Story of China - R. Van Bergen

From Monarchy to Republic (1912-1921)

With the establishment of the republic, Young China began to feel that he had at last reached the goal of his aspirations. Very soon, however, he found, to his disappointment and surprise, that the goal could be held only through the exercise of good judgment and eternal vigilance. In spite of his knowledge of political philosophy and the economic history of Western nations, his words and opinions did not have the effect upon the masses that he had expected. The conservative men of the nation were still inclined to look down upon him and his theories as upon something both impractical and impossible. Thus, Young China was more than once in danger of being ousted and put out of business; and he was saved from defeat and destruction only by his unconquerable courage and tireless perseverance.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen


This conflict of opinions between the radicals and the conservatives early gave rise to the two great political parties known respectively as the "South" and the "North." The former was made up largely of hot-headed political theorists, young men knowing but little about the history and customs of their own land; the other consisted of old politicians and leaders generally regarded as "cold-blooded" with a sprinkling of men well versed in modern methods but less radical in their political views.

While the South wanted to overturn and destroy the whole rotten political structure of China and establish a new government on modern lines, the North desired only, for the present at least, to graft a few new things on the old political stem. These differences in party feeling soon brought about a great political upheaval in China, ending in civil war between the North and the South.

When the Manchu government was overthrown in 1912, the Edicts appointed Yuan Shih-k'ai to organize a provisional republican government. Yuan Shih-k'ai was a high statesman of the old school. He enjoyed the international reputation of being the "strong man of China"; yet he was not converted to republicanism until these political movements were well under way. The Nanking Assembly which had objected to Yuan at first was finally induced to elect him as its provisional president, and Sun Yat-sen resigned in his favor. He was inaugurated at Peking on the 10th of March, 1912, and Li Yuan-hung was elected vice-president. A little later, the provisional National Assembly at Nanking transferred the seat of government to Peking.

It soon began to appear that the Southern members of the provisional National Assembly were combined to oppose every movement advocated by Yuan. Tied down by the terms of the provisional Constitution, which had been framed by the Southern members of the Assembly, Yuan found that he was utterly powerless and that the only thing he could do was to wait quietly for some turn in the title of affairs.

Yuan Shi-kai


In the spring of 1913, the general election for members of the Senate and House of Representatives took place; in April the first national parliament convened at Peking then came the presidential election, in which Yuan, with the greatest difficulty, proved successful. The Southern members continued their hostile attitude toward him; but now, finding that the balance of power had passed to his friends of the North, he began to use strong measures to stop the party quarrels. In November, after another violent storm between the parliament and himself, he ordered a battalion of the Peking troops, assisted by the police, to surround the parliament house and summarily unseat the Southern members. As this left the parliament without a quorum, it was powerless to act.

Immediately Yuan appointed a political council to assist him in carrying on the administration. Another provisional Constitution was drawn up to replace the one framed by the Nanking Assembly, and, under the title of the Constitution Compact, it was promulgated in May, 1914. The new Compact, as might have been expected, conferred upon the president an almost autocratic power. A Council of State was soon created to take the place of the Political Council; and, as the members were appointed by the president himself, we can easily imagine how much restraint they would be likely to exert upon the appointer.

Yuan, soon afterwards, startled the whole world by an attempt to abandon altogether the republican system and restore the monarchy. The upshot was that five provinces, headed by Yun-nan, rose up in rebellion, with the cry, "Maintain the republic!" The Japanese minister, supported by the ministers of Great Britain and Russia, also suggested in a friendly way that the time was inopportune for China to change her form of government.

But Yuan had set his mind on becoming an emperor. His coronation occurred in January, 1916; and within three months thereafter he found the whole of the South opposing him in arms. Even his former friends and supporters, politicians and military leaders, deserted him and went over to the republicans. Assailed on every side by verbal and documentary denunciations, what could the self-made emperor do but abdicate? While he was preparing to do this he became suddenly ill and died, and his brief dream of power was ended.

Li Yuan-hung was soon afterwards elected to succeed Yuan. Both China and the outside world were glad of this selection, for no one who knew him doubted Li's character and loyalty. And Li did not disappoint the Chinese people, although, unfortunately, his presidency was short-lived. Suddenly and without warning, on the second of July, 1917, an old-time ignorant military leader, General Chang Hsün, with thirty or forty thousand armed men, marched into Peking and demanded that Li Yuan-hung should give up the presidency. It was the general's purpose to restore the monarchy by putting the Manchu baby-emperor back upon the throne. Li Yuan-hung fled to the Japanese legation for protection, at the same time ordering the great military leader, General Feng Kuo-chang to act as president in his place. The seat of government was hastily transferred to Nanking, and the whole nation united in the effort to oppose and crush Chang. So determined were the friends of peace and progress that this latest rebellion was crushed within a few days and Chang retired in disgrace. From that time on the question of a monarchical restoration as a disturbing factor in Chinese politics may be said to have been eliminated, at least for an indefinite period.

Meanwhile the North was being dominated by a party of militarists headed by General Tuan Ch'i-jui, who had been premier under Li Yuan-hung. The South, condemning the Northern government as unconstitutional and illegal, set up an independent Southern military government at Canton to represent a genuine constitutional government and to declare war upon the Northern militarists. Soon afterwards, at Peking, Hsü Shih-ch'ng, a statesman of the old regime, was elected president. How well he will succeed in reconciling the various factions that stand in the way of China's fullest development, future events only will show.

Turning now from the political affairs and internecine wars of present-day China, a review of her relations with foreign countries during the past ten years may not be devoid of interest.

In February, 1912, the Chinese Republic through its agents approached the British, German, French, and American ambassadors at Peking and asked a loan to meet her urgent requirements. But as China's needs were many and her treasury was, and still is, empty, she had to contract as many loans from foreign countries as possible. All these loans were given by the foreign bankers under terms that involved foreign control over China's revenues. Russian and Japanese banking interests were later added to those of the nations already mentioned; but America, under President Wilson's administration, withdrew from these arrangements, owing to her desire not to do anything that would interfere with the independence of a free people. Nevertheless, in October, 1920, American bankers in conjunction with the French, English, and Japanese, formed what was known as the new China-Consortium, "an international partnership for the purpose of assisting China in the development of her great public enterprises."

In January, 1915, Japan presented to China a series of twenty-one demands, some of which infringed China's sovereign rights and affected her treaty engagements with other countries. Negotiations between China and Japan regarding these demands began on the second of February and were continued for four months. Japan finally modified her demands, but presented to China a revised list of twenty-four items together with an ultimatum, which China was obliged to accept.

At the beginning of the World War in 1914, China declared her neutrality. Later, however, when the United States became involved in the great conflict, she, at the suggestion of the American government, broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. She hesitated to enter the war, although urged to do so by both England and the United States. For China had no navy; her finances were in a most embarrassing condition; and her own internal troubles required her undivided attention. In the end, however, she cast in her lot with the Allies. Although China was unable to send any troops to the field of war in Europe, she nevertheless rendered great service to the Allies by contributing several hundred thousand laborers to replace their men in fields and factories.