1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Yuan Shih-k'ai

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YUAN SHIH-K'AI (1859-1916), Chinese statesman, born 1859, first attained distinction in Korea, when, as Imperial resident and the trusted lieutenant of the Viceroy Li Hung-Chang, he strove to preserve China's suzerainty over the Hermit Kingdom in the years of strife which preceded the war between China and Japan (1894). After that disastrous campaign he held office under the Viceroy Li in Chihli; in 1898 he was in command of an army corps and played a decisive part in frustrating the Emperor's plan of constitutional reform and in supporting the Empress Dowager's reactionary coup d'état. After her return to power he rose rapidly; during the Boxer rebellion, as governor of Shantung, he displayed sagacious foresight in the protection of foreigners, and upon the death of Li Hung-Chang succeeded his chief as Viceroy of Chihli. At the time of the death of the Empress Dowager (1908) he was a Grand Councillor and her most trusted adviser; but upon the accession to power of Prince Chun as regent he was dismissed from office (in retribution for his failure to support the Emperor in 1898) and ordered to return to his native place in Honan (Jan. 2 1909). He remained there, in disgrace, until the outbreak of the revolution in 1911, when the regent and the court, alarmed at the rapid spread of the movement, turned to him for help. By an edict of Oct. 14. he was appointed Viceroy of Hunan and Hupeh and commander-in-chief of the Imperial forces. As military dictator he took the field a fortnight later against the revolutionary army at Hankow. Thereafter, until his death (June 1916) the Government of China, such as it was, lay in his hands. After the abdication of the Manchu Dynasty, which he had done his best to uphold, he accepted the Presidency of the Republic and took the oath of office in March 1912; but he did so with mental reservations which were obvious to those who had followed his career and observed his policy. As President he displayed statesmanship of a high order under conditions of exceptional difficulty. Judged by European standards, his methods were often indefensible, but until he aspired to found a new dynasty in his own person (1915) their ruthlessness and venal expediency were generally accepted by the nation without indignation, and regarded as consistent with time-honoured traditions of rulership. All his efforts of statecraft were steadily directed towards restoring the authority of the central Government, shattered by the revolution, and with it, the principles and practice of benevolent despotism. His monarchical plans were skilfully laid and would probably have succeeded if he had had to deal only with his own people; they failed, and he died a broken and humiliated man, because he had not allowed for the probability of intervention by the Japanese Government. His enthronement as Emperor had been fixed by proclamation for Feb. 9 1916; before that date the Yünnan rebellion had vindicated the “advice” of the Japanese minister at Peking, and the end of his career was in sight. But he declined to resign the Presidency, and died, as he had lived, in harness.