Memo #102 (The first Memo from the Theme, 100 Years after the Xinhai Revolution)
By Diana Lary – lary [at] interchange.ubc.ca
The goal of the Xinhai Revolution, for its leaders, was to establish a democratic republic in China. Working out how to celebrate the centenary of the revolution on October 10, 2011 has not been easy. The republican ideal has been achieved, but in most of the Chinese world, democracy has not. Only the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan) and Singapore have full democracy. Hong Kong has a free press, rule of law, and limited elections. The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) has virtually no democracy, despite the many rights and freedoms listed in the constitution.
The PRC and the ROC relate to each other well with a tacit agreement for ‘mutual non-recognition and mutual non-denial’, i.e. a tacit agreement to continue the status quo. But this strategy cannot extend to celebrating the Xinhai Revolution.
The PRC’s democratic deficit makes it difficult to celebrate the democratic aspect of the revolution. Instead, the planned celebrations are cultural events, conferences, the opening of museums, and the unveiling of statues. Recognition will be given to the overseas Chinese who supported the revolutionaries. The most spectacular production is a movie starring Jackie Chan as Huang Xing, one of the revolutionary leaders, and Joan Chen as the Empress Dowager, which will open on the anniversary.
The ROC is playing the democracy card. A series of events – conferences, rock concerts, a peace bell, and a mass bike ride around Taiwan – are planned to present the ROC as the pioneer of Chinese democracy. The ROC’s message is that the road to democracy need not be violent or threatening.
At a recent conference in Taipei, opened by President Ma Ying-jeou, the contrast between ROC democracy and PRC authoritarianism was underlined. A recurrent theme was that democracy came about not by protests from below, but by initiative from above – President Chiang Ching-kuo’s 1987 decision to end martial law. This is a message that may be palatable in the PRC, whose official ideology is redundant and badly in need of replacement.
What more appropriate ideology for the PRC than that which the Father of the Nation, Sun Yat-sen, launched in 1911 – nationalism, democracy, and the livelihood of the people?
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- Sun Yat Sen, Book by Marie-Claire Bergere, 1994
- China’s Republic, Book by Diana Lary, 2007
- Our Theme on the Origins of Social Protests in China