An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China

An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China

An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China

An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China

Synopsis

In this cogent and insightful reading of China's twentieth-century political culture, David Strand argues that the Chinese Revolution of 1911 engendered a new political life--one that began to free men and women from the inequality and hierarchy that formed the spine of China's social and cultural order. Chinese citizens confronted their leaders and each other face-to-face in a stance familiar to republics worldwide. This shift in political posture was accompanied by considerable trepidation as well as excitement. Profiling three prominent political actors of the time--suffragist Tang Qunying, diplomat Lu Zhengxiang, and revolutionary Sun Yatsen--Strand demonstrates how a sea change in political performance left leaders dependent on popular support and citizens enmeshed in a political process productive of both authority and dissent.

Excerpt

Once the 1911 Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty, monarchy was gone for good in China; revolutionaries drew a line that became a great and defining gulf. In 1915 President Yuan Shikai, who had inherited the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen’s brief and provisional presidency, tried to make himself emperor. Although Yuan had in his possession formidable political skills and resources, he failed miserably in attempting to pick up where the child-emperor Puyi left off at his forced abdication on February 12, 1912. Yuan’s failure was not the result of the early Republic’s clear success. There were few signs the new regime was more capable than the empire it had replaced. Revolutionaries themselves complained that the Republic was little more than a “signboard” without real substance. However, when the chips were down, and Chinese faced the prospect of President Yuan becoming the Hongxian (“Grand Constitutional Achievement”) emperor, citizens with the wherewithal to resist, did so.

Within a few years the Republic became entrenched, not so much as a set of national political institutions, but as a political way of life in which citizens confronted leaders and each other face-to-face in a stance familiar to republics worldwide. Political equality as a value and an everyday practice stood in stark contrast to the inequality and hierarchy that long formed the spine of China’s social and cultural order. This change in political and physical posture was accompanied by considerable trepidation and even alarm, as well as excitement and anticipation, especially . . .

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