(CHINA in REVOLUTION, to 1927 – continued)
After defeating Sun Yat-sen and the Guomindang's military in a month of fighting that ended by August 1913, Yuan ousted members of parliament who had belonged to the Guomindang, and he banned the Guomindang, citing its association with Sun's uprising. This was before Europe's Great War and the Russian Revolution, and he accused China's socialists of having contact with Russian anarchists and jeopardizing world peace. Yuan's government banned China's Socialist Party. In March 1914, the remaining members of parliament were told to return to their homes, and the provincial assemblies were dissolved. In May, a new constitution was created, with Yuan Shikai's presidency having dictatorial powers. Yuan fortified press censorship. He made Chambers of Commerce more subservient to his rule. Mail was subject to surveillance, and informants and plainclothes agents of Yuan's government were hunting dissenters.
Sun Yat-sen settled in Japan, and he began trying to sell Japan on arming and assisting the Guomindang forces against Yuan. This, he proposed, would earn Japan the undying gratitude of the Chinese people. He argued that a close alliance between China and Japan would be of enormous benefit to both countries. He offered unrestricted residence for the Japanese in China, a customs union and commercial dominance for Japan in China. And he compared the help that Japan would give to China with France's role in assisting the American Revolution and with England helping Spain overthrow Napoleon.
With the beginning of war in Europe that August, Japan saw an opportunity to extend its influence in China. And, after taking over German-held territory in Shandong province, Japanese forces began moving farther inland in China. In October 1914, they entered the major commercial city of Jinan, 200 miles southeast of the Beijing. Nationalist sentiment rose against the Japanese. Yuan's government benefited much as Huerta had when President Wilson of the United States attacked Mexico at Veracruz.
In January 1915, Japan presented Yuan Shikai with its Twenty-one Demands: demands for mining and railway privileges; the demand that Japan should share in China's iron and steel industries; that China must promise not to cede or lease to a third power any harbor, bay or island along its coast; that China's central government accept Japanese military, finance and political advisers; that China allow police departments in major cities to be jointly administered by Japanese and Chinese; that China buy the bulk of its munitions from Japan; and that China provide Japan with properties for Japanese schools, hospitals and temples. Japan intended that the demands be secret, but the demands became news in China, and another wave of indignation swept across the land. Chinese military officers pledged their firm opposition to what they described as Japan's invasion. The United States and Britain protested against Japan's move, but to no avail.
Yuan Shikai saw resisting Japan as an invitation to war and disorder, and he saw disorder as a threat to his rule and his comfortable life-style. Yuan saw rage among the Chinese also as a threat, and he took steps to suppress it. He tried to negotiate with the Japanese. The Japanese agreed to postpone their involvement in China's government and joint authority in China's police departments. And on May 25, Yuan Shikai and the Japanese signed an agreement, with Yuan congratulating himself for having saved China.
It was around this time that Yuan decided that his rule would be strengthened by his turning to China's tradition of thousands of years. He wished to legitimize his rule by making himself emperor – the creation of a Chinese monarchy rather than the hated Manchu monarchy that had been recently overthrown. As emperor, he believed, he could bring China greater unity, and in August 1915 he declared his intent. Perhaps a majority in China saw it as a joke.
Also opposed to Yuan's move to declare himself emperor were Japan, Britain and Russia. Toward the end of 1915, Japan decided to overthrow Yuan Shikai and began funneling funds within China to opponents of Yuan, including Sun Yat-sen. An insurrection against Yuan broke out in Yunnan province in the far south, and the rebellion spread rapidly. One province after another declared its independence, and the Guomindang established a regime at Guangzhou (Canton).
In March 1916, Yuan abandoned his plans to become emperor. And toward the end of April he agreed to surrender all civil authority while retaining his formal position as president. The rebellions against him continued, and toward the end of May the populous province of Sichuan declared its independence. Yuan's failure and humiliation are said to have made him desperately ill, and on June 6, at the age of 56, he died.
China's military governors now had power free from the central government. They feared one another while none felt strong enough to unite China by military force. Because of their independence they were to be called warlords. Alliances formed among them, and warlords became a dominant feature in China.
With Yuan out of the way, Sun Yat-sen was able to return to China and to settle in Shanghai, while his Guomindang political party established itself at Guangzhou. By August 1916, Sun Yat-sen was again making speeches, believing he was keeping the idea of a new China alive.
May 4, 1919 at Tiananmen Square
In 1919, China's delegation to the Paris Peace Conference asked that all imperialist privileges in China be revoked, that Japan's "Twenty-One Demands" be abrogated and that Shandong Province be returned to the Chinese. The Chinese delegation was ignored, and when Chinese students learned of this they were outraged. It was now that China's May Fourth Movement erupted. In Beijing in the afternoon of May 4, over 3,000 students demonstrated at Tiananmen Square. Enraged students in Beijing burned down the house of one of those they believed had participated in the sellout to Japan, and they invaded the home of another and beat him senseless. On May 5, students in Beijing went out on strike, and they were joined by students elsewhere in the country.
The May Fourth Movement became established in Shanghai, where clerks and factory workers were joining student activists. Businessmen, frightened and trying to please, joined in supporting the students, and workers in other cities joined in. The ruling clique in Beijing felt compelled to release students it had arrested. The government there dismissed three unpopular officials who had participated in the "sellout" to Japan.
A part of the May Fourth Movement was a boycott of Japanese goods. Magazines sprang up supporting a new China, including one called The New Woman. The May Fourth Movement gave new life to revolution in China and was a move away from admiration of the West and more toward nationalism and anti-imperialism. People swept up in the new movement hated the Versailles Treaty, and they were rejecting the liberal West including the United States as a model for change. A Marxist alternative was rising among some Chinese, especially those already on the Left. Some in China were impressed by Lenin's opposition to imperialism and the Soviet Union's renunciation of tsarist incursions into Manchuria. In Shanghai in July 1921, two prominent leaders of the May Fourth Movement joined with ten others in founding China's Communist Party. And soon the Communist Party grew to fifty-seven.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.