Also known as the Yellow Flower Mound Revolt, the uprising was led primarily by Huang Xing and hardened revolutionaries like folk hero Sun Yat-sen against the failing Qing Dynasty. This rebellion, like the one before it in 1895, was a disaster. Failure was blamed on the undeniable superiority in manpower and war material that the Qing could field against the meager revolutionary forces.
In the beginning stages, rebel leaders met in Peninsular Malaysia, where modern day Singapore is located, as it then had the largest population of Chinese people outside of China. Many of these overseas Chinese were rich and greatly aided the revolutionaries abroad. Sun Yat-sen and other leaders of the Tongmenghui, known in English as the Chinese United Alliance among other names, gathered at the 1910 Penang conference to develop plans for a new campaign.
Their first engagement was scheduled for April 13, 1911 but had to be delayed until April 27th. The operation went according to plan and surpassed expectations. Huang Xing, the commander of revolutionary forces in the field, led nearly one hundred soldiers and forced their way into the home of the viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and captured him. While they enjoyed many successes early on, the might of the immense Qing military was soon directed at the rebels who then faced a catastrophic defeat.
Most of the revolutionaries were killed and only a few managed to escape. Huang Xing lost part of his hand in battle and only 86 bodies were recovered with only 72 able to be identified. The other soldiers were never found and no one knows what became of them. The dead were mostly youth and came from all walks of life. Some were teachers, some were students, some were journalists. But all were united in their cause.
It was widely accepted among the alliance that the battle would be lost and yet the rebels chose to stay and fight. Because of this, many wrote letters to their loved ones and these letters are now considered to be Chinese literary masterpieces. The dead are remembered in Huanghuagang Park where their bodies have been interred in the Tomb of the 72 Martyrs.
This isn’t the last time that the ancient city of Guangzhou became host to anti-government activity, as we’ll see in the next post.