One of my least favorite questions: “What year did the Qing Dynasty end?”
Why do I dislike such a simple question? Because most people say 1911 and then refuse to listen to reason when I try to explain at length and high volume why they are so very wrong. In fact, it was just such a situation a few years back that got me bounced from the Nanluoguxiang bar 12 Square Meters.
As a rule I’m not a regular at pub quizzes, but one evening I decided to try one out and see what all the fuss was about. Rather than a team competition, at this quiz each person was responsible for their own answers. I liked this format because it appealed to my sense of self-reliance and also because, as my kindergarten teacher once told me, I lack the social skills necessary to play well with other children.
In the last round the quiz master asked THE question: “In what year did the Qing Dynasty end?”
Now I’m more than accepting of the charge that I can take any simple question and spin a complicated and nearly incoherent answer…it’s really the basic MO of most history teachers.
If a student had asked me this question, I would have started on a riff about how the Wuchang Uprising of October 10, 1911 led to a mass secession of provinces, some tense negotiations between the central government and the provincial assemblies, and then the return of Sun Yat-sen. When Sun took over the presidency on January 1, 1912, it created the untenable situation of having both a president and an emperor, a state of affairs that was ultimately resolved by Sun stepping down in favor of Yuan Shikai and the court abdicating in the name of the Xuantong Emperor (Puyi). The final abdication edict was presented to Yuan Shikai on February 12, 1912.*
Basically the answer is 1912 and that’s what I wrote.
The rogue Sinologist Brendan O’Kane, who was sitting across from me at the small table, looked up at and said with his usual sagacity:
“Don’t answer it the right way, answer it the way most people would answer it.”
“Yeah, but that answer is wrong.”
“Do you want to win or do you want to be right?”
Choosing not to be baited into unnecessary self-reflection, I instead asked the quizmaster for a clarification: “Do you mean the uprising that set the end of the Qing in motion or do you mean the actual date of abdication?”
The quiz master replied, “The one Wikipedia has.”
NOT the answer you want to give to a history teacher.
So, what do I do? I of course write “1912.” The ‘correct’ answer according to the quiz master?: “1911.”
Let me state for the record that I was right, the quiz was wrong, and I don’t think I protested THAT loudly, but I still got kicked out anyway.
I guess it is true what they say: A historian must stand by his convictions even when he’s denied a seat at the bar.
*The actual document, date and all, is on display in the National Museum of China.