AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 287

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Session 287: Rethinking the 1911 Revolution: Interrogating the Chinese Republic

Organizer: Peter Zarrow, University of Connecticut, USA

Discussant: Mary B. Rankin, Independent Scholar, USA

Recent scholarship has added immensely to our knowledge of the dynamism of late imperial Chinese society and politics, but there have been relatively few attempts to understand the 1911 Revolution as more than a transitional stage leading to the Communist Revolution of 1949. This panel focuses on changing political categories such as “race/people,” “gender,” “representation,” “equality,” “socialism,” and super-inscriptions like “revolution” (geming) and “republic” (gonghe), that emerged in the early twentieth century. Collectively, the papers on this panel attempt to reexamine the contested republicanism of the 1911 Revolution through the lens of conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte); in a word, highlighting the rapidly changing conditions that faced political actors and their understandings of those conditions. Whatever the failures of the revolution (measured according to one’s chosen standards), it brought about fundamental change to China’s elite political culture and ultimately to its social imaginary. Historians have traced consciousness and self-consciousness of the populace or “masses” and the late Qing discussions of community, participation, and self-governance to the seventeenth century and earlier; the 1911 Revolution illustrates the power of secularizing and commercializing trends. This panel brings together examinations of key ingredients and aporia of the revolution, with Chen Jeng-guo writing on “pingdeng,” Louise Edwards on gender and violence, Murata Yujiro on tensions in the project of (multi-)national identity, Wang Chaohua on Cai Yuanpei and revolutionary idealism, and Peter Zarrow on contemporary narrativization of the revolution. The discussant Mary B. Rankin offers a larger historical perspective on the issues raised by the papers.

The Politicization of the Concept of 'Pingdeng' in the 1911 Revolution
Jeng-Guo Chen, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The ideological origins of the 1911 Revolution have been explored in terms of nationalism, anti-Manchuism, the Three People’s Principles, and debates between reformers and revolutionaries, but they cannot be understood without delving into the problematique of the idea of ‘pingdeng’. Late Qing intellectuals considered pingdeng (“equality”) an aspect of morality, social cohesion, individual subjectivity, and even the cosmological or natural order, as well as politics. Pingdeng became a key feature of the revolutionary process of the first years of the twentieth century as it was politicized; that is, not only was it was conceptually applied to political thought but it also became a framework for revolutionary praxis. The revolutionary form of pingdeng appropriated an older notion of pingdeng that had been propagated by Kang Youwei, Tan Sitong, and others in the 1890s. Kang and Tan had not linked pingdeng to individual rights or liberties in the modern sense. Rather, they took pingdeng in a sense closer to its traditional and Buddhist roots, in a universalistic understanding that implied the sharing of the commons, and applied this idea in the cause of constitutionalism monarchism. In turn, the revolutionaries of the 1900s refuted the reformist political agenda by severing the pingdeng from universalism on the one hand and from monarchism on the other: the revolutionaries further politicized pingdeng by nationalizing it. Yet although Chinese revolutionaries interpreted pingdeng in terms derived from Locke and Rousseau, it remained imbricated with elements that had developed in Chinese thought during the imperial era.

Gender and the “Virtue of Violence”: Creating a New Vision of Public Engagement
Louise Edwards, University of South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Social roles for both men and women underwent dramatic transformations in the decades either side of the 1911 Revolution. As armed and violent overthrow of the Qing became an increasingly attractive option for a significant section of the dynasty’s disillusioned imperial subjects, their interest in developing military skills and physical prowess also expanded. Men and women began to perceive of themselves in a new political framework—one in which direct and violent action was justified and celebrated. For men of the educated classes this shift in perception was dramatic since it drew them away from their hitherto prime preoccupation with bureaucratic political action. For educated women, long denied direct access to the bureaucratic political arena, the opportunities for forging new public roles through this call to arms were considerable. This paper explores the emergence of new ideals of ‘political masculinity’ and ‘political femininity’ through the celebration of violence and a commitment to effecting radical change through revolution rather than reform. I contrast these two gendered ideas of ‘virtuous violence’ with the goal of examining the foundations of the new Republican citizen that would emerge in the decades after the 1911 Revolution. The paper draws upon materials from books, magazines, newspapers and journals circulating at the time.

