Picturing the 1911 Revolution

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:37 am

Via the comments1 to this post I see that Oberlin has posted an on-line version of History of China for 1912 in 52 cartoons

These seem to be weekly cartoons published in something called the National Review (not the same as the current American magazine of the same name) Needless to say if you are responsible for coming up with a cartoon on Chinese politics every week there will be some weeks when inspiration does not strike or not much seems to be happening, even the the revolutionary year of 1911. Still, many of them are quite good for teaching with or thinking about.

Jan_13Here, for instance, is a nice one showing the Manchus and Han fighting it out while various foreigners take advantage of the opportunity to grab stuff. One of the standard themes of 1911 is that Chinese elites on all sides wanted to settle the thing quickly to avoid encouraging foreign intervention and this picture, drawn by a foreigner no less, illustrates this pretty well.


  1. from peacay of BibliOdyssey! []


1911 in 2013

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:44 am

I was going to do a post on how the Chinese world is remembering 1911, the overthrow of the Qing, and founding of the Chinese Republic. The answer seems to be that there is not much up. A couple years ago, for the 100th anniversary there were quite a few publications. This year the big story seems to be that very few people are visiting the museum of the revolution in Canton, although private collectors are donating artifacts to the museum of the Revolution in Wuhan Taipei does not seem to be up to much, although Ma Ying-jeou did use the occasion to call for closer cross-straits ties, but the general coverage is pretty downbeat. The mainland seems to be continuing its tradition of not paying much attention to the occasion. The Santa Fe Opera is doing an opera on Sun’s life which, from the description, sounds like it is not very historical.


Blood of the martyrs

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:58 pm

The Chinese student group asked me to come out and talk at their showing of Jackie Chan’s 1911. As it was competing with the Stillers game attendance was not great, but we did have a nice chat afterwards.

The movie was… less than ideal. It was a nice time, however, to think about drama and history. How to make a movie about 1911? This was an interesting topic for me in part because my adviser was a consultant for the PBS series China in Revolution1 They were given 7 seconds to sum up the 1911 Revolution. Film and history don’t always play nice together. I’m not always a history snob. If you warp history and make a good film  out of it I’m fine with that. This one did not work either way however. Part of the problem was that Jackie Chan is apparently continuing his campaign to become a Chinese icon acceptable to Beijing. He’s great for that in some respects. Being from HK and having trained in a Beijing Opera school he has the connections to both China’s 5000 years of history and Greater China. Unfortunately his skills as an actor rotate around his Gongfu and the fact that he has the chops to do comedy. As Huang Xing he does not do any comedy,and he is too old to do much Gongfu. There is a hint of a romance in here, but it does not save the film.

O.K. so if they are not going to make a good film that abandons history, what about one that follows it? 1911 is a good story, yes? For obvious reasons they have to abandon some of the narratives of the Revolution. Although the actual revolution was intensely anti-Manchu, the Manchus are no longer evil exploiters of the Chinese people. Now they are one of the 56 nationalities that make up the Chinese people, and so Manchu Evil is not a possible bad guy. Pu Yi is presented as a brat, which deals with the problem of making a little kid manipulated by his elders a source of pity. The villain here is Yuan Shikai. This is not a big surprise, and he is the best character in the film. I really liked the scene where he is dismissed from his post serving the Qing (because he is already betraying them), tosses away his staff and does a little dance. Is he dancing because he is a Han finally free from the Manchu yoke? Because he is an opportunist finally free to act on his own? You could build a nice movie around him, especially if, unlike this movie, you acknowledge his history as a reformer.

If Yuan is the bad guy, who is the good guy? Sun Yat-sen, as always, is wooden. His inspiring leadership or clever plans will not make a revolution, although his fundraising powers are praised. Huang Xing, Chan’s character, is a loyal servant rather than a revolutionary rival, as he actually was. The movie  does acknowledge the current interpretation of the revolution. While the Wuhan uprising may have started things, it was the provincial assemblies declaring for the Revolution that really made it happen. Provincial assemblies passing motions do not make for  great drama, They represent this by a scene where people launch rafts with the names of the different provinces. Not much better, unfortunately.

