A little more than a year after she issued her two edicts in September and October 1907 on the provincial banner garrisons and Manchu-Han relations, the seventy-three-year-old empress dowager died, ending nearly a half century of court domination. In her last year she made some effort to carry out those decrees, but she expired before much had been accomplished. The task of dealing with the Manchu-Han question and other issues passed to the twenty-five-year-old Zaifeng, who became regent for his young son Puyi when the childless Guangxu emperor died the day before Cixi. Zaifeng, the former Prince Chun, began his regency well regarded as a reformer. However, in less than three years he had dissipated whatever initial goodwill he had by his tendency toward vacillation (as epitomized in his handling of Manchu-Han relations), his disinclination to yield to popular pressure in a timely fashion (as in his repeated confrontations with the constitutionalist reformers), and, perhaps most damagingly, his impolitic attempt to amass power not simply in the central government (as Cixi had done) but in the Qing court itself (such as by organizing a new division-strength palace guard that was under his exclusive control). Moreover, it was during Zaifeng’s regency that, in continuing disregard of the revolutionaries’ anti-Manchu propaganda, the Qing government became more dominated by Manchus than at any other time since at least the mid-eighteenth century.
CIXI’S LAST YEAR
Having ordered the gradual disbandment of the provincial garrisons and the abolition of legal and customary differences between Manchus and Han, Cixi had considerable trouble getting her decrees implemented. She also had problems dealing with the constitutional reformers, who, though gladdened by her recent commitment to a national consultative assembly, now began agitating for the early convening of a fully legislative parliament. Shortly after agreeing to a nine-year timetable for the realization of a constitutional regime, she passed away, one day after the Guangxu emperor, whom she had held captive since 1898. Before she died, Cixi had arranged to designate Puyi as the new emperor, with his father as regent.
Cixi’s edict of 27 September 1907 calling for the gradual dismantling of the provincial garrisons caused, not surprisingly, widespread unease among the banner population, not unlike the Guangxu emperor’s decree ten years earlier. Li Guojie, the brigade-general of the Hanjun detachment at Guangzhou and one of the first Han appointed to a banner post, immediately warned that the banner soldiers in the provinces would be greatly upset on learning that their stipends were about to be discontinued; he urged the court to proceed with caution. A couple of months later Lieutenant-General Tingjie of Rehe confirmed that his garrison had greeted the decree with much anxiety. On 18 January 1908 at Chengdu, when it was rumored that the court was about to issue another edict that would strip the banner soldiers of their stipends immediately and require them to fend for themselves unassisted, the unrest erupted into a riot. A crowd of several hundred banner personnel, including women, converged angrily on the office of General Chuohabu to demand that the stipends be continued. In their rage, they smashed the side entrance to the main hall and pummeled one of the banner captains. They were not appeased until the Sichuan governor-general, Zhao Erfeng, himself a Hanjun, arrived and convinced them that they had been misinformed.1 The banner people’s anxiety did not, however, deter Cixi from pressing ahead with the proposed reform. Despite Li Guojie’s plea from Guangzhou for caution, the court stood by the original decree. On 30 September 1907, it reiterated its plan to allocate farmland to banner soldiers and, as this was done, to phase out the stipends; it called on garrison and provincial officials to put the program into effect earnestly but at the same time to explain its righteous intent to the affected banner people so as to allay their unease. On 16 January 1908 the court brushed aside another memorial, this one from the commander of the Jingzhou garrison, raising doubts about how the disbandment policy would be implemented.2
However, the core of the new policy—resettling the banner population on nearby farmland—proved at once to be impractical, especially within China proper. As garrison after garrison reported, little or no banner land was available for resettlement, or, if the land existed, it was usually not suitable for cultivation. The small Kaifeng garrison in Henan said it had absolutely no farm or pasture land of its own; so, too, did the much larger garrison at Guangzhou. In Shandong, both the Qingzhou and Dezhou garrisons had some pasture land, but it was either unsuited for agriculture (as was the case for Qingzhou) or it had been leased to (presumably Han) tenants, whom it would not do to evict because their rents helped to pay for Dezhou’s military modernization. In Chengdu, as in Dezhou, the garrison’s land, totaling 7,470 mu (roughly 1,250 acres), had all been rented out, and it would cost two hundred thousand taels in rental deposits to reclaim it. The only garrisons to report that they had arable land on which to resettle their banner personnel were those in Chahar and Heilongjiang, both beyond the Great Wall. Even some of the garrisons outside China proper were short on land. The Liangzhou and Zhuanglang garrisons, in Gansu, owned pastures in Yongchang and Pingfan Counties respectively, but they too were ill-suited for agriculture and settlement.3
Where banner land was not available for resettlement, Cixi’s edict had recommended that garrisons purchase land from nearby farmers at the market price, but that expedient proved to be chimerical as well. Officials from such widely scattered garrisons as Chengdu, Qingzhou, and Liangzhou all reported that the land was much more expensive than they could afford. The Chengdu general, for example, estimated that he would need more than twenty thousand mu (about 3,500 acres) of land to distribute to his personnel and that the price of land in Sichuan was between sixty and seventy taels per mu; this worked out to a total of about 1,300,000 taels, which his treasury did not have. The Guangzhou general implied that even if the funds were available, there might not be enough agricultural land close by to accommodate the 33,965 people in his garrison if each individual were to receive ten mu (1.7 acres). No such vast quantity of land was for sale in the vicinity. (Actually, the edict had said that land should be given not to all banner people or even all bannermen but only to banner soldiers, of whom there were about five thousand in Guangzhou, and it had not specified the size of the land allotment.) Furthermore, a group of twenty-five leading Manchus in Beijing, headed by the imperial clansman Wenbin, jointly warned that the court’s land-repurchasing idea might cause resentment among Han landowners and thus prove counterproductive to the ultimate aim of easing tensions between Manchus and Han.4
Yet another alternative was to resettle the population of the provincial garrisons in the outlying regions of the empire. This had been the proposed solution to the “Eight Banners’ livelihood problem” all through the nineteenth century, and it was again advanced by two or three officials. The Zhili provincial treasurer, the Mongol bannerman Zengyun (d. 1921), noted that although land was expensive and scarce within China proper, it was quite otherwise along China’s frontiers, where the price might be five hundred to a thousand times less. Zhirui (1852–1912), the acting general of the Ningxia garrison, proposed that banner people from garrisons with little or no land be sent to Gansu or along the great northern bend of the Yellow River to help develop those sparsely populated regions.5 Long-distance resettlement, however, had been conspicuously absent from the court’s original edict, which had emphasized keeping each garrison’s populace close to home. The Office of Governmental Affairs responded to Zengyun’s and Zhirui’s suggestions without enthusiasm. It declared that because of transportation difficulties, emigration to the northwest was impractical. And while it conceded that one feasible destination, due to newly built railroads, was the northeast—especially Heilongjiang, where, according to Governor-General Xu Shichang, there was a large surplus of undeveloped land—it stressed that if such emigration were to take place, it should be entirely voluntary, not coerced.6
Since most garrison officials found the resettlement scheme sanctioned by the September edict unrealistic, they turned to other remedies that might accomplish the same result, which was to make the banner people economically independent and thus facilitate the eventual disbandment of the provincial garrisons. In Suiyuan, General Yigu, in addition to resettling 5,100 bannermen on 120,000 mu (20,000 acres) of not very fertile land nearby, initiated three other types of economic development for his garrison. One was vocational training: he founded workshops that taught useful skills to a hundred young bannermen, and factories that made clothing and caps for the army, employing forty orphans and widows. Another was education, both military and civilian: he established eighteen schools, including a military middle school and several regular primary schools, which enrolled eight hundred students. The third was military service: he formed a battalion of 120 soldiers, and he proposed to organize a police force as well. Yigu’s efforts were hardly novel; they were no more than a systematization of reforms that various garrisons had tried out in the early post-Boxer years. Nevertheless, the Qing court ordered that Yigu’s account of his program be circulated to the other garrisons for their consideration. While the Office of Governmental Affairs continued to regard the “conferring of land and a return to farming” (shoutian guinong) as the fundamental solution to the economic problems of the banner people, it admitted that the encouragement of industry and the promotion of education were also important.7
Thus, various banner garrisons, following Yigu’s model in Suiyuan, actively pursued vocational, educational, and military reforms. In most instances, they simply built upon earlier efforts. The Taiyuan garrison in Shanxi had already organized a standing army detachment and founded a senior primary school; it now planned to start an agricultural and industrial training course (including an experimental farm plot and a workshop) for qualified bannermen, with an attached lecture hall to provide some rudimentary vocational information to less qualified bannermen as well as to orphans, widows, and banner women in general. The Kaifeng garrison in Henan had previously established a crafts office and a sericulture bureau offering vocational training and had retrained about eight hundred banner soldiers; it now proposed to reorganize and expand its school system to include a new middle school. The Rehe garrison, which earlier had reorganized about a thousand of its banner soldiers (or half the garrison) into three battalions of standing army, now planned to transform them into the core of the New Army division that had been assigned to the territory; it was also going to set up a workshop to teach bannermen who were not suited for the army how to weave and dye.8
All of these local reform programs were hindered by a shortage of funds. Cixi’s original edict had promised that the initial cost of resettling the banner soldiers would be borne by the Ministry of Finance. Perhaps because relocation proved to be impractical, the government subsequently rejected nearly all requests for financial assistance from the center. The court did direct the ministry to allocate two hundred thousand taels to Suiyuan and one hundred thousand to Chahar, but otherwise, as the Office of Governmental Affairs bluntly informed the general at Chengdu, each garrison was responsible for financing its efforts with its own resources.9 With money in short supply, the reforms, understandably, made slow progress. Indeed, shortly before her death in November 1908, Cixi reportedly expressed her impatience to the Grand Council. It had been over a year since the decree to “confer land and return [the banner people] to farming” had been issued. Why, she asked, had so few garrisons made any headway in its implementation?10
Cixi’s court had somewhat greater, though still mixed, success at implementing her other edict, which directed the Commissioners for Revising and Codifying the Laws and the Ministry of Rites respectively to abolish various legal and social differences that still separated Manchus and Han. The former responded promptly; the latter did not. The three-person legal commission—consisting of Shen Jiaben (the junior vice-minister of laws), Yu Liansan (a former provincial official who, incidentally, had helped Enming’s assassin get his position at the Anhui police academy), and Yingrui (a Manchu bannerman and president of the newly reorganized Supreme Court of Justice [Daliyuan])—made two proposals for legal reform.11 One followed up on the court’s decree of 27 September to subject the provincial garrison personnel, as they were disbanded, to the same treatment as the general population. This was an issue on which Shen Jiaben had recently memorialized. Shen and his fellow commissioners thus recommended that henceforth banner people be dealt with the same as civilians not only in punishments but in all other aspects of the law, and that furthermore all banner personnel, not simply the provincial banner people as they were demobilized, should come under the jurisdiction of the new hierarchy of civilian courts that was being set up. The only ones exempted were the imperial lineage, who heretofore had been subject to the Imperial Clan Court, and their exemption was temporary and partial. For the time being, they would be free from the supervision of the lower courts; they would instead be dealt with by the Supreme Court of Justice. The legal commissioners’ other proposal, which was supported by the Ministry of Finance as well, urged that the prohibition of transfer of property from banner people to civilians be abolished without equivocation. They noted that because of conflicting rulings in the past by the Boards of Revenue and Punishments, considerable uncertainty existed as to whether the ban was still in effect. In any case, they contended that the prohibition was disadvantageous to the banner population because it restricted their economic opportunities. In January 1908 Cixi’s court approved both proposals from the legal commission.12
Ostensibly, this meant that the legal differences between Manchus and Han had been eliminated. Indeed, it would appear that as the new three-tier court system was gradually put into place, Manchus increasingly were subject to the same judicial process as Han. Leading the way was Beijing, with the establishment in December 1907 of one Higher Court for the entire metropolitan region and, inter alia, one district and three local courts for the Inner City. The regulations for these courts stated explicitly that they were accessible to everyone, “without distinction between banner people and Han or between officials and subjects” (wulun qi-Han guanmin).13 Later, when the system had been extended to other locations with banner garrisons, the Ministry of Civil Affairs proposed that the courts in those cities similarly assume jurisdiction over the local banner people.14
Unlike the Commissioners for Revising and Codifying the Laws, the Ministry of Rites was unable to agree on any reforms. It had been asked to recommend ways of eliminating such customary differences between Manchus and Han as the length of the mourning period, the use (or non-use) of surnames, the term by which memorialists referred to themselves when addressing the throne, and the style of women’s clothing. All of these issues provoked strong, conflicting opinions among the leaders of the ministry. Regarding the mourning period, for example, the minister, the imperial clansman Puliang, reportedly favored universalizing the Manchu practice of mourning for only one hundred days, while the two vice-ministers, both Han, adamantly objected to any departure from the traditional Han mourning period of twenty-seven months.15 As a result of such disagreements, the ministry made no recommendation at this time.
