From the beginning the southerners had made it plain that they were determined to bring about the abdication of the dynasty, the complete overthrow of the Manchus.
Continuing The Chinese Revolution of 1912,
with a selection from The Situation in the Far East by Robert Machray published in magazine article. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 4 installments for 5 minute reading.
Previously in The Chinese Revolution of 1912.
An anti-dynastic outburst at Changsha, Hunan, in 1910, was easily suppressed, and certainly gave no indication of what was so soon to take place. So late as September of 1911 a rising on a considerable scale in the province of Szechuan was not antidynastic, but was declared by the rebels themselves to be directed against the railway policy of the Government. The best hope for China lies in a wide building of railways; the Chinese do not object to them, but, on the contrary, make use of them to the fullest extent where they are in existence; they do not wish, however, the lines to be constructed with foreign money, holding that such investments of capital from without might be regarded as setting up liens on their lands in favor of outside Powers — how far they can do without outside capital is another matter. Then the whole question of railway-building involved the old quarrel between the provinces and the central government — which is another way of saying that the provinces did not see why all the spoils should go to Peking.
A month after the rebellion in Szechuan had broken out, the great revolution began, and met with the most astonishing success from the very outset. Within a few weeks practically the whole of southern China was in the hands of the revolutionaries, and the Throne in hot panic summoned Yuan Shih-kai from his retirement to its assistance; after some hesitation and delay he came — but too late to save the dynasty and the Manchus, though there is no shadow of doubt that he did his best and tried his utmost to save them. With Wuchang, Hankau, and Hanyang — the three form the metropolis, as it may be termed, of mid-China — in the possession of the revolutionaries, and other great centers overtly disaffected or disloyal, the Regent opened the session of the national assembly, and it forthwith proceeded to assert itself and make imperious demands with which the Throne was compelled to comply — this was within a fortnight after the attack on Wuchang that had begun the revolution. On November 1st the Throne appointed Yuan Shih-kai Prime Minister, and a week later the national assembly confirmed him in the office; he arrived in Peking on the thirteenth of the month, was received in semi-regal state, and immediately instituted such measures as were possible for the security of the dynasty and the pacification of the country. But ten days before he reached Peking the Throne had been forced to issue an edict assenting to the principles which the national assembly had set forth in nineteen articles as forming the basis of the Constitution; these articles, while preserving the dynasty and keeping sacrosanct the person of the Emperor, made the monarchy subject to the Constitution and the Government to Parliament, with a responsible Cabinet presided over by a Prime Minister, and gave Parliament full control of the budget.
Here, then, was the triumph of the constitutional cause, and Yuan Shih-kai and most of the moderate progressive Chinese would have been well satisfied with it if it had contented the revolutionaries of the south. But from the beginning the southerners had made it plain that they were determined to bring about the abdication of the dynasty, the complete overthrow of the Manchus, and the establishment of a republican form of government, nor would they lay down their arms on any other terms. In a short time Yuan Shih-kai saw that the revolutionaries were powerful enough to compel consideration and at least partial acquiescence in their demands. It can not be thought surprising that the proposed elimination of the hated Manchus from the Government was popular, yet it must seem remarkable that the revolutionary movement was so definitely republican in its aims, and as such achieved so much success. There had been little open agitation in favor of a republic, but the ground had been prepared for it to a certain extent by a secret propaganda. The foreign-drilled troops of the army were disaffected in many cases and were approached with some result; the eager spirits of the party in the south, where practically the whole strength of the movement lay, formed an alliance with certain of the officers of these troops. No sooner was the revolution begun than a military leader appeared in the person of Li Yuan-hung, a brigadier-general, who had commanded a considerable body of these foreign-drilled soldiers, and was supported by large numbers of such men in the fighting in and around Wuchang-Hankau. That the revolutionaries, who were chiefly of the student class, and not of the “solid” people of the country, were able to enlist the active cooperation of these officers and their troops accounts for the quick and astonishing success of the movement. And at the outset, whatever is the case now, many of the solid people — magistrates, gentry, and substantial merchants — also indorsed it.
Toward the end of November the revolutionaries captured Nanking, a decisive blow to the imperialists, and this former capital of China became the headquarters of a Provisional Republican Government. Soon afterward, through the good offices of Great Britain, a truce was arranged between the north and the south. Yuan Shih-kai was striving with all his might to retain the dynasty as a limited monarchy, but “coming events cast their shadows before” in the resignation of the Regent early in December. Negotiations went on between Yuan, who was represented at a conference held in Shanghai by Tang Shao-yi, an able and patriotic man and a protege of his own, and the revolutionaries, but the leaders of the latter made it clear that there could be no peaceful solution of the situation short of the abdication of the dynasty and the institution of some form of republic. At the end of December Dr. Sun Yat-sen, whose striking and romantic story is well known, was appointed Provisional President by Nanking; in January he published a manifesto to the people of China, bitterly attacking the dynasty, promising that the republic would recognize treaty obligations, the foreign loans and concessions, and declaring that it aimed at the general improvement of the country, the remodeling of the laws, and the cultivation of better relations with the Powers.
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