So what did make the revolution? Sacrifice. The movie opens with Qiu Jin embracing death for China and her children, and it ends with the child of one of the (dead) revolutionaries grasping a letter from his father. There is a lot of blood, and a lot of suffering, and while the suffering is not linked to anything, there is a lot of it. It is the blood of the martyrs that led to the new China and then in an odd little finale, to the Communist revolution. It is is some respects a very faithful movie. Homer Lea is in here, for no good reason, as is Wang Jing-wei (downplayed, for some reason) but it did not really work for me either as a film or as history.





  1. which is really good []


Assassination and uprisings

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:32 am

On April 8th, 1911  five days before the scheduled Canton revolt an independent radical from Singapore assassinated the Manchu governor of Canton, Fu Qi. This threw the not-very organized revolutionaries into disarray, and headed the Canton revolt towards yet another failure.

By 1911 the revolutionary forces in China had been trying and failing to overthrow the Qing since at least 1895.  In later histories this string of failed revolts can sometimes seem like they are rising to a crescendo, but at the time things did not seem so clear cut. This led to any number of debates on method, one of which was over the value of assassinations in fomenting revolution. Influenced by Anarchists and Russian Narodniks and assorted Japanese radicals, various Chinese began a fascination with direct action. Part of this was based on the idea the a person like the knight-errant of old could rectify the world with a single stab, or, as one radical newspaper put it. (taking advantage of the ease in putting ‘ism’ on words in Chinese)

“Republicanism, Revolution-ism, Blood-Sacrifice-ism, Assassination-ism, none of these can be undertaken without knight-errant-ism ” ”共和主义,革命主义,流血主义,暗杀主义,非有游侠主义 不能担负之“ 1

While some revolutionaries like Huang Xing and Sun Yat-sen were trying to broaden the revolution, bringing in more people, more groups and more money, the assassins seemed attracted to the fact that a single person was all that was needed. Probably the best example was Wu Yue, who was killed in 1905 when a bomb he was going to throw at the five commissioners the Qing were sending overseas to examine Western methods exploded prematurely.  Wu Yue felt that the Chinese people had become so weakened by Manchu rule that only the shock of assassinations could arouse their spirit 伸民气, and the sacrifice of revolutionary lives would be needed to establish a new nation.2

Wu is perhaps best classified as an assassin, rather than an Anarchist. Although clearly influenced by Russian ideas other Anarchists dismissed him for his anti-Manchu racism, which they saw as counter to their internationalist ideas.3 He was certainly no reformer, nor does he seem to have had very clear ideas about -how- assassinations were going to lead to his ultimate goal of a constitutional government. He claimed that a stage of assassination had to proceed a stage of revolution, which would in turn lead to constitutional government, but it was not clear how this was supposed to happen.

Wu’s attempt did get a lot of attention, however, as it was the biggest thing anyone had tried yet, and right in the heart of Beijing. Traditionally those convicted of particularly heinous crimes were dismembered through lingchi 凌遲 and their bodies displayed. This penalty had officially been abolished earlier in 1905 as part of the modernization of Chinese judicial practice, and had last been imposed in 1904 on a mass murderer. Public execution in this extreme form was the ultimate expression of the state’s (and heaven’s) disapproval.  Wu Yue’s body was photographed and the photographs pretty widely distributed, perhaps as a final, modernized version of this punishment. (I have put the picture beneath the fold.) Perhaps Wu Yue would even have been pleased by this. His assassination attempt had failed, but the state had anointed him the most dangerous of revolutionaries. If nothing else he could not be lumped in with the milquetoast reformers he was so contemptuous of.

Needless to say, it was hard to build a revolutionary movement out of bomb-throwers like Wu Yue and fundraisers like Sun Yat-sen.



  1. 朱育和, 辛亥革命史 人民出版社, 2001 p.247 []
  2. 朱育和, 辛亥革命史,  人民出版社, 2001 p.251, Rankin Early Chinese Revolutionaries p. 107 []
  3. Dirlik Anarchism and the Chinese Revolution p.94 []


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.



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. []

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