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Explains how reforms in the late Qing dynasty indirectly amplified the social forces that brought about the Revolution of 1911


Conventionally, historians view the 1911 Revolution in China through the activities of professional revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen, and they see these revolutoinaries’ propaganda and organizing activities as eventually leading to the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911. Reform and Revolution in China challenges that view, arguing that the origins of the revolution must be sought within China, not among the revolutionaries abroad. The internal origins of the revolution began with the New Policy reforms in the late Qing, which created new opportunities for students, intellectuals, gentry, merchants, journalists, and other urban elites as well as junior officers in the New Army to mobilize. When a revolutionary moment arrived in 1911, people in these stations were able to move from collective action to the overthrow of the Qing regime. Further, they were motivated to do so because of a threat of disorder from the lower classes, since the reforms had also imposed burdens on the poorer classes that many found intolerable. The result was significant popular opposition to the reforms, including a major riot in Changsha in 1910. This helped the civil and military elites unite behind the revolution in 1911, forming an essentially conservative alliance to preserve social order even though the Qing would have to fall.

Joseph W. Esherick is Professor Emeritus of Modern Chinese History at the University of California, San Diego.