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#Chosen-Korea 118 CHINA BECOMES A REPUBLIC
December 30, 1932
WE have seen how Japan's victory over Russia pleased and flattered Asiatic nations. The
immediate result of it, however, was to add one more to the small group of aggressive,
imperialistic Powers. The first effect of this was felt by Korea. Japan's rise meant Korea's fall.
Ever since her reopening to the world, Japan had marked out Korea, and partly Manchuria, as her
own. Of course she declared repeatedly that she was going to respect the integrity of China and
the independence of Korea. The imperialist
Powers have a way of giving fulsome assurances of good-will even while they rob the party
concerned, of declaring the sanctity of life even as they kill. So Japan declared solemnly that she
would not interfere in Korea, and at the same time carried through her old policy of taking
possession of her. Her wars with China and Russia both centred round Korea and Manchuria.
Step by step she had advanced, and now with the defeat of China and Russia, her way was clear.
No scruple had ever troubled Japan in the pursuit of her imperial policy. She grabbed openly, not
caring even to over her designs with a veil. As early as 1894, just before the China War, the
Japanese had forcibly entered the royal palace at Seoul, the capital of Korea, and removed and
imprisoned the Queen, who would not do their bidding. After the Russian War, in 1905; the
Japanese Government forced the Korean King to sign away his country's independence and
accept Japanese suzerainty. But this was not good enough. In less than five years this unhappy
king was removed altogether from the throne, and Korea was annexed to the Japanese Empire.
This was in 1910. After a long history of over 3000 years, Korea passed away as a separate State.
The king who was thus removed belonged to a dynasty which had driven out the Mongols 500
years before. But Korea, like her elder sister China, became fossilized and stagnant, and had to
pay the penalty for this.
Korea was given its old name again—Chosen, the land of the morning calm. The Japanese
brought some modern reforms with them, but they ruthlessly crushed the spirit of the Korean
people. For many years the struggle for independence continued and there were many outbreaks,
the most important one being in 1919. The people of Korea, and especially young men and
women, struggled gallantly against tremendous odds. On one occasion, when a Korean
organization fighting for freedom formally declared independence, and thus defied the Japanese,
the story goes that they immediately telephoned to the police and informed them of what they
had done Thus deliberately they sacrified themselves for their ideal. The suppression of the
Koreans by the Japanese is a very sad and dark chapter in history. You will be interested to know
that young Korean girls, many of them fresh from college, played a prominent part in the
Let us go back to China now. We left her rather suddenly after the orushing of the Boxer
movement and the Peking Protocol in 1901. China was thoroughly humiliated, and again there
was an attempt at reform. Even the old Dowager Empress seemed to think that something should
be done. During the Russo-Japanese War, China remained a passive spectator, although the
fighting was taking place on Chinese territory—Manchuria. Japan's victory strengthened the
reformers in China. Education was modernized, and many students were sent to Europe and
America and Japan to study modern sciences. The old system of literary examinations by which
officials used to be appointed was abolished.
This amazing system, typical of China, had lasted for 2000 years— ever since the days of the
Han dynasty. It had long outgrown its utility, and was keeping back China; so it was well that it
was abolished. And yet, in its way, it was for long ages a wonderful thing. It represented the
Chinese outlook on life, which was neither feudal nor priestly, as in most other countries of Asia
and Europe, but was based on reason. The Chinese have always been the least religious of
people, and yet they have followed their system of an ethical and regulated life more strictly than
any religious people. They tried to develop a rational society, but as they limited this within the
four corners of the ancient classics, progress and necessary changes were prevented and there
was stagnation and fossilization. We in India have much to learn from this Chinese rationalism,
for we are still in the grip of caste and dogmatic religion and priestcraft and feudal ideas. The
great Chinese sage Confucius gave a warning to his people which is worthy of remembrance : "
Never have anything to do with those who pretend to have dealings with the supernatural. If you
allow supernaturalism to get a foothold in your country, the result would be a dreadful calamity."
In our country unfortunately many a man with a tuft of hair on his head, or matted locks, or long
beard, or intricate markings on the forehead, or saffron cloak, poses as an agent of the
supernatural and fleeces the common people.
But China, with all her old-time rationalism and culture, had lost grip with the present, and her
old institutions gave her little help in her hour of difficulty. The march of events had vitalized
many of her children and made them seek diligently for light elsewhere. They had shaken up
even the old Dowager Empress, who talked of granting a constitution and self-government, and
sent a commission to foreign countries to study their constitutions.
