In 1912 the Manchu dynasty came in reality to its end. On the news of the abdication of the imperial house, Sun Yat-sen resigned in Nanking, and recommended Yuean Shih-k’ai as president.
THE REPUBLIC (1912-1948)
1 Social and intellectual position
In order to understand the period that now followed, let us first consider the social and intellectual position in China in the period between 1911 and 1927. The Manchu dynasty was no longer there, nor were there any remaining real supporters of the old dynasty. The gentry, however, still existed. Alongside it was a still numerically small middle class, with little political education or enlightenment.
The political interests of these two groups were obviously in conflict. But after 1912 there had been big changes. The gentry were largely in a process of decomposition. They still possessed the basis of their existence, their land, but the land was falling in value, as there were now other opportunities of capital investment, such as export-import, shareholding in foreign enterprises, or industrial undertakings. It is important to note, however, that there was not much fluid capital at their disposal. In addition to this, cheaper rice and other foodstuffs were streaming from abroad into China, bringing the prices for Chinese foodstuffs down to the world market prices, another painful business blow to the gentry. Silk had to meet the competition of Japanese silk and especially of rayon; the Chinese silk was of very unequal quality and sold with difficulty. On the other hand, through the influence of the Western capitalistic system, which was penetrating more and more into China, land itself became “capital”, an object of speculation for people with capital; its value no longer depended entirely on the rents it could yield but, under certain circumstances, on quite other things—the construction of railways or public buildings, and so on. These changes impoverished and demoralized the gentry, who in the course of the past century had grown fewer in number. The gentry were not in a position to take part fully in the capitalist manipulations, because they had never possessed much capital; their wealth had lain entirely in their land, and the income from their rents was consumed quite unproductively in luxurious living.
Moreover, the class solidarity of the gentry was dissolving. In the past, politics had been carried on by cliques of gentry families, with the emperor at their head as an unchangeable institution. This edifice had now lost its summit; the struggles between cliques still went on, but entirely without the control which the emperor’s power had after all exercised, as a sort of regulative element in the play of forces among the gentry. The arena for this competition had been the court. After the destruction of the arena, the field of play lost its boundaries: