The Establishment of Hubei's Civil Governorship
The supremacy of military governors over both civil and military affairs had been accepted by revolutionary regimes as a matter of wartime expediency. Once peace was restored, the continuation of such authority in a military post was less justifiable. It was another matter, though, to expect these governors to give up the expanded powers they had become accustomed to exercise. Therefore, it was an act of some boldness when in early 1912 Li Yuanhong placed his considerable prestige as the first revolutionary military governor, and vice president of the Republic, behind a proposal to separate military and civil powers in the provinces. Going beyond lip service to this principle, Li proposed that Hubei lead the way with the appointment of a civil governor (minzhengzhang ).
Li's initial proposal for the separation of civil and military administration, issued on April 10, 1912, was a remarkably harsh critique of what he saw as the "baneful effects" of military rule. Li charged reliance on military power in government with causing defiance of central authority, favoritism in personnel appointments, excessive military recruitment, wasteful military expenditures, and incessant fighting over political spoils. One of Li's main concerns, though, was to avoid any repetition of the military fragmentation that had occurred in previous periods of Chinese history. The special danger of this situation at this particular time was that it might open the way for the partition of the nation by foreign powers.
It is significant that Li did not call for civil supremacy over the military but for an equal division of authority between military and civil governors. From the vantage point of a professional military man whose main concern was national defense, Li saw problems in the combination of military and civil power in either office:
At the beginning of the revolution, [military and civil] rule could be combined because there was civil war. After the revolution, though, future wars will be directed outside our borders. If a civilian official controls both military and civil governments, but is without military skills, how will the soldiers obey his commands? If a military officer controls military and civil administration, and then there is an incident that requires him to go on campaign, who will be left in charge of local government?
There are indications that Li also sought to prevent civilian control of the military at the provincial level as a first step toward unification of the country's military forces into a truly national army. "As long as
military and civil administration are not separated, then there will be no military unification," he said. "As long as there is no military unification, there will be no advancement in the nation's defense plans." To the extent that Li was calling for military autonomy from provincial civilian authority, though, the effect was to reduce, not increase, the political power of the military governors.
Many historians have doubted Li's sincerity in proposing the separation of military and civil powers. The conventional interpretation has been that Li's main goal was to curry favor with Yuan Shikai, since Yuan also favored this proposal. This argument becomes less convincing, however, when Li's actions are seen in the context of his political career as a whole. Revisionist historians such as Xiao Zhizhi and Ren Zequan have shown that a stand against military rule was a consistent feature of Li's political position throughout the Republican period.
Li wasted no time in carrying out his pledge to have Hubei lead the way in the separation of military and civil power. The selection of a civil governor for Hubei was completed within a week of Li's original proposal. The manner in which the governor was selected is a good indication of the new configuration of provincial political power in the early Republic. On April 16, the Hubei Provincial Assembly fulfilled its legitimating role by electing a governor. In this election, the assembly accepted Li's nominee, Fan Zengxiang, the former Qing provincial treasurer whom Li had appointed minister of internal affairs the previous month. Finally, central approval came on April 19 in the form of a presidential "appointment" from Yuan Shikai. There is little question here, though, that the province, not the president, controlled the selection process. After the election, Li urged Fan to take up his new post, promising that he would restrict himself entirely to military administration.
Belying the speed and apparent ease of this process, there had been some opposition inside Hubei to Li's proposal for the establishment of a civil governorship. Contrary to what might be expected, this opposition did not originate within the military, but came from the staff of the civil administration and, more important, from the Tongmenghui. Opposition within the civil administration reflected the concerns of bureaucrats that a new governor might make personnel or administrative changes that would threaten their positions. The opposition of the Hubei branch of the Tongmenghui followed the position of its national leadership. Their main argument was that a centralization of provincial authority under the military governors was still necessary
for the effective consolidation of the Republic. Underneath this, however, there was a political concern that the establishment of civil governors, with Yuan Shikai's support, might be used to undercut the revolutionary party's power in provinces controlled by Tongmenghui military governors. Owing to this opposition, Fan's election in the Provincial Assembly had only been achieved through special lobbying efforts, at Li Yuanhong's behest, by the president of the assembly, Liu Xinyuan. This opposition did not cease after Fan's election, but shifted into political attacks directed against Fan himself. Li attempted to mediate this conflict within his administration and with Hubei's political parties, but refused to change his position on the necessity of an independent civil governor. Nonetheless, under a barrage of attacks, Fan finally declined the office.
