By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

During the recent 4 May 2005 Legislative Council meeting in Hong Kong LAU KONG-WAH started his speech with "Today is 4 May, a commemoration day of the anti-imperialism and patriotic movement." to which TAM HEUNG-MAN added that "on this day 86 years ago, the Chinese people launched an anti-Japanese movement because it was decided in the Paris Peace Conference convened after the First World War that the interests held by Germany in Shandong Province would be transferred to Japan, thus triggering the May Fourth Movement which had far-reaching impact on China's development."


From Shandong to Versailles: China's participation in the First World War

One reason for Chinese eagerness to join the war was the problem of the Japanese invasion, and especially also in case of the Shandong (Shantung) peninsula. Japan was China's most threatening and determined enemy. For example why did China enter WWI in 1917, on the same side as Japan? The reason was strategic as Xu Guogi has recently shown in detail, China had to be part of the winning team to attend the postwar peace conference on the best possible footing to represent its interests.1

The Chinese obsession with international status is the key to understanding this seemingly contradictory move. In this sense, the "declared" war between China and Germany was phony because there had been no fighting and Germany was not the intended enemy. Germany became a victim - or vehicle - in China's big-picture strategy. Germany was in fact a friend in disguise since it helped China springboard into the world arena.

Earlier referred to as a clash of civilizations, the Chinese government sent laborers to France to help boost British and French human resources, for example. As early as 1915, a "laborers as soldiers" scheme had been worked out to link China with the Allied cause when its official entry into the war was uncertain. Large numbers of them died near the battlefield. In this light it was illiterate Chinese peasants who served in the vanguard of China's efforts to establish a new national identity. Their labor, their sacrifices, and their lives provided Chinese diplomats in Paris with a critical tool in their battle for recognition, inclusion on the world stage, and internationalization.

For the first time in its modern history, China articulated a desire to join the world community as an equal and took action to do so. By this effort it tried to correct the near-fatal mis­takes made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it refused to accommodate the new international system. This time it was the international system that refused to accept China, but at the Paris Peace Conference, the Chinese fought back. Their refusal to sign the Treaty of Versailles marked the first time since the Opium War that China had stood up to certain European countries and the US now to.

The invitation of the military governors to Beijing in April 1917 over the declaration of war on Germany signaled the start of local warlords' intervention in central politics and the rise of warlordism across China. But if the that time Prime Minister Duan Qirui, had given birth to the warlordism (revolution in China), Yuan Shikai had been its midwife.

He had played a twofold role: First, as father of Chinese military modernization, he had organized the Beiyang army, instituting a structure in which personal loyalty rather than the defense of the national interest was the key adhesive. It can be argued that although the Beiyang army was founded on the idea of state-building and dealing with outside threats, it behaved more like a private army than a national one. Its patronage-based structure explains why this force fell apart so quickly after the death of Yuan. Second, Yuan's scheme in 1915 to make himself emperor provided a major impetus to the rise of modern Chinese warlordism. To understand the link between this scheme and warlordism, we must address the question of why Yuan wanted to become emperor in the first place.  For an inside and contemporary analysis of the Beiyang army, see also Wu Qiu, "Beiyang zhi qi yuan ji qi bengkui".2

Most scholars have pointed to Yuan's selfish ambition. Without denying the role of that ambition, I would like to draw attention to other factors as well. One was Yuan's great interest in making China strong and united. Jerome Chen noted this in his biography of Yuan, which was generally very critical. According to Chen, Yuan "wanted a strong China. Strength came from unity; unity from obedience to him." For Yuan, a polity such as republicanism or monarchy was only a means toward the ends of national wealth and power. Yuan's conviction that a strong center was required for modernization, strengthening the nation, and maintain­ing order was shared by other political leaders, including Sun Yat-sen, who believed that too much democracy would impede the "rapid, peace­ful and orderly" mobilization of resources." Liang Qichao, a leading reformer, even advised Yuan to "be the servant in appearance but the master in reality." To achieve national strength, Yuan would not hesitate to establish a different polity if he thought republicanism could not work.3

Thus, when the so called, Twenty-one Demands, were put forward, Yuan was so outraged that he immediately ordered all activities regarding the imperial restoration to be stopped. According to his confidential secretary Xia Shoutian, who worked closely on that scheme, Yuan stormed, "If I am going to be emperor, I will not be one under Japanese control!" Xia claimed that this thinking was not known by outsiders. Only after the Twenty-one Demands negotiations had ended was the monarchical scheme revived.

After the humiliation of the Twenty-one Demands, Yuan believed even more that a strong central government under a strong leader was the only formula to keep China out of similar trouble in the future. Wellington Koo, who had worked closely with Yuan before being appointed minister to the United States, explained to the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in January of 1916 that the decision in favor of a monarchy reflected the need for a "government able to hold the country together, develop its wealth and strength, and help realize the intensely patriotic aspirations of its people."

