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Slapping Song Jiaoren

Political Travelers in a Long Revolution

The Chinese Revolution was remarkable for lasting so long and covering so much territory in and out of China. Conventionally thought to commence with the Opium War (1839-42) and end with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the revolution has few rivals as a protracted conflict. Among them might be the French Revolution, with its five Republics to 1958, and the American Revolution, understood as extending through the Civil War of 1861-65 to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even a more restrictive bracketing of events requires at least four or five decades to tell the story of the collapse of an empire and the building of a new Chinese nation. This was a revolution revolutionaries, if they were lucky, grew old in. Tang Qunying was born in 1871, joined Sun Yat-sen's revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1905 in Japan as a young widow and student, and struggled for women's rights and suffrage throughout the 1910s and 1920s. By the mid-1930s, and in her sixties, as Mao Zedong and the Communists on their Long March yet again eluded annihilation by Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists, Tang was living in Nanjing on a meager sinecure provided by the Nationalist government to her as a retired revolutionary. She grew annoyed when an elite visitor would drop by solely to have a photograph taken with her as a heroine of the now-long-past 1911 Revolution. After all, the goal of women's suffrage, like many other revolutionary objectives, had not been reached. As she remarked to her adopted son's wife with a deep sigh, "These people are so different. The nation and people, and the liberation of women, are all now forgotten. All they think and talk about are their own creature comforts. They fritter away their days at the card table and then suddenly turn up in front of me showing off their high positions. This is really too shameful and sad."

As a woman who had led an active political life as terrorist, secret agent, propagandist, soldier, editor, educator, and organizer, Tang was understandably vexed by what appeared to be a lull in the revolution, if not its end. Tang Qunying died in June 1937, a month before the Japanese invasion of North China that would eventually help propel the Communists to power and continue the revolution and a year after the Nanjing government included universal male and female suffrage in its draft constitution.

The Chinese Revolution also traversed a geographic expanse to rival in magnitude its longevity as a historical process. The landscape of its politics was vast not only because Qing conquests in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries doubled the size of the preceding Ming dynasty, bequeathing a gigantism only a few nations exhibit, but also because critical sites of the revolution extended far beyond China's borders, to East and Southeast Asia, America and Europe. As political lives unfolded in a long revolution, they also crossed boundaries of hometown or village, province, country, and continent. The history of revolutionary thought and action winds through exile and immigrant communities in cities like Tokyo and San Francisco, work, study, and training experiences in Lyon, New York, and Moscow, and diplomatic postings in Paris and St. Petersburg. Seeds of revolutionary thinking about rights and social justice were sown in China by returning officials, students, workers, and merchants, with the help of foreign visitors like globe-trotting suffragists and Comintern agents.

An inveterate traveler by force of circumstance as a political refugee twice, from 1895 to 1911 and from 1913 to 1916, and also by choice and conviction as a political campaigner, Sun Yat-sen eventually found travel so vital to his purposes that he declared it a "necessity" for everyone along with "food, clothing and shelter." Sun would have been lost without steamships and trains. He traveled to raise money and plot revolution but also to collect slogans and insights for the struggle back home. Returning to China in 1911, Sun continued to journey around the country by train, boat, and the occasional sedan chair. Sun was not alone in embracing what Marie-Claire Bergère has termed in his case "extreme geographic mobility" as a political response to the vastness of China itself, the expanse of "Greater China" in Diaspora, and the pressing fact of a global context for national and even local events. The accelerated opening up of China to the world brought change in every area of life. A 1918 essay titled "The Woman Problem" in the progressive journal New Youth noted that because of the "dense networks of transportation and communication" that now bound the world as one, "what is happening in European societies today will happen in our society tomorrow." With transoceanic telegraph lines in operation, tomorrow might actually mean the next day if not week, month, or year. By the 1880s Shanghai was served by most international steamship lines. The reciprocal opening up of the world to Chinese with the means and motivation to travel made geographic mobility a stimulus to political thought and a credential that might induce others less traveled to agree with you. Leaving home, and returning changed, helped make the case for a New China.

