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Failed Revolutions? Examining China's Revolutionary Period

When we talk about the Chinese revolutionary era, it is best to think of it as an era of great volatility, with revolutions, counterrevolutions, and social movements sprinkled into the mix.

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Below, I have published a paper I wrote a while back in a Modern Revolutions class. The hope is that I will revisit this some day. For now, it is something for all to read, critique, and ignore, if they so wish.


When we talk about the Chinese revolutionary era, it is best to think of it as an era of great volatility, with revolutions, counterrevolutions, and social movements sprinkled into the mix. It is in this volatile environment, the so-called revolutionary era, that China struggles to become a part of the larger modern world. It is this struggle to become part of the modern world that is most telling, and something that should serve as a reminder that emergence into the modern world is guaranteed to be a violent, traumatic affair, to say the least.

Two revolutions mark China’s attempted entrance into the modern world. Both revolutions, the Xinhai and the Communist revolutions to be exact, existed on opposite sides of the political spectrum, yet they also belonged to the same nationalist desire to make China a great nation again. Both revolutions attempted to make the Chinese state something new, something that had not existed in China’s conservative, isolationist past. In other words, these revolutions hoped to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. Furthermore, both revolutions constituted the largest radical social experiments in human history, with some four hundred-million people affected by the changing politico-economic landscape. However, like many radical social experiments of the twentieth-century, the Xinhai and the Communist revolutions were ultimately unsuccessful and failed in reorganizing the Chinese state into a stabilized, prosperous nation-state. It is these failures that this paper will examine, and this paper will also explore why these revolutions ultimately failed in their radical social experiments. Moreover, this paper hopes to explore how revolution does not always translate into politico-economic security, something wished for by those participating in the Xinhai and Communist revolutions in China. Instead, as I find in this paper, the Xinhai and Communist revolutions greatly destabilized the Chinese nation-state, and, in the process, led to the deaths of millions of Chinese and the suffering of hundreds of millions of ordinary people—something that seems unfathomable to many of us living in the twenty-first-century. The Chinese revolutionary era, lasting decades, would come to an end with the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping and his followers. However, much like the China of the early-twentieth-century, the China of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries is just as fragile and uncertain.

China’s revolutionary era begins with the Republican or Xinhai revolution of 1911. However, it is important to know the relationship China has with the Xinhai revolution before beginning our discussion on the revolution itself.  On the centenary of the Xinhai revolution, both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China celebrated this rather obscure event in world history. To those living in the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwan), the centenary served as a reminder that Sun Yat-sen’s democracy was alive and well—at least in Taiwan. In the People’s Republic of China (i.e., mainland China), the centenary was celebrated by cautious PRC authorities who wanted to tap into the potential nationalist energy emanating from this special moment in Chinese history (Mitter 2011, 1019). It is this muddled legacy of the Xinhai revolution that is most striking to an outside observer. Rana Mitter (2011) explains why the Xinhai revolution has such a muddled legacy, and this explains why the ROC and PRC celebrate it differently. According to Mitter, “1911 is an uncomfortable revolution because it sits, like 1905 in Russia or 1919 in Germany, as the precursor of a failed regime. However, it also contains potential political energy because it seems to have resonance and significance in understanding successor regimes from the 1990s onward” (1019). It is this regime failure that makes the Xinhai revolution so interesting. The revolution, in other words, failed to produce a stabilized nation-state, despite the wish to recreate China as a modern nation-state. However, it also sits as an important nationalist moment, something to be revered and celebrated.

Despite its failure, the Xinhai revolution was a “momentous event” that “represented a triple revolution—against a 250-year-old dynasty, the Qing; a 1,000-year-old social system, the junxian; and a monarchy dating back 4,000 years” (Schrecker 2004, 164). As Schrecker (2004) notes, the Xinhai revolution was a revolution in the truest sense. The Republican revolutionaries hoped to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. However, the failure of the revolution was deeply entrenched in the last years of the Qing dynasty and the very reforms the Qing enacted to appease the opposition in China. Furthermore, the very nature of the revolution itself prevented the revolution from blooming into a successful nation-building program.

Schrecker notes that the support for the status quo quickly diminished during the later years of the Qing dynasty (163-64). Further, the opposition to the status quo saw widespread support (163-64). With growing opposition to the dynasty, the Qing enacted sensible, albeit limited, reforms. These reforms covered a broad range of societal dealings and came to have a profound influence on the Chinese state and its people.

