Shortly after the Xinhai Revolution, mainland China had what was probably the most democratic election in its history, with multiple parties taking part in it, even if only a very small percentage of the population was allowed to vote (around 6%, which translated to roughly 40 million people). The Kuomintang, then led by Song Jiaoren, scored a very comfortable victory in both houses of the legislature, even if they didn't get an absolute majority of the seats.

Unfortunately, president Yuan Shikai would settle for nothing less than absolute power, and after Song's assassination in March 1913 (probably on his orders) he used his control of the military to take over every aspect of government. The National Assembly was eventually dissolved, Yuan tried to proclaim himself emperor, and ushered in the Warlord Era.

Was there any way China could become a democracy in this period, even if a very restricted one at first? It seems to me that Yuan Shikai was the person most responsible for its fall into autocracy and warlordism, though the country will probably be in a dicey position either way - WWI will likely break out soon, giving Japan the opening it needs to make the Twenty-One Demands. Could the demands be rejected in their entirety (instead of only partially like IOTL) without sparking an all out war between Beijing and Tokyo?
 
Song Jiaoren not getting killed opens a lot of possibilities, definitely, Chief among them somebody in the GMD other than Sun Yatsen who was A) younger, B) had their own prestige and power base independent of him and C) more clear-eyed about Japan’s intentions re: China. (This is not to take away from Sun, who is revered on both sides of the Taiwan Straits for a reason, but he was a better philosopher than he was politician). Song’s survival automatically is better than Yuan’s shitshow, the revolving door of weak hacks like Li Yuanhong who followed him

The factors that led to warlordism would only be lessened, not extinguished, though. Qing rule of its provinces was very weak and relied on local proto-warlords to raise their own armies, which the post-1916 chaos in China was simply an exaggerated version of. You’d need a stronger central authority in Peking dating before 1898 and for it to be credibly maintained to avoid warlordism entirely, though at that point you’re probably butterflying the Xinhai Revolution, too.
 
Song Jiaoren not getting killed opens a lot of possibilities, definitely, Chief among them somebody in the GMD other than Sun Yatsen who was A) younger, B) had their own prestige and power base independent of him and C) more clear-eyed about Japan’s intentions re: China. (This is not to take away from Sun, who is revered on both sides of the Taiwan Straits for a reason, but he was a better philosopher than he was politician). Song’s survival automatically is better than Yuan’s shitshow, the revolving door of weak hacks like Li Yuanhong who followed him

The factors that led to warlordism would only be lessened, not extinguished, though. Qing rule of its provinces was very weak and relied on local proto-warlords to raise their own armies, which the post-1916 chaos in China was simply an exaggerated version of. You’d need a stronger central authority in Peking dating before 1898 and for it to be credibly maintained to avoid warlordism entirely, though at that point you’re probably butterflying the Xinhai Revolution, too.
I agree this is way too late a POD to nip all of the warlords in the bud, but is it possible for their power to be restricted at Nanjing decade levels, instead of of the OTL scenario where they partitioned China among themselves?
 
I agree this is way too late a POD to nip all of the warlords in the bud, but is it possible for their power to be restricted at Nanjing decade levels, instead of of the OTL scenario where they partitioned China among themselves?
Quite possibly. Not all warlords are created equally in this case, either - Peking (and it’d be Peking most likely) would have better control over Manchuria than OTL, but the Ma family out west or whatever opium lord ran Yunnan at a given time would likely be similarly-sized problems
 
How would the Chinese Communist Party develop under a (somewhat) democratic context? As for the KMT, would it remain cohesive under a Song Jiaoren premiership, or fall apart as a result of issues stemming from the implementation of certain policies? The party did have left and right-wing factions, after all.
 

CalBear

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I would suggest that this is the wrong question.

The better, and much more vexing, question is "Could a 1910s Chinese democracy function over even the medium term?"

I would ventrue that it could not, not if one is talking about ALL of China. There is far too little communication between regions, large areas that have, for decades been only nominally under the control of the central government, insufficient funds in the treasury to build a sufficiently large force to enforce any sort of voting rights across most of the country, while literacy rates were, depending on what source you use and that sources definition of the term, between 20-40%.