The initial setback over Fan Zengxiang was overcome by his replacement with Liu Xinyuan. Liu actually began to serve as acting civil governor while Fan's position was still in question. But this arrangement came under attack by Liu's political opponents, who objected to his combination of legislative and executive power. This issue was resolved when Fan's resignation was accepted, and Liu officially resigned the presidency of the assembly on July 1, 1912, to take up his duties as civil governor. Before doing so, Liu demanded, and received, full assurance from Li that he would be given complete control over Hubei's civil administration and its personnel. Announcing Liu's assumption of the post, Li declared that the civil governor would have full authority over the province's civil departments, as well as local and provincial police affairs.
Liu Xinyuan was a Hanlin scholar who had held several important provincial posts under the Qing dynasty. He was also a prominent member of Hubei's constitutionalist gentry and had been active in the railroad-protection movement. His presidency of the Republican Provincial Assembly was preceded by a vice presidency in Hubei's late Qing assembly. Contact Liu had had with Li in earlier reform activities facilitated their cooperation in this period. Quite naturally Liu's personnel preferences were very much in accord with Li's own. For example, in plans for the reform of local government, Liu reportedly hoped to use degree-holding gentry to replace many of the inexperienced government students who had been appointed county magistrates in the aftermath of the revolution. To one office-seeker, Liu reportedly said: "All my advisers and the members of my staff are hanlin, juren, daotai , or zhifu [i.e., degree-holders or former Qing officials]. If a person is from this society or that party I certainly won't
use them [for that reason]." In theory, Liu was not opposed to the use of "new men" if they showed signs of talent, and many such men were present on his staff. Nonetheless, his preference for employing gentry officials was no secret. It is no wonder, then, that the news of Liu's assumption of office created a minor panic within the Hubei bureaucracy.
Liu's tenure as civil governor was troubled from the beginning. He did indeed create enemies by staff changes and personnel cuts. Those who lost their jobs quickly joined failed office-seekers in charging Liu with undue favoritism. The political factions that had opposed the separation of military and civil administration in the first place were especially antagonistic to Liu. This was particularly true of the Tongmenghui and its successor, the Nationalist Party. Beyond whatever antagonism Tongmenghui members may have harbored against Liu because of his constitutionalist background, the party was also the representative of the "new men" of revolutionary merit who felt that their opportunities for political advancement were blocked in Liu's administration. In this sense, the establishment of the civil governorship acted to exacerbate Hubei's increasingly bitter political conflicts.
As Liu Xinyuan came under increasing political attack, he was further weakened by Li's failure to provide the full support for the civil governor's position that he had promised. Despite Li's pledge to restrict himself to military administration, there was a general assumption that he would still exercise some informal supervision over civil affairs. Furthermore, since the Hubei government had originally been organized around military concerns, civil and military affairs were still closely intertwined in many areas. The heads of the civil departments and offices used claims of military ramifications to circumvent Liu's authority with direct appeals to Li. When Li, as was his habit, stepped in to mediate these disputes, he acted as a final arbiter with authority over, rather than equal to, the civil governor. Such interventions by Li steadily eroded Liu's power in the government. Some civil offices even refused to acknowledge Liu's authority over them. One such case involved the Records Office, an archive created to collect historical materials on the 1911 Revolution, which was staffed primarily with uprising participants. This office refused to accept orders from Liu on the official exchange rate to be used in government offices, claiming that, since the military governor had established this office, it was not subordinate to the civil governor. The conflict over this relatively petty issue escalated after the Records Office charged
Liu in the Provincial Assembly with abusing his authority. It is significant that Li resolved this issue by co-signing the questioned orders, so that although Liu's order was upheld, his authority was compromised.
Liu also failed to gain the complete control over personnel he had demanded as a condition for taking office. To begin with, Liu found his own political power base insufficient to remove officeholders with strong party connections. Several such attempts were halted after they provoked strong opposition in the Provincial Assembly. In the end, Liu could only enforce his personnel decisions if he had Li's backing. This meant, in turn, that Liu found it difficult either to remove men whom Li had originally appointed or to refuse men whom Li recommended. In the final analysis, then, the power of appointment, especially to higher administrative posts, remained in Li's hands.
Over time, Liu found his position as civil governor growing steadily more untenable. He had been unable to achieve the complete authority over administration and personnel that had been promised him when he assumed the post. Offices under Liu continued to appeal to Li over his head in order to block his orders. At the same time, Liu was continually attacked by political parties, and obstructed by opposition in the Provincial Assembly. Finally, in October 1912, Liu resigned, claiming ill-health.