One major reform that took place during the final decade of Qing rule was the elimination of the fifteen-hundred-year-old state examination system, and with the abolishment of this system came the development of new schools, schools that greatly contributed to the opposition of the Qing dynasty (Schrecker, 165). The Qing dynasty also enacted reforms that greatly changed the Chinese military’s capacity, creating an army that was “well trained, well armed, and comparatively well paid and had high moral” (166). However, the new military forces were loyal to local leadership rather than the Qing dynasty itself, creating a stronger opposition to the Qing and, later on, powerful local warlords who opposed the Chinese republic’s own nation-building schemes (166). Despite the reforms, “in the charged nationalism of the time, the fact the that the imperial family was Manchu rather than Han Chinese made everything the rulers did suspect and, ultimately, unacceptable” (164). Thus, the Han Chinese, among others, would not accept the Qing’s reforms. Instead, their appetites were whetted and the Chinese people wanted an end to the imperial dynasty and the status quo.

In October of 1911, an uprising in Wuhan began with a single military unit with ties to the United League (172). This uprising spread from one province to the next with great speed, and by December of that year Sun Yat-sen returned to China and was elected president of China by his followers (172). However, the success of the revolution was on the rocks. Sun Yat-sen would only be in office until 1912, handing over the presidency to a general who led forces against the Qing dynasty (178). The very army units that helped spread the revolution proved to be disloyal to the revolution proper, and these military units began to congregate around local strongmen or those who could afford to buy them off (178-9). The revolution would also be undermined by a more sinister source: racial violence and ethnocentrism. This racial violence was perpetrated by the Han Chinese, who hoped to reestablish the Han Chinese’s racial centeredness in China (Leibold 2013, 2). Following the outbreak of the revolution, Leibold (2013) argues, “Han dare-to-die squads […] roamed the streets of Wuchang and nearby Hankou, shouting ‘Slay the Manchu officials and banner people’” (2-3). These dare-to-die squads hoped to mete out racial justice against the Manchu, who had subjugated the Han and humiliated them (3). It is “this lust for Manchu blood […] [that] has largely disappeared from the mainstream” (4). The lust for Manchu blood colors the revolution in different terms. It pushes the revolution into a new arena and helps explain why the Xinhai revolution largely failed, at least in those areas outside of Han-controlled regions. To the Han, the Xinhai revolution was largely a racial revolution (4), a revolution to reclaim Han centeredness in Chinese society. This led to the slaughtering of tens of thousands of Manchus or those who were mistaken to be Manchus (4), and the alienation of China’s various racial/ethnic groups. Following the revolution, Sun Yat-sen urged for racial unity and the creation of one Chinese people; however, Sun Yat-sen and other officials would undermine this message by giving a sacrifice to the first Ming emperor and eulogy harkening back to the Han’s glory days (5). Han ethnocentrism led to the breakaway of Inner Mongolia from China in December 1911 (6).

The revolution was also undermined by the lack of a unified vision of China’s future. As Schrecker (2004) notes in his text The Chinese Revolution in Historical Perspective it was far easier to bring the end of Qing rule and institutions than it was to build something new, like a republic. This lack of unity is echoed in Deng’s (2014) article “Myth of Ethnic Conflict and Ethnic Revolutions, 1644-1911.” Unlike Leibold (2013), Deng argues that the ethnic conflict and revolution of 1911 was a myth. Moreover, Deng articulates that the conflict in Chinese society was among the Han themselves. This disunity might explain why the 1911 revolution failed to produce a single vision of China’s future, and, therefore, failed to produce a nation-building scheme. Furthermore, the very idea that the Qing dynasty was a “Manchu dynasty” is entirely false (Deng 2014, 197). Deng argues that the anti-Manchu movements were perpetrated by a relative minority, and, thus, should not be taken as a serious threat against the Qing dynasty (214). Furthermore, the Qing were not as alien as they were in 1644, as Deng argues; instead, they were actually aligned with the Han Chinese in order to solidify their rule over China, something that is glossed over by Leibold’s article and Schrecker’s book.

