Collapse of the Chinese Empire | Xinhai Revolution | History of China

Collapse of the Chinese Empire | Xinhai Revolution | History of China


As we have seen the past couple of weeks,
China’s Qing dynasty suffered massive defeats and hardships throughout the 19th century. Surely, this couldn’t go on for much longer? And indeed, it wouldn’t. In 1911, the sequence of events was triggered
that would result in the abdication of China’s last emperor and collapse of the Qing dynasty. Many plots had been devised for this to happen
– twisted irony has it that it started with an accidental bomb explosion with no master
plan at all. And Sun Yat-sen, principal architect of the
revolution, was thousands of miles away. -intro- The Revolutionary Alliance Over the years, Qing power and their mandate
of heaven had eroded. Movements such as the rights recovery movement,
the Hunan peasant riots and natural disasters were all signs of a dynasty in severe decline. To give you an idea of China’s state: there
had been 285 uprisings and rebellions during 1910, the majority of which were sparked by
peasants. Barely any were modern in the sense that they
did not have a clear vision or ideological basis. But there was one modern revolutionary movement
attempting to overthrow the Qing: the Revolutionary Alliance, or Tongmenghui. Dr. Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Tongmenghui,
China’s first modern revolutionary secret society. I provided a bit more background about Sun
and his organizations in the video about China’s reformers and revolutionaries. Although he instigated 10 rebellions between
1906 and 1911, all of these were vaguely planned and none succeeded. Nevertheless, the amount of members of the
Tongmenghui rose to 10.000 by 1911. Its members were from all walks of life but
generally well-educated Chinese that had studied abroad (most in Japan), some revolutionaries
were students, others were civil servants, members of the new provincial assemblies even,
and several were soldiers or officers in New Army units. Thing is: many revolutionaries figured the
best way to eventually spark revolution was to subvert Qing troops. They wanted to get the soldiers that weren’t
yet revolutionaries on their side, so to say. Revolutionaries joined the army, maintaining
a low profile and recruiting other soldiers for their revolutionary cells. Throughout China, especially around the Wuchang,
Hanyang and Hankou districts in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, Qing opposition blossomed. Radical young Chinese formed revolutionary
cells in these big cities. In 1911 big cities generally had multiple
revolutionary cells… it was during this year Sun Yat-sen embarked on a fundraising
campaign to the United States. After all, the revolution desperately needed
funds if it was to succeed. In southern China, the strategy of infiltrating
the New Army units was adopted. Working with revolutionary branches active
in the region most cities had a sizeable portion of their army secretly engaged in revolutionary
activity… not really a stable combination to put it mildly. In order to recruit new members for their
movement, these revolutionaries often created an elaborate guise of book-clubs and fraternities. If authorities grew suspicious of these clubs
and decided to investigate, they would simply disband their fake clubs only to regroup under
a different name after some time at a different location. To give you an idea of how widespread this
was: in 1911 around 5 to 6000 of the Hubei New Army troops turned out to be a member
of various secret revolutionary societies. This was about one-third of the total military
force. Can you imagine? The fact that such a sizeable amount of the
military was part of secret resistance… well it was only a matter of time for things
to turn sour. The Wuchang Rebellion On the 9th of October 1911 a group of revolutionaries
were fiddling with bombs in their safehouse, located in the Russian Concession area of
Hankou. They were planning a terrorist attack. Unfortunately for them, something went wrong
and the bomb exploded prematurely. While often times Western powers would bribe
Qing authorities if something happened on their territory, the blast of this bomb was
too heavy not to let authorities investigate. The safehouse was raided by Qing police and
military. It quickly became clear what transpired and
the three men that had survived the blast were identified as revolutionaries. No time was wasted and they were executed
immediately. Fate had it that the membership registers
in which all names of revolutionaries were written, thousands of them, survived the blast. The Qing authorities seized these and now
possessed the names of most if not all revolutionaries in the city. Thing is… on this list were the names of
their colleagues. At least 5,000 of them. Alarmed at the amount of soldiers on the list,
soldiers began rounding up all revolutionary soldiers they could find. Soldiers that were members of secret society
understood that if they did not act fast, they too would be put against the wall. The first force that mutinied was a small
force, the Wuchang Eight Engineer Battalion. On the morning of October 10th, ever since
celebrated as ‘Double 10’ day, they seized the ammunition depot of the city and were
subsequently joined by transport and artillery units. Wuchang’s forts were captured and by the
end three other regiments joined the resistance. After failed attempts to raise a sizeable
amount of loyal troops to protect his office, the governor-general Ruicheng, a Manchu, fled
