This article is excerpted from Biographies of Prominent Chinese, published in Shanghai in c.1925.
Marshal Tuan Chi-jui was born in 1863, in Hofei Hsien, Anhwei, a province famous as the birthplace of many military leaders. He attended the Peiyang School, during his youth, beginning his military career as a cadet in a Tientsin military school, in 1895. He studied artillery at Port Arthur, and later went to Germany to continue his study of military science. After three years there, he returned to China, and received an appointment in the Ordnance Depôt, Tientsin. In 1892, he became Chief Instructor of the Artillery School at Weihaiwei. He was later appointed one of the seven bridge generals under His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai, who was training a modern army at Hsiatchian. He established military schools of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineering. When His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai became Viceroy of Chihli, Marshal Tuan Chi-jui was his chief of staff. Later he served as Chief of General Staff, when Prince Ching presided over the Army Council; and subsequently took up the garrison command at Changchow, Fukien.
In 1904, he was placed in command of the Third, Fourth, and Sixth Divisions at Paotingfu and Nanyuan respectively, and acted concurrently as superintendent of the military schools. In 1910, one year before the revolution, he was appointed Military Governor of North Kiangsu. The following year, at the beginning of the revolution, he was appointed Viceroy of the Hu Kwang Provinces, and given command of the first and second army corps. He was the first to sign a petition impressing the Emperor to abdicate.
Because of Marshal Tuan’s personality and influence in the army, he was made the first Minster of War, in the Republican Cabinet. The following year he was made Acting Premier.
When President Yuan Shih-kai’s monarchical movement was gaining ground, Marshal Tuan wrote him strongly advising against the movement. When he learned that his advice was ignored, Marshal Tuan resigned all of his commissions. Towards the end of 1915, the Province of Yunnan declared independence; and other provinces followed. President Yuan Shih-kai died, and the monarchy collapsed. The Republic was then re-united, and Marshal Tuan was requested to take up the premiership. He immediately formed a responsible cabinet. At this time the World War was in progress; and because of Germany’s submarine policy, Premier Tuan broke off diplomatic relations with that country; and, later, because Parliament refused to declare war upon Germany, he was dismissed by the then President Li Yuan-hung.
In July 1917, Marshal Tuan was successful in crushing General Chang Hsun’s monarchical movement; and again became Premier, when Marshall Feng Kuo-chang succeeded Li Yuan-hung as President. His bill for participation in the World War was legalised and formally promulgated on August 14, 1917. China was to despatch 40,000 troops to France, with money to be borrowed from the United States; but the plan failed to materialise, and attempts to negotiate loans with Great Britain and France also failed. Eventually a Japanese loan was contracted allowing Marshal Tuan to train 30,000 troops for service abroad. On the expiration of His Excellency Feng Kuo-chang’s term of office, His Excellency Hsu Shih-chang was elected President. Marshall Tuan then resigned his premiership, and took the chair of the High Commissioner of National Defence. When Marshal Tsao Kun and Marshal Wu Pei-fu overthrew his National Defence Forces in 1920, he gave up all his political connections to live in retirement.
After repeated requests of Marshal Chang Tso-lin, Marshal Feng Yu-hsiang, and others, in November 1924, Marshal Tuan returned to Peking to assume the office of Chief Executive of the Provisional Government and as such, formed a cabinet.
Marshal Tuan is a man of open mind and of great determination. He has not struggled for power or riches during his official life. He is not only a military man but an eminent scholar; and leads a clean life, hoping to set a good example for others. He has taken up the study of Buddhism.