Hunan's "Civilian Military Governor"
Tan Yankai was perhaps the most unmilitary of the military governors to emerge from the 1911 Revolution. Indeed, the political capital Tan brought with him to the post was almost entirely civilian in nature. One of Tan's main assets was his family's, and his own,
high status within Hunan society. Tan was the scion of a prominent and wealthy gentry-official family. His father had attained the jinshi degree, the highest degree awarded in the traditional examination system, and served in a succession of provincial governorships and governor-generalships before his death in 1905. Tan Yankai also showed an early talent for classical studies, calligraphy, and the other cultural skills that were the accouterments of the Chinese gentry. He rose rapidly through the examination system, and in 1904, at the youthful age of twenty-four, also achieved the jinshi degree. Tan brought added glory to his family and his province by placing first among all jinshi candidates and was rewarded with a position in the famed Hanlin Academy. Thus through his family background and his own precocious success, Tan attained the status and prestige that gave him easy access to the network of elite and official contacts that was the channel to power in traditional Chinese society.
Tan Yankai's special position in Hunan society was, however, based on more than the traditional criteria of family background and educational achievement. Of equal importance in his rise to political leadership was his participation in Hunan's progressive reform movement. Returning to Hunan after his examination triumph, Tan turned his attention to more modern concerns. His initial public role was as a promoter of modern schools, serving as the director of one modern school and acting as a fund-raiser and a sponsor for several others. On this basis he also served for a time as head of the Hunan Education Association. Tan soon expanded his activities beyond education to involve himself prominently in both the railroad-protection and constitutionalist movements. In 1908, Tan was elected to represent Hunan's opposition to foreign railroad loans in Beijing. He was also selected to participate in the preparations for the establishment of Hunan's Provincial Assembly. When this assembly was formed in 1908, Tan was elected its first president. He went on to achieve national prominence through his participation in the 1910 petition movement for the early opening of a National Assembly. Tan's disillusionment with the dynasty's response to this appeal was instrumental in his final decision to support the revolution. Thus on the eve of the revolution Tan had emerged as the clear leader of Hunan's reform-minded political elite. It is not surprising that many would look to Tan for leadership during the revolution, and in particular to provide an alternative to the relatively unknown and politically inexperienced Jiao Dafeng.
Despite his obvious qualifications, Tan's position at the beginning
of his military governorship was by no means secure. The greatest threat he faced was the possibility of a revolutionary countercoup. The assassinations of Jiao Dafeng and Chen Zuoxin shocked and angered their revolutionary comrades. In the days after the coup, Changsha was alive with rumors that Jiao's followers were preparing to move against Tan to retake control of the Hunan government. From the other side, the New Army units involved in Jiao's death were reportedly preparing to extend their purge to Jiao's associates. This volatile situation was quickly defused when revolutionary leaders reached an accommodation with Tan, accepting his leadership as a means to prevent further disorder.
There are a number of reasons why this accommodation was possible. First, there is some question as to whether Tan himself was personally involved in the coup, the main evidence of his complicity being his failure to punish its perpetrators. Indeed, most of the conspirators received high posts in Tan's administration, including a division commander's position for Mei Xing. At the same time, there is the contrary evidence that Tan and his family seem to have been noticeably surprised by the coup. It is possible that Tan's "cover-up" was simply an effort to prevent further disorder once the deed was done. In any case, Tan was careful to express his sorrow over Jiao and Chen's deaths. The Hunan government gave the two men elaborate official funerals and provided their families with financial compensation. By such actions, Tan sought to heal the breach with Hunan's revolutionaries, giving them a chance to cooperate without too much loss of face.
The revolutionaries also had to be concerned about how an open break with Tan and his constitutionalist allies might affect the revolutionary cause. Cooperation with prominent gentry leaders like Tan could contribute to the stability and prestige of the new military government, whereas conflict with them might slow broader acceptance of the revolution. During the conflict over the senate issue, some radical revolutionaries had proposed strengthening Jiao's position by assassinating senate members and Tan's appointees in the civil administration. However, the opponents of doing so won the day with this argument: "To carry out the revolution, we need to enlist the services of talented men, and to plan our advance in concert with them. Only then can we achieve our greater goal. The men on this list [marked for assassination] are all well-known Hunan personalities. If they are killed, how can we win the hearts of the people? In the future who will dare work with us for the revolution?" Even in the light of Jiao's
assassination, this argument still carried weight as long as Tan and his allies had not forsworn the revolution altogether.
