Although many things divide them today, Communist and Nationalist Chinese agree in their admiration for Sun Yat-Sen, known as the father of modern China. He was born to a peasant family near Canton (Guangzhou) and educated in Hawaii, where he converted to Christianity. He returned to China and led an unsuccessful rebellion in Canton in 1894. A decade later he forged a union between several Chinese groups, called the Revolutionary Alliance Society. The alliance advocated freeing China from foreign control, overthrowing the Manchu dynasty, and providing for the people's welfare. Its programme was often summarized as nationalism, democracy, and socialism.
On October 10, 1911, Sun's followers rose in rebellion. (The event is now celebrated in China as Double Ten, for the tenth day of the tenth month.) Although Sun was in the United States when the rebellion began, when he returned to China he was chosen head of the provisional government. The Manchus agreed to give up power in return for the guarantee of their safety. In 1912 the Republic of China was proclaimed. Hope for genuine reform was dashed by its first president, Yuan Shikai, who tried unsuccessfully to establish a new dynasty. Power passed to warlords in the provinces for ten years, and China had no effective central government.
China joined the Allies in World War I, and at the Versailles peace conference the Chinese demanded an end to foreign spheres of influence in their country. Their request was denied, precipitating the May Fourth Movement, which grew out of a student uprising in China. The movement's leaders demanded modernization through educational reform and were attracted by the Russian Revolution, which appeared to be more successful than the homegrown version in bringing change. In 1920 the student leaders formed the Comintern (Communist International). A young man named Mao Zedong led one of the Communist groups. During the 1920s the Kuomintang, an organization formed out of Sun Yat-sen's alliance, was also active and included many Communist members.