The Chinese Government under the old Dowager was moving at last. But the people were
moving faster. As early as 1894 Dr. Sun Yat Sen had founded the " China Revival Society ",
which many joined as a protest against the unfair and one-sided treaties— the " unequal treaties "
they are called by the Chinese—which the foreign Powers had forced on China. This society
grew, and attracted to it the youth of the country. In 1911 it changed its name to the Kuo-Min-
Tang—the " People's National Party "—and became the centre of the Chinese Revolution. Dr.
Sun, the inspirer of the movement, looked to the United States for his model. He wanted a
republic, not a constitutional monarchy, as in England, and certainly no emperor-worship, as in
Japan. The Chinese had never made a fetish of their emperors, and besides, the reigning dynasty
was hardly Chinese. It was Manchu, and there was a good deal of anti-Manchu feeling. It was
this ferment in the people that had moved the Dowager Empress. But the old lady died soon after
her proclamations about the coming constitution. Strangely enough, both the old Dowager and
her nephew the Emperor, whom she had removed from the throne, died within twenty-four hours
of each other in November 1908. A babe now became the nominal Emperor.
Again there were loud demands for the calling of a parliament, and anti-Manchu and antimonarchical
feeling rose higher. The revolutionaries gathered strength. The only strong man who
might have faced them was the viceroy of a province, Yuan Shih-Kai. This man was a wily old
fox, but he happened to control the only modern and efficient army in China, called the " model
army". Very foolishly, the Manchu rulers irritated and dismissed Yuan, and thus lost the only
man who might have saved them for a while. In October 1911 revolution broke out in the valley
of the Yangtze, and soon a great part of Central and South China was in revolt. On New Year's
Day in 1912 these provinces in revolt proclaimed a republic with its capital at Nanking. Dr. Sun
Yat Sen was chosen as President.
Meanwhile Yuan Shih-Kai had been watching the drama ready to intervene when it would be to
his advantage to do so. The story of Yuan's dismissal by the Regent (who was acting for his son,
the infant Emperor) and his subsequent recall is interesting. Everything was done with all
courtesy and politeness in the old China. When Yuan had to be dismissed it was announced that
he was suffering from a bad leg. Of course everyone knew that his leg was in excellent
condition, and that this was just the conventional method of sending him away. But Yuan had his
revenge. Two years later, in 1911, when mutiny and revolt had broken out against the
Government, the Regent summoned Yuan in alarm. Yuan had no intention of going unless his
terms were granted. So he replied to the Regent that he regretted that he could not possibly leave
home just then, as his leg was not yet well enough for him to travel! His leg recovered with
remarkable speed when his conditions were accepted a month later.
But it was too late to check the revolution, and Yuan was clever enough not to compromise
himself by committing himself to either side. Finally he advised the abdication of the Manchus.
With a republic facing them and deserted by their own general, the Manchu rulers had little
choice left. On February 12, 1912, an Edict of Abdication was issued, and thus disappeared the
Manchu dynasty from the Chinese stage, after over two and a half centuries of memorable rule.
According to a Chinese phrase : " They had come in with the roar of a tiger, to disappear like the
tail of a snake."
On this same day, February 12, there took place a strange ceremony in Nanking, the new
Republican capital, and also the place where stood the mausoleum of the first Ming sovereign—a
ceremony which brought together the old and the new in vivid contrast. Sun Yat Sen, President
of the Republic, went with his Cabinet to this mausoleum and presented offerings in the old way.
And in the course of his address on this occasion, he said : " We are initiating the example to
Eastern Asia of a republican form of government; success conies early or late to those who
strive, but the good are surely rewarded in the end. Why, then, should we repine to-day that
victory has tarried long ? "
For many a long year, at home and in exile, Dr. Sun had laboured
for China's freedom, and success seemed to have come at last. But freedom is a slippery friend,
and success demands full payment before it comes, and often it mocks us with vain hope, and
tests us with many a hardship, before it can be secured. China's and Dr. Sun's journey were far
from over. For many a year the young Republic had to fight for its life, and even to-day, twentyone
years later, when it should have come of age, the future of China hangs in the balance.
The Manchus had abdicated, but Yuan still stood in the way of the Republic, and no one seemed
to know what he would do. He controlled the North, the Republic the South. For the sake of
peace, and to avoid civil war, Dr. Sun effaced himself, retired from the president ship and had
Yuan Shih-Kai elected as president. But Yuan was no republican. He was out to gain power to
exalt himself. He borrowed money from foreign Powers to crush the very Republic which had
honoured him by electing him President. He dismissed Parliament and dissolved the Kuo-Min-
Tang. This led to a split, and a rival government, with Dr. Sun as its head, was set up in the
South. The split which Dr. Sun had sought to avoid by all the means in his power had come, and
there were two governments in China when the World War broke out. Yuan tried to become
emperor, but he failed and died soon after.
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