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have grown up which are beyond the capacities of the family,
the guild, or the unorganized gentry to regulate. Changes
have come ; and more are bound to come, even in a country
reluctant to give up its old tradition. New government
machinery has to be created and the old improved and
reorganized. The existing system of self-government may
be a good nucleus of a new system more elaborate and more
scientific, and China's statesmen should realize that, when-
ever possible, new structures should be built on old, tried

Political Situation since 191 1

§ I. The Revolution

Poverty and distress produced by increase of taxation and
unemployment are said to be responsible for the Revolution,
but the Revolution of China, unlike that of Russia or France,
is no campaign against the bourgeois or propertied class.
True it is that poverty is always productive of disturbance,
but the Revolution, unlike other disturbances in China, is
not initiated by the bulk of the peaceful, industrious, and
yet poverty-stricken Chinese. It is initiated and organized
by politicians, directed against a political regime in order
to achieve certain political ends. It is therefore political
reasons that explain the outbreak of the Revolution ; and the
poverty, ready to create riots, is only a subsidiary cause
which facilitates, but does not promote, an upheaval so
momentous and so far-reaching in its consequences as the
destruction of a political system four thousand years old
and the establishment of a regime not only novel to the
Chinese but also to many other races.

The political reasons are twofold, the internal and the
external. The internal reason is the Manchu misrule, and
it will be recalled that revolt against a bad government has
been frequent in Chinese history.^ To expose the misrule
of the Manchus, one need only recall that after Ch'ien
Lung (1736-96) successive Emperors were all mediocrities ;
^ See chapter i, p. 4, supra.

The Revolution 13

that the Taiping rebellion, which set ten provinces in ruin
and killed twenty million people, was only pacified after ten
years' struggle and with the assistance of foreign military
experts ; and that the Boxer rebellion, which led to the
occupation of Peking by foreign troops and inflicted insup-
portable humiliation on the Chinese, was first tolerated and
then encouraged by the Manchu Princes. Added to a con-
sciousness of the Manchu misrule, the racial hatred of the
Chinese against a foreign dynasty was another cause of

The external reason is that the Manchu Government had
shown its utter incompetence in dealing with foreign powers,
ever since the opening of the country to foreign trade. The
reverses in war, the loss of territory, the grant of concessions
which threatened the independence of China — all reacted
on the thinking Chinese and brought censure on the Manchu
Government. The rise of Japan as a Great Power and her
victory over the Russians made the Chinese realize that,
provided they organized themselves on modern lines so as
to be able to resist foreign pressure, they could not only
survive as an independent nation, but also raise themselves
to the rank of a great modern state. The demand for
internal reforms was thus insistent, and a dissatisfaction with
the answer of the Government to their demands caused
them to resort to violence for the achievement of their aims.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen was the first man to organize revolu-
tionary societies with the object of overthrowing the Manchu
dynasty and establishing a Republic. He had attempted
several times in vain to capture Canton, and, as an exile in
foreign countries, he had secured many converts and sup-
porters for his revolutionary schemes. In the Chinese com-
munities in America and Japan his influence had been strong,

14 Political Situation since 191 1

and politicians in these two countries who became prominent
in the Revolution were mostly his disciples.

On October 9, 1911, a plot to assassinate the Viceroy was
discovered in Wuchang, in the province of Hupeh ; and
the execution of the would-be assassins made their fellow
conspirators desperate and hastened the outbreak. Within
a few hours after the execution, the city fell, the Viceroy
fled, and the greater part of the provincial army mutinied.
On the receipt of this alarming report, the Imperial Govern-
ment dispatched General Yin Ch'ang, then Minister of War,
with a few divisions of the northern army, amounting to
30,000 men, to reinforce the provincial troops who remained
loyal. But before the general reached the scene, several
cities in the same province, besides the Hanyang Arsenal,
fell into the hands of the insurgents ; and other provinces
also joined the revolutionary chorus by proclaiming them-
selves independent of the Imperial Government.