Wong (1977) points to another problem concerning the 1911 revolution, something that has not been discussed in the literature above. Wong argues that provincial elites, especially those in Jiangsu province, joined the revolutionary cause because of their fear of it (322). This is quite telling for a number of reasons. First, the provincial elites feared for their lives and their properties, and hoped that joining the revolution would protect them from reprisals (322). Second, the provincial elites were not interested in what the revolutionaries were looking for. This explains why the revolution failed to produce a nation-building regime necessary for rebuilding China.

Qu (2009) highlights another problem with the 1911 revolution. There was very little physical communication between China’s cities and the rural populations (419-20). Therefore, the revolution’s true nature was obscured by this. Moreover, it creates a situation where people know very little about the new regime coming into place. This means the Republic, which was formed after the revolution, had very few avenues to connect with the Chinese people.

Gongzhong (2016) notes that the uneasy liaison of Western “knowledge, concepts and system and indigenous Chinese knowledge resources” when it comes to the notion of republic (149). It is this uneasy liaison, this convergence of Western and Chinese thinking, that creates a problem from the very beginning. “The necessary discussions and considerations with regard to the connotations of the term republic and the institutional organizations associated with it were clearly lacking, which hindered a more profound comprehension and substantive absorption of the concept” (149-50). Therefore, the Chinese clearly lacked a tradition of republics and the vernacular required to understand the concept itself. Moreover, the very word republic became “the object of suspicion and criticism, to the point that even Sun Yat-sen abandoned it” (150). The abandoning of the term republic, the Chinese gonghe, is quite telling. It shows that the Xinhai revolution’s attempt to create a republic were wholly unsuccessful. More importantly, it shows that the Xinhai revolution’s social experiment, the creation of Asia’s first republic, was ultimately a failure.

Chaoguang (2012) explains that the “democratic experiment in the early Republic was a unique development in the history of China” (403). It was the first of its kind not only in China, but in modern Asia as well. The very revolutionaries themselves were “full of ideals,” but they lacked the necessary political experience to rule China (403).  It is Sun Yat-sen’s handover to Yuan Shikai, a general who led troops against the Qing, that brings about the demise of the republic (404). Sun Yat-sen hoped that Yuan Shikai would devote himself to the republic, but Yuan had different plans (404). This is where China’s autocratic past came to the fore. Yuan attempted to assert himself as the new strongman or emperor of China. “Yuan Shikai was deposed in 1916 and replaced by another military warlord in Beijing. This political crisis only deepened the power vacuum in Chinese politics, which persisted until the ultimate triumph in 1949 of Communist leader Mao Zedong” (Vassilev 2008, 519). Therefore, the Chinese republic became a failed experiment. The republic descended into chaos, with strongmen and warlords divvying up China for their own agendas.

We know that the Chinese state fell into a state of chaos following the formation of the republic, a chaos that would ebb and flow with time. Following the revolution in 1911, the Chinese state came under the control of various strongmen and warlords, with the national government exercising very little real authority. These warlords and strongmen controlled large retinues of armed Chinese soldiers, and, in turn, they controlled vast swaths of Chinese real estate. It is this period that Chinese historians call the Warlord period. It would take a concerted effort on behalf of the Nationalists to end this period of Chinese history. The Warlord period acted as a crucible for the formation of the Nationalist and Communist parties.

Following the demise of the republic, Sun Yat-sen reformed his National People’s Party (Kuomintang or KMT) in the image of the Leninist model in 1923 (Schrecker, 194).  He believed the Leninist model was worth looking at because of the success of the Russian revolution and the failure of the Chinese revolution in 1911 (194). Around the same time Sun Yat-sen was reforming the KMT, the Chinese Communist Party came into the picture. Guillermaz (1972) notes that the “First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is still shrouded in mists, which the official historians seem unwilling to disperse” (57). It is from this moment of obscurity that China’s ruling elite emerged and converged with the Nationalists in the hope of securing national unity. The formation of the Chinese Communist Party is quite telling. “At least six of the twelve who took part [in the First Congress] were to leave the Party, whereas a future apostate, Ch’en Tu-hsiu, was elected Secretary-General” (57). Even Mao Zedong played a minor role in the formation of the party (57). Peter Zarrow (2005) argues that the Leninist parties, i.e., the Communist and Nationalist parties, were not parties in the Western sense (191). Zarrow argues that these parties were not “primarily devoted to waging elections based on fairly loose set of interests and ideologies” (191). Instead, both parties were “tightly structured, centralized […] and ideologically committed organizations. They restricted membership […] while they strove to mobilize mass support” (191-92). Of the two parties, the KMT built its own army and schools as a precursor to its reunification of the country (192). The very nature of these parties came from the political climate they operated within (192). In other words, these political parties organized along lines that allowed them to contest those local warlords who controlled vast swaths of Chinese real estate. Without this organization, it is hard to imagine the KMT or the CCP being very successful against the warlords of the time.

