Internal affairs and Politics

After Boxer Rebellion authority of Qing dynasty was further declining together with their control over Chinese territory.  In 1902 foreign troops withdrew from Beijing but power was further decentralized. Qing highest officials returned back to Beijing from Xian but their control was even more decreased as well as respect among people. It was becoming more and more obvious that last attempts to preserve Qing dynasty were falling apart. Ci Xi was still rejecting reforms while Emperor Guangxu didn’t have power to initiate more decisive reforms. China was semicolonized where a lot of territories were under foreign control and most of people lived in poverty.  Living conditions were very bad for most of people. Outbreak of plague was still widespread mostly in Manchuria killing millions. Worship of Heaven by Qing court have  stopped since 1900 since it lost any sense and most of citizens realized that this dynasty lost any legitimacy.  New Policies were new series of reforms launched by imperial court in 1902. Main aim of New Policies was name partial reforms of state and educational system. In 1905 imperial exams based on Confucian classics were abolished and replaced with modern education. After 2000 years imperial examination was abandoned. It actually meant abolishment of Confucianism as state ideology after 2000 years. Traditional schools were replaced with modern schools based on western example. Also military academies were established in each province. Modern legal code and judicial system were established too. However reforms were initially successful only in Zhili province because of lack of control over vast territories. On summer 1908 Principles of Constitution were issued by Qing government what meant a step towards establishment of constitutional monarchy. Chinese Constitution was based on Japanese Meiji Constitution. It aimed establishment of modern parliament and conducting elections. First elections were conducted in 1909 in all provinces except in Xinjiang. Still in government cabinet were put members of governing royal Aisin Gioro clan what caused anger among population. In November 1908 Emperor Guangxu died and a day later old Empress Ci Xi died. It was found out that Guangxu was poisoned by arsenic while Ci Xi died from aging There are often speculations that she felt that she is dying soon and she decided to set murder for Guangxu in order to prevent him for conducting his reforms which were more progressive. Before death she pointed Puyi a two year old son of Prince Chun as new Emperor Xuantong. Instead of him regency governed as he was obviously too young. Basically Ci Xi was last imperial ruler with real power in her hands and Puyi was last emperor of China.

Puyi - age two

Reforms didn’t bring what was expected and Qing court lost even more authority with death of Ci Xi. During that time nationalism was rising and tendency for democracy and socialism due to poor living conditions. In 1905 in Japan was formed Tongmenghui a Chinese United League led by Sun Yatsen and Song Jiaoren. Their aim was to overthrow dynasty, establish republic and bring social equality among people. For this socialist and revolutionary aims most famous was Sun Yatsen one of core national heroes and revolutionaries deeply respected by Chinese Communist Party.  He is known as proto socialist or proto revolutionary of China. Sun Yatsen is also known as father of Chinese nation. Tongmenghui was aiming to gain support among  wealthy Chinese living in Japan, USA and China to gain their support in overthrowing Qing dynasty. Support among Chinese for Tongmenghui was rising vastly as they saw them as way to better life and more just society. Sun Yatsen defined 3 Peoples Principles which included Peoples government, Peoples democracy( government responds to peoples will) and Peoples welfare. These principles were basis for later Chinese socialism which exists today.

In August 1911 large incident in Chengdu occurred. It is known as Railway Protection Movement. Thing is that until 1905 all Chinese rails were in hands of foreign companies which were building them. In 1905 Chinese public provincial companies for building rails appeared and among strongest was Chengdu-Hankou Company led by Chinese. Aim of this company was to build 1200km Chengdu-Wuhan rail. Qing government in 1911 wanted to nationalize all rails and to make them to be ownership of government not local public companies. Qing government wanted to nationalize them and sell them to German, US and British companies for big money in order to repay debt to 8 governments which surpassed Boxer Rebellion. This of course made angry provincial governments and new rail companies. They established Railway Protection League. Provincial government of Sichuan arrested leaders of this league what caused protests in Chengdu. Police and army opened fire on protesters and Tongmenghui called for armed conflict with Qing troops. Hubei and Hunan armies joined Sichuan army in surpassing the revolt but on 11 October 1911 Wuchang uprising was launched by Tongmenghui. Several thousand of revolutionaries were initially successful against Qing armies. Revolutionaries were also joined by some Qing soldiers and they stood together against government. Between end of October and December 1911 battle at Yangxia occurred in todays Wuhan. This battle led to stalemate but end was far.

sun yat 3
Forerunner of Chinese revolution, Sun Yatsen, source:

Wuchang uprising was just a beginning of national revolution in China and final end of Qing dynasty. Wuchang uprising is considered as part of Xinhai revolution known for national revival of Chinese nation and overthrow of Qing dynasty. Revolts spread to other provinces as well. In all provinces since 1905-1908 there were already active some rebel groups on smaller scale but now their activity really became large scale and directly engaged against Qing. All China was standing against Qing. In Japanese occupied Taiwan uprising also started but was surpassed. Muslims in Gansu and Xinjiang joined revolutionaries.  14 from 24 provinces declared independence from Qing dynasty. Regional provincial armies of these 14 provinces sided revolutionaries. In November 1911 Qing regency tried last time to save monarchy and declared constitutional monarchy and they appointed General Yuan Shikai as prime minister instead of members from Aisin Gioro.  Qing lost military control over Tibet but it stayed official part of Republic. Only Mongolia declared complete independence in 1911 but later will be about it.