The Prince Regent, confronted with this difficult situa-
tion, found himself unequal to the task. He began to grant
liberal concessions to the nominative National Council then
in session, and proclaimed a constitution, which reduced
the Emperor to a figure-head and vested governmental
power in a legislature to be elected. He recalled Yiian
Shih-k'ai, whom he had dismissed from the post of Minister
for Foreign Affairs in the preceding year, and appointed
him Prime Minister. Finally, he retired from the regency
in order to enable the responsible Cabinet to exercise its
full authority. Yiian Shih-k'ai was the creator of the
Chinese new army and commanded respect from officers
and troops. He had held viceregal posts in more than one
province, and had long enjoyed the confidence of his sub-
ordinates. It was therefore thought that the troops whose

The Revolution 15

loyalty to the throne was doubted, would at any rate remain
loyal to their originator, and that provincial authorities
infected with revolutionary ideas would be deterred from
deserting the Imperial Government by their affection for
the Prime Minister.

By the time that Yiian Shih-k'ai came to Peking from
his home in Honan, the Revolution had assumed a much
more serious outlook. It had already reached thirteen pro-
vinces, and the area affected was nearly half the extent of
the Empire. South of the Yangtze River, the revolutionary
fever spread like wildfire and infected district after district.
The Republican flag, together with a banner bearing the
characters ' To drive out Manchus ', was hoisted on many
buildings, and newspaper offices in Shanghai and in many
other towns were besieged day and night by huge crowds
for news announcing the success of the revolutionary arms
and the adherence of this or that province to the revolu-
tionary cause.

The Revolutionaries, though they took the Imperialists
by surprise and gained the support of many provinces, were
inferior to them both in military and in financial strength.
The northern army, which remained loyal to the Emperor
(or to the Prime Minister), was better trained and better
equipped than the revolutionary recruits or the Southern
Army, which had adhered to the Revolution. The battle
near Hankow led to the recapture of Hankow and Hanyang
by the Imperial force, and it is almost certain that it could
have captured Wuchang and destroyed the nerve-centre of
the Revolutionaries. But by this time, December 191 1,
both sides sought peace and arranged an armistice. Envoys
were sent by the two parties and conferences were held in
Shanghai to discuss terms of peace. The Revolutionaries

1 6 Political Situation since igii

insisted on the abdication of the Emperor and the establish-
ment of a Republic ; while the Imperialists urged that the
form of government should be decided by a National Con-
vention. The Convention was, however, never held.

On January i, 191 2, a Republican Government was
established in Nanking with Dr. Sun Yat Sen as its President,
and with an assembly, consisting of delegates from the
provinces which had joined the revolt, as its parliament.
A provisional Constitution was drafted, adopted, and pro-
claimed by this assembly and became the fundamental law
of the Republic, pending the promulgation of a permanent
Constitution. Six executive departments were created to
co-ordinate the different provinces which had not hitherto
recognized a common authority.

Speaking for the Imperial Government, Yiian Shih-k'ai
defined his policy in the following statement :

' I doubt whether the people of China are at present ripe
for a Republic or whether under present conditions a
Republic is adapted to the Chinese people. . . . The adop-
tion of a limited monarchy would bring conditions back to
the normal and would bring stability much more rapidly
than that end could be attained through any experimental
form of government, unsuited to the genius of the people
or to the present conditions in China. . . . My only reason
for favouring the retention of the present Emperor is that
I believe in a constitutional monarchy. If we are to have
that form of government, there is nobody else whom the
people would agree upon for his place. . . . My sole aim in
this crisis is to save China from dissolution and the many
evils that would follow.'

Republicans were, however, not deterred from their
demand for a Republic which, they considered, had already
been accepted by thirteen provinces and was therefore
properly established. It was believed that after the recapture

The Revolution 17

of Hanyang, Yiian Shih-k'ai did not pursue his policy of
suppression to the end, because he was not loyal to the
Imperial Government, but wished to make himself Emperor.
It was also believed that as the demand of the Republicans
was persistent and his army was not strong enough to
overcome opposition to his own ambition, he yielded and
accepted the first Presidency of the Republic as a step to
the throne. These beliefs, though they have been denounced
as baseless by Yiian Shih-k'ai, are now justified by his
attempt, in the fourth year of the Republic (191 5), to restore
the Monarchy by making himself Emperor. I am no lover
of the Manchus and no monarchist, but I often wonder
whether it would not have been safer and easier for China
to move smoothly towards the ideals of democratic govern-
ment, if it had been possible to retain the Manchu Emperor
as a figure-head, and establish a Constitutional Monarchy
instead of a Republic.

