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Inaugural address of the President, Yuan Shih K’ai1

During all the years in which I have taken part in political life I have always adopted a safe and firm policy, under the conviction that the fundamental basis upon which a nation is built is law and order. With law and order conserved a nation can then devote itself: to uniting the people in the path of progress. I have therefore always been interested in everything calculated to enlighten the people but have necessarily always advanced by gradual steps. I have preferred to go slowly rather than hurriedly. I have always held the nation and people in too high esteem to be risked at one throw of the dice, thereby completely sweeping away the inherited teachings and traditions of four thousand years.

After the year 1909 I retired and paid no more attention to politics. My life-long ambition to save the country vanished like a fleeting cloud. However, when the outbreaks occurred at Wuchang and Hankow I was forced by circumstances again to assume the responsibilities of state. I was fearful lest my nation and my people might lose their existence, and my one thought was to mitigate their condition. Then the abdication of the Manchu Emperor took place and the Republic was proclaimed. Not discarded by the Five Great Races, I was chosen to be the Provisional President of the Republic. The republican form of government existed in China in embryo four thousand years ago, and thus is not entirely strange to us. But restrictions and obstructions were placed upon my authority, making progress impossible. I was worn out by anxiety and deprived of appetite and the power to sleep. But I persevered and persevered in the hope that peace and tranquility might come at last.

Unexpectedly, in the seventh month of this year, a handful of violent characters attempted to destroy the social fabric and overthrow the country, and the fate of the infant republic of eastern Asia trembled in the balance. To save the nation and its people I reluctantly resorted to arms, and in consequence of the general aversion from anarchy and the discipline of the troops the rebellion was suppressed within two months. After this it was my purpose to resign and go into retirement in order that I might enjoy the blessings of the Republic. But contrary to my wishes the people’s convention has elected me, and the friendly powers have decided to recognize the Republic on the day when I should be elected. Therefore I did not dare, by setting a lofty standard of humility, to refuse to accept the position, for fear that the foundations of the nation might be shaken and the expectations of the fathers and brothers be [Page 83]unfulfilled. I also am one of the citizens of the country and the single purpose of my heart is to effect the salvation of the nation and of its people. I dare not regard success or failure nor the hardships or slanders which I will have to bear. I have therefore forced myself to accept this post. I now take this opportunity to express some of my most sincere and friendly thoughts to the people of the Republic.

It is a saying of western scholars that, a constitutional government is founded on law, and that a republican government is founded on morality. Morality should be considered as the actuality and law as the outward manifestation. Our people have been suddenly converted into citizens of a Republic, therefore it is imperative that there be law to support the morality of the people. I have made many inquiries among the learned scholars of France, America and other nations and have come at the true nature of republicanism. The republican form of government is a government which gathers together the ideas of all its citizens to form a perfect system of law for the strict observance of all, and liberty or freedom outside that system will be publicly discredited. This kind of law-abiding habit can only be developed gradually, until it becomes as habitual as rising up or going to bed, or as eating and sleeping. When such a point has been reached with us then will this nation be called a law-abiding nation. Though our citizens are by nature tractable they have never acquired to any great extent the habit of obedience to law. I expect the citizens of this country all to keep the laws, thereby unconsciously raising their moral standard.

Furthermore, the body of republican government is the people. The desire of the majority of the people is to live quietly and enjoy the fruit of their labors. But since the revolution the people have sustained all manner of hardships and difficulties, and to speak of their condition is heartrending. I have daily hoped for the restoration of the people to their normal condition, and I have not dared to put forth any measures which would tend to disturb them. I deeply regret that no precautions could be taken to restrain the violent characters who have caused the innocent to be afflicted. I wish to exert my utmost strength to allow the people to enjoy the real blessings of a republic so that the goal of seeking for them the greatest possible happiness may be attained. Earning a living has become so difficult, and the people have been so pressed by hunger and cold, that the more cunning ones among the violent characters have availed themselves of the opportunity to drive them to the path of death. This is indeed deplorable. It is desirable that the country enjoy a long period of peace. It is imperative that every man be enabled to earn a living, and this will only become possible by paying special attention to agriculture, industry and commerce.

