The Second Revolution
The dispute between the adherents of centralized government and of provincial autonomy was only one of a number of interrelated constitutional issues at stake in the Second Revolution. The existence of political controversies, no matter how bitter, does not however explain why military force was ultimately used to resolve them. The context of military conflict was the lack of a clear consensus about processes or institutions able to legitimate the resolution of political conflicts. On one side there was Yuan Shikai's rejection of the participatory politics that had legitimated revolutionary regimes in 1911. On the other side there were revolutionaries who could find no common ground with Yuan once his authoritarian tendencies became clear. At the same time, years of revolutionary experience had inured revolutionary activists to the purposeful application of military power. Those who saw Yuan's activities as a betrayal of the revolution had little difficulty supporting any means, including military force, to carry out a "second" revolution against him. Unfortunately for the revolutionary cause, though, there was no broader elite consensus that the political situation in 1913 required a military solution. Without this broader support, the Second Revolution could not repeat the success of 1911. Meanwhile, the suppression of this revolt gave Yuan an opportunity to apply his own military solution to the early Republic's political controversies.
Although the issues fought over in the Second Revolution can be defined entirely in constitutional terms, they were also interwoven with the fundamental practical question of politics—who exactly would wield power in the Republic. This issue was particularly fueled by the dissatisfaction of revolutionaries over their underrepresentation in the postrevolutionary political structure. During the revolution, concern for the preservation of order, and to prevent foreign intervention, led revolutionaries to accept political compromises with more conservative reformers among the gentry, or even with imperial officials, as long as they accepted the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. Thus, just as revolutionaries in Hubei and Hunan had been willing to accept Li Yuanhong and Tan Yankai's leadership in revolutionary
provincial regimes, the presidency of the Republic had been offered to Yuan Shikai in exchange for his support of the call for the abdication of the Manchu emperor. After the establishment of the Republic, though, considerable discontent festered within revolutionary ranks over the preponderance of national and provincial posts in non-revolutionary hands. The potential for conflict with Yuan Shikai thus grew as revolutionary leaders sought to ensure that more of the political rewards of the revolution went to those who had promoted it and who would safeguard its objectives.
While their presence in Republican administration remained weak, revolutionaries saw new hope for an expansion of their political influence in electoral politics. This was particularly evident in early 1913, when the revolutionary-based Nationalist Party won the largest representation in the National Assembly, as well as in a number of provincial assemblies. Still unresolved though was the exact division of authority between the executive and legislative branches that would determine the power political parties would exert through these assemblies. The settlement of this issue awaited the drafting of a permanent constitution, slated to take place after the 1913 elections. Whereas Yuan naturally favored a strong presidency, Song Jiaoren, the organizational leader of the Nationalist Party, campaigned for the creation of a parliamentary system that would reduce the powers of the presidency in favor of a premier directly responsible to the National Assembly's majority party. Insofar as the assembly was to draft this constitution, the Nationalist Party's electoral victory in 1913 opened the way for the transfer of national political power into revolutionary hands. If the premiership envisioned by Song Jiaoren were established, Song, as legislative leader of the leading party, would no doubt replace Yuan as the chief executive of the central government.
An equally important issue awaiting more precise constitutional definition was the question of the proper relationship between central and provincial authority. Yuan and the revolutionaries were not so clearly in opposite camps on this issue. Many revolutionary leaders agreed with Yuan that a strong central government was a prerequisite for national power. In September 1912, Sun Yat-sen and Huang Xing met with Yuan and acknowledged the need for centralized administrative control over the army, foreign affairs, finances, the judiciary, and transportation and communication systems. Song Jiaoren was also a consistent advocate of centralized national government, albeit under a strong premier rather than a strong president. As long as Yuan remained in control of the central government, though, most revolution-
ary leaders were reluctant to see the extension of central power into those provinces where they retained significant political influence. Neither, as a matter of practical politics, could the Nationalist Party risk its local political bases by taking a strong stand in favor of central power. The party's platform thus stressed support for local self-government alongside a much vaguer call for political unity. The issue of centralization also became enmeshed in the debate over the relative powers of the executive and legislative branches of the government. On the one hand, Yuan Shikai saw a strong executive as essential for effective central government. On the other hand, most national and provincial assemblymen were inclined to defend the political interests of their provinces from an aggrandizing central administration.
