Representative government of a kind started in 1909 with the establishment of provincial assemblies.
Continuing The Chinese Revolution of 1912,
with a selection from The Situation in the Far East by Robert Machray published in magazine article. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 4 installments for 5 minute reading.
Previously in The Chinese Revolution of 1912.
The wars with France and England had but a slight effect on China; though the foreign devils beat it in war it yet despised them. The effect of the war with Japan, in 1894, was something quite different, beginning the real awakening of China and imparting life and vigor to the new reform movement which had its origin in Canton, the great city of the south, whose highly intelligent people have most quickly felt and most readily and strongly responded to outside influences. Regarded by the Chinese as at least partially civilized, the Japanese were placed in a higher category than the Western barbarians, but as their triumph over China was attributed to their adoption of Western military methods and equipment, the more enlightened Chinese came to the conclusion that, however contemptible the men of the Western world were, the main secret of their success, as of that of Japan, was open enough. They decided that Western learning and modes of government and organization must be studied and copied, as Japan had studied and copied them, if the Celestial Empire was to endure. It was a case on the largest scale of self-preservation, and some part, at least, of the truth was glimpsed by the Throne itself.
Something, but not much, was heard of a republic while Tzu Hsi lived; before her death the principle of a constitution, with a national parliament and provincial assemblies, had been accepted by the Throne — with reservations limiting the spheres of these representative bodies, retaining the supreme power in the Throne, and in the case of the national parliament delaying its coming into existence for a term of years.
By Tzu Hsi’s commands, the Throne passed at her death into the hands of a sort of commission; a child of two years of age, a nephew of Kuang Hsu, called Pu Yi, became Emperor under the dynastic name of Hsuan Tung; his father, Prince Chun, was nominated Regent, but was ordered to consult the new Dowager Empress, Lung Yu, the widow of Kuang Hsu, and to be governed by her decisions in all important matters of State. Prince Chun, amiable in disposition but weak and vacillating in character, and not always on the best of terms with Lung Yu, began well; one of his first acts was to assure President Taft, who had written entreating him to expedite reforms as making for the true interests of China, that he was determined to pursue that policy. Among those who had suggested reforms to Tzu Hsi, often going far beyond her wishes or plans, but who steadily supported her in all she did in that direction, the leading man was Yuan Shih-kai; with the possible exception of Chang Chih-tung, the Viceroy of Hunan and Hupeh, mentioned above, Yuan Shih-kai had become the greatest man in China, and even as he had advised and supported Tzu Hsi, so he advised and supported Prince Chun at the commencement of the Regency. But the prince had received an unfortunate legacy from his brother, the Emperor Kuang Hsu, who, believing that Yuan Shih-kai had betrayed him to Tzu Hsi at the time of the coup d’etat, had given instructions to Prince Chun that if he came into power he was to punish Yuan for his treachery. At the beginning of 1909 the Regent dismissed Yuan on an apparently trivial pretext, but every one in China knew the real reason for his fall, and not a few wondered that his life had been spared. It is idle to surmise what might have happened if his services had been retained by the Throne all the time, but who could have imagined that so swift and almost incredible an instance of time’s revenges was in store — that within barely three years Yuan Shih-kai would be the acknowledged head of the State, and Prince Chun and all the Manchus in the dust?
Representative government of a kind started in 1909 with the establishment of provincial assemblies; elections were held, and assemblies met in most of the provinces. In the following year a senate or imperial assembly was decreed by an imperial edict; its first session was held in Peking in October of that year, and was opened by the Regent; one of the first things the assembly did was to memorialize the Throne for the rapid hastening on of reforms, and in response an edict was issued announcing the formation of a national parliament, consisting of an Upper and a Lower House, within three years. Under further pressure the Throne in May of 1911 abolished the Grand Council and the Grand Secretariat, and created a Cabinet of Ministers, after the Western model. But the agitation continued and went on growing in intensity; still it sought nothing apparently but a development of the constitution, and at least on the surface was neither anti-dynastic nor republican.
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