Küresel Tarih Yaklaşimina Göre Qing İmperatorluğu’nun Çöküşü: Yeni Bir Kavrayiştan Söz Edilebilir mi? (The Fall of the Qing Empire in a Global History Perspective: New Insights?)

L.M. Douw

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This essay is meant to provide background materials for the comparison of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and the nearly simultaneous fall of the Qing Dynasty in China in 1911. This will be done by summarizing several of the academic debates, which since the 1990s have profoundly changed the existing views on China’s modern history and should also raise questions about the demise of the Ottoman Empire and its replacement by the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The focal claim of the new historiography is that China was on its way to generate a modern society by its own internal dynamics since the seventeenth century at the latest, which resulted in a strengthening of social institutions vis-à-vis the state and in a multi-stranded process of identity formation. This equaled developments in the West and paved the way for China’s rise since the 1980s. The most outspoken advocates of this approach work from a perspective which makes similar claims for other parts of the world, such as India and the Indian Ocean, The Ottoman Empire, and the Islamic Sultanates; additionally, they make stronger claims for the historical agency of other countries, regions, cultures and societies, which achieved less than these, such as Ghana or Egypt. The advocates of this perspective have increasingly been labeled as “global historians”: global history if interpreted this way is distinct from world history (Crossley 2008: 107-9). Global and world history are often used interchangeably, but below this distinction will be maintained.
At this moment, the claims of global history are still hotly debated: the pre-existing historiography worked from a national rather than a global perspective. National history was the mainstream historiography during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and legitimized the high status which historiography enjoyed during much of this period. This is only gradually changing under the impact of global history. Many practitioners of the national historiography maintained the idea that the advanced national states have an exemplary function for the rest of the world and that newly formed national states need outside guidance and ideals to achieve modernity; this idea still leads a tough life. For that reason both the national and the global historiography will be treated in tandem below.
The fall of the Qing itself was much of a non-event, amounting to even less than a coup-d’état: on 10 October 1911, a few thousand troops in strategically located Wuhan upon the discovery of their plot against the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) rebelled in self-defense, and the Manchu governor-general fled the city. Other provincial army and civil governors followed the rebels in declaring independence, and after a few months an old, but temporarily dismissed trustee of the court, general Yuan Shikai was recalled and advised the emperor to abdicate, which he did very soon and elegantly on 12 February 1912. The abdication was part of a more complicated deal, which Yuan had struck with reform-minded groups, of which Sun Yat-sen was the most prominent leader, and which involved acknowledgment of the Republic of China with Sun as its president. This had been established on 1 January 1912. The dynasty fell without much bloodshed. Yuan soon replaced Sun Yat-sen as the president of the new republic in exchange for a promise to hold parliamentary elections, but did not shrink back from suppressing the latter and became China’s new strongman and autocrat in 1913. John K. Fairbank’s verdict of the 1911 Revolution reads as follows:
Though some sharp fighting occurred, particularly at the Wuhan cities, the 1911 revolution was singularly unviolent. It was also inconclusive because its main aim was negative, to get rid of Manchu rule. (Fairbank, Reisschauer & Craig1965: 640)
The short-term consequences of these events were not very big either because unlike in the Turkish case political unity could not be restored until the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. The predominance of feudal or traditionalist forces in alliance with the imperialist Big Powers kept Yuan and the succeeding warlord regimes in power until the late 1920s and according to the “national” accounts of the period prevented China from being transformed in any significant way. Chiang Kai-shek’s power seizure of 1927 was more significant than the Qing dynasty’s fall, but only the establishment of the PRC after the war sufficed to really make a start with the required social transformation. Nonetheless, the events of the early twentieth century became an indispensable part of the grand stories about China’s modernization during the twentieth century: “national” historiography was inspired by the activity of the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, who became the main contenders for power since the 1930s. From the 1950s until the 1980s, the Modernization School in the USA and Chinese Marxism in the PRC dominated the historiography of China. Both were “national” in outlook as circumscribed above and therefore considered the events of 1911 as a necessary step for China on its path to modernization.
Original languageTurkish
Title of host publication100.Yilinda Jön Türk Devrimi (Centennial of the Young Turk Revolution)
EditorsS. Sina Akşin, S. Balci, B. Bariş
Place of PublicationIstambul
PublisherTürkiye İŞ Bankasi Kültür Yayinlari
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9786053600374
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Cite this