This is before one even begins to examine the corrosive impacts of the various "Powers" , all of whom were quite happy to skim as much profit off the top across much of China. None of them including the U.S. (although Washingtion might be closer to ambivalent than outright hostile) would find the prospect of a successful democratic China to be a positive step. If China manages it, it throw all the colonial empires arguments, be they in India, or the DEI, or SE Asia, or Africa, over how the "natives" are incapable of governing themselves and how they require Western colonial governance, for their own good, of course.
 
I would suggest that this is the wrong question.

The better, and much more vexing, question is "Could a 1910s Chinese democracy function over even the medium term?"

I would ventrue that it could not, not if one is talking about ALL of China. There is far too little communication between regions, large areas that have, for decades been only nominally under the control of the central government, insufficient funds in the treasury to build a sufficiently large force to enforce any sort of voting rights across most of the country, while literacy rates were, depending on what source you use and that sources definition of the term, between 20-40%.

This is before one even begins to examine the corrosive impacts of the various "Powers" , all of whom were quite happy to skim as much profit off the top across much of China. None of them including the U.S. (although Washingtion might be closer to ambivalent than outright hostile) would find the prospect of a successful democratic China to be a positive step. If China manages it, it throw all the colonial empires arguments, be they in India, or the DEI, or SE Asia, or Africa, over how the "natives" are incapable of governing themselves and how they require Western colonial governance, for their own good, of course.
I agree China would be in for a bumpy ride in the next few years no matter who is in power, with plenty of things that could go disastrously wrong (a military coup, squabbles in the KMT that cripple the government, etc). Regarding foreign threats, however, the European powers are, at this point, on the verge of beating the everloving crud out of each other for several years straight. Which leaves Japan as the main adversary to deal with during the 1910s.

Speaking of Japan, how could it react to a China that doesn't become a dumpster fire? Would Tokyo cut back on its imperialism and consolidate what it already had, or would the military take the express ride to crazytown sooner?
 

AHFan

Banned
I would suggest that this is the wrong question.

The better, and much more vexing, question is "Could a 1910s Chinese democracy function over even the medium term?"

I would ventrue that it could not, not if one is talking about ALL of China. There is far too little communication between regions, large areas that have, for decades been only nominally under the control of the central government, insufficient funds in the treasury to build a sufficiently large force to enforce any sort of voting rights across most of the country, while literacy rates were, depending on what source you use and that sources definition of the term, between 20-40%.

This is before one even begins to examine the corrosive impacts of the various "Powers" , all of whom were quite happy to skim as much profit off the top across much of China. None of them including the U.S. (although Washingtion might be closer to ambivalent than outright hostile) would find the prospect of a successful democratic China to be a positive step. If China manages it, it throw all the colonial empires arguments, be they in India, or the DEI, or SE Asia, or Africa, over how the "natives" are incapable of governing themselves and how they require Western colonial governance, for their own good, of course.
Could China have constructed a telegraph, rail and air communication system? Your point regarding literacy would probably result in difficult elections without more effective primary education.
 

AHFan

Banned
I agree China would be in for a bumpy ride in the next few years no matter who is in power, with plenty of things that could go disastrously wrong (a military coup, squabbles in the KMT that cripple the government, etc). Regarding foreign threats, however, the European powers are, at this point, on the verge of beating the everloving crud out of each other for several years straight. Which leaves Japan as the main adversary to deal with during the 1910s.

Speaking of Japan, how could it react to a China that doesn't become a dumpster fire? Would Tokyo cut back on its imperialism and consolidate what it already had, or would the military take the express ride to crazytown sooner?
Just to add to your point, would a democratic China have more effective industrial and military capabilities making a Japanese invasion less likely?
 
Just to add to your point, would a democratic China have more effective industrial and military capabilities making a Japanese invasion less likely?
Dictatorships usually have issues with corruption and promotions being made due to loyalty rather than competence, so I'd say yes. As long as the government has enough time to put its affairs in order.

EDIT: Which will take a decade, at the very least. Probably 15 years or more.
 
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