The division between constitutionalists and revolutionaries was also not as broad as it is sometimes portrayed. Before 1911 the two groups were divided over the tactical issue of the necessity of revolution, but at the provincial and local level they generally agreed about types of reforms needed for China's national regeneration. The barrier between the two groups was, as a result, quite permeable. As circumstances changed, individuals could and did shift easily from one camp to the other. Indeed, in 1911 the circumstances were such that both sides finally came together in agreement on the need for a political revolution. As previously noted, the underlying issue behind the coup against Jiao was that his secret society activities might lead to social as well as political revolution. Joseph Esherick has shown that the revolutionaries themselves were far from united on this issue. The majority of revolutionary leaders were, after all, drawn from the same broad elite as the constitutionalists. Although many saw the secret societies as a revolutionary tool, few were any more willing than the gentry as a whole to accept the social disorder that might result if secret societies were given a free hand. Therefore, once Jiao's death eliminated the immediate threat of secret-society revolution, the way was cleared for increased cooperation between revolutionaries and constitutionalists.
On a more personal level, Tan Yankai's past relationship with Hunan's revolutionary movement, and its leaders, eased the path to accommodation. Although Tan's conversion to revolution had come relatively late, his attitude toward the revolutionary movement was generally more tolerant than antagonistic. For example, in 1904 Tan had used his influence to protect the Mingde School, which harbored a number of revolutionary teachers, such as Huang Xing and Zhou Zhenlin, from attacks by conservative gentry. According to one account, when orders for Huang's arrest were issued after the discovery of an uprising plot, Tan aided his escape by intervening with the Hunan authorities to prevent an overly energetic search. By this action, Tan built a basis for later cooperation with the man who was to become the second most important revolutionary leader in the Tongmenghui after Sun Yat-sen.
In the end, Huang Xing himself played a major role in re-cementing the revolutionary alliance with Tan in the aftermath of Jiao's assassination. Since Hunan was his home province, Huang had watched the course of the revolution there with special concern. Upon receiving
news of the coup, Huang immediately sent calming instructions to revolutionary leaders in Changsha. In his message, Huang stressed that the most important objective was to prevent any further instability that would either discourage other provinces from joining the revolution or adversely affect Hunan's ability to assist the revolutionary war in Hubei. Although expressing sympathy over Jiao's death, Huang therefore urged his comrades to give their support to Tan. To this end, Huang's emissary, Zhou Zhenlin, called a mass meeting of soldiers and civilians to relay Huang's instructions. Zhou's impassioned speech was well received and the immediate danger of a revolutionary countercoup was reduced. "Tan's first term as Hunan's military governor was, under the pressure of events, supported by revolutionary party members," Zhou noted.
Despite this general accommodation, a few revolutionaries continued to seek revenge against those they saw as responsible for the anti-Jiao coup. For the most part, these were men who had been active in fomenting secret-society revolution or revolutionary soldiers who had worked closely with Jiao and Chen Zuoxin during the Changsha uprising. These men were responsible for a series of assassination attempts and uprising plots that would continue through 1912 and 1913. For example, Mei Xing was permanently crippled in a bomb attack. In March 1913, a number of military officers and local revolutionary activists, including Liu Wenjin, were implicated in a military uprising attempt against Tan. Such incidents have sometimes been cited to show the continuation of a revolutionary struggle against Tan's constitutionalist regime. In fact, these plots only represented a minority revolutionary faction, which did not have the backing of Hunan's most important revolutionary leaders. Tan, for his part, exhibited leniency toward prominent uprising suspects. For example, Liu Wenjin and other officers implicated in the March 1913 plot were given short prison terms or simply removed from their posts. In general, the accommodation forged between Tan and Hunan's revolutionary leadership at the beginning of his term of office was never seriously challenged.
Finally, Tan's success at preserving good relations with revolutionary leaders was very much owing to his own character and approach to politics. One quality frequently attributed to Tan was bamian linglong , the ability to be pleasing to all parties. As one memoir notes, "Whether with the constitutionalist clique or the Nationalist Party, northern or southern powers, old or new factions, politicians or military men, elders or youths, Tan was able to project feigned sincerity to
all." Tan's detractors saw this quality as simple political opportunism, and charged him with the manipulation of factions for his own ends. Irrespective of whether his sincerity was feigned, Tan used his personal skills to build and maintain a political consensus in support of his rule. In the end, one of Tan's main strengths as military governor was this ability to act as a political mediator among Hunan's various political forces.
One particular example of the consensus-building politics characteristic of Tan's regime was the attempt to balance Hunan's sectional interests. The traditional examination system had divided Hunan into middle, western, and southern "routes" (lu ), and the self-interested ties that developed among the gentry of these routes in the late Qing period provided the basis for sectional political factions in the early Republic. In order to lessen the conflict among these factions, attempts were made to divide political appointments equally among men from each route. For example, the president and two vice presidents of the Hunan Provincial Assembly were each from a different route. Tan, likewise, spread department-head appointments in his administration equally among the three routes.
