Yuan Shikai, China’s second president and its last emperor

For thousands of years, the history of China has been defined by wars, rebellion, power struggles and famine, which explains why today’s central government worries about famine and allowing dissidents a voice.

Between 1911 and 1976, three Chinese men were responsible for much of the devastation and death that swept over China causing tens of millions of deaths (not counting what the Japanese did during World War II). Those Chinese leaders were: Yuan Shikai, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung.

In 1911 when the Qing Dynasty fell, Yuan Shikai was a general and commander of the most modern military force in Imperial China. He kept his position by supporting the revolutionaries that brought down the Qing Dynasty.

After the Qing Dynasty fell, rebellion spread through the Yangtze River Valley before revolutionaries from fourteen provinces elected Sun Yat-sen president of a provisional (temporary) government and in January 1912, Sun announced the establishment of the Republic of China.

However, generals controlled China’s provinces and refused to give up power. China’s young republic was essentially the capital city of Nanjing.

On March 20, 1913, Yuan Shikai’s agents assassinated Sung Chiao-jen, who helped Sun Yat-sen become the first president. Sun demanded that those responsible be brought to justice.

Yuan Shikai resisted, sparking a “so-called” second revolution and on September 15, 1913, he ordered Sun Yat-sen’s arrest. To survive, Sun fled to Japan as a political refugee. He wouldn’t return to China until a few months after Yuan Shikai’s death.

Yuan Shikai, supported financially by the British Empire, became China’s second president, but after 1914, World War I caused a reduction in Britain’s financial support.

Weakened, Yuan Shaikai was forced to accept twenty-one demands made by Japan, which included giving up Chinese territory. He agreed on May 7, 1916, which is now considered National Humiliation Day.

Yuan Shaikai was unable to establish control beyond Nanking so he declared himself emperor. His attempt to replace the republic with a monarchy and him as emperor touched off revolts in southwestern China followed by uprisings of Sun Yat-sen’s followers in several other provinces.

This resulted in twelve years of warfare between the warlord generals of China’s provinces and the weak Republic of China.

Yuan Shikai died in 1916, then Sun Yat-sen returned to lead the republic. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, which led to the Civil War between the Chinese Communist Party and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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