Cixi also had to contend in her last year with the growing number of political reformers who were impatient with the court’s slowness to fulfill its promise of a constitutional regime. In the fall of 1907 she had ordered the creation of a national assembly and authorized the formation of provincial assemblies, but then nothing more happened. Presumably her officials were deliberating among themselves about how best to proceed. While they dallied, the court came under increasing pressure from below, as three groups of activists organized a sophisticated campaign to pick up the pace of reform. One was Yang Du’s Seminar on Constitutional Government, which relocated from Tokyo to Hunan and Beijing following Yang’s return to China in December 1907 and was renamed the Association for Constitutional Government (Xianzheng Gonghui). Another was the Association for Constitutional Preparations (Yubei Lixian Gonghui), headed by Zhang Jian, Zheng Xiaoxu (1860–1938), and Tang Shouqian (1856–1917) in Shanghai. The third was the Political Information Institute (Zhengwenshe), founded by Liang Qichao in Tokyo, which moved its headquarters to Shanghai in February 1908 (though without Liang, who was still persona non grata with the Qing).16 Reform-minded Manchus were involved in all three groups. Yang Du’s Association for Constitutional Government included the imperial clansman Hengjun, a founding editor of the Tokyo-based Great Harmony Journal, which, as noted, had close ties to Yang. Zhang Jian’s Association for Constitutional Preparations included Ruicheng (1863–1912), grandson of Qishan (1790?–1854), Lin Zexu’s successor as imperial commissioner at Guangzhou during the First Opium War; he was to be the governor-general at Wuchang when the 1911 Revolution broke out. And one member of Liang Qichao’s Political Information Institute in Beijing was Changfu, the imperial clansman who had studied police matters in Japan and been active there in the 1903 anti-Russian agitation.17
To influence the desultory official deliberations in Beijing, these three groups, first separately and then together, launched a historic lobbying effort. They found justification for their activism in Cixi’s edict of 8 July 1907, which, in soliciting suggestions for constitutional reform, had opened up the channel of communications beyond those normally authorized to submit memorials. The campaign began in October with Yang Du’s group, then still based in Tokyo, which sent a four-person delegation (including Hengjun) to Beijing with a petition claiming to represent the thousands of Chinese students in Japan. Their petition, addressed to the Censorate, urged the court to respond to China’s external dangers and internal unrest by establishing a “popularly elected deliberative assembly” (minxuan yiyuan) and to do so within a year or two. Among its several advantages, such an assembly would help to overcome the differences between the banner people and “ordinary people” by equalizing the obligations and privileges of the two populations; it would also help to bring unity to China’s five major ethnic groups—Manchus, Han, Mongols, Muslims, and Tibetans. Both ideas, of course, echoed the editorial stance of Hengjun’s Great Harmony Journal.18 Following the presentation of the petition, Hengjun, instead of returning to Japan, remained behind in the capital, where early in 1908 he founded a daily newspaper, the Central Great Harmony Daily (Zhongyang datong ribao), which, like its Tokyo namesake, favored constitutionalism and an end to Manchu-Han differences.19 (The Tokyo journal ceased publication at the end of May.) By then, too, Yang Du had relocated to Beijing, where he and Hengjun established a branch of their Association for Constitutional Government.20
The Qing court tried to nip this incipient campaign in the bud, but without success. In late December 1907 Cixi issued two decrees within a day of each other that restated the traditional prohibition of students’ and commoners’ meddling in “national and political matters.”21 The edicts did not have the desired effect, as the petition movement gathered strength amidst news reports that high government officials were finally considering constitutionalism seriously. In early June 1908 members of the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government (Xianzheng Bianchaguan), the agency charged with overseeing the transition to the new regime, began meeting almost daily at the Yiheyuan Summer Palace, where Cixi and the Guangxu emperor were then in residence.22 Moreover, what they were discussing was no longer whether to make the change but when. They were reportedly considering a wide range of dates, from five to twenty years. Pulun and Sun Jia’nai, the co-presidents of the National Assembly, noted, for example, that it had taken Japan nineteen years (1871–90) to convene its parliament.23 To the constitutional reformers outside the government, nineteen years, or even five, was much too long. Zhang Jian’s Association for Constitutional Preparations and Liang Qichao’s Political Information Institute separately petitioned the bureau urging that Parliament be summoned no later than within two or three years.24
In late July and early August, Zhang Jian’s Association for Constitutional Preparations finally took the initiative to coordinate the heretofore disorganized petition movement. The result was a series of similarly worded petitions from various provincial groups, who moreover began to converge on Beijing. This effort culminated on 11 August in a joint petition from these provincial delegations asking for an early parliament. Among the petitioners were a number of Manchus. The delegation from the Eight Banners was headed by the imperial clansman Hengjun; the one from Zhili included Wuzesheng, his colleague from Great Harmony Journal; and the one from Jilin was headed by Songyu, who earlier had founded the Jilin Local Self-Government Society.25
The Qing court reacted to this unprecedented agitation by, on the one hand, cracking down and, on the other, making concessions. A couple of days after the joint petition, it issued a decree proscribing Liang Qichao’s Political Information Institute, which it denounced as “claiming to research current affairs while conspiring to foment unrest,” and ordering the arrest of its members. Two months later, on 11 October, it disbanded Songyu’s Jilin Local Self-Government Society because of its involvement in the petition movement.26 The court did not, however, take action against the other two main organizations in the movement, Zhang Jian’s Association for Constitutional Preparations and Yang Du’s Association for Constitutional Government. To the contrary, it had by then managed to co-opt Yang into the Qing government. Previously, in April, on the joint recommendation of Grand Councilors Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai, Yang was appointed a mid-level adviser to the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government. He was to remain a strong supporter of a constitutional monarchy down to the end of the dynasty.27
As Yang Du’s appointment to a government post had perhaps foreshadowed, the Qing court also responded to the petition movement by yielding to some of its demands. On 27 August, two weeks after the joint petition, Cixi, in her own name, agreed for the first time to set a deadline for the realization of constitutionalism. She also gave her approval to two documents drawn up by the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government: the Constitutional Outline (Xianfa Dagang) and a nine-year plan for the formation of a “deliberative assembly” (yiyuan), in other words, a parliament. The Constitutional Outline included as one of its guiding principles “dissolution of the boundaries between Manchus and Han” (ronghua Man-Han zhenyu), and one of the tasks specified for the first year (1908) of the Nine-Year Plan was the creation of the Banner Reorganization Office (Biantong Qizhi Chu), whose dual missions were to arrange for the Eight Banners’ livelihood and to eliminate Manchu-Han differences.28 The nine-year timetable, of course, disappointed many of the petitioners, who had called for summoning Parliament within no more than two or three years, but Yang Du, who personally had pushed for a three-year schedule but who now spoke for the government, pleaded with them to give the court the benefit of the doubt.29
Cixi’s edict approving the constitutional timetable was one of her last important acts, for she died less than three months later, on 15 November, one day after her nephew, the Guangxu emperor. Their deaths from the beginning spawned widespread suspicions of foul play. On the face of it, the youthful emperor’s dying within one day of his aged captor stretches the limits of coincidence and credulity. It often has been suggested that the thirty-seven-year-old emperor was murdered—or, at the very least, his death hastened—so as to prevent him from outliving Cixi, regaining control of the court, and exacting revenge on her many supporters, particularly those (such as Yuan Shikai) who had sided with her against him during the 1898 coup.30 Given the murderous climate of the Qing court under Cixi, such suspicions can easily be believed. Indeed, two scholars who examined the manuscript notebooks on the emperor’s daily activities commented, in an aside, that “the notebooks for 1908 raise a mysterious question about the death of the Kuang-hsü [Guangxu] emperor, for he was reported officially as having been regularly attending Peking opera performances until only a few days before his death—apparently in fair health all along.”31 However, more recently, investigators with access to the emperor’s original medical records, including the diagnoses and prescriptions of his various doctors, show rather convincingly that the emperor did die of natural causes and that he died at the time originally reported. He had been in ill health for at least a year and began to deteriorate in the spring of 1908. His doctors were pessimistic about his chances for recovery. From their diagnoses for the five days prior to his demise, there is no sign of any dramatic turn for the worse that might have indicated that he had been poisoned; he went into a coma around midnight on 13 November and died the following evening at his residence in the Forbidden City. The cause of death was progressive failure of heart and lungs.32 In sum, there is no evidence to substantiate the rumors that the emperor actually died after the empress dowager and that he was done away with in order to keep him from regaining control of the court.
As the Guangxu emperor lay dying, Cixi, though in weak health herself, arranged for his succession. Such a last-minute decision was not at all unusual in the Qing dynasty. Since the Kangxi emperor’s troubled experience in the early eighteenth century with a designated heir, each Qing ruler had delayed announcing a successor until the ruler was on his own deathbed. Like the Tongzhi emperor before him, the Guangxu emperor was childless. According to dynastic as well as Confucian custom, his successor was supposed to come from the following generation, that is, a member of the imperial clan whose given name began with the character pu. Cixi considered at least four candidates: Pulun, Puwei (1880–1937), an unnamed son of Zaizhen, and Puyi. Pulun, the National Assembly’s co-president, was the oldest of the four; he had been considered once before, in 1875, as successor to the Tongzhi emperor. Puwei, twenty-eight years old, was Yixin’s grandson, who on Yixin’s death in 1898 had inherited his title as the second Prince Gong. Zaizhen’s unnamed son, perhaps Puzhong (b. 1897), was, of course, a grandson of the influential prince Yikuang, but of the four he was the farthest removed from the deceased emperor. Finally, Puyi was the two-and-a-half-year-old son of Zaifeng.33 Cixi, after consulting with most of the grand councilors, selected Puyi. According to information given to the British legation by Yuan Shikai, she made her decision on the morning of 13 November, as the emperor’s condition worsened. That evening, in an edict issued in her own name, Cixi announced that Puyi would be brought into the palace to be raised and educated; an accompanying edict named his father, Zaifeng, as “prince regent” (shezhengwang). When the Guangxu emperor died the following day, Puyi became the eleventh ruler of the Qing dynasty. He was designated to succeed both the Guangxu and Tongzhi emperors.34
Cixi’s selection of Puyi as emperor and his father as regent seems, in retrospect, to have been preordained. She had been exceptionally close to Puyi’s grandfather, Yihuan, who was married to her younger sister and to whom she may have felt a debt of gratitude for having gone along in 1875 with her controversial choice of his son Zaitian as successor to the Tongzhi emperor. The selection of Zaitian had defied dynastic tradition and Confucian norms because he was of the same generation as his predecessor; nevertheless, it had allowed Cixi to renew her de facto regency and prolong her control of the court. Zaifeng himself, Puyi’s father, was born in 1883, twelve years after the Guangxu emperor, who was his full brother. When Yihuan died in 1891, Zaifeng inherited his princedom, becoming the second Prince Chun. He first became politically prominent in 1901 when he was sent on the mission of apology to Germany. The following year he was married to Ronglu’s daughter, who gave birth to Puyi, her first child, in February 1906. Immediately upon his birth, Puyi seemingly became the top candidate to succeed the Guangxu emperor. Indeed, even before he was born, Edmund Backhouse had prophesied to G. E. Morrison that “should Prince Ch’un unexpectedly have a son, he would be the heir.”35 It was after Puyi’s birth that Zaifeng, then twenty-three years old, began his rapid political rise. He received his first substantive assignment six months later when he chaired the committee that reviewed the findings of the constitutional study commissioners. In May 1907 he was appointed, along with Grand Secretary Sun Jia’nai, to investigate the accusations of corruption and abuse of power that had been lodged against Yikuang and his son Zaizhen, as a result of which Zaizhen was dismissed as minister of agriculture, industry, and commerce. (Zaizhen’s impeachment may have doomed his unnamed son’s chance of being chosen emperor.)36 A month later, on 19 June 1907, Zaifeng was appointed a probationary member of the Grand Council; he became a full member on 2 February 1908.37 In other words, Zaifeng’s political advancement seemingly foreshadowed the eventual choice of Puyi.
Puyi, in his autobiography, confirms that Cixi chose him primarily because of his father: like Yihuan before him, Zaifeng was expected to be so docile that she could continue “to listen to government from behind the screen.” Puyi wrote, “I do not believe that she thought herself fatally ill on the day she proclaimed me successor to the throne.” Zaifeng’s younger brother, Zaitao (1887–1970), likewise suggests that Zaifeng, who supposedly was already known for his indecisiveness, was selected because as regent he would defer to her and allow her to govern as before.38 Thus, on 14 November, right after Zaifeng’s son was named emperor, Cixi added “administrator of the realm” (jianguo) to his day-old title of “prince regent” and empowered him, during his son’s minority, to act on “all military and governmental matters.” However, he was to do so only under her “instructions.”39 But then Cixi’s own health gave out. On 15 November, in the early afternoon, she too died.
VACILLATION AND RETREAT
Zaifeng was regent for all but the last two months of his young son’s three-year reign as the Xuantong emperor (see plate 8). It fell to him to try to follow through on the promises that Cixi had made in her last years about constitutional preparations and reform of Manchu-Han relations. During the first two years of the regency, Zaifeng performed reasonably well with regard to constitutional preparation but much less so on the Manchu-Han question.
Cixi’s death freed Zaifeng from the constraints that she had imposed on his exercise of power. On 13 December 1908, one month after he took over, he issued a lengthy sixteen-point “protocol” (lijie) that spelled out in detail his prerogatives as regent. The second point of the protocol restated his authority, via the issuance of edicts, to decide on all matters of military and governmental affairs, including the appointment and dismissal and the reward and punishment of all officials, while the fifth point asserted his supreme command, as regent for the emperor, over all of the naval and military forces of the country. Nevertheless, extensive as his powers were, Zaifeng was obliged to share some authority at the Qing court with his sister-in-law, the widow of the former emperor, upon whom the epithet Longyu was later bestowed. Unlike Cixi, her aunt, Empress Dowager Longyu (1868–1913) was not allowed to “listen to government from behind the screen.” But, according to the sixteen-point protocol, Zaifeng acknowledged that there might be some “weighty and major issues” where it would be incumbent upon him to solicit an edict from her; if so, only he and no one else was authorized to consult with her on such matters. Although Empress Dowager Longyu was to play a critical role during the last stages of the negotiations leading to the Qing abdication in 1912, until then she largely stayed in the background.40
The initial public reaction to the designation of Zaifeng as regent was positive among both foreigners and Chinese. According to E. G. Hillier, the Beijing agent of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Zaifeng was “a serious-minded young fellow, of clean life and irreproachable integrity, and full of sincere zeal for the good of his country.” To Isaac Taylor Headland (1859–1942), an American missionary educator in Beijing, he was “the wisest choice that could be made at the present time.” The American minister W. W. Rockhill (1854–1914) was equally impressed. He thought that Zaifeng had conducted his mission of apology to Germany in 1901 “with conspicuous ability and great dignity” and that during his recent, if brief, service on the Grand Council he had “shown sound judgment and been a strong advocate of liberal policies.”41
Among the constitutionalist reformers, hopes ran high, especially when it seemed that Zaifeng intended (in the parlance of the later Communists) to “reverse verdicts” on the 1898 reforms. One of his first acts as regent was to get rid of Yuan Shikai, whose military support had been crucial to the success of Cixi’s coup. Reportedly in fulfillment of his brother’s deathbed command, Zaifeng on 2 January 1909 issued an edict abruptly relieving this powerful official of his posts on the Grand Council and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the contrived excuse of a “foot ailment.”42 The dismissal of Yuan was followed by a purge of many of his supporters within the metropolitan and provincial bureaucracies. Xu Shichang, for example, was transferred in February from the important governor-generalship of Manchuria to become the minister of posts and communications; Zhao Bingjun, who had helped to reform the Beijing police, was dismissed in March as junior vice-minister of civil affairs. Yuan’s influence over his old Beiyang Army was likewise diminished, as Tieliang’s Ministry of the Army removed his protégés from command positions and replaced them with fellow graduates of the Japanese Army Officers School, such as Wu Luzhen (1880–1911), who had no personal allegiance to Yuan.43 However, attempts to dislodge Yikuang, Yuan’s strongest backer at court, from his many powerful positions failed. When Censor Jiang Chunlin in February boldly criticized Yikuang for numerous failings, Zaifeng’s court denounced the accusations as baseless and demanded that they be retracted. When the censor refused, he was discharged. Yikuang, whose princedom had been elevated to one in perpetuity at the beginning of the regency, became more entrenched in power than ever before.44
The dismissal of Yuan Shikai and his cohorts was paralleled by a movement to rehabilitate politically those victims of the 1898 purge who were still under a cloud. Previously, in June 1904, Cixi had issued an edict pardoning all those involved in the “1898 affair,” except Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao (along with Sun Yat-sen). Despite the edict, several officials, including Weng Tonghe (1830–1904; the Guangxu emperor’s former tutor) and Chen Baozhen (1831–1900; the governor of Hunan), were not fully exonerated. In response to petitions from their defenders, in July 1909 and January 1910 Zaifeng issued edicts posthumously restoring Weng and Chen to their last official posts.45 Similar efforts to secure a pardon for the main leaders of the 1898 reforms, Kang and Liang, were, however, unsuccessful. The initial opposition came from Zhang Zhidong, who had been as critical of the reforms as had Yuan Shikai. Zhang was the “certain grand councilor” whom the Manchu-founded anti-Cixi newspaper, L’Impartial, denounced in July 1909 for blocking a current move to rehabilitate Kang and Liang. Even after Zhang died on 6 October and talk of a pardon revived, Zaifeng was unable or unwilling to push for this ultimate reversal of verdict on 1898, and therefore it did not happen. The translator (and by then national assemblyman) Yan Fu (1853–1921), writing to G. E. Morrison a month after the start of the 1911 Revolution, thought that Zaifeng’s failure at the beginning of his regency to grant amnesty to Kang and Liang and allow them to return to China had been a monumental mistake because it dampened the enthusiasm of the constitutionalist reformers. If he had acted otherwise, Yan wrote, “nothing of the present revolt could happen.”46 Thus, Zaifeng’s handling of this controversy involving the 1898 reformers was one indication of his indecisiveness, which his brother Zaitao claimed was why Cixi had selected him as regent in the first place and which was to characterize much of the rest of his three-year rule.
