Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

One doctrine, two claims to be rightful heir [Straits Times]

Legitimacy to govern China: Cross-strait rhetoric in focus here in this piece by Singapore’s Straits Times.  Who is rightful heir to the  1911 revolution that topped three millennia of dynastic rule?

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One doctrine, two claims to be rightful heir
by Ching Cheong
Source: The Straits Times, published October 18, 2011 in the Asia News Network

The revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty might have taken place 100 years ago, but its impact continues to be felt to this day, not least in the contest for legitimacy on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The 1911 Revolution ended 3,000 years of feudalism in China and established the first ever republic in Asia. It represented the beginning of China’s long march towards modernity. The tumult of the struggle in the years immediately after the fall of the Qing Dynasty also created competing heirs: the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taipei and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing.

To mark the centenary of the revolution, the CCP held a grand celebration last week, the highlight of which was a speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao in which he sent out two significant political messages.

The first came in his description of the CCP as “the most ardent supporter, the most intimate collaborator and the most loyal successor to Dr Sun Yat-sen”, the leader of the 1911 revolution.

This is significant as it is the first time that such superlatives are being used to associate the CCP with Dr Sun. With these three “mosts”, the CCP is attempting to establish itself as the rightful successor to the 1911 Revolution.

That it has to try to do so has partly to do with how events unfolded after 1911. The party and regime that Dr Sun set up immediately after the revolution were the KMT and the Republic of China (ROC), respectively.

The CCP was created in 1921. It set up the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. In purely chronological terms, they are not the direct descendants of the revolution, unlike the KMT and ROC.

This vying for the status of rightful heir is unusual, bearing in mind that the CCP has in the past disparaged the 1911 event as ‘an unsuccessful bourgeois revolution’ that failed because of the inherent flaws of its leadership.

And yet it would appear that now, 100 years on, the CCP sees value in claiming the mantle of rightful heir. Certainly the moral authority that comes with the title is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. That the ROC has survived long after KMT leaders lost the civil war to the communists attests to the importance of its historic lineage and the sense of legitimacy associated with it.

By making a claim to be the rightful inheritors of the 1911 revolution, the CCP is not only seeking to boost its standing but also to undermine the ROC’s position at the same time.

A second significant message in Mr Hu’s speech was national revival. In his 4,000-word address, he made 31 references to “the great revival of the Chinese nation”. To achieve this, he said, China has to “unswervingly uphold the banners” of socialism, patriotism and the policy of peace, development and cooperation.

Tellingly, he also quoted Dr Sun on the need for unification – a pre-condition for the country’s revival. Mr Hu argued that as unification remains the only unaccomplished target of the 1911 Revolution, it was incumbent upon the CCP to bring it about. Taiwan remains a renegade province in Beijing’s eyes.

In bolstering the CCP’s claim to Dr Sun’s revolution, Mr Hu noted that it had achieved the goals set out in the founding father’s “Three People’s Principles”, the bedrock of his new republic.

The so-called “San-min Doctrine” was developed by Dr Sun as part of a political philosophy underpinning his efforts to make China a free, prosperous and respected nation. It called for minzu (nationalism or freedom from foreign domination), minquan (people’s power or democracy) and m�nsheng (people’s welfare).

There is no doubt that under the CCP, China has emerged as an economic powerhouse and improved its people’s livelihood. It has shaken off its colonial shackles and become a major global player.

But it is noteworthy that across the strait, Taiwanese leaders made sure to underscore the principle of minquan as they celebrated the accomplishment of Dr Sun’s ideals. As KMT chief and President Ma Ying-jeou said in his speech: “The ideals of Dr Sun were to establish a free, democratic, thriving and egalitarian country. These, which were previously unattainable in the mainland, are now wholly accomplished in Taiwan.”

Mr Ma pointed out that the successful implementation of Dr Sun’s Three Principles “proves to the world that democracy can also take root, blossom and bear fruit in a Chinese society”.

“I want to take this opportunity to remind the authorities in the mainland that when celebrating the 1911 Revolution, one should not forget that the ideals of Dr Sun were to establish a free, democratic and egalitarian country. The mainland authorities should boldly advance in this direction,” he added. “Only in doing so can the gap between both sides of the (Taiwan) Strait be narrowed.”

In a pointed message to Beijing, Mr Ma said: “To celebrate the 1911 Revolution, one should not truncate history but should preserve its original look and respect the existence of the ROC. The existence of the ROC is not in the past tense but in the present continuous tense.”

If Mr Hu had used the centennial celebration and Dr Sun’s philosophy to call for unification, Mr Ma used the same means to deliver his message. In short, he is telling Beijing: there are two pre-conditions – respect for democracy and for the ROC’s existence.

A century later, it is quite clear that vestiges of the 1911 Revolution are still very much alive in the battle for legitimacy across the Taiwan Strait. And what Dr Sun wanted for his fledgling republic will undoubtedly continue to shape developments for many more years to come.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Democracy, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Soft Power, Strategy, Taiwan, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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