As Li Jiannong noted, one of the major justifications for restora­tion of the monarchy was that "republicanism does not suit the national condition ... Unless there is a great change of policy, it is impossible to save the nation."4

Even John Jordan noted this rationale. He wrote to Langley, "One driving motive behind the Chinese is that they will be in a better position to withstand Japanese aggression under a monarchy than under a Republican form of government."" Jordan, who was not happy with Yuan's restoration scheme, still wrote highly of him after his death, calling him "a great man and a true patriot."5

If Yuan's scheme grew out of the Chinese desire for renewal, ironically his fall was caused by those same forces. Among those who opposed Yuan's restoration scheme, considerations of China's international status were paramount." The main reason Liang Qichao opposed Yuan's scheme was his conviction that a sudden change of polity would negatively impact China's quest to join the world community. He argued that the monarchy scheme would derail China's efforts to attend the crucial postwar peace conference and so provide further opportunities for Japan to thwart Chinese interests." Liang attacked what he called Yuan's seven major mistakes, the first being his lack of a modern concept of the nation-state." To Liang and General Cai E, the first general to take military action against Yuan, the anti-monarchical war had to be waged for nothing less than the human dignity of four hundred million Chinese.6 

Liang attached such importance to the implications of Yuan's scheme that he risked his life to write an extremely powerful article entitled "How Strange Is This Socalled National Polity Problem!" (Yi zai suowei guoti wenti), in which he roundly denounced Yuan. Liang told his daughter, "Unless heaven takes away my pen, I will write and denounce Yuan and his cronies."7

Liang not only used his pen, he also joined the military warlords Lu Rongting of Guangxi and Tang Jiyao of Yunnan. Almost simultaneously with China's declaration of war on Germany, Duan initiated military campaigns to suppress the rebellions of the South and reunite China. Fighting first broke out in September in Hunan province, between Duan's army and the southern forces. Hunan had declared its independence from Duan's government, and the government in Guang-dong decided to provide military support for Hunan's resistance. The fighting in Hunan soon became a wide-ranging civil war between North and South.

Duan wanted to use entry into the war as an opportunity to increase his military forces which would then be available for domestic use. He also saw in the European war an opportunity to secure loans which could be used for China's reunification. Since financial support from the United States was not forthcoming, Duan had allied himself with Japan after the outbreak of the civil war. From August 1917 to January 1918, Duan received a huge num­ber of loans from Japan, the largest of which was the socalled Nishihara loan. According to Li Jiannong, Liang Qichao, in his capacity as Minis­ter of Finance, was directly involved in the loan negotiations. Although a large amount of the Nishihara loan was expended on the training of an army for participation in the European war, a considerable part was poured into the domestic battle.

For Duan, uniting China under an effective central government was a crucial step toward a proper Chinese entrance onto the world stage. That he assumed charge of the War Participation Bureau indicated his intention.

See  Li, The Political History of China, 383, to carry forward his own war participation policy." In terms of domestic affairs, the Duan government felt compelled to use authoritarian and military methods to overcome individualism and political conflict. As Duan told Reinsch on August 22, 1917, "We must first of all establish the authority of the central government ... This can be done only through the defeat of the opposition. My purpose is to make the military organization in China national and unified, so that the peace of the country shall not at all times be upset by local military commanders."8 

In his later years Duan realized what a disaster having the military intervene in civil politics had been. He expressed "great regret for his role in it." In his handwritten will, perhaps speaking from his own mistakes, he wrote that China would still enjoy a great future if its leaders followed his "eight Nos." His first "no" was that politicians should not try to "solve political disputes [by military means] to force through their own ideas."

Duan's policy must also be understood in light of the times. Both Yuan and Duan were men of their era, a time of transition lacking a clear, well-defined political structure and values, and a well-charted direction. Their policies, and especially their resorting to military intervention in civilian politics, are understandable in this light. The warlordism problem had perhaps more to do with the times than with individuals. After all, it can be traced back to the imperialism of the late nineteenth century. In fact, Beiyang-style warlordism, which clearly defined the era of 1916 to 1928, first emerged during the Western incursion following the Opium War, when Zeng Guofan's Xiang army and Li Hongzhang's Anhui army were formed in the 1860s to respond to an internal threat caused by rebellions like those of the Taiping, the Nian, and the Muslims. The Beiyang army, however, grew in response to external threats and the drive for national survival. After the first Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the then governor of Hebei, Yuan Shikai, decided to build a modern Chinese army. In this sense, the Sino-Japanese War, which prompted the Chinese move toward military modernization, was directly responsible for the establishment of the Beiyang army. The French, who saw Duan's new post as a clear sign that he was serious about sending forces to Europe, asked its Foreign Ministry to attempt to try and hasten the American loan to China.9

The emergence of militarism in China was deeply connected to the rise of nationalism in the late nineteenth century. Militarism had wide appeal in China; it had made Japan and Germany strong, so it might help China to achieve the same. The nationalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries directly linked martial values to national survival and played a critical role in improving the status of the military.In the context of this broader nationalist-inspired reassessment of the military," Edward McCord reminds us, "it would not be unexpected for China's military men to have developed a nationalist justification for their political interventions. These changing political circumstances would "in fact drive China's military towards political action.