If the constitutionalist reformers were discouraged by Zaifeng’s irresolution about pardoning Kang and Liang, they were, on the other hand, heartened by his adherence to Cixi’s Nine-Year Plan for constitutional reform, which he publicly reaffirmed on 3 December 1908, less than three weeks after he took power.47 In 1909, as required by the plan, he ordered the establishment of the provincial assemblies, which were elected in a two-stage process that summer and which met for the first time in all provinces (except Xinjiang) on 14 October. A year later, on 3 October 1910, as the provincial assemblies began their second annual session, Zaifeng, again as scheduled, convened the first meeting of the National Assembly.
The provincial assemblies and the National Assembly that were formed in 1909–10 involved the banner people no less than the rest of the population, and, once convened, they provided an additional forum for the discussion of Manchu-Han issues. The assemblies were organized at a time when, as the drafters of the regulations for the provincial assemblies noted, the court had promised “to do away with Manchu-Han differences and to abolish the banner system in the future.” Should there be special provisions, then, to ensure that the minority Manchu population would be represented? The drafters decided to treat Manchuria and China proper differently. In the three northeastern provinces, “the banner people and the Han ought to be dealt with alike”; therefore, no seats were reserved in those assemblies for the numerous Manchus in the region “in order to set an example for the elimination of [Manchu-Han] differences.” In those provinces of China proper with banner garrisons, however, additional seats were created for the local banner populace. Thus, the 140–member assembly for Zhili Province was allotted ten extra representatives for the Metropolitan Banners as well as an additional two for Miyun, the largest of the capital region garrisons; assemblies in other provinces were similarly allocated one to three extra seats to be elected from the garrisons. These special seats, according to the regulations, were supposed to be only a “temporary” expedient. Nevertheless, Meng Sen (1868–1938), editor of the Shanghai reformist journal Eastern Miscellany, criticized them as harmful to the fostering of “a sense of commonality between banner people and Han” and likely to cast doubt on the court’s stated intention of reorganizing the banner system.48
Within China proper, the election of the assemblymen from the banner garrisons in 1909 was basically the same as that among the general populace. The educational and financial qualifications for voting and serving were the same for both the banner people and the civilian population; also, the elections at a banner garrison were generally held at the same time as those of the neighboring jurisdiction. There was, however, a tremendous difference between the two in the ratio between the electorate and the elected. In Guangdong Province, for example, the ratio was 1,556 voters to each assemblyman; in the Guangzhou garrison, it was 123 voters.49 In short, the Manchus were greatly overrepresented within China proper. On the other hand, in Manchuria, where the electoral process did not distinguish between banner and non-banner people, Manchu representation in the assemblies may have been more in line with the relative size of their population. From their Manchu-style names it would appear that perhaps as many as seven of the fifty-three people elected to the Fengtian assembly were bannermen; similarly, six of the thirty representatives in Jilin and five of the thirty in Heilongjiang may also have been Manchus.50
Finally, the social background of the Manchu assemblymen was similar to that of their Han colleagues. Many were members of the scholar-official elite. The three bannermen in the Shandong assembly—two from the Qingzhou garrison and one from Dezhou—were all licentiates. Similarly, according to unpublished documents in the archives of the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government, the one representative elected to the Henan assembly from the Kaifeng garrison was a regular provincial degree holder; both of those elected to the Sichuan assembly from the Chengdu garrison were provincial degree holders, one from the literary examinations and the other from the translation examinations; and the three elected to the Fujian assembly from the Fuzhou garrison included a regular provincial degree holder, a translation provincial degree holder, and a licentiate. The twelve Manchus in the Zhili assembly were composed of one provincial degree holder, six licentiates, one school graduate, and four low-ranking metropolitan officials (three Manchu-language scribes and one ceremonial usher).51
When the provincial assemblies convened for their first session in October 1909, some of them took advantage of this new arena for public debate and included on their agenda issues relating to Manchu-Han relations. The Shandong assembly considered a “vocational plan to mitigate Manchu-Han differences and enhance the banner people’s livelihood.” The Zhejiang assembly debated, and defeated, a proposal to turn wasteland held by the Hangzhou garrison into a marketplace. The Zhili assembly discussed and agreed not to reserve any places on its standing committee, which conducted the assembly’s business between annual sessions, for its twelve Manchu members; the stated reason was “to eliminate [Manchu-Han] differences.”52 The most acrimonious Manchu-Han dispute during the first session of the provincial assemblies occurred in Guangdong. The controversy, perhaps similar in content to the one in Zhejiang, centered on the erection by some banner personnel of a market in the drill field in front of the new provincial assembly hall. One of the assembly’s three Manchus, the Hanjun Cuizhen, defended the market as a worthwhile effort to promote the banner population’s livelihood. Other assemblymen complained that it obstructed access to the assembly hall and demanded its removal. Some also argued that the drill field on which the market was located was public land and ought not to have been used for the sole benefit of the banner people; they contended that such a private venture on public property ran counter to the court’s current policy of “eliminating [Manchu-Han] differences” and warned darkly that if the garrison insisted on making a distinction between Manchus and Han, then “the future of China may not be what the banner people wish.” In the end, all of the twenty-seven assemblymen present, except Cuizhen, voted against the market. The garrison authorities later agreed to relocate it elsewhere.53
Whereas Manchus were only a small (but over-represented) minority among the provincial assemblymen, they made up a much larger proportion (though still a minority) of the National Assembly. According to the regulations, half of the assembly’s two hundred members were to be designated by the emperor and half by the provincial assemblies. The imperial appointees, whom Zaifeng named in May 1910, were drawn from seven categories of people and were composed of thirty-eight Manchus, forty-six Han, and fourteen others. The thirty-eight Manchus included fourteen “hereditary princes of the blood” (zongshi wanggong shijue; e.g., Yikuang’s disgraced son Zaizhen), six other “members of the imperial lineage” (zongshi jueluo), seven of the twelve “Manchus and Han holding hereditary titles” (Man-Han shijue), and eleven of the thirty-two mid-level metropolitan officials. (One of these officials was the imperial clansman Changfu, a department director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; he had studied police matters in Japan in 1901 and had been a member of Liang Qichao’s Political Information Institute in 1907–8 before it was banned.) The forty-six Han assemblymen who were imperially appointed included five holders of hereditary titles, twenty-one mid-level metropolitan officials, ten “eminent scholars” (e.g., the jurist Shen Jiaben and the translator Yan Fu), and ten large taxpayers. The fourteen “others” were Mongols, Muslims, and Tibetans who were “hereditary princes of the outer dependencies” (waifan wanggong shijue). As for the one hundred national assemblymen who were selected by the provincial assemblies, perhaps only three were, judging from their names, Manchus—one from each of the three northeastern provinces. Together with co-president Pulun, Manchus accounted for forty-two of the two hundred members of the National Assembly. It may be noted, as did Jinliang, the young reform-minded Manchu bannerman from Hangzhou, with a trace of bitterness, that the seven status categories that were allotted seats in the National Assembly as imperial appointees did not include the Eight Banners; thus, the bannermen in the National Assembly, unlike those in the provincial assemblies, were representatives of some other constituency.54
If Zaifeng may be credited with adhering to Cixi’s timetable for constitutional preparations, he was far less scrupulous about following through on her concomitant pledge to “abolish Manchu-Han differences.” Cixi, in the last year or so of her life, had committed the Qing court to four sets of reforms in Manchu-Han relations: it would set up in the first year of the Nine-Year Plan a Banner Reorganization Office; it would phase out the banner soldiers’ stipends in the provincial garrisons and resettle the soldiers and their dependents on nearby farmland as a long-term solution to the “Eight Banners’ livelihood problem”; it would eventually disband the provincial garrisons and perhaps ultimately dissolve the Eight Banner system altogether; and finally, it would eliminate existing social and legal differences between Manchus and Han.
In dealing with Manchu-Han relations, Zaifeng got off to a quick and seemingly promising start. On 17 December 1908, one month after taking charge, he created the Banner Reorganization Office, thus meeting the deadline for its establishment. The main goals of the office were to “provide for the Eight Banners’ livelihood” and to “eliminate Manchu-Han differences” by no later than 1915. To supervise its work in consultation with the Grand Council, he appointed Pulun, Zaize, Natong, and three other leading Manchu officials. He urged them not to tarry.55 However, the Banner Reorganization Office, once founded, was largely inactive. Soon after it was set up, it rehashed some old ideas for reducing Manchu-Han differences, such as making Manchu men’s names more like Han names and encouraging Manchu-Han intermarriage. The office also sent out directives to various banner units requesting an up-to-date census of their personnel and an accounting of their land holdings, both of which would be needed if and when their banner soldiers were resettled. It reportedly urged each garrison to establish its own Banner Affairs Office as well. It did hardly anything more. Eastern Miscellany, which closely monitored the course of constitutional reforms, reported month after month little to no progress at the office. On more than one occasion, even the regent was said to have been discouraged at its slow pace of work.56
Yet, if anyone was to be blamed for the inactivity of the office, it was Zaifeng himself, because after fulfilling the first of Cixi’s four promised reforms in Manchu-Han relations, he proceeded to gut the others and left the agency with nothing to do. His edict of 17 December 1908 creating the Banner Reorganization Office had caused considerable consternation among the banner population, who once again were worried that the banner soldiers’ stipends would soon stop. Whereas in late 1907 Cixi, in the face of similar anxiety, had stood firm, Zaifeng hurriedly backed off. Nine days later, on 26 December, he issued another edict stating that his previous decree had not been entirely “clear.” He now wished to assure the banner people that distribution of their stipends of money and grain would continue indefinitely. Rather than curbing the stipends, he told them, the Banner Reorganization Office should focus on finding ways of “nurturing” the banner soldiers’ “self-strength and self-reliance” (ziqiang zili).57
Armed with such vague instructions, the Banner Reorganization Office, not surprisingly, provided no leadership in solving the long-standing “Eight Banners’ livelihood problem,” the second of Cixi’s four promised reforms, but instead left the problem in the lap of the local banner authorities. In one instance, General Qingrui of the Nanjing garrison, pressed by a lack of funds in his treasury, seemed to have thought about implementing Cixi’s idea on his own. In April 1909 he drafted a set of regulations terminating the disbursement of rations to his banner soldiers and ordering them to set up “agricultural colonies” where they could make their own living. However, when news of these regulations spread to other garrisons, they caused an uproar. The “gentry and students” at the Hangzhou garrison sent a telegram to Qingrui voicing their fear lest by his actions their country’s “sublime policy” (of eliminating Manchu-Han differences?) turn into a “tragedy of racial extinction” (mie zhongzhi canhuo). Qingrui, in response, reassured his critics that the controversial regulations were only a draft and had not, in fact, been promulgated.58
Elsewhere, both in Beijing and in the provincial garrisons, local banner officials as well as private individuals attempted a variety of programs to alleviate the banner population’s continuing, indeed worsening, economic hardships. As before, these programs typically involved vocational education, military retraining, and resettlement. In Beijing, for example, Shaoying, the former constitutional study commissioner whose injury from Wu Yue’s assassination attempt had kept him from making the tour and who was now the senior vice-minister of finance, solicited funds—including funds from the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce—to establish an industrial workshop for banner women. Located near the southwest corner of the Inner City, the Capital Number One Women’s Factory (Shoushan Diyi Nü Gongchang) began operation in January 1909. It offered two tuition-free courses, each enrolling eighty applicants. One was a three-year comprehensive course for twelve- to fifteen-year-old girls; the other, a one-year accelerated course for those who were sixteen to twenty-five. Graduates of both courses could either teach at other vocational schools or stay on at the factory to work.59
The most ambitious and systematic local effort at banner reform at this time took place in Fengtian, where Governors-General Xu Shichang and Xiliang had put Jinliang, the Manchu from Hangzhou, in charge of the provincial Banner Affairs Office.60 Under Jinliang, the office established workshops in different garrison towns throughout Fengtian offering year-long and half-year training courses to the banner population in a variety of useful crafts. The main workshop, set up in early 1909 in Shengjing, enrolled five hundred young male apprentices, while a branch shop in Jinzhou trained another hundred bannermen from the Liaoxi corridor. Two years later it was proposed that two additional workshops be founded in Liaoyang and Niuzhuang for bannermen living in those parts of the province. Meanwhile, in Shengjing, a “training institute for banner women workers” was similarly instructing one hundred women in rug weaving, knitting, sewing, and brocading. The women’s institute was such an immediate success that a few months later it was slated to be relocated and expanded.61 Aside from vocational schools, Jinliang also proposed the establishment in Shengjing of a Manchu- and Mongol-language middle school that, beginning in the spring of 1910, would enroll two hundred students from among the banner population.62 Although military reform was not part of Jinliang’s duties, he nevertheless found an excuse—that the security at the three imperial mausoleums near Shengjing needed to be improved—in order to recruit and train one regiment of banner soldiers. He insisted that, as in the New Army, these recruits be school graduates; he later claimed that they became the best-trained soldiers in Shengjing.63 The Fengtian Banner Affairs Office under Jinliang also fostered resettlement: as a pilot project, perhaps in 1910, it sent three hundred banner households to the slopes of Changbaishan, in newly organized Antu County, Jilin, and gave each household three “sections” (jian) of housing, five hundred mu (eighty acres) of land, fodder, and seeds, as well as travel expenses.64 Finally, Jinliang’s office in 1911 attempted to establish in Shengjing an Eight Banner Industrial Development Bank, but it was not so well capitalized from the sale of banner land as he had hoped.65
Zaifeng’s edict of “clarification” on 26 December 1908 represented a retreat not only from Cixi’s promise to solve the “Eight Banners’ livelihood problem” but also from her third promise, to disband the provincial garrisons and perhaps the banner system itself. The retreat worried Central Great Harmony Daily, the reformist newspaper in Beijing founded by the same group of Manchus who had published Great Harmony Journal in Tokyo. In a commentary addressed to the Banner Reorganization Office, the paper conceded that the continuation of the stipends might have been politically necessary in order to pacify the disgruntled banner population, but it hoped that this action would not delay the abolition of the banner system. Like its Tokyo-based predecessor, Central Great Harmony Daily contended that the dismantling of the Eight Banners was a prerequisite for the realization of constitutionalism; if the banner system were not done away with promptly, then Manchu-Han differences would not be eliminated by the end of the Nine-Year Plan, as called for by the plan.66 Such criticisms had no visible effect on the Banner Reorganization Office.
