File No. 893.00/2387
Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State
Peking, April 4, 1916.
Sir: In continuation of my despatch No. 989 of March 21, 1916, I have the honor to report on the general political situation and to enclose copies of despatches from various consular officers in China.1
There is also enclosed a translation of the mandate, published in the Peking Gazette, March 23, 1916, cancelling the monarchy, as well as clippings from the Peking Gazette, March 23 and 27, 1916,2 dealing with the situation in China and local conditions in Peking.
Being confronted with the defection of Kwangsi province, H. E. Yuan Shih-kai announced, on March 22, that the measures preparatory to the establishment of the monarchy had been canceled and that the petition papers submitted through the Ts’an Chengyuan should be returned to that body to be forwarded to the petitioners for destruction.
This sudden and unilateral concession on the part of the President, without a guaranteed quid pro quo by way of submission to the Central Government on the part of the revolting forces, came as a surprise. It was due undoubtedly to the fear that unless such a step were taken the Province of Kwangtung also would join the revolutionaries. The military governor of the province had strongly advised the Central Government to compromise. Another determining cause was the advice of the State Secretary, H. E. Hsü Shih-chang, who had for some time been in retirement. The so-called Anhui party in Peking saw an opportunity to regain control and oust the Cantonese leaders in whose hands the management of the monarchical movement and the chief influence in the Government had been since last August. The President believed that the return to the Government of such men as Hsu Shih-chang [Page 68] and Tuan Chi-jui would greatly strengthen him and would in the eyes of the revolutionists constitute that guaranty of good faith which the circumstances required.
It is interesting and paradoxal that the leaders of the so-called Anhui party, who are old fashioned and reactionary and who have little idea of constructive action and modern efficiency, should again come back into prominence in connection with the restoration of the Republic. This goes to show to what a small extent constitutional questions are really determinants in the present controversy. H. E. Hsu Shih-chang, personally, has lived in accordance with all the canons of Confucian morality in failing to give positive approval to the action of H. E. Yuan Shih-kai in attempting to take the place of his former master, the Emperor. This attitude gained for him universal respect in China, but its impelling motive was one of personal loyalty to the old Imperial family rather than attachment to any particular form of government.
As might have been anticipated, the cancellation of the monarchy did not satisfy the revolutionists who interpreted it as a confession of weakness and defeat; nor, of course, was it welcome to the adherents of the President in the provinces, especially the military who felt that he was giving away his case without getting anything in return. The report that the President, simultaneously with the cancellation of the monarchy, sent a comforting message to the chief generals stating that they should not take this too seriously, is undoubtedly a fabrication.
The result was that the President’s act of renunciation of the monarchy had no favorable effect on the situation from the point of view of the Central Government. There seems, indeed, to have been a lull in the active fighting in the Provinces of Szechuan and Hunan where the military leaders appear to be sitting down to await developments and to think things over. But the dry-rot of authority continues, and small military leaders in Kwangtung declared their independence, as at Chowchowfu, Swatow, Pakhoi, and some towns in its vicinity. The importance of this latter movement lies in the fact that the revolutionaries have now obtained access to the seaboard, which renders easier the supply of war materials and which has a distinct bearing on the eventual recognition of belligerency.
A certain amount of disorganization has prevailed in government circles in Peking since the monarchy was cancelled. The uncertainty as to what the President would do filled the official world with apprehension while the foreign community feared military riots in case Yuan Shih-kai should lose or give up control entirely. The leaders of the so-called Anhui party had evidently expected that it would be easy for them to proscribe the Cantonese leaders and have them banished or executed. The principal men among these are their excellencies Liang Shih-yi, Chow Tze-chi, Minister of Agriculture and Commerce and Chu Chi-chien, Minister of the Interior. Yang Tu, an organizer of the Chou An Hui whose execution had been called for by the revolutionaries, is defended as having been only the instrument in the hands of other men. The Cantonese leaders have impressed the foreign representatives here, and, in fact, have proven themselves to be men of real capacity for organization and personal efficiency. They had not originally been active in the [Page 69] monarchical movement but had taken it out of the hands of others and pushed it with energy and success until foreign interference changed the course of events. Contrary to the expectations of their opponents they did not at the present critical time take to the woods, with the result that somewhat to their amusement the men of the other party became frightened and began to remove their families from Peking and to plan for places of safety for themselves. With somewhat grim humor, his excellency Chu Chi-chien declared that as conditions in Peking were perfectly normal and as any unwarranted show of nervousness on the part of officials would tend unnecessarily to disturb the population, officials would no longer be permitted to remove their families from the city at the present time.
With regard to the eventual solution of the existing difficulties and the restoration of national unity, the principle indicated in my last despatches still holds good, namely, that some organization will have to be effected in central China among the military governors and prominent political leaders for the purpose of establishing a policy on which all factions can unite. As the leaders in the three revolted southern provinces are mainly members of the old Chin Pu Tang, it is possible that the Kuo Min Tang may find it attractive to bring forward some policy of action which will make the reconstitution of the central authority and the unifaction of the country possible.
I have [etc.]
- Not printed.↩