How an Accidental Explosion Brought Down the Chinese Empire


A Brief History

On October 9, 1911, an accidental bomb explosion in China lead to the ultimate fall of China’s last imperial dynasty.

Digging Deeper

By 1911, the Qing or Manchu dynasty had ruled over China for almost 300 years.  During that time period, China experienced numerous internationally embarrassing disasters from its defeat in the Opium Wars to the failed Boxer Rebellion.  1911 would see the proverbial straw that broke the imperial camel’s back.

An incident known as the Wuchang Uprising broke out on this day in 1911 by accident.  A revolutionary leader named Sun Wu was accidentally injured by a bomb’s explosion resulting in him being sent to a hospital.  While there, the hospital staff realized that he was indeed a revolutionary and so they alerted the imperial government.

With impending arrests and likely executions now coming their way, Wu’s followers prepared for a coup to overthrow the government.  An army mutiny on October 10, 1911 proved decisive.  The “New Army” responsible for the rebellion established a military government in Hubei, China on October 11, 1911.  Five thousand Chinese died in the provincial uprising, which soon erupted into a full on national Chinese Revolution.  This revolution took over 200,000 more Chinese lives and after thousands of years of China’s existence as an empire, the country’s government became a republic led most famously by Sun Yat-sen.  And it all began with the accidental explosion of a bomb just over 100 years ago today!


Historical Evidence

Concerning the broader Chinese Revolution, an essential film to see is The Last Emperor (1987).  We recommend the 218 minute director’s cut over the 160 minutes theatrical version.  The film won nine Academy Awards including best picture and as such is a well-made and cultural significant film in its own right.

As for more information about the events of October 9, 1911, unfortunately, most scholarly sources are in Chinese.  Even on the American version of, you will likely find books primarily in Chinese.  Thus, for English speakers, you will most likely need to read general histories of the Chinese Revolution to find additional details.  To that end, we recommend first checking Google Books with a search for “Wuchang Uprising“.

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

  • Mike

    Yeah, well, the government in China today is not a Republic. It calls itself a republic, as all communist dictatorships do, but is truly a dictatorship that killed about 70 million of its own people. The real republic is waiting to be destroyed on Taiwan. Do you folks know anything?

  • Brittany Branard

    Every time I read something about a change in government powers I am reminded that Americans have never experienced such a revolution once it was pronounced its own independent country. Sometimes I think it would be good if Americans took an opportunity like the Chinese did after the explosion and change many things for the better.

  • Steve Smith

    It’s really ironic how sometimes such small things can have such a large effect on history. It also shows how volatile the Chinese State was at that time to be overthrown so decisively. The people of the last Dynasty were fed up with the life they were living and wanted a change. The bombs were probably made for an uprising and though ironic it may have been the only way for the rebellion to succeed because the people fought with a higher urgency because they feared the work they put in was all for nothing and they would be imprisoned or worse

  • Sammi DiGeronimo

    Reading this really doesn’t surprise me. I just don’t understand how the smallest things can cause such a huge problem! I also don’t understand some of China’s policies. Especially the one child policy. I do not support it in any way. Although China has a very large population, I don’t think it is right to tell a family they can only have one child and they must get rid of the rest. These are humans that have the potential to possibly change the world one day, they aren’t just objects to throw away.

  • Nikos Nacopoulos

    It is always interesting to read how a small event can butterfly something away later on. One must wonder what alternate history would have arisen had the bomb not injured Wu.