The month of January 191 2 was spent by Yiian Shih-k'ai
in negotiating peace with the Republican Government, and
in discussing the terms of favourable treatment and pension
for the Imperial family after the abdication of the Emperor.
It was finally suggested by Yiian Shih-k'ai and agreed by
the Republican Government that an annual pension of
4,000,000 taels should be paid to the Imperial family, and
that it should be permitted to reside in the Palace in Peking
and retain its suite.

On February 12, 191 2, the following edict was issued by
the Empress-Dowager Lung Yii, the step-mother of the
boy-Emperor, Hsiian T'ung :

' As a consequence of the uprising of the revolutionary
army, to which the different provinces immediately
responded, the Empire seethed like a boiling cauldron

1832.13 ^


i8 Political Situation since 1911

and the people were plunged in utter misery. Yiian
Shih-k'ai was therefore especially commanded some time ago
to dispatch commissioners to confer with the representatives
of the repubhcan army on the general situation, and discuss
matters pertaining to the convention of a National Assembly
for the decision of the form of government to be adopted.
Two months have elapsed and no really suitable mode of
settlement has been discovered. Separated as the south
and the north are by great distances, the unwillingness of
either side to yield to the other can result only in the con-
tinued interruption of trade and the prolongation of hostili-
ties, for so long as the form of government is undecided the
nation can have no peace. . . . We and His Majesty the
Emperor hereby decide in favour of a republican form of
constitutional government. Thus we would gratify, on
the one hand, the desires of the whole nation, which, tired
of anarchy, is desirous of peace, and, on the other hand,
would follow in the footsteps of the ancient sages, who
regarded the Throne as the sacred trust of the nation.

* Now Yiian Shih-k'ai was elected by the Tzu Cheng
Yiian (Senate) to be the premier. During this period of
transference of government from the old to the new, there
should be some means of uniting the south and the north.
Let Yiian Shih-k'ai organize with full powers a provisional
Republican Government and confer with the Republican
army as to the methods of union, thus assuring peace to the
people and tranquillity to the Empire, and forming the
one great republic of China by the union as heretofore of
the five peoples, namely, Manchus, Chinese, Mongols,
Mohammedans, and Tibetans, together with the territory
in its integrity.'

The issue of this edict was followed by a proclamation
of the Union of the North and the South, and of the forma-
tion of a United Republic with Yiian Shih-k'ai, in whose
favour Dr. Sun Yat Sen had resigned, as Provisional Presi-
dent. It will be seen that the Imperial Government did
not suffer, or even acknowledge, a military defeat. The

The Revolution 19

Emperor retired in a dignified manner under a noble impulse,
summarized in this saying : ' As Heaven creates people and
makes for them a Monarch, how dare we make them suffer
from hostility for the sake of preserving the security and
comfort of our one single family ? ' The Provisional Presi-
dent was virtually appointed by an Imperial Edict, though
the appointment was confirmed by the votes of the National
Assembly. The truth is that Yiian Shih-k'ai, by means
which he thought it wise to misrepresent, succeeded in
putting an end to hostilities and in restoring peace. He
satisfied the insistent demand of the Republicans without
disgracing the Imperial Fam.ily.

The question now was how the people, who, as Yiian
Shih-k'ai said, and said rightly, were not ripe for a Republic,
would adapt themselves to the new regime. Was it likely
that they had acquired all the qualities of Republicans during
the Revolution, which lasted only four short months ? It
was even suggested that the popularity of the Revolution
and the rapidity with which it spread were signs of their
fitness for a Republican government ; but the popularity
is to be explained by the fact that the economic distress,
then prevalent in the country, induced all those who were
by fault or misfortune unemployed to welcome any agitation
which promised to improve the existing conditions. In the
w;ords of Yiian Shih-k'ai, the agitation for a Republic had
only taught the people as a mass to believe that popular
government means no taxes and no government. Few
understood the essence of a Republic or what was involved
in Republicanism. Few realized the seriousness of the
departure from the traditions of the Chinese which had
lasted four thousand years, and few grasped the significance
of the issues that it raised and the consequences that it

c 2

20 Political Situation since 1911

would produce. Even the Republican leaders themselves,
while charmed with the prosperity and wealth in Republican
countries like America and France, did not understand the
drawbacks and defects of their governmental system.

