W. Reginald Wheeler
China and the World War




The first year of the war brought vital changes in China's foreign relations, especially in those with Japan. The second year saw changes within the country of almost as great importance.

These changes, in their ultimate result, were in line with the world tendencies of the present time toward democracy and popular government. Writing in August, 1916, to the New York Times, the author tried to sum up the events of the preceding months, saying in part:

"If it were not for the all-absorbing cataclysm in Europe, all eyes would be turned toward the Orient and the great movements now in evidence there. Certainly the developments in India and Japan since the Great War began are of vast importance in the moulding of the future of Asia. But it is in China, especially during the past year, that events of unique interest have taken place. The sudden clamour for the .change of the infant republic into a monarchy, which began last fall; the continued agitation for this transformation in the form of government, culminating on Dec. 11 in the unanimous vote of the Convention of Representatives of the Citizens for a Monarchy, with Yuan Shih-kai at its head; the gradual appearance of a most serious opposition, resulting in the revolt of the southern provinces; the sudden cancellation of the monarchial project by Yuan Shih-kai on March 22; the effort to oust Yuan as President, ending dramatically with his death on June 6, and the election of Li Yuan-hung as President in his stead; --- these are a few of the main events in a most absorbing, hard-won fight between democracy and autocracy in the Far East. . . . In this fight for the republic in China, America should have a very real interest and sympathy. "

The summer of 1915 found China just recovering from the shock of the Japanese aggressions; in retaliation, the country was entering upon a nation-wide boycott of Japanese goods and productions. Attempts were being made to raise a National Salvation Fund to be applied toward strengthening the nation in every possible way. The gifts toward this latter cause were from all classes; one ricksha coolie in a certain city was said to have given to the fund forty Mexican dollars, the saving of his entire lifetime.

Ever since the dissolution of Parliament in November, 1913, Yuan Shih-kai had been moving toward a centralized government, with the power in the hands of a few of his lieutenants. There were open suggestions of a return to a monarchy. The Japanese demands hastened this entire movement. In support of a return to the monarchy the arguments were in the main three: first, that a monarchy, and one of militaristic tendencies, was stronger than a Republic. Germany and Japan were cited as examples. Second, that at the close of the war, if there were not a strong government---if the right of succession were not clear---and if civil strife, which seemed common in a Republic, continued; --- the other nations would step in and take control of China and would put a ruler of their own choosing on the throne, just as Japan had done in Korea before its annexation. A third reason was the wish of the eldest son of Yuan Shih-kai to succeed his father as Emperor.

Shortly after the Japanese ultimatum in May, the Chou An Hui (Society for the Preservation of Peace) was organized with the purpose of spreading propaganda in support of the monarchical idea. A pamphlet by a scholar called Yang Tu was circulated in August, giving the reasons for the proposed change. It was entitled "A Defence of the Monarchical Movement," and was in the form of a dialogue between a stranger and a citizen of the Republic. Three excerpts will be sufficient to exhibit its type of reasoning.

"The people of a republic are accustomed to listen to the talk of equality and freedom which must effect the political and more especially the military administration. . . . But the German and Japanese troops observe strict discipline, and obey the orders of their chiefs. That is why they are regarded as the best soldiers in the world. France and America are in a different position. They are rich but not strong. The sole difference is that Germany and Japan are ruled by monarchs while France and America are republics. Our conclusion therefore is that no republic can be strong. . . . The best thing for us to do is to adopt part of the Prussian and part of the Japanese in our constitution-making. . . .

"The vital question of the day, setting aside all paper talk, is whether or not China has a suitable man to succeed President Yuan Shih-kai. . . . Confusion and disturbance will follow with great rapidity. Then foreign countries which have entertained wild ambitions, availing themselves of the distressful situation in China, will stir up ill-feelings among these parties and so increase the disturbances. When the proper time comes, various countries, unwilling to let a single country enjoy the privilege of controlling China, will resort to armed intervention. In consequence the eastern problem will end in a rupture of the international peace. Whether China will be turned at that time into a battleground for the Chinese people or for the foreign Powers I cannot tell you. It is too dreadful to think of the future which is enshrouded in a veil of mystery. However, I can tell you that the result of this awful turmoil will be either the slicing of China like a melon or the suppression of internal trouble with foreign assistance which will lead to dismemberment. As to the second result some explanation is necessary. After foreign countries have helped us to suppress internal disturbances, they will select a man of the type of Li Wang of Korea, who betrayed his country to Japan, and make him Emperor of China. Whether this man will be the deposed emperor or a member of the Imperial family or the leader of the rebel party, remains to be seen. In any event he will be a figurehead in whose hand will not be vested political, financial and military power, which will be controlled by foreigners. All the valuable mines, various kinds of industries and our abundant natural resources, will likewise be developed by others. China will thus disappear as a nation."(6)

