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(CHINA in REVOLUTION, to 1927 – continued)

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CHINA in REVOLUTION, to 1927 (3 of 7)

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President Yuan

General Yuan Shikai took office as provisional president of the republic on 1 January 1912 at Nanjing, and he still had control of his armies.

With the overthrow of the Manchus, Sun Yat-sen was able to return to China, and he was greeted as the elder statesman of the revolution. He began discussing strategies with his "revolutionary alliance." In mid-year (1912), Sun attended the inauguration of a National People's Party, the Guomindang, and he was elected to its nine-man executive committee and elected the head of the party's executive committee. But he withdrew from both positions, satisfied with his status as elder statesman. In elections for seats in the first National Assembly in December the Guomindang won an overwhelming majority.

During 1912, Sun met with Yuan Shikai several times, Yuan receiving and entertaining Sun with demonstrations of great respect. Sun left these meetings praising Yuan, stating that Yuan wanted the same advancements for China as he. He stated that Yuan was "beyond suspicion," that Yuan deserved sympathy and that he was "a man of ability." He said that in order to govern the republic one had to have new ideas, experience and old-fashioned methods and that President Yuan was "just the right man."

Yuan Shikai

Yuan Shikai

Expectations among those who had risen to the top of the republican revolution were that Yuan Shikai would share power with a prime minister and a parliament, the parliament consisting of five representatives from each province. This was the government that they designed and which established itself in Beijing. Yuan expressed his support for the government's rules limiting his power. Nominally he remained commander-in-chief of China's army and navy – while the army he controlled consisted of only 80,000 men. The remainder of China's armies were dispersed across China and under the control of the various local leaders that still held power in the provinces.

The idealism of youthful students, meanwhile, was being expressed in agitation for more changes. By the end of 1912 Yuan Shikai was expressing his displeasure with what he described as the unruliness of students. He attacked those advocating equality for women, accusing them of undermining the family and therefore social order. He suppressed anarchists, whom he accused with some justification of preparing for social revolution. He was perplexed by the lack of revenues being collected from the provinces, and he was trying to bring the provinces under the authority of the central government's rules.

Conflict between Yuan Shikai and parliament intensified. Some members of parliament were members of Sun's Guomindang, and some Guomindang members spoke of their misgivings about remaining restrictions on freedom of speech and the press. A leading Guomindang politician, thirty-year-old Sung Chiao-jen, was verbally attacking Yuan's policies and trying to organize a further reduction in Yuan's power, or even ousting Yuan from power. In March, Song Chiao-jen was assassinated at the railway station in the city of Shanghai (just days after the assassination of Mexico's president, Madero). A military advisor to Yuan was implicated in the plot, and Guomindang leaders linked Yuan Shikai with the murder. Those newspapers that supported the Guomindang began violent verbal attacks on Yuan. Sun Yat-sen was astounded, and he began turning against Yuan.

When the new parliament opened on April 8, Yuan Shikai did not attend, fearing assassination. Still receiving little in revenues from the provinces, his government was in desperate need of money if he was to have a showdown against his enemies. In April he received a large loan from a consortium of foreign banks guided by their home governments – Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Japan – for the purpose of repaying debts owed the foreign powers. With this loan, Yuan agreed to accept foreign personnel into China's government and to allow a foreign staff to reorganize the administration of the government's salt monopoly, with revenues from the salt monopoly to guarantee the loan.

Sun and many other Chinese, including five military-governors and 300 members of parliament, objected to the loan. In wishing to remove Yuan from power, Sun and others concluded that parliamentary methods would not work. On May 2, Sun and his allies began trying to line up military governors in the provinces to oust Yuan by military force – to complete the military victory that would have made the revolution against the Manchus suit their hopes. Coincidentally in the United States the administration of Woodrow Wilson recognized Yuan Shikai's regime – the first major power to do so.

With money from the foreign banks, Yuan Shikai bought the loyalty of provincial governors and their armies. And Yuan held a good grip on the civil and military bureaucracy in Beijing. To some Chinese, Yuan still appeared to favor reforms and good government. When Sun and his allies launched their military campaign against Yuan they lacked adequate military equipment and adequately trained troops. Their effort to capture the military arsenal in Shanghai failed. Their forces were overwhelmed by troops loyal to Yuan, and, in August, after only one month of fighting, Sun Yat-sen was again forced to flee China. He had failed at making revolution, but his past efforts kept him alive in the minds of many Chinese as their nation's leading revolutionary.

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