Perhaps the most volatile group in Chinese politics in the 20th century were students groups. This was a relatively new development in China, but students would play an important role in China throughout the 20th century, beginning with the overthrow of the Imperial Government (1912). This development began in the 19th century with the Opium Wars. The Imperial Government was shocked with the power of Western military forces and was forced into unequal treaties. Qing officials even courtiers had no choice but to face up to the need to modernize. Western ideas began to seep into China as a result of Western academics, missionaries, merchants, and foreign students studying abroad. Chinese scholars began translating Western books. A few Western-style schools were opened. Missionaries often played important roles. Initially under the direction of Chinese scholars, Chinese students began studying Western science and languages for the first time. Special schools were opened in the major cities. Students were sent abroad by the government. Wealthy families sent youth abroad to study. The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) further promoted this as China was further shocked by Japan's success of modernization. This resulted in the Hundred Days Reforms (June 11 to September 21, 1898). Qing Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) ordered a series of reforms designed to lead sweeping social and institutional changes. The reforms were the work of progressive scholar-reformers who had convinced the Court of the urgency of modernization. One of the reforms was sending increased numbers of students abroad and expanding Chinese schools. The Boxer Rebellion and the failure of Imperial reforms convinced many Chinese that modernization required the overthrow of the Imperial Government. Despite growing anti-Japanese sentiment, many saw Japan as a model for China. It is at this time that Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) emerged as a major figure. He was a republican and anti-Qing activist who became increasingly popular among the overseas Chinese and the growing number of Chinese students abroad, especially students in Japan. Sun founded the Tongmeng Hui (United League) in Tokyo (1905). Chang attended Japanese military academy.
Sun gradually gained great popularity, especially among students in China who played a role in the overthrow of the Imperial Government (1912). Japan seized Shandong Province from Germany at the onset of World War I (1914). The weak Chinese Government hectically entered World War I by declaring war on Germany in an effort to regain Shandong. The Chinese Government signed a secret treaty with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. The Paris Peace Conference confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and The Chinese Government's secret treaty was revealed (1919). The result was widespread demonstrations, often led by students. A massive student demonstrations against the Chinese Government and Japan was staged in Beijing (May 4). The intense political fervor, student activism, and reformist intellectual currents set in motion May Fourth Movement--a kind of national awakening. This was all part of the New Culture Movement. Students returned from abroad and Chinese students in China were intensely nationalistic and advocated a wide range of social and political theories ranging from democracy to Fascism and various versions of socialism. Student thought was specially critical of Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT for not resisting the Japanese seizure of Manchuria, not understanding the Japanese military prowess.
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