The 1913 electoral success of the Nationalist Party thus threatened Yuan on several fronts. He faced the possibility of a strengthened National Assembly hostile to his centralization plans, a yet-to-be-drafted constitution that might undercut the executive powers of his office, and the potential loss of his own political power to a premier representing the revolutionary party. Presented with these challenges, Yuan went on the offensive. His first action was to remove his most immediate political adversary, Song Jiaoren. On March 20, 1913, Song was assassinated in Shanghai by men later proven to have been agents of Yuan's government. This was a chilling indication that Yuan would not shrink from the use of force to obtain his political objectives. Indeed, Yuan was now prepared to use the military power of the central government against both his political enemies and the recalcitrant provinces.
One obstacle that remained in the path of an effective mobilization of central military power was the central government's continuing financial weakness, largely created by the loss of tax revenues from the provinces. In April 1913, Yuan found a temporary remedy to this problem by negotiating a large government "reorganization loan" from a foreign consortium. In obtaining this loan, Yuan ignored vehement nationalist opposition that saw the terms of the loan, permitting foreign supervision of China's salt administration, as a betrayal of Chinese sovereignty. At the same time, Yuan showed his disdain for legal procedures by concluding the loan without the approval of the National Assembly, as explicitly required by the provisional constitution. Of course, the willingness of the foreign powers to approve this loan also contributed to Yuan's ability to ignore these political and legal restraints. Charles Tilly has noted that foreign
military aid strengthens the capacity of Third World armies for independent political action by freeing them from the need to reach compromises with social or political forces in their own societies. Yuan's ability to apply the reorganization loan to meet central military expenses similarly encouraged his proclivity to resort to a military solution to his political problems.
With his finances assured, Yuan initiated an attack on provincial autonomy by ordering the replacement of the military governors of Jiangxi, Anhui, and Guangdong provinces. By this means, Yuan moved to reassert central appointment powers over provincial officials without waiting for constitutional authorization for this prerogative. The replacement of these three governors in particular also served a political purpose. All three were revolutionary activists who had gained these posts during the 1911 Revolution, and their armies remained the strongest revolutionary military bases. Thus the extension of central authority into these provinces would also diminish revolutionary power. Ignoring the debate over the legality of his orders, Yuan showed his determination to enforce his will by advancing loyal Beiyang Army units into Jiangxi.
For many revolutionary leaders, including Sun Yat-sen, the assassination of Song Jiaoren was sufficient reason to seek Yuan's removal from office. At the same time, Yuan's defiance of the National Assembly and the provisional constitution over the reorganization loan convinced them that he could not be stopped by legal means. By April 1913, some revolutionaries had therefore begun to plot military uprisings to overthrow Yuan. Other revolutionaries, represented by Huang Xing, recognized the weakness of revolutionary military forces and hoped to delay open conflict. Yuan's removal of revolutionary military governors and the advance of Beiyang troops into Jiangxi forced the issue by threatening the revolutionaries' only strong military bases.
On July 12, 1913, Jiangxi declared its independence, officially initiating the Second Revolution. In the next few weeks, six more provinces would follow Jiangxi's lead. However, the assessment of revolutionary weakness was proven correct when Beiyang armies loyal to Yuan inflicted a series of defeats on revolutionary forces. Although revolutionaries at Nanjing held out until September 4 and Sichuan did not cancel its independence until September 12, most serious military resistance to Yuan collapsed by mid August.
The weakness of the revolutionary position in the Second Revolution is evident in the response to this crisis in Hubei and Hunan. As the birthplace of the 1911 Revolution, Hubei might have been ex-
pected to be at the forefront of the anti-Yuan struggle. Instead, Li Yuanhong opposed the Second Revolution and effectively suppressed any action in its support. Hunan under Tan Yankai's reluctant leadership joined the Second Revolution, but could offer very little to prevent its defeat. Although ending up on different sides, the situations in both provinces reflected the weakness of the political consensus behind the Second Revolution.
Given his reluctant role in the 1911 Revolution, Li's opposition to the Second Revolution was hardly surprising. He did, however, attempt to take a conciliating position between Yuan and his opponents. Making the preservation of order his main goal, Li advocated the resolution of all political conflicts through peaceful and legal means. Thus, while decrying Song Jiaoren's assassination, Li urged that justice be sought through the courts. Likewise, while favoring Yuan's reorganization loan, Li proposed that the political conflict over it be settled peacefully within the National Assembly. On a number of occasions, Li personally mediated between Yuan and revolutionary provinces to reduce the tensions that had arisen from these and other issues. Even on the eve of hostilities, Li offered to act as a mediator in the dispute over Yuan's removal of revolutionary governors. Thus up to the outbreak of the revolt, Li's activities were in effect an extension of the mediating political role he played in Hubei into the national political arena.
There were limits though to Li's willingness to make compromises. First, he adamantly refused to support any call for Yuan's overthrow, asserting that his leadership remained essential for the maintenance of order and national unity. In May 1913, amid rising political emotions, Li banned all anti-Yuan protest meetings in the name of preserving public order. Second, Li consistently denounced any use of military force by revolutionaries seeking to redress their grievances against Yuan. Thus Li not only rejected revolutionary overtures for him to lead the military struggle against Yuan but also reportedly turned down appeals to remain neutral in the event of an outbreak of hostilities. Finally, despite his position as head of Hubei's semiautonomous provincialist regime, Li generally agreed with Yuan on the necessity of a strong central government. Li's attitude in this regard was perhaps related to his concern, as a military man, for national defense. Indeed, other professional military men in similar positions, such as Yunnan's military governor, Cai E, expressed similar concerns for a powerful central government. At any rate, when other provinces began to declare their independence, Li announced that he would
obey the orders of the central government and support the suppression of rebelling provinces. When it became necessary to take a stand, Li came down firmly on Yuan's side.
The efforts of revolutionary leaders to gain Li's support for their struggle against Yuan were no doubt hampered by the antagonistic relationship that had developed between Li and revolutionary activists in his own province. Hubei revolutionaries had already instigated several military plots directed against both Li and Yuan in late 1912. Song's assassination encouraged them to redouble their efforts, and in April 1913 a number of revolutionary military officers, including the commander of the 8th Division, Ji Yulin, were implicated in an uprising plot. In the succeeding months, Wuhan stayed in a permanent state of tension as Li's detectives thwarted similar plots by searching out and executing suspected plotters. The outbreak of the Second Revolution simply added further impetus to an ongoing revolutionary struggle.
The main revolutionary strategy in Hubei during the Second Revolution was to subvert the Hubei army in order to repeat the success of the 1911 Revolution with a military coup. However, conditions for such a coup were no longer favorable. Revolutionaries still had some influence within the Hubei army, but troop disbandment and the suppression of previous plots had long since broken up any effective revolutionary organization within it. With insufficient time to rebuild their organizations in the army's ranks, many revolutionaries focused their efforts on gaining the support of officers who might bring their entire units over to the struggle. However, as in the case of the 1911 Revolution, most officers, even if sympathetic, were unwilling to risk their positions unless there was some assurance of success. Success was even less likely than in 1911 because Li, taking advantage of his accumulated experience in suppressing revolutionary plots, had built up elaborate precautions against military uprisings. Furthermore, as noted in Chapter 4, the political instability of the Hubei army had led Li to request military assistance from Yuan, so northern troops loyal to Yuan were also on guard in Hubei against revolutionary attempts. As a result, revolutionary plotters had little leeway for action. Although a number of minor and short-lived uprisings did occur in outlying counties, Hubei under Li Yuanhong remained firmly in Yuan's camp.
Unlike their comrades in Hubei, Hunan's revolutionaries were able to bring their province over to the Second Revolution. The assassination of Song Jiaoren, a Hunan native, raised particularly strong anti-Yuan tempers in the province. After this point, Tan Yankai came
under increasing pressure from national revolutionary leaders and local activists to break with Yuan's government. As befitting his position as the head of the Hunan Nationalist Party, Tan generally supported the party's national leadership in its disputes with Yuan Shikai. Given Tan's decision to tie his political fortunes to the Nationalist Party, the pressure for independence was not easy to resist. Indeed, at one point Tan reportedly complained that he had become "nothing more than a monkey obeying his trainer's commands." Nonetheless, Tan opposed an open break with Yuan and forestalled Hunan's declaration of independence for many weeks.
Tan's most persuasive argument against independence was based on military considerations. The near-complete disbandment of the Hunan army, and the province's empty treasury, left Hunan particularly vulnerable to Yuan's armies. Tan himself seemed less concerned about the insufficiency of Hunan's military preparations than he was desirous of avoiding hostilities altogether. He was reluctant to have all he had accomplished in disbanding Hunan's forces undone by the new round of military recruitment that a struggle with Yuan would require. Only under extreme revolutionary pressure did Tan finally agree to begin rebuilding the Hunan army. Nonetheless, even with the outbreak of military conflict, Tan continued to hope for a peaceful settlement. In a meeting called immediately after Jiangxi's declaration of independence, Tan not only expressed pragmatic concern about Hunan's military weakness but warned of the internal disorder and opportunity for foreign intervention that might result from a civil war. It is a credit to Tan's political skills that even at this late date he persuaded Hunan's revolutionaries to agree to one last attempt at a mediated settlement. It was quickly apparent, however, that no settlement would be possible. On July 25, Tan finally succumbed to revolutionary pressure and agreed to a declaration of independence.
Tan's agreement to declare independence clearly went against his better judgment. Only days before the actual declaration, he told a party of Hubei revolutionaries who had fled to Hunan that he had no confidence in Hunan's ability to resist Yuan. After the declaration, he frankly told an American missionary that he had been forced into this action against his own will. In a later defense of Tan to Yuan, Li Yuanhong claimed that Tan had secretly disclosed his determination to commit suicide before agreeing to independence. Li reported that he had instead urged Tan to "appear to go along [with the Second Revolution], while secretly planning its suppression" if the pressure for independence became too great. Some Chinese historians have taken
this account as proof of Tan's secret desire to destroy revolutionary power, whereas others question its veracity, insofar as Tan never confirmed this story in his own defense. In the end, there is no reason to believe that Tan's reluctance to declare independence was based on anything more than a realistic assessment of the chances of winning a war with Yuan and fear of the general disorder such a war might bring. At the same time Tan evidently felt he could not afford to alienate revolutionary opinion in Hunan and perhaps provoke an uprising. In the short run, accepting independence may have seemed the only way to forestall discord within Hunan itself.