Here in very glaring terms was shown the fear of attempting to work out a democracy in a world of supposedly militaristic nations. China was afraid to go on with the experiment. The only safety seemed to lie in a reversion to armed autocracy. The Asiatic world was not "safe for democracy," and China had no friend whom she could trust to make it safe for her to continue her attempts in that direction.

All these factors became clear later, but to observers living in China, the political situation in the fall of 1915 was full of mystery. Since the dissolution of Parliament the republic had been one in name rather than in fact; but the speed with which the monarchical movement gained headway surprised most onlookers. The sentiment among the middle and lower classes of the Yangtze Valley and the south seemed strongly against the monarchy and against Yuan Shih-kai for apparently supporting it. The writer talked with men of all classes--- ricksha-coolies, Confucian scholars, Buddhist priests, and returned students, and every one, after taking due precaution against being overheard, came out in support of the republic and denounced Yuan. Dr. Morrison, after a tour of inspection of the Yang-tse Valley, described the sentiment of the people as one of "solid resentment " against the whole movement. The feeling was even stronger in the south.

There were certain indications even then that Yuan Shih-kai was acquiescent in, if, indeed, not a supporter of, the monarchical movement. Persistent rumours came from close friends of his in the capital that he was influenced by his son to make the change for the latter's benefit as his successor. Only former officials and friends of the administration were allowed to vote in December. The editor of one of the Monarchist newspapers in Shanghai, which was blown up by the Republicans, stated outright amid the smoking ruins of his office that he had special permission from the Central Government for his propaganda. But the publication by the Republican Government in the following summer of over sixty secret communications of Yuan Shih-kai's Government preceding and during the election in the Fall brought out clearly the entire situation; the whole monarchical effort, in the words of Putnam Weale of Peking, was stamped as "a cool and singular plan to forge a national mandate which has few equals in history."

In publicly beginning its propaganda in August, following the publishing of the pamphlet by Yang Tu, the monarchical Movement very cleverly used a statement of Dr. Francis J. Goodnow, President of Johns Hopkins University, and political adviser to the Chinese Government. Dr. Goodnow's opinion was purely an academic one; he stated that a change from a republic to a monarchy could be successfully made under three conditions: first, that the peace of the country was not thereby imperiled; second, that the laws of succession should first be securely fixed; third, provision should be made for some form of constitutional government. Of course, the Monarchists, in quoting this opinion, entirely omitted these conditional clauses.

On Aug. 16 the Chou An Hui published its first manifesto referring to this statement. Yuan Shih-kai, in a speech before the State Council, said among other things: " I regard the proposed change as unsuitable to the circumstances of the country." But on Aug. 30 the first secret telegram was dispatched from Peking concerning the proposed change of government. It was a code telegram to the Military and Civil Governors of the provinces, to be deciphered personally by them with the Council of State code. After certain initial steps are mentioned in detail, the document reads:

"The plan suggested is for each province to send in a separate petition, the draft of which will be made in Peking and wired to the respective provinces in due course. . . . You will insert your own name as well as those of the gentry and merchants of the province who agree to the draft. These petitions are to be presented one by one to the Legislative Council as soon as it is convoked. At all events, the change in the form of the State will have to be effected under colour of carrying out the people's will."(7)

The Monarchical Society, realizing that matters had progressed sufficiently by this time for it to assert itself, on Sept. 27, under the leadership of Yang Tu and Sun Yu-chun, dispatched a code telegram to the Military and Civil Governors, asserting that all danger of a true expression of provincial wishes must be eradicated. The telegram offers suggestions regarding the government of the different districts and then concludes:

"In order to clothe the proceedings with an appearance of regularity, the representatives of the districts, though they are really appointed by the highest military and civil officials of the province, should still be nominally elected by the districts. As soon as the representatives of the districts have been appointed, their names should be communicated to the respective district magistrates, who are to be instructed to draw up the necessary documents in detail, and to cause a formal election to be held. Such documents should., however, be properly antedated."