bodies of victims of plague in Manchuria 1910

In December 1911 revolutionaries captured Nanjing and declared it as seat of new provisional government. In December 1911 they met with Yuan Shikai in Wuhan after both sides were pushed by Britain, France, USA, Russia and Japan to negotiate. They decided that they will agree on reunification of provinces which declared independence with government in Beijing if Yuan Shikai forces Qing court to abdicate. On 29th December elections were held  in 17 provinces  for provisional president and Sun Yatsen became president of provisional government. On 1st January 1912 Sun Yatsen declared Republic of China.  Many political parties emerged now. Later Sun Yatsen promised to give up presidential position  on behalf of Yuan Shikai if Yuan Shikai forces Puyi to abdicate. In February 1912 under threat of use of force Empress Dowager agreed for 6 year old Puyis abdication. Yuan Shikai who was prime minister commanded one of strongest armies and ordered to cease to follow orders of regency and pushed regency to abdicate. When Yuan Shikai who commanded large Beiyang army turned against Qing dynasty it wasn’t practically backed by any force. So regency didn’t have any choice except to abdicate in name of Puyi. It was promised if she abdicates in emperors  name they wont be harmed and will be allowed to live in palace. Thus rule of Qing dynasty officially ended which was governing China since 1644. With abolishment of Qing dynasty and establishment of republic imperial China ended after 2000 years of its existence. Xinhai revolution has a lot in common with abolishment of other dynasties but it differs as it didn’t bring new dynasty but republic and modern concept of  governance. On 10th March Yuan Shikai became president as dealt with Sun Yatsen. At that time Tongmenghui formed Kuomintang political party which became one of strongest parties latter. Initial ideas of Kuomintang were to establish nationalism( not in sense of ethnic but on unity of all Chinese people and freedom from monarchy), free trade and socialism. It was agreed that Beijing will remain capital despite that Sun Yatsen and southern revolutionaries had stronghold in Nanjing of their institutions. Reason was that they didn’t have strong military capacity while Yuan Shikai commanded large Beiyang army and he had real control over northern China while southern areas fell apart in hands of regional warlords and acted as fragile union.


From 1912 to 1928 was chosen 5 colored flag which represented 5 major ethnicities Han, Tibetans, Manchus, Muslims and Mongols. In 1912 provisional constitution was adopted which was proposed by Sun Yatsen. It was based on concept of division of powers and on parliamentary system. In December 1912 were held first elections for National Assembly. Most of votes got Kuomintang and second strongest party was Yuan Shikais progressive party. Song Jiaoren a close ally of Sun Yatsen was chosen for premier but already in March 1913 he was assassinated by secret police of Yuan Shikai. Thus Yuan Shikai gained even more power and adopted new dictatorial constitution. This led on division of two governments in China. Under excuse of Hui, Uighur, Mongol and Tibetan rebellions and regional warlords Yuan Shikai declared that he must have most of power such as to sign treaties, declare war and execute major decisions without consent of parliament. Even he abolished parliament in 1914. Such situation led to northern Beiyang government led by Yuan Shikai which controlled most of northern areas. South was controlled by provisional institutions in Nanjing and by Kuomintang but their executive power was poor as regional warlords had primary say. In 1913 southern provinces organized rebellion against the Beiyang government. Beiyang army captured Nanjing and some core leadership figures of KMT escaped to Japan. Yuan Shikai promised to Russian Empire that he wont enter Outer Mongolia and gave Russia full right to use it. He also allowed British expeditions to Tibet. It caused even more revolt among Chinese parties. All this Yuan did only for his greedy aim to govern and secure power in his hands. Most of KMT leaders came from Japan back to Guangzhou. From Guangzhou Chinese revolutionaries supported new rebellions. Yuan Shikai declared himself as Emperor Hongxian. It was short restoration of Chinese Empire which lasted until 1916. Yuan Shikais empire wasn’t recognized by single state and it caused open civil war in China. As WWI started and Japan fought against Germany it launched forces to Shandong which was controlled by Germans. Japan issued 21 Demands to Beiyang government about controlling Shandong, parts of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. Also Japan demanded control of Chinese rails and providing of exclusive trade rights over all China what would turn China into Japanese colony. Yuan Shikai accepted it as he was only thinking how to secure his own power but before he could execute such decisions war started against him.  This war is known as National Protection War which started in Yunnan province. Provinces of south united against Beiyang government and were supported by KMT. In several battles National Protection Army defeated Yuan Shikai and he abdicated in 1916 and soon he died after few months. It weakened Beiyang government and strengthened warlordism across China but also strengthened positions of revolutionaries in south in political and military terms.   Aristocratic class was abolished in 1912 but shortly renewed by Yuan Shikai during his imperial rule 1915-1916.

Yuan shikai
Yuan Shikai

After death of Yuan Shikai President became Li Yuanhong and prime minister Duan Qirui. They readopted parliamentary constitution from 1912. But they got involved in disputes again now about issue whether China should enter WWI. Li Yuanhong believed China shouldn’t join war while Duan Qirui wanted to join war in order to secure loans from Japan for his Anhui army. Li Yuanhong resigned and asked influential Zhang Xun to mediate. Zhang Xun tried to decrease influence of Duan Qirui by short restoration of Qing dynasty which lasted between 1st and 20th July of 1917 and Puyi was emperor for short again. Without any real power and recognition Duan Qirui abolished  20days empire and defeated Zhang Xun. Duan QIrui declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany and detained their citizens in China and seized their property. He also abolished constitution and parliament and started own dictatorship. Sun Yatsen and other leaders of National Protection War established new military government in Guangzhou as a response to Duan Qirui dictatorship. They declared war on Beiyang government and called provincial leaders to side Guangzhou military government. First War for Protection of Constitution lasted between 1917 and 1918 and ended in stalemate. There were also some negotiations but everything finished with stalemate.  Sun Yatsen believed that China will become first socialist republic in world before Soviet revolution. Guangzhou became main center from which Sun Yatsen and KMT conducted further activities for reunification of China.

