The Chinese Revolution of 1911 辛亥革命


Underlying Causes and Background of the Chinese Revolution, 1911 - 1912


A. Political factors

i. Inefficient emperors - As the Ch'ing emperor held absolute power, administration in Peking was efficient only if he was an able man. In the 19th century, however, there was no great Ch'ing emperor.

ii. Lack of able Manchu leadership - As a race conquering China, the Manchus had always enjoyed powerful political influence greater than their small number should give them. Yet in the late 19th century, capable Manchu leadership was, generally speaking, lacking.

iii. Downward spread of administrative inefficiency in the government - Without an able emperor to supervise the officials, they became more incompetent, especially when the political structure itself had always the effect of discouraging energetic action in administration. In turn, these incompetent high officials chose incompetent low officials. The harmful effects of inefficiency thus spread downward.

iv. Sale of government posts - For lack of money to put down rebellions or to meet government expenses, the Ch'ing court increasingly relied on the sale of government posts to enlarge its income. More and mote people acquired government posts in this way. On becoming officials, they squeezed as much money from the common people as they could.

v. Corruption - Corruption in the government was serious. High officials received "gifts" from low officials. In turn, low officials put government money into their own pockets. Heavy taxes were imposed on the people, who suffered economically.

vi. Political decentralization - As politics was so corrupt and demoralized, political power could no longer be centralized in Peking. Political decentralization as such had been growing serious since the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864). At that time, the Ch'ing court permitted the creation of regional armies for suppressing rebellions, since the traditional Eight-Banner forces were weak and useless. These regional armies were locally based, financed by local money, and trained to obey local-provincial officials like Tseng Kuo-fan  and Li Hung-chang. Peking's control over them was ineffective. This factor partly explained why the provinces declared independence in 1911.

vii. Growth of the scholar-gentry's local power - Because of corruption and inefficiency in the government, the local magistrate was increasingly dependent on the scholar-gentry's cooperation in ruling his county. Consequently, the power of the local scholar-gentry grew. Local men of influence safeguarded local interests. They organized their own military forces for self-defence (known as local militias, t'uan-lien ) and collected taxes themselves.

B. Social and economic factors

i. Population growth and social poverty - Long years of peace in the early and mid Qing period contributed to a quick rise in China's population. Yet,

a  cultivable land was limited in amount and was concentrated in powerful landlords,
b  the people were forbidden by law to move to Manchuria and other places outside China, and
c  there was no large industrial development to absorb the excessive manpower and to raise the standard of living in society.

Consequently, more people only meant greater social poverty.

ii. Poor economic conditions of the government - As society was poor, the taxes that the dynasty could collect were limited in amount. Besides, serious corruption in the government ate away a large part of the taxes that had been collected. I n society, powerful landlords evaded government taxes, thereby putting most of the tax burden on the peasants. When the oppressed peasants broke into rebellions, the dynasty had to spend more money to deal with the disorder, thus making the financial conditions even worse. From the mid-19th century on, the problem of political decentralization made collection of the whole country's taxes more and more difficult (sometimes impossible). Administrative inefficiency led to confusing financial management. To solve its money problem, the poor government increased taxes and sold more of its offices --  thus more social suffering, more corruption, and more rebellions.

C. Ideological factors

Despite attempts at destroying anti-Manchu attitudes by the Ch'ing rulers, such attitudes were preserved at the lowest level of society (i.e. villages), where central government control was weak. With the outbreak of anti-Ch'ing rebellions since the late 18th century, anti-Manchu feelings that had long been kept underground re-surfaced. The ideological basis of the Manchu rule was challenged.

D. Military factors

The military forces that the Manchu dynasty depended on were of two kinds: the Manchu Eight-Banner Forces, with which the Manchus conquered China; and the Chinese Green Standard Army (lu-ying ), which the Manchus recruited after entering China. By the 19th century, all these troops were no longer useful:

i. Administrative inefficiency and the lack of cooperation - For fear of military disloyalty, the Ch'ing court saw to it that troops in any given area in China were a mixture of soldiers from different Banners. As the Eight Banners rivalled and were jealous of one another, cooperation between them was weak. Military efficiency was poor. The same happened to the Green Standard Army, owing to the lack of central command and the harmful effects of corruption.

ii. Poverty of the soldiers - The pay of the Banner soldiers was set at the beginning of the dynasty but remained unchanged even until the 19th century. Consequently, their livelihood was difficult. Yet, Banner soldiers were forbidden by law to follow any other profession. The Green Standard Army was becoming increasingly corrupt and had also lost its fighting value. Soldiers robbed the people and created more social disorder.

iii. The Manchus' loss of fighting spirit - After entering China as rulers, the Manchus gradually lost their fighting spirit. They were used to enjoyments. Long years of inactivity in peaceful times and the lack of training reduced government troops to paper soldiers.

[Go Top]


In the 19th century, when the Ch'ing was on the decline, foreign imperialism came to China and quickened the downward course of the dynasty.

A. Political factors

i. With the Ch'ing government's defeat by the foreigners, unequal treaties were imposed on China. Politically, therefore, China's national right was violated. This caused the Ch'ing dynasty to lose much reputation and political power.

ii. Because of China's weakness, the foreign powers succeeded in annexing many of the vassal-states that traditionally owed loyalty to China, like the Ryukyu Islands, Annam and Korea. 

iii. At the height of foreign imperialism in the late 19th century, Chinese territories were cut up into different spheres of influence. The Ch'ing government was totally helpless in resisting such foreign pressure.