On Sept. 29 Chu Chi-chun, Military Governor of Mukden, representing the Administrative Council, telegraphed as follows:

"While the plan of organization is determined by the Administrative Council, the carrying out of the ulterior object of such plan rests with the superintendents in chief of the election. They should, therefore, assume a controlling influence over the election proceedings and utilize them to the best advantage. The representatives of the citizens should be elected, one for each district wherever possible, from among the officials who are connected with the various Government organs in the provincial capital, so that there may be no misunderstanding as to the real object of voting."

This telegram indicated that the representative organ of the people was under the control of high officials and was " utilized " by them " to the best advantage," and that the representatives themselves were to be chosen from among those connected with the Government organizations in the various provincial capitals.

On October 11 the National Convention Bureau sent the following telegram:

"The future peace and safety of the nation depend upon the documents exchanged between the Government organs and Peking and those in the provinces. Should any of these come to the notice of the public, the blame for failure to keep official secrets will be laid upon us. Moreover, as these documents concern the very foundation of the State, they will, in case they become known, leave a dark spot on the political history of our country. Upon their secrecy depends our national honour and prestige in the eyes of both our own people and foreigners. . . . We hope you will appoint one of your confidential subordinates to be specially responsible for the safe custody of the secret documents."

Despite the increasing unrest among the people, a circular telegram was dispatched on Oct. 23, which apparently "drove the last nail into the coffin of the Chinese Republic." It was a nomination of Yuan Shih-kai, and read:

"The letters of nomination to be sent in after the form of state shall have been put to the vote, must contain the following words: 'We, the citizens' representatives, by virtue of the will of the citizens, do hereby respectfully nominate the present President Yuan Shih-kai as Emperor of the Chinese Empire, and invest him to the fullest extent with all the supreme sovereign rights of the State. He is appointed by Heaven to ascend the Throne and to transmit it to his heirs for ten thousand generations.' These characters, forty-five in all, must not be altered on any account.

"Before the form of the State has been settled, the letters of nomination must not be made public. A reply is requested."

Fig. 3.
Yuan Shih-kui. First President of the Chinese Republic.

A few days later ---Oct. 28---the attention of the Central Government was drawn by Japan, England, and Russia (later supported by France and Italy as allies) toward the inadvisability of taking steps that would threaten the peace of China; but Lu. Cheng-hsiang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, replied that it was too late to retract, as the matter had already been decided. When their surprise over this unexpected reply had subsided, those in charge of the plot sent the following state telegram to the provinces:

"A certain foreign power, under the pretext that the Chinese people are not of one mind and that troubles are to be apprehended, has lately forced England and Russia to take part in tendering advice to China. In truth, all foreign nations know perfectly well that there will be no trouble, and they are obliged to follow the example of that power. If we accept the advice of other powers concerning our domestic affairs and postpone the enthronement, we should be recognizing their right to interfere. Hence, action should under no circumstances. be deferred. When all the votes of the provinces unanimously recommending the enthronement shall have reached Peking, the Government will, of course, ostensibly assume a wavering and compromising attitude, so as to give due regard to international relations. The people, on the other hand, should show their firm determination to proceed with the matter at all costs, so as to let the foreign powers know that our people are of one mind. If we can only make them believe that the change of the republic into a monarchy will not in the least give rise to trouble of any kind, the effects of the. advice tendered by Japan will ipso facto come to naught."(8)

On Dec. 21 was played the last act in the drama. Forty-eight hours before General Tsai Ao threw down the gauntlet in Yunnan, because of the strange quiet that pervaded the country the Monarchists boldly determined to pay no further heed to any suggestion that they withdraw from their purpose, even though force be threatened. For it had been discovered, after the ballot boxes were opened on Dec. 11 that every voter had cast his ballot for Yuan Shih-kai to be Emperor! And he, isolated in his palace from the populace and deceived by his followers, had accepted the nomination.

All that remained now was to blot out every trace of the conspiracy, that the deceit "should not stain the opening pages of the history of the new dynasty," as a later telegram read, which is in part quoted below:

"No matter how carefully their secrets may have been guarded (it asserts), still they remain as permanent records which might compromise us; and in the event of their becoming known to foreigners we shall not escape severe criticism and bitter attacks, and, what is worse, should they be handed down as part of the national records, they will stain the opening pages of the history of the new dynasty. The Central Government, after carefully considering the matter, has concluded that it would be better to sort out and burn the documents so as to remove all unnecessary records and prevent regrettable consequences. For these reasons you are hereby requested to sift out all telegrams, letters, and dispatches concerning the changes in the form of the State, whether official or private, whether received from Peking or the provinces (excepting those required by law to be filed on record), and cause the same to be burned in your presence."