Upon his return to his home province of Hunan in 1913 after ten years of study in Japan, Britain, and Germany, the scholar Yang Changji, Mao's college teacher and the father of his future wife, Yang Kaihui, wrote an article for the local Changsha magazine Public Word titled "My Opinions on Reforming Society." Yang noted that as a result of the political revolution that took place while he was away in Tokyo, Aberdeen, and Berlin, "China has experienced tremendous change in the transformation of its political system into a republic, the profound nature of which can hardly be expressed." He cited the end of the imperial examination system, cutting of Manchu-style queues on men and boys, banning of foot binding for girls, and suppression of opium. Yang still retained powerful attachments to Confucian thought and criticized what he saw as excessive Western reliance on self-interest in ethical matters. Yang also embraced the urgent need for social change and attacked customs like arranged marriage and concubinage. Pressing ahead on these fronts "loudly" was needed in order to "reach the ears of those who are still deaf." "Recently," Yang wrote, "I have lived and traveled in several countries both East and West, asking after customs and examining how customs change. There is a great benefit in doing so since the way change actually takes place is through international communication. By comparing customs, the good and the bad become visible." The good in the West for Yang included fundamentals like free speech and small pleasures like not having family members read your mail. The bad in China ranged from poor public hygiene to fellow scholars failing to return borrowed books.

In Changsha one can visit the teacher's college where Yang Changji held forth as the "Confucius of First Normal" and Mao Zedong was his student. There are also less prominent historical sites like a small museum in a turn-of-the-century house dedicated to another Hunan native, Li Fuchun. One of the architects of the new socialist economy of the 1950s, Li spent 1919 to 1924 in France where he joined the Chinese Communist Party and, briefly, in the Soviet Union studying revolution. Among the exhibits in the museum are postcards Li sent from Paris, a leather document case from his post-1949 party service, eyeglasses, and a large map titled "The Tracks of Li Fuchun's Life." On the map one can follow Li from his birth in Changsha to journeys throughout China, including a visit to Beijing to study French, his participation in the Long March, and battles in Northeast China during the final civil war with the Nationalists in the late 1940s. Once he took his place in the central bureaucracy in the 1950s, aside from a diplomatic visit to Moscow in 1952, plotting out Li's life becomes a matter of tracking his ascent through ministries in Beijing rather than charting domestic and international travels.

Li's early sojourns in Paris and Moscow are represented by a small inset map. Such cartographic devices typically show a detail of a larger map, like the city plan of Changsha on a map of Hunan Province. Here, instead, geographic details of places once remote and unfamiliar, like France and Russia, find their way onto a map of China. Even Mao Zedong, whose "tracks" did not lead out of China until his 1950 mission to Moscow to meet Stalin, as a young man began a walk through five counties of Hunan after he read about two other students who journeyed on foot all the way to Tibet. Later Mao traveled widely in China not only on revolutionary business but also for more personal reasons, to visit the hometown of Confucius in Shandong Province as a tourist and to Beijing to woo Yang Kaihui.

As Sun Yat-sen intuited early in his career, China's gigantic size and poorly defended borders represented challenges to national governance but also opportunities for individual growth and political careers. Documenting and interpreting the movement of early-twentieth-century politicians and activists requires attention to these global details. As a recent study of the Republic's place in the world suggests, this was, for many, especially men and women of ambition, an "age of openness." In Republican China, "everything important had an international dimension."

This moving and globalized picture of revolutionary politics-in-the-making is at odds with the by now discredited stereotype of Chinese as "earthbound tillers." In a revolutionary era one expects individuals, ideas, and organizations to be set in motion as tradition is uprooted. In fact, late imperial China was already moving according to its own rhythms. Scholars traveled to attend school, take the official examination, and assume office in the capital or a distant province. Merchants journeyed far in search of profits. Though ordinary people might wish to remain on ancestral lands, they were often forced to move by war, natural disaster, or economic distress. Even relatively earthbound farmers moved around quite a bit within the circuits of the market towns that surrounded them.