These circumstances introduced a new element into Chinese politics: a promilitary ideology and the legitimacy of generals in political society. Nationalism was a major force in Chinese society in the period under discussion, and for reasons outlined above this turned out to be favorable to Chinese career soldiers. Nationalism, according to S. E. Finer, "provides the military with a civic religion and an overriding set of values." It encourages military men to regard themselves as "the ultimate repositories and custodians of the nation's values." Finer further explains that highly significant consequences flow from this point. "First, where nationalism has gripped the masses, the armed forces tend to become the visible symbol and the pledge of nationhood and independence and to attract an esteem for that reason. Secondly, nationalism provides the military with an ideology and possibly even a programme."10

In the Chinese case, the nation's desire to become rich and powerful could be used by both politicians and military men to justify intervening in politics when chaos threatened. In addition to motives of regional, factional, and individual self-interest, warlords considered the duty of the army to be saving the nation. This was especially true when external troubles were closely linked to internal ones. McCord examines the same phenomenon from a different perspective. He argues that "the underlying cause of warlordism in China was a crisis of political authority grounded in a lack of consensus in the early Republic over the organization of political power. Republican politics was militarized when different political forces turned to the military to resolve seemingly irreconcilable political conflicts."McCord points out that "[w] arlordism did not originate simply in the rejection of legitimate political authority by military commanders, but rather in the difficulty of defining which authority was legitimate." He further argues, "The militarization of politics that resulted from the crisis of early Republican political authority created the environment essential to the rise of warlordism.11

Whether from Finer's perspective or from McCord's, we can conclude that the Chinese situation was ripe for military intervention in politics, and the generals used such slogans as "protect the nation" and "protect the constitution" as their rallying cry. Finer observes that unlike a dynastic state in which military loyalty to the state and to a ruler were synonymous, the nation-state "no longer necessarily" operated in such a way. "There," he explains, "it must first be demonstrated to the military that the government they serve is the reason why they should not regard an alternative government, and even themselves, as more representative and more worthy of the nation than the government in office; and since their transcendent duty is loyalty to the nation this may entail a duty to be disloyal to the government." Under this logic, the military could become, as Finer calls it, "the insurrectionary army," working for the liberation of national territory or for the replacement of the social order with its own ideology. Finer makes it clear that a new state with passionate nationalism on the one hand and the need for strong central government on the other was "a sure invitation to military intervention."

Finer's arguments highlight a central controversy in Chinese political history: Warlords such as Wu Peifu (1887-1939) and Feng Yuxiang (1882-1948) considered themselves custodians of the national interest and did not hesitate to use force to pursue that interest.
Even Sun Yat-sen had relied on warlords to set up a separate government in southern China in 1917 using the same logic. Only when he had been ousted by these same warlords did Sun lament, "The most serious pitfall our country faces is the struggle for power among the warlords who, in the North as well as in the South, show the same characteristics as badgers in a lair."

Not every warlord acted completely from personal ambitions. Some were quite patriotic. Feng Yuxiang is a case in point. Feng had witnessed Japanese atrocities as a teenager during the Sino-Japanese War, and promised himself that "if he some day became a soldier he would fight the Japanese to the death." To instill an anti-imperialist attitude in his men, Feng held a meeting every May 7 to commemorate Japan's imposing the Twenty-one Demands and his soldiers and officers all wore belts which bore the inscription "In Memory of the National Humiliation of May 7."

But above all, the rise of warlordism was closely linked to the Chinese political structure and culture. Huge problems in the political system, especially the endless disputes about constitutional issues, pushed Chinese politics in a military direction because the only option a politician had for enacting policies was to solicit military help. Yuan Shikai had always relied on military forces to enforce his political will and this left his opponents no choice but to do likewise, as the anti-monarchical war showed. Under Li Yuanhong, the civil service became fragmented and docile when faced with military pressure. This compelled Li to turn to a warlord in mid-1917 in hopes of resolving his seemingly irreconcilable conflicts with Duan. Parliament was influential but its importance was secondary since it could be dissolved at any time, legally or illegally. There was no institutional framework for settling political disputes, and with no stable constitutional or legal framework, the Chinese military easily became politicized and politics militarized. Thus, Warlordism thus describes not only a political condition but a political process.

Japan, however, loved to see China in trouble and was deeply involved in creating chaos at every opportunity. Obviously a weak and divided China served Japan's interest handsomely. Japan's behavior toward Yuan's scheme to restore the monarchy is a good example. From the very beginning, when China was undergoing transformation and beginning to pursue an entry into the world community, Japan tried hard to destroy its unity. This explains why Japan let Yuan think at the outset that it did not oppose his monarchical ambitions, and then, as soon as the scheme was in full motion, encouraged and supported his opponents. According to Liang Qichao's letter to his daughter, Japan made every effort to help Liang join Cai E's campaign against Yuan. As Liang put it, "The Japanese facilitated my trip and provided me with much assistance."12

Even after the failure of Yuan's scheme and his death, Japan continued to work toward China's domestic instability apparently with the object of bringing about a definite split between North and South. For instance, Japan supplied Cen Chunxuan, a warlord in the South, with 10,000 rifles and 200,000 dollars for his attempt to make Yunnan Province independent from Beijing.'" No wonder Jordan reported confidentially that the Japanese "are masters of the situation in the Far East and are in a position to cause or avert trouble in China. They consider, and probably have good grounds for considering, that this [monarchy] movement will meet with opposition in south China."13

Japan obviously benefited from the turmoil diplomatically and economically. A weaker and more chaotic China would need more loans from the outside to function. For example, to re-unite China and to build a strong central government, Duan had to fight the regional warlords; but to do so, he needed money to finance campaigns and raise larger forces. From 1916 to 1918, nine provinces in China experienced large or small campaigns, and the size of military forces overall increased dramatically. In 1914 the Chinese national army had 457,000 soldiers. By 1918, the number had nearly doubled to 850,000. In 1919 it had further increased to 1,380,000. Accordingly, the military budget had to grow. The Beijing government's military budget in 1916 was 153 million yuan; in 1918 it  was 203 million. Military expenses posed such a heavy burden that they took more than half of government revenue. The military budget in 1919 took 80 per cent of the country's financial income.14

The Duan government, determined to continue fighting the South, could only look to Japan for the loans it so desperately needed. By so doing, it fell victim to Japan's intent to destabilize and control, and sacrificed the national interests and considerable resources in the process. Lu Zongyu, who was branded a national traitor during the May Fourth Movement, himself acknowledged that some of the loans made under the Duan regime were guaranteed against the forests and mines in Helongjiang and Jilin provinces, and thus were contracted under "selling the nation" conditions.15

Through these loans, Duan managed to compromise his long-term goal of joining the European war even as he endeavored to secure the means to achieve it. By providing loans to China, the Japanese were able to compel the Duan government to make further concessions. This strategy was marvelously employed by Japan when in early 1918 it extracted the Sine-Japanese Military Agreement for Common Defense from Beijing. In late 1917 when the Bolsheviks swept to power in Russia, the existing order in Asia was changed dramatically. First, the Russo-Japanese alliance collapsed, and the Russian Revolution presented a new opportunity for Japan to extend its interest into Siberia. Japan could leverage this into gaining further control in Manchuria. While Japan was busy preparing its military expedition into Russia, it was also pressuring China to sign a treaty giving Japan full control of Manchuria and the Chinese army, using the excuse of dealing with German soldiers in Russia and preventing the spread of revolutionary currents from Russia to East Asia.

In early February 1918 when Japan first pressed this issue, China made it clear that if the socalled German threat came at its Russian border, China would itself manage the situation. Regarding affairs occurring outside Chinese territory it was admitted that "China may deal jointly with Japan."But Japan pushed hard."' On March 2, the Chinese Foreign Ministry agreed in principle that China would negotiate with Japan regarding the joint defense if the latter was really sincere in its promise that afterwards the Japanese troops within Chinese territory would be entirely withdrawn." As it did with the Twenty-one Demands, Japan asked China to keep the discussions and alleged agreements strictly secret. Viscount Motono told Zhang Zongxiang, Chinese minister to Japan, that "before the joint defense agreement is made known, we shouldn't disclose anything in words to the Allied countries, but should wait until such a time when the two countries can jointly confer with them."

The agreement did not last long. On January 27, 1921, Japan was compelled to cancel. In mid-May, the Terauchi Masatake government and Beijing concluded and signed the joint defense agreements; the army section was signed on May 16, the naval section three days later. Its provisions enabled Japanese troops to move freely throughout most of China. To continue receiving its financial support, the Duan government even agreed that Japan could keep its interests in Shandong in a secret agreement signed on September 24, 1918.

These secret arrangements were important for two reasons. First, they sowed the seeds of China's failure at the Paris Peace Conference regarding the Shandong issue. Second, the joint defense agreement aroused strong opposition among China's foreign policy public, especially college students, with nationwide demonstrations coming as a forerunner of the May Fourth Movement. Indeed, when the news regarding the secret treaty with Japan leaked out, the Chinese people immediately protested. Thirty-seven groups in Shanghai alone sent a telegram on April 23 to the Duan government, declaring their opposition to the alleged treaty. Many influential social groups including the United Association of National Commerce and provincial education commissions openly expressed their dissent. Many societies sent delegates to Beijing to petition the government directly not to sign the treaty. They all pointed out that such agreements would only damage China's national interest and claims to sovereignty. Some protesters felt this was worse than the Twenty-one Demands. Among the protesters, students were the most active and vocal. Chinese students in Japan demonstrated, refused to go to class, and many returned to China. Beijing students organized demonstrations in front of the presidential office, demanding rejection of the treaty. Students in other places such as Tianjin and Shanghai also took similar actions. To make their opposition more effective and influential, the students set up their own organizations such as "Students' Society for National Salvation," which published its own magazines Citizens and National Salvation Daily." The zeal and strength of the students' response to this agreement showed that the May Fourth Movement did not come out of the blue.

Japan, of course, was not the only country to meddle in China's internal politics. The United States also played a role in Yuan's monarchical scheme. As British minister Jordan wrote, the "American government has a measure of responsibility as it was one of their eminent citizens who came to China for the express purpose apparently of starting this movement. " He went on to observe with some irony: "Strangely enough, one of the American advisers has been called in to champion the change from republic to monarchy." The American whom Jordan referred to was Frank Johnson Goodnow (1859-1939), first president of the American Political Science Association, founded in 1904. Goodnow was at the time referred to as "the father of American administration" for his emphasis on the administrative aspect of government."

