Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- The Fight For The Republic In China - 5/86 -

Wu Chang-ching, and now encamped in the Korean capital nominally to preserve order, but in reality, to enforce the claims of the suzerain power. For the Peking Government had never retreated from the position that Korea had been a vassal state ever since the Ming Dynasty had saved the country from the clutches of Hideyoshi and his Japanese invaders in the Sixteenth Century. Yuan Shih-kai had been personally recommended by this General Wu Chang-ching as a young man of ability and energy to the famous Li Hung Chang, who as Tientsin Viceroy and High Commissioner for the Northern Seas was responsible for the conduct of Korean affairs. The future dictator of China was then only twenty-five years old.

His very first contact with practical politics gave him a peculiar manner of viewing political problems. The arrival of Chinese troops in Seoul marked the beginning of that acute rivalry with Japan which finally culminated in the short and disastrous war of 1894-95. China, in order to preserve her influence in Korea against the growing influence of Japan, intrigued night and day in the Seoul Palaces, allying herself with the Conservative Court party which was led by the notorious Korean Queen who was afterwards assassinated. The Chinese agents aided and abetted the reactionary group, constantly inciting them to attack the Japanese and drive them out of the country.

Continual outrages were the consequence. The Japanese legation was attacked and destroyed by the Korean mob not once but on several occasions during a decade which furnishes one of the most amazing chapters in the history of Asia. Yuan Shih-kai, being then merely a junior general officer under the orders of the Chinese Imperial Resident, is of no particular importance; but it is significant of the man that he should suddenly come well under the limelight on the first possible occasion. On 6th December, 1884, leading 2,000 Chinese troops, and acting in concert with 3,000 Korean soldiers, he attacked the Tong Kwan Palace in which the Japanese Minister and his staff, protected by two companies of Japanese infantry, had taken refuge owing to the threatening state of affairs in the capital. Apparently there was no particular plan--it was the action of a mob of soldiery tumbling into a political brawl and assisted by their officers for reasons which appear to-day nonsensical. The sequel was, however, extraordinary. The Japanese held the Palace gates as long as possible, and then being desperate exploded a mine which killed numbers of Koreans and Chinese soldiery and threw the attack into confusion. They then fought their way out of the city escaping ultimately to the nearest sea-port, Chemulpo.

The explanation of this extraordinary episode has never been made public. The practical result was that after a period of extreme tension between China and Japan which was expected to lead to war, that political genius, the late Prince Ito, managed to calm things down and arrange workable modus vivendi. Yuan Shih-kai, who had gone to Tientsin to report in person to Li Hung Chang, returned to Seoul triumphantly in October, 1885, as Imperial Resident. He was then twenty-eight years old; he had come to the front, no matter by what means, in a quite remarkable manner.

The history of the next nine years furnishes plenty of minor incidents, but nothing of historic importance. As the faithful lieutenant of Li Hung Chang, Yuan Shih-kai's particular business was simply to combat Japanese influence and hold the threatened advance in check. He failed, of course, since he was playing a losing game; and yet he succeeded where he undoubtedly wished to succeed. By rendering faithful service he established the reputation he wished to win; and though he did nothing great he retained his post right up to the act which led to the declaration of war in 1894. Whether he actually precipitated that war is still a matter of opinion. On the sinking by the Japanese fleet of the British steamer Kowshing, which was carrying Chinese reinforcements from Taku anchorage to Asan Bay to his assistance, seeing that the game was up, he quietly left the Korean capital and made his way overland to North China. That swift, silent journey home ends the period of his novitiate.

It took him a certain period to weather the storm which the utter collapse of China in her armed encounter with Japan brought about --and particularly to obtain forgiveness for evacuating Seoul without orders. Technically his offence was punishable by death-- the old Chinese code being most stringent in such matters. But by 1896 he was back in favour again, and through the influence of his patron Li Hung Chang, he was at length appointed in command of the Hsiaochan camp near Tientsin, where he was promoted and given the task of reforming a division of old-style troops and making them as efficient as Japanese soldiery. He had already earned a wide reputation for severity, for willingness to accept responsibility, for nepotism, and for a rare ability to turn even disasters to his own advantage--all attributes which up to the last moment stood him in good stead.

In the Hsiaochan camp the most important chapter of his life opens; there is every indication that he fully realized it. Tientsin has always been the gateway to Peking: from there the road to high preferment is easily reached. Yuan Shih-kai marched steadily forward, taking the very first turning-point in a manner which stamped him for many of his compatriots in a way which can never be obliterated.

It is first necessary to say a word about the troops of his command, since this has a bearing on present-day politics. The bulk of the soldiery were so-called Huai Chun--i.e., nominally troops from the Huai districts, just south of Li Hung Chang's native province Anhui. These Kiangu men, mixed with Shantung recruits, had earned a historic place in the favour of the Manchus owing to the part they had played in the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, in which great event General Gordon and Li Hung Chang had been so closely associated. They and the troops of Hunan province, led by the celebrated Marquis Tseng Kuo-fan, were "the loyal troops," resembling the Sikhs during the Indian Mutiny; they were supposed to be true to their salt to the last man. Certainly they gave proofs of uncustomary fidelity.

