A hundred years ago today, the first shots were fired in Wuhan, which kicked off the Xinhai Revolution. In January 2007, I visited the headquarters of the first revolutionary government set up in Wuhan, together with 2 other colleagues and 3 students. We were on our way to visit high schools in Huangshi and Yangxin, in preparation for a service learning project that summer.
The Xinhai Revolution eventually led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, and the establishment of the first Chinese Republic. China today is much stronger than what it was in the late Qing Dynasty. The society is much more stable. And a significant group of people have become quite rich. But a lot of people are still suffering terribly. There is rampant corruption. Liberty and democracy is still no more than a dream.
Perhaps a violent revolution was inevitable, given how ignorant, inept, stubborn, selfish and cruel the Qing rulers were. Perhaps the populace then was really not ready for true democracy. But I could not help but try to imagine what would have happened had a constitutional monarchy been allowed to develop.
Perhaps the monarchy could be retained as a unifying power, while citizen’s rights could be introduced gradually. Perhaps there would not have been so much violent conflicts. Perhaps China would have developed more gradually and peacefully. Perhaps there would not have been so much suffering.