The Wuchang Uprising
The increasing revolutionary sentiment within the Hunan and Hubei New Armies at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century did not arise in a vacuum. Joseph Esherick's study of the 1911 Revolution in Hunan and Hubei has detailed the combination of factors—ranging
from popular discontent over taxes raised to support reform programs to elite frustration over dynastic unwillingness to speed the institution of constitutional government—that contributed to the appearance of a "revolutionary milieu." The political radicalization of the New Armies was therefore part of a growing inclination toward revolution within Chinese society as a whole. But it was nonetheless a military uprising by the Hubei New Army that set this revolution in motion.
The Wuchang uprising was both the end result of long years of revolutionary work and the immediate upshot of fortuitous events. The stage for the uprising was set with the formal unification of the Literary Society and the Forward Together Society in September 1911. Confident of their progress in subverting the New Army, leaders from both groups met on September 24 and agreed to prepare for a military uprising in October. Before these preparations were completed, an incident occurred that forced more precipitous action. On October 9, a bomb being manufactured at the Forward Together Society's headquarters in the Russian Hankou concession accidentally exploded. When they arrived on the scene, concession police discovered revolutionary society paraphernalia, membership lists, and other documents, which they handed over to the Qing authorities. Relying on this evidence, the military police launched raids on other revolutionary hideouts and arrested several dozen revolutionary activists, three of whom were executed on the morning of October 10. Although intended to forestall an uprising, these actions had the opposite effect, raising fears within the New Army of mass arrests and executions. While most of the top revolutionary leadership fled, the network of revolutionary representatives in the New Army remained intact. These men quickly decided that the only hope for themselves was an immediate uprising.
On the evening of October 10, New Army soldiers in units inside and outside Wuchang rose to assault the city's walls, ammunition depots, and government offices. After briefly attempting to mount a defense with loyalist troops, both Ruicheng, the governor-general, and Zhang Biao, commander of the Hubei 8th Division, fled the city. Seeing the rise of revolutionary troops on all sides, Li Yuanhong, commander of the 21st Mixed Brigade, also abandoned his post and went into hiding. By the next morning the capital of Hubei Province was in revolutionary hands. This process was repeated on October 11 and 12 as New Army uprisings across the Yangzi River established revolutionary control over the industrial city of Hanyang and the commer-
cial port of Hankou. For the first time since the beginning of China's revolutionary movement, a major provincial capital and important urban center had fallen to revolutionary forces.
The Wuchang uprising demonstrated the extent to which revolutionary disaffection had spread within the Hubei New Army. According to reasonable estimates, approximately 3,500 New Army troops, slightly more than half the New Army forces stationed in the Wuhan area, participated in the uprising. Only about 1,400 New Army troops, a large percentage of whom were Manchus, resisted the uprising, while the rest remained neutral or fled during the initial outbreak of fighting. For the most part, police and Patrol and Defense Force units in the Wuhan area, numbering around 2,400 men, remained loyal, playing out their expected counterbalancing role. But they proved no match for the militarily superior and highly motivated New Army rebels. Thus the success of the Wuchang uprising validated the revolutionary strategy of subverting the New Army as the key to revolutionary military power.
The rough political division between the New Army and old-style forces was also reflected in the revolution's spread through Hubei. For example, New Army troops played a leading role in bringing the important commercial city of Yichang over to the revolution. The response of the semimodern Patrol and Defense forces was more mixed, with some units briefly resisting the revolution, while others gave it their support. The Manchu Banner garrison at Jingzhou in Hubei also resisted a siege by revolutionary armies from Hubei and Hunan for a month before finally accepting a negotiated surrender in mid December 1911. The conditions of the revolution in effect forced the military to make a political choice either to uphold or to oppose the dynasty, but this was decided on a unit-by-unit basis, or even divided units into different camps. The lack of a single military response to this challenge reflected the fragmented structure of the Qing military system, as well as the various levels of politicization among the different forces within it.
A significant feature of the Wuchang uprising was its character as a soldiers' revolt. Reflecting the composition of Hubei's revolutionary societies, the men who initiated the uprising were mainly common soldiers, along with a few petty officers, most of whom ranked no higher than platoon commander. Whatever personal ties or loyalties may have existed between higher officers and their men had little effect on the rebellion. A number of lower- and middle-level officers who tried to stop their troops from joining the uprising were killed. Others fol-
lowed the example of their superiors and fled or went into hiding once it became clear that their men had sided with the revolution. The inability of the governor-general, top army commanders, or middle-level officers to contain the uprising contradicts any characterization of the New Armies as "personal armies."
It would be a mistake, however, to see the Wuchang uprising in terms of a conflict between common soldiers and officers. Most career-minded middle- and upper-echelon officers had been unwilling to risk active participation in revolutionary organizations and so were not involved in the plotting of the uprising. This does not mean that they were necessarily opposed to the idea of revolution once they saw it had some chance of success. Some revealed ambiguous feelings toward the uprising in initial attempts to remain neutral. For example, He Xifan, a battalion commander in the 8th Division, sought to keep his own men from joining the uprising but also made no move against the rebels. Once revolutionary control over Wuchang seemed secure, He offered his services to the revolutionary cause. Whether out of idealism or opportunism, a good number of company, battalion, and even regiment commanders eventually came forward to support the revolution in the days following the success of the Wuchang uprising.
