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- The Fight For The Republic In China - 6/86 -


and all his works, and forthwith they were officially protected. Far and wide they killed every white face they could find. They tore up railways, burnt churches and chapels and produced a general anarchy which could only have one end--European intervention. The man, sitting on the edge of Chinese history but not yet identifying himself with its main currents because he was not strong enough for that, had once again not judged wrongly. With his Korean experience to assist him, he had seen precisely what the end must inevitably be.

The crash in Peking, when the siege of the Legations had been raised by an international army, found him alert and sympathetic-- ready with advice, ready to shoulder new responsibilities, ready to explain away everything. The signature of the Peace Protocol of 1901 was signalized, by his obtaining the viceroyalty of Chihli, succeeding the great Li Hung Chang himself, who had been reappointed to his old post, but had found active duties too wearisome. This was a marvellous success for a man but little over forty. And when the fugitive Court at length returned from Hsianfu in 1902, honours were heaped upon him as a person particularly worthy of honour because he had kept up appearances and maintained the authority of the distressed Throne. As if in answer to this he flooded the Court with memorials praying that in order to restore the power of the Dynasty a complete army of modern troops be raised--as numerous as possible but above all efficient.

His advice was listened to. From 1902 until 1907 as Minister of the Army Reorganization Council--a special post he held simultaneously with that of metropolitan Viceroy--Yuan Shih-kai's great effort was concentrated on raising an efficient fighting force. In those five years, despite all financial embarrassments, North China raised and equipped six excellent Divisions of field- troops--75,000 men--all looking to Yuan Shih-kai as their sole master. So much energy did he display in pushing military reorganization throughout the provinces that the Court, warned by jealous rivals of his growing power, suddenly promoted him to a post where he would be powerless. One day he was brought to Peking as Grand Councillor and President of the Board of Foreign Affairs, and ordered to hand over all army matters to his noted rival, the Manchu Tieh Liang. The time had arrived to muzzle him. His last phase as a pawn had come.

Few foreign diplomats calling at China's Foreign Office to discuss matters during that short period which lasted barely a twelve- month, imagined that the square resolute-looking man who as President of the Board gave the same energy and attention to consular squabbles as to the reorganization of a national fighting force, was almost daily engaged in a fierce clandestine struggle to maintain even his modest position. Jealousy, which flourishes in Peking like the upas tree, was for ever blighting his schemes and blocking his plans. He had been brought to Peking to be tied up; he was constantly being denounced; and even his all powerful patroness, the old Empress Dowager, who owed so much to him, suffered from constant premonitions that the end was fast approaching, and that with her the Dynasty would die.

In the Autumn of 1908 she took sick. The gravest fears quickly spread. It was immediately reported that the Emperor Kwanghsu was also very ill--an ominous coincidence. Very suddenly both personages collapsed and died, the Empress Dowager slightly before the Emperor. There is little doubt that the Emperor himself was poisoned. The legend runs that as he expired not only did he give his Consort, who was to succeed him in the exercise of the nominal power of the Throne, a last secret Edict to behead Yuan Shih-kai, but that his faltering hand described circle after circle in the air until his followers understood the meaning. In the vernacular the name of the great viceroy and the word for circle have the same sound; the gesture signified that the dying monarch's last wish was revenge on the man who had failed him ten years before.

An ominous calm followed this great break with the past. It was understood that the Court was torn by two violent factions regarding the succession which the Empress Tzu-hsi had herself decided. The fact that another long Regency had become inevitable through the accession of the child Hsuan Tung aroused instant apprehensions among foreign observers, whilst it was confidently predicted that Yuan Shih-kai's last days had come.

The blow fell suddenly on the 2nd January, 1909. In the interval between the death of the old Empress and his disgrace, Yuan Shih- kai was actually promoted to the highest rank in the gift of the Throne, that is made "Senior Guardian of the Heir Apparent" and placed in charge of the Imperial funeral arrangements--a lucrative appointment. During that interval it is understood that the new Regent, brother of the Emperor Kwang-hsu, consulted all the most trusted magnates of the empire regarding the manner in which the secret decapitation Decree should be treated. All advised him to be warned in time, and not to venture on a course of action which would be condemned both by the nation and by the Powers. Another Edict was therefore prepared simply dismissing Yuan Shih-kai from office and ordering him to return to his native place.