Political activists in the modern era did blaze some new trails-to Moscow, for example, for training in Marxism-but they also followed the well-worn tracks of officials and their agents, merchants, laborers, and mendicants of the imperial era while acquiring, refining, and delivering their political message at an ever-accelerating pace. Wen-hsin Yeh has shown how young people from provincial backwaters were radicalized in their journeys as students from conservative rural communities to provincial capitals like Hangzhou, then on to Beijing and Shanghai to study and work in the epicenters of intellectual and political upheaval. The resulting juxtaposition of remembered landscapes and new vistas encouraged a complex rethinking of values. Some youths took up avant-garde ideas like anarchism, liberalism, and communism not only for novelty's sake but also, like Yang Changji, "out of a fundamentalist ardor to salvage the ethical intent of the Confucianism they had imbibed in their family and village schools."

New uses for older travel routes and social expectations as to who would be out and about on them led to artful dodges and comic missteps. During one of her pre-1911 revolutionary missions in rural Hunan Tang Qunying disguised herself as an itinerant tea picker in order to misdirect Qing troops. Not shedding the clothes and demeanor of her feminist persona would have been a giveaway to officials on the lookout for revolutionaries. By contrast, when the Communist revolutionary Peng Pai set out one day in 1921 full of more hope than guile to organize the peasants of his home province of Guangdong, "wearing a student-style Western white suit and solid white cap," he was mistaken for a tax collector by a vigilant, and world-wise, farmer. The dynamic landscapes of old and new China invited one to blend in, or stand out. Courtesy of railways and steamboats, political cadre often moved more quickly and farther than had been possible in the past, and so did their counterparts in business and other fields. Any moment, large or small, in the long and expansive Chinese Revolution forms a knot of influences and consequences that leads in many directions: backward and forward in time and to and from a given point on the map.

The event chosen to anchor this book is a brief but dramatic moment in the early history of the Chinese Republic: a public fight over women's rights during the founding of the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) in Beijing on August 25, 1912. The political convention is important enough to merit a small stone monument in the now-restored Huguang Native-Place Lodge (Huguang huiguan) where it took place and brief mention in histories of the period. The larger significance of the encounter arises from the very ordinariness of the participants' efforts to grasp and guide an unfinished revolution over cultural ground at once familiar and strikingly new. The knotted influences of history and geography meant there was more than a little London, Tokyo, Shanghai, and rural Hunan in the hall that day, as well as echoes of Rousseau, Mencius, Mencius's mother, Mulan the Woman Warrior, and Robert's Rules of Order.

Chapters 2 and 4 survey the evolving political culture of early-twentieth-century China as a pattern of old and new and Chinese and foreign ideas and feelings about power and authority that together made political navigation from empire to nation, and monarchy to republic, so challenging. The three individuals chosen to represent Republican politics in summer 1912 are profiled in chapters 3, 5, and 6. The suffragist Tang Qunying fought hard for rights for women with the support of thousands of women and not a few men who believed the Chinese Republic ought to include both sexes as full citizens. Classically educated and politically radical, she was gifted in areas as diverse as bomb making, poetry, battlefield tactics, and public speaking. Tang Qunying had imperfectly bound feet, a quick temper, and a fierce loyalty to comrades and revolutionary ideals. The Qing diplomat Lu Zhengxiang as a prime minister of the young Republic held the kind of high official position denied Tang. Lu's experiences as civil servant and politician in the early Republic were as typical in their turbulent course as he was unusual in his deep Catholic faith, fastidious professionalism, and cosmopolitan sensibility. He lost the post of prime minister, the highest office he held in his long career, as a result of the corrosive and contentious nature of public life and his own surprising missteps. As one of the most important political figures of China's twentieth century, Sun Yat-sen is a tricky subject for the biographer on account of his mercurial behavior, seemingly facile approach to politics, and ability to influence nearly all aspects of modern Chinese politics both despite and because of his slight record as actual ruler of China. Being the "good father" figure of a Republic he never really commanded contrasted with the records of his more violent and powerful successors and imitators Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.