B. Social and economic factors

i. Foreign economic imperialism increased social suffering in China. For example, the import of cheap foreign textile goods destroyed rural Chinese industries.

ii. Foreign missionary activities in China aroused much hatred and fear among the Chinese. 

iii. As for the Ch'ing dynasty, unfavourable balance of trade (imports exceeding exports) reduced the value of the country's currency, which therefore further ate away the government's income. The costs of the wars that China fought with the foreign powers, together with war indemnities that China had to pay, made the dynasty's financial conditions even worse.

C. Ideological factors

i. The Manchus had tried to make their dynasty a lawful one in Chinese history by appearing as the defenders of Confucianism and adopting Chinese culture in full. After the coming of the West in the 19th century, however, Confucian political ideas came increasingly under attack. Thus if the Ch'ing dynasty continued to promote Confucian political ideas, it would be condemned as backward and reactionary by the progressive-minded intellectuals. If the dynasty gave up Confucian political ideas, it would lose the ideological foundation on which its rule was built for over two centuries. 

ii. Foreign imperialism and the introduction of Western learning stimulated the rise of modern Chinese nationalism. In the presence of foreigners, more and more Chinese people became conscious of their common racial background and national identity. Both national and racial consciousness grew among many Chinese. Anti-Manchu feelings spread quickly. In fact, modern Chinese nationalism expressed itself in the form of an anti-Manchu attitude.

D. Military factors

In the Self-Strengthening Movement (1862-94), a modern army and navy were developed. However, they were destroyed in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). After 1896, a New Army was created. But as anti-Manchu nationalism spread among the New Army soldiers, they were not loyal to the dynasty.

[Go Top]


A. Anti-Manchu tradition

As a race believing in its own cultural superiority over others, the Chinese traditionally disliked being dominated by foreigners, whether the Westerners or the Manchus.

B. The psychological comfort derived from anti-Manchu ideas in an age of foreign imperialism

In late Ch'ing times, not only the foreigners, but also the Manchus, were blamed for all kinds of problems that China faced - political, social, or economic. But since the foreigners were too strong to resist (such as in the Boxer Uprising, 1900-01), the only hope of saving China was the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. By putting all the blame for China's weakness on the Manchus, Chinese intellectuals had a psychological comfort that it was the corrupt Manchu rule, not Chinese civilization itself, that explained China's weakness.

[Go Top]


The forces produced by the Late Ch'ing Reform paradoxically helped overthrow the dynasty in the end.

A. Educational reform

The students sent by the Ch'ing government to study abroad turned out to be either intellectuals dissatisfied with the corrupt Manchu rule or revolutionaries working to overthrow the dynasty.

B. Political reform

Constitutional practice gave opportunities to the local provincial gentry to establish independent power against the dynasty. The worsening tendency of political decentralization opened the way for the provinces declaring independence from Peking in 1911-12.

C. Military reform

Military reform led to the establishment of regional military forces practically independent of Peking's control. In the end, because these military forces did not support the dynasty, the Manchu Emperor was forced to abdicate in 1912.

[Go Top]


A. Growing social disturbances after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)

i . China's defeat in the war revealed the weakness of the Ch'ing court. Many secret societies considered the moment suitable for armed uprisings. Small-scale rebellions broke out in many places. There were on average 80 to 100 such revolts every year from 1895 to 1911.
ii. The soldiers recruited to fight Japan were quickly disbanded after the peace treaty of 1895. Discontent grew among them. They became bandits in society. 
iii. Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895. As a result, many frightened Taiwanese moved into the neighbouring province of Fukien. Social instability in South China spread and grew.

B. Introduction of modern, Western ideas into China

Through missionary efforts and via treaty-ports, modern ideas such as democracy and republicanism were introduced to and popularized among Chinese intellectuals. These progressive young people were greatly influenced by examples of great European revolutions (such as the French Revolution of 1789) and national unifications (such as the German Unification of 1871).

C. Acceptance of the idea of revolution by an increasing number of Chinese intellectuals

More and more young intellectuals decided that a revolution was necessary to save China. The overseas students were particularly won over by the idea of revolution, for the following reasons:

i . On coming into contact with modernized, Westernized societies like Japan, they realized how backward China was.

ii. In a foreign environment, they had the experience of being racially discriminated against and were thus particularly nationalistic.

iii. Because of the freedom provided by the foreign environment, they could experiment with ideas about revolution.

iv. The Western education they received had the effect of encouraging radical activities.

D. Revolutionary activities in China

i. Sun Yat-sen's revolutionary uprisings in South China (See below

ii. Huang Hsing's revolutionary uprising in Central China - In 1903, Huang Hsing, who was an overseas student from the province of Hunan, set up a revolutionary organization there to work for the overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty. The organization was called the China Revival Society (Hua-hsing hui ). An uprising was planned. It was unsuccessful. In 1904, Huang Hsing was forced to escape to Japan, where he met Sun Yat-sen.

