What did the un-Westernized Chinese think of the republic?
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.
Among the causes which contributed to the success of the revolution were the inability of the north to obtain loans from outside, and the pressure, both direct and indirect, exerted upon both parties by foreign Powers. Both of these causes were important, the latter especially so. The action of Russia with respect to Mongolia, and of Japan with regard to Manchuria, alarmed patriotic Chinese, led them to fear that foreign interference might not be confined to these territories, and to dread that the result would be the disintegration of the country. Under the Manchus they had seen the loss of Korea, the Liaotung, Formosa, and, in a sense, of Manchuria itself; they were apprehensive of German designs in Shantung, of Japanese in Fuhkien. The feeling that the country was in danger helped both sides to be of one mind. But the pressure from the outside was not all of this sinister sort; friendly representations from the genuinely well-disposed Powers did a good deal to bring the combatants to a mutual understanding. But throughout the revolution, as in the final result, the great outstanding, commanding figure was Yuan Shih-kai himself. Evidently a man of great gifts, he knew how and when to yield and how and when to be firm; the compromise which solved the situation — at all events, for the time — was mostly his work; statesman and patriot, he saved his country. And it will always redound to his credit that he can not be charged with faithlessness to the Manchus, for he did all that was possible for them, standing by them to the last. By retaining the “Emperor” as the priestly head of the nation, pater patriae, according to Chinese ideas, he has left something to the Manchus and at the same time contrived that the republican form of government shall bring as slight a shock to “immemorial China” as can be imagined.
What does this “immemorial China” — meaning thereby the great bulk of the Chinese, the un-Westernized Chinese — think of the republic? In other words, is the republic likely to last? What sort of republic will it probably be, viewing the situation as it stands? At one of the early stages of the revolution Yuan Shih-kai stated that only three-tenths of his countrymen were in favor of a republic — in itself, however, a considerable proportion of the population; now that the republic is in existence, will it be accepted tranquilly by the rest? The majority of these people are the inoffensive and industrious peasants of the interior, who have long been accustomed to bad government; as they will scarcely find their lot harder now, they will probably quietly accept the new order, unless some radical change is made affecting their habits of life, which is unlikely. Some of the old conservative gentry are opposed to the republic; but, now the Manchu dynasty is gone, whom or what can they suggest in its place that would be received favorably by the country? The descendant of the Mings? Or the descendant of Confucius?
Neither seems a likely candidate in present circumstances. For it may very well be the case that as the revolution has been so largely military, and parts of the army need careful handling, as the recent riots in Peking showed, the Republican Government will assume something of a distinctively military character, and Yuan Shih-kai, as its head, be in a position not very different from that of a military dictator — as Diaz was in Mexico. The republic will, of course, have its troubles, and serious ones enough, to face, but the balance of probabilities certainly suggests its lasting awhile.
Meanwhile, the Dowager Empress and the Manchu princes had discussed the position of affairs with Yuan Shih-kai, and the question of the abdication of the dynasty was under consideration, but though the situation was desperate there were some counsels of resistance. What finally made opposition impossible was the presentation to the Throne in the last days of January of a memorial, signed by the generals of the northern army, requesting it to abandon any idea of maintaining itself by force. This settled the matter. No other course being practicable, terms were agreed to between Peking and Nanking, and on February 12th imperial edicts, commencing for the last time with the customary formula, were issued from the capital giving Yuan Shih-kai plenary powers to establish a Provisional Republican Government, and to confer with the Provisional Republican Government at Nanking, approving of the arrangements which had been made for the Emperor and the imperial family, and exhorting the people to remain tranquil under the new regime. These edicts will remain among the most remarkable things in history, and it can not be said that the passing of the Manchus was attended by any want of that ceremonious calmness and dignity for which China is famed. Two or three days later Sun Yat-sen in a disinterested spirit resigned, and Yuan Shih-kai was unanimously elected President by the Nanking Assembly; Yuan accepted the office, and thus north and south were united in “The Great Republic of China.” At the end of March progress in the settlement of affairs was seen in the formation of a Coalition Cabinet, comprising Ministers of both the Peking and the Nanking Governments, those selected being men with a considerable knowledge of Western life and thought, as, for instance, Lu Cheng-hsiang, the Foreign Minister, who has lived many years in Europe and speaks French as well as English. A further advance took place on April 2d, when the Nanking Assembly agreed by a large majority to transfer the Provisional Government to Peking, which thus resumed its position as the capital of the country and the center of its Administration.
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