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How Influential was Sun Yatsen in the Fall of the Qing Dynasty?

By Katie25Nicholson Apr 16, 2014 1021 Words
The fall of the Qing Dynasty was triggered by the ‘Double Tenth’ on 10 October 1911 at Wuchan where troops refused to obey an order to suppress a group of dissidents causing a mutiny. This undermined the control of the Qing government as their imperial army was no match for the Chinese military who had invested in modernisation. However, it can be argued that other factors such as Sun Yatsen’s influence, Yuan Shikai’s double crossing, the existing weaknesses of the Qing, and foreign intervention also played an important part in the fall of the Qing dynasty.

One long term cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty was the influence of Sun Yatsen. His involvement was very important due to the fact that he targeted young Chinese students studying in Japan. Here he preached to them about modernising China so that it could become stronger and more like Japan. This was crucial as these students then returned to China and set up secret revolutionary groups spreading the ideas of change. This word of mouth tactic meant that his ideas were very quickly integrated into China particularly with the up and coming generation that would lead the revolution. However, the extent of his influence is debatable. Although he was a key figure to the revolutionaries, he was not present during the revolution itself and only heard about it afterwards. This suggests that although he was idolised, he was not a necessary cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty, only a contributing factor.

As well as being faced with Sun Yatsen undermining them intellectually, the Qing government also had to deal with Yuan Shikai. He had just been reinstated to lead the Beijing army against the rebels but instead he won a couple of battles for them then switched sides to join the rebels. This weakened the Qing’s military strength drastically as well as strengthening the rebel forces hugely. Yuan wanted the Qing dynasty to fall but not the imperial system as his aim was to become the new Emperor. The fact that he eventually achieved the take over of the Qing displays that Yuan was a very important cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty however whether or not his role was more important than Sun’s is arguable. It is true that he effectively led the rebels into battle against the Qing however if Sun had not implanted the idea in the first place the revolution may not have even happened. Furthermore, Yuan only joined the revolution part way through when it was an opportune moment for him where as Sun was there from the beginning as he had been trying to overthrow the imperial system since the early 1890s.

Having very little military strength was only a short term cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty. Its growing weaknesses in general meant that the Qing dynasty would fall at some point either way, it just needed a trigger. The respect for the Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi was massively reduced after their failure to successfully support the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The poor outcome showed the people that the government would not be capable of leading them against the ‘foreign devils’. By 1911 this had only gotten worse for them due to the population’s lack of attention towards Cixi eventually allowing reforms. It was seen as a desperate grasp for power and the idea of the Qing dynasty turning itself into a modern constitutional monarchy was too greater stretch for the imagination. Even though this underlying cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty was largely responsible, it is fair to say that without Sun Yatsen, the people would not have been inspired enough to attempt a revolution. The weaknesses of the Qing dynasty, however important they may have been, were not realised with any great effect until foreign intervention in 1839 (the Opium wars) which began to show the Chinese people what they could achieve if they lived in a modernised society. This becomes more and more important as a long term cause of the fall of the Qing dynasty as one comes to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Issues such as the railway boom beginning in 1895 upset reactionaries as railways were not built in coordination with ‘the veins of the dragon’ as well as the fact that they were owned and run by provincial companies which challenged the central authorities. The Qing therefore nationalised the railways which was detrimental to the economy showing the people that the Qing government was willing to sacrifice their people’s livelihood in order to maintain power over China. Foreign intervention was vital in the fall of the Qing dynasty as it revealed all of the Qing’s weaknesses however Sun Yatsen helped more towards the revolution as by turning the ‘foreign devils’ into idols he turned the people’s hatred for the way their lives were being run towards the Qing dynasty.

It is clear that Sun Yatsen’s influence was the most significant factor in causing the fall of the Qing dynasty. The fact that he was not present during the revolution itself is negligible as without him spreading the idea of change since the early 1890s the people would not have been united or inspired enough to actually revolt. Yuan Shikai was important in the later stages of the revolution as he had military power however he can not be seen as the most important cause as if it was just him and his army against the Qing they would not have succeeded as they would not have had the backing of all of Sun’s supporters. The weaknesses in the Qing dynasty itself that were revealed by foreign intervention were also crucial. However, without Sun’s influence one could argue that the people would have carried on with events such as the Boxer Rebellion against the Westerners instead of aiming their anger towards the Qing government. Therefore, one can conclude that Sun Yatsen’s influence was the most important factor that contributed to the fall of the Qing dynasty.

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