Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Yuan Shikai

Yuan Shikai (袁世凱 or 袁世凯 in pinyin: yuan2 shi4 kai3) (1859 - June 6 1916), spelled Yüan Shih-k'ai in Wade-Giles, was a Chinese military official and politician during late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China. He was infamous for taking advantages of both the Qing and the Republic for his authoritarian control by military superiority.

President Yuan Shikai

Born in 1859 in Xiangcheng County (项城县) of Henan Province, he rose to fame by participating the first Sino-Japanese War as the commander of the Chinese stationary forces in Korea. He fortunately avoided the humiliation of Chinese armies in the war when he was recalled to Beijing several days before the Chinese forces were attacked.

By showing loyalty to Empress Dowager Cixi, he was appointed the commander of the first new army in 1895. Qing's court relied heavily on his army due to the proximity of its garrision to the capital and its effectiveness. Taking full advantage of this trust, Yuan became increasingly disrespecful to the court and switched sides between different parties only to his benefit. Especially after the coup d'etat ending the Hundred Days' Reform, he became the mortal enemy of Guangxu Emperor.

He was granted the position of Minister of Beiyang (北洋: the modern regions of Liaoning, Hebei, and Shandong provinces) on June 25 1902. Gaining the regard of foreigners when he helped to crush the Boxer Rebellion, he successfully obtained numerous loans to expand his "Beiyang armies" into the most powerful army in China. Right after the death of Cixi and Guangxu, he was relieved of all posts by the regent Pu-Feng, probably under a secret will of Guangxu; however he still maintained enormous influence in his "Beiyang Armies" after returning to Henan.

In 1912, Yuan played a critical role in the establishment of the Republic of China. At the time, the southern provinces had declared independence from the Qing, but neither the northern provinces nor Yuan's Beiyang Army had any stance for or against the rebellion. Both the Qing court and Yuan fully knew that the Beiyang army was the only modern militia powerful enough to quell the revolutionaries. Hence on one hand Yuan was demanding the highest political status from the Qing's court; on the other hand, his forces captured Hankou and Hanyang in November 1911 in preparation of attacking Wuchang, thus forcing the revolutionaries to negotiate.

Emperor Yuan Shikai

Yuan became the Prime Minister under Emperor Puyi and was granted full authority to deal with the uprisings. The revolutionaries had elected Sun Yat-Sen, who were nevertheless in a militarily weak position, and reluctantly compromised with Yuan. Yuan fulfilled his promise to the revolutionaries and arranged for the abdication of the child emperor Puyi in return for being named the President of the Republic. Cao Kun, one of his entrusted subordinate "Beiyang" military commanders, fabricated a coup d'etat in Beijing and Tianjin, apparently under Yuan's orders, to provide an excuse for Yuan to not leave his sphere of influence in Chi-li (today Hebei province). The revolutionaries compromised again, and the capital of the new republic was established in Beijing.

In February 1913, elections were held for the National Assembly in which the Chinese Nationalist Party or the Kuomintang (KMT) did very well. Sung Chiao-jen, deputy in the KMT to Sun Yat-sen, zealously supported a cabinet system and was widely regarded as a candidate for Prime Minister. Yuan viewed Sung as a threat to his authority and, after Sung's assassination on March 20 1913, there was speculation in the media that Yuan was responsible.

Tensions between the Kuomintang and Yuan continued to intensify, prompting Yuan to take over the government with his military power and to subsequently dissolve both the national and provincial assemblies. The Kuomintang attempted unsuccessfully to wage a "Second Revolution" against Yuan, but with the support of the army Yuan easily put down the revolt and caused the leaders of the Kuomintang, including Sun Yat-Sen, to flee into exile in Japan.

Yuan then committed a major political blunder. He reinstated the monarchy, proclaiming himself the Emperor of the Chinese Empire (中华帝国皇帝)under the era name of Hongxian, for a brief period from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916. This was opposed not only by the revolutionaries, but far more importantly by Yuan's subordinate military commanders, who believed that Yuan's assumption of the monarchy would allow him to rule without depending on the support of the military. Faced with universal opposition, Yuan backed down and died of kidney failure a few months later.

With Yuan's death, China was left without any generally recognized central authority and the army quickly fragmented into forces of combatting warlords.

The Hongxian
Personal Names Period of Reigns era name (年號) and their according range of years
All first names in bold.
Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 yuan2 shi4 kai3 1916 Hongxian (洪憲 hong2 xian4) 1916

See also: History of China, History of the Republic of China