is covered with beggars. The homeless and the old, the crippled and the sick, with no one to
care for them, fall dead on the roads. This happens every day. And the coaches of the great
officials rumble past them continuously.”
The indifference spread from the top down. China was now run by the autocratic, out-of-
touch Cixi (see Confucius ), who could hardly have been less concerned with the fate of her
people. She squandered money meant for the modernization of the navy on building a new
Summer Palace of her own, a project which became the last grand gesture of imperial archi-
tecture and patronage - like its predecessor, it was badly burned by foreign troops, in another
outbreak of the Opium Wars. By this time, in the face of successive waves of occupation by
foreign troops, the empire and the city were near collapse.
The Boxer Rebellion and Xinhai revolution
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a rebel peasant movement now known as the Box-
ers attempted to stymie the Western advance; though initially suppressed by the Qing court,
Cixi soon allowed them greater leeway. In 1900, they laid siege to Beijing's legations quarter
for almost two months, before being beaten by an eight-nation alliance of over 20,000 troops.
These forces proceeded to loot the city (a substantial amount of treasure remains abroad to
this day), occupy much of northern China and impose crippling indemnities on the ailing
A full-scale revolution took place in 1911 after trouble bubbled up in the south of China;
Yuan Shikai (1859-1916) led an army sent to suppress the rebellion, but ended up negoti-
ating with them instead. Newly returned from exile, the idealistic revolutionary Sun Yatsen
(1866-1925) declared the RepublicofChina at the very dawn of 1912, offering Yuan Shikai
its stewardship on the condition that he compel the Qing court to abdicate. They duly did so
a month later - the end of two millennia of imperial rule, though Puyi (1906-67), the last
emperor, was kept on as a powerless figurehead.
The short-lived republic was in trouble from the outset, with its first months marked by in-
fighting, factionalism and the not insignificant matter of where to base the national capital.
One of Sun's preconditions for transferring power to Yuan was that Nanjing should become
capital; the Senate, ignoring this, voted for Beijing instead. Sun insisted on a second vote,
with Beijing not one of the options, and this saw Nanjing emerge victorious; not to be
stopped, Yuan engineered reasons to stay put in Beijing, with forces loyal to him setting off a
wave of rioting and destruction down south in Nanjing.
In 1913, Sun Yatsen's second attempt at a revolution failed and he was forced into exile once
again, while the senate was cleared of any Nationalist members who may have supported his
return. Yuan went a step further the next year, dissolving parliament and a constitution whose
ink was still wet; in 1915 he went further still, declaring himself emperor of the new Empire