Role of 'First Shot' in events disputed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am


Eighty-five-year-old Xiong Hui tells a good story, eloquently recounting the tale of his famous father's role in the 1911 revolution that overthrew thousands of years of imperial rule in China.

His father, Xiong Bingkun, has been widely credited with firing the first shot in the Wuchang uprising of October 10, 1911, and is better known as 'Xiong of the First Shot'.

As one of few surviving first-generation offspring of the 1911 revolutionaries, Xiong Hui has become something of a celebrity in the lead-up to the centenary.

'My father always said that by the time they decided to take up arms, they had already put their lives on the line,' said Xiong Hui, a retired official with the Hubei branch of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang, one of the mainland's eight approved non-communist parties. 'That's because they regarded the destiny of the country as their own, that's the legacy of the Xinhai revolution we should pass on.' Xinhai was the year of the revolution according to the traditional 60-year Chinese calendrical cycle.

However, his textbook-perfect utterances have been increasingly disputed by historians, underscoring the tumultuous nature of the event and the difficulty of piecing together what actually happened.

During a recent interview at his home in Wuhan, Xiong Hui said that through a revolutionary he met in the same city, his father, then in his twenties, joined the Qing army engineering battalion stationed on the outskirts of Wuchang. There he joined a loose group of revolutionaries opposed to imperial rule.

The revolutionaries were told on the afternoon of October 9 to wait for cannon fire from a battalion in the Nanhu area that would signal the start of the uprising.

But the cannon shots were not heard until the next day. The revolutionaries at the engineering battalion learned that the command centre at the revolutionary headquarters in Hankou had been disabled after plans for the uprising leaked out.

Xiong Hui said his father thought the revolutionaries had no choice but to take a chance and go ahead with the planned uprising, but he was only a squad leader in the battalion, with little clout when it came to mobilising more revolutionaries.

So he ordered the uprising in the name of higher commanders, and he and his comrades took control of the engineering battalion, subduing loyalist rivals and seizing its armoury.

Xiong Hui said his father later followed Sun Yat-sen to Guangdong as a top aide to continue pushing for a democratic revolution.

Sun even introduced Xiong Bingkun to his guests at a meeting in Japan in 1914 as the man who fired the first shot in the Wuchang uprising.

Xiong Bingkun returned to Wuhan after 1927 and took up several government posts, including one term as mayor of Wuchang, before being pushed to the sidelines under the regime of Chiang Kai-shek. He died in 1969, at the age of 84.

In the late 1980s, several mainland historians wrote books challenging the mainstream view of Xiong Bingkun. Their research showed that another junior soldier, Cheng Zhengying , fired the first shot and killed several loyalist supervisors.

However Xiong Bingkun is still referred to as 'Xiong of the First Shot' in official publications and tourism brochures.

Xiong Hui said he only became vaguely aware of his father's role when he was about 10 and learned much more from history books later.

He said he is aware of the controversy and agrees that shots were heard before his father fired his.

'But history should be seen as a process from all the perspectives,' Xiong Hui said. 'It's nothing wrong to give my father the credit if we consider the leading role he played in this historic event.'