Sunday, March 27, 2011

China’s 1911 People's Revolution: Success or Failure?

            The question of whether the 1911 revolution in China was successful can be seen in many different ways.  I guess before one could answer that question one must first understand what the main goals of the revolution were; I believe that some of the main end goals of the revolution (in no particular order) were as followed:

·         Bring Stability
·         Bring Equality
·         Modernize China Industrially and  Economically
·         Stop Oppressive Foreign Intervention
·         End Qing Rule

With the goals of the revolution being stated there are several things to keep in mind such as success and failure are relative terms.  An example of this would be; was the Korean War a success or failure?  That question in particular would bring you a wide range of answers from yes to no and everything in between. 
Another aspect of the problem is that revolution is a messy business in and of itself.  Very rarely do people revolt and know what they want, especially when they have lived under a monarchy for 4,000 years.  It wasn’t as though China could look back to anything in their history and say “remember before” because monarchies had ruled China as long as there had been a China.  Look at the American Revolution for example; the recently freed colonies established a government under the Articles of Confederation.  The United States lingered on under a failed system for over 10 years before they drafted the U.S. Constitution and came to a more functional system of government.  I think one of the problems people make when studying revolutions is that they try to figure out what the revolutionaries wanted when the real answer is merely that they wanted something else.

Let’s now look at some of the places that the 1911 revolution did succeed in and start to make a case why it was a success.  The Chinese economy was a mix of feudal enterprise and capitalism before the revolution.  Although after the revolution feudalism still was an aspect of the economy because of foreign intervention in the area, global occurrences such as WWI drew attention away from China and allowed it to become more modern in some aspects.  China never really achieved a fully capitalist economy but I feel that it was at most a success in this area and at worst a moderate gain.  Either way it accomplishes a goal of the revolution, something different than the status quo.
            Another goal of the revolution was to bring equality to China.  It is true that when you think equality I am not speaking of equality in ethnic and religious minorities or even in women; the equality of that time is that all Chinese men of the predominant religion and ethnicity were equal.  In this sense it was a success; under Qing rule Manchu’s were held in a higher class than other ethnicities.  After the 1911 revolution Manchu (who were also a minority of the population) as well as every other native ethnic faction were regarded as equals.  Considering the 1911 definition of equality, equality was achieved; was it perfect, no, but it was a step forward rather than a step back. 

            Now that we have gone over some of the success of the Chinese Revolution of 1911 it is time to study some of the downfalls as a result of the revolution.  China lost territory at this time; it lost the lands of Mongolia and Tibet among many other lands leading up to the revolution.  One may say that this loss of territory was a failure but I view it as inevitable.  The Sino – Japanese War and the growth of Japan as a regional power house sealed the fate of China and some of its outer territories more than the revolution did.  Some would consider this loss of territory a result of the revolution whereas I see it being the result of a power shift in the region that would have happened revolution or not.     

            It almost sounds rhetorical but when reading the history of the revolution it makes sense; the revolution stopped a lot of the ethnic division but created a civil war in China that lasted up until 1950.  I would say the revolution was a failure in bringing stability to China; even though it did end a lot of the ethnic persecution, but difference of political ideology and foreign intervention kept the Chinese fighting for the next 40 years.  Although in principle the goal was achieved, the violence and unrest continued just in a different form. 
            China as a whole became weaker as a result of the revolution but should this even be considered a failure?  Has there ever been an instance in which a revolution occurs and the proceeding government isn’t initially weaker?  I know this seems like lame reasoning but even bad governments are sometimes more effective than a good young government.  It is again unreasonable to expect that China was somehow supposed to rise from the ashes of this revolution and have a clear and present goal of what to do next.

            The revolution was a failure in the sense that it helped create Japan into a dominant regional power.  To bring balance to any situation it generally helps to have two sides of equal strength.  Although Qing China was not at equal strength as Japan it was a deterrent in Japan’s expansionist goals.  When Qing China fell it gave the green light for Japan to acquire more land unchecked and unquestioned because Russia was also having problems of its own at this time as well. 

            Some consider the 1911 revolution a failure because it ruined the Classical Chinese language and customs.  I again disagree with this point for several reasons.  First of all if the Chinese people wished to hold on to these customs they would have, the reason they let these customs go is because they wanted to.  A lot of times after a revolution you see people change their customs because they feel that they need to reinvent themselves and older customs link them with a past they are trying to forget.   

            One thing that I do believe was a goal of the revolution that it did fail to achieve was to boot foreign influence out of the country.  Japan and the west were players in Japan before 1911 and continued to be well after the revolution was over.  In the defense of the revolution this would have been near impossible to achieve but none the less this goal was not reached by the revolutionaries. 

            In closing, I think it is important to keep in mind that this wasn’t the only thing that affected the China we see today.  In the 100 years since the revolution China has undergone many other wars and revolutions that made China what it is.  It wasn’t till 1950, a full 39 years after the revolution that a unified China was achieved.  In my opinion the 1911 revolution was not a failure but at the same time it was not a complete victory for the revolutionaries.  The revolution did achieve one of the main things it was striving for even though the revolutionaries may not have wanted it after the fact, something different.      

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