Sun Yat-sen knew Tang Qunying well as a loyal revolutionary comrade and political thorn in his and his party's side on the subject of women rights. Sun and Tang were much alike in their rhetorical styles of leadership and ability to attract public attention. Together, their lives as political equals, who were attached by bonds of loyalty and common cause but not by romance or marriage, offer an opportunity to examine shared and separate experiences of men and women in the Chinese Revolution. Sun and Lu Zhengxiang met in late August 1912 in the aftermath of the Nationalist Party convention and in the midst of Lu's political ordeal. Sun knew Lu well enough as a fellow political actor on the national stage to upbraid him personally during that encounter for a lack of toughness and fortitude as a leader. Both men exemplified geographic mobility and political flexibility, and each built a career on the political and cultural fault lines that ran between China and the outside world.

Fighting a long revolution took levels of courage, cunning, and endurance on the part of men and women like Tang, Lu, and Sun that made wavering and faltering an occupational hazard and stubborn determination in defiance of reason a sometimes unwelcome and uncomfortable virtue. And so, on a warm summer morning, August 25, 1912, in the first year of the Chinese Republic, and also the thirteenth day of the seventh lunar month of the Renzi year of the water rat that began on February 18, in the forty-ninth year in the sixty-year cycle of heavenly stems and earthly branches that commenced in 1864 and would be completed in 1924, three women-Tang Qunying, Shen Peizhen, and Wang Changguo-rushed the stage of the Huguang Lodge ceremonial hall in Beijing where Sun Yat-sen had just spoken and threw the inaugural convention of the Nationalist Party into turmoil. August 25 was also a Sunday according to the Western calendar, a day of rest for government officials and foreigners and a convenient time for the new political classes of the capital to assemble.

By their disruptive actions and angry words, the women, members in good standing of the about-to-be-declared Nationalist Party and its immediate predecessor, the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui), made it clear they felt betrayed by their comrades. The new Nationalists, led by the young and charismatic male politician Song Jiaoren, had abandoned an earlier commitment to equal rights for women in a bid to win the support of conservative allies in the Senate. Shen Peizhen and Tang Qunying slapped Song, who happened to be onstage at the time, hard in the face with their fans. The women denounced Song's and their party's actions before an audience of a thousand party members, dignitaries, reporters, and other spectators. Unable to restore order, Zhang Ji, a fellow veteran revolutionary and the convention chair, adjourned the meeting until the afternoon. Even with this respite, the war of words, and fans, continued. The day's business concluded with votes that confirmed the defeat of women's rights as a party principle and with a long oration by Sun Yat-sen announcing support for the change in policy that so angered Tang Qunying and her fellow suffragists. Sun also promised that one day women in China would have the right to vote.

Women played a surprisingly important role in the early stages of the revolution. Their profile was high partly because political women stood out as a striking and controversial manifestation of revolutionary politics. Press accounts of the period "were obsessed with the mere sight of women in public spaces and their personal styles and behavior." Women were carefully counted at such events ("40 to 50" out of 1,000 participants in the Nationalist convention according to one newspaper). The length of their hair and style of clothes was noted. Short hair (jianfa) signaled radicalism in Beijing just as it might in New York, Tokyo, or London. In the aftermath of the 1911 Revolution young women organized Women's Haircutting Societies (Funü jianfa hui) to the consternation of government officials like Republican governor of Hunan, Liu Renxi, who was so affronted by this "weird thing, neither Chinese nor Western, neither male nor female," that he ordered one young woman in Changsha who founded such a society to grow her hair back.

