CHAPTER II. CHINA IN TURMOIL
During the time the Expedition was preparing to leave New York, China was in turmoil. Yuan Shi-kai was president of the Republic, but the hope of his heart was to be emperor of China. For twenty years he had plotted for the throne; he had been emperor for one hundred miserable days; and now he was watching, impotently, his dream-castles crumble beneath his feet. Yuan was the strong man of his day, with more power, brains, and personality than any Chinese since Li-Hung Chang. He always had been a factor in his political world. His monarchial dream first took definite form as early as 1901 when he became viceroy of Chi-li, the province in which Peking is situated.
It was then that he began to modernize and get control of the army which is the great basis of political power in China. Properly speaking, there was not, and is not now, a Chinese national army. It is rather a collection of armies, each giving loyalty to a certain general, and he who secures the support of the various commanders controls the destiny of China's four hundred millions of people regardless of his official title.
Yuan was able to bind to himself the majority of the leading generals, and in 1911, when the Manchu dynasty was overthrown, his plots and intrigues began to bear fruit. By crafty juggling of the rebels and Manchus he managed to get himself elected president of the new republic, although he did not for a moment believe in the republican form of government. He was always a monarchist at heart but was perfectly willing to declare himself an ardent republican so long as such a declaration could be used as a stepping stone to the throne which he kept ever as his ultimate goal.
As president he ruled with a high hand. In 1913 there was a rebellion in protest against his official acts but he defeated the rebels, won over more of the older generals, and solidified the army for his own interests, making himself stronger than ever before.
At this time he might well have made a coup d'etat and proclaimed himself emperor with hardly a shadow of resistance, but with the hereditary caution of the Chinese he preferred to wait and plot and scheme. He wanted his position to be even more secure and to have it appear that he reluctantly accepted the throne as a patriotic duty at the insistent call of the people.
Yuan's ways for producing the proper public sentiment were typically Chinese but entirely effective, and he was making splendid progress, when in May, 1915, Japan put a spoke in his wheel of fortune by taking advantage of the European war and presenting the historical twenty-one demands, to most of which China agreed.
This delayed his plans only temporarily, and Yuan's agents pushed the work of making him emperor more actively than ever, with the result that the throne was tendered to him by the "unanimous vote of the people." To "save his face" he declined at first but at the second offer he "reluctantly" yielded and on December 12, 1915, became emperor of China.
But his triumph was short-lived, for eight days later tidings of unrest in Yuen-nan reached Peking. General Tsai-ao, a former military governor of the province, appeared in Yuen-nan Fu, the capital, and, on December 23, sent an ultimatum to Yuan stating that he must repudiate the monarchy and execute all those who had assisted him to gain the throne, otherwise Yuen-nan would secede; which it forthwith did on December 25.
Without doubt this rebellion was financed by the Japanese who had intimated to Yuan that the change from a republican form of government would not meet with their approval. The rebellion spread rapidly. On January 21, Kwei-chau Province, which adjoins Yuen-nan, seceded, and, on March 13, Kwang-si also announced its independence.
About this time the Museum authorities were becoming somewhat doubtful as to the advisability of proceeding with our Expedition. We had a long talk with Dr. Wellington Koo, the Chinese Minister to the United States, at the Biltmore Hotel in New York. Dr. Koo, while certain that the rebellion would be short-lived, strongly advised us to postpone our expedition until conditions became more settled. He offered to cable Peking for advice, but we, knowing how unwelcome to the government of the harassed Yuan would be a party of foreigners who wished to travel in the disturbed area, gratefully declined and determined to proceed regardless of conditions. We hoped that Yuan would be strong enough to crush this rebellion as he had that of 1913, but day by day, as we anxiously watched the papers, there came reports of other provinces dropping away from his standard.
On the Tenyo Maru we met the Honorable Charles Denby, an ex-American Consul-General at Shanghai and former adviser to Yuan Shi-kai when he was viceroy of Chi-li. Mr. Denby was interested in obtaining a road concession near Peking and was then on his way to see Yuan. His anxiety over the political situation was not less than ours and together we often paced the decks discussing what might happen; but every wireless report told of more desertions to the ranks of the rebels.
It seemed to be the beginning of the end, for Yuan had lost his nerve. He had decided to quit, and one hundred days after he became emperor elect he issued a mandate canceling the monarchy and restoring the republic. But the rebellious provinces were not satisfied and demanded that he get out altogether.
About this time we reached Peking, literally blown in by a tremendous dust storm which seemed an elemental manifestation of the human turmoil within the grim old walls. Our cousin, Commander Thomas Hutchins, Naval Attache of the American Legation, was awaiting us on the platform, holding his hat with one hand and wiping the dust from his eyes with the other.