Overall, out of the two parties that formed after the failure of the republic, the Nationalist Party would emerge as the strongest contender and would, ultimately, garner the most international support, at least in the beginning of the so-called Nationalist revolution of the 1920s. With help from the Soviet Union, the Nationalists would go on to challenge the warlords who had taken hold of China following the revolution of 1911. Under the Nationalists, “between 1926 and 1928 the Guomindang [Kuomintang] brought the warlord era to an end and, to a great extent, unified China” (210) through what is known as the Northern Expedition. The Northern Expedition was a unified effort taken on by the Nationalists and the fledgling Communists. However, it is important to note, that the Nationalists played the largest role in the Northern Expedition, bringing an end to warlord strangleholds over China proper. The Communist Party would stay in the shadows for much of the 1920s, slowly gaining support of the urban populations and within the KMT itself. However, under Chiang Kai-shek, a coup would oust the Communists from the Kuomintang. This began a dark era for the Chinese communists, who would have to retreat into the western parts of China, running from the armies of Chiang Kai-shek.

Historians label the period following the purge of the Communists as the Nanjing era, which lasts from 1928 until 1937 (Zarrow, 248). The Nanjing era came tumbling down when the Japanese war machine invaded China, forcing the Nationalists to retreat deeper into the country. Prior to the Japanese invasion of China, the Nanjing era seemed promising, despite its bloody start after the Northern Expedition. The Nanjing era saw the submission of warlords to the Nationalist government. However, as Zarrow points out, these local strongmen still maintained their local power centers, making it difficult for the Nationalists to develop a strong centralized government—something that had been the aim of the Nationalists since their reformation in 1923 (248). The biggest problem with the Nanjing era is that the Nationalists were their own worst enemy. As Zarrow points out, “corruption, incompetence, and authoritarianism marked the regime from the beginning [….] [T]he GMD [KMT] was collectively corrupt to the point that it was not only expensive but a drag on efficiency—as Chiang himself often complained” (250). Incompetence grew from the “corruption and nepotism” that “weakened the bureaucracy” (250). This incompetence led Chiang to rely on military men for positions they were not suited to take over (250). Thus, Chiang’s government was relatively weak, despite being stronger than the republic that was created after 1911. Chiang’s government also relied on using authoritarian measures to quell discontent in the countryside and in the cities (250). Instead of solving these issues, Chiang’s actions merely covered up the problems, allowing them to fester underneath the surface (250). Thus, Chiang Kai-shek’s government was a disaster waiting to happen. However, it must be noted that the Nationalist government was able function, albeit at a high, inefficient price.

The Nanjing era is marked by two state building strategies used by the Nationalists under Chiang. According to Zarrow, these strategies hoped to “maintain and increase” the government’s powers (251). This was done by stressing “hierarchical bureaucracies, division of responsibilities, and legal routines” (251). Further, the second strategy include a tried and true tactic of indoctrination and mass mobilization that had been used in the 1920s to garner support for the Nationalists (251). Zarrow argues that the Nationalist regime oscillated between these two strategies. The first strategy “promised to sustain the authority of the center even while it delegated powers” (251). In other words, it maintained the façade of a central authority within China. The second strategy was the cheaper of the two and promised to find good men who could do the Nationalists’ bidding (251). Unfortunately, both strategies suffered from numerous downfalls, including running out of competent technocrats and not being able to trust those who had been indoctrinated and mobilized by the party (251). Nevertheless, Chiang was successful in combating what the Chinese deemed imperialism. Chiang “moved against the unequal treaties, and by the 1930s the republic had regained tariff autonomy and considerable control over China’s financial resources” (Schrecker, 199). This should not be seen as a little moment during the Nanjing era. Instead, it should be looked as a momentous event that was secured by the Nationalists, the heirs to Sun Yat-sen’s democracy and nationalism. Furthermore, Chiang also made strides in unifying the nation as best as he could. He did this by producing the “beginnings of national administrative and legal structure that [later] helped lay the foundation for the Communist success in restabilizing China” (199). Chiang’s regime also saw modest progress in industrialization during its tenure (199). To say that Chiang’s regime was an utter failure would be a gross exaggeration.

