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Sun Yat-sen becomes first President of Republic of China

This Day in World History

December 29, 1911

Sun Yat-sen becomes first President of Republic of China

Nearly four dozen delegates gathered in Nanjing, a city in east-central China. Representing seventeen Chinese provinces, they were supporters of the Wuhan Revolution against the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. On December 25, Sun Yat-sen, the spearhead behind the revolution, returned to China after sixteen years of exile to join the meetings. Four days later, he was elected the provisional president of the Republic of China.

Educated as a doctor, Sun Yat-sen developed strong interest in China’s political situation. He resented the domination of Chinese affairs by western powers—and also the unwillingness of the Qing rulers to adopt modern, Western ways. With his ideas spurned by the ruler of one of China’s provinces, he formed a group in 1894 aimed at promoting reform. By the next year, he was planning revolts against the regime—all from abroad, as he feared capture.

While several revolts took place starting in 1900, the 1911 rebellion had the longest lasting consequences. Qing power was crumbling, and intellectuals and local warlords had both grown restive under the dynasty’s rule. Following Sun’s election, he pressed Yuan Shikai—a powerful minister—to join the revolt. By February, the emperor recognized he could no longer control China. On February 12, he resigned. Two days later—after Sun had resigned the presidency—Yuan Shikai became provisional president of the republic.

The fall of the Qing did not mean the end of conflict in China. Sun and Yuan had a falling out, and fighting resumed. Sun regained power in 1923, but his rule was shortened by his death two years later. He was succeeded as leader of the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), with the nominal support of Chinese Communists. That ended soon after, and by the 1930s China was plunged into another civil war, as the Communists, under Mao Zedong, sought to stage a revolution that would unseat the Guomindang government.

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