Sunday is the 110th anniversary of China’s 1911 revolution, also known as the Xinhai revolution, an uprising that began in Hubei province and marked the end of more than 2,000 years of imperial rule and the beginning of a new China. What was the revolution? After a series of failed uprisings, the revolution began in 1911, a year known as Xinhai in the traditional Chinese calendar, and saw the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing. The 275-year, Manchu-dominated empire had been stagnating in its final decades, falling behind Western imperial powers and the modernising Japanese state in areas such as commerce, industry and the military. These years were marked by a series of civil conflicts and military defeats at the hands of Western powers and Japan, and although these reverses prompted a series of attempted reforms, it was too little too late. Some reformist intellectuals, led by Kang Youwei, wanted a constitutional monarchy but others, including Sun Yat-sen and educator Cai Yuanpei, wanted a Chinese republic and formed multiple revolutionary groups. Xi says peaceful Taiwan reunification is in country’s best interests Two of these groups – the Literary Society and Gongjinhui, or the Common Progress Association – infiltrated the Qing’s Western-inspired New Army and on October 10, 1911, began a mutiny in Wuchang, a city that now forms part of modern-day Wuhan. The Hubei military government of the Republic of China was formed the next day. The revolt triggered a series of uprisings across China and by December that year most provinces had declared independence from the Qing court. Meanwhile, Yuan Shikai, a military commander who had been sent to lead an army against Wuchang and appointed prime minister, began negotiating with the rebels after he secured control of Hankou, a town on the opposite bank of the Yangtze River. The rebels led by Sun asked Yuan to force the boy-emperor Puyi to step down and in return agreed to make him president of the new republic. The republic was established on January 1, 1912, and Sun became the provisional president and oversaw Puyi’s abdication on February 12. Sun then stepped down on April 1 and handed over the presidency to Yuan. Why did the revolution happen? While the West reaped the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, China continued with its isolationist policies and was plagued internally by corruption and uprisings. At the turn of the 19th century, the religious White Lotus Rebellion and anti-Manchu movements seriously weakened the Qing military and economy. Then came the first opium war, which started when Chinese attempts to ban the drug angered British traders who relied on the opium trade to balance their imports of silk and tea from China. From Mao to Xi: how Communist Party leaders have shaped its ideology After a series of military defeats, China was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking, which forced it to hand Hong Kong Island over to the British – the first of a series of “unequal treaties” with foreign powers. The defeat also forced China to open a number of treaty ports and establish enclaves for foreigners, who were not subject to Chinese law – a concession that further fuelled Han nationalist resentment of the Qing court. The country’s rulers suffered a number of other heavy blows, including the second opium war, in which an Anglo-French force occupied Beijing and burned down the Summer Palace; a Pyrrhic victory over the Taiping rebels that cost millions of lives, a war with Japan that forced it to cede Taiwan and the Boxer rebellion, which ended in defeat to an eight-nation force consisting of the European powers, Japan and the United States. Meanwhile, officials familiar with Western technology were trying to modernise the country, building steamboats, telegram networks and sending children abroad to be educated. There were also attempts to reform the political system by establishing a constitutional monarchy. But these attempted reforms triggered a backlash from conservative elements at court and, in any case, were probably too late because the revolutionaries had already started infiltrating the New Army with the aim of overthrowing the Qing. How does the Communist Party see the revolution? The party sees the revolution as a “great victory” against imperialism but one which failed to end feudalism and semicolonial rule and aimed to create a capitalist class. However, this official view also says that it opened the door to ideas of democracy and equality, paving the way for the Communist revolution. How Sun Yat-sen shaped Penang’s capital, George Town The new republic soon fragmented, with large areas coming under the control of warlords – proof the revolution had failed, according to a 1942 essay by Mao Zedong. The People’s Republic was established in 1949 after the defeat of the Japanese invaders and Mao’s subsequent victory over Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang in the civil war, and since that time the party has laid claim to Sun’s legacy. Former president Hu Jintao summed up this view at the time of the 100th anniversary by saying “members of the Communist Party of China are the most steadfast supporters, closest collaborators and most loyal heirs” of Sun’s revolutionary cause.