The hallmark tensions in Chinese politics today first took shape in the 1911 Revolution.
In the winter of 1911, legendary revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen returned to China after years of exile and found the country in the grip of a sweeping transformation. Between October 10, when junior officers in the Hubei New Army mutinied in Wuchang, and November 22, when the Sichuan constitutionalists declared independence from the Qing, fourteen provinces had severed their ties with the government of the Manchu dynasty.
Political elites throughout China were defecting from the court en masse. Among the most influential were the constitutionalists from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, who proposed a plan for uniting all of the southern forces into one polity under the banner of republicanism. It was they who initiated the truce between the Qing Beiyang Army and the revolutionary armies in Wuchang, elected the southern delegates to negotiate with the northern leader Yuan Shikai, promoted Sun Yat-sen as the first provisional president of the republic, and penned the abdication edict for the Qing court.
This edict, which claimed that “the power to govern is now transferred to all in the country (tongzhiquan gongzhu quanguo)” and that “a constitutional republic is now the state system of our country (gonghe lixian guoti),” signaled the end of the monarchy and the birth of the Chinese republic. This seismic political shift was premised on the belief that “republicanism had been accepted by public opinion (yulun) in China,” and the constitutionalists looked to the federalist system of the United States as their model, vowing to “immediately emulate the United States of America in calling upon a national convention, regarding it as our temporary authoritative legislature.”