Every one remembers that day in Peking when popular rumour declared that the man's last hour had come. Warned on every side to beware, Yuan Shih-kai left the Palace as soon as he had read the Edict of dismissal in the Grand Council and drove straight to the railway-station, whence he entrained for Tientsin, dressed as a simple citizen. Rooms had been taken for him at a European hotel, the British Consulate approached for protection, when another train brought down his eldest son bearing a message direct from the Grand Council Chamber, absolutely guaranteeing the safety of his life. Accordingly he duly returned to his native place in Honan province, and for two years--until the outbreak of the Revolution--devoted himself sedulously to the development of the large estate he had acquired with the fruits of office. Living like a patriarch of old, surrounded by his many wives and children, he announced constantly that he had entirely dropped out of the political life of China and only desired to be left in peace. There is reason to believe, however, that his henchmen continually reported to him the true state of affairs and bade him bide his time. Certain it is that the firing of the first shots on the Yangtsze found him alert and issuing private orders to his followers. It was inevitable that he should have been recalled to office--and actually within one hundred hours of the first news of the outbreak the Court sent for him urgently and ungraciously.

From the 14th October, 1911, when he was appointed by Imperial Edict Viceroy of Hupeh and Hunan and ordered to proceed at once to the front to quell the insurrection, until the 1st November, when he was given virtually Supreme Power as President of the Grand Council in place of Prince Ching, a whole volume is required to discuss adequately the maze of questions involved. For the purposes of this account, however, the matter can be dismissed very briefly in this way. Welcoming the opportunity which had at last come and determined once for all to settle matters decisively, so far as he was personally concerned, Yuan Shih-kai deliberately followed the policy of holding back and delaying everything until the very incapacity marking both sides--the Revolutionists quite as much as the Manchus--forced him, as man of action and man of diplomacy, to be acclaimed the sole mediator and saviour of the nation.

The detailed course of the Revolution, and the peculiar manner in which Yuan Shih-kai allowed events rather than men to assert their mastery has often been related and need not long detain us. It is generally conceded that in spite of the bravery of the raw revolutionary levies, their capacity was entirely unequal to the trump card Yuan Shih-kai held all the while in his hand--the six fully-equipped Divisions of Field Troops he himself had organized as Tientsin Viceroy. It was a portion of this field-force which captured and destroyed the chief revolutionary base in the triple city of Hankow, Hanyang and Wuchang in November, 1911, and which he held back just as it was about to give the coup de grace by crossing the river in force and sweeping the last remnants of the revolutionary army to perdition. Thus it is correct to declare that had he so wished Yuan Shih-kai could have crushed the revolution entirely before the end of 1911; but he was sufficiently astute to see that the problem he had to solve was not merely military but moral as well. The Chinese as a nation were suffering from a grave complaint. Their civilization had been made almost bankrupt owing to unresisted foreign aggression and to the native inability to cope with the mass of accumulated wrongs which a superimposed and exhausted feudalism--the Manchu system-- had brought about. Yuan Shih-kai knew that the Boxers had been theoretically correct in selecting as they first did the watchword which they had first placed on their banners--"blot out the Manchus and all foreign things." Both had sapped the old civilization to its foundations. But the program they had proposed was idealistic, not practical. One element could be cleared away-- the other had to be endured. Had the Boxers been sensible they would have modified their program to the extent of protecting the foreigners, whilst they assailed the Dynasty which had brought them so low. The Court Party, as we have said, seduced their leaders to acting in precisely the reverse sense.

Yuan Shih-kai was neither a Boxer, nor yet a believer in idealistic foolishness. He had realized that the essence of successful rule in the China of the Twentieth Century was to support the foreign point of view--nominally at least--because foreigners disposed of unlimited monetary resources, and had science on their side. He knew that so long as he did not openly flout foreign opinion by indulging in barefaced assassinations, he would be supported owing to the international reputation he had established in 1900. Arguing from these premises, his instinct also told him that an appearance of legality must always be sedulously preserved and the aspirations of the nation nominally satisfied. For this reason he arranged matters in such a manner as to appear always as the instrument of fate. For this reason, although he destroyed the revolutionists on the mid-Yangtsze, to equalize matters, on the lower Yangtsze he secretly ordered the evacuation of Nanking by the Imperialist forces so that he might have a tangible argument with which to convince the Manchus regarding the root and branch reform which he knew was necessary. That reform had been accepted in principle by the Throne when it agreed to the so-called Nineteen Fundamental Articles, a corpus of demands which all the Northern Generals had endorsed and had indeed insisted should be the basis of government before they would fight the rebellious South in 1911. There is reason to believe that provided he had been made de facto Regent, Yuan Shih- kai would have supported to the end a Manchu Monarchy. But the surprising swiftness of the Revolutionary Party's action in proclaiming the Republic at Nanking on the 1st January, 1912, and the support which foreign opinion gave that venture confused him. He had already consented to peace negotiations with the revolutionary South in the middle of December, 1911, and once he was drawn into those negotiations his policy wavered, the armistice in the field being constantly extended because he saw that the Foreign Powers, and particularly England, were averse from further civil war. Having dispatched a former lieutenant,


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