Finally, with regard to the elimination of Manchu-Han differences (the last of Cixi’s four promised reforms), Zaifeng’s performance was equally spotty. For example, he continued and extended Cixi’s administrative changes in Manchuria by abolishing most of the remaining brigade-general posts. As a result, the banner population in the northeast, who previously had been governed by their own hierarchy of banner officials, now came under the jurisdiction of the new regular civilian administration. As with its three provincial assemblies, where banner people were given no special considerations, Manchuria was supposed to set an example in Manchu-Han relations for the rest of China. In this instance, however, Zaifeng did not go much beyond what Cixi had already done, because the reforms in the northeast were not extended into China proper, where no administrative positions in the provincial garrisons were eliminated.67
In another instance, Zaifeng not only did not go beyond Cixi, but he backed off. In January 1908 Cixi had endorsed the recommendation of the Commissioners for Revising and Codifying the Laws to put most banner people under the jurisdiction of the new court system and to subject them to the same legal treatment as the civilian population. Zaifeng went along with this important reform, but then failed to follow through on Cixi’s policy with regard to members of the imperial lineage. Taking note of their exalted status, the legal commissioners had proposed—and Cixi had agreed—that as a temporary measure, members of the imperial lineage would be exempt from the jurisdiction of the local-level civilian courts and instead would have their legal cases decided directly by the Supreme Court of Justice. In mid-1910, however, the Imperial Clan Court objected to turning over its control of the imperial lineage to the Supreme Court. Zaifeng caved in to those objections and actually reversed Cixi’s decision (as well as a previous decree of his own) sanctioning the legal commissioners’ original plan. Consequently, members of the imperial lineage remained under the Imperial Clan Court, where they were, of course, treated differently not only from the Han but from other banner people as well.68
Unlike the legal commissioners, who had responded promptly to Cixi’s request for proposals to reduce Manchu-Han differences, the Ministry of Rites had dragged its feet because of internal dissension; it was unable to come up with any proposal until 25 March 1909, when it memorialized with regard to the mourning period. Noting that the ban on Manchu-Han intermarriage had been lifted, that ethnic slots had been (partially) abolished, and that the banner system was to be reorganized, the ministry asserted (with dubious accuracy) that the only remaining Manchu-Han difference was the length of the mourning period, which was twenty-seven months for Han officials and one hundred days for Manchus. Previously, the leaders of the ministry had been split on the issue, with the Manchu minister favoring the Manchu custom and his two Han vice-ministers opposed. In the end the two Han officials evidently prevailed, because the ministry’s memorial recommended that all officials follow the Han custom and be required to mourn for twenty-seven months. Zaifeng’s edict of the same day, approving the ministry’s recommendation, ordered that henceforth all officials in mourning, whether Manchus or Han, should resign their posts for the duration of their twenty-seven months’ mourning period. At least three Manchu officials promptly quit in order to comply with the new policy.69
Once again, however, Zaifeng, having made a decision, began to back off right away. In the very same edict that approved the uniform length of mourning, he introduced a major loophole: he declared that officials in essential posts might request an exemption. Many officials, as a result, petitioned for and were granted permission to remain in office while in mourning. While at least one of them (Wang Shizhen) was a Han, most were Manchus, among whom were Natong (the grand councilor) and Yulang (commandant of the Metropolitan Banners Infantry Division).70 It thus appears that Zaifeng’s decree calling for a uniform mourning period for Manchus and Han had no real effect upon most officials. With some exceptions on both sides, most bannermen, taking advantage of the loophole, were allowed to follow the old Manchu practice of mourning for only one hundred days, while most Han officials, as before, resigned their posts and mourned for twenty-seven months.
Concerning the term of address used by officials to refer to themselves in memorials to the throne, Zaifeng adopted a stance that was similarly inconsistent. On 10 March 1910 he issued an edict that all officials, whether metropolitan or provincial, Manchu or Han, civil or military, should henceforth style themselves in the Han fashion as “your minister.” This change, he explained, would “eliminate partiality” at this time of constitutional preparations as well as demonstrate the court’s regard for uniformity and universality. As before, Zaifeng vitiated the reform almost at once. On the very next day he issued another, somewhat confusing, edict stating that, in certain situations, “Manchu officials [Manyuan] should still refer to themselves as aha [“slave,” in Manchu].”71 Though Manchus thereafter generally referred to themselves as ministers and no longer as slaves, nevertheless the distinction between Manchus and Han with regard to the form of self-address had not been, contrary to Zaifeng’s original edict, entirely eliminated.
In sum, in the first two years of his regency Zaifeng repeatedly expressed a willingness to abide by Cixi’s general promise, as stated in the Nine-Year Plan, to solve the “Eight Banners’ livelihood problem” and to eliminate Manchu-Han differences, and he did in fact carry out the first of her four specific aims (and, along the way, comply with the requirements of the constitutional timetable) by establishing the Banner Reorganization Office in late 1908. As for her other three aims, Zaifeng’s accomplishments were extremely limited. He backed off from Cixi’s stated intention of phasing out the banner soldiers’ stipends. He evinced no interest in disbanding the provincial garrisons, let alone the entire banner system. And he did very little toward eliminating Manchu-Han differences. At best, he continued reforms already begun by Cixi; he introduced few innovations of his own. At worst, he undid some of what Cixi had initiated. With such an unenviable record of inaction, it is hard to disagree with his detractors’ opinion that Zaifeng’s major problem was his indecisiveness, his capacity to contradict himself with seeming disregard, his tendency to bend with the wind. However, as we shall soon see, the prince regent could be very determined and focused on other issues when he wanted to be.
REIMPERIALIZATION OF MILITARY AND POLITICAL AUTHORITY
One main purpose of Cixi’s New Policies, as Enming’s assassin Xu Xilin and other critics had pointed out, was to recentralize political and military authority, to reverse the half-century drift of power away from Beijing to the provinces dating from the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion. The high point of Cixi’s recentralization effort came in late 1906 when Zhili governor-general Yuan Shikai was forced to turn four of the six Beiyang divisions that he had personally organized and trained over to the Ministry of the Army. However, while this transfer of control clearly enhanced the authority of the central government, it did not necessarily strengthen the imperial court. For its own protection, for instance, the Qing still relied upon an ad hoc palace guard that was drawn from the First Division, which, though predominantly Manchu in personnel, was nevertheless controlled by the Ministry of the Army and not the court. Upon becoming regent, Zaifeng set about not only to recentralize authority but also to “reimperialize” it. Reimperialization, too, had begun under Cixi—who, beginning in the 1860s, had reversed the mid-Qing tradition of princely abstention from state affairs—but it greatly accelerated under Zaifeng. He reorganized the top command of China’s armed forces, created a new palace guard, and revitalized the navy, all under his direct control. As he did so, he leaned heavily on a coterie of Manchus, including such imperial kinsmen as his two half-brothers, Zaixun (1885–1949) and Zaitao, who were even younger and less experienced than he. So dependent was he upon these bannermen that contemporary diplomats and journalists as well as later historians speak of a “Manchu ascendency” and a “Manchu cabal.” Yet Zaifeng was deterred neither by these criticisms nor by a rash of assassination attempts, including one on himself. His determination to stick to this unpopular course of action stood in sharp contrast to his irresolution in the handling of Manchu-Han issues.
Like Cixi, Zaifeng was intent on recentralizing authority, particularly over the military. Thus, on 26 September 1910, he issued an edict that extended the control of the Ministry of the Army over all six Beiyang divisions. Previously, the ministry, by way of the Metropolitan Training Office headed by Tieliang’s Hanjun protégé Fengshan, had controlled only the four divisions (the First and Sixth in Beijing, the Third in Manchuria, and the Fifth in Shandong) that Yuan Shikai had turned over in 1906. The Second and Fourth Divisions, in Zhili, had remained under the jurisdiction of the local governor-general, even after Yuan had been called to Beijing and then subsequently dismissed. Zaifeng’s edict of September 1910 put all six divisions under the “direct control” of the Ministry of the Army. The Metropolitan Training Office was abolished, and its head, Fengshan, was sent off to Jingzhou and then to Guangzhou, where he was later killed by revolutionaries.72
Zaifeng, however, wanted to reconcentrate authority not simply in the central government but in the court as well. According to the Constitutional Outline promulgated by Cixi, one of the prerogatives of the emperor was to “command the army and navy and to design the military system.” The outline further stated that “the emperor possesses total authority to dispatch the military forces of the entire nation and to specify the number of regular soldiers” and that “the [future] parliament absolutely must not interfere in any military matter.”73 When Zaifeng became regent, he immediately reasserted the emperor’s (hence his own) claim to be the supreme military commander. Thus, the sixteen-point protocol issued by the court on 13 December 1908 enumerating the rights and duties of the regent reiterated that
the emperor possesses the authority to command the naval and military forces of the entire nation. Whatever authority regarding military affairs the Constitutional Outline specified for the emperor is entrusted to the prince regent. The prince regent may control and assign all banner and Green Standard units and all naval and military troops, whether in the capital or in the provinces.74
According to the subsequent testimony of both his brother and his son, Zaifeng’s interest in and concern with the role of the emperor as supreme commander dated from his 1901 mission of apology to Germany, where he was exposed to the Prussian command structure, in which the military was directly controlled by the emperor. During his three weeks in Germany (which turned out to be his only travel outside China), Zaifeng observed several military reviews, in one of which both Kaiser Wilhelm and Prince Heinrich personally participated. He came away greatly impressed by the notion that the imperial family should play a direct and active part in military matters.75
Empowered by Cixi’s Constitutional Outline and persuaded by his Prussian mentors, Zaifeng proceeded to assert the court’s authority over China’s armed forces. On 15 July 1909 he designated himself, during the emperor’s minority, as the acting generalissimo (dayuanshuai) of the army and navy of the Great Qing Empire (Da-Qing Diguo). This prompted widespread criticisms. Grand Councilor Zhang Zhidong, shortly before his death, reportedly protested that it would concentrate all military power in the regent’s hands, while Meng Sen, editor of the Eastern Miscellany, commented that the decree was superfluous since the monarch’s authority in China was theoretically unlimited anyway. Meng compared Zaifeng unflatteringly to such previous would-be strongmen as Wuzong, an irresponsible, fun-loving ruler of the mid-Ming with an inordinate interest in the military.76
On the same date, to assist him in his added responsibility, the regent revamped the military command structure by converting the General Staff Council (Junzichu) from the French to the Prussian model. Previously, the council, founded in November 1906, was subordinate to the Ministry of the Army and headed by two military professionals, Feng Guozhang and Ha Hanzhang. Feng, a former military underling of Yuan Shikai, was then the superintendent of the Nobles Military School, while Ha was a graduate of the Japanese Army Officers School. When Zaifeng transformed the council to the Prussian model, he brought it under the direct authority of the emperor, making it independent of and superior to the Ministry of the Army, and he superimposed upon the council’s existing staff two new “directors” (guanli dachen), Yulang and Zaitao, imperial princes with little or no military experience. Yulang, the former head of the Beijing Inner City’s police, had risen on the death of his father in 1907 from a ninth-rank noble to a third-rank prince; he was one of those officials granted an exemption from the newly enacted universal mourning period of twenty-seven months. Zaitao, also a third-rank prince, was the regent’s half-brother; his only prior military “experience” was the auditing of classes at Feng’s Nobles Military School. (To make way for Zaitao to take control of the army, Yikuang resigned as supervisor of the Ministry of the Army.) Feng Guozhang and Ha Hanzhang, the council’s incumbent leaders, were retained, but they now answered to the two princes. In thus restructuring the General Staff Council, Zaifeng was guided by not only Hohenzollern Germany but also Meiji Japan, which had made a similar shift from the French to the Prussian military system in the late 1870s.77
When he reorganized the General Staff, Zaifeng had already set in motion a related plan to create a new, separate palace guard that would also be under his personal control. Since the collapse of the Metropolitan Banners during the Boxer troubles, the court had first depended for security on the Sixth Division and then on the First, which patrolled the palace precincts on a rotating basis. However, the First Division, though predominantly Manchu, was never intended as a permanent palace guard. As early as December 1905, the Board of War had made it clear that a new palace guard should be created apart from the First Division. During the next three years, there were recurrent press reports that Cixi’s court was about to organize such a guard.78 But nothing happened until Zaifeng became regent, when on 25 December 1908, in one of his very first acts, he ordered the formation of the new Palace Guard (Jinweijun).79
Unlike the ad hoc palace guard from the First Division, the new Palace Guard was to be independent of the Ministry of the Army and under the direct command of the regent. A special training commission was set up to oversee its establishment. The original commission was composed of the two imperial princes, Yulang and Zaitao, who six months later were to be named directors of the General Staff Council, along with army minister Tieliang. Yulang’s limited and Zaitao’s nonexistent military experience have already been noted. Only Tieliang, a Manchu commoner, was truly qualified in military matters. Yet, despite his military background and a proven record of advancing Manchu interests that had earned him the particular enmity of such anti-Manchu revolutionaries as Wu Yue and Xu Xilin, Tieliang’s tenure as a Palace Guard training commissioner lasted less than two months. On 19 February 1909, ostensibly so that he could help revitalize the navy, Tieliang was dropped from the commission. Zaifu (1887–1933), a noble of the ninth rank, who was Yikuang’s second son, eventually took Tieliang’s place, but he was never very active. As a result, the work of overseeing the organization of the new Palace Guard was borne largely by Zaitao and Yulang, especially Zaitao after August 1910, when Yulang, on his appointment to the Grand Council, was removed from the Palace Guard commission (but not the General Staff Council).80 Subordinate to the commissioners, and to a great extent remedying their lack of expertise, were six staff members. The highest ranking among them was Putong (1871–1952), a ninth-rank noble, a brother of the National Assembly co-president Pulun, who seems to have been no more than a figurehead. He achieved minor (and fleeting) fame when a couple of years later he helped Yan Fu, then of the Ministry of the Navy, compose the new dynastic anthem. Of the other five members of the Palace Guard commission staff, two—Xu Zhishan and Tian Xianzhang—were products of the civil service examination system, and three—Ha Hanzhang, Zhang Yujun, and Wenhua—were graduates of the Japanese Army Officers School. All five had previously served either at the Ministry of the Army or on the old General Staff Council. Thus, unlike the commission itself, the training staff was (except for Putong) composed of experienced military personnel, and only Putong and Wenhua were Manchus.81
The Palace Guard commissioners quickly formulated a plan to create a division-strength force modeled on the post-Boxer New Army. They also sketched out a two-year timetable, which was divided into four stages, each lasting half a year and each devoted mainly to organizing one infantry regiment and one cavalry division. The process would begin at once and, if all went well, would be completed by January 1911.82 The regent’s edict had specified that the Palace Guard would be recruited from among the banner soldiers. This prompted criticisms, for example in the Peking Times (Shuntian shibao) in January 1909, that an all-banner force would run counter to various recent efforts by the court to eliminate Manchu-Han differences. Ignoring such comments, the commissioners decided that the rank and file would be recruited from the banner divisions and garrisons in the Beijing area, and the noncommissioned officers from the predominantly Manchu First Division. The commanding officers, however, would be selected without ethnic distinction.83
The Palace Guard commissioners were able to stick to their plan with regard to the timetable but not, in the end, to the ethnic composition of the force. To form the infantry regiment and cavalry division specified in the first stage of recruitment, they simply went to the First Division and, by prior arrangement with Tieliang and the Ministry of the Army, stripped it of all the soldiers and officers required. (The First Division subsequently replenished its depleted ranks with new banner recruits.)84 During the second and third stages of recruitment in late 1909 and early 1910, the commissioners recruited among the banner population in the metropolitan area following the same procedure that Yuan Shikai and Tieliang had used in organizing the First Division. They circulated among the banner divisions and garrisons a set of their requirements and solicited lists of qualified candidates. Nominees were supposed to be between seventeen and twenty-five years old, of a minimum height, and of a clean family background, with no addictions, “hidden illnesses,” or criminal record.85 However, because of increasing difficulty in attracting able banner personnel, when the fourth and final stage of recruitment was upon them in the last half of 1910, the commissioners were obliged to depart from their original plan. In the name of “impartiality” (tongren), they opened up the ranks of the Palace Guard to non-bannermen. They recruited the fourth infantry regiment from among the Han population of Shuntian, the metropolitan prefecture, and the two nearby provinces of Zhili and Shandong, and a new cavalry division from among the Mongol herders of Inner Mongolia.86 As a result, the Palace Guard, though still predominantly Manchu in makeup, was no longer the all-banner unit that the regent had originally envisaged.
