Fu Jen University; NTU
February 1, 2010
This article is not centred on the path that led to Yuan Shikai’s attempt to establish a new dynasty in the then four-year old Republic of China. Yuan engaged in a climb to power, first as the last strong man of the moribund Qing Government, then as the first real president of the Republic of China: he manoeuvred to get rid of annoying opponents, to mould and domesticate the Constitution and Laws, and to forge a net of entities aimed at reviving, nurturing and properly canalizing the monarchic sentiments in the recently Emperor-orphaned population.
Nor does this piece provide a minute account of the number of curiosities and old & ‘new’ traditions that mirrored Yuan and his supporters’ fondness for their glorious monarchical enterprise and its concretization in a set of details, procedures and even oddities.
This article rather focuses on three plain but somehow tricky questions: 1. Was Yuan Shikai a legitimate Emperor of China? 2. How long for exactly did Yuan, legitimately or not, hold the throne? 3. What kind of régime was - or/and was meant to be - Yuan’s?
I have tried to put some order in the decades-long academic debate over Yuan’s tenure as monarch, also arguing that a reformed (or at least modified) monarchy in late 1910s’ China (perhaps an “Empire of China with Western Characteristics” or a “Constitutional Monarchy with Chinese Characteristics”) could have been a desirable outcome.