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The Chinese Emperor Abdicates: February 12, 1912

This text comes from our book, All Ye Lands.


One man who helped to make China what it is today was born the son of a poor farmer in southern China. As a boy, however, Sun Yat-sen was able to go to school in Hawaii and, later, study medicine in Hong Kong, a Chinese city under British control. Sun was a Protestant Christian, the religion he followed until his death.


While studying in Hong Kong, Sun came to think that China needed to rid itself of the Manchu emperor and become a republic. He wanted China to become a true nation-state with a democratic government, like the nation-states of Europe. Sun was also a socialist—one who wanted the government to control the wealth of China. After the Boxer Rebellion, he worked to bring about a revolution in China, but failed. His ideas, however, inspired many Chinese with the desire to rid their country of the Manchu rulers.


Empress Tz’u-hsi died in 1908, and her grandson became emperor. He was, however, but a boy and his father, who was the regent, was a weak ruler. It was not long before a rebellion broke out, on October 10, 1911. Sun was in England when he heard of the rebellion, and he immediately returned to China. On February 12, 1912, the emperor abdicated. The Chinese empire passed away forever, and in its place was a new republican government with Sun Yat-sen as temporary president.


Sun Yat-sen and his wife, Sung Ch’ing-ling
Sun Yat-sen and his wife, Sung Ch’ing-ling

The new government, however, did not bring peace to China. Years of civil war followed as first one faction then another tried to establish a permanent government. Sun Yat-sen’s political party, called the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party), in the end allowed the powerful Chinese Communists to join. Supported by the Communist government in Russia, the Chinese Communists wanted the government to own all property and abolish religion. With the support of the Communists, the Kuomintang began to subdue the provincial warlords and other political opponents.



Sun fell ill with cancer and died in 1925. General Chiang Kai-shek took control of the Kuomintang and expelled the Communists in 1927. Led by Mao Zedong, Chou Enlai, and Lin Piao, the Communists marched across China to safety in the far northwest, near Mongolia, where the Nationalist troops could not get at them. This journey is known as the Long March and is remembered by the Communists as a heroic flight.


Chiang Kai-shek was never able to unite all the warlords under one, Nationalist government, and the Chinese government was helpless when the Japanese army invaded China in 1937. The war against Japan was devastating to China, but it united the vast country in an effort to expel the hated foreign invader. The Nationalists fought the Japanese occupation with American aid. The China–Japan war became part of World War II in 1941, when Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. Finally after eight long years of dreadful war and huge loss of life, China saw the last of the Japanese troops leave her territory.


The joy of victory was short-lived. The Chinese Communist armies under Mao Zedong in the far northwest had grown and perfected their fighting abilities during the war with Japan. Civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao’s Communists broke out, and by 1949, the Communists, supported by the Soviet Union, were masters of all China. The Nationalists fled to the large island of Taiwan, off the eastern coast of China. There, protected by the United States, the Nationalists set up a government called the Republic of China.


Over the rest of China the Communists set up their new state, called the People’s Republic of China. It was a cruel regime that controlled every aspect of life. Millions of Chinese died under Mao’s Communist rule. The Communists persecuted not only Christians but anyone who followed a religion. There have been many Christian martyrs in Communist China, but members of other religions, such as Buddhists, have suffered as well.


Modern China was born in a long agony of disasters and civil conflict. The government of the People’s Republic is still, today, officially Communist, but it allows private businesses from other countries to build factories in China, and in these factories Chinese men, women, and children work for long hours and very little pay. These factories produce many of the goods used throughout the world, and because of this, China is once again becoming one of the richest and most powerful of all the countries in the world.


But if China is growing richer, its government remains a harsh dictatorship. The government still persecutes Christians and groups like the Buddhists of Tibet. It shows no respect for human life, as can be seen in government-forced abortions, as well as concentration camps, and public executions. Little today remains of the Chinese empire, that, with its beautiful arts and architecture, its ingenious inventions and serene philosophy, was once the wonder of the world.

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