Officers for the Palace Guard came from several different sources. The six Beiyang divisions were one source. During the first stage of recruitment, the First Division provided the Guard with not only its soldiers but its officers as well. Subsequently, a wider range of units, both banner and non-banner, was canvassed. Even so, most of those who passed the written qualifying examinations evidently came from the six Beiyang units, with a disproportionate number still coming from the First Division. In June 1910, when twenty-two battalion-level officers were chosen by examination, ten were from the First Division; the other twelve were about equally divided among the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Divisions.87 Returned military students were another source of officers. At the end of 1909 the Palace Guard brigade commander was able to secure the services of eighteen graduates of foreign (probably Japanese) military academies. Similarly, a year later Commissioner Zaitao selected for the Guard twenty out of one hundred returned military students.88 A third source was China’s own Nobles Military School, which graduated its first class in July 1909, just as the new Palace Guard was being formed. Of its ninety-eight graduates, ten were assigned immediately to the Guard.89 (The following year, the Nobles Military School enrolled a second class, with 240 students in a five-year course. The new superintendent of the school, succeeding Feng Guozhang, was Grand Councilor Natong’s brother, Najin; replacing Yikuang as overseer was another imperial prince, Zairun [1878–1963].)90
Palace Guard officers, unlike the soldiers, were supposed to have been chosen without ethnic distinction. In practice, there was, as among the rank and file, a pronounced preference for Manchus. The ten graduates of the Nobles Military School who were assigned to the Guard all had Manchu-style names; so did the ten officers from the First Division who were picked by examination in 1910. Also, the contingent of foreign military graduates who were sent to the Palace Guard at the end of 1909 was headed by Shiming, of the Japanese Army Officers School, who was probably a bannerman; although in the end Shiming himself was excused from reporting for duty, most or all of the eighteen who did show up were quite possibly bannermen as well. According to the recollections of the late-Qing military commander Yun Baohui, a majority of the company and platoon leaders in the Palace Guard were Manchus.91
Manchus figured prominently among the Palace Guard’s top command as well. Because Prince Regent Zaifeng himself was nominally its supreme leader, the Guard did not have an overall division commander. Its highest ranking officers—Liangbi and Wang Tingzhen, one a Manchu and the other a Han—were the commanders of its two constituent brigades. Liangbi, it may be recalled, was a collateral member of the imperial lineage from the Jingzhou (Hubei) garrison and a graduate of the Japanese Army Officers School. He had become a close associate of Tieliang and indeed was thought by revolutionaries such as Wu Yue to be the mastermind behind the army minister’s alleged pro-Manchu, anti-Han policy; by 1907 he was head of the Department of Military Education in the ministry. In 1909 Liangbi was appointed commander of the Palace Guard’s First Infantry Regiment and then of the First Brigade, as these units were organized. Wang Tingzhen was likewise a product of the Japanese Army Officers School, a 1902 graduate of the cavalry class; on his return to China, he had become chief of staff of the First Division. In the Palace Guard, he was initially commander of the First Cavalry Division and then, in late 1910, of the newly formed Second Brigade. Of the two, Liangbi was by far the more influential. Not only did he, as commander of the First Brigade, have seniority over Wang Tingzhen, but also, as an imperial kinsman, he worked very closely with the Palace Guard commissioner, Zaitao. He thus accompanied Zaitao during the latter’s five-month military tour of Japan, the United States, and Europe in mid-1910. As advisor to the inexperienced Zaitao, he wielded enormous influence over both the Palace Guard and the General Staff Council.92 Below Liangbi and Wang Tingzhen were the five regimental commanders, three of whom were Manchus. The four infantry regiments were commanded by, respectively, Zhonghe (or Guan Zhonghe), Chongen (or, as he is also identified, Chonglin), Zhalafen, and Tian Xianzhang. The only non-bannerman among them, Tian Xianzhang, who was formerly with the Palace Guard training staff, led the one infantry regiment that was made up of Han recruits. The commander of the cavalry regiment, following Wang Tingzhen’s promotion, was Hua Zhenji, probably another Han.93
After two years, the Palace Guard reached full strength in early 1911, only a couple of months behind schedule. On 26 March the entire division, two brigades strong, conducted a full-scale review at its temporary encampment at Nanyuan, the imperial park to the south of the capital. (It was due to move to its permanent quarters at Changchunyuan after the war games in the fall.) According to the American military attaché, the infantry and artillery were fully equipped; the only deficient unit was the cavalry, which “has the complement of men but the third squadron, the Mongol squadron, is not yet mounted.” On 16 September, less than one month before the outbreak of the revolution, the Palace Guard was formally commissioned. At a majestic ceremony held at a drill field in the northern suburbs outside Desheng Gate, the regent, in his capacity as the unit’s commander, personally inspected the troops. Pleased by what he saw, Zaifeng complimented the two remaining Palace Guard commissioners, Zaitao and Zaifu, for having organized the force so expeditiously. He praised the officers and soldiers for their martial appearance and reminded them of their unique and exalted status. Unlike the New Army, he told them, they had the responsibility of defending not only the country but the throne as well. Indeed, by then the Palace Guard had already taken on the mission for which it was created; it had relieved the First Division of its palace guard duty.94
In his alternate capacity as naval commander-in-chief, Zaifeng also attempted to revitalize the navy. With the defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894–95, the core of the navy, Li Hongzhang’s fleet, had been destroyed, and the Navy Yamen, which Zaifeng’s father had headed, disbanded. For the next decade and a half China, in effect, lacked a navy; it had warships, but no organized naval force. It was not until Zaifeng became regent that plans were developed to revive the navy. On 19 February 1909, responding to a memorial from Shanqi, who was then the minister of civil affairs and who earlier had helped create the Beijing police force, the regent appointed a committee to formulate those plans. The four-person committee consisted of Shanqi, Minister of Finance Zaize, Minister of the Army Tieliang, and the commander of the Guangdong fleet, Sa Zhenbing (1859–1952), with Yikuang in his customary role as overseer. (It was at this point that Tieliang was relieved of his post with the Palace Guard training commission in order that he might concentrate on this new assignment.)95
On 15 July, six days after the committee made its report and at the very same time that he both declared himself generalissimo and restructured the General Staff Council, Zaifeng created the Navy Commission (Chouban Haijun Shiwuchu) as a step toward forming a full-fledged Ministry of the Navy. To head the new body, he named the third-rank prince Zaixun and Sa Zhenbing. A graduate of the Fuzhou Naval Shipyard School who afterward studied in Britain, Sa was selected for the commission, as he had been for Shanqi’s committee, because of his extensive experience in naval affairs; soon afterward he was promoted from the position of commander of the Guangdong fleet to that of commander-in-chief of the entire naval force (haijun tidu) and transferred to Shanghai. On the other hand, Zaixun, who had not served on Shanqi’s committee and who heretofore had not been even tangentially involved in naval matters, was designated because he was, like Zaitao, the regent’s half-brother.96 A month later the Navy Commission, together with the Ministry of the Army, presented the court with a seven-year plan for the revitalization of the navy. The two commissioners then set off on the first of several whirlwind inspection tours, which eventually took them to Europe in late 1909 and to the United States and Japan in late 1910. On their return from Japan, Zaixun and Sa Zhenbing recommended that the Navy Commission be converted into a Ministry of the Navy, as a counterpart to the Ministry of the Army. On 4 December 1910 the regent so ordered, and appointed Zaixun as minister.97
The major accomplishment of Zaifeng’s naval reform was to unify China’s separate fleets. Soon after the Navy Commission was set up, it grouped the existing ships into a sea-going and a Yangzi River fleet. Subsequently, in December 1910, when the commission became a ministry, the former commissioner Sa Zhenbing was appointed as overall commander of both fleets, with his headquarters still in Shanghai.98 The pride of the sea-going fleet was its four cruisers: the 4,300–ton British-built Haiqi (with a crew of 439) and the 2,950–ton German-built Haichou, Haishen, and Hairong (each with a crew of 279). All had been ordered in 1896, following the debacle of the Sino-Japanese War, and delivered in 1898–99. (The Chinese had bought a fifth cruiser, the Haitian, from the British, but it had sunk in 1907 after running aground in a fog off Shanghai.)99 While Sa and the two fleet commanders were Han, several Manchus (graduates of the evanescent Kunming Lake Naval School of the Self-Strengthening period) held leading posts aboard these cruisers.100 Perhaps the most remarkable achievement in Zaifeng’s naval modernization program was the historic round-the-world voyage of the Haiqi in 1911. After steaming to London for the coronation of King George V, it went on to New York, where the sea-going fleet commander paid a call on President William Howard Taft, and to Havana to “show the flag” to the Chinese community in Cuba.101
Zaifeng’s heavy reliance upon various imperial princes and other Manchus in these efforts to recentralize and reimperialize military authority gave rise to much talk among contemporary diplomats, officials, and journalists as well as later historians of what British minister John Jordan (1852–1925) called the “Manchu ascendency.” In a dispatch of 16 March 1909, Jordan noted that “there has been a marked revival of Manchu ascendency in the councils of the Empire” and that no consideration was now given to a fusion of Manchus and Han and the elimination of the Manchus’ privileged position. He worried that Zaifeng was coming under the influence of a “camarilla”—composed of Zaifeng’s brothers Zaixun and Zaitao, his “cousin” Zaize (then minister of finance), and his “kinsman” Tieliang (minister of the army)—who Jordan claimed were collectively known as the “Inner Grand Council.” The North-China Herald, in August 1909, commented in a similar vein on the supremacy of the Manchu party: “In doing away with all distinctions between Manchus and [Han] Chinese, the important posts in the Government have been gradually filled by Manchus.” Zhang Zhidong, shortly before his death, reportedly also warned the regent (in Daniel Bays’ words) about the “Manchu clique” surrounding him. Historian Jerome Ch’en refers to it as the “Manchu Cabal,” which he asserts was formed around 1905 by Tieliang “in an attempt to strengthen Manchu power in both the government and the army.”102
This “Manchu ascendency” was not, contrary to the thrust of Minister Jordan’s remarks, a new departure for Zaifeng but rather a continuation and extension of a trend begun by Cixi after the reorganization of the metropolitan bureaucracy in 1906. Previously, guided by the principle of dyarchy, the number of Manchus and Han among the top metropolitan officials had been more or less equal; by late 1907, however, the Manchus had gained a clear majority of nine to four over the Han among the thirteen ministry heads (including the two supervisors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), though they were still evenly matched with the Han on the six-member Grand Council. Zaifeng proceeded to appoint even more Manchus than Cixi had, particularly at the Grand Council, where after a major shakeup in August 1910 they outnumbered the Han three to one. (The three Manchus were Yikuang, Natong, and Yulang; the solitary Han was Xu Shichang, the former governor-general of Manchuria, who had managed to escape from under the still-dark shadow of his former patron, Yuan Shikai.) And among the (by now) fourteen ministry heads, the Manchu majority had increased by one, to become ten to four.103
Still, the “Manchu Cabal” was hardly monolithic. Zaifeng, in his official appointments, may have preferred Manchus over Han, but he did not indiscriminately favor all Manchus. In particular, two bannermen officials who had prospered under Cixi—Duanfang and Tieliang—did not fare well, ultimately at least, under Zaifeng. When Duanfang, formerly at Liang-Jiang, was promoted to the position of Zhili governor-general in June 1909, his appointment was cited as one more sign of the Manchu ascendency under Zaifeng. John Jordan noted that until then a Han had occupied the important Zhili post continuously since Zeng Guofan’s appointment in 1868. (The British minister was slightly mistaken: two Manchus, Ronglu and Yulu [1844?–1900], had been Zhili governor-general briefly during the 1898–1900 period of reaction.)104 Less than five months later, however, Duanfang, who seems to have been fascinated with modern gadgets, was denounced by a Han official, Li Guojie, the former brigade-general at Guangzhou, for three major ritual improprieties during the recent funeral for Cixi: he had authorized his subordinates to photograph the funeral procession; he had on one occasion ridden in a sedan chair when other mourners were on foot; and he had strung up telegraph wires within the geomantic (or spirit) screen forming the enclosure around the mausoleum. Duanfang was consequently removed (and replaced by, it might be noted, a Han, Chen Kuilong [1856–1948] ).105 Like Yuan Shikai, Duanfang left office quietly and retired to Beijing to devote his attention to promoting education and collecting ancient art, of which he was said to be a connoisseur. Subsequent efforts to recall him to office foundered, or so it was reported, on the opposition of Empress Dowager Longyu, who allegedly and for unspecified reasons was the one at court who had insisted on his dismissal in the first place. Duanfang’s involuntary retirement lasted until May 1911, when he was named director-general of the newly nationalized railroads.106 This assignment was to cost him his life.