This eminent scholar was keenly interested in adapting constitutional provisions to social and cultural realities. Goodnow believed in Yuan, seeing him as "honestly desirous of saving his country" and bought Yuan's idea that China could be saved only by a "practically autocratic govern­ment."Having served as Yuan's constitutional advisor (appointed in 1913) provided Goodnow with an opportunity to put his theory into practice. In the summer of 1915, at Yuan's request, he prepared a memorandum on the relative merits of republicanism and monarchism for China. Goodnow declared that it was "not susceptible of doubt," that a monarchy "is better suited than a republic to China" because republicanism did not suit the present conditions there owing to the country's history, traditions, and social and economic circumstances.16

Although Goodnow's argument does not hold water from a historical perspective, Yuan could not have found a better man. Having the backing of such a distinguished scholar from an influential republic justified Yuan's move and greatly enhanced the respectability of his scheme. Yuan underscored the "scientific" basis of his plan by pointing to Goodnow, and bought a whole page in the Manchester Guardian to publicize Goodnow's ideas. In the meantime, he arranged for the Chinese version to be printed and circulated widely in China."17

It is said that Yuan's presidential office provided every one of its visitors with Goodnow's article.
Liang Qichao suggested that Yuan's monarchical campaign started with Goodnow's supposed support of the imperial system, or at least that seemed to be the case "on the surface." Within less than a week, the main organ to carry out Yuan's scheme, the Peace Planning Society, had been organized. Yang Du, a central figure in this society, wrote a long essay entitled "National Salvation by a Constitutional Monarchy" in April of 1915. There he strongly argued that a republican government would be inefficient for China. If China wanted to be rich and powerful, it had to change its polity, and only a constitutional monarchy could save it. That article did not, however, attract wide attention. But when Goodnow's article came out, Yang realized the time to be ripe for carrying out the imperial plan. In its manifesto, the Peace Planning Society built its case mainly on Goodnow's ideas, claiming that the "leading political science scholar of the leading republic," Goodnow, was of the same opinion that a monarchy was a better form of government than republicanism. The society sent copies of Goodnow's article to each provincial official and asked them to send delegates to Beijing to discuss monarchical issues.18 Goodnow tried to distance himself from the Peace Planning Society and refused to allow further use of his name in support of the latter's political views. No matter what his original motivation for writing the memorandum, Goodnow's name and its prestige had been used to great advantage by Yuan's plotters and the Peace Planning Society.19

Goodnow's role in Yuan's scheme was crucial and irreplaceable. Certainly, other foreigners had voiced the same or similar ideas, but no one had received the same degree of attention or was as influential. If his ideas and actions did not necessarily represent official American policy, at least Goodnow represented various elite American groups' interests in China. He had been nominated for his position as Yuan's advisor by the Carnegie Foundation, at the recommendation of a Harvard president emeritus. From the perspective of international history, as long as such a position made an impact, it did not really matter whether it was an individual initiative or official policy. Goodnow's case shows how non-governmental organizations, and even individuals, can affect the history and direction of a country's development. His case also indicates the strong impact of ideas on policy-making, since Goodnow drew on his expertise to push his point. This case clearly supports the view that the First World War period was for the Chinese public an age of innocence, since a single foreigner's idea widely publicized could so fundamentally affect China's polity and its development. The fact that Yuan and his cronies fully embraced Goodnow's view not only reflects Chinese naivete, but also the fragility of the evolving Chinese political culture.

The United States government also came to be directly involved in China's domestic affairs. In early June 1917 the American government proposed to France, Britain, and Japan that they make identical representations to the Chinese government "expressing regret for the factional discord that has arisen." The representation should make it clear to China that "the maintenance by China of one centrally united and responsible government is of first importance both to China itself and to the world," that "the entrance of China into the war against Germany is of quite sec­ondary importance as compared with unity and peace of China," and that the Allied countries "hope that wise counsels will prevail and that harmony be restored which is so essential to China's welfare.20

The Allied countries gave the American proposal a cold reception. For instance, the French protested, "It seems indeed excessive and useless to say that we consider China's entrance into the war against Germany as entirely of secondary importance."21

If the French suggestion was an indirect refusal of the American pro­posal, Britain and Japan more openly opposed it. Robert Cecil told the American ambassador in London that he considered China's entry into the war "of very great importance," that "China's entry would deal a hard blow to Germany in trade relations after the war," and that he regarded "German fear of complete commercial isolation as one of the strongest kinds of pressure to bring peace." On June 14, the British Foreign Office officially responded to the American proposal by saying that the British government would "abstain from the step proposed" by the United States.  Japan simply let the United States know that it would not support the proposal.

Even without the support of other powers, the United States went ahead single-mindedly. Secretary of State Robert Lansing asked Reinsch to let his host know that the American government considered Chinese entry into the war with Germany of secondary importance. Moreover, "the principal necessity for China," Lansing maintained, "is to resume and continue her political entity and to proceed along the road of national development on which she has made such marked progress." Lansing especially directed Reinsch to communicate this message to the Chinese "leaders of the military party opposing the President."22

Why did the United States choose this moment to send this note to China and suggest that other powers do the same? According to the State Department's official explanation, the major reason was that the United States wanted "China to stay [a] republic" and was "anxious not to seethe monarchy restored."

