Republican China (1911–1949)

Republican China (1911-1949)



  • 1912 Republic of China established Gandhi returns to India 1914
  • 1915 New Youth (Xin Qingnian) founded
  • 1916 Yuan Shikai dies

Trans-Siberian Railway 1917


  • 1919 May Fourth Demonstrations begin in Beijing League of Nations founded 1920
  • 1924 Huangpu (Whampoa) Academy opened
  • 1925 Sun Yat-sen dies 1926-1928 Northern Expedition
  • 1927 Nanjing becomes capital of Kuomintang government
  • 1928 Ding Ling's “Miss Sophie's Diary" published

All Quiet on the Western Front 1929


  • 1931 Mukden (Shenyang) Incident
  • 1932 Manchukuo formally established by Japan

Adolf Hitler appointed 1933


  • 1935-1936 Long March
  • 1936 Xi'an Incident
  • 1937 Lugouqiao (Marco Polo) Incident /Beginning of China's War of Resistance

Hitler annexes Austria 1938

1940 Wang Jingwei collaborationist government established

First electron microscope 1941


First atomic bomb detonated in 1945 Japan formally surrenders to China

New Mexico

1946 Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang formally re-establish capital in Nanjing

Gandhi assassinated 1948

1949 Beijing is captured by PL A troops

Revolution, Warlordism, and Intellectual Transformation

  • 1. TIANANMEN GATE: Tiananmen Gate (often known in English as the "Gate of Heavenly Peace") was the formal entrance to the former imperial palace and Forbidden City. This space, much smaller than today's Tiananmen Square, had only been opened to the public several years prior to the May Fourth protests. Utilized in a manner never anticipated by the government, the space in front of the Tiananmen Gate quickly became a focal point for most every major demonstration in twentieth- century China, including the December 1919 anti-Japanese protests following the Fuzhou Incident.
  • 2. MAY FOURTH PLACARDS: The demonstrators in the May Fourth photo carried signs with a variety of slogans:

a. "If not fight now, when to fight?"

b. "Better to be a broken piece of jade, than to be a full piece of clay tile"

[Better to die in glory than live in dishonor]

c. "Abolish the 21 Demands"

d. "Return Our Qingdao"

e. "Down with the Traitors"

f. "Internationally fight for our sovereign rights, domestically rid the country of traitors"

  • 3. MAY FOURTH DEMONSTRATIONS: On May 4,1919, roughly 3,000 Beijing students and professors marched to the front of Tiananmen Gate to protest the news that the Allied Powers would grant Japan control over Germany's former holdings in Shandong province (6.6). Later, the protestors, such as those pictured, marched to the diplomatic quarter intent on attacking the European embassies, only to be turned away by police. Thirty-two students were arrested, and one student later died as a result of clashes with the police.
  • 4. CLOTHING: The clothing worn by the students and professors reveal the changing social and political climate of the late 1910s. Most obviously, gone are the long queues common less than a decade earlier. On the far right, several participants are wearing Western-style hats intermingled with some participants wearing the more traditional mandarin garb. Others wear the long, padded gown with vest [changpo magua], which would remain popular into the 1940s.
  • 5. MAY FOURTH GENERATION: The original demonstrators in the May Fourth demonstrations were almost entirely students and professors from Beijing's 13 universities and colleges. By the December demonstrations seven months later, the participants included a far-broader swath of Chinese, including merchants, businessmen, workers, and laborers. As the movement grew, it would take on broader dimensions and meanings that shaped an entire generation of Chinese.
  • 6. DECEMBER 1919: The December 1919 demonstrations took on a much larger and different flavor than the earlier May Fourth demonstration. More organized now (with roving food vendors), many participants prepared speeches and had tidy signage to distribute to fellow marchers. The number and variety of participants increased as the Chinese populace became increasingly politicized and similar demonstrations occurred throughout China.
  • 7. FIVE-FOUR [wu-si] Similar to the manner in which we can simply say the two numbers "nine eleven" and pick up the reference to September 11 (and automatically know you are referring to September 11, 2001), in Chinese, you can say "five four" (even today), and no Chinese would mistake your meaning for any other date or for any other significant events in China's past.

On the morning of October 11,1911, Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader and head of the Revolutionary Alliance, walked downstairs from his Denver hotel room to eat breakfast in the grand dining room. A wanted man in China with a price on his head, Sun was on a fund-raising tour of the United States, seeking financial support for China's revolutionary cause. As he waited for his breakfast that morning, he opened the local newspaper to see the headline: "Chinese Revolt is Menace to Manchu Dynasty" (the headline in Denver's other paper more typically reflected the concerns of the era: "Foreigners Throughout Empire in Deadly Peril"). Sun scanned the article and quickly confirmed that a group of young revolutionaries and sympathetic army units had taken Wuchang, one of three cities in the tri-city metropolis of Wuhan. The uprising had been in the planning stage for some months. After more than ten abortive attempts, the long-awaited revolution to topple the Qing government had begun, and not a single major revolutionary leader was anywhere near Wuhan.


political group forged out of several competing parties in 1910. By joining forces, they became the largest Chinese revolutionary party and the forerunner of the Nationalist party, the Kuomintang.

WUHAN—The tri-city area of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang, situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Hanshui Rivers. Site of the October 10,1911, Wuchang uprising, which sparked the Chinese Revolution.

