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:


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:


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, available in public domain.

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

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


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 [zh] and his commentary has also been widely circulated in Weibo [zh]:


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:


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:


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!


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