In those military days of twenty years ago Yuan Shih-kai and his henchmen were, however, concerned with simpler problems. It was then a question of drill and nothing but drill. In his camp near Tientsin the future President of the Chinese Republic succeeded in reorganizing his troops so well that in a very short time the Hsiaochan Division became known as a corps d'elite. The discipline was so stern that there were said to be only two ways of noticing subordinates, either by promoting or beheading them. Devoting himself to his task Yuan Shih-kai gave promise of being able to handle much bigger problems.

His zeal soon attracted the attention of the Manchu Court. The circumstances in Peking at that time were peculiar. The famous old Empress Dowager, Tzu-Hsi, after the Japanese war, had greatly relaxed her hold on the Emperor Kwanghsu, who though still in subjection to her, nominally governed the empire. A well- intentioned but weak man, he had surrounded himself with advanced scholars, led by the celebrated Kang Yu Wei, who daily studied with him and filled him with new doctrines, teaching him to believe that if he would only exert his power he might rescue the nation from international ignominy and make for himself an imperishable name.

The sequel was inevitable. In 1898 the oriental world was electrified by the so-called Reform Edicts, in which the Emperor undertook to modernize China, and in which he exhorted the nation to obey him. The greatest alarm was created in Court circles by this action; the whole vast body of Metropolitan officialdom, seeing its future threatened, flooded the Palace of the Empress Dowager with Secret Memorials praying her to resume power. Flattered, she gave her secret assent.

Things marched quickly after that. The Empress, nothing loth, began making certain dispositions. Troops were moved, men were shifted here and there in a way that presaged action; and the Emperor, now thoroughly alarmed and yielding to the entreaties of his followers, sent two members of the Reform Party to Yuan Shih- kai bearing an alleged autograph order for him to advance instantly on Peking with all his troops; to surround the Palace, to secure the person of the Emperor from all danger, and then to depose the Empress Dowager for ever from power. What happened is equally well-known. Yuan Shih-kai, after an exhaustive examination of the message and messengers, as well as other attempts to substantiate the genuineness of the appeal, communicated its nature to the then Viceroy of Chihli, the Imperial Clansman Jung Lu, whose intimacy with the Empress Dowager since the days of her youth has passed into history. Jung Lu lost no time in acting. He beheaded the two messengers and personally reported the whole plot to the Empress Dowager who was already fully warned. The result was the so-called coup d'etat of September, 1898, when all the Reformers who had not fled were summarily executed, and the Emperor Kwanghsu himself closely imprisoned in the Island Palace within that portion of the Forbidden City known as the Three Lakes, having (until the Boxer outbreak of 1900 carried him to Hsianfu), as sole companions his two favourites, the celebrated odalisques "Pearl" and "Lustre."

This is no place to enter into the controversial aspect of Yuan Shih-kai's action in 1898 which has been hotly debated by partisans for many years. For onlookers the verdict must always remain largely a matter of opinion; certainly this is one of those matters which cannot be passed upon by any one but a Chinese tribunal furnished with all the evidence. Those days which witnessed the imprisonment of Kwang Hsu were great because they opened wide the portals of the Romance of History: all who were in Peking can never forget the counter-stroke; the arrival of the hordes composed of Tung Fu-hsiang's Mahommedan cavalry--men who had ridden hard across a formidable piece of Asia at the behest of their Empress and who entered the capital in great clouds of dust. It was in that year of 1898 also that Legation Guards reappeared in Peking--a few files for each Legation as in 1860--and it was then that clear-sighted prophets saw the beginning of the end of the Manchu Dynasty.

Yuan Shih-kai's reward for his share in this counter-revolution was his appointment to the governorship of Shantung province. He moved thither with all his troops in December, 1899. Armed cap-a- pie he was ready for the next act--the Boxers, who burst on China in the Summer of 1900. These men were already at work in Shantung villages with their incantations and alleged witchcraft. There is evidence that their propaganda had been going on for months, if not for years, before any one had heard of it. Yuan Shih-kai had the priceless opportunity of studying them at close range and soon made up his mind about certain things. When the storm burst, pretending to see nothing but mad fanatics in those who, realizing the plight of their country, had adopted the war-cry "Blot out the Manchus and the foreigner," he struck at them fiercely, driving the whole savage horde headlong into the metropolitan province of Chihli. There, seduced by the Manchus, they suddenly changed the inscription on their flags. Their sole enemy became the foreigner

The Fight For The Republic In China - 5/86

Previous Page     Next Page

  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   20   30   40   50   60   70   80   86 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything