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The first half of the Century of Humiliation was mainly about foreign pressure on China.
Japan had invaded Korea, leading to independence both for that country and Taiwan.
A series of punitive treaties with colonial powers sucked practically every last penny out of Chinese coffers.
But internal unrest was increasing too, and in the first years of the 20th century,
major changes were happening within China.
Hello and welcome to this revolutionary episode of It’s History.
China has gone from a model polity and innovative power to a fractured and impoverished puppet state,
with warlordism causing uprisings all over the country.
Resentment rages not only against the the Qing aristocracy, widely perceived to be incompetent and despotic,
but, increasingly, against colonial powers too.
Let’s go back to 1901. You may have seen our episode on the Boxer Rebellion,
which was an outburst of xenophobia -- perhaps not without justification.
Colonial powers had raped and pillaged China, both literally and metaphorically.
The settlement that brought an end to this revolt was the Boxer Protocol.
As ever with armistice treaties, reparations payments were at the top of the list -- and they were punishing.
450 million taels of fine silver-- an amount that would amount to billions of dollars today,
not including the 4% interest rate levied in addition -- were to be paid over a 39-year period
to all European nations with colonial interests in China, from Russia to little Norway.
Empress Dowager Cixi was on a list of war criminals, but was later removed from this
when her advisors protested her innocence in the Boxer affair.
Further provisions in the Protocol allowed foreign troops to be garrisoned in Beijing,
and the colonial powers were to occupy a number of territories rich in resources.
Meanwhile, revolutionary outfits garnered ever more support from diverse groups.
After 1906, when the imperial examinations were abolished, the Qing encouraged students to seek education abroad.
Japan had done this 50 years before, and the policy had catapulted the nation ahead of any state in South-East Asia.
But then, as now, the youngsters came back enlightened in more ways than one.
When I came back from my first year at university,
I had gone from a compliant schoolboy to a beret-wearing beatnik who read communist newspapers,
lived off espresso, and had piercings in unspeakable places.
When the likes of Zou Rong came back from their studies, they were armed with self-penned revolutionary tracts
and the determination to overthrow the Manchu -- though young Zou still wore a combover.
So the Qing’s overseas education push backfired.
It might seem unthinkable that youngsters and their parents were on the same page, but it happened:
the middle classes -- particularly the business leaders who had seen commercial potential
slip through Chinese fingers during years of colonial occupation -- also backed the revolutionaries.
Then there were soldiers like Rowland J. Mulkern from colonial armies who lent strategic support,
and others like Arthur de Carle Sowerby who mounted expeditions to rescue missionaries as war loomed.
But perhaps the greatest act of imperial betrayal came among the troops of the new armies.
They were newly trained and newly equipped,
but Sun Yat-sen’s Revolutionary Alliance infiltrated the ranks and soon won converts.
After the Boxer Protocol, the Qing were in a similar situation to Germany after the Versailles Treaty in 1919.
Bankrupt, and desperate. One move was to nationalise the railways,
which met with immediate protest from the private investors who had funded their construction.
Strikes and rallies followed, bringing the network and many other industries to a complete halt.
There were two main revolutionary groups in Wuhan at the time.
The fiercely named Literary Society, and the even more menacing Progressive Association.
Sun Wu was a leader in the preparations for an all-out offensive on the Qing.
But one day in 1911, Sun was visiting the Russian concession where materiel for the planned attacked was being made.
A bomb went off by accident. It seriously injured Wu, and it unveiled the conspiracy.
Almost immediately, the battle was quashed by forces still loyal to the dynasty led by commander Yuan Shikai.
At the time, Sun Yat-sen, the brainchild of China’s revolutionary movement, was nowhere to be seen.
He was in America, fundraising for the revolutionary war that started prematurely and ended quickly.
By the time he returned to China,
negotiations had already dictated that Sun would be the new President of the Republic of China -
though he would surrender this role to Yuan Shikai in return for the commander’s help
in forcing the last Qing emperor to abdicate.
The Republic of China was declared on January 1st, 1912.
Yuan Shikai retained control of the national government as a self-styled neo-emperor for a few years,
while the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party that was essentially Sun Yat-sen’s reformed Revolutionary Alliance,
regrouped and reworked their plan of action.
