October 10th, 2008 Headsman
On the tenth day of the tenth month — Double Ten Day, as it has since been remembered in China and the Chinese diaspora — the quick execution of a few revolutionaries signaled the surprising end of China’s 2,000-year-old imperial government.
Actually, the collapse of imperial rule wasn’t such a surprise: China’s last dynasty had foundered in the face of the 19th century challenges of European colonialism; driven by multitudinous grievances, popular revolts and reform movements had buffeted China in recent years, most seriously the turn-of-the-century Boxer Rebellion.
The Qing Dynasty was a tinderbox. But one never knows what spark will set the flame.
On October 9, 1911, revolutionaries in the central China town of Wuchang — today merged with neighboring towns into the city of Wuhan — lit the fuse literally when a bomb they were building for a planned insurrection accidentally went off.
In the ensuing scramble, police raided the joint and found incriminating lists of thousands of revolutionary recruits. Arrests followed fast, and several (three*) of the arrested were summarily put to death on the morning of the tenth.
But the plot’s apparent misfortune actually turned out to be its spur to victory.
Realizing that their identities were exposed to the authorities, and that they were in danger of immediate execution, the revolutionaries … revolted.
Their military forces mounted a successful municipal coup d’etat.
While the central government dilated, insurrectionary Wuchang appealed to the provinces for solidarity, and within weeks the Wuchang Uprising had blossomed into full-fledged revolution: the Xinhai Revolution, to be exact. By the following February, China’s last child-emperor had been forced to abdicate.
For the first time in millennia, the fallen dynasty was not succeeded by another dynasty. Though the new state was itself heir to the myriad contradictions and weaknesses that dogged the Qing, it was a definitive turning point: China became Asia’s first democratic republic, the polity that today is Taiwan.
* The names Peng Chufan, Liu Yaocheng and Yang Hongsheng are proposed in this history.
Update: This excellent History Today article for the Double Ten centennial also specifies three executions, and even includes this outstanding public domain image from the Francis Stafford collection.
Also on this date
- 1987: Eshan Nayeck, the last executed in Mauritius
- 1707: Johann Patkul, schemer
- 1800: Prosser's Gabriel, slave rebel
- 1923: Susan Newell, the last woman hanged in Scotland
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Revolutionaries,Strangled,Summary Executions,Treason
Tags: 1911, boxer rebellion, coup d'etat, double ten day, holiday, liu yaocheng, october 10, peng chufan, pu yi, qing dynasty, the last emperor, wuchang, wuchang uprising, wuhan, xinhai revolution, yang hongsheng