To understand further processes it is necessary to mention New Culture Movement and May Fourth Movement. Those were strong political, social and cultural forces of  between 1917 and 1921 which set up roots for further shaping of Chinese politics, society and culture.  New Culture Movement started in 1917 by Chen Duxiu, Zhou Zuoren and others. Aim was to focus on socialist values, better governance, rule of law and modernization of society, politics and culture. It promoted equal rights of men and women and abolishment of patriarchate. New Culture Movement promoted also further decrease of role of Confucianism in order to establish more just and equal society. It also promoted democracy and science. On 4th May 1919 they organized protests in Beijing and New Culture  Movement with other movements merged into 4th May Movement. Protests occurred when students and young intellectuals and started to protest against Chinese government which wanted to accept Versailles treaty in which China was supposed to give up Shandong to Japan. Protests led to clashes with police and army but government anyway refused to sign treaty after strong public pressure. Until 1921 May Fourth Movement was very active in promoting democracy, western culture, socialism, science, pragmatism and patriotism. On public meetings and by using press they were rising public opinion and awareness in big cities. Movement was promoting emancipation of women and breakdown of traditional Confucian patriarchal values. They promoted equal employment and educational opportunities of women and establishment of student syndicates across China. In big cities they were mostly influential and successful but in rural areas their influence was still very small. They had a lot of female members too. Movement was highly divided in their aims and ideas because some of them were more for western values and more abolishment of Confucianism while other sections wanted to keep traditional values too and adopt some western values too. Some of them were promoting adaptation of traditional values to new ones.  There were also strong Marxist factions of movement.  Without clear vision movement was dissolved by 1921. This movement caused also New Confucian traditionalists to promote their ideas too which were borrowed by Chiang Kai Shek who later became leader of KMT.

may fourth protest
May Fourth Protests, source:

May Fourth Movement promoted Chinese language and literature. They were suggesting reforms of simplifying writing system. Since establishment of ROC only Mandarin was official language while Manchu language and clothing was widely abolished on official level. Many Manchu officials had either to adapt to use Chinese only and change clothing or to lose positions.

May Fourth Movement was a root of establishment of Chinese Communist Party. Some former members of May 4th Movement were inspired by Marxist and patriotic ideas. They were not completely against tradition but were against patriarchate and wanted to improve position of workers and peasants. Also they wanted to improve position of women. Various socialist and communist movement met on First Congress in Shanghai in a French Concession on 1st July 1921. This day is regarded as day when Chinese Communist Party was established. Its first leaders were Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. They were supported by Comintern and some Soviet agents. In 1921 also Sun Yatsen launched from Guangzhou Second Constitution Protection Movement regarding the constitution of 1912. On first congress of Communist Party of China( CPC) there was Mao Zedong( born in 1893, Shaoshan, Hunan province) an already influential writer of socialist magazine from Hunan province. He later became one of major national heroes and fathers of Peoples Republic of China. Mao was since young days concerned about hard life of peasants and believed that they should own the land not private owners. Also Mao was believing that workers deserve better rights and that they should own the factories. Basically Mao Zedong was for seizing the means of production and cracking down the capitalist system and imperialist influence in China and establishment of centrally planned economy.  Also Mao Zedong was promoting completely equal rights between men and women and was strictly against arranged marriages considering them as rape. In Shanghai Mao Zedong was calling workers to organize in labor unions and also to strike against abusive owners of industries. Mao Zedong was also often visiting rural Hunan and initiating peasants to rebel against landowners and learning them about their rights and calling them to revolt for better socialist futures. Mao Zedong was inspired by Soviet Revolution and believed that it should work also in China. Since 1923 CPC  was  cooperating with KMT on launching united front and revolution against Beiyang government. Sun Yatsen turned to ask Soviet Union for aid of reunifying China as he saw that Western powers are not much interested to aid him. Soviet Union saw a chance for installing another communist revolution.  Commitern agent Mikhail Borodin was convincing communist leaders and Sun Yatsen to create common front. In 1924 alliance between KMT and CCP was established known as First United Front. Actually CCP was much weaker at that time and was more subordinated under leadership of KMT. Their cooperation with Sun Yatsen was very good and in Guangzhou Mao Zedong was appointed to train future militants for CCP. They were together preparing invasion on Beijing and reunifying China.

mao zedong young
Young Mao Zedong in 1919, source:

In 1925 Sun Yatsen died from cancer and future of KMT-CCP relations wasn’t promising anymore. Sun Yatsen was initially buried in Azure Clouds Temple in Beijing suburbs, picture below.