A Republic without Republicans is not an exclusively
Chinese paradox. The same charge had, till quite recently,
been made against France. In fact, China is in a position
more favourable to Republicanism than the France of
a century ago, because in China, though there are mon-
archists, there is no party influential enough to bring about
the restoration of the Manchus, as there was in the cases
of the Bourbon and Orleans families in France. Moreover,
the Empire was so vast, and the relations between the
Sovereign and his subjects had been so remote, that the
people at large did not feel any effect produced by the
substitution of a President for the Emperor. For centuries
the Emperor had secluded himself in his palace and had
never been seen by the people. The annual sacrifice to
Heaven offered by the Sovereign on behalf of the people
only interested a few, and its discontinuance ^ under the
Republic (as the worship was thought to be inconsistent
with Republican principles) has not caused any disappoint-
ment. The popular worship of ancestors was not interfered
with by the change in the form of government.

To see whether the Republic has been firmly established,
it will be well to survey its history for the seven years,
191 2-1 8. On the inauguration of Yiian Shih-k'ai as the
Provisional President, the Nanking Assembly, with the
number of its members increased from three to five for

^ In 1915, Yiian Shih-k'ai revived the annual sacrifice to Heaven,
and performed the ceremony as a Sovereign, but it has been discontinued
since his death.

The Revolution 21

each province and with all provinces, revolutionary or not,
included, moved to Peking ; and the President solemnly
took oath before it that he would observe the Provisional
Republican Constitution. The Assembly, acting in the
capacity of Parliament, proceeded to pass laws on the
organization and election of the two houses. These laws
were promulgated in August 191 2. A parliamentary election
took place in October and was complete by the end of the
year. Parliament was summoned in April 191 3, and took
the place of the Nanking Assembly.

The first business of Parliament was to draft a ' per-
manent ' Constitution as a substitute for the ' provisional '
one. The majority in Parliament were revolutionaries and
did not believe in the sincerity of the President's Repub-
licanism, They forgot that a constitution was a permanent
instrument, subject only to occasional amendments ; and
that it should be formulated according to the conditions
prevailing in the electorate, and not according to any per-
sonal considerations for President or Parliament. They
went on to propose a very democratic constitution, vesting
governmental authority in Parliament and leaving the
President and Cabinet as its servants. Yiian Shih-k'ai meant
to govern the countr}, and was not content to be a figure-
head. He protested against the radical character of the
proposed constitution and sent delegates to Parliament to
express his objections. The protest was ignored, and the
interference by his delegates was considered by Parliament
as unconstitutional.

Yiian Shih-k'ai had a difficult and thankless task to
perform. He had to make the Government stable and to
fill the depleted Treasury. Being capable and ambitious,
he naturally chose his trained and trustworthy friends or

22 Political Situation since 1911

colleagues to form the Cabinet ; but according to the
Provisional Constitution, Cabinet Ministers could only be
appointed with the approval of the Houses of Parliament.
The majority in Parliament being in opposition to him,
many of his nominees were rejected for no good reason.
To relieve the financial stringency, Yiian Shih-k'ai nego-
tiated a loan with the foreign banking group in Peking, but
according to the Provisional Constitution, or according to
its interpretation by revolutionists, loans could only be
concluded with the approval of Parliament. Finding that
the opposition to the loan agreement would be strong,
Yiian Shih-k'ai signed it without asking for parliamentary
sanction. This was construed by the Radicals in Parliament
as a breach of the Constitution ; and prominent members
of the revolutionary party in the South raised an anti-Yiian
movement. A revolt, or, as it was properly called, a second
revolution, broke out in Shanghai, and in a week or two
five or six Yangtze provinces joined it.

