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Chinese History - Republic of China 1911-1919

China History Map - Republic of China Cowed by foreign powers, China's imperial rule crumbled. A republic was formed and a president elected. Four years later the president declared himself emperor, and civil war erupted. Reform leaders like Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Tse-tung would battle old warlords and each other through this period as the country strained to avoid foreign domination. China had balked at entering the modern world. Japan, however, looked enviously upon the resources of the Asian continent and considered China weak. By the end of World War I, Japan was entrenched firmly in Manchuria, Mongolia, and China's Shandong province.

During the 19th century, Qing control weakened, and prosperity diminished. China suffered massive social strife, economic stagnation, explosive population growth, and Western penetration and influence. The Taiping and Nian rebellions, along with a Russian-supported Muslim separatist movement in Xinjiang, drained Chinese resources and almost toppled the dynasty. Britain's desire to continue its illegal opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. China lost the war; subsequently, Britain and other Western powers, including the United States, forcibly occupied "concessions" and gained special commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking, and in 1898, when the Opium Wars finally ended, Britain executed a 99-year lease of the New Territories, significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong colony.

As time went on, the Western powers, wielding superior military technology, gained more economic and political privileges. Reformist Chinese officials argued for the adoption of Western technology to strengthen the dynasty and counter Western advances, but the Qing court played down both the Western threat and the benefits of Western technology. A number of groups dedicated to overthrowing the Ching government had arisen. Among them was the Xing Zhong Hui (Revive China Society), founded by Sun Yat-sen in Honolulu in 1894 during the First Sino-Japanese War. In Tokyo in 1905, while Sun was in exile there, the society joined with other groups to establish the Tong Meng Hui (Revolutionary Alliance). Frustrated by the Qing court's resistance to reform, young officials, military officers, and students--inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-sen--began to advocate the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and creation of a republic.

Much disturbance of feeling and apprehension of a troublesome reaction in Chinese policy was excited among the foreign representatives in China, on January 2, 1909. by the sudden dismissal of the able and powerful viceroy of Chih-li, Yuan Shih-kai, from all his offices. Yuan Shih-kai left Peking in haste, evidently in fear of his life, and it was expected that his whole following of friends and supporters would be swept out of their offices and employments. But no such result followed, and credit began to be given to the assurances of the imperial government that the dismissal of Yuan meant no reversal of policy or reaction whatever. He was distrusted, it was intimated, because he had been disloyal to the late emperor in 1898, when the latter attempted great reforms.

Yuan Shikai A revolutionary military uprising on October 10, 1911, led to the abdication of the last Qing monarch. As part of a compromise to overthrow the dynasty without a civil war, the revolutionaries and reformers allowed high Qing officials to retain prominent positions in the new republic. One of these figures, Gen. Yuan Shikai, was chosen as the republic's first president. Under the Ching dynasty, Yuan had trained the elite, Western-style Beiyang Army.

The abdication had been due primarily to Yuan Shih-kai, who was influenced by three things- hatred of a dynasty that had desired his blood; ambition to rule the nation himself; and an inveterate habit of following foreign opinion because that opinion controlled the stock markets on which China had lived for twenty years. Consequently, when the Manchus had been eliminated, there remained for him two controlling impulses and only two-his ambition and the foreign money-market. Everything else-parliament, people, and provincial capitals-was for him mere shadow-play and not reality. It is only when the problem is thus envisaged that what took place can be understood.

The republic that Sun Yat-sen and his associates envisioned evolved slowly. The revolutionists lacked an army, and the power of Yuan Shikai began to outstrip that of parliament. Yuan revised the constitution at will and became dictatorial. In August 1912 a new political party was founded by Song Jiaoren (1882-1913), one of Sun's associates. The party, the Kuo Min-tang (Kuomintang or KMT -- the National People's Party, frequently referred to as the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui. In the national elections held in February 1913 for the new bicameral parliament, Song campaigned against the Yuan administration, and his party won a majority of seats. Yuan had Song assassinated in March; he had already arranged the assassination of several pro-revolutionist generals. Animosity toward Yuan grew.

After the 1911 revolution, the new republic split into three primary factions: 1) Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Party, based in Nanjing (formerly Nanking); 2) Yuan Shih-k'ai's former Imperial Army whose seat of power was in Beijing (formerly Peking); and 3) warlords in northern China who continued to reign over several provinces. In the summer of 1913 seven southern provinces rebelled against Yuan. When the rebellion was suppressed, Sun and other instigators fled to Japan. In October 1913 an intimidated parliament formally elected Yuan president of the Republic of China, and the major powers extended recognition to his government. To achieve international recognition, Yuan Shikai had to agree to autonomy for Outer Mongolia and Xizang [Tibet]. China was still to be suzerain, but it would have to allow Russia a free hand in Outer Mongolia and Britain continuance of its influence in Xizang.

In November 1913 Yuan Shikai, legally president, ordered the Kuo Min-tang dissolved and its members removed from parliament. Within a few months, he suspended parliament and the provincial assemblies and forced the promulgation of a new constitution, which, in effect, made him president for life. Yuan's ambitions still were not satisfied, and, by the end of 1915, it was announced that he would reestablish the monarchy.