Statue of Sun Yatsen in Azure Clouds Temple where he was initially buried, suburbs of Beijing, Xiangshan hills,

New notable figure of KMT Chang Kai Shek had quite right wing ideas, was focused too much on patriarchal side of Confucianism, was quite concerned about his personal power and authority and was even ready to cooperate with foreigners and give up Chinese interests in order to win. At same time CCP was gaining more supporters among workers and they formed some militias composed of peasants. Chang Kai Shek launched large scale offensive from Guangzhou in 1926 which aimed to stop warlordism and capture Beijing. Soviet government advocated communists to support KMT as they wanted to make them cooperate and launch common revolution. But on spring 1927 National Revolutionary Army( KMT army) attacked communist factions and workers in Shanghai and massacred many of them. From most of coastal towns communists were massacred by nationalists and conservatives of KMT.

In 1928 Chang Kai Shek captured Beijing and abolished Beiyang government. Chang Kai Sheks war against warlords, communists and Beiyang troops is known as Northern Expedition.  Now after capturing Beijing he declared new capital in Nanjing and he became supreme leader of ROC. Chang Kai Shek ruled as dictator despite official promotion of democracy and freedoms.  Chang Kai Shek had control over some parts of China but still warlordism and communist guerillas were present.  Chang  did not manage to reunify China as he wished but only partially as many of his local governors were corrupt and did not implement all laws well and warlordism was still present.  Moreover there were communist guerillas angry because of his betrayal. He promoted conservatism, right wing ideas, patriarchal Confucian ideas but also some noble Confucian ideas related to education and merits. But he was quite corrupt and didn’t obeyed any even good Confucian ideas but was governing as opportunist who wanted to have full power in his hands. This caused several rebellions initiated by CCP as they felt betrayed because of massacres against them. In Guangzhou CCP in December 1927 organized  revolt which failed. They wanted to establish Guangzhou Soviet Governance. Guangzhou commune lasted for 3 days.  Communists and their supporters were massacred again. More of Chang Kai Sheks repression of communists led to more communist rebellions what caused civil war what will be reviewed in next chapter.

Chiang Kai Shek 1
Chiang Kai Shek,

Political system 1912-1928

The provisional constitution of Nanjing with the temporary government (Nanjing linshi zhengzfu 南京臨時政府) that was made in 1912 stressed the role of the President (da zongtong 大總統) who was the prominent person of the administration.  The President was elected by the Legislation Court (canyiyuan 參議院), an assembly of the military governors of the provinces (gesheng dudufu daibiaohui 各省都督府代表會), held his post for five years and could only once being reelected, normally succeeded by the Vice President (fu zongtong 副總統). His tasks were commanding the army, proclaiming martial war, declaring war to other nations, sanctifying and signing international treaties, sending and receiving ambassadors, appointing the highest officials, promulgating laws, etc. The President had to make use of the Legislation Court for political assistance and in questions of legislation. He had the right to make use of advisors (guwen 顧問) outside the normal administrative structures. After the proclamation of the Constitution of the Republic (Zhonghua minguo yuefa 中華民國約法) in 1914 his position was changed from the head of the cabinet (neige 內閣 or guowuyuan 國務院) to a direct controller of the executive. He was elected by the National Council (canzhengyuan 參政院) and was allowed to make use of the state seal (guoxi 國璽) that was kept in a golden case – a relic of the imperial era. This presidential system was repudiated after the death of Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 in 1916, and a cabinet system with a Prime Minister (zongli 總理, guowu zongli 國務總理) was introduced. Although the office of the President was designed to be the pillar of the administration, he was during the warlord period often controlled by military potentates that quasi clockwise took over the offices of President and of Prime Minister.

The legislative power of the early Republican state was the Legislation Court whose members came from the provinces. The executive power consisted of nine ministries (bu 部) for National Politics (neiwubu 內務部), Foreign Affairs (waijiaobu 外交部), the Army (lujunbu 陸軍部), the Navy (haijunbu 海軍部), Finance (caizhengbu 財政部), Law (sifabu 司法部), Education (jiaoyubu 教育部), Traffic (jiaotongbu 交通部), and Industry (shiyebu 實業部). There existed also some military institutions like the Advisory Ministry (canmoubu 參謀部), further bureaus (ju 局) for law drafting, national currency and print products, bulletins, personnel, investigation, and so on. Together with Yuan Shikai, the administration organs of the central government moved from Nanjing to Beijing.

During the period of the warlords (Beiyang 北洋 era) the Cabinet (neige 內閣) was headed by the Prime Minister (zongli 總理). The highest organ of the legislation was the National Assembly (guohui 國會) that was first created in 1913 and whose members came from the Legislation Court (canyiyuan 參議院) and the House of Representatives (zhongyiyuan 眾議院) with 870 members. The members of the Legislation Court were elected in two steps. In 1914 Yuan Shikai dissolved the two courts and installed his own administration apparatus with the Participation Court (canzhengyuan 參政院), the Political Conference (zhengzhi huiyi 政治會議), and so on. In 1917 again, the National Assembly was dissolved by president Li Yuanhong 黎元洪, Duan Qirui 段祺瑞 reestablished a third “New” National Assembly (xin guohui 新國會 or Anfu guohui 安福國會 – dominated by Duan’s military Anhui Clique). The last period of the National Assembly was from 1922 until 1924.


Administrative divisions were provinces, circuits and counties. There were added few more provinces composed of Inner Mongolia( see below) and from one Tibetan region Xikang province was created.