The rebels, though they got the armies of several southern
provinces on their side and occupied a considerable area,
were much inferior to the President in their command over
military resources. The President, with the whole Northern
army and the whole fleet at his service, suppressed the revolt
in less than three months, and greatly increased his prestige
by this success. Many of the revolutionary members of
Parliament who had gone to the South dared not come back
to Peking after the suppression ; those who. returned and
those who did not take part in the rev^olt began to assume
a more conciHatory attitude. The drafting of the Con-
stitution was still unfinished, and it was urged that the
election and installation of a permanent President was
a necessary preliminary to the maintenance of peace in the

The Revolution 23

country and to the recognition of the Republic by foreign
Powers. As the drafting of the Permanent Constitution as
a whole and the passing of it into law would take time, it
was arranged that the part dealing with the election of the
President should be first passed and promulgated. On
October 3, 191 3, the law on the Presidential election was pro-
mulgated, entrusting the election to a joint session of the two
Houses of Parliament. On October 8, Yiian Shih-k'ai, after
a second ballot, was elected first President of the Republic.

The President, having made his own position secure,
proceeded to unseat all the members of Parliament who
belonged to the Revolutionary party (Kuo-min-tang), and to
order a new election, which never took place. A Council
was then nominated to revise and amend the Provisional
Constitution. The responsible Cabinet was abolished and
the President assumed personal responsibility, not to Parlia-
ment, but to the nation. The Prime Minister became
Secretary of State, and all Cabinet Ministers were made his
personal servants. The Senate which had been elected by
provincial assemblies was now made nominative, and the
powers of the lower house were greatly limited.

Pending the convocation of a House of Representatives
by a new law of election, the Senate was authorized to act
in the capacity of Parliament. The law of Presidential
election promulgated in October 191 3 was now abrogated,
and another was passed which authorized the President to
nominate three successors, out of whom Parliament was to
choose one.

This autocratic regime lasted till the end of 1915. It was
by no means Republican, but it was effective in maintaining
peace. The President was strong enough to silence opposi-
tion and to unite the country by force or by bribery. In

24 Political Situation since 1911

the autumn of 1915 a Society entitled ' Peace Planning '
(Ch-'ou An Hui) appeared in Peking, the object of which was
at first academic discussion on the relative advantages
and disadvantages of the Republican and the Monarchical
forms of government. Professor Goodnow, of the Columbia
University, then constitutional adviser to the Chinese
President, published a pamphlet to show that a Monarchy
was more suitable to China than a Republic. The ' Peace
Planning ' Society soon took up the ideas of a pamphlet
which bore so authoritative a name, and began to agitate
for restoration. Yuan Shih-k'ai had during the preceding
year imprisoned or executed several advocates of restoration,
as he thought they were injurious to public safety ; but, in
the case of this Society, he tolerated and secretly encouraged
its activities. Officials and army leaders in the provinces
were induced by it to declare themselves in favour of
Restoration with Yiian Shih-k'ai as Emperor. The Senate,
which had been requested by the President to consider the
matter with caution, passed a Bill directing each province
to choose a number of electors representing different
interests, but all under official influence, to vote on the
question whether the form of government should be changed
into a monarchy. Two thousand electors from twenty
different centres all cast their votes in favour of Monarchy
witli the President as Emperor. The President at first
pretended to be reluctant to consent to their request, but
finally bowed to this ' engineered ' will of the people and
accepted the throne.

An anti-monarchical revolt had now broken out in the
province of Yunnan, and within a month several adjoining
provinces also declared their independence of the Central
Government. Many of the provincial authorities who now

The Revolution 25

revolted had been previously advocates of restoration and
supporters of Yiian Shih-k'ai's monarchical scheme. The
President, unable to suppress the revolt, renounced the
throne and surrendered his civil powers to a ' responsible '
Cabinet, retaining only military power to himself. But the
Southern revolutionaries demanded his abdication as a con-

Online LibrarySih-Gung ChengModern China, a political study → online text (page 2 of 28)