To finance the war in Europe, Western money had been pulled out of China and Japan stepped into the void, granting massive loans to the government of Yuan Shih-k'ai. In 1915 the Japanese set before the warlord government in Beijing the so-called Twenty-One Demands, which would have made China a Japanese protectorate. The Beijing government rejected some of these demands but yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession. Beijing also recognized Tokyo's authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia [in 1917, in secret communiques, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for the Japan's naval action against Germany].

Yuan Shih-k'ai counsellors and henchmen set going the gathering of monarchical support, and the isolating of opposition to the president becoming emperor and saving China. The machine was set in motion on August 30, 1915. On October 7, it emitted the set process for nominating Yuan Shih-k'ai as emperor. On December 11, Yuan's Council of State read the votes of the monarchist's agents in the provinces electing him emperor, and tendered him the throne. On December 29, Yuan gave orders to attack the Republican rebels, in arms against his usurpation. He put the crown away, but on January 2, 1916, entered the palace in the imperial yellow chair of the last dynasty, sat on the throne, received officials, and the salutation of "Imperial Majesty", and appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce as a special envoy to the world, - well, to Tokio, - to announce the new reign. On January 22, Yuan Shih-k'ai postponed the monarchy, and on March 22 resumed the republic.

The new revolution was on. Widespread rebellions ensued, and numerous provinces declared independence. With opposition at every quarter and the nation breaking up into warlord factions, Yuan Shikai died of natural causes on 06 June 1916, deserted by his lieutenants. General Li Yuan-hong, vice president of the Republic that Yuan Shi-kai had sought to dismantle, succeeded him, while General Duan Qi-rui retained his post as premier. Yuan's death left the republican government all but shattered, ushering in the era of the "warlords" during which China was ruled and ravaged by shifting coalitions of competing provincial military leaders. Chaos reigned as control of the Chinese capital see-sawed between several groups: generals of the former Imperial Army, territorial warlords, and the Nationalists (also called Kuomintang or KMT).

Provincial military- governors and generals, particularly in the northern provinces, were busily conspiring to revive the defunct Manchu empire. In the face of this menace the republicans themselves were disunited The Conservative northern or militarist party, recruited chiefly from the old governing classes in North China, and led by Premier Tuan Chi-jui, was determined to dominate the republic in defiance of parliamentary Radicals. On the other hand, the Radical republicans (organized in party called Kwo-min-tang), representing the "solid South' of Chinese democracy, uncompromisingly insisted that they should exercise the control of the government. In the negotiations of foreign loans, a clique of pro-Japanese Conservatives favored Japan, whereas the Radicals inclined toward America.

The struggle between North and South in China is very old. In one form or another it has gone on for eight hundred years-in fact ever since the Kitan and Chin Tartars burst through the Great Wall in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and commenced the Tartar military supremacy in North China which has so profoundly modified the old Chinese ritual of government. For although the Ming dynasty (Chinese) broke the Mongol supremacy, and moved the capital from Nanking to Peking five hundred years ago, the Mings were soon enough ousted by the Manchus (Tartars again), who stereotyped nearly three centuries ago the conception of a military domination directed from Peking-a domination which, no matter how unreal it may have become, still lived in Northern China as a political concept, tradition playing such a powerful role among the educated and uneducated alike that no amount of argument can kill it. This, then, is the real quarrel between North and South in spite of all talk about constitutionalism, namely, that the Peking tradition of a military domination has not been killed.

In August 1917 China had declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under Japanese control. But in 1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. When the Paris peace conference of 1919 confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and Beijing's sellout became public, internal reaction was shattering. On May 4, 1919, there were massive student demonstrations, as 10,000 students rose against the Beijing government and Japan.

The political fervor, student activism, and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student protest developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement. The intellectual milieu in which the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period from 1917 to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture Movement, and the terms are often used synonymously. Students returned from abroad advocating social and political theories ranging from complete Westernization of China to the socialism that one day would be adopted by China's communist rulers. One of its leaders was a librarian-turned-Marxist named Mao Zedong (formerly spelled Tse-tung), who founded the Chinese Communist Party in China with only 57 original members.

Important economic and social changes occurred during the first years of the Republic. With the outbreak of World War I, competition from foreign firms abated, and domestic light industry experienced rapid growth. By 1918, the industrial sector employed 1.8 million workers. Meanwhile, modern banks were able to meet expanding financial demand.

In addition to Japan, the United States was the other emerging Pacific power. It had long felt sympathetic toward the Chinese people, both because of their plight and the potential of their markets. China, in turn, looked to the United States to check foreign aggression. While Washington tried to reign in Japan's Asian design, there was little America could do with a limited military and economic presence. In 1921-22, an international conference aiming to limit the world's navies was held in Washington. The resulting Nine Powers Treaty (also signed by Japan) reaffirmed America's Open Door policy towards China.

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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:06 ZULU