Tieliang, whom Jerome Ch’en credits as the founder and leader of the Manchu Cabal, similarly, though not so suddenly, lost the considerable power that he had amassed during the last years of Cixi. Following Zaifeng’s elevation as regent, Tieliang continued as army minister and indeed was given a couple of additional military assignments, first as Palace Guard training commissioner and then as a member of Shanqi’s committee to decide on naval reorganization. However, even as Minister Jordan was claiming in March 1909 that he was part of an all-Manchu “Inner Grand Council,” Tieliang’s control over the military was being curtailed by Yulang and Zaitao, the two imperial princes on the General Staff Council. Finally, in August 1909, claiming illness, Tieliang submitted his resignation as army minister, which was accepted the following March. He was replaced at the ministry by another Manchu, Yinchang, Zaifeng’s interpreter during his mission of apology, who had just returned from an extended stint as Chinese minister to Germany. Tieliang was subsequently, in September 1910, sent away from Beijing and given the relatively inconsequential post of general of the Nanjing banner garrison.107
Tieliang had been an effective agent of Cixi’s policy of recentralization, but he did not have the princely credentials to fit into Zaifeng’s effort at reimperialization. He was only an ordinary Manchu bannerman and not, as British Minister Jordan described him, Zaifeng’s “kinsman.” This may explain why he felt estranged from the regent and his inner circle. For Zaifeng drew his support not so much from Manchus in general as from the imperial clan and, more narrowly, from the princes who were a subset of the clan. This political dependence on imperial princes, again, was not new with Zaifeng. Over the course of Cixi’s long rule, dating from the early 1860s, more and more princes had been appointed as grand councilors and ministry heads, in contravention of the mid-Qing tradition of princely nonparticipation in state affairs. Zaifeng simply, and in the end self-destructively, carried this process one step further. Whereas in 1907, under Cixi, three of the thirteen ministry heads were imperial princes, in 1910, under Zaifeng, it was four of fourteen (Yikuang, Shanqi, Zaize, and Zaixun); similarly, at the Grand Council, one-third of the members (two of six) under Cixi were imperial princes, while it was one-half (two of four) under Zaifeng (Yikuang and Yulang). The princes on whom Zaifeng relied most heavily were Yikuang, Shanqi, Zaize, Yulang, and most notably, his two brothers, twenty-four-year-old Zaixun and twenty-year-old Zaitao, whom he had put in charge of the navy and army respectively. (Zaitao, unlike the others, was neither a grand councilor nor a ministry head, but he supervised the General Staff Council and headed the Palace Guard training commission.) In January 1910 the Shanghai reformist daily, the Eastern Times (Shibao), reported from the capital that “the power of the imperial relatives has increased enormously. Formerly there were only Prince Qing [Yikuang] and his son; now there are the three third-rank princes: Zaixun, Zaitao, and Yulang.” The censor Jiang Chunlin submitted a memorial also cautioning the Prince Regent against relying so heavily upon his brothers.108
The princes themselves did not necessarily form a monolithic bloc any more than did the Manchus as a whole. While the divisions within the Qing court are obscure, they did exist. The former split between the “emperor’s faction” and the “empress’s faction” had not disappeared with the deaths of the Guangxu emperor and Cixi; it persisted into the regency. On one side were Zaifeng, Zaixun, and Zaitao, all brothers of the former emperor. Shanqi, who had opposed Cixi’s embrace of the Boxers, may also have been aligned with this faction. On the other side were former supporters of Empress Dowager Cixi, who included the new empress dowager Longyu (Cixi’s niece), Zaize (married to Longyu’s younger sister), and Yikuang.109
One consequence of the notoriety achieved by the imperial princes under Zaifeng was that they became tempting marks for assassins. The first assassination attempt was directed at Zaixun, the naval commissioner, who on his return from his European tour at the beginning of 1910 was targeted once, possibly twice, by the revolutionaries. In late January, shortly after he left Harbin on a train bound for Beijing, the authorities in Manchuria arrested a suspected revolutionary, Xiong Chengji (1887–1910). Xiong confessed to having played a role in the abortive 1908 mutiny in Anqing, Anhui, which he proudly acknowledged was intended as a “political revolution”; he denied, however, that he had left his refuge in Japan in order to kill Zaixun. Despite his claim of innocence with regard to Zaixun, Xiong Chengji was executed a month later. Although he apparently was telling the truth when he said that he had come to Manchuria only to do business with some Russians, his hagiographic biographers insist otherwise. Given his admitted role in the Anqing mutiny, they regard his presence in Harbin just as Zaixun was passing through as no mere coincidence. So too did the contemporary press. Eastern Miscellany, for example, included in its account of his arrest and execution the unconfirmed report that he had told an associate in Changchun (who subsequently betrayed him) that he was going to Harbin for the sole purpose of murdering the regent’s brother.110
Whatever Xiong Chengji’s intentions may have been in Harbin, other revolutionaries led by Wang Jingwei were waiting for the unscathed Zaixun in Beijing. Wang, a close ally of Sun Yat-sen, had become discouraged by the failure of the series of Alliance-organized revolts in south China in 1907–8 and, like Wu Yue before him, had turned to assassination. He and several other like-minded revolutionaries in Japan formed an assassination corps to kill high-ranking Manchu officials in Beijing. In the fall of 1909, one member of the group, Huang Fusheng (1883–1948), went ahead and set up a photographic studio in the Outer (or “Chinese”) City as a front. Wang and the others followed. With Zaixun about to arrive in Beijing, they decided to try to toss a bomb at him at the railroad station. It was dusk, however, when the prince arrived, and Wang was unable to pick him out from the crowd of high officials. So Zaixun was, perhaps for the second time, spared.111
The disappointed assassins, after considering other potential targets, including Yikuang, chose the regent himself as the new victim. Their plot was to attack Zaifeng during his daily trip from his mansion in the northwestern part of the Inner City into the Forbidden City. It so happened that Zaifeng’s customary and well-guarded route down the broad avenue past the Drum Tower had been torn up for road repair, and he was obliged to make a detour. The assassins buried a canister of explosives under a small bridge along the detour and planned to detonate it as he passed over. Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, as they were making their final preparations on the night of 2 April, the canister was discovered. The police found out that it was of local manufacture and eventually traced the assassins to their photographic studio. The two revolutionaries who had remained in Beijing, Wang Jingwei and Huang Fusheng, were arrested.112
Wang Jingwei readily confessed that he was a former editor of The People’s Journal and that he had come to the Chinese capital to do something that would “startle the world.” He displayed no particular animus toward the regent personally nor toward the Manchus in general; unlike Xu Xilin in 1907, he did not dwell on the state of Manchu-Han relations to any extent. Indeed, the only time he touched on the Manchu question in his confession was when he offered reassurance to the Manchu populace and the Qing emperor about their future in a republic if they were to give up peacefully. He promised the Manchus (Manren) that they would be treated as equal citizens, and he warned the Manchu monarch that it would be far preferable for him to be toppled by the native Han people than by a foreign power. He contrasted the fate of the imperial rulers of Annam and Korea after their countries had been overrun by foreigners with that of the shogun following the domestic revolution in Japan. Whereas under the French and the Japanese, the Nguyen and Yi emperors respectively were regarded as old “worn-out shoes,” in Japan the Tokugawa shogun, after giving up power, had been treated with respect. Instead of Manchu-Han relations, Wang Jingwei focused on the futility of the constitutionalist cause under the Qing as well as on the continuing threat of partition by the foreign powers. Citing historical precedents from France, Britain, Germany, and Japan, he insisted that genuine constitutionalism could come about only after a revolution. He questioned the naive faith of the constitutionalist reformers in the efficacy of a parliament, for which they were then agitating, as a bulwark against imperial autocracy.113 Because of the blackout imposed by the authorities, Wang’s confession, unlike Xu Xilin’s, did not become public. Even so, some news of the failed assault did get into the newspapers.114
In view of the high status of their intended victim, Wang Jingwei and Huang Fusheng were treated with extraordinary leniency. They were not executed, as Xiong Chengji had been less than two months earlier. Instead, on 29 April the new Supreme Court of Justice sentenced them to life imprisonment.115 By all accounts it was Shanqi, the minister of civil affairs, who was responsible for their relatively light sentences. Shanqi, perhaps to gather intelligence and perhaps also to ingratiate himself with them, had secretly cultivated contacts with various oppositional groups for several years. He was on good terms with the exiled monarchists Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, who in 1907 had sought his help to counter Yuan Shikai and Yikuang and return the Guangxu emperor to power. He was in touch with the republicans as well, particularly via a staff member, Cheng Jiacheng (1872–1914), who as a student in Japan had joined the Alliance. According to the later accounts of Feng Ziyou and Song Jiaoren, in 1908 or 1909 Shanqi had sent Cheng to Japan to offer the leaders of the Alliance a sizable amount of money to buy them off. For their part, the revolutionaries too, like Kang and Liang, tried to persuade the prince to work for them. In 1909 Zhang Binglin, then head of the organization in Tokyo, appealed to Shanqi’s self-image by inviting him to join the Alliance and urging him to emulate Prince Kropotkin of Russia by taking the lead in the coming revolution. Zhang also assured Shanqi that the revolutionaries did not want a racial massacre but only a “return of sovereignty to us [Han].” Zhang stated (as he had once before, in the 1907 Heaven’s Punishment supplement to The People’s Journal) that the Manchus would be allowed to “return to the east,” to Manchuria, where they could maintain their own separate, racially homogeneous “empire” (diguo) adjacent to the Han republic within China proper.116
After Wang Jingwei and Huang Fusheng were arrested, Shanqi, whose ministry oversaw the Beijing police, talked with the prisoners at least twice prior to their sentencing. He was particularly impressed by Wang’s confession and engaged in an extended political dialogue with him. According to Huang’s recollection, the prince said that he had long been an avid reader of The People’s Journal. He told Wang that its espousal of the Three People’s Principles was too narrow; he recommended instead the “great harmony of the five races” (wuzu datong), a rival concept that the Manchu publication Great Harmony Journal advocated. When Wang replied that he had no wish to repudiate The People’s Journal’s position, Shanqi commended him for sticking by his principles even as he faced the prospect of execution. Afterward, perhaps mindful of the negative publicity that the vengeful execution of Xu Xilin and Qiu Jin had produced in 1907 and perhaps under the influence of his staff member Cheng Jiacheng, Shanqi convinced Zaifeng that too severe a punishment might be counterproductive; it would stir up the revolutionaries to make new attempts and also needlessly antagonize the constitutionalist reformers. The regent thereupon agreed to the reduced sentence of life imprisonment for Wang and Huang.117
Six months later, on 6 October 1910, Zaixun was once more the intended victim of an assassination attempt. It happened in Oakland, California, as he was completing his naval tour of the United States. The would-be assassin was a thirty-one-year-old U.S.-born Chinese American, George Fong (Kuang Zuozhi), who had been stirred to action by the revolutionaries’ propaganda on the “racial question” (zhongzu wenti). As he explained at his trial, he had wanted to “help China free itself from the clutches of the Manchus” by killing the regent’s brother, whose naval purchases abroad were meant not to strengthen China but to suppress the revolutionary party. He and an associate had planned to shoot the navy commissioner at the Oakland docks as he was welcomed by the leaders of the Chinese community. However, the security at the scene was tight, and Fong was spotted by an American detective, who disarmed him before he could draw his pistol. His subsequent trial in an American court was widely publicized in China. His anti-Manchu declarations appeared, for example, in Eastern Miscellany, as did his predictions about the imminence and the inevitability of a republican revolution. On 13 January 1911, he was found guilty of assault and sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment.118
Finally, two months after Fong’s assault on Zaixun, there was yet another attempted assassination of a Manchu prince. The target this time was Yikuang, whom Wang Jingwei had considered but given up because he was so well protected. On 3 December 1910, as Yikuang was returning from the Forbidden City to his home in the northern part of the Inner City, one or more individuals fired a pistol and tossed a bomb at his horse-drawn carriage. Amidst the confusion caused by terrified horses and bewildered bodyguards, the assassin(s) escaped. Although the attempt failed, it too received wide publicity.119 No one ever took credit for the attack.
CLASHES WITH THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Zaifeng’s efforts to impose his authority over the army and navy and to create a new, imperially controlled palace guard had, by and large, succeeded by late 1910; he had met with some criticisms, particularly from the now relatively unfettered press, but not enough to deter him from his course. Then, on 3 October 1910, the day that the provincial assemblies began their second annual session, the National Assembly convened in Beijing, as Cixi’s Nine-Year Plan had specified. Zaifeng himself attended its inaugural meeting. In a departure from custom, the assemblymen did not kneel in his presence but remained standing through his welcoming speech.120 Thereafter life was never again the same for Zaifeng. The assembly, which opened with the fourth-rank prince Pulun as president and the judicial reformer Shen Jiaben (replacing the deceased grand secretary Sun Jia’nai) as vice-president, was in session for three months, during which time it clashed with the regent over a number of different issues, such as whether to expedite the summoning of a parliament, how to make the Grand Council behave like a “responsible cabinet,” whether (once more) to pardon Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao for their role in the 1898 reforms, and how to react to an unprecedented lobbying effort from below to change the queue requirement. In coping with these controversies, Zaifeng took—as he had in reimperializing authority—a determined, even tough, stance. When the assembly finally adjourned in January 1911, the regent got no relief, as his naming of a cabinet in May created the biggest controversy yet. All of these issues raised in late 1910 and early 1911 impinged, some more directly than others, upon the Manchu-Han question.
The first controversy pitting the regent against the National Assembly arose out of the ongoing movement to expedite the summoning of a parliament. The assembly itself was only an advisory body, with no authority to make laws; according to the Nine-Year Plan, it was not until the plan’s final year (1916) that a parliament, with legislative powers, would be elected. Ever since the Nine-Year Plan was promulgated in 1907, political reformers had been lobbying the court to shorten the constitutional timetable, just as they had previously pressured it to issue the timetable in the first place. In the year since the provincial assemblies first met in the fall of 1909, the reformers, including organized groups of Manchus, had mounted two new nationwide petition drives, in November 1909 and again in June 1910, pleading with the court to hasten the formation of Parliament. Zaifeng, however, had curtly rebuffed both efforts; on the second occasion, he softened the rejection by reminding the petitioners that the National Assembly was due to open in less than four months.121
The assembly’s inauguration did not appease the agitators for a constitutional government. Snubbed in June, they came right back in October with a third petition, this time addressed to the assembly itself rather than, as before, to the Censorate. They demanded the summoning of a true parliament by the very next year (1911) and the concurrent formation of a “responsible cabinet.” They asserted, as had the Manchu publication Great Harmony Journal previously, that “only where there is a responsible cabinet is there a constitutional government . . . and only where there is a parliament is there a responsible cabinet.” On 22 October, amidst joyous shouts of “Long live the Parliament! Long live the Great Qing State! Long live the constitutional polity of the Great Qing State!” the assembly gave its unanimous approval to the petition, which was subsequently recast as a memorial and forwarded to the throne.122
Meanwhile, a majority of top provincial officials, headed by Governor-General Xiliang of Manchuria, had submitted a joint telegram to the Grand Council in full support of the National Assembly’s memorial. Citing the case of the last Ming emperor, whose caution had doomed the dynasty, they warned against needless delay. The telegram was signed by four of the nine governors-general and all but two of the governors, with Manchus ranged on both sides of the issue. Xiliang and Ruicheng (Hu-Guang) were two of the four governors-general who signed, while Changgeng (Shaan-Gan), Zhao Erxun (Sichuan), and Songshou (Min-Zhe) were three of the five who refused. However, the most adamant opponents of Xiliang’s telegram were two Han governors-general: Chen Kuilong of Zhili and Zhang Renjun of Liang-Jiang. Unlike Xiliang, who called for the simultaneous creation of a parliament and a cabinet, Chen Kuilong sought to separate the two. He cited the example of Meiji Japan, which did not convene a parliament until after a cabinet had been installed. Chen’s recommendation to the throne was to appoint a “responsible cabinet” the next year (1911) but hold off on a parliament until 1913, when the National Assembly’s term of office was due to expire. In the meantime, the assembly could, if necessary, perform some of the functions of a parliament.123
Zaifeng asked the Office of Governmental Affairs for its advice before making a decision. According to published news reports, the office conceded that the court could no longer adhere to the original Nine-Year Plan; it was inclined toward Chen Kuilong’s alternative proposal. Dismayed by such press accounts, the parliamentary petitioners immediately intensified their lobbying for a parliament by no later than 1911. They denied that it was unfeasible to draw up the necessary regulations within a year, and they questioned whether China, in view of its perilous condition abroad and financial needs at home, could afford the three years’ delay in opening a parliament. Governor-General Xiliang and other supportive provincial leaders also took issue with the Meiji precedent that Chen Kuilong had cited. According to their reading of recent Japanese history, it was precisely the Sat-Chō oligarchs’ naming of a cabinet in 1885 without convening a parliament at the same time that had caused so much unrest (presumably the popular rights movement), which was not dissipated until the Diet opened in 1890.124 Ignoring these last-minute appeals, Zaifeng accepted the compromise solution recommended by Chen Kuilong and the Office of Governmental Affairs. On 4 November he agreed to advance the summoning of Parliament to 1913 and to name a cabinet some time before then. He insisted that the preparatory work could not be expedited any further. In a separate edict, he told the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the provincial authorities to notify the petitioners of his decision and to order them to disperse. Two days later, he appointed National Assembly president Pulun and Minister of Finance Zaize, both imperial princes, to take charge of drafting a constitution. A month later, he called on the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government to revise the constitutional timetable.125
Zaifeng’s concessions did not suffice to placate the parliamentary petitioners. Rather than giving up, as he had demanded, the petitioners reorganized themselves as the Society of Comrades (Tongzhihui), then announced that they would continue to agitate for the speedy convening of a parliament. The National Assembly too was dissatisfied; on 10 November it submitted a memorial questioning the wisdom of quibbling over a couple of years.126 The delay in summoning Parliament was most intensely felt among the concerned citizens of Fengtian, who three months earlier had seen Japan annex their neighbor, Korea. They claimed that their province could be rescued from the rapacious imperialists only if a parliament were formed immediately. With Governor-General Xiliang’s blessings, a delegation of protesters went to Beijing to present their case directly. On 20 December, having arrived in Tianjin, where they were joined by several thousand local supporters, they marched on Chen Kuilong’s yamen to demand that he wire the court to convene a parliament the next year. The Zhili governor-general agreed to forward their petition, though, unlike Xiliang, he did not endorse its content. Zaifeng’s response was to insist once more that, because of the complex preparations required, Parliament could not be opened any sooner. When publication of this edict failed to keep defiant students from meeting to plan future protests, Governor-General Chen sent soldiers and the police to disperse the gathering. The regent not only approved Chen’s resort to force, he directed the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Infantry Division of the Metropolitan Banners to do likewise, if necessary, to send the Manchurian petitioners back home. He had been patient enough, he said.127 Only then did the agitation to hasten the summoning of Parliament die down.
