File No. 893.00/2387

Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State

No. 1015

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.]

Paul S. Reinsch

the cancellation of the empire

(From the Peking Gazette of March 23, 1916)

After the establishment of the Min Kuo, disturbances rapidly followed one another; and a man of little virtue like me was called to take up the vast burden of the State. Fearing that disaster might befall us any day, all those who had the welfare of the country at heart advocated the reinstitution of the monarchical system of government to the end that a stop be put to all strife for power and a régime of peace be inaugurated. Suggestions in this sense have unceasingly been made to me since the days of Kuei Chou (the year of the First Revolution, 1911) and each time a sharp rebuke has been administered to the one making the suggestion. But the situation last year was indeed so different from the circumstances of preceding years that it was impossible to prevent the spread of such ideas.

It was said that China could never hope to continue as a nation unless the constitutional monarchical form of state were adopted; and if quarrels like those occurring in Mexico and Portugal were to take place in China, we would soon share the fate of Annam and Burmah. A large number of people then advocated the restoration of a monarchy and advanced arguments which were reasonable. In this proposal all the military and civil officials, scholars and people concurred; and prayers were addressed to me in most earnest tone, by telegram and petitions. Owing to the position I was at the time holding, which laid on me the duty of maintaining the then existing situation, I repeatedly made declarations, resisting the adoption of the advice; but the people did not seem to realize my embarrassment. And so it was decided by the acting Li Fa Yuan that the question of Kuo-ti should be settled by the Convention of Citizens’ Representatives. In the result, the representatives of the provinces and the special administrative areas unanimously decided in favor of a constitutional monarchy, and in one united voice elected me as the Emperor. Since the sovereignty of the country has been vested in the citizens of China and as the decision was made by the entire body of the representatives, there was no room left to me for further discussion. Nevertheless, I continued to be of [Page 70] the conviction that my sudden elevation to the Great Seat would be a violation of my oath and would compromise my good faith, leaving me unable to explain myself I, therefore, declined in earnest words in order to make clear the view which hath always been mine. The said Yuan, however, stated with firmness that the oath of the Chief Executive rested on a peculiar sanction and should be observed or discarded according to the will of the people. Their arguments were so irresistible that there was, in truth, no excuse for me further to decline the offer.

Therefore I took refuge behind the excuse of “preparations” in order that the desire of the people might be satisfied. But I took no steps actually to carry out the programme. When the trouble in Yunnan and Kweichow arose, a mandate was officially issued announcing the decision to postpone the measure and forbidding further presentation of petitions praying for the enthronement. I then hastened the convocation of the Li Fa Yuan in order to secure the views of that body and hoping thus to turn back to the original state of affairs. I, being a man of bitter experiences, had once given up all ideas of world affairs; and having retired into the obscurity of the river Yuan (in Honan), I had no appetite for the political affairs of the country. As the result of the revolution in Hsin Hai, I was by mistake elected by the people. Reluctantly I came out of my retirement and endeavoured to prop up the tottering structure. I cared for nothing but the salvation of the country. A perusal of our history of several thousand years will reveal in vivid manner the sad fate of the descendants of ancient kings and emperors. What then could have prompted me to aspire to the Throne? Yet, while the representatives of the people were unwilling to believe in the sincerity of my refusal of the offer, a section of the people appear to have suspected me of harboring the desire of gaining more power and privileges. Such difference in thought has resulted in the creation of an exceedingly dangerous situation. As my sincerity has not been such as to win the hearts of the people and my judgment has not been sound enough to appraise every man, I have myself alone to blame for lack of virtue. Why then should I blame others? The people have been thrown into misery and my soldiers have been made to bear hardships; and further the people have been cast into panic and commerce has rapidly declined. When I search my own heart a measure of sorrow fills it. I shall, therefore, not be unwilling to suppress myself in order to yield to others.

I am still of the opinion that the “designation petitions” submitted through the Tsan Cheng Yuan are unsuited to the demands of the time; and the official acceptance of the Imperial Throne made on the 11th day of the 12th month of last year is hereby cancelled. The “designation petitions” of the provinces and the special administrative areas are hereby all returned through the State Department to the Tsan Cheng Yuan, i. e., the acting Li Fa Yuan, to be forwarded to the petitioners for destruction; and all the preparations connected therewith are to cease at once. In this wise I hope to imitate the sincerity of the Ancients by taking on myself all the blame, so that my action may fall in line with the spirit of humanity which is the expression of the will of Heaven. I now cleanse my heart and wash my thoughts to the end that trouble may be averted and the people may have peace. Those who advocated the monarchical system were prompted by the desire to strengthen the foundation of the country; but as their methods have proved unsuitable their patriotism might harm the country. Those who have opposed the monarchy have done so out of their desire to express their political views. It may be therefore presumed that they would not go to the extreme and so endanger the country. They should, therefore, all hearken to the voice of their own conscience and sacrifice their prejudices, and with one mind and one purpose unite in the effort of saving the situation so that the glorious descendants of the Sacred Continent may be spared the horror of internal fight and the bad omens may be changed into lucky signs.

In brief, I now confess that all the faults of the country are the result of my own faults. Now that the acceptance of the Imperial Throne has been cancelled every man will be responsible for his own action if he further disturbs the peace of the locality and thus give an opportunity to others. I, the Great President, being charged with the duty of ruling over the whole country, cannot remain idle while the country is racing to perdition. At the present moment the homesteads are in misery, discipline has been disregarded, administration is being neglected and real talents have not been given a chance, [Page 71] When I think of such conditions I awake in the darkness of midnight. How can we stand as a nation if such a state of affairs is allowed to continue? Hereafter all officials should thoroughly get rid of their corrupt habits and endeavour to achieve merits. They should work with might and main in their duties, whether introducing reforms or abolishing old corruptions. Let all be not satisfied with empty words and entertain no bias regarding any affair. They should hold up as their main principle of administration the policy that only reality will count and reward or punishment dealt out with strict promptness. Let our generals, officials, soldiers and people all, all, act in accordance with this ideal.

  1. Not printed.