Widespread Panic in 1911

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:37 am

On March 31, 1911, the Japanese consul in Fuzhou filed a report on Chinese concerns about foreign invasion. That foreigners were going to divvy China up into colonies or “carve the melon” had been a major fear in China for several years, and in the Spring of 1911 rumors were again circulating that the foreign powers were meeting, perhaps in Paris, to decide on the division of China. The foreign press (and some Chinese papers) poo-pooed these wild rumors, by which they meant that there was not a formal meeting going on to divvy up China’s provinces among the Powers. The process of gradually absorbing Chinese sovereignty was of course still going on. Foreign-run factories, railways, and mines were dotted across China, the Treaty Ports were open for business, and Korea had been formally annexed by Japan on August 29, 1910, moving it from the status of semi-colonized to fully colonized. Given the general lack of faith in the court, there were calls for popular militias to organize to defend the nation. In this atmosphere of heightened suspicion even innocent foreign actions could seem sinister, and in any case there were plenty of actual hostile acts by foreigners for Chinese to be concerned about. This atmosphere had a lot to do with the explosive impact of the Sichuan Railway case in the Summer of 1911 and the Revolution in the fall.

In the case of Fujian, students in Shanghai and Japan were urging their fellow provincials to prepare to defend the nation. As Fujian was assumed to be part of the Japanese spoils in any division, the Japanese consul took interest in their activities

It appears that around 13 March some gentry here held a meeting to discuss the situation. After that, they distributed a leaflet entitled “Appeal for the Immediate Organization of a Militia.” This is attached to this re­ port as Exhibit I. In summary it says: Britain raided Pianma; France moved large troops to Yunnan under the pretext of protecting the rail­road; Russia is aiming at Manchuria, Mongolia, and the Yili areas. The division is close at hand. Japan and Germany are also about to take ac tion. Since foreign troubles always come with domestic discord, we have to organize a militia for self-defense now that we cannot rely on govern­ment forces.

The British consul filed a protest with the Fujian authorities as it was known that a copy of the leaflet appeared in a school run by a British national. The American consul, who was appointed to the post earlier, visited other consuls here and discussed whether they should make their attitude clear about this matter. Their conclusion was that they did not have to take any action since the leaflet was not causing serious trouble.

Yet there were rumors circulating in the city. One of them said that farmers in the suburbs were preparing arms and banners to attack Japa­nese. There were also far-fetched arguments based on a visit made by Canton consul-general, Segawa; the Hong Kong consul, Funatsu; and myself [consul Takasu]. They stopped over here on the way back to their posts, and visited local government officials, including the general-in-chief and the governor.

This was followed by a harbor call by the receiving ship Tsugaru. It was said that the consuls met with an important mission, that the warship called to spy upon Fujian or that six warships gathered on the open sea.

Attached to the report was a copy of the call for establishment of a militia

Further Appeal for the Immediate Establishment of a Militia

Compatriots: Britain has occupied Pianma; France aims at the mines in Yunnan; Russia is getting closer to Mongolia and Yili. Students in Japan, the United States, and assemblies in every province are sending out emergency telegrams one after another. We assume you saw our first leaflet and already understand quite well what is going on in our country. From what you have read in Beijing and Shanghai newspapers and the Jianyanbao, which has recently been published in Fuzhou, we believe that you have understood that we are not exaggerating things. We had expected that you would take countermeasures quickly to protect yourselves, your families, and your property. In the last ten days, however, further worsening of the foreign troubles has led people in all other provinces to rise and take action. At the moment, the Merchants Asso­ ciation in the capital, Fuzhou, the Nantaizhen Board of Directors, and the schools are working out countermeasures. They are organizing mer­ chant militias, beginning to train militias, setting up an Association for Physical Education, or making military calisthenics a compulsory subject. Responses vary, but the object is one and the same.

However, we wonder how people in other prefectures, districts, and counties [other than Fuzhou] are going to protect themselves, their families, and their property. It is quite strange that they are doing nothing about it. We cannot keep silent because we want to protect ourselves, our families, and our property as well as yours. This is why we are making another appeal to the people of our hometown.…..Just think about what Japan does these days. The Japanese government as well as its people have been targeting the Northeast since the powers began their actions. According to a detailed report we have obtained, there are four times as many Japanese troops stationed in the Northeast as Chinese troops deployed across the entire country. The report also says that they have introduced wireless telegraph throughout Mongolia to communicate secret information. It is reported that they are going to send two more divisions to the Northeast.5

Next are a series of telegrams between various provincial assemblies.