For the most part, Tan did favor men with constitutionalist backgrounds in his appointments in Hunan's civil administration. Here too, though, it is possible to see too great a division between constitutionalists and revolutionaries. Most of Tan's appointees were men with modern, often Japanese, educations, who interacted easily with revolutionary leaders with similar backgrounds. Although predominantly active in the constitutionalist movement, many of these men, like Tan himself, had at different points shown some sympathy for the revolutionary cause. Furthermore, as noted by Tan's minister of foreign affairs, in appointing these men Tan not only paid attention to their talents and character, but demanded their support for the revolution. Finally, it should be noted that men with revolutionary backgrounds were not completely excluded from Tan's administration. For example, the head of the Justice Department was a Tongmenghui member, and under him this department remained very much a Tongmenghui preserve. Perhaps an even more important revolutionary appointment was that of Zhou Zhenlin to head a special financial institution, the Revenue Bureau. According to Joseph Esherick, Zhou's position at the head of this bureau was an "opening to the left" whereby Zhou carried out a program of "iconoclastic egalitarianism" through extortionate exactions from conservative or loyalist gentry families. Through this post, Zhou exerted a considerable revolutionary
influence on Hunan's provincial government. Thus Tan did allow revolutionaries to maintain some footholds in his administration.
There is also other evidence of Tan Yankai's efforts to ensure continued revolutionary cooperation in the political consensus supporting his government. For example, Tan was careful to maintain good relations with Huang Xing and other Tongmenghui leaders. He frequently sought Huang's advice on major policy issues and gave Huang an elaborate official welcome when he visited Changsha in October 1912. The most obvious indicator of Tan's special care to preserve his accommodation with the revolutionary party, though, was his role in establishing the Hunan branch of the Nationalist Party in the summer of 1912.
In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, there was in Hunan, as elsewhere, a proliferation of small political societies and parties. In this early period, while political alliances were just being established, it was not unusual for a single individual to belong to a number of different parties. Not surprisingly, Tan allowed several of these small parties to claim him as their leader. Such a position was consistent with Tan's bamian linglong character and with his efforts to build as broad a political consensus as possible behind his regime. As the home province of a number of important revolutionary leaders, though, Hunan remained a particularly strong base for the Tongmenghui. Indeed, Song Jiaoren, the mastermind behind the expansion of the Tongmenghui into the Nationalist Party, was a Hunan native. Hunan was therefore an obvious organizing focus for the new party.
In July 1912, Qiu Ao, a prominent Hunan Tongmenghui activist, arrived in Changsha at the behest of party leaders to organize a Hunan branch of the Nationalist Party and to prepare the party's campaign for upcoming provincial and national assembly elections. Qiu soon discovered that Tan was willing to join forces with the Tongmenghui in the establishment of the new party. Having obtained Tan's support, Qiu easily drew other members of Hunan's constitutionalist elite into the Nationalist Party. When the Hunan branch was formally established in September, Tan was named its head and nearly all the other important officials in Tan's administration were assigned posts in the branch organization. At the same time, Tan also appointed Qiu to head the Department of Civil Government, an important office supervising local administration and elections. Qiu took advantage of this position to appoint sympathetic magistrates and election officials in order to give Nationalist Party candidates an edge in the upcoming elections. As might be expected, the Nationalist Party won large
majorities in Hunan's national, provincial, and most county assembly elections.
Tan's ability to bring about an effective amalgamation of Hunan's constitutionalist and revolutionary elites was no doubt facilitated by the Nationalist Party's attempt to broaden its base by casting off some of the more radical principles that had been associated with the Tongmenghui. For example, the Nationalist Party dropped Sun Yat-sen's program of land reform and the Tongmenghui's original call for the political equality of women. These changes made it possible for the party to appeal to a more socially conservative constituency than it had in the past. The party's platform also contained strong support for increased local self-government, an obvious attraction for the politicized elites who were Tan's main allies. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the Nationalist Party could have been as successful as it was in Hunan without Tan's personal and active support. In Tan's mind, it seems, the Nationalist Party was less important for its political program than for its potential to provide an organizational basis for a continued elite consensus of revolutionaries and constitutionalists. At the same time, in his desire for consensus, Tan also continued to maintain good relations with other political factions and parties even after his commitment to the Nationalist Party.
The military governorship of Tan Yankai provides one of the best examples of the fact that, at least within some provincial regimes, there was a potentially strong political basis for the continuation of civilian rule after the 1911 Revolution. Although he was officially Hunan's military governor, Tan's political power was primarily based on his status in Hunan's civilian society, and was strengthened by his skills as a politician in the context of the emerging postrevolutionary civil polity. Tan, as one of his contemporaries would later write, essentially served as a "civilian military governor" (wenzhi dudu ).