Zou Rong

  • 26th February 2016
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Zou Rong
Translated from the Chinese by Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien

Zou Rong (1885-1905), originally called Gui Wen(桂文), used the additional names Wei Dan(威丹), Wei Dan(慰丹), 安定Shao Tao绍陶. While in Japan as an exchange student, he took the name “Zou Rong.” He was from Sichuan’s Ba Country 巴县, which is now known as the city of Chongqing. His ancestral home was Hubei’s Macheng County. His father, Zou Zifan, was a successful businessman, and Zou Rong was raised in an affluent family environment, attending private school during childhood.

In 1895, China’s naval defeat in the Sino-Japanese war shook the whole nation. This defeat in the late Qing period made Chinese people aware that they needed to learn Japanese. From that moment on, it became trendy for young students to study in Japan. They aimed not only to learn Japanese culture but to learn the content of what Japanese people had learned from the West. They also wanted to further gain specialized knowledge of western methods of doing things. They hoped such knowledge would save their troubled country. Using such logic, Zou Rong persuaded his family members to leave Chongqing in 1901. He first went to the School for Translators (est. by Li Hongzhang, called Guangfanyanguang 广方言管) to receive tuition in Japanese. Between September 1902 October in 1902 arrived in Japan, the Tokyo Shentian (Shoin) district writing academy.

Shortly after Zou Rong arrived in Japan he changed his name “Gui Wen” to “Zou Rong,” which alludes to the “face of change,” or “a reborn spirit.” In Japan, Zou Rong threw himself into studying how China might implement reform. In addition to the study of geography, history, medicine and other fields of study, he read Western bourgeois revolutionary theory and history, including Carlyle’s French Revolutionary History, Mill’s On Liberty, Rousseau’s Social Contract, Montesquieu’s “Methodology to Defining Truth” and American war history.

Zou Rong appreciated Montesquieu’s “Discourse on Limited Government” and Rousseau’s “Sovereignty for the People,” and he took excerpts from these works and compared and contrasted them with China’s situation in order to stimulate further thought about the Chinese situation, and this became the theoretical basis for his future work, “Revolutionary Army.” Zourong was determined to become “the second Rousseau,” he strongly felt that most of his countrymen had not yet arrived (to their full potential), he hoped that publicizing revolutionary propaganda would awaken people, he said that if “writing can bring daybreak, a global revolution” would be inevitable.” This later became his work, “The Army of Revolution.”

In the Kanda district, Tokyo city, Suruga province, Suzuki city, (Tokyo Shoin) eighteen foreign-born Chinese students would hold meetings and many who were studying in Japan occupied high positions; they joined together to talk freely about politics. Zou Rong often came here to exchange ideas with other students studying in Japan, and so this is where he met Feng Ziyou, Zhang Ji, Liu Chengyu, Chen Duxiu, Jiang Baili, Liu San, etc. Together they shared ideas and moved forward with them. According to the traditional farmer’s lunar calendar January 29, 1903 was the Chinese New Year. On that day, the International House a held reunion for overseas students and their families attended by thousands of people (mainly students). Minister Cai Qing Jun and Wang Daxie, as well as student supervisors and other officials, attended the meeting. At the conference, Zou Rong took the podium and chronicled the evil history of Qing rule, appealing to the crowd to end the Manchu autocracy and restore Han Chinese sovereignty. These youthful, biting words of Zou Rong won the applause of his audience. However, for the Qing officials who were present, the situation was embarrassing and they viewed him as a thorn in their side.

By the end of March 1903, Zou Rong, Chen Duxiu, Zhang Ji and others together went to visit the Yao Wenfu, a Qing official who was supervising students from Hubei, and they saw he was pushing himself on a female student or civilian, thereby damaging the country’s reputation. So they broke into the house of Yao, and tried to cut off his head. Yao Wenfu asked for mercy, Zou Rong said: “We will have mercy on your head but not on your hair!” Zhang Ji held Yao Wenfu while Zou Rong held his head his head, Chen Duxiu waved the scissors, saying “the first generation of haircutting!” Later, they symbolically hung Yao’s braids on the beam of the international student union.

The incidence of “the cutting of the braid” was a historical moment that greatly influenced students. The Qing government minister Cai Jun issued a note to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and requested that they arrest Zou Rong. Zou Rong was convinced by his classmates in April 1903 to travel (in fact flee) to Shanghai. In his suitcase stood the unfinished manuscript of The Revolutionary Army.