Lansing soon realized that the American note counseling internal peace in China did not have any positive result. The Washington Post even termed it a "blunder," and there is some truth to this characterization. First of all, American good wishes did nothing to stop the chaos in China. Second, the statement soured America's relations with the Allied countries, especially Japan. The Japanese government let the United States government know through official channels that it was not at all pleased with the step taken by the American government. It promptly questioned the right of the United States to interfere in Chinese affairs and reminded the United States that the Japanese commanded the paramount position in East Asia. Japan also complained that the United States had sent its note to China without consultation in advance with Japan and other Allied nations. Given all these problems, The Washington Post commented that "the affair has left a very pronounced ripple on diplomatic waters." According to the same article, "Washington officials regarded the whole episode as a disturbing one, when it became apparent that the incident persists in surviving the State Department explanation that the whole thing is a misunderstanding brought about through the publication in Japan of a `bogus note' before the correct text was received there." Yet, there was no "misunderstanding" that containing the increasing Japanese influence in China had actually been the impetus behind the American note. Given the wider global situation - Germany was out of the picture because of the war; Great Britain, as an ally, was forced to steer a cautious course; Russia was in revolution, and France absorbed in the defense of its own dominion - the United States was extremely concerned that should chaos prevail in China, "Japan might well attempt to justify her assumption of the prerogative of a special protector."23 It was imperative that the US do something to stabilize the situation between Japan and China. Although the United States had good reason to think this way, its note achieved nothing concrete.

Some Chinese elite members welcomed the American note and asked for American intervention. Foreign Minister Wu Tingfang appealed to the United States, through Reinsch, for support: "In view of the present dangerous situation and the attitude of the rebellious Tuchuns [dujun], I earnestly request that President Wilson, as the defender of the cause of democracy and constitutionalism all the world over, be moved to make a public statement on the subject of the American attitude toward China and earnestly supporting President Li Yuan-hung [Li Yuanhong]." After Parliament was dissolved in early June, Wu Jingliang, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Wang Zhengting, the Vice-president of the Senate, also sent a joint telegram to the American Congress: It read, "As a nation determined to be governed as a democracy, we appeal to the American people and their congress for support."24

As with Yuan's use of Goodnow, and Duan's and Li's turn to the military, Wu's request for foreign intervention indicates the naivete and inexperience of Chinese politicians at the time.Germany was also deeply implicated in Chinese politics. Even as China was debating the war participation issue in the spring of 1917, Paul von Hintze, the German minister to China, realizing that China would soon join the war against his country, hired a lobbyist by the name of Yong Jianqiu, a rich and well-connected merchant who had close ties to both Chinese high officials and the Germans. Yong, with a four-million-yuan fee provided by Hintze, was to lobby Duan Qirui for at least a six-month delay of the Chinese declaration of war on Germany. Yong did manage to see Duan, but Duan immediately rejected Hintze's plea.25

Evidence also suggests that Germany provided direct support for Zhang Xun's scheme to restore the Qing court. The French insisted, "There is much evidence to show that Zhang Xun worked hand in glove with the official representatives of Germany."  This charge is in fact confirmed by other sources. According to Zhang Zongxiang, Germany provided Zhang Xun with a large supply of weapons and money in 1917. Moreover, Germany let the restorationists know that it would recognize a restored Qing that was neutral in the European war. The strongest evidence of German intervention in Chinese politics comes from the Germans themselves. In his report dated December 20, 1917, to Paul Hintze, Mr. Kuipping, German consul-general to Shanghai, who had secretly remained in China after it broke off its relations with Germany, wrote in detail about how his govern­ment tried to intervene in Chinese domestic politics to influence China's German policy. Kuipping, under instructions from Hintze, established a direct and close relationship with Sun Yat-sen through an intermediary, Mr. Schirmer, a former interpreter. Germany provided about two million dollars between March and August 1917 to Sun for his efforts to sabotage and possibly overthrow the Beijing government. Cao Yabo, a friend and partisan of Sun's, acted as intermediary between Sun and the German consulate general in Shanghai. To please Germany, Sun even volunteered to go to Japan to lobby pro-German sentiment. Mr. Kuipping politely asked him not to do so. Later when Sun set up a separate government in High Chinese expectations for the peace conference met mainly with deep disappointment.