The Nationalists would be only partially successful in fashioning a modern nation-state. The state built by the Nationalists was bloated, with the army taking up resources that could be better spent elsewhere (Zarrow, 251). Furthermore, the Chinese state’s economy was largely stagnate through the 1930s (258). To make matters worse, the Japanese began to solidify their stranglehold over Manchuria in 1932 and began moving into northern China (268). By the mid-1930s, the powerbase for the Nationalists was located primarily in the coastal cities that were most under Western influence (Schrecker, 201). This would serve as a disaster for the Nationalists, especially when the Japanese war machine began its move against the Chinese coastal cities. Chiang Kai-shek’s capital of Nanjing would be the site of major Japanese war atrocities. The Nationalists left Nanjing, defeated, and moved deeper into the Chinese countryside, leaving the war to stalemate.

The Communists begin their journey toward revolution with the coup of Chiang Kai-shek and his bloody ousting of the Communists from the Nationalist Party and elsewhere. The Communists were forced from the coastal cities where the Nationalists exerted much of their authority, forcing the Communists to move deeper into the Chinese countryside—away from their precious urban proletariat. According to Meisner, this period acts as a crucible for the Chinese Communist Party. Without it, it is hard to imagine what the CCP would look and act like. Meisner (1999) notes that there was a severe split between the Comintern Communists and the Maoists (32). The Comintern supported Communists attempted to rally peasant armies around their cause and led attacks on Chinese cities, hoping to get the urban proletariat on their side, only to find that the proletariat was quiescent and demoralized (29-30). The Maoists took another approach, an approach that would save the Communists, in the end. The Communists under Mao, among others, would retreat to the south, creating a Chinese Soviet Republic (32). The Chinese Soviet Republic would be led by Mao and Zhu De, among others (32). Although the Chinese Soviet Republic would end in failure, the experiment would serve to help the Communists understand how to rule and implement their revolutionary ideals (33). Nevertheless, the experiment ended in failure when the iron boot of the Nationalists came down on the small soviet in 1935. The crushing defeat of the small soviet in 1935 would lead to the famed Long March, a strategic retreat some 6,000 miles in length with plenty of harrowing attacks and treacherous terrain to boot (33). The new location for the Communists would be where Mao Zedong would assert his authority over the Communist Party, much to the chagrin of the Soviet Union and Stalin (34). Furthermore, the Communist Party found itself in a secure position, geographically speaking (34). This allowed the Communist Party to regroup and rebuild in the Chinese countryside. The Chinese Communist revolution was not an overnight affair. Instead, as we will see below, the revolution took many years and required the concerted efforts of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people along the way. Furthermore, the Communist conquest of China depended largely on those conditions of possibility developed under Chiang Kai-shek’s regime.

With the urban proletariat out of reach, the Communists had to switch strategies. Instead of focusing on the urban centers of China, the Communists began to focus on the peasantry, which made up a large portion of Chinese society. Averill (2002) argues that the shift from urban to rural by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took place over a period of years—and this makes sense given the split between Comintern Communists and Maoists. In other words, this gradual shift in focus by the CCP should not be seen as a unified campaign per se. Instead, the shift from urban to rural was ad hoc and inconsistent by nature. This means that like many of Mao Zedong’s and the revolution’s legacies, the shift from rural to urban was far more nuanced and took place within a dialectic with other thinkers within the CCP. This is incredibly important as it highlights the complexities of the Chinese Communist revolution, and for all revolutions, for that matter. Further, as Averill shows, the Chinese Communist Party was not a monolithic organization, even under Mao’s leadership.

Liu (2009) discusses how rural teachers became the vanguard for Communist revolution in rural China. Much like Averill’s article, Liu shows us that the Communist revolution was a complex series of events, a sort of critical mass, building and building until detonation. Liu shows how these teachers were radicalized by poverty and the very working conditions in the countryside. Moreover, the teachers acted as a rural elite in China, and these teachers became the vessels in which communist ideology was transported from the city to the countryside. Liu’s article shows that the Communist revolution was not a monolithic entity per se. Instead, it was a series of smaller more nuanced revolutions. These revolutions are made up of Communists and radicalized individuals alike. Further, these revolutions are localized, taking place on a microcosmic scale. This shows that the Communist revolution differed greatly from the Xinhai revolution in key ways. The Xinhai revolution was a revolution for the elites, with the populace in tow. The Communist revolution is exactly the opposite. It is a truly grassroots movement, a movement reliant on the common people for mobilization efforts, something that speaks to the success of this revolution, when compared to the Xinhai revolution of 1911.