Economy 1900-1928

Most of economic activities were disrupted during this period. In foreign concessions and free trade cities capitalism was developing while other provinces were remaining unchanged. Government, local warlords and provincial governments were overtaxing already impoverished population. Now agricultural sector was dominant in economy but also there were industrialized areas. From 1905 with new reforms conducted by Qing court and later by republican government economy of inner areas was changing and experienced partial industrialization in terms of rails and more modern industrial objects.  So some domestic industries were developing too in textile, food production, iron processing and rail construction. After 1912 China experienced first foreign direct investment mostly from UK and Japan. Mostly Chinese economy was subordinated to western capitalism and imperialism because of unequal treaties. Only after 1928 when KMT took control of most of Chinese territories economy experienced some progress. In 1931 when Chinese Soviet Republic was established on its territories were among worlds first communist centrally planned economies was established. Main object of foreign trade now were iron, mine products, salt, tea, silk, weapons and various industrial products.



Army 1900-1928

Between 1900 and 1912 Qing dynasty didn’t have anymore its own regular army but largely depended on provincial armies commanded by regional governments and warlords. One of most loyal was Beiyang army commanded by Yuan Shikai. However his army turned against Qing court and demanded abdication in 1912. ROC until 1928 was without official army but de facto Beiyang army was major military force of ROC. In other provinces there were local warlords dominating and also some KMT militias which struggled against Beiyang government. In 1923 Beiyang army was renamed in Republic of China Armed Forces. At that time KMT formed in 1925 National Revolutionary Army which was main force for initiating Northern Expedition which ended with KMT dominance in China in 1928. Since 1928 official army of ROC was National Revolutionary Army. Since 1923 CCP was organizing own local militias and in 1927 they formed Red Army which later became Peoples Liberation Army. It will be later about it more.  Now all armies had modern uniforms and modern equipment. Since 1905 modern military academies were established over China. Most of warlord armies were composed of bandits and robbers who were often very oppressive towards local population. PLA was mostly composed of peasants and workers. Major warlord cliques were- Anhui Clique, Guizhou Clique, Yunnan Clique, Fengtian Clique, Zhili clique, Ma clique( Hui Muslim clique), Sichuan clique, Guangxi clique, Shanxi clique and Guangdong clique.



In 1905 imperial examination and academies were abolished. Educational system became 3 levelled and was compulsory. It was divided on elementary, secondary and high. Colleges and universities and academies were basis for high education. Peking University was established in 1898 and Tsinghua University in 1911. Those 2 are still among strongest Chinese universities. Universities sent their professors abroad to UK, France, Japan or USA in order to receive more skills. Also they used to send best students to these countries. Until 1919 mostly was emphasized by government on technical knowledge while since May Fourth Movement emphasizes on social sciences rises. Since 1919 Western philosophy was taught in China for first time and other social sciences. Sociology was also taught since that time. Each province had own academy which didn’t charge fees for students and often gave scholarships.  Education was very limited for women but there were exceptions. Islamic schools were present in Muslim regions.  In 1911 Sino-US cooperation in education was started when US government offered to accept several thousand Chinese students annually as compensation for Chinese reparation to US government for Boxer rebellion.

Chinese school girls 1920
school uniforms, 1920, source:


Since beginning of 20th century China was adopting parallely to the traditional medicine western medicine too. Several medical schools and colleges were established in China. One of most famous was established in 1921 which is still best medical college and hospital in China- Peking Union Medical College.


Western style painting appears and western style music too mostly in urban areas. Some foreign books appeared too. Also  traditional painting, Peking opera and traditional music were still present widely in urban and rural areas. Generally arts did not develop too much during this turbulent areas. In 1905 first Chinese film was recorded and named The Battle of Dingjunshan. It takes place in 3 Kingdoms Period.  In music appears combination of Western and Chinese styles too. Classical music and jazz was popular in urban areas. In Shanghai appeared Shidaqu a special genre which combines Chinese music and Western popular music. Western theater appears too.  In literature love stories were dominant but also fiction appears known as Wuxia. Wuxia is based on traditional Chinese stories about martial arts. Wuxia appeared after May Fourth Movement and aimed in breaking with Confucian tradition and emphasizing on individual freedoms and choices. It often includes secret martial arts sects, romance, fictional characters and techniques,  Daoist wisdoms and a lot of principles under which warriors live.

Religion and Philosophy

Religion and philosophy were not of core importance for political leaders during this period. Taoism which was highly respected by most of dynasties did not enjoy state support too much. It did not enjoy funding from state so Taoist sects had to finance themselves. Members of Quanzhen sect often lived in mountains as hermits while members of Zhengyi Dao usually lived in villages or towns nearby temples. Members of Zhengyi sect often lived in mountains taught martial arts but did not practice celibate neither were too isolated. Buddhist monks lived either in temples in towns, villages or mountains. Taoism and Buddhism often focused on preserving traditions from past, their knowledge and provided solace and hope to desperate people during such hard times.  Mostly they were popular in villages among masses of peasants who had the hardest burden of all instabilities in China. Also Taoism and Buddhism were popular among city residents but on smaller scale than in village.

Taoistischer Bettelmönch / Foto um 1925 - Taoist Mendicant Monk / Photo c.1925 -
Taoist priest meditates, 1925, source:

Some city population was more devoted to Taoism or Buddhism while others less. Temples often provided shelters for poor and homeless and gave food and medicines. Except most of  Taoist and Buddhist sects with positive intentions there appeared sects with ideas of manipulating people and gaining power and money. One of such sects is Yiguandao which was created by end of 19th century. Yiguandao means Consistent Way and it is sect which combines Taoist and Buddhist teachings but also promotes some ideas about disaster  and salvation which are not regular Taoist and Buddhist teachings. They promoted various superstitions in order to gain support among masses but often caused even more fear among population.