E. Revolutionary activities in Japan

i. Most of the late Ch'ing overseas students were sent to Japan, and most of them came from the wealthy southern provinces of China. Since South China had a stronger anti-Manchu tradition than North China, revolutionary activities spread quickly among these overseas students in Japan. 

ii . But because the overseas students came from different Chinese provinces, they were divided into different provincial factions. A united revolutionary organization was lacking. 

iii. In the early 1900s, these overseas students became increasingly patriotic and radical. For example, in 1903, they formed a " Resist-Russia-Volunteer Corps" for the purpose of defending China against the Russian aggression in Manchuria.  

iv. By 1905, Sun Yat-sen, Huang Hsing and the overseas students in Japan realized the importance of cooperation in revolutionary efforts. They set up the Revolutionary Alliance (T'ung-meng hui).  [Go Top]

Figure: Dr Sun and his comrades magnify

The Chinese Revolutionary Movement in the Late 19th and the Early 20th Centuries


A. Early life

Sun Yat-sen (Sun Yixian) was born in a village near Canton in 1866. His family belonged to the peasant class. At early school age, he had a traditional Chinese classical education. At the age of 13, however, Sun was sent to Hawaii to join his elder brother who had started a successful business overseas. There, Sun received a foreign, modern education and became a Christian. Later, he returned to his village and after some time went to Hong Kong to study medicine. He became a doctor in 1892. Then, when practicing in Macau, Sun came into contact with friends who were members of anti-Ch'ing secret societies. Such connections with the secret society proved to be important for his later revolutionary career.

B. Intellectual background

Brought up by both traditional Confucian education and modern, Western one, Sun was not bound by the limitations of tradition but was somehow influenced by Chinese culture. Consequently, his ideas were a mixture of both Western and Chinese thoughts. Also, as Sun was less bound by Confucianism, it was more likely for him to become a revolutionary.

C. Foreign influence

i. Years of observations, both in Hawaii or Hong Kong and in his home village, made Sun realize the backwardness of China and the progress of the West. His dissatisfaction with the corrupt Ch'ing rule grew.

ii. However, precisely because he had received a Western education and was a Christian and a doctor, Sun had difficulty in making himself acceptable and popular among the traditional scholar-gentry and reformers like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (Liang Qichao) and K'ang Yu-wei (Kang Youwei).

iii. But because Sun was familiar with Western countries and Western culture, he had an advantage of having the quality of political leadership that traditional Confucian scholars lacked contacts with the West.

D. Chinese influence

i. Because Sun came from a peasant family and had lived among overseas Chinese, he was in a better position to develop connections with the lower classes of Chinese society in revolutionary efforts. In this respect, he was unlike the Confucian scholars, most of whom kept themselves apart from the common people.

ii. South China, and Kwangtung in particular, had a stronger anti-Manchu tradition than North China. Born in such an environment (South China), Sun was himself deeply revolutionary in character.

E. As a reformer, 1890-1894

During this period, Sun Yat-sen was not yet an outright revolutionary. He still thought of using the old method to save China - reform. Thus attempts were made by Sun to meet reformist figures of the time, such as K'ang Yu-wei (in 1893) and Li Hung-chang (in 1894). After failure to attract Li's attention, however, Sun became a full-time revolutionary working for the overthrow of the dynasty. [Go Top]

F. As a revolutionary, 1895-1900: dependence on secret societies and overseas Chinese

i. Formation of the Revive China Society (Hsing-chung hui), and the first revolutionary uprising - The society was founded by Sun in Hawaii and Hong Kong in 1894-95. It consisted mainly of overseas Chinese and Christians (such as clerks, workers, farmers and tailors), and was under the leadership of a small group of missionary-educated young people like Sun himself. There were about 150 members. They took an oath to "expel the Manchus, restore the Chinese rule, and establish a republic". It was planned that the overseas Chinese members would organize revolts in places like Hong Kong, and secret-society members would be hired to do the fighting on the Chinese mainland. In 1895, making use of the disturbances created by China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5), the Society planned a revolt in Canton. It was unsuccessful. Sun himself fled overseas.

ii. Attempts at widening support for the revolutionary movement - After 1895, Sun travelled in foreign countries for the sake of: 
a. winning sympathy from Western countries, and 
b. seeking more support from the overseas Chinese communities.

Sun believed that active foreign assistance or friendly foreign neutrality was necessary for a successful revolution in China. He therefore tried to convince the foreigners that both trade and missionary activities would be better served by a new republic than by the corrupt Manchu dynasty. He promised that a republic set up by the revolutionaries would bring advantages for foreigners. Yet, the results of Sun's travels were disappointing. Not even Hong Kong, a British colony, permitted Sun to organize his revolution.

iii. Kidnap in London, 1896-97 - When Sun stayed in London, he was kidnapped by some Ch'ing officials in the Chinese legation. However, with the help of an English friend, he was finally rescued. Later, Sun published his story as Kidnapped in London and overnight became the most famous Chinese revolutionary. The effect of the incident was to strengthen Sun's sense of confidence and mission, making his determination to overthrow the Manchu dynasty greater than ever.

iv. Support in Japan - Upon arriving in Japan, Sun met and made some good Japanese ,friends, who were sympathetic toward his revolutionary efforts.

