AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 237

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 237: Rethinking the 1911 Revolution in Global Context

Organizer and Chair: Viren V. Murthy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Discussant: Takahiro Nakajima, University of Tokyo, Japan

Rethinking 1911 Revolution in Global Context The 1911 Revolution is often seen as an example of failed Chinese modernization. Now approximately 100 years after this Revolution, when China is fully integrated into the global capitalist world, this panel rethinks significance of the 1911 Revolution within the global context of the early 20th century. The panelists interrogate discourses surrounding the 1911 Revolution to offer insights into the larger theme of revolutions against global capitalism. Rebecca Karl establishes a framework for the panel through scrutinizing the problematic of revolution throughout 20th century China in view of constantly reconstituted global spatial and temporal relations. Wang Ban probes how shortly before the 1911 Revolution, Liang Qichao confronted a world of imperialist capitalism and posited an alternative international order. Christian Uhl then explores how in the early 20th century, Kita Ikki and Miyazaki Toten saw the 1911 Revolution as a romantic alternative to modernity. Viren Murthy develops Uhl’s analysis in the context of postwar Japan, where the famous sinologist, Takeuchi Yoshimi argued that, unlike the Meiji Isshin, the 1911 Revolution represented resistance to Western style capitalist modernization. Jing Tsu takes the discussion beyond Asia by examining how people from various classes imagined the 1911 Revolution in Peru and Cuba. Together the panelists use their expertise as literary scholars and historians to re-examine the significance of the 1911 Revolution with regards to imagining different political futures. Our discussant, Nakajima Takahiro, will comment by bringing a unique perspective as a philosopher who has published extensively on issues related to the 1911 Revolution.

The World in Liang Qichao’s Story of the Future of New China
Ban Wang, Stanford University, USA

In Liang Qichao’s Story of the Future of New China (Xin zhongguo weilai ji), a celebration of China’s newly founded republic is marked by the convergence of foreign visitors to the forum of a Confucius’ descendant. While the modern-day Confucian’s lecture involves a dramatic series of discussion about nationalist and social agendas, the nationalist consideration is firmly situated in a geopolitical framework of inter-state conflict in capitalist modernity. Departing from the conventional view of Liang Qichao’s nationalism, this paper will argue that Liang’ s notion of nation is pitted against encroaching imperialism, and his plan for social reforms reveals a modernized Confucian vision of world order, which calls for decolonization, national independence, and a principle universal equality (gongli) among nations. Indeed, Liang’s nationalism implies an alternative international order against the competitive and conflictual logic of capitalist world system.

The Chinese Revolution, and Romantic Dreams of a Better Tomorrow in Early 20th Century Japan – Miyazaki Toten and Kita Ikki
Christian Uhl, Ghent University, Belgium

The process of modernization in China and Japan are so intertwined that they defy academic conventions that study the two separately. Although the Xinhai Revolution is labeled a cornerstone of Chinese history, as a manifestation of a global process of social, political and economical transformation, it is as much part of the history of modern Japan. Most of the scholars who have assessed the role of Japan and a number of Japanese played in the history of the Revolution in China negatively. In particular, Marxist historians have identified behind the Japanese involvement in the Chinese revolutionary movement only the evil spirit of Japanese Imperialism and hidden reactionary political agendas. However, the story of Japanese involvement in the Xinhai Revolution is much more complex. To shed light on this complexity, I will focus on two Japanese intellectuals and political activists – Miyazaki Toten (1871-1922) and Kita Ikki (1883-1937) – and the ideas and motivations that fueled their engagement with the revolution in China. I will argue that the prevailing assessments of such engagement are basically products of rather biased definitions of “revolution” and “reaction”; I show that this engagement was, in fact, inseparably bond with hopes for radical social change in Japan and the world. Finally, I will argue that it is Marx himself who provides us with the most effective theoretical means to achieve a more sophisticated critique of these hopes and ideas as being likewise expressions of an essentially romantic discomfort in a world under the sway of globalizing capitalism.

The 1911 Revolution and the Overseas Chinese at Large
Jing Tsu, Yale University, USA

Yan Qinghuang’s seminal 1976 study of overseas Chinese in Singapore and Malaya and their relationship to the 1911 Revolution introduced a number of crucial financial and ideological linkages between China’s cataclysmic event and its reception abroad. His focus on Southeast Asia confirmed a different capacity of Chinese nationalism that Liang Qichao had foreseen in 1904 when he referred to Southeast Asia as no more than a backup support system for mainland Chinese political activities. More than a century later, one sees this relation quite differently, due to the tumultuous post-colonial independence movements after the 1950s that have compelled overseas Chinese communities to redefine their place of allegiance and national loyalty. More importantly, Southeast Asia was neither the most defining nor the only diasporic frontier against which the nationalist narrative unfolded. There remains much excavation to be done in rethinking the 1911 revolution in the global context of Chinese diaspora. How the notion of “revolution” took hold in the various overseas Chinese communities of different class and levels of literacy, from Peru to Cuba and South Africa, is the subject of this paper. By mapping how Chinese laborers had been portrayed at home in relation to how revolution was peddled abroad, I underscore the discrepancy between global labor conditions and the nationalist accounts that finessed them to fit the nationalist picture. Materials to be examined include coolie accounts in real and fictionalized testimonies and international reports on the global trafficking of labor around the turn of the twentieth century.

The 1911 Revolution and the Politics of Failure: The Legacy of Takeuchi Yoshimi in Postwar Japan
Viren V. Murthy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

The 1911 Revolution has had an ambiguous afterlife. Chinese historians have considered the 1911 and incomplete bourgeois revolution, especially in comparison to the more successful 1949 Revolution. On the other hand, in their famous tract in the early 1990s, Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu claimed that a rethinking of the 1911 revolution should make us reject the concept of revolution altogether. In both of these formulations, the 1911 Revolution is in some way connected to the legitimacy of capitalism, either as stepping stone towards socialism or as showing that any revolution is futile. However, in postwar Japan, when Japanese intellectuals were debating the consequences of the American Occupation and Japan ’s role in the Second World War, 1911 Revolution had a different significance. Postwar Japanese sinologists often turned to 1911 Revolution as a symbol of hope, precisely because of its failure. Takeuchi Yoshimi was the pioneer of this intellectual trend and he argued that, unlike the Meiji Ishin, which was a pale imitation of Western modernity, the 1911 Revolution represented a unique affirmation of revolutionary subjectivity, precisely because its initial attempts at modernization failed. Takeuchi and his disciples’ discussions of how the 1911 Revolution produced subjectivity out of failure offer us a window on post-war Japanese sinologists mobilized the 1911 Revolution in debates about subjectivity, anti-colonialism and socialism. An analysis of their writings will open the way to thinking both the 1911 revolution and its Japanese afterlife in relation to the trajectory of capitalism and its discontents in the 20thcentury.