Generally speaking religion among intellectuals and pro modernists was becoming less popular and secularization was ongoing. Many intellectuals and scientists more saw religion as subject for studying and analyzing rather than faith to follow. Still it did not mean that all of them are atheists but some of them had some religious beliefs but also used to focus on science and compare and study various religious movements.


Some of politicians tolerated religion while others such as Chang Kai Shek were oppressive. Chang Kai Shek considered religion as a primitive superstition and believed it is threat to modernization of China. His troops often killed priests and burnt temples. Some warlord armies used temples for strategic positions and thus temples often were shelled in clashes. Temples were often victims of warlord armies as they used to rob temples and take their property.

Christianity  was quite stable at that period and present among some city and some rural population. By some people it was perceived as  new and modern religion and was more favored than traditional ones. While bigger part of population had negative attitude about Christianity because of all foreign intervention. Missionary work during this period becomes less oppressive and most of missionaries participate in school and hospital building. Generally saying Christianity becomes a bit more socially acceptable again like in pre Qing period.

Presence of Islam presence was stable mostly in central and western China. Several Islamic schools appeared there. Various Islamic Sunni and Sufi sects and more rare Shia sects were active.Islam had generally favorable opinion of society like during most periods of Chinese history.

Confucianism stayed important part of Chinese society and people. Even when it was not official and only state ideology it was very important. It was subject of social scientists and often compared with Western philosophy which was now studied at Chinese universities. Most of people still respected Confucian values and some politicians promoted some of its principles. For people still perception of society, family and relationships was more or less based on some Confucian principles. May Fourth Movement and some other political movements were quite against Confucianism considering it as a burden and too conservative for society. Also CCP was against some patriarchal, traditional and elitist standards of Confucianism.Unlike in imperial China Confucianism now could be discussed, criticized and compared to other teachings. Alternative to Confucianism appeared in scientific, progressive and more socialist, tolerant  and democratic ideas. But reaction to May Fourth Movement was among some Confucian scholars who attempted to revive Confucianism and preserve it. Since May Fourth Movement was against classical Confucianism Confucians tried to reform Confucian teaching somehow. Most active was Xiong Shili who created New Confucianism which appeared as neoconservative reaction. It now included humanistic, ecological and concept of political harmony. It is often compared to Western rationalism and humanism.

LIFE  As it was mostly mentioned that most of people lived poorly and were not educated. About 80-90% of people lived in villages and were working in agriculture. For them life was hardest and often were victims of warlord troops, famines and diseases.. Peasants were mostly leading traditional lifestyle. Most of them still practiced feet bandaging despite ban from 1912. It was hard to effectively control masses and forbid bandaging. Most of them were quite religious and traditional.  In famines until 1930 more than 10mln people died. Areas where CCP was active popularity of labor rights, socialist ideas and ideas of equality was on rise. In cities lived much smaller number of population.  They belonged mostly to low and middle class. Low class was composed of cheap labor which worked in harsh conditions for domestic or foreign companies in factories or construction projects.

street meal beijing 1920ies
Street meal Beijing 1920ies, source:

Middle class was composed of intellectuals, doctors, teachers, mid level entrepreneurs  and mid level state officials. Middle class was only few percent of population. Among workers socialist ideas and ideas for better working conditions were on rise. In high class were highest university teachers, political elite and richest industrials and merchants. In foreign controlled concessions and free trade cities number of foreigners was quite big. Among them were diplomats, merchants and industrials. Because of lack of legislature about protection of workers rights they used to exploit workers on high scale, underpay and force them to work overtime. Foreigners lived in foreign legations where ordinary Chinese were not allowed to enter. Still many foreigners were racist and saw  and treated Chinese as inferior to them. However they respected high class Chinese entrepreneurs, intellectuals and officials. Situation was there quite looking like peaceful coexistence between foreigners and Chinese in cities and that their relations were becoming better. But still there was felt oppression and tension between foreigners and Chinese because of unequal treaties, racism, exploitation and humiliation. City life was becoming vibrant in terms of restaurants, fashion, operas, performances and jazz. Prostitution was on rise among Chinese women in cities since they knew they could earn a lot among high class Chinese and foreigners. In some cities appeared electrical lampposts, cars and trams between 1900 and 1928.  Still it is not necessary to mention that China was subordinate to West and in semicolonial position as all of treaties, taxations and conditions were imposed by foreigners. Foreigners had extraterritorial immunity in China. Also Western powers could hold their troops in legations, concessions and occupied territories. China didn’t have almost any sovereignty.

rural china 1920ies
Rural China, 1920ies, source:

City life was becoming vibrant in terms of restaurants, fashion, operas, performances and jazz. Prostitution was on rise among Chinese women in cities since they knew they could earn a lot among high class Chinese and foreigners. In some cities appeared electrical lampposts, cars and trams between 1900 and 1928.  Still it is not necessary to mention that China was subordinate to West and in semicolonial position as all of treaties, taxations and conditions were imposed by foreigners. Foreigners had extraterritorial immunity in China. Also Western powers could hold their troops in legations, concessions and occupied territories. China didn’t have almost any sovereignty.

shanghai 1920ies
Shanghai 1920ies, source:

Press media was developing quite rapidly and there were both Chinese but foreign newspapers too.