The Chinese had their first taste of this at the very opening of the conference when they were allotted only two seats at the proceedings. When China entered the war, the Great Powers had promised to treat it as an equal partner at the eventual peace talks. But in the end, getting two as opposed to the five seats the major powers held, China immediately felt itself regarded as a third-rate country, with its faith betrayed." Strong Chinese protests to the decision-makers at the conference made no difference. To add insult to injury, China was allowed to participate only three times in meetings held regarding the Shandong issue despite its stake in the matter. Indeed, the invitation to participate in the first meeting on January 27 came only about one hour before that meeting commenced. In its third and last chance to state its case, on April 22, the Chinese delegation again appealed for fair treatment and justice. But Japan had the right to sit in almost all sessions, especially when its interests were concerned. It had the full five seats and was treated as a member of the "Big Five." More importantly, its claims to Shandong were supported by Britain, France, and Italy, thanks to the secret arrangements Japan had concluded with them in early 1917. The attending countries were divided into three categories. The five principal powers (the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) were entitled to five seats; countries such as Brazil and Belgium, which rendered certain effective aid and assistance in the war were entitled to three seats; and the remaining members of the allied camp, considered as the less important countries, would be entitled to only two seats. China was considered by the major powers to belong to the last category. When China tried to receive the same level of treatment as Brazil, it was told that it had provided little positive war aid while Brazil, by patrolling the south Atlantic with its naval units, had done a great service to the Allied cause.26

Baron Nobuaki Makino, a key member of the Japanese delegation, informed the Council of Ten on January 27 that the Japanese government "feels justified" in claiming "the unconditional cession" of Shandong from Germany. At the April 22 meeting, British prime minister Lloyd George, having admitted that "he had never heard of the Japanese Twenty-one Demands, let alone the ultimatum" that Japan presented to China, pressed Koo to choose either to allow Japan to accede to Germany's right to Shandong, as stated in the treaty between China and Germany, or to recognize Japan's position in Shandong, as stipulated in the Sino-Japanese treaties. British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, with respect to the Shandong issue, wrote to Curzon that "we were bound to the Japanese by pledges they had exacted from us when we asked for naval assistance in the Mediterranean"; and that he was "moved by contempt for the Chinese over the way in which they left Japan to fight Germany for Shantung, and then were not content to get Shantung back without fighting for it, but tried to maintain that it was theirs as the legitimate spoils of a war in which they had not lost a man or spent a shilling." Balfour told Curzon that his sympathies regarding Shandong "were entirely with the Japanese." He argued that China should not be allowed to regain that right which "she could never have recovered for herself."

The major excuse the Big Four (Britain, France, Italy, and the United States) used for pressing China to concede was the treaties China had signed with Japan regarding Shandong in 1915 and 1918. Even Wilson, an advocate of open diplomacy in his Fourteen Points, now joined the other powers. At the session of April 22, he told the Chinese that the war "has been fought largely for the purpose of showing that treaties cannot be violated," and advised that "it would be better to live up to a bad treaty than to tear it up."27

When the Chinese delegation got the news on May 1 that the fate of Shandong had been decided in favor of Japan without China's participation, the members were devastated. They realized that "the peace conference is based on might. Right and justice was defeated by might." In his report to Beijing, Lu Zhengxiang advised that if China was not allowed to lodge reservations, it should not sign the treaty. Thus in early May, the Chinese delegation did officially "register a formal protest with the Council of Three against the proposed settlement" of Shandong. Stephen Bonsal, who had first-hand knowledge of the Paris Conference and worked for the American delegation, recorded on May 4, 1919 what was in the minds of the Chinese delegation: "We are betrayed in the house of our only friend." According to Bonsal, the Chinese were particularly furious with Wilson.28

After May 1, the Chinese delegation worked extremely hard to revise the peace treaty with Germany. As a first step, it wanted to formulate provisions for insertion into the preliminaries of peace with Germany. The Chinese reasserted their desires to regain the territory, rights, and property originally obtained "either by intimidation or by actual force, and to remove certain restrictions on [China's] freedom of political and eco­nomic development." They wanted particularly to include the following provisions:

1. The termination of all treaties between China and Germany and the opening of Qingdao to foreign trade and residence.
2. A new treaty of commercial and general relations, based upon the principles of equality and reciprocity, with Germany relinquishing most-favored nation treatment.
3. The withdrawal of Germany from the Protocol of September 7, 1901. 4. The cession to China of German public property in Chinese territory. 5. Compensation for the losses suffered by the Chinese government and its nationals.
6. Reservation of the right to claim war indemnities from Germany.
7. Reimbursement of expenses for the internment and maintenance of prisoners of war.
8. Germany's ratification of the International Opium Convention of January 23, 1912.

This proposal was bluntly rejected. With this added failure, China tried to insert reservations on the three articles affecting Shandong. China pro­posed to write into the treaty over the signatures of the Chinese plenipotentiaries the words "subject to the reservation made at the Plenary Section of May 6, 1919, relative to the questions" of Shandong.

But even Wilson did not support China's motion for a reservation. For Wilson, any reservation by the Chinese delegation might set an example that would be eagerly seized upon by other delegations dissatisfied with decisions on questions of special interest to them. Wilson particularly had in mind the Covenant of the League of Nations, which had been objected to in several of its particulars by the Senate of the United States, and which might provoke reservations from other delegations such as the Japanese. After this rebuff, China tried to make its reservation an addendum to the treaty; this too was denied. Next the Chinese delegation requested that it be given an opportunity to make a declaration on the signing of the treaty. China would sign the peace treaty if it were allowed to send to the president of the conference, before the official signing ceremony, a separate declaration to the effect that the Chinese plenipotentiaries would sign the treaty subject to the reservation that after the signing, China would ask for reconsideration of the Shandong question. Clemenceau, the president of the conference, rejected this proposal immediately.

