History of the Republic of China Part I

The history of the Republic of China covers the period from the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.


Towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, attempts were made to establish a constitution and a people’s assembly, but without any significant success. In February 1912, Emperor Xuantong had to abdicate, and revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen resigned in favor of Yuan Shikai, who was elected president. With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, a form of parliamentarism was introduced in China. A temporary constitution was passed by the National Assembly, and the government moved again to Beijing.

For four years, Yuan managed to keep the kingdom together, partly thanks to support from the great powers, including in the form of a reorganization loan. But he had no confidence among the radicals, who in August 1912 took the party name Guomindang (Kuomintang – “Nationalist Party”) and gained a majority in the National Assembly. However, the party was excluded from the National Assembly, which soon dissolved.

According to Picktrue, a new constitution strengthened the president’s power, and Yuan was planning to be declared emperor. This met with opposition from both the radicals and the military who did not want a strong central government. When the great powers also objected, he gave up the idea. A severe uprising in Yunnan in 1915 spread, and many provinces declared themselves independent. Yuan was advised to step down, but died in 1916. His successor, the well-meaning Li Yanhong, was unable to avert the crisis and soon had to step down; in the next ten years, one head of government replaced the other. They depended on the generals’ dispositions, and military governors ruled the provinces.

Members of the 1913 National Assembly organized their own government in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1917. It was recognized by the name in large parts of southern China. The country was now divided in two, but in fact it was divided into as many parts as a varying number of rival generals, and the borders swung with their fortunes. The most famous were Zhang Tsolin in Male Jury, Wu Peifu and Feng Yuxiang, the so-called “Christian general”. The political dissolution resembled similar processes in earlier dynastic shifts, but the chaotic conditions were this time sharpened by the influence of new ideas and direct interference from outside.

The only public institutions that still functioned throughout the empire were railways, customs and postal services. The resentment towards the foreigners seemed like a unifying element, and during this time the national feeling grew. The United Kingdom and Russia expanded their areas of interest in Tibet and Mongolia, respectively, both of which had declared their independence before 1914. Japan sought to gain control of parts of China.

World war one

Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, the Japanese took the German possessions in Shandong, and in January 1915 they made 21 claims, which, besides Shandong, also included rights in Manjury, privileges and licenses in industry and construction in China itself. A wave of indignation swept across the country, and the United States protested in Tokyo.

Initially, Japan had to settle for less than they had demanded, and when China declared war in the Central Powers in 1917, Japan was given a secret promise of support for its claims of German possessions in Shandong. China did not take an active part in the war, but sent workers to France and was postponed with compensation following the boxing uprising.

May 4th Movement

China canceled its debt to the central powers and took over German and Austrian licenses. At the peace conference in Versailles, they lost their extra-territorial rights. This opened China’s later fight against “unfair treaties”, trade agreements that China was forced to sign after the opium wars. However, Japan retained the German possessions in Shandong. This provoked great resentment, and on May 4, 1919, the students of Beijing organized a mass demonstration against the decision in Versailles.

The May 4 movement spread and became the start of a nationwide boycott of Japanese goods. As a result, after the Washington Conference, China regained its former German holdings against the Japanese retaining different rights. The May 4 movement stimulated the revolutionary forces. A circle around Chen Duxiu, founder and editor of the journal Xin qingnian (“New Youth”), with Hu Shih as the leader, began to use the spoken language in writing. They criticized Confucianism and were strongly concerned with the science and democracy of the West.

History of the Republic of China 1

History of the Republic of China Part I
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