The political struggle that erupted over Liu's replacement is a good example of the highly factionalized nature of Hubei's politics. The Republican and Nationalist parties naturally had their own nominees for the post. Smaller factions, such as a group centered on Sun Wu and a clique of politicians from Li's home county, also had their own candidates. The Provincial Assembly as a whole favored selecting a "new man" rather than another relatively conservative gentry official. Li, on the contrary, showed a continued preference for experienced former Qing high officials. Li's initial nominee, Zhou Shumo, was a Hubei jinshi who had held a provincial governor's post in the late Qing period. However, Zhou had also been a prominent loyalist during the 1911 Revolution, and opposition from the Provincial Assembly forced Li to withdraw this nomination. This outcome is significant in showing that Li, for all his power, was still susceptible to political pressure.
The candidate who finally received approval, Xia Shoukang, had a background very similar to Liu Xinyuan's. Xia was a jinshi and a Hanlin scholar who like Liu had served as vice president of the Hubei
Provincial Assembly before the revolution. Since June 1912, Xia had been head of Hubei's Department of Internal Affairs, so he had some experience in provincial administration. Despite these credentials, all parties in the Provincial Assembly originally rejected Xia's candidacy. However, when the Nationalist Party focused its opposition on the fact that Xia was a member of the Republican Party, albeit an inactive one, Li was able to negotiate with the Republican Party to drop its candidate in favor of Xia.
Xia's succession solved none of the problems that plagued Liu Xinyuan's governorship. If anything, Xia proved to be even weaker in his post than Liu. This weakness was evident from his first days in office, when he was forced to accept Li's recommendation of Rao Hanxiang, Li's personal secretary and close confidant, to head the Department of Internal Affairs, rather than his own nominee. To save Xia's face, Li accepted the appointment of the rejected nominee as head of the Department of Finance. This appointment, however, was attacked in the Provincial Assembly and had to be withdrawn. This incident was symptomatic of the problems faced by Xia's administration. First, the support of the Republican Party, only reluctantly given in the first place, was not sustained. As a result, Xia could marshal little political support to defend himself against constant attacks by opposing political parties and factions. Second, it was already obvious that Xia could not count on Li's unqualified support. Without this support, Xia had little hope of restrengthening the authority of the civil governorship.
By the time of Xia Shoukang's administration, there was no longer much question that Li Yuanhong remained the real head of both the civil and military administrations. Li's interference in, or contravention of, Xia's decisions showed that "in all matters Xia did not dare to act on his own without Li's approval." Xia was limited in particular by Rao Hanxiang's placement in the Department of Internal Affairs. Because of Rao's influence with Li, Xia found it necessary to defer to him in areas where the civil governor should have had final authority. Rao's position in Xia's administration meant, in effect, an extension of Li's influence more directly into civil affairs. According to one contemporary criticism, Rao's appointment was a "reunification of Hubei's divided military and civil powers." With his authority compromised by Li from above, and by Rao from below, Xia could do little more than simply hold onto his post. The effective resubordination of the civil governor to the military governor was com-
pleted when Xia resigned in September 1913 and was replaced by Rao.
In the end, the inability of Hubei's civil governors to form their own independent political power bases doomed the attempt to separate civil and military administrations. Both Liu Xinyuan and Xia Shoukang were men of considerable status and political experience. Yet, within the context of Hubei's factionalized politics, neither man was able to build the broad political consensus among Hubei's political parties, or within the Provincial Assembly, that he needed to make the civil governorship a strong position. Without their own base of political power, both men had to rely on support from Li. When Li's support weakened, so did the civil governor's authority.
Much of the blame for the lack of success in Hubei's separation of military and civil power must therefore go to Li's failure to give his unqualified backing to the decisions and policies of the civil governors. By continuing to act as a final political arbiter, Li increasingly undercut the independent authority the civil governors expected to wield. Nonetheless, to interpret Li's behavior simply as an attempt to maintain his own power fails to explain why Li advocated the separation of military and civil powers in the first place. Granting that Li may have found it difficult to give up the power he held, he also remained Hubei's political arbiter precisely because this was the role demanded of him by Hubei's factionalized politics. Because of his unique status in the establishment of Hubei's new provincial regime, Li was perhaps the only person with sufficient authority to make political decisions that could be accepted, or at least enforced, with any finality. Thus political parties fought for his support, and conflicts within the government, military or civil, were brought to his attention. The result was a further consolidation of Li's power that was as much a product of the structure of politics in early Republican Hubei as it was of his own volition.
Hubei's attempted separation of civil and military power was not without some effect. The principle of civil administration and civilian rule was reasserted, even if not fully implemented. Furthermore, the office of civil governor was established, and even given its limited authority this was still a step away from the unchallenged position of the military governor that had preceded it. It is not unreasonable to think that if Hubei's civilian politics had had more time to mature, this post might eventually have provided the basis for even further restoration of the principle of civilian rule. Unfortunately, other events intervened to prevent this.