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The fall of Imperial China

China is an extensive land with one of the world’s oldest civilisations. The achievements of the the various imperial families and their subjects provide the world’s oldest and richest culture. China became a vast empire, the Middle Kingdom of the world, enjoying great respect from her “barbarian” neighbours.


By the end of the 19th century however the empire was in terminal decline. It was torn by internal rebellion, corruption, inefficiency, opium abuse and a stultifying conservatism which frustrated all attempts at reform and regeneration.

To make matters worse the long despised foreign devils, making full use of their technological advances, humiliated the Chinese in a series of aggressive wars lead by the British in the first Opium War and the first of the “unequal treaties” that followed.

By the end of the century China was seething with discontent. Corrupt officials, downtrodden peasants, arrogant foreigners and seemingly useless armies (China lost a war and Taiwan to the Japanese). All contributed to a country ripe for revolutionary upheaval. The Manchus were losing the ‘mandate of heaven’ and the Ching Dynasty was held together only by the ferocious will and the cunning autocracy of the Dowager Empress. When the last emperor the eight year old Pu Yee succeeded it was only a matter of time.

At the time however no one realised what a terrible century awaited China; revolution, war lords, civil war, Japanese invasion, starvation and social upheaval on a scale rarely witnessed. All these difficulties ensued until a communist republic was set up in 1949 which established once more a strong, united and centralised government.


By the end of the 19th century China’s culture was old and her infrastructure, wonderfully effective a thousand years before, was inadequate for her 20th century population.


But with little success. The 1894 defeat at the hands of the newly modernised Japan was a humiliation.


Agitation against the foreigners and their threat to Chinese culture as well as Chinese territory exploded in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

Missionaries were a favourite target of the boxers. Foreign diplomats withstood a 55 day siege in Beijing before they were rescued and the relieving forces took a terrible revenge, executing boxers, pillaging Beijing and making China pay for all of it in yet another unequal treaty.

Only America treated China reasonably, defending her against the worst demands of the Europeans and Japanese and using her share of the reparations to provide scholarships for Chinese boys to American schools and colleges.


It was often Western educated Chinese or those who lived in Europe or America who lead opposition to the Manchu Dynasty – they saw it’s overthrow as the only way to make China a strong, modern, just nation, able to shake off its weakness and backwardness.

The most famous of these revolutionaries was Sun Yat Sen. He was educated in Hawaii, and as a doctor in Hong Kong but he was more interested in politics than medicine and was forced to flee abroad.

He formed the Dare to Dies a revolutionary group but many of his efforts failed. His main achievement was to form the People’s Nationl Party or Guo Min Dang which aimed to give the people a strong democratic country, with work for all and an end to foreign domination. It was the first nation wide party in China and flourished after the 1911 Revolution.


Their best general Yuan Shi Kai refused to suppress the rebels, preferring to live as a Daoist monk for a short while, and the emperor abdicated to retire to the Forbidden City. The Double Ten Revolution of 1911 was successful. Sun Yat Sen was declared first president of the new Chinese Republic in1912.