Chinese Language Blog

Foundations of the PRC – Part Two Posted by on Oct 11, 2010 in Culture

With the failure of the Second Revolution in 1913, Sun Yat-sen and other notable KMT rebels fled to Japan.  Yuan Shikai was able to intimidate the parliament into electing him as President of the Republic of China that fall, and shortly thereafter, he began amending the rules of the land in preparation for his ascendency to the position of Emperor (皇帝 – Huáng dì).  First, he increased his presidential powers.  Later, he upped the term of the President to ten years (with no limit, of course).  He also reorganized provincial governments, so that each was led by Military Governors (都督 – dū dū).

Over in Japan, however, Sun Yat-sen was working to get the wheels of revolution back in motion.  As such, he established the Chinese Revolutionary Party (中华革命党 – Zhōng huá gé mìng dǎng).  Unfortunately for Sun, the new rules for his party – especially the oath of loyalty to him that other members were required to take – turned a lot of the older members away.  Although Sun did not have the support he had hoped for, he wasn’t the only one looking to take down Yuan.  The Progressive Party, many of the provincial governors, and even many of Yuan’s very own Beiyang generals were none too pleased with his actions.

Here is an interesting short video that talks about some of the history covered in the first two “Foundations of the PRC” posts.

Speaking of Japan (日本 – Rì běn), the Prime Minister of the Land of the Rising Sun (Ōkuma Shigenobu) saw the unrest going on in China as an opportunity to expand Japan’s position there.  In January 1915, Japan presented China with a list of Twenty One Demands (二十一个条项 – Èr shí yīgè tiáo xiàng), most of which were meant to install Japanese economic controls in railway and mining operations around China, and also pressed to have Yuan Shikai appoint Japanese advisors in key positions in the Chinese government.  This last part had many people outraged, causing Japan to remove some of the demands.  A revised list of Thirteen Demands was presented to Yuan with a prompt deadline.  As Yuan was competing with other warlords for control over China, he could not risk war with Japan, so he accepted appeasement and the treaty was signed on May 25, 1915.  Although this move brought upon plenty of criticism, Yuan powered on in his quest.

Regardless of his lack of popularity, Yuan went ahead and had himself elected Emperor in December 1915.  On December 12, Yuan declared the start of the Empire of China (中华帝国 – Zhōng huá dì guó), thus making him the Great Emperor of China (中华帝国大皇帝 – Zhōng huá dì guó dà huáng dì).  For what would surely be an illustrious reign, he chose the name Hongxian (洪宪 – Hóng xiàn, lit. Constitutional Abundance).

The new official anthem for the country was “China Stands Heroically at the Center of the Universe” (中华雄立宇宙间 – Zhōng huá xióng lì yǔ zhòu jiān), and it went a little something like this…

Chinese lyrics English translation
China heroically stands in the Universe,
Extends to the Eight Corners,
The glorious descendants from Kunlun Peak.
The rivers turn greatly, the mountains continuous.
Five nationalities open up the era of Yao,
For millions of myriads of years.

Shortly after Yuan’s innauguration, the former governor of Yunnan (云南 – Yún nán), Cai E (蔡锷) – along with some others who shared his dislike for the self-appointed Emperor – formed the National Protection Army (护国军 – Hù guó jūn), declaring Yunann indepedent of Yuan’s rule on Christmas Day 1915.  Thus began the National Protection War (护国战争 – Hù guó zhàn zhēng), which resulted in many other provinces declaring their independence.

In Beiyang, Yuan’s generals were not exactly putting up a tough fight against the rebellion, and who could blame them – they hadn’t yet received one single paycheck from the new imperial government.  With Yuan’s massive unpopularity and obvious weakness as a ruler, foreign support began to dwindle.  Not ready to give up just yet, Yuan continued to delay the accession rite in an attempt to appease his foes.  Sadly, for Yuan, the pressure eventually proved to be too much.  On March 16, 1916, Yuan abandoned the monarchy, stepping down as the first (and last) Emperor of his “dynasty.”  His illustrious reign lasted all of 83 days.  Humiliated and defeated, Yuan died on June 5.

After Yuan’s death, Vice President Li Yuanghong (黎元洪) took over and quickly restored the National Assembly and the provincial Constitution.  The damage to the central government had been done, though, and the end of Yuan’s brief rule and the unrest it caused would send China down a dark road of warlordism for many years to come.

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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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