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Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Legacy of 1911

As Xinhua reported yesterday, the Standing Committee of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) has agreed plans for the commemoration of the 1911 Revolution next year. The event, 99 years ago, saw the overthrowing of the last emperor of China to bring the Qing Dynasty to a close. The end of imperial authority also saw the end to (in Xinhua's words) “thousands of years of Chinese feudalism.” The credit for instigating the revolution is given to Dr Sun Yat-sen (later founder of the Nationalist Kuomintang party), although some historians have tended to ascribe 1911 to a more general desire for change in China.

It was never really in doubt that the People's Republic would look to mark the 100th anniversary of such a key point in China's modern history. Although the Chinese Communist Party only came into being a decade later, Chinese communist history sees the spirit of 1911 as being the start of the political and social change that it would then carry through to 1949. The CCP is thus extremely keen to align itself with the name and persona of Dr Sun, as doing so gives the government today increased credibility. It becomes harder and harder for the CCP to identify itself with China's revolutionary past, making key anniversaries like this one chances that cannot be passed over.

It will be interesting to observe how the PRC's marking of the 1911 Revolution will compare with similar celebrations in Taiwan. With its origins as a separate country rooted in the Kuomintang's decision to settle on the island following its defeat by the CCP forces in the years after the Second World War, the Republic of China will also want to stress Taiwan's links to the mainland's revolutionary history. Both sides are likely to interpret the landmark anniversary in much the same way, although their relative versions of history will clash when CCP and KMT activities start to overlap in the 1920s. Those concerned with how China's history is reflected in modern political image should look ahead to next year with interest.

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