As the Qing empire declined, new leaders and old warlords rebelled
against their government's submission to foreign dominance. In 1911, after
thousands of years of imperial rule, a bitter Chinese revolution led to
the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic
of China. The new republic was split into rival factions, however, so
the next 20 years were marked by economic chaos, war, and savagery.
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||Needlework - on paper, believed to have been done by the Empress Dowager.
--Artifact on loan, courtesy of the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
The United States had become a strong force in the
Pacific in the first decade of the 20th century, and manipulated a balance
of power between Russia, Japan, and America in the Far East. The Qing
Dynasty struggled to survive, but after 267 years of Manchu rule and thousands
of years of living under the imperial system, Chinese revolutionaries
were victorious in 1911.
The death of Empress Dowager Ci Xi in 1908 brought her
three-year-old nephew, PuYi, to the Chinese throne. It was a short reign.
Uprisings led by Sun Yat-sen expanded into a full-fledged revolution that
brought together revolutionaries, military officers, and reformers to
fight the imperial government. Savagery from both sides was reported throughout
China. Severed heads were piled high in city squares, flanked by long
rows of ears strung from the rooftops.
In 1911 Sun was able to unite the various factions. Within two months, 15 of 24 Chinese provinces declared themselves independent from the Qing Dynasty. The empire soon collapsed.
Poster - Chinese
Chaos reigned as control of the Chinese capital see-sawed between
several groups: generals of the former Imperial Army, territorial warlords,
and the Nationalists (also called Kuomintang or KMT). Japanese claims
to Chinese territory caused explosive demonstrations that witnessed the
rise of Marxism and a new revolutionary named Mao Zedong (formerly spelled
After the 1911 revolution, the new republic split into three primary
factions: 1) Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Party, based in Nanjing (formerly
Nanking); 2) Yuan Shih-k'ai's former Imperial Army whose seat of power
was in Beijing (formerly Peking); and 3) warlords in northern China who
continued to reign over several provinces.
A fourth power arose after World War I. To finance the war in Europe,
Western money had been pulled out of China and Japan stepped into the
void, granting massive loans to the government of Yuan Shih-k'ai. Chinese
students protested. When the Versailles Treaty ceded German territory
in China over to Japan, 10,000 students rose in a massive demonstration
called The May 4th Movement. One of its leaders was a librarian-turned-Marxist
named Mao Zedong, who founded the Chinese Communist Party in China with
only 57 original members.
The death of Sun Yat-sen six years later brought General Chiang Kai-shek
to the height of Nationalist power. Chiang launched The Northern Expedition
that conquered the warlords and unleashed "the Green Gang" mobsters
against the growing Communist movement. Thousands of workers in Shanghai
were slaughtered. Escaping to the countryside, Mao and other Communist
leaders began to form peasants and workers into a Red Army guerilla force.
By the 1930s, the Nationalists were recognized as the sole legitimate government of China. American companies invested millions of dollars towards China's modernization and to support Chiang. Japan, meanwhile, began to creep across the Chinese territory of Manchuria while Chiang was preoccupied with anti-Communist campaigns.
Booklet - "Report of
the Commission of Enquiry Appointed by the League of Nations"
Quicker to adopt Western systems than
the Chinese, the Japanese emerged into the 20th century as a modernized
country with a strong military. Japan sided with the Allies during World
War I and earned support from the West to claim more Chinese territory.
Dominance in Manchuria seesawed back and forth, but by 1931 the Japanese
invasion had begun.
During WWI, Britain, France, Italy, and
the U.S. secretly acknowledged Japanese claims to Chinese territory in
exchange for Japan's hounding of German forces in the Pacific. The Versailles
Treaty ceded German territory in China to Japan. The Japanese also demanded
Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, where its commercial interests included
800 Japanese-owned factories and production centers for their silk industry.
Several skirmishes erupted over the years,
and in 1927 Japan claimed that 300 Japanese residents in China were massacred
13 actually died, caught by the Chinese while smuggling
opium. In retaliation, Japanese reinforcements killed 1,000 Chinese soldiers
and civilians. Then they bombed railroads in Manchuria, putting the blame
on "Chinese bandits."
In 1931 Japanese forces invaded Manchuria. The League of Nations called for Japan to withdraw, but the Japanese merely walked out of the League meeting. President Herbert Hoover and Secretary of State Henry Stimson responded with the Stimson Doctrine, calling for nonrecognition and nonintervention, but that did little to deter the Japanese who pushed south, further into China.
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