They tried to overthrow Yuan’s Beiyang Government in 1913 -- but without success.
Sun Yat-sen presided over the formation of a series of separatist governments in south China,
and was leader of the Guangzhou Military Government when he died in 1925.
His successor was his long-time associate Chiang Kai-Shek,
who launched a push through China’s northern territories in an effort to unite the country.
Initially, he welcomed Soviet support -- but soon saw that ulterior motives posed a threat.
He distanced the Kuomintang from the communists, which included purges within the party itself.
The Kuomintang defeated the Beiyang Government in 1928,
which began ten years of unity known as the Nanjing Decade.
Those of you have seen our episode on Sun Yat-sen will remember that he envisaged China’s progress unfolding in three stages:
Military rule, political tutelage, and constitutional consolidation.
But Chiang struggled to do much. Yes, he formed the Central Bank of China,
and instigated laws and campaigns in support of equal rights for women.
But state-building takes years, and a generation of mandarins used to imperial autocracy
can’t suddenly make the change to operating in what was intended eventually to be a free-market democracy.
Rather than make progress with Sun Yat-sen’s consolidation stages, the government merely showed its fragility.
Then the Japanese turned up again. They came down through Manchuria in 1931.
It must have felt like the first bite of an enormous jaw clamping down on a severely compromised China.
Chiang retreated south to Nanjing, before the Japanese installed a puppet government
that controlled Chinese affairs for the whole of the war.
It was a disgusting period by anyone’s reckoning,
with millions of lives lost to slave labour, most notably on the great Burma railway project.
Old rivalries between communists and nationalists only intensified
when the US entered the Pacific theatre in 1941.
After the War ended in 1945, the nationalist government returned to Nanjing.
They were in a bind with the Soviets; on the one hand, Stalin had helped overthrow the Japanese in Manchuria.
On the other, retreating troops dismantled high-tech Japanese industrial equipment, and took it home with them.
While Chiang tried desperately to centralise Chinese government once again, it was too late.
He wrote in 1948 that there was rot from within.
The Soviets were still in Manchuria, the zone they had liberated, in 1946.
It represented a quarter of China’s territory, and a third of its population.
Inevitably, communist units picked up many of the weapons left behind during their retreat.
That they were able to use them relatively quickly shows how many Kuomintang troops defected to the communist cause.
Chiang cried out to President Truman for help with a new,
and final, attempt to quell the communists as they amassed and remained defiant.
Kuomintang troops went to newly liberated areas to set up garrisons, and Truman wrote:
“We had to take the unusual step of using the enemy as a garrison
until we could airlift Chinese National Troops to South China and send Marines to guard the seaports.”
But the Pingjin Campaign in 1948, one of three that marked the Chinese Civil War, was decisive.
It led to the capture of the Kuomintang capital in Nanjing, and on October 1st, 1949,
Chairman Mao declared the People’s Republic of China.
Where did it all go wrong?
From political and spiritual philosophies that, reinterpreted for the modern world,
could still be called progressive over two millennia after they were written,
to inventions as diverse as paper, printing and gunpowder.
China made its mark on the world until modernity threatened the very foundations of its social structures.
Outside influence from colonial powers introduced new ideas,
not only in terms of extended rights for more people, but in terms of the free-market economy.
The industrial revolution had already reached its peak when China was steadfastly refusing to enter into trade agreements,
and the dynastic government held too tight a grasp on industry
for there to be any opportunity for private enterprise.
China paid dearly for its stubbornness during its century of humiliation.
If you’re interested in learning how China’s dynastic fall came about,
check out our video on the first half of the “Century of Humiliation” by clicking here!
And if you’ve only just discovered our channel, be sure to see the complete playlist for this season on the history of China.
What do you think? Although China was never one complete colony,
as were many African countries, for example,
European influence forced the country to undergo change for which it was not ready.
Was this pressure the root of China’s ignominious fall, or did she only have herself to blame?
Leave your comments and queries in the section below, or have a look at our Subreddit, right here,
to open discussions on topics we might not have covered in this series.
My name's Guy, thanks for popping by, see you next time.


The Century of Humiliation - Part 2 l HISTORY OF CHINA

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Pedroli Li 2016 年 4 月 24 日 に公開
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