For the most part those officers who did eventually choose to come over to the revolutionary side were made quite welcome. The flight of top revolutionary leaders before the uprising had created something of a leadership vacuum. Even though revolutionary military representatives were able to take charge of their own units, none had sufficient rank or authority to assume command over all the units involved. The rebels sought to resolve this problem by recruiting higher officers with more command experience. Thus on the first night of the uprising, revolutionary activists used all their powers of persuasion to convince a company commander in the engineering battalion, Wu Zhaolin, to assume military leadership of the uprising. Wu was not totally unsympathetic to revolutionary ideas, and in 1906 had even joined the Society for the Daily Increase in Knowledge. However, when revolutionary troops first approached the Wuchang arsenal that Wu was guarding on the night of the uprising, his initial inclination was to hide. Wu was quickly apprehended, though, and after some hesitation agreed to take command. The next day a similar case occurred when revolutionary troops persuaded a reluctant company commander to accept command of uprising forces in Hanyang and Hankou.
The belated or reluctant participation of New Army officers in the revolution emphasizes the importance of common soldiers in assuming
the initiative for, and initial risk of, the uprising. At the same time, the eventual willingness of these officers to cast their lot with the revolution was another indication of the extensive political disaffection that had arisen within China's best military forces. A division was created, though, within the revolutionary camp between lower-ranking uprising participants and more cautious late-joining officers. While the revolutionary war continued, this division was overshadowed by a general cooperative spirit, but after the revolution it reappeared as a source of tension within the postrevolutionary forces.
The New Army uprising at Wuchang clearly deserves the general acclaim it received as the crucial first spark in China's republican revolution. This spark's ability to generate a broader conflagration, however, was not merely owing to the military accomplishments of the Hubei New Army. The impact of the initial military success of the uprising was enhanced when a significant section of Hubei's civilian elite proffered its support for the revolution. The first sign of this civilian backing came quickly on the morning of October 11 when important members of the Hubei gentry, largely former advocates of a constitutional monarchy who had become disillusioned with the possibility of further reform under the dynasty, met with New Army revolutionaries at the Hubei Provincial Assembly to help establish a new revolutionary government. At this meeting, no less a personage than Tang Hualong, president of the Hubei Provincial Assembly and the leading figure in Hubei's constitutionalist and railroad-protection movements, rose to announce his support for the revolution. At this point the Wuchang uprising became more than a military coup. It became a revolution backed by a broad coalition of both civil and military elites.
The main problem facing the New Army revolutionaries and their civilian allies at this first meeting was the selection of a leader for the new revolutionary government. Noting the "military era" that would exist while the revolutionary war continued, Tang Hualong expressed the consensus of the meeting when he called for leadership by a military man. In accordance with this, the government established was officially designated a "military government" (junzhengfu ). In regard to who should head this military government, the main concern of the assembly seems to have been that this person have sufficient rank to guarantee acceptance of his authority within the New Army and to enhance the new government's prestige. As there was no one among the ranks of the revolutionaries on the scene who met these desiderata,
a consensus was reached to name Li Yuanhong, commander of Hubei's 21st Mixed Brigade, to the post of military governor (dudu ). After this, Tang Hualong accepted the assembly's nomination to head up the government's civil administration.
The selection of Li Yuanhong as military governor was certainly not based on his revolutionary credentials. Indeed, before abandoning his post after the outbreak of the uprising, Li had executed a revolutionary organizer who tried to incite his troops to rebel. In the end, though, the revolutionary assembly put its pragmatic concern to strengthen the authority of the new government above Li's lack of a revolutionary background. Having been involved in the organization of Hubei's New Army since 1896, Li had both the rank and the military experience appropriate to such a high office. At the same time, as an officer who was known to be uncorrupt and attentive to his men's needs, Li was well-liked by the New Army's rank and file. Furthermore, unlike the many senior New Army officers (such as Zhang Biao) who had had their starts as officers in old-style forces, Li had received a modern military education at the Tianjin Naval Academy. Thus the educated soldiers and officers who formed the core of the revolutionary army respected Li's professional credentials. It hardly hurt that Li was also known for his sympathetic treatment of educated men within the New Army. Prior to the uprising, Li had even shown considerable leniency in disciplining soldiers caught participating in revolutionary organizations. It is significant that before the uprising these same qualities led revolutionary activists to give serious consideration to the possibility of recruiting Li as military governor in the event of a successful revolt. Outside the military, Li also had a progressive reputation for his participation in the railroad-protection movement. This was a point appreciated by Tang Hualong and other members of Hubei's reform-minded civilian elite. Finally, Li's ability to speak English, and his generally good reputation among the foreign community, might help avoid foreign intervention in the revolution. Thus both civilian and military groups had had no trouble agreeing that Li Yuanhong was the best available candidate for the military governor's post.
The only flaw in the selection of Li Yuanhong as military governor was that it was made without his consent, and indeed over his opposition. After his hiding place was discovered, Li had to be brought under guard to attend the meeting that elected him to his new position. It was several days before Li finally agreed to take up the post, after re-
peated threats of violence from the revolutionaries and expressions of support from important members of the Provincial Assembly, the Chamber of Commerce, and other elite organizations.
The selection of Li Yuanhong as military governor, coerced or not, did have important propaganda value. Proclamations issued under his name (though without his approval) were used alongside appeals by Tang Hualong to show that the Wuchang uprising had the support of eminent military and civilian leaders. After assuming his duties, Li wrote frank letters to Qing officials encouraging them to join the revolution, stressing its "civilized" (wenming ) character and the broad participation of educated elites. Within Hubei the announcement of Li's leadership had an immediate calming effect, while also serving notice to the nation that the Wuchang uprising was no mere flash in the pan. Li's association with the revolution, along with other prominent figures like Tang Hualong, was also instrumental in persuading civilian officials and military officers to offer their services to the new government. Meanwhile, revolutionaries in other provinces were encouraged to hasten their own plans to rebel. One particular contribution of the Hubei uprising was that it attracted sufficient military and political support to enable it to survive until revolutionary preparations in other provinces could be completed.