Meanwhile, following the initial confrontation in October over when to summon Parliament, Zaifeng clashed again with the National Assembly over the latter’s parallel demand that the cabinet that the regent had promised to create be a “responsible” one. When Zaifeng declared on 4 November that he would not open Parliament until 1913, the assembly began aggressively staking out a claim that it itself deserved to be treated not merely as an advisory group but as a fully legislative body to which the four-member Grand Council, as a protocabinet, ought to be responsible. The assembly seized on three provincial disputes that had been appealed to it to make good its claim.
The first dispute originated in Hunan, where Governor Yang Wending had contracted for a public loan without securing the assent of the provincial assembly. The National Assembly, by a three-to-two majority, voted to support the objections of the Hunan Assembly; it asked the court to order the governor to submit the loan agreement to his provincial assembly for its decision. Zaifeng responded on 8 November that Yang’s failure to consult his assembly had been an “oversight,” but that since the loan had been approved by the Ministry of Finance, it should stand as contracted. Many National Assembly members were incensed that what they considered Yang’s “gross abuse of authority” had been minimized as a mere “oversight.” They summoned the grand councilors, who had helped draft the regent’s response, to come to the assembly to explain their action in person; for reasons of political prudence, they did not attack the regent himself. The councilors—Yikuang, Yulang, Natong, and Xu Shichang—ignored the demand.128
Less than two weeks later, the National Assembly clashed again with the Grand Council on two other provincial issues. One involved Yunnan, where the governor-general had raised the price of salt without the consent of the provincial assembly; the other concerned Guangxi, where the governor had permitted students from other provinces to attend its Higher Police School in disregard of his provincial assembly, which wanted to limit enrollment to natives of the province. On 20 November the National Assembly memorialized on the two matters, where it, as before in the Hunan loan case, supported the provincial assemblies against the provincial governors. Zaifeng’s court, rather than immediately accepting the National Assembly’s recommendations, issued an edict referring the issues to the Salt Gabelle (Yanzhengchu) and the Ministry of Civil Affairs respectively for their consideration. Once more, the assembly was outraged that its will had been ignored. Members complained that the executive organs of government were trampling on the “independence of the legislative organ.” They voted to impeach the entire Grand Council for its role in drafting the edict.129
The prospective impeachment of the grand councilors dramatically escalated the conflict between the National Assembly and the regent. Zaifeng tried at once to defuse the situation, but without success. On 25 November, on the advice of the Salt Gabelle and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, he adopted the assembly’s original recommendations on both matters.130 Furthermore, he had the edict rushed over to the assembly, hoping that it would sidetrack the pending effort to draft the articles of impeachment. Indeed, one imperially appointed member (the Mongol bannerman Wenpu, an official at the Foreign Ministry) argued that since in the end the court had done what the assembly wanted, the impeachment was moot; another imperial appointee (Lu Zongyu [1876–1958], an “eminent scholar”) questioned whether the two cases were important enough to justify impeachment. A majority, however, pointed out that these were not the only instances in which the Grand Council had ignored the National Assembly. They asserted that the assembly should be vigilant against any and all such displays of “irresponsibility” (bufu zeren) so as to set a worthy example for the future parliament. The assembly consequently voted to draw up a revised memorial condemning the Grand Council for its “irresponsibility.” The modified memorial, debated and approved two weeks later, did not so much impeach the council as complain about its ill-defined authority. It claimed that while the assembly was faithfully exercising its representative and legislative functions, the Grand Council had been derelict in fulfilling its executive responsibilities. It saw a need for a prime minister both to shield the emperor from criticisms and to unite the government under a single leader. It asked Zaifeng to appoint a cabinet speedily and, until then, to define clearly the Grand Council’s duties.131
Finally, when the four grand councilors jointly offered to resign, Zaifeng told the National Assembly to mind its own business. Rejecting the resignations, he rebuked the assembly on 18 December for encroaching on the throne’s exclusive authority, as set forth in the Constitutional Outline, to create government offices and make official appointments. He asserted that whether the Grand Council was “responsible” and whether to set up a “responsible cabinet” were entirely up to him. The National Assembly could not decide on an appropriate response. At a meeting on 19 December, some assemblymen saw no alternative but to resign in order to defend the honor and integrity of their institution. Others urged making one more effort at impeaching the grand councilors, this time individually rather than as a group, before taking the ultimate step of mass resignation. On a vote, 102 assemblymen favored one last attempt at impeachment. In the following days, however, the assembly seemingly had second thoughts. On 26 December a majority even voted to drop the matter lest it provoke the dissolution of the body. When this failure of nerve was roundly criticized by the press, the assembly changed its mind yet again and on 30 December voted out a memorial of impeachment. Zaifeng now simply ignored their action. Instead of dissolving the assembly, as some of its members had feared, he shelved its memorial, which was never officially published nor acted upon. On this inconclusive note, the controversy petered out, as the assembly’s scheduled three-month session came to an end soon afterward.132
Amidst the rancorous debates about speeding up the summoning of Parliament and impeaching the Grand Council, the National Assembly also took up the still unresolved issue of pardons for Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. Previous efforts had succeeded in “reversing verdicts” for almost all of the disgraced reformers of 1898, but not for Kang and Liang or the six officials who had been executed. Leading the new attempt was the Society of Comrades, the former parliamentary petitioners, who appealed to the regent’s brother and general staff councilor, Zaitao, who was thought to be sympathetic to the reform cause in general. The society said that with the edict of 4 November advancing the opening of Parliament to 1913, it was essential that political parties be permitted to play an active and open role; they therefore asked that the traditional ban on political organizations be lifted. Furthermore, they urged that those 1898 reformers who were still in exile be summoned home; in an open letter to the general public, they specifically named Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao as deserving of pardons. At the National Assembly an imperially appointed member, Chen Baochen (1848–1935; one of the “eminent scholars”), likewise proposed memorializing the court to pardon the 1898 reformers. Now was the appropriate time, Chen said, because the current agitation for a parliament had its beginnings in the Hundred Days. He also claimed that the Censorate was in possession of a handwritten edict from the former emperor exonerating the six executed men. As a result, on 3 January 1911 the assembly approved a memorial asking that the six martyrs of 1898, along with other unspecified political offenders, be pardoned. One assemblyman argued that their political rehabilitation would help do away with Manchu-Han differences (pochu Man-Han zhi jie) as well as demonstrate the court’s magnanimity. It was another of the assembly’s memorials that Zaifeng brushed aside.133
The last controversy that pitted the regent against the National Assembly—the one that touched most directly upon Manchu-Han relations—concerned the dynasty’s hairstyle for its adult male subjects and dress code for its officials. With the turn of the twentieth century, as more and more Chinese went abroad as diplomats, students, and workers and also as China itself began to industrialize, an increasing number of reformers had joined the revolutionaries in opposing the queue and the long-sleeved loose gown. Unlike the revolutionaries, who objected because they were badges of Han servitude to Manchu rule, the reformers complained that the two Manchu impositions were out of step with the Western-influenced mores of the modern world. In partial recognition of the changing times, the post-Boxer court itself had modified the hair requirement for its soldiers and police personnel (but not students), who, as they adopted military-style uniforms and caps, were permitted to shorten (but not remove) their queue. Nevertheless, as of late 1909 very few Chinese, except for the revolutionaries and an occasional press commentator, had dared to advocate getting rid of the braid completely or changing the official costume.
The first high-level officials to discuss openly the queue and costume question and to urge a change were two Han reformers: Wu Tingfang (1842–1922), the Chinese minister to the United States; and Tang Shouqian, the Jiangxi education commissioner, who late in 1909 submitted separate memorials on the subject. Wu Tingfang claimed to be speaking on behalf of the seventy thousand Chinese residents in the United States, who found the queue particularly irksome. It made them look outlandish in the eyes of other Americans, and it endangered their lives if it got caught in a piece of operating machinery. They asked their envoy to petition the Qing court to abolish the queue and also to adopt the Western style of dress. Wu, in his memorial, supported the Chinese in America halfway; he agreed with them about the hairstyle but not clothing. He saw no need to abandon the existing Chinese attire, which was inexpensive and suitable for all seasons; he claimed that the Japanese had retained their native clothing after the Meiji Restoration and had adopted Western attire only for formal functions. The queue, however, was without any redeeming value. Wearing it had no bearing whatsoever on one’s loyalty to the emperor or nation. It was only a matter of fashion, and fashions change. Western men at one time had worn braids too, but no longer. As Chinese increasingly emulated the Westerners, the pace of queue-cutting would inevitably accelerate regardless of official policy. It would be better for the court to take the lead. Wu Tingfang thus called for “cutting the hair but not changing the attire” (jianfa buyifu).134 On the other hand, Tang Shouqian, Zhang Jian’s colleague at the Association for Constitutional Preparations, advocated, as one of eight reform proposals, not only cutting the hair but changing the attire as well. He claimed that the official robe was just as ridiculous looking in foreign eyes as the braided hair, and the long sleeves of the gown were just as likely to get caught in a piece of moving machinery. He urged the regent to set an example for the scholar-official elite by cutting his queue and wearing Western-style dress. The rest of the population could follow or not as they pleased.135
The memorials from Wu Tingfang and Tang Shouqian had a delayed impact. Because the court did not respond to either of them at the time they were submitted, their contents were not known until months later. Their subsequent publication touched off a year-long debate about the hair and dress code of the Qing. In the spring of 1910, when Tang Shouqian’s memorial appeared, the Shanghai newspaper Eastern Times carried a series of satirical cartoons on the “uses of the queue” (see plates 9 and 10).136 It was, however, the publication of Wu Tingfang’s memorial in August that had the greater effect, largely because it coincided with the return of Zaitao, the regent’s reform-minded brother, from his five-month military tour overseas. The prince was widely thought to favor changing the queue requirement.137 By mid-September, according to the Eastern Times, there was so much talk in the capital of changing the hairstyle that it overshadowed all other topics. The paper reported, apparently correctly, that even newly appointed army minister Yinchang had, without adverse consequence, removed his queue. It expressed amazement at the large number of men who now dared to appear in public in short hair. As they had in 1906–7, many students began cutting their hair in anticipation of a change in the requirement. When students at the Hunan Military Primary School in Changsha were reprimanded for being queueless, they cited the example of army minister Yinchang as justification.138
The agitation for cutting the hair and altering the dress code did not go unchallenged. Some were opposed because it was contrary to “ancestral customs.” Former Grand Councilor Shixu, when told that the abolition of the queue would not necessarily lead to the extinction of the nation, retorted, “Though China might not perish, the Great Qing State would surely be done for.”139 However, the main opponents were not Manchu traditionalists but some Han merchants and manufacturers, who were guided not by politics but by economics and were more concerned about the costume than the hairstyle. The merchants feared that if the hair requirement were changed, so would the dress code, and as the Western style of dress was adopted, imported wool would replace native silk as a basic clothing material. Pawnshop operators, too, were worried that they might be stuck with a vast stock of traditional-style clothes, shoes, and caps that no one would want to redeem. In Hangzhou the silk, shoe, and hat merchants and the pawnbrokers met on 25 September 1910 to voice their concern over the effect that a change of dress requirements would have on their business. The General Chamber of Commerce in Wuchang expressed similar reservations. These groups’ anxieties reached the Qing court in the form of a memorial from the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce that warned that any change in the hairstyle or costume would ripple through the economy with devastating effect.140
Although the popular agitation for cutting the queue and changing the dress code had already developed considerable momentum by the time the National Assembly convened in early October, the assembly itself did not take up the matter until well into its three-month session. On 2 December, while debating whether to impeach the Grand Council, it voted to appoint a committee to examine a member’s proposal that called for changing the hairstyle and the dress code. The committee, perhaps in deference to the merchants’ concerns, decided to delete from the original bill the requirement that the costume be altered. On 15 December, after a lively debate, the assembly passed the amended bill by a vote of 102 to 28. It had three provisions: One made queue-cutting mandatory for officials, soldiers, police, and students, and optional for the rest of the population. Another asked the court to conduct a thorough study of ceremonial costumes at home and abroad, and it stipulated that if the dress code were to be changed in the future, only the official attire and not casual dress would be affected, and the material used in new costumes would be entirely of native origin. The third provision called on the regent and the emperor to take the lead in adopting the customary ways of the foreigners, as had the Meiji emperor of Japan and King Willing of Zhao during the ancient Warring States era. The proposal, as passed, was sent to another committee to be rewritten as a memorial for presentation to the court.141
Before the National Assembly had had a chance to ratify the text of its memorial, however, Zaifeng suddenly injected himself into the debate and, rather than settling it, caused an uproar. Responding to the earlier memorial from the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce, he issued a preemptive edict on 21 December declaring that the Manchu-imposed dress code was of long standing and ought not to be tampered with lightly. He therefore ordered that with the exception of soldiers and the police (whose uniforms had already been altered), everyone (including specifically officials and students) should adhere to the “established system.”142 What was odd about this decree was that it addressed only the issue of costume, which the National Assembly had already decided to leave alone, without making clear whether the hairstyle too was a part of the “established system.” Five days later the assembly went ahead and approved its own memorial calling for the abolition of the queue. Zaifeng’s reply to the assembly, issued on 30 December, was brief and even more puzzling: “The Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce has already memorialized on the subject and elicited a clear decree. Let matters be handled according to the previous edict. There is no need to deliberate on this memorial.”143 The previous edict, of course, had been silent on the queue. According to some news reports, the regent personally favored altering the hairstyle, but he had been dissuaded by finance minister Zaize and others. Yet, as a biting commentary in the Eastern Times on 25 January 1911 noted, his evasion on the queue question exposed him to criticism from both sides. Opponents of the plait denounced him for not heeding public opinion; supporters, for not defending the “national essence.” There was no clear policy, the newspaper complained. Some people argued that Zaifeng, by his silence, had sanctioned queue-cutting so long as the traditional costume was retained; others contended that without his explicit permission, queue-cutting was still illegal. Each person made his own decision, leading to anarchy. The government spoke daily of centralization of authority, but it did not make use of the authority that it already possessed.144
In the absence of a clear and unambiguous directive, the queue-cutting movement continued and intensified. Wu Tingfang, who since his return from the United States had been living in Shanghai, had his own queue cut privately on 14 January 1911. On the following day, he organized a large public ceremony in Shanghai, at which thirty barbers sheared off between three hundred and a thousand braids as a crowd of several thousand watched and cheered. Students in growing numbers joined the movement. In Nanjing, Japanese barbers, who were experienced in cutting short hair, reportedly did a thriving business among students. In Beijing, at the School of Mongolian and Tibetan, the School of Financial Administration, and even the Nobles Military School, most students had cut their braid.145 This wave of accelerated activity finally led the minister of education, Tang Jingchong, in mid-January to issue an order to all schools throughout the country demanding that queue-cutting stop immediately.146 It was this decree by the Ministry of Education, rather than the court’s edict three weeks earlier, that finally caused the wave of queue-cutting to subside.
