HIS102Y1 Study Guide - Revive China Society, Kang Youwei, Yuan Shikai
Sun Yatsen (Career to 1912)
1. Early influences
Taipings: Sun was born in 1866 near Canton (in the part of China
were the West had been present the longest). This was just after the
final defeat of the Taipings. Hsu suggests that the Taiping Rebellion
was an inspiration to Sun.
The West and Christianity: In 1879 (aged 13) Sun went to Honolulu
to join his brother. He entered a missionary school, and later went
on to Hong Kong. He thus had elements of a Western education, and
also became a Christian.
Both Honolulu and Hong Kong brought home to Sun the contrast
between their prosperity and orderliness and China’s poverty and
backwardness. Honolulu also brought the idea of democracy and the
need for a strong sense of nationalism.
Qing weakness: Hsu says it was China’s defeat by France in 1885
which first turned Sun towards revolution. Sun graduated as a
doctor and began practising in 1892. But his revolutionary activities
had already begun.
Sun had still not turned his back completely on the prospect of
reform rather than revolution. In 1894 he sought an interview with Li
Hongzhang, who didn’t want to see him. This, together with China's
defeat by Japan decided Sun finally for revolution.
2.Early Revolutionary Attempts.
Revive China Society: In 1894 Sun established the “Revive China
Society”. In 1895 Sun attempted an uprising in Canton, even though
his society did not have many members. The plot was discovered by
the police, 48 rebels lost their lives and Sun fled to Hong Kong, and
then to Japan.
Wandering: In the next 5 years Sun struggled to gain much support.
Sun travelled to Honolulu, London and then returned to Japan. In
London in 1896, Sun was “kidnapped” inside the Chinese Embassy.
The British Government insisted upon his release. The episode
brought Sun some welcome publicity. Sun spent most of this period
in Japan, seeking support from overseas Chinese. Sun found it
difficult to make much headway. He also had a rival in Kang Youwei
who, after he fled China in 1898, also sought support for his idea of
a reformed monarchy.
Nevertheless, during these difficult years, Sun began to develop his
philosophy of the “Three People’s Principles” : Democracy,
Nationalism and People’s Livelihood.
Boxer Rebellion: The Boxer Rebellion was something of a turning
point for Sun. It caused considerable disillusionment with the Qing
Dynasty and Sun began to receive more support. Others also began
to organize revolutionary societies. Sun travelled widely, gaining
support amongst overseas Chinese, especially students.
3.To the Revolution
a) In 1905 Sun and others established the “Chinese United League”
or Tong Menghui. The purpose of this organization was to co-
ordinate the activities of the various revolutionary groups. The
Three People’s Principles were (at least in theory) the philosophy
of the Tong Menghui. Branches of the organization were
established in China, as well as around the world.
b) Hsu describes the founding of the Tong Menghui as “a milestone
in the Chinese revolution”. It won greater support for the
revolution, for it was “multiprovincial and multiclass”.
c) Revolutionary uprisings became more frequent. There were 8
uprisings between 1906 and 1911. The last, in April 1911, in
Canton produced the “seventy-two martyrs” – many being
recently returned students from Japan.
d) When the revolution broke out, following the “Double Tenth” Sun
was in the USA. In December 1911, in Shanghai, Sun was elected
by provincial delegates to be provisional President of the
Republic of China.
e) However, Yuan Shikai had played a key role in the revolution and
had significant military power, whereas Sun had little. Sun was
prepared to do a deal with Yuan. Sun agreed to step down as
provisional President and hand the post to Yuan Shikai, but Yuan
had to agree to 3 conditions:
i. Nanjing would remain the capital
ii. Yuan would go to Nanjing (the point being that the
revolutionaries were strong in the south whereas Yuan’s
power base was in the north).
iii. Yuan would respect the provisional constitution to be drawn
up by the provisional government.
Sun later became known as “Father of the Chinese Revolution”. The
obvious question to ask is what had he personally contributed.
Naturally historians do not all agree as to his significance:
a) Grasso, Corrin and Kort suggest that one “major contribution” of
Sun was his ability to raise money from Chinese living overseas,
which helped fund the revolution. Sun’s fame (after 1895), his
persistence and his sincerity gave him credibility.
b) Sun provided a “philosophy” for the Revolution – the Three
People’s Principles, which was adopted by the Tong Meng Hui.
These principles were pretty well worked out by 1905 and they
Nationalism: This meant both getting rid of the Manchus, a foreign
dynasty, and ending foreign imperialism in China.
Democracy: Sun did not think it realistic for China simply to become
a democracy overnight. He proposed that there be a period of
“tutelage” (being taught) during which the Chinese people would be
educated in the ways of democracy. But it is not clear that Sun
eventually had in mind a western-style multi-party system.
People’s Livelihood: This was the vaguest principle of all. It meant
improving the welfare of the people, and appeared to imply some
sort of redistribution of land – but it was very ambiguous.
But if Sun is thus credited with providing a “philosophy” for the
revolution, one has to question how many other revolutionary
groups really subscribed to it fully. Moreover, a philosophy is not the
same as a plan – it was all very general and not a “blueprint” for
government. It was not even carried out when the GMD held power.
c) Sun helped to organize groups against the dynasty. In particular,
he was President of the Tong Meng Hui, which was the most
effective revolutionary grouping, and can claim some credit for
contributing to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. But how
important was Sun’s role in the organization? Jack Gray is
dismissive of both. He says the role of the Tong Meng Hui “was
shadowy…and Sun’s role as leader was even more obscure.”
Gray thinks the most effective leader of the organization was the
Hunanese revolutionary Huang Xing. Gray also points out about
Sun’s many attempted revolts that they “were all failures”.
Fairbank also believes the Tong Meng Hui had limited success
“The Alliance program began to peter out and fragment,
renouncing Sun’s leadership” (this is after 1908).
d) Sun was a symbol of opposition to the Manchus. He was totally
consistent in this after 1895 (unlike Kang Youwei and Liang
Qichao who wanted a constitutional monarchy). Sun was a full-
time revolutionary who had dedicated his life to the overthrow of
the Manchus. He was sincere, determined and persistent – after
all, the revolution came 16 years after his first attempted revolt.
e) One could argue that it was a mark of his “success” and
recognition of his stature that caused him to be elected the first
“Provisional President”. Conversely, it was a mark of his military
weakness that he had to step down in favour of Yuan Shikai.
Sun’s military weakness and organizational problems were to be
persistent themes of the next decade.