Much help was given to Sun. For example, these Japanese:
a   introduced Sun to many influential people in Japan,
b  raised money for Sun's revolutionary movement,
c  popularized Sun's reputation in newspapers, and
d   (as citizens of Japan, a great power) protected Sun from being arrested or assassinated.

v. Attempted cooperation with reformers -  Sun's Japanese friends worked to get the Chinese revolutionaries and reformers to cooperate, since both groups competed for financial support from the same overseas Chinese communities. The attempt was, however, a failure, because: 
a.  The two sides worked for different ideological objectives (one to reform the existing dynasty, the other to overthrow it).
b.  K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, the reformers, considered Sun to be poorly educated.

vi. Second revo/utionary uprising, 1900 - Making use of the disturbances caused by the Boxer Uprising (1900), Sun and his secret society allies in Kwangtung planned another uprising there. The uprising, known as the Waichow Rebellion held out for a few days and ended in failure. Its effects were as follows:

a.  The early success of the uprising further convinced Sun that his revolutionary strategy of stimulating the outbreak of local revolts was correct and workable. Just as Sun expected, Chinese society was ready for revolution.

b. But the final failure showed the weakness of depending entirely and only on secret societies and overseas Chinese in the revolutionary movement. Aiming at a real revolution, not a traditional rebellion, Sun began to understand that wider social support was needed. [Go Top]

G. As a revolutionary, 1901-1905: turn to overseas students

Sun's attention began to turn to the overseas Chinese, especially those in Japan, after 1901. To win support from these intellectuals and to turn them into active revolutionaries against the Manchus, Sun took the following steps: 

i. Military training for overseas students - With the help of some Japanese army officers, military training was organized, though unsuccessfully, for Chinese students in Japan. 

ii. Ideological programs to save China - An ideology, later known as the Three Principles of the People , was worked out by Sun so as to attract the attention of the overseas students, since the students were fond of experimenting with Western ideas. Moreover, with a modern ideology, Sun would no longer be viewed, as before, as an uneducated traditional rebel.

iii. Anti-imperialist propaganda - As the overseas students were mostly anti-imperialist in attitude, Sun wrote many articles to newspapers and journals to discuss the problem of imperialism in China. Instead of saying good things about foreigners in China, which he used to do previously, Sun now condemned foreign imperialism and praised the Boxers so as to win approval from the students. By drawing attention to the problem of imperialism, Sun was in fact showing the students that he was able to deal with the foreign threat.

iv. Arguments and mass meetings - Sun took up arguments with reformers like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao on the advantages of a revolution. Also, mass meetings were organized, at which Sun spoke to hundreds of overseas Chinese. Through these opportunities, Sun showed to the overseas students that he too was intellectually capable of analysing China's problems and proposing solutions to them. [Go Top]


A. Background to its formation in 1905

i. Growing anti-Manchu attitudes and activities among overseas Chinese students in Japan (see above)

ii. The overseas students' turn to Sun Yat-sen for revolutionary leadership - Before 1903, the overseas students were, generally speaking, distrustful of Sun Yat-sen and paid no great attention to him. From 1903 to 1905, however, they began to welcome him, for the following reasons:

a After the Boxer Uprising (1900-01), more and more overseas students were convinced that China would be saved by revolution only, not by reform.

b The overseas students began to recognize the importance of foreign assistance or neutrality (which Sun had the ability to appeal to) in China's revolution.

c Sun had long years of actual revolutionary experience (which the overseas students lacked). 

d The anti-Manchu and anti-imperialist arguments made by Sun fitted well with the overseas students' attitudes.

iii. Sun Yat-sen's turn to the overseas students for support - (See above) 

iv. Japanese efforts in working for the unification of the Chinese revolutionary movement - After failure to bring about cooperation between the Chinese reformers and revolutionaries in 1899-1900, Sun Yat-sen's Japanese friends actively worked to bring different revolutionaries like Sun himself, Huang Hsing and the overseas students together for joint revolutionary action.

B. Leadership

Sun Yat-sen was chosen as the most important leader of the Revolutionary Alliance because of:

i. his close contact with secret societies and the overseas Chinese, which other revolutionaries lacked,
ii. his connections with foreigners, which other revolutionaries did not have,
iii. his ability to raise money for the revolutionary movement,
iv. his experience in organizing revolutionary activities, and
v. the support that Sun's Japanese friends gave him.

C. Membership

From 1905-6, there were about 1,000 people who joined the Revolutionary Alliance, 90% of whom did so in Japan. Most of the members were students and intellectuals, and nearly all provinces of China were represented in the organization (unlike the Revive China Society formed in 1895 which consisted mostly of uneducated people and Kwangtung natives).

D. Objectives

The primary and most important objective was the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. Other aims were included in a six-point program:

i. overthrow of the Manchus, 
ii. establishment of a republic, 
iii. maintenance of world peace, 
iv. nationalization of land, 
v. cooperation with Japan, and 
vi world support for the revolutionary movement.

E. Weaknesses

i. Lack of unity - Since members of the Revolutionary Alliance came from different provinces of China, the organization was divided into many provincial factions. There were serious personal and ideological disagreements. Leaders of the provincial factions often planned revolutionary actions regardless of central leadership and the need for cooperation.

ii. Financial problem - Despite the funds raised by Sun Yat-sen, the Revolutionary Alliance was still in need of money for its costly activities.

iii. Unreliable alliance with the secret societies - The secret societies were not good allies of the Revolutionary Alliance because:

a  In revolting against the Ch'ing dynasty, the secret societies were eager to safeguard their self interests.

b  Secret-society members disliked such an unfamiliar and Western-sounding idea as Republicanism.

c  The secret societies favoured traditional methods of rebellion that the Revolutionary Alliance did not always approve of.

iv. Small-size and limited influence - Because the Revolutionary Alliance's membership was limited mainly to the overseas Chinese and overseas students, the organization remained small in size when compared to the large size of China's territories and population. By 1910, for example, there were only about 10,000 members. Among them, no more than 3,000 were intellectuals, and no more than a few hundred of these 3,000 actually and actively took part in revolutionary activities. [Go Top]


A. Sun Yat-sen's revolutionary strategy

Armed uprisings would be organized in China's southern border regions. According to Sun, these uprisings would finally result in the seizure of a province or two in South China by the revolutionaries. Then, 
i. either similar revolts would occur and succeed in other provinces (thus quickly overthrowing the dynasty),
ii. or, a republic would be established in the south first, win foreign recognition then, and build a base to conquer the north afterwards.