Perry (2008) examines the Anyuan revolutionary tradition in China. She shows just how the revolution could have differed from the overemphasis on class struggle and Mao’s cult of personality. Like Liu and Averill, Perry shows us that the revolution is made up of multiple voices, and these voices play a considerable role in the revolution itself. Moreover, Perry’s article “Reclaiming the Chinese Revolution” shows us that grassroots mobilization played a tremendous role in mobilizing mass support on the side of the Communists. This explains why the Communist revolution succeeded where the Xinhai failed. The Xinhai revolution was largely an elitist revolution, with mass support behind it.

Wou (1999) offers a similar view of the Communist revolution. Wou argues that to better understand the Chinese Communist revolution, one must look from the bottom up. This is especially true when one examines the defensive communities the Communists helped establish in rural China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (i.e., World War Two). These defensive communities were established with the help of exploiting existing social networks and nationalist sentiment in rural China. It is through these defensive communities that the Chinese communists were able to control large swaths of rural China, and, therefore, secure their supremacy of the Chinese countryside.

Ultimately, the actions of the Nationalists would determine why the Communists were able to conquer China. According to Osinsky (2010),

Chiang Kai-shek alienated the Chinese urban working class during its bloody suppression of the labor movement in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The government antagonized the peasantry, the largest group of the population, by its ruthless recruitment and requisitions campaigns during the war against the Japanese. [And] […] the government lost support of the urban middle class, the traditional stronghold of the KMT, which bore the primary burden of inflation. [Further,] [d]isillusionment and frustration with Chiang Kai-shek’s economic policies turned most of the urban population either hostile or indifferent to the KMT’s policies. (592-3)

The policies before and after the war played a huge role in the downfall of the Nationalists. The Nationalists prior to the war enjoyed a dominant position (593). However, this dominant position was eroded ever so gradually by the Nationalist government’s policies and its incompetence in handling the everyday operations of the country. What marked the Communists was their perceived professionalism and apparent competence—something that was quite refreshing to much of China. Moreover, the Communists offered radical programs that sought to help the urban working class and the peasantry. These solutions were novel at the time, and they differed greatly from the policy decisions proposed and implemented by the Nationalists.

The story of the Communists does not end there. Instead, the Communists would implement radical social programs, including land reform, collectivization, forced industrialization, and so on. The Communist revolution would end until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the Gang of Four, i.e., those who held prominent positions during the Cultural Revolution. The toll on the Chinese people is unfathomable. Death, famine, and bitter conflict were the norm during this revolutionary period. However, it would be Deng Xiaoping who would bring China out of this chaotic downward spiral to oblivion.

The Chinese revolutionary era ends with the ascendency of Deng Xiaoping. Deng offered repression and prosperity in the same hand. He offered stability in the form of a capitalist economy and a gutted socialist system. He offered prosperity to hundreds of millions of people, yet he did so at the end of a gun barrel. Those who refused to get in line were dealt with harshly. Therefore, it seems that China’s path into the modern world is built on the shoulders of history. Nevertheless, China today is still a China reeling from the nearly seventy years of revolutionary upheaval. It is a society that has tried everything and come back from the edge of the precipice. It is a nation that has entered the modern world with the very pains that come with entering the modern world.

The legacies of the revolutionary era cannot be understated here, and shouldn’t be. The era was rife with conflict, untold suffering, and death. The Xinhai and Communist revolutions failed China. They failed to produce a stabilized nation-state for the Chinese people, despite the wish to do the exact opposite. Further, the revolutions talked about in this paper serve as a reminder that entrance into the modern world is a traumatic affair. It is this trauma that is worth studying. Future generations need to know the heavy cost that comes with revolutions, even if the revolutions are intended to bring about prosperity and peace. Revolutionary upheaval is nothing new, nor will it disappear into the dusty pages of history. Instead, it is very possible that radical experiments like the Xinhai and Communist revolutions are bound to be repeated by those who think they are above history.


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G. Michael Rapp

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