A telegram from the Xian provincial assembly to the Fujian provincial assembly: “A telegram from Yunnan says that Britain has occupied Pianma, and Japan and Russia are making a raid on the Northeast. The only way to save our country from danger is for people to arm themselves. In cooperation with other provincial assemblies, we would like to start training a militia under the pretext of maintaining order. On 9 February (9 March in the solar calendar) we requested the National Assembly to obtain permission from the government.

From the Fujian assembly to the Tianjin assembly: “The matter is quite urgent. A joint conference of assemblies should be convened.” From the Fujian assembly to the Grand Council: “We are now facing a national crisis. People are very afraid that the nation may perish. When diplomacy is faced with difficulties, the government should turn to public opinion. If we are allowed to ask His Majesty for an extraordinary session of the National Assembly and to express there how angry our people are, we think it might be possible to reduce the foreign countries’ contempt for us and gain time to work out countermeasures.”

These are only a few examples. We have much more information, but it is simply impossible to carry all the details that were reported by Beijing and Shanghai newspapers and by the Jianyanbao, which has recently started in Fuzhou.

The leaflet concludes as follows:

Just think, our property is about to be lost, and so are our lives, our families, and our country. Is there any easy solution to such a serious crisis? Proverbs say, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well,” and “Try everything even if there are no prospects.” If you do not care if the people of our nine prefectures and two districts lose their country, their lives, their families, and their property, we do not care, either. But if you do, set up a militia promptly. If one group of people appeals, many other groups will respond. If one village rises, others will follow. If we expand the movement from one village to one county, one county to one pre­ fecture and then to one province using the same system, and if we keep in close touch with one another, we will be able to maintain order in our homeland in peace-time and assist the army in time of war. This is what we have to do right now to save our country. Compatriots, time never returns. If we rise now there is a chance to recover our nation. We sincerely ask you to seriously consider our proposal.

From Ono Shinji “A Deliberate Rumor: National Anxiety in China on the Eve of the Xinhai Revolution.” in Eto Shinkichi and Harlod Z. Schiffrin China’s Republican Revolution University of Tokyo Press, 1994.



A fun toy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:52 am

The Economist has a fun toy where you can compare Chinese provinces to various foreign countries.  Some of the comparisons don’t help much, given that some of these places don’t mean a lot to me. Yunnan has the GDP per person of Vanuatu and Guangxi of Swaziland? O.K. On the other hand, Sichuan having the population of Germany is a helpful comparison.

The only thing I would have liked to see them add would be a comparison of income distributions. It’s nice to know how much wealth the people of Beijing would have if the money was all shared out equally, but of course it is not. Not sure if they have the data for that, though.


Sun Yat-sen: If only a Revolution -were- like a dinner party

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:54 pm

Livebloging 1911

Someone once said “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

That is a pretty radical statement. Also a somewhat analytical one. Very few have ever accused Sun Yat-sen, father of the 1911 Revolution of being either a radical or overly analytical. He was however, great at dinner parties. On March 19th he was not in Canton, where the April uprising would be happening, nor in Hong Kong, where it was mostly being planned. He was in Vancouver, 1 talking to audiences of Overseas Chinese. He raised $7,000 HK, which was the largest total raised for the April uprising anywhere in the world. If Huang Xing was the organizer of the revolution Sun was the publicist and fund-raiser. Having been abducted in London in 1896 and briefly imprisoned in the Chinese legation made him by far the best-known Chinese revolutionary overseas, and his tireless fund-raising and organizing in Southeast Asia, North America, Japan and elsewhere made him the best known spokesman for the overthrow of the Qing and establishment of a Republic. So although he played a pretty limited role in the actual 1911 revolution it is worth thinking about him for a bit. They also serve who only wrangle invitations to banquets and give speeches.

