Party became the majority party in the first Chinese parliament.
10. The Republic’s Transition to Warlord Rule
In April 1912, however, Yuan Shi-kai, a former imperial minister of the Qing Dynasty, replaced Sun Yat-sen as the president. Yuan was a conservative Han Chinese whose role as president of a modern military academy in northern China won him the support of many military generals in the north who were formerly his students. Yuan thus enjoyed the support in the north that Sun Yat-sen, a Cantonese from Guangdong (Canton) Province in southern China, did not have. Yuan also claimed that he was the only one who could persuade the last Chinese emperor, Puyi, to abdicate, with the condition that Yuan himself had to be the president. Sun Yat-sen agreed to these terms and retired from his provisional presidency, but made one crucial change in the Chinese republican system. The original plan for the presidency, upon Sun’s insistence, gave the elected president predominant power in the government, with the right to appoint the prime minister. When he was to transfer power to Yuan, Sun decided on the cabinet system, with the prime minister in control of government who would come from the leader of the majority party in the parliament. Yuan’s initial decisions as president, however, shocked Sun and other republicans. Yuan forced the prime minister Tang Shaoyi to resign in order to better control parliament, and then he tried to intimidate a leading Nationalist Party member, Song Jiaoren, into becoming the next prime minister under his control. A staunch republicanist who believed in the cabinet system, Song refused to obey Yuan. When the Nationalist Party won the majority seats in the 1913 election, Yuan decided he needed to teach the Nationalist Party a lesson in obedience. In March 1913, while waiting for a train at the Shanghai Railway Station, Song Jiaoren was assassinated by a peddler hired by Yuan Shi-kai.
Song’s death led to what was called in Chinese history the “Second Revolution,” this time by the Nationalist Party and its allies against Yuan Shi-kai who tried to undermine the republic. Sun Yat-sen and his followers declared war on Yuan, and various provinces, including Jiangsu, Guangdong, Anhui, Hunan, and Fujian, as well as the city of Shanghai, declared independence from Yuan, but the Second Revolution was quickly suppressed by Yuan because the revolutionaries did not have sufficient support.
Yuan, however, felt his position was not secure and wanted to consolidate his power by restoring imperial rule. To get financial support Yuan relied more heavily on foreign loans than the Qing imperial government, giving rights of Chinese territories to foreign countries, especially to Japan, China’s largest creditor, as a condition to borrowing foreign loans. These practices led to greater condemnation of Yuan by a wide range of people in China. In 1915, Cai E (pronounced er), a military general from Yunnan Province, declared independence from Yuan’s government and declared war on Yuan, starting a nationwide war against Yuan’s imperial rule. In March 1916, three months after becoming the emperor, Yuan had to abdicate the throne. Yuan died in humiliation in June 1916.
Yuan’s death, however, did not lead to the restoration of republican rule. China simply fragmented into domains controlled by warlords. A president still nominally existed,