Opium was becoming less important for foreign powers and in 1907 UK agreed to gradually stop opium exports. Now opium wasn’t anymore so important for Britain to export as it suited them to export other things now to China. However opium represented big challenge now as it was domesticated by some Chinese. Opium trade and production became illegal officially in 1907 again. Firstly Qing court and later Republican authorities were battling against opium, seizing its factories, destroying opium and arresting those involved in trade. But illegal opium trade and use was too hard to eradicate because of corruption and lack of law enforcement. There were many  secret dens for smoking opium in towns and villages and bigger cities. Situation was like that until 1949.

In 1912 China adopted Gregorian calendar but it took years to adapt large nation to it. So only with reunified China in 1949 when PRC was established it was effective.

Other Regions

This section relates to other Chinese regions which were inhabited by large ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs and Manchu which were historically part of China for long time.  Lets start from Mongolia. After Boxer rebellion Qing court tried to prevent Russian imperialistic aims after Russian occupation of most of Manchuria. It set up very oppressive conditions for Mongolia mostly in Outer Mongolia. In 1910 in Ulaanbaatar it send Sando ( an ethnic Manchu) to govern over Outer Mongolia. It wanted to tighten control in Mongolia in order to prevent Russian influence. In 1911 Mongolian rebellion started after fight between Qing authorities and Mongol monks. Qing court was too busy with Wuchang uprising and with lack of capacity it couldn’t prevent declaration of independence in Outer Mongolia. Bogd Khan an influential Mongolian cleric became primary figure in Outer Mongolia which became new theocratic Buddhist state. His aim was to unite Inner Mongolia too. In 1915 Russia, China and authorities of Outer Mongolia agreed in Kyahta that China wont keep any troops in Outer Mongolia while Mongolia will officially recognize Republican government as suzerain. Outer Mongolia thus became de facto independent. Yuan Shikai was trying to return Outer Mongolia by sending gifts to Bogd Khan. Mongol aristocrats invited Beiyang Army in 1919 to protect Outer Mongolia from theocratic elite and from Russian Civil War which was occurring there too. Beiyang government saw this as chance to return Mongolia to China and prevent pan Mongolian movement which was becoming active and worked on unification of all Mongols living in Outer and Inner Mongolia and in Russian territories.  Beiyang troops were initially successful in controlling Outer Mongolia.  In 1921 communist revolution in Mongolia occurred and Beiyang troops were attacked by new communist Mongol troops and Soviet troops. . In 1924 Peoples Republic of Mongolia won and Beiyang troops agreed with Soviet government to withdraw if they nominally recognize Mongolia as part of China. Thus China didn’t recognize Mongolia until 1946 but couldn’t send troops there anymore.  Inner Mongolia was divided on several provinces after 1912 in order to prevent them for gaining more of independence. Warlordism was quite strong in Inner Mongolia. Also Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia was formed in 1925 and fought on side of CCP. Only after establishment of PRC Inner Mongolia got autonomy.

Xinjiang after 1910 was quite stable and ethnic tensions were almost none. In 1912 after fall of Qing dynasty governor of Xinjiang gave up his position and new Republican governor was appointed. His name was Yang Zhengxin. Full scale control over Xinjiang was not present and warlords were quite active there too. Uighurs and Han lived in more or less peaceful relations and marriages between them were often present. Some pan-Mongolians  who operated in Outer and Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang promoted reunification of Xinjiang with Outer Mongolia. Basis for this idea was Mongol Dzungar Khanate which governed Xinjiang in past. After 1930 situation became a bit more unstable and later will be about it.  Only with establishment of PRC full control over Xinjiang was restored by China.

Manchuria was mostly occupied by Russia since 1900. Outer Manchuria was mostly occupied by Russia since mid 19th century. Japan in balancing against Russia occupied most of Outer Manchuria during Russian Civil War. But Soviet troops restored control of Outer Manchuria. n Outer Manchuria never became part of China again. Inner and Southern Manchuria fell under control of Japan in 1905. Japan exercised there big political influence and controlled all rails previously possessed by Russia. In 1911 Inner and Southern Manchuria were officially part of China but de facto control was in hands of Japan. In Port Arthur were present some Japanese troops and in areas of rails. But Japan most of power in Manchuria exercised by controlling local warlords. Only in 1931 Japan launched full scale invasion of Manchuria. Relations between Chinese and Manchu residents were close, stable and friendly.

Tibet also acted as de facto independent but was not a state in full sense. It was kind of theocracy which was officially part of China. Tibet became new point of interest of two imperialistic powers Britain and Russia. In order to prevent Russian intervention Britain sent military expedition to Tibet in 1903 to force Dalai Lama to open trade with Britain and not to enter into any relations with Russia. It was prevented by Qing court claiming that they are sovereign over Tibet. Some lamas caused a rebellion in Lhasa in 1905 and they started to massacre Qing officials, British and French missionaries. It was surpassed by Qing troops. In 1906 Britain and China agreed in joint convention that: Tibet remains part of China and that Britain doesn’t have permission to interfere into local Tibet affairs without consent of China. China had to pay a fee to Britain for this agreement. In 1910 already desperate of losing China Qing court sent an military expedition to Tibet commanded by governor of Sichuan province. It had aim to completely annex Tibet and destroy its autonomy but it was prevented by Wuchang uprising in all China and Xinhai revolution. Both Han and Tibetan population was attacking Qing troops which withdrew completely from Tibet in 1912.