B. Huang Hsing's revolutionary strategy

Huang Hsing, however, did not consider Sun's strategy to be a suitable one for China's conditions. He believed that the Revolutionary Alliance should organize revolts in Central China along the Yangtze to directly attack the Ch'ing dynasty's heartland.

C. Revolutionary failures, 1907-1910

From 1907 until 1910, Sun and Huang attempted several revolts at the Sino-Vietnamese border and Kwangtung. Because of insufficient financial support and military supplies, however, all these uprisings were unsuccessful. The Revolutionary Alliance began to consider Huang Hsing's revolutionary strategy.

D. Weakening of the Revolutionary Alliance

i. With repeated failures, many revolutionaries were in despair of further attempts. Wang Ching-wei, for example, began turning to terrorist assassinations of Ch'ing officials as a substitute for armed uprisings. Even the strong-willed Huang Hsing began losing confidence.

ii. Meanwhile, alarmed at the growing revolutionary activities in Japan, the Ch'ing government began limiting the flow of students to the country.

iii. The Japanese government was getting increasingly conservative and unfriendly in dealing with the Chinese revolutionaries. Thus Sun's Japanese friends lost much influence and found it difficult to help the Revolutionary Alliance.

iv. When Sun Yat-sen left Japan in 1907, unity within the Revolutionary Alliance was further weakened. Dissatisfaction with Sun's leadership grew among some of the members. There was even a rumour that Sun put public money into his pocket. By 1908, each of the provincial groups in the Revolutionary Alliance organized revolts in its own way.

[Go Top]

The 1911 Revolution and the End of the Ch'ing Dynasty


A. Growing inefficiency and lack of capable men at the Manchu court, 1908-1911

Li Hung-chang died in 1902, Chang Chih-tung in 1909. Both the Empress Dowager and the Emperor Kuang-hsu died in 1908. Prince Chun, father and regent for the new emperor, was incompetent and ignorant. He dismissed Yuan Shih-k'ai from office, thus removing and angering the only powerful man who could have saved the dynasty.

B. The provincial gentry's dissatisfaction with the constitutional movement in Peking

According to the time-table of the late Ch'ing constitutional movement, a National Assembly was opened in Peking in 1910. In this way, an opportunity was given to the provincial gentry leaders from all over China to come together (in Peking) and demand more power from the Central government. They were dissatisfied with the slow progress of the constitutional rule:

i. They expected a parliament immediately, not in 1917 as the Manchu government promised.
ii. They discovered that the Manchu court regarded them only as powerless advisers in the National Assembly.
iii. They were angry to learn that the newly formed cabinet consisted mostly of Manchu nobles.

In protest, many of these provincial gentry leaders formed a Society of Friends of the Constitution (Hsien-yu hui) in mid-1911. The purpose was to put more pressure on the government. The Manchu court, however, ignored the association. Bitterly disappointed, the gentry leaders returned to their provinces. It was they who decided to declare independence from Peking after the Wuhan uprising in October.

C. Worsened social discontent in the late 1900s

In order to pay for the expenses of reform projects in the 1900s, the provincial gentry had imposed heavier taxes on the people, thereby increasing social discontent. This factor led to the outbreak of many peasant uprisings, especially in the Yangtze valley (where, one must remember, the Wuhan Revolution occurred). Large-scale battles took place between Chinese clans. Robbery was common. The troubled times seemed favourable for revolution.

D. The disputes between the Central government and the provinces over the problem of railway construction

As part of the late Ch'ing reform program, many of the gentry leaders and merchants in southern provinces had earlier raised money for building railways leading to Peking. The Manchu court, however, disliked the idea, believing that the plan would only further weaken central control over the provinces. Aiming at establishing a centralized railway system, Peking therefore tried to obtain a foreign loan to buy up all provincial railway rights. The terms of such a railway nationalization plan seemed rather unfair and disadvantageous to the provincial investors. In mid-1911, the government even ordered the provincial railway companies to disband. Consequently, the provinces broke into angry protest. 

The gentry-merchant leaders in Szechwan were the most angry, as much of their money for railway construction had already been lost through corrupt official management. Newspapers there spoke of the Ch'ing dynasty as "selling Szechwan to the foreigners". Outstanding gentry members, business leaders and patriotic students joined to form a railway protection association. Anti-Ch'ing feelings became more widespread, though the gentry-merchant leaders had no connection with revolutionaries like Sun Yat-sen. The provincial governor of Szechwan ordered the arrest of some important gentry leaders. This forced the protectors to resort to armed action. Within days, gentry-led militia forces in effect took over the administration of the province. All this happened before October 10, 1911.