the city together with the army commander. Forces that were still loyal to the Qing were
routed and over 500 were killed. The next day, October 11th, Hanyang, was captured
by the revolutionaries. Its military arsenal and ironworks were seized. It was after the capture of Hanyang the mutineers
established the military government of Hubei. But they didn’t have a prestigious public
figure to take control and lead the revolution. The principal architect of revolution in China,
Sun Yat-sen, was in the United States! He would not learn about the revolution until
a month later, reading about it in a Denver newspaper. Instead of quickly returning to China and
assume leadership of the revolution, he first went to the United Kingdom and France, in
order to secure European neutrality. He managed to sway the British government:
they would not loan any capital to the Qing anymore. Sun eventually returned to China, but only
over 2 months after the revolution had started. In October the revolution, confined to Wuhan
for now, was still looking for its leader. The first person the revolutionaries approached
was the president of the provincial assembly… who was quick to decline the offer. One of the Hubei New Army commanders, popular
among his troops, Li Yuanhong was the second one to receive the request. He wasn’t a revolutionary, but had played
a prominent role during the railway controversy against the Qing and was liked by those in
the provincial assembly. It is said he was forced at gunpoint to take
on the assignment of leading these rebels. He certainly was hesitant, but eventually
accepted. The next day Hankou troops mutinied, captured
the city, and the revolutionaries were on their way to capture the rest of the province. Qing Response Once the imperial government found out about
what was going on in their Hubei province, their response was, understandably, to do
everything in their power to absolutely annihilate these revolutionaries. The minister of War, Yinchang, coordinated
the counterattack on Wuhan with two divisions of the Beiyang army. In Beijing, the Qing, and especially Prince
Chun, regent to 5 year-old emperor Puyi, was about to swallow his pride. The Beiyang army needed a competent general
that was known by senior officers and respected by his troops. Yuan Shikai was that person. He had led the Beiyang army for years and
served the Qing dynasty for decades. It just so happened to be Prince Chun forced
Yuan into retirement 2 years before, and Yuan still held a grudge against the Qing because
of it. While he held a grudge, he was an excellent
negotiator and… unbeknownst to the Qing, he still was highly ambitious. For now he waited, but when he finally gave
in, he would come to power on his own terms. 10 days after the Hubei military government
was proclaimed, in both Shaanxi and Hunan provinces the New Army mutinied. Massacres against the Manchu population took
place and Qing commanders were killed. The members of the provincial assembly for
the provinces explicitly voiced their support for the revolution. The uprising now spread over China at a fast
pace: In Shanxi, the governor and his family were killed. In the southwest in Yunnan and southeast in
Jianxi, students, teachers and merchants joined the army officers in revolt, declaring their
independence from the Qing as well. The Tongmenghui took the central leading role
upon itself in three provinces, and formed anti-Qing alliances in many other provinces. Now that more provinces were swept by revolts,
the military significance of railways became apparent. Troops from Beijing were sent to Wuhan, only
to be cut off by rebellions from Shanxi. The supply lines of Yinchang’s army were
blocked and other senior commanders in the north started defying Qing orders. Instead of moving their troops south by rail,
these commanders now met up and sent a telegram to Beijing containing 12 demands. The demands ranged from a functioning parliament
and an elected prime minister, ratified by the emperor, to amnesty for all political
offenders and blocking Manchus from official positions. As outrageous as these demands seem, the fact
the Qing agreed with them within a week shows the dire situation the dynasty was in. During this time Yuan was still negotiating
both publicly and secretly on various levels. The Qing appointed him as the commander of
all Qing forces. He was backed my most senior military commanders,
enjoyed the loyalty of many troops and on November 8th 1911 he was elected prime minister
of China by members of the Beijing provisional national assembly. He was now to form a cabinet, which he did,
primarily appointing his loyalists. It seemed that China was moving towards a
constitutional monarchy, just like Russia and Japan had. The entire month of November Yuan Shikai played
a political game, pressuring both the revolutionaries and the Qing, attempting to get the most profit
out of the whole situation. The Republic of China The Tongmenghui of Sun Yat-sen enjoyed an
enormous amount of support among the Chinese. Nanking was captured by the revolutionaries
in early December. It was the second biggest city of China, and
the former capital, the symbolic defeat was crushing to the already weak Qing. It was reminiscent of Prince Fu’s defeat
in 1645, and of course the capture of the city by Taiping rebels under Hong Xiuquan
in 1853. In Nanking the Tongmenghui set up its provisional
government. In the meantime Yuan negotiated primarily
with Prince Chun, regent of Puyi, and his consorts. Then, in December, the mother of Puyi took
a leading role in the negotiations. She pushed the resignation of Prince Chun
