The imperial edicts for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment, and postal services. The edicts attempted to modernize agriculture, medicine, and mining and to promote practical studies instead of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. The court also planned to send students abroad for firsthand observation and technical studies. All these changes were to be brought about under a de facto constitutional monarchy.
Opposition to the reform was intense among the conservative ruling elite, especially the Manchus, who, in condemning the announced reform as too radical, proposed instead a more moderate and gradualist course of change. Supported by ultraconservatives and with the tacit support of the political opportunist Yuan Shikai ( 1859-1916), Empress Dowager Ci Xi () engineered a coup d'tat on September 21, 1898, forcing the young reform-minded Guangxu into seclusion. Ci Xi took over the government as regent. The Hundred Days' Reform () ended with the rescindment of the new edicts and the execution of six of the reform's chief advocates. The two principal leaders, Kang Youwei ( 1858-1927) and Liang Qichao ( 1873-1929), fled abroad to found the Baohuang Hui ( or Protect the Emperor Society) and to work, unsuccessfully, for a constitutional monarchy in China.
The conservatives then gave clandestine backing to the antiforeign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies known as Yihetuan ( or Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, or Righteousness and Harmony Boxers). In 1900 Boxer bands spread over the north China countryside, burning missionary facilities and killing Chinese Christians. Finally, in June 1900, the Boxers besieged the foreign concessions in Beijing and Tianjin, an action that provoked an allied relief expedition by the offended nations. The Qing declared war against the invaders, who easily crushed their opposition and occupied north China. Under the Protocol of 1901, the court was made to consent to the execution of ten high officials and the punishment of hundreds of others, expansion of the Legation Quarter, payment of war reparations, stationing of foreign troops in China, and razing of some Chinese fortifications.
In the decade that followed, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the moribund Confucian-based examination, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an experiment, if half-hearted, in constitutional and parliamentary government. The suddenness and ambitiousness of the reform effort actually hindered its success. One effect, to be felt for decades to come, was the establishment of new armies, which, in turn, gave rise to warlordism.
The Republican Revolution of 1911
Failure of reform from the top and the fiasco of the Boxer
Uprising convinced many Chinese that the only real solution lay
in outright revolution, in sweeping away the old order and
erecting a new one patterned preferably after the example of
Japan. The revolutionary leader was Sun Yat-sen (
or Sun Yixian in
pinyin, 1866-1925), a republican and anti-Qing activist who
became increasingly popular among the overseas Chinese
and Chinese students abroad, especially in Japan. In
1905 Sun founded the Tongmeng Hui (
or United League) in Tokyo with
Huang Xing ( 1874-1916),
a popular leader of the Chinese revolutionary movement
in Japan, as his deputy. This movement,
generously supported by overseas Chinese funds, also gained
political support with regional military officers and some of the
reformers who had fled China after the Hundred Days' Reform.
Sun's political philosophy was conceptualized in 1897, first
enunciated in Tokyo in 1905, and modified through the early
1920s. It centered on the Three Principles of the People (
or san min
zhuyi): "nationalism, democracy, and people's livelihood." The
principle of nationalism called for overthrowing the Manchus and
ending foreign hegemony over China. The second principle,
democracy, was used to describe Sun's goal of a popularly elected
republican form of government. People's livelihood, often
referred to as socialism, was aimed at helping the common people
through regulation of the ownership of the means of production
The republican revolution broke out on October 10, 1911, in Wuchang (), the capital of Hubei () Province, among discontented modernized army units whose anti-Qing plot had been uncovered. It had been preceded by numerous abortive uprisings and organized protests inside China. The revolt quickly spread to neighboring cities, and Tongmeng Hui members throughout the country rose in immediate support of the Wuchang revolutionary forces. By late November, fifteen of the twenty-four provinces had declared their independence of the Qing empire. A month later, Sun Yat-sen returned to China from the United States, where he had been raising funds among overseas Chinese and American sympathizers. On January 1, 1912, Sun was inaugurated in Nanjing as the provisional president of the new Chinese republic. But power in Beijing already had passed to the commander-in-chief of the imperial army, Yuan Shikai, the strongest regional military leader at the time. To prevent civil war and possible foreign intervention from undermining the infant republic, Sun agreed to Yuan's demand that China be united under a Beijing government headed by Yuan. On February 12, 1912, the last Manchu emperor, the child Puyi (), abdicated. On March 10, in Beijing, Yuan Shikai was sworn in as provisional president of the Republic of China.