How an Accidental Explosion Brought Down the Chinese Empire

How-an-Accidental-Explosion-Brought-Down-the-Chinese-Empire

A Brief History

On October 9, 1911, an accidental bomb explosion in China lead to the ultimate fall of China’s last imperial dynasty.


Digging Deeper

By 1911, the Qing or Manchu dynasty had ruled over China for almost 300 years.  During that time period, China experienced numerous internationally embarrassing disasters from its defeat in the Opium Wars to the failed Boxer Rebellion.  1911 would see the proverbial straw that broke the imperial camel’s back.

An incident known as the Wuchang Uprising broke out on this day in 1911 by accident.  A revolutionary leader named Sun Wu was accidentally injured by a bomb’s explosion resulting in him being sent to a hospital.  While there, the hospital staff realized that he was indeed a revolutionary and so they alerted the imperial government.

With impending arrests and likely executions now coming their way, Wu’s followers prepared for a coup to overthrow the government.  An army mutiny on October 10, 1911 proved decisive.  The “New Army” responsible for the rebellion established a military government in Hubei, China on October 11, 1911.  Five thousand Chinese died in the provincial uprising, which soon erupted into a full on national Chinese Revolution.  This revolution took over 200,000 more Chinese lives and after thousands of years of China’s existence as an empire, the country’s government became a republic led most famously by Sun Yat-sen.  And it all began with the accidental explosion of a bomb just over 100 years ago today!

Historical Evidence

Concerning the broader Chinese Revolution, an essential film to see is The Last Emperor (1987).  We recommend the 218 minute director’s cut over the 160 minutes theatrical version.  The film won nine Academy Awards including best picture and as such is a well-made and cultural significant film in its own right.

As for more information about the events of October 9, 1911, unfortunately, most scholarly sources are in Chinese.  Even on the American version of Amazon.com, you will likely find books primarily in Chinese.  Thus, for English speakers, you will most likely need to read general histories of the Chinese Revolution to find additional details.  To that end, we recommend first checking Google Books with a search for “Wuchang Uprising“.

Matthew Zarzeczny

Matthew graduated with a B.A. in French and history from Baldwin-Wallace College. At BW, Matthew minored in political science. He earned a Master’s in History at Kent State University and a Ph.D. in History from the Ohio State University. He teaches history at Ashland University, John Carroll University, and Kent State University at Stark.