- The Politics of Rights and the 1911 Revolution in China by Xiaowei Zheng
The 1911 Revolution overthrew the 2,000-year-old Chinese monarchy and established a republic, regarded as the primary contribution to both the Republic of China (ROC) and the People's Republic of China (PRC). However, many supporters of the revolution, now more than a century ago, reported that it was not the goal, or rather not the original goal. The rapid collapse of the Qing monarchy resulted from the elite's complete betrayal, but not because their beliefs resembled those of Sun Yat-sen and his Revolutionary Alliance (同盟會 Tongmenghui). In the summer of 1911, the Railway Protection Movement's outbreak in Sichuan province became the fuse that set off the national revolution, and Pu Dianjun, the leader of that movement, became the revolutionary provincial government's first leader (都督 Dudu). Xiaowei Zheng's The Politics of Rights and the 1911 Revolution in China takes Sichuan as a case study of rethinking the 1911 Revolution's political process, including the ideas, rhetoric, practice, expansion, division, end, and legacy of the Chinese revolution.
Zheng's interpretation of the 1911 Revolution is based on political and cultural experience and takes as its starting point the modernization of China's politics and culture: "The revolution was a political transformation spearheaded by new ideas, in particular, the notions of rights, equality and popular sovereignty, which stimulated the Chinese elite into changing the old political order" (p. 9). On the one hand, the young people of Sichuan's local gentry went to study in Japan. There, they learned notions of constitutionalism and that China should also practice such fundamental principles and establish a constitutional monarchy that respected popular sovereignty. On the other hand, when the revolution inevitably occurred, the constitutionalists first adopted "the political concepts centring on rights and the protest repertoire—including meetings, speeches, processions, propaganda, and political theater" (p. 165) to successfully mobilize the masses.
The Politics of Rights and the 1911 Revolution in China is based on rich, colorful primary sources on the revolution in Sichuan that come from the Sichuan Provincial Archives, the Provincial Library, and various county archives. Moreover, the three-volume Sichuan Baolu Yundong Dang'an Huizuan (四川保路運動史料彙纂 Collection of Historical [End Page 228] Materials on the Sichuan Railway Protection Movement, 1994) by Dai Zhili (戴執禮), contains 1,910 documents and more than two million words. Zheng's collection and mastery of firsthand materials ensured that she could combine constitutionalists' fragmentary details into a complete historical story.
Specifically, the overseas students from Sichuan participated in the New Policies reform during the late Qing, thus accumulating their initial experience of political struggle. For the Chuan-Han Railway Company project, they organized donations, offered suggestions, and some even returned to China to join the company and help formulate a policy of compulsory taxation and shareholding. All of this was aimed to restore the state's rights and sovereignty through the Chuan-Han Railway's hurried construction. Afterward, the students tried to get rid of the provincial government's control over the Chuan-Han Railway Company, promoting its commercialization and in fact achieving some success. In this context, the railway nationalization policy pursued by the Qing court as loans to foreign countries was fiercely opposed by the Sichuan constitutionalists, including the use of collective identity (川人 chuanren) and common goals (保路破約 baolu poyue) to unite the Sichuan people.
After the 1911 Revolution, the old imperial political culture was abandoned, a new modern political culture was born, and its political legacy still exerts influence in 21st-century China. But the greatest achievement of this new political culture was only to help overthrow the Qing monarchy, which "did not possess the resources to resolve the various differences that had long existed" (p. 247). Zheng reminds us that a constitutionally limited government was not established in later China. People have learned only the revolution's slogans and methods; however, notions of rights, equality, and popular sovereignty are still far from being realized.
In fact, Western...