The demand by women for full political rights and personal freedoms met resistance both from those who believed giving the vote to women was going too far and from those, like Sun Yat-sen, who were planning for a revolution long enough to eventually accommodate ever more radical ends. Women finally were able to vote at the national level and serve in the national legislature only in 1947. By that time a Chinese citizen's ballot had ceased to have much value. For Nationalist Party members, constitutional democracy and meaningful voting for men and women arrived only in 1996, an octogenarian life span later, with the election of the Nationalist leader Lee Teng-hui as president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, forty-seven years after the defeated Nationalists were driven from the mainland by the Communists. In 1912 radical ideas like democracy, social justice, and China becoming a great power loomed large against a horizon for their realization that receded as revolutionaries moved toward it. Being a revolutionary meant carrying on in the face of work that might not be finished in your lifetime.

A Liquid Age

What happened in Beijing on August 25, 1912, marked one of many revolutionary beginnings and also the culmination of a complex set of inherited pressures and influences. The past in different forms and guises was very much present among Chinese bent on change. Just as 1912 was still the Renzi year to most Chinese with water element associations that portended turbulence, so the disastrous Second Opium War was Gengshen 1860-61, the calamitous Sino-French War Jiashen 1884-85, the humiliating Sino-Japanese War Jiawu 1894-95, and the bloody and disorienting Boxer Uprising Gengzi 1900-1901. As Luke Kwong notes, "Almost inexplicably, events in recent memory had begun to stack up or accumulate, gathering a forward thrust toward the future." The past was an enemy for some except by way of negative example and an ally for others who were convinced that only culturally Chinese solutions would work to solve the country's crises. Yang Changji condemned certain traditions he found oppressive and held on to Confucian commitments to a politics of virtue. In effect, Yang proposed a coalition of past and present of a kind that made sense to many reformers and revolutionaries alike. Even so, "a new emphasis on the present moment" gained over the past as authority and mandate. As Kwong suggests, the future also became ever more vivid and compelling as a new awareness of "linear time" opened up wider possibilities for reform leading to progress. The mirroring and distorting effects of these temporal fields made for uncertain boundaries between past, present, and future. The past might stretch back thousands of years. Present time depended to a degree on which calendar one consulted. The future materialized out of elements of the past and present assembled as a projection of what one found good and bad about them both.

Admittedly, the 1911 Revolution, together with the founding of the Chinese Republic in winter 1911-12, was one of those turning points in history that quickly seemed to many no real departure at all. A few months of violent conflict and the defection of key Qing officials to the revolutionary side put an end to a two-thousand-year-old imperial tradition. This ending was widely acknowledged to be a great and unprecedented act. The Republic that followed failed to match this grand collapse with a convincing entrance of its own. In his influential fictional account of the 1911 Revolution, Lu Xun has his hapless hero Ah Q complain, "This whole revolution business was a big disappointment.... [T]here ought to be more to it than this."

About the same time in the 1930s that Tang Qunying was having her morose thoughts about what happened to the revolution, the writer Lin Yutang concluded that 1911 had succeeded only as a "racial revolution" against the Manchus. The upheaval "blew an empire into powder," leaving only "some ruins and debris and choking dust behind." Hu Shi left China in 1910 for the United States and returned in 1917 with a B.A. from Cornell and a Ph.D. from Columbia. His reaction upon returning to China so changed himself was very different from that of Yang Changji. Hu had "left an imperial China and returned to a republican one"; but when he disembarked in Shanghai "he found to his dismay that his motherland was almost exactly the same as he had left it in 1910." As the scholar and political reformer Liang Qichao summed up in one of the lively metaphors he was known for: "It [the 1911 Revolution] was like when you open a bottle of cold beer-the foam quickly bubbles up to the surface and appears awfully busy. But when the moment is over and the foam dissipates, it is still a cold bottle of beer."

In fact, the political energy Liang feared would evaporate survived by dispersing and pooling in the provinces or by finding a place in party politics, social life, and the state itself. The returns from abroad of individuals like Yang Changji, Hu Shi, Lin Yutang, Sun Yat-sen, and Liang Qichao, no matter what their mood or degree of excitement or skepticism, contributed to this energy. So did the charged atmosphere they came home to. Upon returning to China in 1912 after fourteen years of exile to the public acclaim he expected and deserved, Liang Qichao confessed privately that being a public figure was more taxing than he had bargained for: "The misery of socializing is absolutely beyond words. If one has to live such a life constantly, I wonder where the pleasures of life could be.... People here in the capital welcome me as if they were crazy. Every day I have to go to some three different gatherings." Liang had long called for such politically excited social interaction as a pathway to citizenship. He attributed the failures of 1911 to the inability of the revolutionaries to forge strong enough ties with the people as citizens. However, even he had not fully anticipated the public demands of being Liang Qichao in Republican China.