tibetan slave
Slave in Tibetan theocracy

In 1912 Tibet as a part of Republic of China was recognized. It was continuation of Chinese legitimacy over Tibet which existed for centuries. As mentioned before China first formal relations of having Tibet as tributary state date from Tang dynasty what was formalized by marriage between Chinese and Tibetan aristocrats.  During Yuan dynasty Tibet with local autonomy was part of China and recognized supremacy of Chinese court. During Ming dynasty Tibet formally recognized supremacy of Ming court but exercised own local affairs. Since 1720 Dalai Lama recognized supremacy of Qing having  control of local autonomous affairs but allowing imperial Qing supervisors and permanent presence of Qing army. Tibet was still part of China since 1912 although Republican government couldn’t place troops and full control due to lack of  military and economic power. Britain tried to use the situation and destabilize China further. It introduced concept of dividing Tibet on 3 areas: Outer, Inner and Southern. Southern Tibet was annexed by British India and it is still today dispute between China and India. In India it is called Arunachal Pradesh. Inner Tibet was attempt of Britain to create an autonomous region of parts of Sichuan, Xikang and Qinghai on example of Inner Mongolia and Outer Tibet was their name for Tibetan existing autonomy.  Britain wanted to apply concept of Outer Mongolia on creating Outer Tibet in order to more exercise its influence. All this concepts were rejected by ROC but it didn’t have power to return South Tibet and maintain effective control over Tibet region. But ROC successfully didn’t give up Tibetan areas in Xikang, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. British concept is known as McMahon Line. Still Britain was trying to further move away Tibet from China by sending secret agents who presented themselves in merchants and were trying to persuade Dalai Lama to accept their offers. Tibet was under control of  13th Dalai Lama who didn’t exercise full power completely over whole region except in capital Lhasa. Other areas were more in control of local landlords. Serfdom and slavery were very harsh in Tibetan theocracy where 90% of people were illiterate peasants and 10% literate and oppressive feudal clergy.

International Politics

From previous subchapter we can see that most of Chinas foreign policy was based on balancing between world powers of that time UK, Russia, Germany,  Japan, Austria and France. China was quite depending on them and tried to find most peaceful solution for every situation but generally seeing position of China was strengthened comparing to mid and end of 19th century.  China managed to renegotiate its stance in unequal treaties  with Britain and managed to stop import of opium. With USA it managed to develop educational cooperation. China was bandwagoning with great powers as it was unable to project own military and economic power strong enough to counter them. But anyway China managed to prevent complete losing of Mongolia and Tibet and guaranteed itself at least official sovereignty over Tibet and Outer Mongolia. China entered WW1 with aim to gain support of UK and France for regaining Shandong province( controlled by Germany). China didn’t have power to fight on its own but sent some labor and military corps to assist British and French troops. Beiyang government wanted to sign in Versailles ceding Shandong to Japan under pressure of UK and France as they wanted to reward Japan as their ally but it caused big protests known as May Fourth Movement. So Chinese ambassador to France Welingtone Koo disagreed to cede Shandong to Japan. Even when China had control over Shandong its rails were owned by Japan. China was still weak and exploited economically and various powers mostly UK, Russia and Japan were trying to strengthen their influence in China and destabilize it further. UK wanted it via Tibet to exercise its influence in China, Russia through Xinjiang and Mongolia and Japan through Manchuria and Shandong. Japan was also funding Beiyang government as it knew it wont unify China while was against KMT and CCP which aimed for unification and strengthening of China. But ROC managed to secure buffer zone with Russia by creating Outer Mongolia and prevent direct conflict of interests.  Beiyang government to secure its support from West  sent troops to Siberia to fight against Red Army in Russian Civil War. Beiyang government sent 2300 soldiers on side of White Army, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Canada and USA. It tried to gain control over some north Manchuria territories but with failure.  In 1921 KMT and CCP were looking aid from Soviet Union in reuniting China since they saw West doesn’t want to help them much to stabilize. With Soviet aid KMT managed to capture Beijing and stabilize a bit more ROC. After 1928 ROC was mostly cooperating in economic terms with Germany and USA while both KMT and CCP cooperated in political terms with Soviet Union.

In light green are  territories still claimed by ROC

Finalizing chapter

Since establishment of Republic China was more open to modern world and foreign influence and tried to combine its own culture, state and politics with new trends. Generally speaking China in 18th and until Opium Wars was self-sufficient country. It didn’t strive for industrial development as with its own progress it was satisfied. Its military was destroyed by Opium Wars and economy went into decline. It was forced to open market, give up sovereignty exercise over foreign nationals everything under terms of foreign powers. Therefore its economy and strength was further declining. Delay of reforms by Qing court caused even bigger problems for state its system and people. In 1912 after establishment of republic China didn’t have choice except to adapt to foreign trends and try to balance with them as much as it was possible with safeguarding its own interests. China was still underestimated by whole world at beginning of 20th century and was considered as quasi state unable to self-govern. Modernizing efforts were to hard to implement and restoring of public order because of poor economy, undeveloped institutions, differing political ideas and lack of unities. Only CCP with gaining power in 1949 managed to restore order to China first focusing on stabilizing country from inside and than opening to the world on equal terms.






source of cover photo:



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