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Yuan Shikai () (September 16, 1859 – June 6 1916) was a Chinese military official and politician during the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China. He was infamous for taking advantage of both the Qing imperial court and the Republicans, and for his authoritarian control based on control of the military.
Birth and Childhood
Yuan Shikai was born in the village of Zhangying (張營村), located in Xiangcheng county (項城縣), depending from Chenzhou prefecture (陳州府), Henan province. Xiangcheng county has now become the county-level city of Xiangcheng (项城市), depending from the prefecture-level city of Zhoukou (周口市). Chenzhou is now called Huaiyang (淮阳), but it is no more the head of the prefecture, having been replaced by Zhoukou. The village of Zhangying is located immediately north of downtown Xiangcheng. Shortly after Yuan's birth, Xiangcheng was threatened by the Nian Rebellion (捻軍起義) (1853-1868), and the Yuan family moved to a hilly area easier to defend, 16 km./10 miles southeast of downtown Xiangcheng, and there they built a fortified village, the village of Yuanzhai (袁寨村 - literally "the fortified village of the Yuan family"). The village of Yuanzhai is now located inside Wangmingkou township (王明口乡), on the territory of the county-level city of Xiangcheng. The large countryside estate of the Yuan family in Yuanzhai was recently opened to tourism by the People's Republic of China, and people inside China generally assume that Yuan Shikai was born in Yuanzhai.
Rise to Power
Yuan Shikai rose to fame by participating in 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 for his own sole benefit. Especially after the coup d'état 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 Army into the most powerful army in China. In January 1909, following the death of Cixi and Guangxu, he was relieved of all his posts by the regent, 2nd Prince Chun (醇親王), probably under a secret will of Guangxu. The official reason advanced was that he was returning to his home in the village of Huanshang (洹上村), located in the suburbs of Zhangde prefecture (彰德府), now called the prefecture-level city of Anyang (安阳市), Henan province, in order to treat a foot disease. He remained there for almost three years; however, he still maintained enormous influence in the Beiyang Army even after returning to Henan.
In 1911-1912, Yuan played a critical role in the establishment of the Republic of China. Following the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911 in Hubei province, the southern provinces had declared independence from the Qing, but neither the northern provinces nor the 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 force powerful enough to quell the revolutionaries. On October 14, he was offered the post of viceroy of Hukwang (i.e. governor-general for the provinces of Hubei and Hunan), but he asked the court for full powers, which was refused by the regent, and so he declared he could not accept the post because "the curing of his foot disease was not completely finished". The court renewed offers on October 27, and Yuan eventually left his village on October 30. At last on November 1st the court offered him the post of prime minister. On November 16, his cabinet was finally formed. Hence on the one hand Yuan was demanding the highest political status from the Qing 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.
The revolutionaries had elected Sun Yat-Sen, but they were in a militarily weak position, and so they 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'état in Beijing and Tianjin, apparently under Yuan's orders, to provide an excuse for Yuan not to leave his sphere of influence in Chih-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. He died of kidney failure a few months later.
Evaluation and legacy
With Yuan's death, China was left without any generally recognized central authority and the army quickly fragmented into forces of combatting warlords. For this reason he is usually called the Father of the Warlords. It is not really correct to attribute the other characteristics of warlordism to his preference, since in his career as a military reformer he had attempted to create a modern army on the Japanese model. He demonstrated then that he understood how staff work, military education, and regular transfers of officer personnel fitted together to make a modern military organisation. After his return to power in 1911, however, he seemed willing to sacrifice everything in his imperial ambitions, and ruled by a combination of violence and bribery that destroyed the idealism of the early Republican movement. Since those who opposed Yuan could do so only from a territorial military base, Yuan's career as President and Emperor contributed greatly to China's subsequent political division.
|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 Yuán Shìkǎi||1916||Hongxian (洪憲 Hóngxiàn) 1916|
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