Dr. Sun Yat Sen
2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命), and today 10th of October (aka Double Ten Day) is the commemoration of the Wuchang Uprising that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and lead to the establishment of the Republic of China, which ended 2000 years of feudalistic and imperial rule in China. It was also the first Republic in East Asia and the beginning of a modern era for China. As the Qing Dynasty went through decline and the country was marred by colonisation from foreign powers, the revolution was a turning point to bring salvation to a severely weakened country. There are far too many things to be looked at but I'll try and keep it as concise as possible. I'll provide links to Wikipedia for more details.
The central figure that lead to event was of course Dr. Sun Yat Sen (孫中山) often known by many Chinese today as the 'Father of the Nation' (國父). Although many important people were involved that are worth noting, Sun Yat Sen was known to be the one who pioneered it all. Sun Yat Sen spent a great part of his life abroad. At the age of 13 he went to high school in Hawaii and after that studied medicine in British occupied Hong Kong. Around that time he formed the 'Hsing Chung Hui' (興中會) or the Revive China Society. It was from there where he planned out revolutionary activities together with his fellow revolutionaries. Sun's life abroad has greatly influenced him ideologically and also made him realised how much behind China was at the time. This drove him to press on the revolution and set to modernize China. He created the Three Principles of the People's (三民主義) consist of nationalism, democracy and people's livelihood in hoping it will help China and it's people to become stronger, more prosperous and free.
Sun Yat Sen went into exile in 1895 when the first Guangzhou uprising has failed, he stayed in Japan for some time. He also travelled to the United States, Canada and Europe including Britain as well. During the trip he has garnered support and money from the Chinese communities overseas which contributed greatly to the revolution. In fact without the support and funding from overseas Chinese the overthrowing of the Qing government might not have been so successful. Many have also returned to China and fought during the uprising. It goes to show the Chinese diaspora remained to have a strong tie with the motherland. It was probably one of the rare occasions where Chinese from across the globe are united for a cause. On the 10th of October 1911 the Wuchang uprising was launched and it was to be the final attack at the Qing's government.
Building up to the 100th year anniversary, scholars and historians from mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been re-examining this period of history. Each have their own ways of interpreting the events but most agree that the success of the revolution was short lived. When the Qing government was overthrown along with the abdication of Emperor Pu Yi in 1912, a National Assembly was established with the first ever democratic constitution, the first of its kind in Asia. However not long after that the president Yuan Shikai (who played an important role in toppling Qing government) disbanded the assembly and attempted to revive the monarchy. As he failed it caused China to plunge into fragmentation and warlordism. The country went through a terrible fate, from then on to the Japanese invasion and through to the civil war until the founding of the People's Republic of China. The Xinhai Revolution despite its' significance was undoubtedly a failure. Sun's famous last words was 'The Revolution has not yet succeeded. Comrades, you must carry on!', he died of liver cancer in 1925. Today Taiwan (where the ROC government still remains) is the only place that carried out Sun's principals.
Failure or not the Xinhai Revolution was very important as it was the pinnacle of Chinese history. It's probably a largely neglected part by those in the West who want to study Chinese history because it doesn't contain the mystical appeal as the dynastic period. This may also be the case for us Western born Chinese too. But I think it is vital to study this period as it can give us a good understanding of the chaos that China went through and the impact it has on the country today. And no, it did not just begin with Mao Zedong in 1949. The founding father Dr. Sun Yat Sen is an aspiring historical figure that I suggest further studying, especially about his life, ideas and principles. His legacy continue to inspire many Chinese today, including myself.