Tan's doubts about Hunan's chance of succeeding in the Second Revolution proved well founded. Hunan's hurriedly recruited troops were too few and too poorly trained to make a real impact on the war. Hunan also suffered a serious military setback even before the outbreak of war when the provincial arsenal was destroyed by a fire set on July 7 by Yuan's agents. Most of the weapons needed to arm new forces were lost in this fire. After Hunan's declaration of independence, Zhao Hengti's Guangxi brigade advanced cautiously across the Hubei border, but it only engaged in a few minor skirmishes with northern troops. In the end, the collapse of the Second Revolution in other provinces placed Hunan in an impossible position. On the very day that Hunan declared independence, the Jiangxi army suffered a major defeat, from which it never recovered. By the end of July, Huang Xing, who had taken command of the revolutionary forces at Nanjing, admitted defeat and fled to Shanghai. On August 6, Anhui's military governor also abandoned his post, and the province revoked its independence. Cheng Qian, an ardent supporter of the Second Revolution who had been appointed head of Hunan's Department of Military Affairs to oversee the rebuilding of the province's military forces, frankly reported to Tan that there was no real hope of a successful outcome, and on August 13 Tan rescinded Hunan's independence and recalled Zhao's forces from the Hubei border.
The failure of the Second Revolution reflected the inability of China's revolutionaries to build the same broad political consensus against Yuan that had been so effective against the Manchu dynasty. One Hubei activist later acknowledged that "at the time, Yuan's evil tracks were still not fully evident and all the people in the nation were very tired of disorder. This was greatly different from the revolutionary conditions that had existed before the 1911 Revolution." Constitutional conflicts over central and provincial authority, or over executive and legislative powers, were less easily defined in nationalist terms
than the anti-Manchuism of 1911. Indeed, in contrast to the idealism of the 1911 Revolution, many saw the Second Revolution as merely a conflict among self-interested politicians. On the eve of Hunan's declaration of independence, an English-language newspaper noted that
although the atmosphere in Changsha is electric, it is of a heavy dull nature in contrast to the current of contagious enthusiasm which marked the revolution. No desire for war is seen among the soldiers; the man on the street has no grievance against the government and is mystified as to the reasons for this new outbreak. Yuan Shih-k'ai [Shikai] cannot be called popular in Hunan, yet there seems no desire to oppose him except in the hearts of political job hunters and other self seeking "patriots." . . . Many in high quarters look with an ill-concealed concern upon the present situation and the people frankly state that they have known no real reason for revolt.
The absence of a consensus in support of the Second Revolution can be seen in the stands taken by merchant organizations in both Hunan and Hubei against revolutionary calls for provincial independence. Citing the preservation of order as their primary concern, these groups were not yet willing to consider war as the only solution to the problems confronting the Republic. In this instance, the proponents of the Second Revolution, not Yuan, appeared to be the party that most threatened the nation with disorder and disunity. Li's opposition to the Second Revolution, and Tan's reluctance to support it, were actually more in touch with this sentiment.
In the absence of widespread political support for their cause, the success or failure of the revolutionary struggle against Yuan Shikai came down to a question of military power. Here Yuan had an obvious advantage. The political effects of troop disbandments in Hubei and Hunan quickly became clear. Whereas Hubei had provided the military vanguard for the 1911 Revolution, in 1913, with the assistance of Yuan's northern troops, Li Yuanhong had no trouble suppressing revolutionary attempts to organize uprisings among the remnants of the provincial armies. Likewise, Hunan, though a major supplier of revolutionary troops in 1911–12, was unable to bring sufficient military force to bear to make an effective contribution to the Second Revolution.
Their failure in Hubei and Hunan shows the dilemma revolutionary activists faced in mid 1913. While believing that Yuan had left them no recourse but military force to stop the arbitrary consolidation of his political power, they were fully aware of the weakness of their military position. The defeat of the Second Revolution shattered any
hope of replicating their 1911 victory and paved the way for Yuan to implement the policies their revolt had sought to block.
The willingness of both Yuan Shikai and the revolutionary party to use military force to resolve the political disputes between them was an ill omen for the new Republic. Following so quickly after the 1911 Revolution, the Second Revolution heightened the importance of military power as a political force. At the same time, the rise of provincial military resistance to his central authority confirmed Yuan's views on the disruptive political effects of provincial self-government. Yuan thus emerged from the Second Revolution even more determined to consolidate the power of the central government by destroying the autonomy of the provincial regimes.