The Republic was failing in ways that made going back through the rubble impossible and going forward through dust and confusion a matter of continuous discussion and pressure. Political failure at the center paradoxically succeeded in widening and deepening a public life that stretched from the political elite to millions of citizens. The Chinese Republic, as a "series of inspirations, improvised upon a complete but tremendously vital confusion of ideas," resisted coherent ordering. Some kind of Republic was here to stay even if what it meant to be a republican remained a work in progress, a kind of sprawling political bricolage, or "making do."

Winston Churchill, Liang Qichao's contemporary and equal in the use of vivid political language, offered in writings on European and his own family history a metaphor that extends Liang's fluid and foam conceit in a helpful direction. Like many Chinese, Churchill thought and spoke of the past and present in coalitional terms. As a conservative, he was less enamored of a future that promised radical change. Churchill contrasted the position of his ambitious and capable ancestor Marlborough with that of Napoleon a century later as a difference between Marlborough being "only a servant in a liquid age, instead of a sovereign in a molten one." "Napoleon could order, but Marlborough could never do more than persuade or cajole." The two decades and more that surround 1912 in China were in this sense liquid rather than molten but trending toward a warmer brand of politics congenial to Napoleonic or Maoist ambitions and nation building, or what Sun Yat-sen called "construction" or "reconstruction" (jianshe). For the moment, as Liang Qichao put it in elegant, naturalistic terms, "The form of historical movement is like an excited body of water, in which the initial ripple is always followed by innumerable others."

The 1911 Revolution in China and its aftermath stimulated the reflections of scholars and writers and also produced popular summations like one simply picturing "the emperor overthrown and the queues cut." The peaceful abdication in Beijing of Puyi brought the Qing dynasty to an end. The cutting of men's queues all over China, some by choice and some at the point of a gun or the edge of a sword, symbolically severed the bond of loyalty between the Manchu Son of Heaven and his male subjects and their families. Some men escaped the scissors and kept their queues for years to come. Citizens not only cut their hair but also stopped kowtowing to political authority. Conveniently, and unlike the queue, kowtowing was a socially detachable practice that one could reject in public and maintain at home or in other nonpolitical settings like weddings or funerals.

Despite delays in bringing customs up-to-date and the ability to compartmentalize some changes, 1911-12 represented the end of an era in a deep and hard to plumb sense. Ancient institutions and time-honored customs began to disappear. A new political world opened up, though its dimensions and nature were less than clear as the weeks, months, and years passed. As Mary Rankin has observed, the revolution "gave old frameworks and integrative systems a sharp jolt from which they did not recover." This was the intention of Sun Yat-sen, who supported replacing the monarchy with a republic precisely because he believed Chinese needed a "psychological jolt" in order to join the modern world.

The founding of the Chinese Republic in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, the thirteenth day of the eleventh month by the old calendar and less than three months after the October 10, 1911, troop mutiny in Wuchang that triggered the revolution, was meant to signal a decisive political transformation. The place and the date of the founding were no accidents. A capital in Nanjing would break with the Qing use of Beijing as imperial center and align the launch of the Republic with the Ming founding of the last ethnically Han Chinese dynasty at Nanjing in 1368 (in 1421 the third Ming emperor moved the capital north to Beijing). To underline its hope for a new era, the revolutionary government in Nanjing also adopted the Western calendar on the last day of December 1911 and set the first year of the Republic to begin on the first day of January, designated now as China's new New Year's Day and the year 4,609 since the reign of the Yellow Emperor. Thus 1912 would be the "First Year of the Republic" (Minguo yuan), 1913 Year Two, and so on. The people and their Republic would now reign and number the years as emperors had done within each dynasty.

