The old First Republic, 1912-1928
ONE of the most fantastic spectacles in the political history of mankind was the attempt of the Chinese to set up a parliamentary constitutional republic between 1912 and 1928. The Chinese republican revolution of 1911-1912, which set about this immense undertaking, was led by the visionary and genius, Sun Yat-sen. The result was chaos, not freedom. Progress was made, but the progress was a particularly nightmarish kind of anarchy which, in its turn, led inevitably to the invasion of China by foreign powers and to the Nationalist and Communist revolutions. Rarely has a government fitted its people so poorly. Rarely has a nation undertaken a political experiment with so little understanding of what the experiment involved. Chinese history, 1912-1928, is a story of growth, tragedy, disappointment, failure.
The political forms of the old first republic of China were phantoms. It is hard for Americans of the mid-twentieth century to realize that a Chinese of today might look back on China's period of parliamentary democratic government as an age of hypocrisy, humiliation, civil war, chronic disorder, and frustration on an immense scale--yet this is the case. The political institutions are, therefore, not significant in their own right but are tragically and monumentally appropriate as a case history of an immense failure.
The triumph of the Kuomintang ( Nationalist Party), and after that, the Kungch'antang ( Communist Party), was possible only because the ideas and the institutions transmitted to China by the heirs of the American and French revolutions and by the proponents of British parliamentarism meant nothing. No one took the Chinese republic very seriously after its first few months. No one lamented it when it fell. No one today advocates reconstituting it.
Failure this complete is indeed an unusual political phenomenon. The