Feature image depicts a battle between the Qing Dynasty army (in blue waving the flag with a dragon) and the Republic of China army (in yellow waving the flag with a yellow sun.)

Fall of the Qing Dynasty

The Republic of China’s story begins with the deterioration of the Qing Dynasty. The Qing leadership was considered stubborn, choosing not to modernize even as it witnessed the rest of the world adopt superior technologies. As a result, foreign nations were able to bully China into “unfair treaties” using military might starting from the mid 1800s: the First (1839-1842) and Second Opium War (1856-1860), First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901). China was not only forced to accept unfair trade deals but to pay reprimands and lost significant territories: Hong Kong to the United Kingdom; Korea, a tributary state of the Qing Empire, was relinquished to be independent; and Taiwan to Japan.

The weak leadership and inability to modernize was not left unnoticed by its citizens. Tensions rose, leading to a massive civil war called the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), and government reforms enabling more exposure to the outside world backfired: Chinese who were allowed to study abroad usually came back more determined to advocate for a revolution against the Empire.

Signing of Treaty of Shimonoseki
The signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki gave the founding of Korea as well as handed Taiwan over to the Japanese Empire

Furthermore, the Qing Dynasty was established by the northern Manchus 250 years ago; many citizens regarded the leadership as a foreign power and felt that they must one day reclaim China for themselves. It didn’t matter that in reality, the Manchus were primarily a mix of Mongols and Jurchens, two groups of people who had historically ruled significant portions of China (see Yuan Dynasty, Jin Dynasty).

Wuchang Uprising

On October 9 of 1911, revolutionaries were preparing weaponry and a bomb accidentally exploded and drew local police to Wuchang’s Russian Settlement. In the house, police found a list of names of revolutionaries. Because of the discovery, the revolutionaries decided they had to strike immediately, and they attacked and overwhelmed imperial forces in Wuchang on October 10. The success spread quickly–the other provinces also rebelled and declared independence from the Qing Empire.


Dr. Sun was in Denver when he received a week-old telegram about the success of the Wuchang uprising, and he returned to China in December. Meanwhile, the military leader Yuan Shikai who led the Empire’s strongest army, made a strategic decision to negotiate between the Qing leadership and the revolutionaries.

On December 28, Empress Dowager Longyu called for a National Convention to begin formal negotiations with the revolutionaries. Dr. Sun was elected to be the provisional president of the Republic of China on December 29, 1911 and was officially inaugurated on January 1, 1912. Things were looking good for Dr. Sun and his vision of the Republic of China, but Yuan Shikai had bargained for the presidency of the new government in order to bring a peaceful end of the Qing Empire.

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