After returning to Shanghai, Zou Rong joined the Shanghai patriotic society and became indissolubly bound to the Subao. In late 1902, the society was founded by Cai Yuanpei, Zhang Taiyan, Wu Zhihui; it absorbed the radical thoughts of many young students. At that time, the Shanghai Subao Museum and many patriotic students signed an agreement with the stipulation that every day the society’s teachers and students would alternate writing articles for a newspaper monthly that would generate funds for the society. At the same time, Zou Rong participated in the series of patriotic movements, one of the most well-known being the anti-Russia movement.

Zou Rong met Zhang Taiyan in the same radical ideological and patriotic society, two sworn brothers, Zou Rong referred to Zhang with the honorific “my brother.” Zou Rong gave The Revolutionary Army manuscript to Zhang Taiyan and asked for his opinion, and perhaps be enlightened by his insights. Zhang was so impressed that he wrote a preface to the book. In May 1903, The Revolutionary Army was published by Shanghai Datong Press and was signed by Zou Rong “From a Revolutionary Army Soldier.” The Revolutionary Army had great influence and became all the rage among students, being reprinted twenty times and eventually over a million copies were published.

The Revolutionary Army—seven chapters and twenty thousand words—mainly discusses the justice, necessity and urgency of the Chinese revolution. Zou Rong worried that foreign anti – Revolution efforts might have prevented Chinese population from being able to rise up and revolt. Thus in his book he argues for revolution, not reform. In the book he thunders for the dissolution of Qing dynasty autocracy, and after the establishment of a free and independent “Republic of China.” At the end of his work, Zou Rong shouts, “Long live the Republic of China!” “Long live the thousands of free compatriots of the Republic of China!”

Before this, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao were the representative influences in all the Chinese intellectual circles, but in 1903, with the vigorous development of political works and movements on the domestic and international level, including Zou Rong’s The Revolutionary Army, the direction of of social thought in China underwent fundamental changes.

In 1903, Shanghai’s Subao published Zhang Shizhao’s “Reading The Revolutionary Army” and Zhang Taiyan’s “Preface to The Revolutionary Army”, “Against Kang You Wei’s revolutionary treatise” etc., and these works which fiercely expressed forceful contradictions of current public opinions provoked the Qing government. The Shanghai Subao Museum and patriotic society were associations in the public sphere, so the Qing government were not finding it easy to engage the authorities to arrest these men. The Qing tried sting operations but these were ineffective, so they had to turn to the Shanghai public Concession Municipal Council to negotiate. After several rounds of negotiations, the authorities agreed to arrest Zhang Taiyan etc, and also to confiscate and close down the newspaper, but the in order to suppress the Subao activities, at minimum they needed to follow the procedure of legally trying their arrest victims.

After Zhang Taiyan was arrested and held at the police station, Zou Rong and his compatriots surrendered themselves to the police. At the beginning July in 1903, the barely 18-year-old Zou Rong came to the concession from the newspaper and submitted his full name and a request that he be arrested and put into prison. The British police thought he was an elegant young man, who did not fit their image of The Revolutionary Army author who had shaken an entire nation. They dismissed him for a psychotic fanatic and ordered him to go away. Zou Rong sternly and righteously made it clear that he should be imprisoned.

After Zou Rong entered prison, Qing government and foreign officials held a joint trial to decide his fate, the two sides debated about extradition, the parties could not converge on a verdict and maintained extremely different opinions, and layers of contradictions. The Qing government strived to extradite Zou Rong and Zhang Taiyan, but the Qing government (at this juncture) did not have jurisdiction over the Shanghai concessions and moreover, in the the middle of the trial “the case of Shen Jin” erupted and its wake, the Qing extradition attempt completely fizzled. Shen Jin was one of the leaders of the 1900 “Qin Wang movement.” After the defeat of the movement in Beijing, he was arrested and, in1903, Empress Dowager Cixi sentenced him to be flogged, and thus Shen Jin was brutally beaten to death upon her order. The incident caused outrage among the people. The tragic death of Shen Jin, especially the frightful means of punishment, prompted the court to unanimously reject the punishment of extradition for Zou Rong and his compatriots.