Such intrigues were certain to bear fruit, and on Dec. 23, Tsai Ao and Tang Chi-yao, Governors of Yunnan, revolted, and blazed the way for the rebellion which ultimately should oust Yuan from power. They declared that Yuan had been guilty of "deliberately misrepresenting the people's will by inducements and threats," and took their stand once more for the republic. Yunnan was followed by Kweichow.

Despite this protest, the beginning of the new dynasty(9) was set for January 1, 1916, and the Government buildings in the larger cities were decorated with the national flag in honour of the event. Memorials praying for an early ascension of the throne were sent to Peking by various Monarchists. But on January 26, Yuan Shih-kai, dubbed the "Ta Huang Ti" ("Great Emperor") by the Peking Gazette, a Republican sympathizer, announced that the enthronement would be postponed: "The Province of Yunnan is opposing the Central Government and under some pretext a rebellion has been raised in these regions. . . . We are profoundly grieved to confess that a portion of the people are dissatisfied with us. . . . To perform the ceremony of enthronement at this juncture would, therefore, set our heart on thorns. The enthronement will have to be postponed to a date when the affairs in Yunnan are again under control."

The month of February was one of speculation and of discouragement on the part of the Republicans. The control of the military forces of the north was tightened in all suspected centres; Nanking, which had been the hotbed of revolution for the last four years, was practically under martial law; soldiers with fixed bayonets patrolled the streets; signs were put up in the tea houses and Government schools forbidding any discussion of political affairs; infractions of this rule were severely punished. But the unrest continued, a statement of one of the scholars in Nanking being indicative of public sentiment in general. On being asked by the author what he thought of the new flag which the Monarchists proposed for the nation, he said he thought the best design would be a white flag with a great black spot in the centre (for Yuan Shih-kai).

This dissatisfaction found active expression in the revolt on March 17 of Kuangsi, which made, among others, the following demands upon the Central Government: The cancellation of the empire and reinstitution of the republican form of government; the abdication of Yuan Shih-kai; and the convocation of a legislative body which should represent and be capable of expressing the authentic "will of the people."

On March 22 this was answered by a mandate from Yuan cancelling the whole monarchical movement. In it he said: "I am still of the opinion that the designation petitions submitted are unsuited to the demands of the time, and the official acceptance of the imperial throne is hereby cancelled. . . . I now confess that the faults of the country are the result of my own faults." Although Yuan had relinquished his ambition for the throne, he was not willing to abdicate entirely, and nothing short of this would satisfy the Southerners. Chekiang Province revolted and its Governor fled; Kwangtung followed. The press was full of fiery articles calling for Yuan's retirement. On April 27 General Tsai Ao, the great military leader of the Republicans, sent a long telegram to Peking urging Yuan to retire, and concluding with a threat: "If, however, you should continue to linger and delay to make a prompt decision in the sense of retirement and compel the people to elaborate their demands in plainer language, your retirement will be compulsory instead of voluntary, and your high virtue will be lowered." This was followed by a similar appeal by Dr. Wu Ting-fang.

Yuan remaining obdurate, on May 10 the southern provinces elected Li Yuan-hung as President. On May 17 Liang Chi-chao, the Republican leader, who had the highest reputation among the scholars of China, telegraphed Peking: "Since Hsaing-Cheng (Yuan Shih-kai) has been morally defeated in the eyes of Chinese as well as foreigners, the iron verdict has been passed on him demanding his retirement." This was backed on May 18, the following day, by a statement of 300 members of the former National Assembly, which Yuan had dissolved in 1913

Through all this discussion Nanking had remained neutral. On May 15 General Feng Kuo-chang held a conference of the representatives of the ten provinces which were still loyal. The conference accomplished little except to emphasize the growing demand for Yuan's retirement. On May 24 Szechuan revolted, and two days later Yuan first publicly announced his intention to retire, saying: "My wish to retire is my own and originated with myself. I have not the slightest idea of lingering with a longing heart at my post." On May 29 Yuan issued a long statement in which he reviewed in detail his action in connection with the attempted change of Government. Two sentences are rather interesting in the light of the present knowledge of the entire situation:

"I, the great President, have done everything I could to ascertain the real will of the people by taking measures to prevent every possible corruption, the same being in pursuance of my wish to respect the will of the people. . . . In dealing with others I, the great President, have always been guided by the principle of sincerity."