I have heard that the best class of people in the enlightened countries enter upon a life of industry. The climate and natural resources of our country are by no means inferior to those of other powers; but as the arts of agriculture and cattle-breeding have not been studied, the results of industry are inferior, and mines, forests and fisheries are undeveloped, leaving the riches under the ground. No reliance has been placed on commerce and the export trade has steadily languished. It is like a rich man who after burying his [Page 84]money in the ground complains continually of his poverty. I hope that the people of the whole country will direct their attention to industrial enterprises, so that opportunities of earning a living may he thereby extended. Thus will the foundation of the nation be firmly laid.

There are two reasons why the industries of the country have not been developed: first, because of the rudimentary state of education; second, because of a lack of capital. Every branch of industry is closely related to science. But physics and chemistry are not understood and the principles of steam and electricity are untaught. While others are engaged in the struggle for education or the war of commerce, we are still cleaving conservatively to the old system, and superstitiously resting our faith upon empty talk. I hope that the citizens of the country will introduce the enlightened educational methods of foreign countries. In government and law the practical and not the theoretical must be emphasized. These are my views regarding education.

Unless there is capital it is no use to talk of industry. In view of the fertility of our soil and the richness of our produce, how can this country be called poor? The necessities of life are but those things which are associated with clothing, food and dwelling, for which silver and gold serve as a medium of exchange. If there is a shortage of silver and gold the means of exchange are lessened. Without silver and gold we should be without a medium of exchange. Therefore, to prepare for the various industrial enterprises, we must look to our neighbors who possess an ample supply of the medium of exchange. When the natural resources are opened and there are no waste lands nor idle people, the capital which has been borrowed will become a never-ending source of profit. After paying off the capital a surplus will be left. Would not this be a better method than that of the man who buried his treasure and yet was continually worrying about his poverty? I hope, therefore, that my country will introduce foreign capital in order that the industry of the country may be stimulated and developed.

To introduce the civilization and capital of foreign countries would benefit not only this country but also the world at large. The highest ideal of world civilization is to supply the deficiency of others from our own surplus, conferring happiness upon society, practically without distinction between countries. This is why Confucius loved to talk of universalization. Now that our country has become a Republic all the old ideas belonging to the period of seclusion should be swept away. As our citizens observe the laws of our own country so should they also understand the common law of nations. In intercourse with other nations everything should be in accordance with the practices of civilization, and there should be no prejudice shown towards foreigners, which only leads to trouble and law-breaking.

The attitude of the foreign powers towards us has always been that of peace and fairness, and whenever occasion therefor has arisen they have rendered us cordial assistance. In this is furnished ample evidence of the civilization of the world, and such exhibitions of good will from friendly nations arouse in us sentiments of deep gratitude. It is most important that all citizens of the Republic [Page 85]should clearly understand this, in order that with sincerity of purpose they may endeavor to strengthen the friendship of our international bonds. I hereby declare, therefore, that all treaties, conventions and other engagements entered into by the former Manchu and the Provisional Republican Governments with foreign governments shall be strictly observed, and that all contracts duly concluded by the former governments with foreign companies and individuals shall also be strictly observed; and further that all rights, privileges and immunities enjoyed by foreigners in China by virtue of international engagements, national enactments and established usages are hereby confirmed. This declaration I make with the view to maintain international amity and peace. All of you, citizens, should know that this is in accordance with a principle of international relations which must be carried out. If we can show an honest proof of our friendly intentions our relations with foreign countries will be properly managed.

The foregoing is but a summary of the thoughts which I desire to lay before you, citizens, and the moral which I want again to teach and enlarge upon consists of two characters: Tao Te [the practice of virtue]. These two characters are most comprehensive, and it has been impossible even for the great sages, by the use of thousands and thousands of words, to reveal their full significance. I will state what I understand by these two characters, and I will group my remarks under four, heads: Chung [loyalty], Hsin [honesty], Tu [sincerity], and Ching [respect].

