By 1911, the Manchu dynasty had ruled China for two hundred and sixty seven years. While the dynasty displaced dynamism and vigour during a greater part of its life, it became comparatively weak and inefficient in its closing phase. By the middle of the 19th century, the Manchus had to face several problem. There was economic dislocation and bureaucratic inefficiency at home; there were the inroads being made by the foreign powers. These conditions called for radical adjustments in China’s political, economic and social structures. The Manchus were unable to make these adjustments. In the face of the impending disaster, the aging Empress Dowager tried to seek refuge in reform. But it was already too late. The collapse of the dynasty became inevitable.
CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTION OF 1911
- Economic causes
The basic causes of the revolution of 1911 were economic. During the twenty five years preceding 1911, there was a phenomenal growth of population. From 377 million in 1885, the population rose to 430 million in 1911. This increase in population was not matched by any increase in food supply. In 1910-11 normal conditions of food production were disturbed by floods in the central provinces. There were droughts in some seven provinces. Millions of people were actually starving and dying. Naturally, there was widespread discontent among the masses of people. The situation was only relieved to a very small extent by migration to Manchuria and other thinly populated areas of the empire. But the famine conditions were acute enough to provide material for a widespread revolt.
Another economic factor was finance. The expenditure of the government steadily increased because of the reorganization of the army, the construction of the railways, and the establishment of new educational institutions. In addition, the government had to meet payments on the indemnities arising out of the Sino-Japanese War and the Boxer Uprising. As a consequence, the taxes became increasingly heavy and new charges had to be levied, making the tax burden altogether unbearable, and adding to the discontent and dissatisfaction with the dynasty.
- Rise of revolutionary ideas
The economic unrest created a receptive state of mind among the people for revolutionary ideas. There was already a revolutionary part since the time of the Hundred Days of Reform. This party operating from Tokyo was headed by Kang Yu-wei and his disciple Liang Chi Chao. They preached the doctrine of constitutional monarchy. There were then the anti-dynastic revolutionaries led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. In 1905, Sun organized his Tung Meng Hui (Alliance Society) which was responsible for many outbreaks. Sun travelled extensively preaching the doctrines of his society. He affiliated many of the secret societies that had a permanent existence south of the Yaugtze to his cause.
A new model army was organized, consisting of anti-Manchu elements. The role played by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in the revolution was truly great. It was he who transformed the mass discontent into a successful revolution. Another centre of revolutionary propaganda was among the new, student class. After 1900, a large number of students went abroad study. These students on return usually found that there was no government’s position open to them. They were naturally aggrieved and because of their foreign experience and training provided active leadership to the revolt.
- Growth of revolutionary parties
The Anti-Manchu sentiment never disappeared throughout the 268 year dynasty. The germ of revolution was kept alive in underground organization and secret societies, which aimed at the over throwing of the Manchu dynasty.
- The revolt of the Three Feudatories
- The rising of Heaven and Earth Society
- The White Louts Rebellion and
- The Taiping Rebellion
were some of the popular uprisings against the Manchus.
- Role of missionaries
In this connection, mention should be made of influential role played by the missionary schools in providing converts to the cause of revolution. These schools provided Western democratic ideas and created a new generation of students imbued with a progressive outlook. Some of the brilliant students went abroad and came in contact with liberal Western institutions. These contacts and the resulting influence had a tremendous significance in the context of the prevailing conditions in China.
- The works of Chinese immigrants
The Chinese immigrants who were going to the West had difficulties. In 1880 and 1890, the United States passed the exclusion acts by which America closed its doors to the Chinese immigrants. Denied admission to the United States, the Chinese turned to Hawaii, the Philippines, Malay States etc. These Chinese numbering about two and half million sent home large remittances and subscribed to the cause of the revolution. Those of the Chinese who returned after staying in the Western countries brought with them Western ideas and propagated them among their countrymen, thus awakening them to a new consciousness.