In December 1903, the government agencies involved jointly held a third hearing to decide the fate of Zou Rong and his compatriots. They transformed their approach of direct confrontation, persistently evading responsibility, denying their relationship with the printing and publishing of the books, and and also doing their utmost to argue for their own innocence, adopting a flexible attitude and arguing in circles with the Qing government. In this trial, Zou Rong to avoid demonstrating a political edge in front of the Qing government, attempting to further explain his revolutionary ideas, advocating for the slogan “support socialism!,” and claiming “that his book’s ideas based on the fundamental principles of socialism.” After the trial the Qing court officials tried to force a sentence of life imprisonment, but the unilateral decisions of the Qing Dynasty were not attended to by the public concessions police, and in fact had little meaning to the entire process because the rights to implement judicial decisions rested with the authorities of the foreign concessions. Zou Rong, held in the municipal police station (i.e. later Shanghai Tilanqiao or “Hand-basket bridge” prison) and was thus outside Qing government control.

Until 1904, the Qing government continued to badger the authorities in power (the western authorities who had jurisdiction over the public concession) for a verdict. Finally they yielded, and Zou Rong was sentenced to “two years imprisonment, hard labor.” Zhang Taiyan was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. The Western powers were not necessarily sympathetic with Zou Rong, but their decision reflects their self- interest in safeguarding their autonomous system. Zou Rong’s death in prison bore out in full the hypocrisy of the Western authorities. In April 3, 1905, Zou Rong died in prison from severe maltreatment and hunger, only seventy days had lapsed from the time he had entered prison to the time of his release as a corpse.
While in prison, Zou Rong and Zhang Taiyan worked together to create the first batches of The Testament Poems, among them, the following two:

Why must the plentiful waves hammer the stone? (Zou),
A crowd of sweet children pile on top of each other in the Hunan river (Zhang).
How far from our tombs are we today? (Zhang),
First we carefully obtain a blank base of stone and place it on raw soil (Zou).

All our lives we guard against bandits and fly like the wind on ideals (Zou),
Nearing death the heart cannot find the sun (Zhang).
The power of a vow can give birth to brave revolutionary warriors (Zou),
We might not even regret mending the enclosure even after we’ve lost all the sheep (Zhang).

After the death of Zou Rong, the remains were disposed of and left at the foot of the outside prison wall, after because of Chinese and foreign daily news agencies the body was laid in a coffin. Not long after Zou Rong’s body was then moved temporarily to the Shanghai Sichuan cemetery hall. In 1906, Zou Rongming sworn brother, Liu San, returned home and took the risk of taking Zou Rong’s coffin to his own land to choose a site for his burial. Because of the Qing Dynasty brutal suppression’s of the revolution, the matter was not yet made public to outsiders. 1922, Liu San buried Zhou Rong and informed Zhang Taiyan. During his lifetime, Liu San personally safe-guarded Zou Rong’s tomb, after he passed away and the following five generations of his family abided with his wishes and still, even at this juncture, care for Zou Rong’s tomb. Liu San’s library has now been converted into the Shanghai Zou Rong Memorial Hall where the public to visit and revere.

Zou Rong’s Revolutionary Army had a broad and lasting impact. Sun Yat-sen reprinted The Revolutionary Army many times, sent it to America and to the patriots in Nanyang (the general term after the Qing for the Southern Chinese regions of Jiangsu, Zhejian, Fujian, Guangdong; but also sometimes referring to the Malay Peninsula and Southeast Asian, where Sun also spent time). After the success of the 1911 Revolution, Sun Yatsen served as provisional president of the Republic of China, and at highly praised Zou Rong’s meritorious service to the country as well as conferring on him posthumously the post of generalissimo, integrating tribute to revered ancestors with paying respects at this martyr’s shrine. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong also read Zou Rong’s The Revolutionary Army. In March of 1958, the CPC Central Committee held a meeting in Chengdu. At the meeting, Mao Zedong defied expectations by distributing to participants a book that he personally edited– The Case of the Subao Suppression that included Zou Rong’s The Revolutionary Army, Zhang Taiyan’s “Kang Youwei revolution,” and other articles.

(The main reference for this essay: Zhou Yong, Cai Fei: “Zou Rong and the Subao Case Report: A hundred years later after new historical data and new angles hundred years — Based on the investigation on the new materials and new perspective,” from Zhou Yong, editor-in-chief: “Zou Rong and Subao Historical Archives Collection.” Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 2013.
mpilation Historical Archives”, Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing Press, 2013.)

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