Loyalty. The original idea of loyalty is that a person should be loyal to his country and not to any particular man. If everyone held as his guiding principle loyalty to the nation instead of loyalty to a man or to a family, he would sacrifice his own interests for the interests of the majority. It is most important that everyone should pay less attention to the attainment of power and influence and more to the fulfillment of duty. The interests of the country should not be sacrificed for the acquisition of personal power and influence.

Honesty. Confucius said that without honesty no one can stand upright. In enlightened countries the deceitful are by words among their fellow men and are held in general contempt. Washington when young received instruction from his father and thereafter never told a lie. From ancient times our country has laid stress on honesty, but of late the spirit of the people has not been as in earlier days. The people have acquired a habit of deceitfulness. Since it is difficult for a person to stand upright, how much more a nation. Tseng Kuo-fan of the late Ch’ing Dynasty said that in order to attain to upright stature it was essential never to tell a lie. Therefore, whether dealing with internal or with external problems, honesty is necessary.

Sincerity. In all enlightened countries no efforts have been spared to preserve the traditions of the nation, even so far as regards individual names or things. This is no impediment to progress. In the past the Renowned Religion has been the great bulwark of our country, and after four thousand years of alterations and changes there is the germ of something indestructible in it still. However, there are some who have been misguided by theory and are bent on destruction. They do not follow what is practical but are full of [Page 86]high-sounding words. Before they have acquired any advantage from foreign learning they have thrown away all the traditions of their own country. This shallowness of mind has spread quickly. If there are no branches, where shall the leaves be attached? The remedy for the complaint here described is in sincerity.

Respect. One must have a constant mind before one can have a constant occupation. When a person destitute of constancy has business to attend to he will attend to it confusedly; when he has none to attend to he will be idle. All his affairs will be characterized by idleness. Everything will come to grief through carelessness. No one will take any responsibility; all will stand by mockingly. No one will attend even to his own private affairs. From this we can understand the virtue of the saying of the ancients: “Respect your business.” To do away with pride and laziness there must be respect.

The four words Loyalty, Honesty, Sincerity and Respect should be used to encourage us. Let us keep them in mind every day and not allow them to leave our mouths. The principles upon which the nation is established are right and wrong, good and bad, and although the likes and dislikes of individuals are not always exactly the same, yet there is the same standard for right and wrong, good and bad. Speaking generally, those who discharge their duties and abide by the law are right and good, and those who have overstepped the bounds of propriety and violated the laws of righteousness are wrong and evil. I desire that the citizens of the country may have the power to discriminate between these two classes.

There are some persons who say that as civilization advances economy will give place to extravagance. A weak and poverty-stricken country trying to imitate the extravagances rather than the civilization of other nations is like a bed-ridden invalid trying to fight against an athlete. During recent years the standard of living of the people has steadily risen, but wealth has decreased in even greater proportion. There is an ancient saying that when a nation becomes extravagant economy should be preached. I therefore hope that in the practice of morality by the citizens more attention will be paid to economy.

In a word, if law and morality go hand in hand the state will be firm and immovable. As for the problem of national defense, the country needs rest and recuperation, and this therefore is no time for struggle with armed force. But I am most anxious that every man in the army and navy regard it as his duty to obey orders and protect the people. Who among the officers does not know this? But these two duties have not been entirely observed in the shock of the late storm, and I must acknowledge that I have not been equal to my responsibilities. Hereafter I will pay great attention to moral education so that I may not be ashamed to face the people.

Actuated now by the most sincere and friendly sentiments, I declare before you, citizens, that for each day that I remain in office that day will I take full responsibility. The Chinese Republic is a republic of its four hundred million people. If brothers are friendly the family will be prosperous, if the people are of one heart and one mind the nation will be prosperous. This is my prayer for the Chinese Republic.

  1. Delivered October 10, 1913, in the Hall of Ceremonies. The translation was made by the Assistant Chinese Secretary of the American Legation from the text printed in the Peking Daily News of October 11, 1913, and was forwarded to the Department by the Chargé d’Affaires in his despatch No. 1078 of October 22, 1913, accompanied by a description of the ceremonies attending the inauguration. (File No. 893.001Y9/9.)