WUCHANG UPRISING (1911)—The uprising that began on October 10,1911 as a result of the accidental detonation of explosives by Tongmenghui members.

It started the Chinese revolution, which led to the fall of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China.


The Wuchang Uprising on October 10 (or "Double-10"), 1911, marked the beginning of the Chinese Revolution and is still celebrated as National Day in the Republic of China (Taiwan). The anniversary of the founding of the PRC on October 1,1949, is National Day in the People's Republic of China.

The revolt had, quite literally, ignited prematurely on October 9, 1911. A young activist's cigarette got too close to a bomb that a group of revolutionaries was making and set the entire building ablaze. The ensuing explosion attracted the attention of the Qing authorities. In their investigation, they discovered a list of pro-revolutionaries, including supportive individuals within the Qing army. Faced with the choice of waiting to be arrested or of going forward with their revolutionary plans, renegade army units seized the government munitions depot on October 10,1911. Faced with an armed uprising, the Qing governor and governor-general hastily fled, allowing the revolutionaries to gain control of the city. Their success in turn triggered provincial declarations of independence across the empire and crippled Qing authority.

Back in Denver, Sun faced a dilemma. At that precise moment, as he waited for his breakfast, Sun sat 6,000 miles and nearly two weeks' travel time away from China. While the unexpected timing of the revolt may have caught Sun unaware, his absence from the center of the Wuhan revolt was not unanticipated. The price on his head and the revolution's need for funds had made it imperative that he seek support abroad. But now the situation was different. Sun immediately checked out of his Denver hotel and headed east. He made several stops in the United States before traveling to London and Paris. This itinerary suggests a premeditated plan of action or, at the very least, a clear-headed appraisal of what measures he needed to take prior to his return to China.

Sun had legitimate reasons to be worried about the international response to the actions of the revolutionaries. Given the millions in loans and unpaid indemnities owed by the Qing government, it was conceivable that the Western powers might intervene against the revolutionaries to prop up a weak Qing monarchy. With this perspective, Sun's primary goal was twofold: 1) to assure the Western governments that the new republican government would honor all treaties and debts to foreign powers and 2) to lay the groundwork for diplomatic recognition and, where possible, future loans for the fledging government. Sun stopped in Chicago, where the news of the revolution allowed him to raise more than $10,000 from Chinese Americans. His efforts with the Western governments were not as successful. American, British, or French leaders offered no firm financial or political commitments. The British and French, however, did agree not to issue any additional loans to the Qing government. After doing what he could overseas, Sun arrived in Shanghai on December 25,1911. A week later, on New Year's Day, he took the train to Nanjing, the new capital of China, and that afternoon was sworn in as the provisional president.

Today, both the People's Republic of China (mainland) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) revere Sun as the "Father of the Nation" [guofu]. However, there is debate among many scholars over Sun's actual influence, given that the "revolution" involved relatively little military conflict and with little guidance from Sun himself. Nor did Sun prove particularly adept in guiding the republic through its precarious early phases.

YUAN SHIKAI (1859-1916)—Staunch Qing loyalist and commander of the powerful Beiyang Army, which allowed him, in 1912, to broker the abdication of the Qing in exchange for the presidency of the new republic. His term as president was plagued by corruption, extortion, and a misguided attempt to proclaim himself emperor before his death in 1916.

In the first weeks of 1912, Sun Yat-sen and the provisional government in Nanjing faced several unpleasant realities. Their leadership, and popular support, was almost entirely composed of southerners with virtually no backing from the north. Nor had the political events compelled the Qing emperor to abdicate swiftly and recognize the National Assembly in Nanjing as China's new government. Rather, the last emperor (or more correctly the child emperor's advisors) waited nearly four months before accepting their inevitable fate and agreeing to abdicate their power (6.4). Adding to the confusion, although the provinces exhibited uniformity in their declarations of independence, there was virtually no agreement on what form the Republic of China should take or if the Nanjing government should assume leadership over the new nation.

At the provincial level, many began to wonder if Sun Yat-sen's skills as a revolutionary agitator were sufficient to lead modern China through its difficult initial phases of nationhood. He had spent most of his adult life outside China and had no military or political leadership experience. As a result, many Chinese believed him to be uniquely ill-equipped to handle the serious organizational issues facing the republic. Thus, for several months, the National Assembly was in the awkward position of asserting national control over China, while regional power remained unambiguously in the hands of provincial governors and the Qing emperor still professing to govern his empire.

With the young republic facing political gridlock, Yuan Shikai, a political and military official who had broad ties with both the Qing court and the military forces, emerged as a compromise candidate. Yuan, on the surface, appeared an odd choice. Ideologically conservative, his political views were not aligned with many of the revolution's goals. However, his decades-long career on the battlefield and in the imperial corridors of power had given him the real-world connections needed to break the deadlock by negotiating an end to the Qing dynasty. If nothing else, Yuan understood an opportunity when he saw it. In exchange for taking on this critical role, he demanded that he be given nothing less than the presidency. Many Chinese felt he alone could peacefully bring an end to Qing rule and prevent a civil war. As the pressure mounted, and just six weeks after accepting the provisional presidency, Sun Yat-sen agreed to resign from office to make way for Yuan Shikai to become China's first president. Sun would never serve as president of a unified China. He would, however, remain active in China's political development. Yuan Shikai's leadership proved to be a political disaster that far from helped China make the awkward transition from empire to republic, but he hastened China's political disintegration, ushering China in a period of deep disunion.

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