This article is excerpted from Biographies of Prominent Chinese, published in Shanghai in c.1925.
His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai (deceased in 1916), Ex-President of the Chinese Republic, was born at Hangchun, Honan Province, in 1859. When quite young he was adopted by his uncle, Yuan Pao-chin, a government official, and accompanied him to his various posts. He showed remarkable ability as a scholar, and made good use of the various libraries that he had access to. His hobby was military science, in which he soon became well versed.
He began his military career as a member of the staff of General Wu Chang-chin, who was a close friend of his father. In 1881, he accompanied General Wu to Korea; and, later, at the age of twenty-six, he was appointed as Imperial Resident to Korea, where he remained until the Sino-Japanese War.
After a short period of retirement, he was appointed Judicial Commissioner for Chihli in 1897. The following year he assisted the Empress Dowager in effecting a coup d’etat. In 1899, he served as Junior Vice-President of the Board of Works; and, in 1900, he was appointed Governor of Shantung, in which post he rendered material service to foreigners during the Boxer outbreak.
In December 1901, General Yuan was appointed Viceroy of Chihli, succeeding Marquis Li Hung-chang, and made at the same time Junior Guardian to the heir-apparent. He was decorated with the Yellow Jacket, in January 1902. In the following year, he was appointed Minster of the Army Reorganization Council, taking an important part in the formation of the new modern army. On September, 4th, 1907, he was appointed President of the Board of Foreign Affairs. The following year, he was made Senior Guardian to the heir-apparent. In 1909, he retired.
At the outbreak of the revolution, October 14th, 1911, General Yuan was appointed as Hukuang Viceroy and given control of the Imperial Land and Maritime Forces. On November 1st, 1911, General Yuan was appointed President of the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the present post of Premier), and was given command of all troops in the vicinity of the capital. He formed a responsible cabinet; and he was appointed Imperial Plenipotentiary for the purpose of arranging the terms of peace with the revolutionaries. In December of the same year, he resigned. He was offered, but refused, the title of Marquis, in January 1912.
When the Emperor abdicated, General Yuan was given full power to arrange the terms of abdication, and, later, to organize a republican government. He was elected provisional President of the Republic of China, by the National Council, at Nanking, on February 15th, 1912; and he took the oath of office at Peking, on March 10th. He was elected Formal President on October 6th, 1913, and he was inaugurated on October 10th, 1913.
Certain political parties, in the south-east provinces, opposed to President Yuan, attempted to bring about his downfall. This feeling, which was aggravated by the assassination of a leading political opponent, eventually resulted in another revolution in the south; and, although it was suppressed shortly afterward, many provincial leaders became opposed to President Yuan.
A party which was of opinion that a republican form of government was not suitable for China, was formed in Peking with the object of establishing President Yuan as Emperor. He acquiesced to the desires of this party; and when he finally occupied the Throne, in December 1915, he issued a mandate cancelling the republican form of government. Several of the provinces refused to recognize him; and Yunnan, followed by Kweichow, Kwangsi, Kwangtung, Chekiang, Shensi, Szechuan, and Honan provinces, declared independence. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation he decided to retire; and, not long afterward, he died, of a complication of disorders,—his untimely demise being caused, in the main by constant worry over affairs of the state. This veteran statesman had been prominent in the affairs of China for more than thirty years. His death was deeply mourned by the entire nation.