The comment upon this mandate by the editor of the Peking Gazette , himself a Chinese, is indicative of the sentiment of the country at that time:

"If there were not a growing danger with every day that the Chief Executive tarried in office, moderate Chinese might be inclined to read with some patience and in a sense of sympathy the mandate issued on Monday night, which we translate in full today. It is obviously the attempt of Yuan Shih-kai to set himself right with posterity and to state for the future historian his own version of a transaction that has made him weaker than the child-ruler who preceded him. There is no time to reread what has already been asseverated time and again to a skeptical world. There is no time to shed a tear for a fall from greatness that is without parallel in history. The nation's perils thicken and the voice of the people clamours for the retirement that is to bring surcease of their harassment. Again we bid him be wise and leave the work that must be done by other hands under surer knowledge of the great new forces in our midst."

During the following week Yuan Shih-kai became seriously ill, and on June 6 he died, the cause of his death being urinaemia. A few hours before his death he issued his last mandate, in which he handed over the Government to the Vice-President. His closing words were not without pathos: "Owing to my lack of virtue and ability, I have not been able fully to transform into deed what I have desired to accomplish; and I blush to say I have not realized one-ten-thousandth part of my original intention to save the country and the people. . . I was just thinking how I could retire into private life when illness has suddenly overtaken me. . . . The ancients once said, 'It is only when the living do try to become strong that the dead are not dead.' This is also the wish of me, the great President."

President Li Yuan-hung at once entered upon his office, beginning on June 7, according to the Peking Gazette, "the work that ought to have been begun four years ago." His first mandate was as follows:


"Yuan-hung has assumed the office of President on this the 7th day of the sixth month. Realizing his lack of virtue, he is extremely solicitous lest something may miscarry. His single aim will be to adhere strictly to law for the consolidation of the republic and the moulding of the country into a really constitutionally administered country. May all officials and people act in sympathy with this idea and with united soul and energy fulfil the part that is lacking in him. This is his great hope."

The issuing of the mandate was followed by telegrams from most of the provinces, stating their loyalty to the new President and to the Republican Government. A few days later Liang Shih-yi, the chief counsellor and adviser of Yuan Shih-kai among the Monarchists, resigned from his position in the Government; thus the chief obstacle to harmony was removed. The efforts of the new Republican Government were then directed toward the establishment of a Parliament, according to the Provisional Constitution adopted at Nanking in 1912. The Constitutional Compact adopted in May, 1914, was discarded. Parliament was reconvened on August 1, and the following month a Cabinet was formed with Tuan Chi-jui as Premier. Feng Kwo-chang was elected Vice-President. Thus the Republic of China again took up its course as a national entity.

The first year of the war had brought grave dangers to the Chinese Republic from without. In the second year it encountered equally grave dangers from within. The overthrow of militarism, for a time at least, within its own borders, prepared the way for a more sympathetic understanding of the great world situation in which a similar principle was at stake. In its best ideals and traditions China had always been an opponent of military power unfettered by the will of the people. The right of rebellion against tyrants had brought to a close many of its ancient dynasties. The scholar had stood the highest in the social scale: the soldier the lowest. The Confucian Classics, which have had a greater influence than any other writing in moulding the mind of the people, contain many passages emphasizing the importance of the government being founded on the popular will, and designating the ruler as a servant of the people. "In a state, the people are most important: the ruler is of least importance." "Heaven (or God) sees as my people see: Heaven (or God) hears as my people hear." "The commander of the forces of a large state may be carried off, but the will of even the humblest of its subjects cannot be taken from him." In the Analects, the essentials of government had been named: imperfect as was the comprehension of the average Chinese in 1915-1916 of all that democracy and popular government meant, there seemed to have been some glimmering understanding concerning the principles at stake: principles which were named by the Great Sage of China over twenty-four hundred years ago.

Tsze-kung asked about Government. The Master (Confucius) said, "The essentials of Government are that there be sufficient food, sufficient military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their rulers." Tsze-kung said: "If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be foregone first? "

"The military equipment," said the Master.

Tsze-kung again asked: " If it cannot be helped, and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which of them should be foregone ?

The Master answered: "Part with the food. For, from of old, death has been the lot of all men; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, the State cannot stand."(10)

Chapter Three

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