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Revolutions: China 1912-1949: Revolution in Context

VCE History

Clickview video: The Story of China, Episode 6: The Age of Revolutions

Between 1850 and 1950, three cataclysmic revolutions shook China to the core, but out of them, today's China emerged.

Revolutions are understood to be instances of fundamental socio-political transformation. Since “the age of revolutions” in the late 18th century, political philosophers and theorists have developed approaches aimed at defining what forms of change can count as revolutionary as well as determining if and under what conditions such change can be justified by a right or wrong argument.

Most revolutions include three components:

1. The collapse of the established system (through financial bankruptcy, defeat in war, loss of public confidence, ineffectiveness in governing);

2. A struggle for control of the state (by former rulers, new radicals, alternative groups using electoral machinery, military warfare, alignment with foreign nations); and

3. The establishment of new institutions of government, political parties, laws, ownership of property, education, and customs.

The political theories of revolution attempt to explain the causes and effects of revolutions; whether revolutionary activity is good or evil; and if revolutions are necessary and inevitable. The three dominant traditions of thought on revolution are the Democratic, Communist, and Anarchist traditionThe differing approaches to revolution in the works of theorists from these traditions are connected by six central questions. The questions of novelty, violence, freedom, the revolutionary subject, the revolutionary object or target, and the extension of revolution constantly appear in the debates determining (a) if and under what conditions political change can be considered as revolutionary, and (b) if and under what conditions such revolutionary change can be considered as legitimate. 

From Goldstone, J. A., [ed.], Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Studies, San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, 1986.

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