Today is, in a sense, the 100th birthday of modern China, but you’d be hard pressed to notice it.
On the 10th of October 1911 a small bomb was accidentally detonated in Wuchan, part of modern-day Wuhan, injuring one man. When he was taken to the hospital the staff discovered he was a member of a revolutionary group and informed the authorities. The group’s cover blown, they decided to launch their coup – this was the start of the Wuchang Uprising, which led to the downfall of imperial China and the proclamation of the Republic Of China on January 1st of the following year. The first president was Sun ZhongShan, generally referred to as the father of modern China.
Unfortunately the story that follows is not quite so heroic. While China had a president and an officially democratic system, in reality most of the country fell into the hands of opposing warlords, and decades of civil wars followed, only to be ended by the shockingly brutal Japanese occupation of the 1930s and 40s. It wasn’t until Mao Zedong’s victory in 1949 that China was again united.
The losers in the civil war were the nationalists, the party led by Sun ZhongShan in the 1910s. As they were routed from the mainland the remaining nationalist forces evacuated to Taiwan (controversially taking the country’s gold reserves with them), where they have ever since continued to refer to themselves as the ‘Republic of China‘.
Taiwan still celebrates October 10th as their national day – they call it ‘Double Ten Day’. On the mainland, though, there is no holiday and no real recognition. My wife, educated not 50 miles from the site of the uprising, was not even told about it at school. China’s holidays and celebrations are of two types – traditional, ancient celebrations with elaborate customs and boring official holidays where everyone gets time off in order to not really celebrate a Party anniversary. Double Ten is too mixed-up and ambiguous to celebrate, and doesn’t do anything to glorify the current regime. Today, however, is the hundredth anniversary, and it appears that The Party have decided to relent a little. I suspect that the main reason would be that ignoring it completely would arouse more interest than doing it half-heartedly.
Last week I was going through Tiananmen Square with V when we saw a huge portrait of Sun Zhongshan hanging up in front of Mao’s mausoleum, a little baffling as he wasn’t present at the Wuchang Uprising, and did nothing to organise it. Icons are always preferable to difficult questions. Then last night there was a very dull ceremony on TV where various CCP leaders took to the podium to briefly mention Sun, who had ‘opened the door’ before going on to the usual eulogies about how The Party had developed modern China. It wasn’t a particularly fascinating event, the only item of interest being the appearance of former president Jiang Zemin, who had been rumoured to be dead since his no-show at the CCP’s 90th anniversary earlier in the year.
Today there was a stranger ceremony, live from Wuchang on national TV. Events of this sort are generally ruthlessly choreographed, so when there is a slightly disorganised air it seems bizarre. It took place in a public park, the ground covered in unattractive plastic sheets. Party officials stood in rows, but many of them scratched their heads or legs and looked around. At the back there were rows of girls in uniform, but when there was a long shot several of them could be seen to be talking to each-other. These may seem like minor issues, but in China this is distinctly odd.
The next big anniversary is on January 1st, the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of the republic. It’s unlikely that much more of a fuss will be made for that, though there’s always scope for a surprise in China.