[Go Top]


A. Immediate events leading to the uprising

i. Disloyalty of the government's New Army - Since 1903, the government's New Army had been influenced by revolutionary propaganda. Out of a widespread concern for China's weakness, the officers and soldiers were fond of organizing revolutionary clubs which met regularly to study republican political ideas. Anti-Manchu feeling was strong.

ii. Plans of a military revolt in the Wuhan areas, 1911 - Soldiers of the New Army units in the Wuhan areas (consisting of Wuchang, Hanyang and Hankow) were particularly active in forming such revolutionary study groups. Of all these groups, the most revolutionary one was known as the Literary Society (wen-she). In the summer of 1911, it made plans for an uprising to be held in the autumn of the same year.

iii. Accidental outbreak of revolt on October 70, 1911 - The Literary Sociey had informed the Revolutionary Alliance (T'ung-menghui) of this intended uprising. But the Revolutionary Alliance considered it not the right moment to start a revolt. As a result, no T'ung-menghui members went to the Wuhan areas. On October 9, when preparing for the planned uprising, the new army revolutionaries accidentally let off a small bomb in their headquarters in Hankow. Knowing that further delay would result in their capture by the government, the new army men started the revolt immediately the next day, i.e. October 10. They quickly seized the main Wuhan arsenal and forced an army commander, General Li Yuan-hung, to take charge of the situation. It was a successful revolt. Proclamations of the revolution were then sent to other parts of the country.

B. Reasons for the success of the Wuhan Uprising

i. Shortly after the outbreak of revolt, the cowardly Manchu governor-general in the Wuhan areas gave up resistance, thus handing the region to the rebellious soldiers.

ii. The rebellious soldiers had occupied a complete arsenal, and were thus in a strong military position.

iii. Li Yuan-hung was able to win support from the provincial gentry-merchant leaders in the Wuhan region through friendly contacts with them. To the other provinces, the Wuhan revolt was thus backed by respectable, influential citizens (i.e. gentry-merchant leaders) and was not a disorderly uprising led by ignorant peasants or radical revolutionaries.

C. Reactions to the successful Wuhan Uprising

i. Local-provincial gentry and merchants - 

a  In the last years of the Ch'ing rule, the gentry-merchant leaders were disappointed at the government's policies (such as constitutional movement and railway nationalization). The Manchus had in this way lost all support from the gentry and merchants.

b After years of revolutionary propaganda and activities, the gentry-merchant leaders were convinced of the unavoidable fall of the Manchu dynasty. To show that they were progressive-minded, these gentry-merchant members were eager to join the winning side - that of the revolutionaries.

ii. Modern army - Because of political decentralization, many of the army commanders and officers had established powerful, independent positions in the provinces. For reasons of nationalism as well as of self-interest, these military leaders were unwilling to come to the dynasty's help. 

iii. Government officials - Officials of the Central government had lost confidence in the ability of the Ch'ing dynasty to defend itself. They thus chose to take a wait-and-see attitude.

[Go Top]

Figure: Wuchang Uprising magnify


A. Reasons

i. The provinces were no longer loyal to the dynasty. 

ii. The gentry-merchant leaders and military officers in the provinces feared that the successful revolutionaries (i.e. Sun Yat-sen or Huang Hsing) might challenge their positions of power, and that the discontented peasants might make use of the unstable political conditions to seize land. In declaring provincial independence, the gentry-merchant-military leaders hoped to keep revolution out of the provinces and to keep provincial political power in non-revolutionary hands, thus protecting against radical social ideas and the spread of any peasant revolt.

B. Course

In the 2 weeks after the Wuhan uprising, the provinces just watched silently. Then, some gentry-merchant-military leaders in the provinces took the lead in declaring independence from the Manchu court. After one and a half months, 15 provinces, or 2/3 of all China, were no longer within Peking's control. In most of these independent provinces, it was the conservative forces (i.e. gentry, militarists, merchants), not the revolutionaries, that controlled political power. In 10 provinces, for example, military men became governors after declarations of independence. [Go Top]


A. The comeback of Yuan Shih-k'ai (Yuan Shikai)

Immediately after the Wuhan Uprising in October, in a last attempt to save itself, the Manchu court recalled Yuan Shih-k'ai, who had been forced to retire since 1908. However, Yuan had not been loyal to the dynasty and was only concerned about his own power. He delayed coming to the dynasty's help until he was given complete control of the Peiyang Army and full powers to deal with the situation as he saw fit.

B. The election of Sun Yat-sen as president

Meanwhile, members of the Revolutionary Alliance like Huang Hsing had returned to China to rival the gentry-merchant-military leaders for control of the political situation. At the provincial level, the revolutionaries could never challenge the powerful gentry-merchant-militarist alliance. At the national level, however, the Revolutionary Alliance was recognized as the leading revolutionary group. It sent representatives to a Provisional Government which met in Nanking in December 1911. Most of the representatives favoured either Li Yuan-hung or Huang Hsing as candidates for the presidency. Lacking agreement, however, supporters of both sides turned to Sun Yat-sen, who had returned from overseas at this moment. Sun was thus elected as Provisional President of the newly established Chinese Republic.

C. Peace talks between Yuan and the revolutionaries

Yuan Shih-ktai's position was indeed powerful:

i. He controlled the Peiyang Army.
ii. He had supporters in the Provisional Government in Nanking.
iii. He had foreign backing, since the foreign powers regarded him as the only strong man in China who could maintain law and order.
iv. He enjoyed full powers given by the Manchu court. 

Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries, on the other hand, knew that their strength was weak and feared that further delay in political unification might encourage foreign imperialist intervention. Thus in the negotiations with Yuan, Sun made it clear that the presidency of the Republic would be given to Yuan if Yuan forced the Manchus to abdicate.

D. The end of the Ch'ing dynasty, February 1912

For reasons discussed later, Yuan Shih-k'ai was willing to give up the dynasty in support of the Republic. On February 12, 1912, under Yuan's pressure, the Manchu court announced its abdication. The 268-year-old Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912), together with the century-long monarchical system of government, was put to an end.

E. Yuan Shih-k'ai as President of the Chinese Republic

On the same day as the Ch'ing dynasty's abdication, Yuan Shih-k'ai promised to support the Republic. Then Sun Yat-sen resigned as Provisional President, to be succeeded by Yuan after a formal election. Yuan was required by the new Republican Government to come to Nanking to take up the presidency. Unwilling to release his power base in the north, however, Yuan stayed in Peking. He became President of China in March. In April, Peking was made the national capital. It was renamed Peiping. 

F. Reasons for the acceptance of Yuan as the president by the revolutionaries

i. Yuan had strong military power, and the revolutionaries were unprepared to fight with him in a long civil war, which would only bring more disorder and disunity. 

ii. The revolutionaries feared that a long civil war would bring about foreign intervention in the Chinese revolution and foreign partition of China. 

iii. The revolutionaries were inexperienced in actually running a government and were disorganized themselves. Besides, as revolutionaries working outside China most of the time, they lacked popular Chinese support and did not have the friendship of the powerful local-provincial gentry. It was difficult for them to struggle with Yuan.

G. Reasons for Yuan Shih-k'ai's acceptance of the presidency

i. Yuan was himself ambitious and had never been really loyal to the Ch'ing dynasty. 

ii. Republicanism seemed to be a necessity after the success of the revolution in October. Yuan would appear to be a reactionary traitor if he did not make peace with the revolutionaries. 

iii. Only by supporting a republic could Yuan receive foreign support. iv. Yuan's military position against the revolutionaries was not altogether superior, since the loyalty of many of his officers was questionable. [Go Top]


Although members of the Revolutionary Alliance did not take part in the Wuhan Uprising on October 10, 1911, their revolutionary efforts before the date had the effect of indirectly making way for the Wuhan success:

A. Spread of republican and democratic ideas

The revolutionaries popularized modern Western political beliefs like republicanism and democracy. The conservative and backward nature of the Ch'ing dynasty was thus fully revealed. This helped erode the ideological foundation of the government.

B. Weakening the Ch'ing dynasty's reputation

The repeated uprisings organized by the revolutionaries, though unsuccessful, increasingly showed the weakness and inefficiency of the Manchu court. The reputation of the dynasty, both at home and abroad, sank low.

C. Psychological preparation for the final overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty

Although all except the last revolutionary uprisings ended in failure, yet together they seemed to show that the force of revolution was growing and that ultimate success was unavoidable. The people were psychologically prepared for a change of government.

D. Penetration into the government's New Army

As the Ch'ing government recruited many of its New Army soldiers from among progressive-minded young men, many of the revolutionaries succeeded in penetrating into the dynasty's modernized military forces. In such a way, revolutionary ideas spread within the government's army, weakened the soldier's will to fight on behalf of the Manchus, and made it easy for the outbreak of military revolts against the dynasty. As it happened, the 1911 Revolution was stimulated by such a military revolt. [Go Top]


A. Fund-raising to finance revolutionary activities

Sun had close connections with the overseas Chinese , especially in Southeast Asia and America. With a strong power of persuasion, Sun was able to win enthusiastic financial support from them. Living in a foreign (often unfriendly) environment, the overseas Chinese were particularly sensitive to being discriminated against by foreigners. As a result, these Chinese people were especially patriotic. They contributed much money in Sun's fund-raising campaigns. The funds were in the form of "patriotic bonds". The revolutionaries promised that the money would be repaid to the buyer after the success of the future revolution.

B. Connections with foreigners and request for foreign help

It had been Sun's policy to win foreign sympathy for the Chinese revolutionary movement. He convinced many other fellow revolutionaries of the importance of such a policy. Sun had the connections and opportunities to turn to foreign governments for help. He had many good foreign friends in Britain, America and Japan. Through these foreign friends, Sun could every now and then explain to both foreign governments and foreign peoples the harmlessness, good intention and (above all) moderation of the Chinese revolutionary movement, so that Sun's revolution would not be mistaken for another anti-foreign uprising like the Boxer Uprising. It is true that the 1911 Revolution broke out and developed without the active help of foreign powers. But in respecting foreign privileges in China, the revolutionaries were able to win foreign neutrality, without which the Chinese revolution would never succeed.

C. Willingness to work with lower social classes in revolutionary efforts

Unlike other intellectuals who kept themselves apart from the lower social classes, Sun Yat-sen was willing to cooperate and work with peasant bandits and secret-society members in the revolutionary movement. In fact, he was a member of one of the famous secret societies, the Triads.