Of all the bold proposals broached in 1912, deciding a new date and meaning for "Chinese New Year" just as Chinese families began to make traditional end of the lunar year preparations was among the most ambitious and overreaching. In their haste to be seen as victorious, the revolutionaries in Nanjing also declared China a republic before the Qing court accepted final defeat. As a result China for nearly a month and a half had both an emperor and a president, a state of dual sovereignty indicative of confusion that reigned more securely than any single ruler or chief executive.

Most Chinese did not even know the year in question was "1912." World travelers like Liang Qichao of course did. Liang began using the Western dating system during a voyage to Hawaii in 1899 in a conscious embrace of cosmopolitanism. The revolutionary Zhang Binglin knew it was 1912 too but adamantly opposed adopting the new calendar as part of his fierce defense of Chinese traditions. Any republic Zhang would support had to run on Chinese time. According to the old calendar, the first weeks of the Republic still lay within the third year of Emperor Puyi's Xuantong reign, the Xinhai year by heavenly stem and earthly branch. Accordingly, the more accurate, inclusive name for the "1911 Revolution" is the Chinese one: Xinhai Revolution (Xinhai geming). Xinhai was supposed to be the year of triumph that Gengshen, Jiashen, Jiawu, and Gengzi had not been.

Not surprisingly, New Year's Day in the first year of the Republic for all but the most observant republicans still took place on regular schedule and according to the traditional dating system on February 18, 1912. The inertial force of Chinese time made itself felt. A week after announcement of the switch in calendars, Nanjing notified government agencies that merchants would be allowed to keep to the old calendar until the end of the Xinhai year. Commerce and manufacturing, planting and harvesting, the settling of debts, and selecting auspicious days for travel, business deals, and household activities all relied on the lunar calendar and almanacs. Faced with new political pressures and enthusiasms on the one hand and custom and convenience on the other, many people did the practical thing and celebrated both holidays. Changsha held New Year festivities on January 1, 1912, with a military parade accompanied by waving of the five-color striped flag of the Republic that signified China's multiethnic identity (red for Han, yellow for Manchu, blue for Mongol, white for Tibetan, and black for Muslim), trumpet blowing, and mass singing by troops. However, the ceremonies in Changsha were inspired more by Sun Yat-sen's inauguration as president in Nanjing and news of battlefield victories than dedication to the new calendar. In his diary of his first year living in Beijing beginning in May 1912, Lu Xun recorded being among the celebrants on October 10, 1912, the first anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising, joining crowds on the grounds of the Altar of Agriculture on January 1, 1913, in honor of Republic Commemoration Day, taking a stroll on "Old Calendar New Year's Day" on February 6, and noting the passage of Unity Commemoration Day on February 12, established by Yuan Shikai to mark the anniversary of Puyi's abdication and the Qing dynasty's demise.

Chinese would keep two kinds of time: the lunar calendar of festivals and agricultural rhythms and the Western calendar of the global, common era. For the remainder of the 1910s Lu Xun occasionally neglected to note the arrival of October's Double Ten Day and usually ignored mention of the January 1 and February 12 holidays except as days off from his work as a Ministry of Education employee. He never failed to note the arrival of the lunar New Year. Two decades later the Nationalists would still be trying, with mixed success, to supersede what the government hopefully termed the "abolished calendar."

The options one now had for thinking and speaking about time had lasting political implications. In his memoir the Communist revolutionary Zhang Guotao recalled the upset he caused among striking workers he was trying to help at a cigarette factory in Shanghai a decade after the revolution when he casually referred to the year as "1921" rather than "Year Ten of the Republic."

They had concluded that I would surely have used the Republican dating system if Sun Yat-sen had sent me. I was clearly not Sun Yat-sen's man, and I came from Peking. Who in Peking could possibly be interested in the workers unless it was the Manchu dynasty, which would no doubt like to utilize the workers to overthrow the "Republ