and authorized Yuan Shikai to rule as prime minister, with the emperor, her son Puyi,
only retaining a ceremonial role. It was reminiscent of the role Empress Dowager
Cixi had allocated to herself the past decades, and thus not very popular. Several victories of Yuan’s troops over
the revolutionaries followed… but he realized that with the suppression of the revolution,
his usefulness to the Qing would once again fade. On Christmas day 1911 Sun Yat-sen arrived
in Shanghai. The Tongmenghui had set up a provisional government
at Nanjing and Sun was just in time to be elected “provisional President” of the
Chinese republic by delegates from 16 provincial assemblies. On new years day 1912 he assumed office, and
the new republic of China was born. It meant China now had both a Manchu emperor
(in Beijing) and a republican president (in Nanjing). A situation that definitely could not go on
for long. Sun realized he needed an army to consolidate
his power. A charismatic man and a keen eye for political
moves, he sent Yuan Shikai a telegram stating he only accepted the -provisional- presidency,
so Yuan could later on assume the official presidency. As long as he would support the new republic. All the while Yuan had been playing both sides
of the conflict and he now realized choosing the revolutionary side was probably going
to be most advantageous to him. As such, Yuan was willing to work with Sun,
but indeed, only if he could assume the presidency. He spent the next couple of weeks negotiating,
both secretly and publicly, with both the provisional government in Nanking, and the
imperial government in Beijing. The Last Emperor Late January 1912 44 senior commanders of
the Beiyang army, serving under Yuan Shikai, sent a telegram to Beijing urging them to
create a republic. The Qing’s mandate of heaven had now truly
waned. Southern China had basically seceded and Yuan
Shikai now attempted to convince Puyi’s regents that abdication was the only option left on
the table Some Manchu princes fled to Manchuria to lead the resistance, but the emperor’s
mother negotiated with Yuan. She managed to receive reassurance that Puyi
could reside in the Forbidden City with his servants, for years to come and a generous
stipend, to say the least. Puyi, China’s last emperor, abdicated on
the 12th of February 1912. The Qing dynasty, the ancient monarchy, and
Chinese empire had officially come to an end. Yuan Shikai was granted full powers “to
organize a provisional republican government”. Sun Yat-sen, staying true to his word, abdicated
in favour of Yuan one day later. The deal was that Yuan would travel to Nanjing
to set up his government, but unrest broke out in Beijing which allowed Yuan to remain
in Beijing in order to “keep control”. It is near certain Yuan had something to do
with these episodes of unrest. And as such, ominously, Yuan Shikai was sworn
in in Beijing, the imperial capital, not Nanjing, the republican capital. He was to have supreme power with loyalists
appointed at crucial positions in China’s military and bureaucracy. A parliament was to be elected and full constitutional
government was going to be established. As time went on, however, it became clear
that Yuan Shikai had other plans when it came to both his own position, and China as a whole. Conclusion In 1912 after decades of hardships and an
erosion of their mandate of heaven, the Qing dynasty finally collapsed. After a brief period where Dr. Sun Yat-sen
was China’s first president, Yuan Shikai overtook this post and started his tenure. He prevented an all-out civil war, but was
to betray the revolutionaries later on. If you want to know how China and its Qing
dynasty got up to this point, with all revolutions, rebellions, wars and political intrigues,
consider checking out the playlist on the screen, detailing the collapse of the Qing
dynasty from the Opium Wars all the way up to this point. Next week will be the last chronological episode. It covers the decline of the republic into
a period of warlordism. Feudal lords, often having served under Yuan
Shikai, were now fighting for influence in their respective provinces. This Wardlord era is a fascinating yet often
forgotten period. I am certainly looking forward to it. Thank you for watching this video, don’t
forget to subscribe, see you next time.

11 thoughts on “Collapse of the Chinese Empire | Xinhai Revolution | History of China

  1. The Wuchang Uprising and subsequent Xinhai revolution were the final events that led to the abdication of China's last emperor. The Republic of China was established, although its president, Yuan Shikai, had other plans with the country…

    Timecodes

    0:42 The Revolutionary Alliance

    3:32 The Wuchang Uprising

    6:45 The Qing Responds

    9:44 The Republic of China

    11:51 The Last Emperor

    13:27 Conclusion

    Sources

    Baum, R. (2010). The Fall and Rise of China. The Great Courses: Modern History.

    Elleman, B. A. (2005). Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989. Routledge 140-149.

    Fairbank, J. K., & Reischauer, E. O. (1989). China: tradition & transformation (Vol. 57). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

    Horst, D. (1977). Geschiedenis van China. Het Spectrum.

    Spence, J. D. (1990). The search for modern China. WW Norton & Company.

  2. Empress Dowager Cixi was a complete idiot to the modern political environment of the time. She antagonized a sensitive situation to maintain power, but lost all in the end.

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