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Process Paper


We chose to research Sun Yat-Sen and his attempts at revolution because we wanted to
look into the development of democracy beyond Europe. China’s transformation into a modern
superpower began with the fall of the Qing, to which Sun Yat-Sen greatly contributed. In our
continually intertwined world, we wanted to research an Asian topic to learn more about a part of
history that was previously unfamiliar to us.
We began our research by looking into the historical context of his rebellions. We found
roughly a dozen books on the Qing dynasty and the political tensions leading to its demise, as
well as biographies of Sun Yat-Sen, and histories of China and its recent revolutions. Particularly
helpful for understanding the context of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution were Yale Professor
Jonathan Spence’s ​The Search for Modern China​ and Professor William T Rowe’s ​China’s Last
Empire: The Great Qing​. Additionally, we accessed articles from journals such as ​Pacific Affairs
and ​The Asia-Pacific Journal​. Our books referenced a wealth of newspaper articles, interviews,
letters, documents and interviews from the time period. For example, we found the oath of Sun
Yat-Sen’s society, the Hsing Chung Hui, which reveals the sources of his frustration. In drafting
our thesis and diagramming our reasoning, we realized that we needed more information on how
he contributed to the republican government after its creation. We learned that he was unable to
lead and maintain the republic, and felt that the chaos resulting from the failed republic was the
most important effect of 1911 and changed our thesis to reflect this. An unexpected obstacle
presented itself when we were looking for interviews -- many prominent experts who authored
our books were deceased. However, we succeeded in identifying a few experts to contact, such
as William Overholt and Xing Hang, Assistant Professor of History at Brandeis University, and
learned a great deal about the consequences of Sun’s stand against the Qing.
We chose to use the website format because we were attracted to the interactive style, and
because we wanted to use a blend of pictures and words to support our thesis.
During the decline of the Qing dynasty, which was characterized by economic collapse
and weak, stagnant political institutions run by corrupt bureaucrats, Sun Yat-sen took a stand for
Western-style innovation and opposed the ineffective Qing government. In a period of
vulnerability at the hands of foreign powers, his ​nationalism and ambitious vision​ of a strong,
Westernized China resonated with the intellectual elite. Sun emerged as a leader of the anti-Qing
forces, organizing plots and facilitating the spread of his ideas throughout China. His activism
created a state of agitation which culminated in the 1911 Revolution and the establishment of a
republic. However, spreading anti-Western sentiments and growing chaos forced him to rely on
the aid of Soviet Communists, and he ultimately sacrificed his vision of a liberal democracy to
pursue the unification of China. The triumph of communism ironically cemented his legacy as a
national hero.

Word Count: 495