D. Flexible leadership

Sun Yat-sen had not laid down any absolute and unchangeable formula of revolution. Rather, he followed whatever was suitable and necessary,as long as the aim remained the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. Thus revolutionary strategies would change in accordance with the demands of unexpected situations. Because the harmful effects of policy disagreement were cut down, there was better unity within the revolutionary movement.

E. Strong confidence

With repeated failures of revolutionary attempts in the late 1 900s, morale began to decline among many revolutionaries. Sun, however, continued to view the future optimistically. He kept his fellow revolutionaries going. And if to some people he appeared to be childish and unrealistic, he nevertheless provided a quality so very important for the success of a revolution - faith.

F. Comprehensive ideology for the revolutionary movement

Sun's Three Principles of the People provided comprehensive programs to deal with the political, social and economic problems of China. Although such programs necessarily had weaknesses and had to be improved later, Sun was nevertheless the first political leader of Modern China to work out systematic ways to save the country. [Go Top]


Although Sun and the revolutionaries contributed considerably to the Chinese revolutionary movement in general, the part that they played in the 1911 Wuhan Uprising in particular was small.

i  As has been pointed out, the Wuhan Uprising was in fact a military revolt of the Ch'ing government's New Army units. The T'ung-menghui did not directly organize and start it. There were no T'ung-meng hui members in Wuhan at that time. And the rebellious officers in Wuhan had no contact whatsoever with Sun. In fact, when the revolt broke out, Sun was in America.

ii. After the Wuhan Uprising, it was provincial declarations of independence, not revolts organized by the Revolutionary Alliance, that overthrew the Ch'ing dynasty.

iii. Before 1911, the Revolutionary Alliance could seldom establish bases in the provinces for revolutionary activities. After the Wuhan revolt, provincial power was in the hands of the gentry-merchant-militarist alliance. Later, when the Revolutionary Alliance attempted to extend influence in the provinces, only one of them, Kwangtung (Sun's native province), lent support to it. Soon, however, even Kwangtung was lost, as the gentry and merchants there abandoned Sun to support a warlord.

iv. That Sun was elected as president was mainly due to the deadlock between Li Yuan-hung and Huang Hsing in deciding who was to be president. [Go Top]


A. End to the monarchical form of government

Politically speaking, the 1911 Revolution was a decisive break with the past. For over two thousand years, China had been ruled by the monarchical form of government. Now, in 1911, however, she was willing and determined to abandon it. Whereas in the past, the dynasty could claim absolute obedience from its subject people, the Chinese people after 1911 began to learn that sovereignty (i.e. national right) belonged finally to them and to no one else.

B. Decreased Confucianism and increased Westernization and modernization

Such a political break with the past had at least two farreaching effects:

i. Negatively, the importance of Confucianism in Chinese society was greatly decreased. As the emperorship political structure had been an inseparable part of Confucianism, the abolition of the monarchy in 1911 declared Confucianism a useless political belief. Later, during the May Fourth Revolution in 1919, even Confucianism as a way of life and a body of social thought was under attack. In this way, the 1911 political revolution made way for the 1919 intellectual revolution.

ii. Positively, the creation of a Western-style republic speeded up and extended Westernization and modernization in all areas of Chinese city life and culture. The Chinese people were therefore psychologically better prepared to accept new, modern things. Indeed, some intellectuals even accepted Communism later.

C. Practice of republicanism

Over the world at large at that time, republicanism was still not popularly practiced. For example, except for China, there was no republic in Asia in 1911. Even in Europe, there were only two republican governments, one in France, the other in Switzerland. Seen in this way, therefore, the 1911 Revolution in China was indeed very advanced.

D. Lack of social revolution

Socially speaking, the 1911 revolution was a failure:

i.  First, the Revolution did not bring about much change in the composition of the Chinese ruling classes. It is true that the emperor and his officials were gone, but the conservative gentry-landlords had not been overthrown, and still ruling in the countryside. In addition, military men of the Late Ch'ing like Yuan Shih-k'ai remained influential. Revolutionaries and intellectuals, who helped run the Republic, were powerless in the presence of these conservative forces.

ii. Secondly, the revolution was limited to several cities only and was too quickly concluded. Only the political system was revolutionized; the social order remained what it had been. Consequently, while the city was modernized, the village was as backward and conservative as ever.

E. Increased provincial decentralization

Once the dynasty had been overthrown, the traditional link between the provinces and Peking was cut. The new Republic was weak and could not establish centralized political power over all China. Consequently, the local-provincial scholar-gentry fell back on local and provincial, not national, affairs. The growth of national consciousness was therefore slowed down. Seen from this angle, the 1911 Revolution worsened the problem of political decentralization of the late Ch'ing period.

F. From anti-Manchuism to anti-imperialism

Before 1911, Chinese intellectuals could blame the Manchus for all the national and social problems that China suffered. Now that the Manchus no longer ruled, the blame began to be directed at foreign imperialism. Modern Chinese nationalism, therefore, gradually changed from anti-Manchuism to anti-imperialism after 1911.

G. Increased foreign influence in China

Because the new Chinese Republic was weak and divided, foreign control of China was increased after 1911. For example, the foreign diplomats in Peking had taken over the complete direction of China's maritime customs.

H. Loss of Outer Mongolia and Tibet

Territories that traditionally belonged to China were lost, ilke Outer Mongolia and Tibet, which declared independence from China after 1911.

[Go Top]

@Philip Woo, 1980. Adapted by TK Chung.