, some policies
were being developed which had nothing to do with “reform” but were an
attempt to regain and increase power by the central Government:
a) A programme of trying to ‘regain’ power for the centre in the face of
the rising power of the provinces
b) A pro-Manchu and anti-Chinese policy, indicating the growing mistrust
between the two.
In 1905, to the astonishment of much of the world, Japan defeated Russia
in war. Some in China attributed this in part to the fact that Japan had a
written Constitution whereas Russia did not. Hence the growing call for a
“Constitutional monarchy” in China. A key activist in this movement was
Liang Qichao, ex-colleague of Kang Yuwei in the 1898 Reforms.
However, the Empress Dowager had no genuine desire to introduce a
Constitution. In 1908 she issued an “Outline of a Constitution” which
promised actual implementation nine years later! (The way in which Japan
had prepared for a Constitution could be used as a pretext for this delay.)
Cixi died in the same year, being preceded by Emperor Guagxu by one
day. Cixi chose as the new Emperor a small child – Pu Yi – whilst his father
Prince Chun became Regent. This all represented a weakening of the
Pu Yi – the ‘Last Emperor’
Moreover, Prince Chun’s Government allowed the formation of Provincial
Assemblies in 1909, which were only likely to help further generate
hostility to the Manchus. On the other hand, Chun followed an
aggressively pro-Manchu policy.
Part of the background to the final decade of the Qing Dynasty is the
growing revolutionary movement. The name inescapably associated with
this is Dr. Sun Yatsen. Sun had been a fugitive from China ever since the
complete failure of his first attempt at reform in 1895. Sun travelled the
world seeking funds and support for revolution. What distinguished him
from others such as Kang Yuwei (who continued to support the Emperor
Guangxu unitl 1908) was Sun’s clear position that the dynasty needed to
During the period before the revolution, Sun developed his political
“philosophy” – the 3 People’s Principles:
People’s Livelihood – improvement of the welfare of the people (vaguest of
Nationalism – overthrow of the Manchus as an alien dynasty and liberation
from foreign imperialism
Democracy – to be established after a period of tutelage, in which the
people learned Democracy.
Sun won considerably more support in China after the Boxer Rebellion.
There were many different revolutionary groups and in 1905 Sun
established the Tong Menghui (China United League) – an “umbrella”
organization comprising several groups. Hsu argues that this was “a
milestone in the Chinese revolution”. For the first time it “provided a
unified central organization…which served as a rallying point for all
revolutionary and progressive forces in the country”. Gray, however,
describes the Tong Meng Hui as “shadowy” and adds that “Sun’s role as
leader was even more obscure”.
The revolutionary groups promoted uprisings against the Government – of
which there were several in the period after 1906. The last of these in April
1911, designed to capture Canton, produced “72 martyrs”.
Indeed, all of these uprisings, promoted by Sun and others, “failed” and
usually resulted in fatal consequences for the participants. However, it
could be argued that the persistence of efforts at rebellion, and the
creation of martyrs, helped to increase support for the revolution.
It is a mark of how much Sun had come to be identified as the leading
revolutionary against the Qing Dynasty that he was elected Provisional
President of China, once the revolution broke out.
‘Provisional President’ Yuan Shikai