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China: Reflecting on 100 Years Since the Xinhai Revolution

The Arab Spring has travelled to other parts of the world and inspired the Wall Street Occupation but China has nipped its Jasmine Revolution in the bud by cracking down on civil rights activists since February 2011.

However, China does indeed have its own revolutionary traditions. The successful Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911, marked the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and established the Republic of China. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising and and the Revolution.

100th anniversary of Wuchang Uprising

Against the background of the global revolutionary climate and Internet-faciltated social unrest, needless to say, modern interpretation of Xinhai Revolution is highly sensitive and political.

The China Media Project looks into the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) representation of the Xinhai Revolution through the mainstream reports on October 10, 2011:

The front page of the People's Daily on October 10, 2011

The front page of the People's Daily on October 10, 2011

We can see the basic Party treatment best by looking at the front page of the Party’s official People’s Daily, where a photo of the standing committee + 1 (former President Jiang Zemin), with Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin right smack in the middle, accompanies a dry report on the commemoration and the full official text of Hu Jintao’s “important speech.”

The Chinese President Hu Jintao's speech on the Xinhai Revolution contains nothing out of the ordinary, but the discussion in the Weibo online forum is more contentious and interesting.

Online discussions

Reporter Wang Wen from Global Times, another party controlled media outlet, talks about the Revolution in a celebratory mood [zh] and foresees that that it will take another 100 years to accomplish its goals:

辛亥革命今日正好100年。有三大目标已实现:一是恢复中华;二是推翻千年帝制;三是器物崛起,包括孙中山曾设想的三峡大坝青藏铁路等。有三大目标未实现:一是封建意识未断根;二是统一未成;三是宪政艰难。后三者恐怕还需100年。所以,今日仍要讲:“革命尚未成功,同志务须努力”。

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. We have accomplished three major goals: firstly, the restoration of the Chinese nation; secondly, the overthrow of the imperial system; thirdly, the development of infrastructure, including the Three Gorges Dams and the Tibetan Railway, as Sun Yatsen had envisioned. We still have three goals to be accomplished: firstly, the eradication of feudal thoughts; secondly, reunification [with Taiwan]; thirdly, the development of constitution rule. The latter three goals will probably take another 100 years. That's why we still have to say, “the revolution is yet to be accomplished, more efforts from our comrades are needed”.

On the other hand, Chinese historian Lei Yi believes that Chinese people should not hold on to the China model and argues [zh] that the Xinhai Revolution signifies the bankruptcy of a political system with Chinese characteristics:

今天是辛亥百年纪念。几千年的帝制被推翻,几千年皇权神授观念终于破灭。这是几千年中国政治制度最强的传统、最大的特色,认为是神圣不可改变的。当这种几千年的神圣制度、传统、特色都可被推翻,制度层面还有什么特色是必须坚持的呢?我以为,辛亥革命最大的意义就是制度层面中国特色论的破产。

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. It has overthrown thousands of years of imperial system and imperial authority endorsed by the heavens. Such a political system was once upheld as the unchangeable foundation of Chinese tradition but was eventually overthrown. Which characteristic of this Chinese political system should we still hold on to? I believe the greatest significance of the Xinhai Revolution is the bankruptcy of the discourse about the political system with Chinese characteristics.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Republican Revolution and Father of the Chinese Nation. Image from sustainableview.blogspot.com, available in public domain.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Republican Revolution and Father of the Chinese Nation. Image from sustainableview.blogspot.com, available in public domain.

However, not everyone is in a celebratory mood. Current affairs commentator, Chen Jieren comments in his Weibo [zh]:

大家都在讨论辛亥革命的意义,似乎达成了一个共识:辛亥革命最大的功绩就是推翻了封建专制。可事实真的如此吗?在我看来,辛亥革命不过是把名义上的皇帝赶下了龙椅,而直到今天,我们依然生活在封建制度中。别说那世袭的高官和毫无民主可言的假选举,光说那既得利益集团的各霸一块,不是封建是什么?

Everyone is talking about the significance of Xinhai Revolution as if there is a consensus: the greatest achievement of the Revolution was the overthrown of feudal dictatorship. However, is that real? In my opinion, the Xinhai Revolution has just removed the emperor from his dragon chair, but we still live in a feudal system. Let's not mention the high-rank government official ‘princes’ and fake democratic elections; the fact that the interest groups have occupied their own territories is very typical of feudal society.