Although the bulk of his uprisings were failures, a revolution costs a lot of money, and while giving speeches all over the world on the Overseas Chinese rubber chicken circuit must have been a drag he kept at it, and had a rare ability to convince everyone from wealthy Cantonese merchants to railroad laborers to part with their cash.  Sun’s personal ability to persuade people to support the cause was a major asset, even if it was not clear what all these resources, both money and recruits, were best used for. So today is a fine day to remember Sun Yat-sen, who among his many other achievements, was the after-dinner speaker who financed the 1911 Revolution.

  1. Or somewhere in Canada. The nianpu I have is not very detailed, but in was in Vancouver about the 19th. []


Revolt in Canton

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:13 am

Live-blogging 1911

Live-blogging is (for historians) the process of blogging about something in the past as if it was happening in the present. Since this is the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution, I thought it might be nice do something on that. The Wuhan revolt is still a ways off, but the Canton uprising is (although nobody knew it) right around the corner. Textbooks tend to dismiss the various revolts that Sun Yat-sen encouraged in the years before 1911 as pathetic failures, which is true enough, but by early 1911 some of them were becoming more substantial. There were a couple of disturbances in the New Army in Canton early in 1911, the first of which happened on February 12, exactly one year before the Manchu emperor formally abdicated.

Revolutionaries vaguely connected to Sun Yat-sen had been organizing in the New Army in Canton for some time. . Ni Yingdian 倪映典 was the ringleader of the revolt. He was the son of a traditional Chinese doctor from Anhui and had risen to command an New Army artillery division before being dismissed for revolutionary activity. He promptly moved to Guangdong and joined the new army there and was again dismissed for revolutionary activity, although he was not arrested. It may seem a bit odd that he was dismissed but not arrested twice, but the Qing government was less in control of things than they might have hoped and also desperate for modern-trained men. More to the point, during the New Policies period many revolutionaries were turning into reformers, and they may have hoped that the same would happen with Ni.

Unfortunately a mutiny occurred among the troops of the Second Regiment on February 10th ,, well before the planned date for the revolt. Sun Yat-sen had raised over HK 8,000 to support the revolt, and preparations were being made for supporting revolts in the countryside, but Ni decided he could not wait and encouraged his old comrades to rise up. When the commander of the Artillery Division refused to join the revolt Ni shot him, which pretty much committed them to the revolt, which was put down the next day. Ni Yingdian was one of the first rebels killed. Several others were executed later and the rebellious units disbanded.

Although the revolt itself had minimal support it was a revolt of active military units in a major city, which was an upgrade from some previous revolutionary actions. The punishment of the rebels actually won them a good deal of support.  Sun and his followers began mobilizing for a new revolt in Canton.  “Intellectuals, tradesmen, workers and peasants” began to assemble in the city. Female members of the Revolutionary Alliance posed as brides and began smuggling arms into the city.  They also took over a newspaper which had been created to oppose a planned provincial gambling monopoly and used it to spread revolutionary ideas. So that is pretty much where things stood in March of 1911


Most of the above is from Rhodes, China’s Republican Revolution


P.S. If anyone has suggestions for posts, feel free to sent them to me.


This is your historical analogy on drugs

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:08 pm

Apparently Google is just like the British East India Company. Or so at least the toadies of the CCP would have you believe.  According to People’s Daily,  Google is attempting to corrupt China with information, just as the British tried to corrupt it with opium.

In the colonial era, the British East India Company used the monopolization of trade in the colonies to traffic opium and assist Britain in building its hegemony. In the Internet era, Google uses its monopoly of Internet information search to traffic American values and assist American in building its hegemony.

Besides the obvious historical errors (it was not John Company who attacked China with warships in the Opium Wars, but the British Navy) the historical analogy does not work the way the author would like to claim. It is indeed true that both Google and the British East India Company were foreign firms, but in fact both of them had success in China not because they marched in and forced people to buy their goods at gunpoint, but because Chinese people wanted to buy what they were selling.  (Leaving out the fact that Google gives it away for free.) The piece points out that Baidu has held on to the bulk of the Chinese search market, so I guess this would make Baidu domestic Chinese opium, maybe a nice Yunnan. 1 Where is the Carnival of Bad History when you need it?


Via Jeremiah Jeene

  1. Goes well with fava beans []

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