As the queue agitation died down in early 1911, public attention turned once again to the issue of a “responsible cabinet.” The National Assembly’s condemnation of the grand councilors as “irresponsible” had been shelved as the first session of the assembly adjourned on 11 January. Six days later Zaifeng approved a new constitutional timetable that the Bureau for the Implementation of Constitutional Government had, at his request, drawn up. The revised schedule provided for the establishment of a cabinet in 1911, the proclamation of a constitution in 1912, and the convening of a bicameral parliament in 1913. It also called for continuing efforts by the Banner Reorganization Office “to arrange for the Eight Banners’ livelihood,” but, much to the frustration of the Eight Banners Association for Constitutional Government (Baqi Xianzheng Hui), a new Manchu political group that had recently criticized the office for inactivity, it gave no specifics.147 On 8 May, in accordance with the new timetable’s requirements for 1911, the regent dramatically restructured the metropolitan government along the lines that had been discussed during the previous reorganization effort in the fall of 1906. The Grand Council, the Grand Secretariat, and the Office of Governmental Affairs were all abolished and replaced by a new cabinet, which was to be headed by a prime minister and one or two associate prime ministers and which would be composed of the ten ministry heads. (Two existing ministries, Personnel and Rites, were eliminated.) Reflective of the regent’s desire to assert the primacy of imperial control in military matters, the army and navy ministers were to be, as in Meiji Japan, responsible not to the prime minister but to the throne directly.148
To the bitter disappointment of the reformers who had hoped that the implementation of constitutionalism would herald the dawn of a new political day, Zaifeng’s appointments to the new cabinet were nearly all holdovers from the former regime. Unpopular as they were to the National Assembly, three of the four grand councilors were appointed as cabinet heads. Yikuang was named prime minister, and Natong and Xu Shichang, associate prime ministers. The only grand councilor not named to the new cabinet was Yulang, but he kept his post on the powerful General Staff Council, which became the General Staff Office (Junzifu) with no change in duties. Furthermore, all but one of the ten cabinet ministers were incumbents. (At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liang Dunyan [1872–1924] replaced Zou Jialai [1853–1921].) Yikuang, the prime minister, continued as the supervisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Manchu-Han ratio among the top officials of the new government was, consequently, no different from before. The cabinet in the spring of 1911 was composed of nine Manchus and four Han, which was practically identical to the ratio of eleven Manchus to five Han among the grand councilors and ministry heads who held office the previous fall. The one major difference was that the imperial princes were even more numerous than before. Whereas there had been four princes among the top metropolitan officials in the fall of 1910, in the spring of 1911 there were five. They were Yikuang as prime minister, Shanqi at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Zaize at Finance, Zaixun at Navy, and Pulun at Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce. (Pulun had been president of the National Assembly, but after its first tumultuous session he had been replaced by Shixu, the conservative former grand councilor, whom the court expected to be less inclined to side with the assembly.)149
Zaifeng’s appointments were not entirely unexpected; they were much as the Eastern Times had predicted six months earlier.150 Nevertheless, the new cabinet was a blow to the reformers, who objected especially to the preponderance of princes. It came to be called the “imperial kinsmen’s cabinet” (huangzu neige). By running a full-page display of photographs in its May issue under the heading “imperial relatives in the political world,” Eastern Miscellany at once drew attention to the prominent role that the princes were playing in Zaifeng’s government. The photographs (plate 11) were of Yikuang, Zaixun, Zaitao, Pulun, Yulang, and Puwei (the opium prohibition commissioner). The Eastern Times similarly complained that of the cabinet’s thirteen members, only four were Han, and that all of the most important posts had been assigned to imperial relatives (qingui). In early July it warned that these appointments were playing straight into the hands of the republican revolutionaries: “The revolutionary party constantly preaches anti-Manchuism. If the prime minister is a member of the imperial lineage, then they will use the excuse that the court discriminates in favor of Manchus [Manren] to sow doubt.” Zhang Jian, the constitutionalist leader from Shanghai, privately deplored that “the government, as is evident in their control of the navy and army and the top ministerial posts, was entirely in the hands of imperial relatives [qingui]. This is contrary to the ancestral tradition.”151
Most of the criticism, however, focused not so much on the number of Manchus or even princes in the new cabinet as on the appointment of an imperial kinsman, Yikuang, as prime minister. (This was the central point of the Eastern Times commentary in July.) Within four days of the naming of the cabinet, members of the Confederation of Provincial Assemblies (Ziyiju Lianhehui) were meeting in Beijing to vent their frustration.152 In mid-June the confederation submitted via the Censorate a petition contending that the naming of an imperial kinsman as prime minister was incompatible with the basic idea of a constitutional monarchy, which was that the prime minister and the cabinet should insulate the monarch from partisan politics. Otherwise, it could pose an insoluble dilemma. If an imperial kinsman headed the cabinet and then the cabinet were overturned, this action would tarnish the monarch; if, on the other hand, a cabinet could not be overturned because it was headed by an imperial kinsman, this would not be a constitutional system. The confederation also argued that Zaifeng’s appointment of Yikuang as prime minister (and indeed of the other princes as ministry heads) contravened the dynasty’s own “ancient system,” namely, that “imperial princes do not serve on the Grand Council.” The complainants did not mention that the court had repeatedly contravened this tradition since Yixin’s reappointment to the Grand Council in 1861; they chose, instead, to cite the Jiaqing emperor’s edict of 1799 canceling the appointment of his brother Yongxing to the council, and they suggested that this mid-Qing prohibition on princely participation in state affairs was even more appropriate for the new cabinet than for the old Grand Council. Finally, they called for Yikuang to be replaced as prime minister by some other high official “who was outside the ranks of the imperial lineage.”153 Although the confederation did not specify that the new prime minister be a Han, Zhang Jian, Tang Shouqian, and other reformers in Shanghai urged Zaifeng to do as Cixi had done fifty years earlier when confronted by the Taiping Rebellion: appoint an experienced and well-educated high official who was Han. The man they probably had in mind was the disgraced Yuan Shikai, who, unlike Duanfang, still had not been recalled to office.154
Zaifeng refused to reconsider. He shelved the petition from the Confederation of Provincial Assemblies, and he rebuked one of his own high officials, Governor Sun Baoqi (1867–1931) of Shandong, who had submitted a similar memorial opposing the “participation of imperial relatives, both direct and collateral, in government.” (Sun was an unlikely source for such criticism, as he was related to Yikuang by marriage; his was one of the rare instances of Manchu-Han intermarriage. His memorial stirred press speculation of a Machiavellian plot, engineered perhaps by Yikuang himself to strengthen his political stance. On the other hand, Sun had challenged the regent at least once before; an earlier memorial had discussed the benefits of cutting the queue and altering the dress code.)155 Undeterred by the regent’s nonresponse, the confederation in late June submitted a second petition, which stated that the naming of an imperial kinsman as prime minister had caused ridicule abroad and despair at home; it repeated its previous criticism that the appointment was contrary to the essence of a constitutional monarchy and called again for someone other than an imperial kinsman as prime minister. Shortly afterward the confederation issued a long public statement expressing its distress on six broad public issues, including foreign loans and railroad nationalization; the statement also complained that the court still had not responded to its two petitions regarding the prime ministership. It asserted that the new cabinet was no different from the old Grand Council, which the National Assembly had only recently impeached. “In name, it is a cabinet; but in substance, it is the Grand Council. In name, it is constitutionalism; but in substance, it is autocracy.” The confederation called for the naming of a “complete cabinet” (wanquan neige), guided by the principle that “in a constitutional monarchy members of the imperial lineage cannot serve on the cabinet [as prime minister].” On 5 July Zaifeng finally responded to the confederation. He gave the group the same answer that he had given to the National Assembly in December, when it tried to impeach the Grand Council. Referring to the Constitutional Outline, the regent insisted, once more and for the last time, that the appointment of officials was the prerogative of the court and could not be infringed upon.156
The confederation was not, of course, satisfied with this response, but thereafter complaints about the new cabinet were eclipsed by the uproar that greeted Zaifeng’s other two decisions in May, the nationalization of the trunk railroad lines and the agreement for a large foreign loan with which to build those railroads. As is well known, opposition to railroad nationalization and the foreign loan quickly spread throughout the country; by early September it had escalated into a provincewide rebellion in Sichuan. Finally, when New Army troops from Hubei were sent up the Yangzi River to quell the rebellion, it helped trigger the Wuchang Revolt and the onset of the 1911 Revolution.
The Qing dynasty began with Dorgon’s regency (1643–50), and it was to end with another, Zaifeng’s. Zaifeng had come to power because Cixi, thinking that she would outlive the dying Guangxu emperor, wanted another infant emperor with a compliant father as regent who would allow her to continue to “listen to government from behind the screen.” Her unexpected death only one day after Puyi’s ascension as the Xuantong emperor thrust the young and inexperienced Zaifeng into a complex and rapidly changing political scene that perhaps no one, not even Cixi herself, could have understood and mastered.
In some respects, Zaifeng simply continued and extended policies that Cixi had begun. It was Cixi who first stripped Yuan Shikai of his control over four of his six Beiyang divisions and turned them over to the Ministry of the Army; Zaifeng merely completed the process by imposing the ministry’s control over the remaining two divisions. Similarly, it was Cixi who, when she abolished some ethnic slots and promised to make appointments “without distinction between Manchus and Han,” began to appoint more, not fewer, Manchus to the top positions of the metropolitan government; Zaifeng, again, did as she had done previously. Thus, the Manchu-dominated cabinet that the regent appointed in May 1911 was not significantly different, except in degree, from the Manchu-dominated government that the empress dowager had named in late 1906 following the reorganization of the metropolitan administration.
In other respects, Zaifeng went beyond Cixi. Cixi’s intent, as epitomized by her attempt to undercut Yuan Shikai’s military independence, had been to recentralize power, to reassert the authority of the central government over the increasingly autonomous provinces. Zaifeng continued this policy, as seen, for example, in his reorganization of the Chinese navy and in his nationalization of the trunk railroad lines, but he went one step further. He wanted to reassert the authority not just of the central government but of the Qing court; he wanted not only to recentralize authority but to reimperialize it. This was a goal that Cixi shared, as reflected in the long-term trend that she had initiated and fostered of appointing more and more imperial princes to top government positions. Zaifeng perpetuated this trend as well, which culminated in the naming of the “imperial kinsmen’s cabinet” in May 1911, but he went much further than Cixi had. Thus, he shifted the General Staff Council that Cixi had created as a subordinate agency of the Ministry of the Army, brought it under the direct control of the court, and made it independent of the central government. Similarly, even though the First Division was predominantly Manchu, he was not satisfied with its serving as an ad hoc palace guard because it was controlled by the Ministry of the Army. He therefore set out to organize another division-strength force that would be under his direct command. The formation of the new Palace Guard was one of the major accomplishments of Zaifeng’s regency. In these efforts to reimperialize authority, he was guided by the proven successes of Japan under the Meiji emperor and Germany under the two Wilhelms.
Zaifeng, however, lacked Cixi’s steadiness of purpose. On occasion, he was determined and strong-willed, even stubborn. Thus, he dismissed Yuan Shikai, who was then the second most powerful official in the country (after Yikuang). Despite extraordinary lobbying from all sides, he refused to pardon Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao; he refused to abandon the Manchu-imposed official dress code and queue requirement; and he refused to reconsider his appointments to the cabinet. On other occasions, however, the regent vacillated and yielded to pressure easily. Thus, he backtracked from Cixi’s edict of late 1907 to disband the provincial banner garrisons, and, by granting exceptions from the mourning requirement to numerous Manchu officials, he made a mockery of his own decree ordering Manchus and Han to observe a uniform period of mourning for their parents.
As a result of such half measures, Zaifeng did little to resolve the Manchu-Han question. His main achievement on this front was to follow through on another of Cixi’s decrees and subject the general banner population (though not the imperial lineage) to the same laws as the Han; by so doing, he erased the legal separation of Manchus and Han. Other forms of Manchu-Han differences, however, persisted. As of 1911 the Eight Banner system had not been disbanded or otherwise reconstituted, as under Zaifeng the Banner Reorganization Office was absolutely inert. Manchus were still classified as banner people, with most other Chinese classified as civilians. Except in Manchuria, the banner people were still subject to the jurisdiction of their own banner officials and independent of the regular civilian administration. The banner soldiers among them were still stipendiaries of the Qing state. The banner people still lived apart from Han in their own separate Manchu cities. Though no longer prohibited by imperial decree, they still, by and large, did not intermarry with Han. They still observed different social customs from the Han. Manchu women did not bind their feet; they dressed in “banner gowns” and wore their hair in a “bat-wing shaped” style. Manchu men referred to themselves by their personal name and did not use their family name in public. In sum, nearly all of the differences that had been highlighted during the late-1907 debate on Manchu-Han relations following the assassination of Governor Enming—differences that Cixi seemingly had promised to eliminate—still existed four years later, on the eve of the revolution.
If Manchu-Han differences remained, so too did the bitter enmity that many Han revolutionaries bore toward the Manchus. Wang Jingwei, the would-be assassin of the regent, was atypical in his lack of outrage at the state of Manchu-Han relations. More typical was George Fong, who, like Enming’s assassin, Xu Xilin, had been obsessed with what he himself called the “racial question.” In his 1910 attempt to kill the regent’s brother, Fong had hoped to free China “from the clutches of the Manchus.” This continuing, visceral hatred for the Manchus erupted yet once more on 8 April 1911, when the general of the Guangzhou garrison, the Manchu bannerman Fuqi, was shot to death by an overseas Chinese worker from Southeast Asia, Wen Shengcai (1870–1911). Before he was executed a week later, Wen repeatedly stated that he had killed Fuqi solely because he was a banner person and that by so doing, he hoped to gain revenge for his four hundred million (Han) compatriots; he called on others to take up where he had left off.157 Six months later, Wen Shengcai got his wish, as the revolution for which he, Wu Yue, and Xu Xilin had sacrificed themselves finally began.