The Genealogy of the Chinese Nation in Modern China
Yujiro Murata, University of Tokyo, Japan

This paper investigates the formation of the political slogan “the Unity of the Five Nations” (wuzu gonghe) in the discourse of modern nationalism in China. It has been long said that this slogan was first used by Sun Yat-sen in his inaugural address as provisional president on 1 January 1912, and thenceforth adopted as the formal ethnic policy of the Republic of China. However, as Kataoka Kazutada pointed out in 1984, it is very doubtful that Sun Yat-sen truly identified himself with this policy, since from around 1920 he began to accuse other political actors of abusing “the Unity of the Five Nations.” I follow up Kataoka’s thesis by beginning with a review of certain of the debates in 1907 on the ethnic integration of Qing China between the revolutionaries (in particular, Sun Yat-sen and Zhang Taiyan) and the constitutionalists (Yang Du). Both parties shared much in terms of China’s future polity, but they differed not only on the specific issue of an anti-Manchu revolution—they also held sharply opposed understandings of what constituted China’s territory and ethnic borders. Sun’s views might be seen as representative of a certain southern (Guangdong) Chinese vision of the polity and constitution of Qing China. I conclude that despite the development of a hegemonic discourse of the “Chinese nation” in the late Qing and early Republic, revolutionary intellectuals in fact paid little attention to the multi-national structure of imperial China and therefore allowed political and ethnic friction to develop in China’s new national body.

In the Name of the Republic: Cai Yuanpei in 1912
Chaohua Wang, Independent Scholar, USA

When the Republic of China was established in early 1912, the first two Presidents of its provisional government, the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen and the former Qing official Yuan Shikai, were both skeptical about the prospects of turning China’s political culture into a thoroughly republican one overnight. It was a mostly youthful minority within the revolutionary camp that insisted on judging political practice according to principled republican criteria. Their efforts were not successful in their own terms. Does this mean that republican ideals completely failed, or did their struggle leave a political legacy that affected China’s actual historical trajectory in the twentieth century? Scholars have often criticized this group as impractically radical in the first years of the Republic. Contrary to such views, this paper contends that the 1911 Revolution, together with the new state it created, spread a republican ideal among intellectuals, and that this ideal provided grounds for critical positions on socio-political revolutions with lasting impact. Focusing on the activities and ideas of Cai Yuanpei, the first Education Minister of the Republic, this paper argues that the new Republic provided inspiring stimuli to Cai. After remaining quiet for more than five years, Cai burst onto the public scene in 1912 with great energy, insisting on republican principles in many urgent issues in national politics. This paper also argues that a republican ideal informed his role as Chancellor of Peking University after 1916, making him a leading figure in the May Fourth Movement.

Living the Revolution: Narratives of 1911 in the Early Republic
Peter Zarrow, University of Connecticut, USA

As the 1911 Revolution unfolded (October 1911-February 1912), different versions of those events emerged, and during the first years of the Republic memories and meanings of the revolution were constantly reworked. Narratives of the revolution were framed in varying terms of triumph and failure. The historiography of the revolution—the changing and competing views of professional historians and official ideologues—has been well discussed. Less familiar are the views of Chinese of the revolution as it was happening and during the immediate aftermath. The late Qing conception of “revolution” was almost invariably applied to the events of 1911-1912 (categories of analysis included political revolution, social revolution, racial revolution, and by the mid-1910s cultural revolution). Nonetheless, a tension persisted between a view of 1911 as a traditional cycle of dynastic change and a view of “total revolution”. By 1913, in addition to a sense that the revolution had been betrayed, it was also noted that it had made little impact on the lives or consciousness of most ordinary Chinese. The causes, leaders, enemies, and results of the revolution all varied according to the teller. This paper examines changing narrative accounts of the revolution through an examination of textbooks, self-writing, official proclamations, and journalism in the 1910s. The political jockeying of the early Republic not only shaped views of the 1911 Revolution as event but led to reconceptualization of basic notions of revolution.