Xiao Gongqin, another historian, argues that the Xinhai Revolution has only brought chaos to China in an interview with Caijing.com [zh] and his commentary has also been widely circulated in Weibo [zh]:

辛亥革命的意义没那么大,辛亥革命也不像我们想象的那么美好,它恰恰是二十世纪大混乱的开端。如果没有辛亥革命,如果当时按照预备立宪大纲加快改革,在皇权不受挑战的情况下,社会还能够有序地前进。

The Xinhai Revolution is not that significant. The Revolution is not as glorious as we have imagined. It marked the beginning of all the chaos in the 20th century. If the Xinhai Revolution had not happened, and the pace of constitutional reform had increased, there was no need to challenge imperial power and society could have progressed steadily.

The conclusion of Xiao's argument can be very conservative, as the CCP has been compared to imperial power among netizens. Nevertheless Editor of Southern Metropolis, Ximen, picks up his “what if” argument and concludes that [zh] all the bloody revolutions of the past 100 years were results of missed opportunities for peaceful transformation:

辛亥革命,错过了君主立宪;民国时期,错过了民主宪政;重庆谈判,错过了两党制;政治协商,错过了多党制;百年历史,没错过的是一次次的流血革命。

The Xinhai Revolution was the result of a missed constitutional monarchy reform; a democratic constitution was missed during the establishment of the Republic of China; we missed the development of a two parties political system in the Chongqing Negotiations and missed the development of multiple political party system in setting up the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; in our past one hundred year of history, what we haven't missed is rounds and rounds of bloody revolutions.

Guangdong-based historian Yuan Weishi sums up [zh] the lesson we can learn from the history in a blogpost:

至于教训,最主要的一条,是一定要有很多人坚忍不拔,致力于普及现代文明的知识。非常痛心,灾难来自于整个国家的思想文化水平不高,社会精英思想水平不高,他们对现代社会缺乏应有的认识。以孙文来说,就仍然受“朕即国家”的旧思想支配。
他说:革命“必须在唯一领袖之下,绝对服从。”“我是推翻专制,建立共和,首倡而实行之者。如离开我而讲共和、讲民主,则是南辕而北其辙。”
面对这些瞩目惊心的事实,拜托关怀国运的诸君子,千万不要再用“传统”或“国性”为藉口,构筑抵御现代文明在中国落实的思想堡垒!兴之所至,你们高兴玩《尚书》、《周易》、《论语》……就尽情玩吧。但请不要忽悠中国人,说这里有计算机和最好的宪政!

The main historical lesson is that many people have to carry on promoting popular knowledge about modern civilization. It is very heartbreaking that our disasters have been rooted from massive ignorance and the low level of intellectual thought among the social elites. They have too little knowledge about modern society. Even Sun Wen [Sun Yatsen – the founder of the Republic of China] was influenced by the idea of “the emperor is the nation”.
He said that the revolution should be under “one leader with absolute obedience” and that “I am the initiator and practitioner of the Republic that overthrown the authoritarian system. For those who talk about the Republic and Democracy away from my direction, they are standing in my opposition.”
When confronting with all these frightening historical events, for those who really are concerned about the fate of our country, please do not use “tradition” nor “national character” as the pretext to resist the modern civilization from entering China. You can play with Chinese classics: Shangshu, I Ching and the Analects as you like, please do not fool the Chinese people by saying that we have the best computer and constitution!

3 comments

  • […] Global Voices Online […]

  • The “Jasmine Revolution” was yet another invention of the Western media. The Chinese government is the most popular and trusted government on earth (Pew, UofM Gov’t. surveys) with 86% approval–almost the direct inverse rating of the US and British governments.

    Even a moment’s reflection demonstrates that the current Chinese government is the most democratic in China’s 3,000 year history.

    And as to the dissidents so beloved of Western media, Messrs. Ai and Liu, their offense was not being offensive (they’d being doing that for a decade, quite publicly and without interference). It was acting as the paid agents of foreign powers–which is as much an offence in the USA as it is in China.

  • […] Lam, O. (2011, October 13). China: Reflecting on 100 Years Since the Xinhai Revolution · Global Voices. Retrieved from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/10/13/china-reflecting-on-100-years-since-the-xinhai-revolution/ […]

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