China's Warlord Era Begins

Warlords and Revolutionaries

East Asia 1916.0606

China's Warlord Era Begins

The Xinhai Revolution, World War I in Asia, the Warlord Era in China, the Russian Revolution and the Siberian Intervention (6 June 1916)

Historical Map of East Asia & the Western Pacific

Misjudging national sentiment, Yuan Shikai declared himself Emperor in December 1915. It was a huge blunder. Almost immediately the southern provinces began to break away, defeating imperial attempts to stop them and gaining foreign sympathy. Only a few months into his reign, Yuan backed down. But he was too late, China's collapse into warlordism had already begun.


Treaty Ports

Treaty ports were towns opened to foreign trade by unequal treaties in China. Foreigners operating within treaty ports enjoyed extraterritoriality, being subject to their home country's laws. Unlike concessions such as Hong Kong, these territories were not directly leased by the foreign powers and did not have sizable foreign garrisons.

Treaty ports are not shown in the maps after the 1911 Chinese Revolution in order to give a clearer picture of the chaos in China itself and as by that point their numbers had stabilized. After the revolution, some of the smaller ports were phased out while the others became less important as the situation in China meant that only the concessions could provide foreigners with security. Most, however, still continued on into the 1940s when the Japanese entry into World War II and foreign agreements with China brought them to an end.

See this map for treaty ports in 1907, when the system was at its peak.

Yangtze River

By the terms of the Treaty of Tientsin (1858), foreign vessels including warships had the right to free navigation on the Yangtze River. In practical terms, this right extended only as far as Yichang until 1900, when advances in steam navigation allowed access as far inland as Chongqing.

Main Events

Hongxian Emperor

Yuan Shikai, the President of the Republic of China, accepted the invitation of a specially convened "Representative Assembly" and proclaimed himself Emperor of China, taking the era name Hongxian. The new Empire of China was set to formally begin on 1 January 1916, however the Emperor did not have the domestic and international support he was anticipating and ended up postponing and then canceling the accession rites.

National Protection War

In response to Yuan Shikai's restoration of the Chinese Empire, Cai E and Tang Jiyao - military leaders of Yunnan province - declared independence, forming the National Protection Army to fight Yuan. They were soon joined by other southern provinces. After Yuan's attempt to suppress the revolt was defeated in Sichuan in March 1916, he abandoned his bid to become Emperor. This did not end the war, which continued until Yuan's death in June.

Restoration of Republic of China

Following provincial rebellions, the withdrawal of support of foreign powers, and threats to invade by the Empire of Japan, Yuan Shikai, the Hongxian Emperor, disestablished the Empire of China and reinstated the Republic of China.

Death of Yuan Shikai

The Chinese President Yuan Shikai died from uremia at the age of fifty-six. His last months had been marred by calls for his resignation, with rebellions erupting across China against his regime. Now, with his death, China had little remaining central authority and would soon descend into warlordism.

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