News reports at the time painted vivid picture of plots and uprisings
Reports by the South China Morning Post a hundred years ago provide many interesting details about the 1911 revolution, including Hong Kong's role as a transit point for revolutionaries, Sun Yat-sen's personality, vivid eyewitness descriptions of the uprisings and what the revolutionaries were like.
Founded in 1903, the Post was one of four English-language newspapers in Hong Kong in 1911. It gave extensive coverage to the uprisings and the establishment of the Republic of China. Many reports were telegrams, or information gathered from steamers that stopped at Hong Kong. There were also eyewitness accounts and government documents.
Probably due to its proximity to Hong Kong, there were many detailed reports about the second Guangzhou uprising in April 1911. A report by a Post correspondent printed on April 29, 1911, suggests that Hong Kong was a transit point for revolutionaries organising the uprising in Guangzhou.
'Since the assassination of the Tartar General Fu Chi it is well known that there has been a large influx of undesirable and suspicious characters from Singapore. Talking with an official who is in the know, a representative of the South China Morning Post learned yesterday that it was computed that no fewer than five hundred supposed members of secret societies had recently arrived in the Colony from the Straits Settlements.
'These men had scattered themselves about the colony, and many were believed to have gone up to Canton [Guangzhou]. They are seldom seen in groups, but yesterday a number were seen in earnest conclave in a certain hotel and were afterwards seen at the Post Office, despatching mail.
'The police are said to have an eye on the movements and doings of some of these men, but nothing had eventuated to warrant any interference.'
The uprising - also known as Yellow Flower Mound revolt - was crushed when news of it leaked beforehand and more than 80 revolutionaries were killed. The same report said: 'Apparently too the Viceroy's secret agents have kept him pretty well posted. It is believed to be significant of a warning having reached him that His Excellency vacated his yamen (office) a week ago ...'
A thorough search of steamers from Hong Kong carried out by Guangzhou authorities after the uprising also highlighted Hong Kong's role as a transit point for weapons and revolutionaries. 'A rigorous search of each steamer arriving from Hongkong is made also of all junks and passage boats, the object being to prevent the smuggling of weapons and the detention of suspects,' a report published on May 1, 1911, said.
A report on May 5, 1911, gives a glimpse of what the revolutionaries in the second Guangzhou uprising, led by Huang Xing, were like. A report about a trial and the beheading of those involved in the second Guangzhou uprising also provided evidence that many revolutionaries distanced themselves from Sun, the most widely known leader of the 1911 revolution.
'The most touching of all the statements was that of a queueless youth in European dress who was caught at the Railway Station at Shek Cheung the day before yesterday ... His society had no connection whatever with that of Dr Suen Man, alias Suen Yat Sen, who was, as he called him, no better than a swindler whom he thought it below his dignity to join,' the report said.
'During his trial the prisoner spoke English, and conversed with Admiral Li, Brigadier Huang and other officials on the future aspects of the world and the situation of the different countries. He also advised that the officials should do such and such a thing and should not act in such and such a way in their administration of the Government ... He was sent out together with two others yesterday and beheaded in the city.'
Most of the reports about the Wuchang uprising in October 1911 were telegrams from various parts of China. But a Reuters telegram published on October 18 gave an interesting account on how Hong Kong editors were told to tone down their reports on the revolution.
'Mr Kong Hung Yan, one of the Canton gentry, is said to have been deputed by H.E. the Viceroy to convene a meeting of the Chinese editors in Hongkong with a view to influencing them to tone down the writings concerning the revolt. Whether he was acting on the Viceroy's initiative or not we do not know, but a meeting was held at which Mr Kong is understood to have requested the editors to wait patiently for the result of the rebellion, and suggested that if two or three of the provincial capitals should capitulate to the rebels, Kwangtung [Guangdong] might declare itself an independent republic.'
After the Wuchang uprising, rebellions spread like wildfire across the country. Sun returned to China in December 1911 and was elected president of a provisional government by revolutionaries from 14 provinces. Days after Sun proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of China, a report on January 4, 1912, shed light on the controversy surrounding Sun's close ties with the Japanese.
In a report titled 'Friendly Japan', Sun was questioned by a China Press reporter upon his arrival in Shanghai about why he was 'accompanied by so many Japanese'.
It said Sun replied he did not know the names of the Japanese in his entourage, and his secretary was Japanese. He also confessed some of his entourage were military men.
The report also detailed how Sun - well known for his eloquence - sidestepped sensitive questions with laughter.
When asked if there was dissension among the revolutionaries, Sun said: 'Dissensions? There is no such word in the Chinese dictionary. We have no dissension. There may be dissension in the columns of the China Press but not in our ranks.'
The report described Sun as someone 'small and dark and jovial. During the interview with the China Press reporter he laughed almost continuously, especially at suggestions that there was any dissension in the Republican ranks. He impresses one as being a clever politician and a good publicist, rather than a strong executive.'