Chinese Language Blog

History of the PRC – Part Three Posted by on Oct 21, 2010 in Culture, Uncategorized

In case you’re just joining us, here are the links to the first two parts of our history about the People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949:

Part One

Part Two

After the failed reign of the self-proclaimed Emperor Yuan Shikai and his subsequent death in 1916, China was basically in complete disarray.  The policies and changes enacted by Yuan combined with the National Protection War and the resulting rebellions by many provinces had caused mass division across the country.

Li Yuanhong became the President upon Yuan’s death, and Duan Qirui (段祺瑞) became the Premier.  Immediately, the Provisional Constitution was restored, and it seemed to be smooth sailing for this new era of China.  The ship of Chinese government would soon hit rough waters, however, with Li and Duan disagreeing on China’s position in World War I.  Duan was interested in joining the Allies in hopes of securing loans from Japan, but Li had other ideas.  In May of 1917, Li gave Duan the boot and removed him from his position.

In an effort to establish somewhat of a Secret Service for his government, Li hired seasoned Beiyang (北洋政府) general Zhang Xun (张勋) to offer protection.  Apparently, Li’s people did not vet Zhang enough, because the former general promptly got to work pushing through his own agenda.  Using funds secured from Germany – who was aiming to keep China netural in WWI – Zhang attempted to reestablish the Qing Dynasty.  This backstabbing, sneaky move proves that Zhang would do quite well as a modern-day US politician.  He reinstated Puyi (溥仪) to the position of Emperor in July 1917 and insisted that Li step down from his position.  Not surprisingly, Li refused to give up his power.

Perhaps fearing for his safety, Li escaped to the Japanese legation, where he would reinstate Duan to his former position, ordering him to protect the republic from the guy who he had previously hired to protect the republic (Chinese history sure can be confusing, can’t it?)  Duan and his forces promptly marched on Beijing, even dropping a bomb on the Forbidden City in what is regarded as the first aerial bombardment ever in East Asia.  After just 12 days on the throne, Puyi was expelled.

A trailer from the 1987 film about Puyi titled, “The Last Emperor.”

More on Puyi – a fascinating character in China’s long history.

After the very short-lived Qing Dynasty 2.0, Li resigned as President, handing the job over to Feng Guozhang (冯国璋).  With this move, two very

powerful factions emerged – the Anhui Clique (皖系军阀 – Wǎn xì jūn fá) led by Duan, and the Zhili Clique (直(隶)系军阀 – Zhí (lì) xì jūn fá) led by Feng.  Due to his toppling of the revived Qing Dynasty, Duan was seen as a hero.  At this hectic time in China’s history, this gave him a lot of power.  He even went ahead and declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on August 13, 1917.  He then tried to mobilize troops in China to conquer the south.  In his attempts to essentially control China, Duan secured financing from Japan in what would come to be known as the Nishihara Loans.  These loans basically gave Japan control of former German territory in Shandong province along with stakes in railway ventures, in exchange for money that Duan insisted would be used to send men to Europe to fight in the war.   Of course, this was not the case at all.  What Duan really wanted to do was raise money to assist his group in taking over the south.  However, the rival Zhili Clique were more interested in negotiating than fighting (“We’re lovers, not fighters”).  This basically made Duan lose a ton of face (丢面子 – diū miàn zi), which is just about the worst thing that can happen to a man in China.

Down south, an old familiar face reappeared – Sun Yat-sen.  In 1917, he established a military government in Guangzhou in order to protect the Provisional Constitution, in what is known as the Constitutional Protection Movement (护法运动 – Hù fǎ yùn dòng).  Despite his claims that this was about the Constitution, this was, in fact, a military government, and Sun became the Generalissimo (大元帅 – Dà yuán shuài).  His Constitutional Protection Army would go on to defeat Duan and his army in November 1917.  As a result, Duan would resign from his position as Prime Minister.  At this point, the north and south were in a temporary armistice, but not for long…

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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