Thus the Chinese felt that "the Peace Conference has denied to the Chinese Delegates the privilege of making any suggestions," and  refused to sign the treaty, which was described by some Chinese as China's "death warrant."29

On June 28, all members of the Chinese delegation decided not to sign the treaty and absented themselves from the signing ceremony. Many including Wilson were surprised by the Chinese move. Wilson was "greatly disturbed at the absence of Chinese." He told Lansing, "That is most serious. It will cause grave complications."30

In its press release of the same day, the Chinese delegation stated, "The peace conference having denied China justice in the settlement of the Shantung question and having today in effect prevented them from signing the treaty without sacrificing their sense of right, justice, and patriotic duty, the Chinese delegates submit their case to the impartial judgment of the world."31

On May 14, Lu Zhengxiang, the head of the Chinese delegation, asked President Xu Shichang for instructions regarding whether or not to sign a peace treaty. In his telegram Lu wrote, "I signed the 1915 treaty [with Japan]. Now if I have any conscience, I shall not sign the new [peace] treaty ... As public opinion in China is now tremendously aroused, I am very reluctant to sign [any new treaty] for fear of future criticism."32

Chinese both in China and abroad sent thousands of telegrams to their delegation in Paris to express their strong disappointment with the Great Powers with respect to the Shandong question, denouncing their decision as unjust and an insult to China, and opposing the signing of the treaty. After May 4, the Chinese delegation received about 7,000 such telegrams.

The scholarship on the period maintains that China experienced total defeat at the postwar peace conference. Bruce A. Elleman a few years ago argued that China's failure to get Shandong back at the conference was due to what he calls the overriding Chinese concern with "losing face." To prove his point that Wilson did not betray China on Shandong, Elleman claims that Japan had "an almost unassailable legal position at Paris" - the six secret treaties it signed with the Allied powers and China prior to the conference - from which to win Shandong. He declares that the Chinese should blame themselves, not Wilson, the Japanese, or anybody else for what happened to them at Paris regarding the Shandong issue.33

Elleman however, fails to realize that the Chinese, and indeed the American, outcry at Wilson's betrayal focused more on the betrayal of his own blueprint for a new world order than on his eventual refusal to support China's claims. Liang Qichao concluded, that for China, "The only one she could count upon is herself.”

The humiliation the Chinese suffered in Paris put a damper on China's pursuit of a Western-style national identity. The Paris Peace Conference, to a great extent, alienated Chinese intellectuals, many of whom had been exposed to ideas about the decline of the West generated by the likes of Oswald Spengler. After many months spent in Europe, Liang realized that both Chinese and Western civilizations had their problems. He believed that combining the good parts of both of them to make a new civilization was the best strategy and encouraged the Chinese to use their higher ‘spiritual’ civilization to salvage the superior Western ‘material’ civilization.34

What happened to China at Paris directly led to the May Fourth Movement, which declared that the First World War indicated the collapse of the "second civilization" (the Western one). Accordingly, he advocated a "third civilization," the introduction of socialism to China. Li Dazhao agreed. He argued that Russia, geographically and culturally situated at the inte­section of Europe and Asia, was the only country which could undertake "the creation of a new civilization in the world that simultaneously retains the special features of eastern and western civilizations and the talents of the European and Asian peoples." For Li, the October Revolution her­alded a world in which weak nations would regain their independence." At this point, Mao Zedong, then just another educated youth in China, concluded that Russia was now "the number one civilized country in the world. 137 explanation for China's failure to achieve its rightful place in the world of nations."

Interestingly enough, even in this search for a new means to define its position in the world, the Chinese still followed the international trends and the West. After all, socialism is a Western idea. Moreover, interest in socialism was a global phenomenon in the wake of the Great War. The American people in 1919 were "eagerly urged into what are called socialistic experiments." Arif Dirlik clearly notices the shared experience China had with the rest of the world. He wrote that for Chinese intellectuals socialism already appeared "as a rising world tide in the aftermath of World War I, as was dramatized in the worldwide proliferation of revolutionary social movements of which the Russian revolution was the most prominent." The emergence of a Communist movement in China, according to Dirlik, "resulted from a conjuncture of internal and external developments. In 1918-19, socialism appeared as a world political tide, nourished by the successful October Revolution in Russia, labor and social revolutionary movements in Europe and North America, and national liberation movements in colonial societies that found inspiration in socialist ideas."

In other words, even though China now refused to follow the West wholeheartedly and was determined to discover a new direction for developing its national identity, it remained motivated by a strong sense of internationalization and the expectation of playing a role in larger world affairs.

Thanks to China's refusal to sign the Treaty of Versailles at Paris, China and Germany signed a new treaty in 1921. This Sino-German treaty was the first equal treaty China signed with a major power after the Opium War.35

Henry T. Hodgkin, who was secretary of the National Christian Council of China and a close observer of China in the 1920s, wrote: This may seem strange when one remembers German aggression in Shantung and the fact that Germany and China have been on opposite sides in the Great War. It is due in part to the fact that Germany has been treated by her conquerors in a way that makes China feel a deep sympathy, a sort of fellow-feeling. China and Germany were both wronged by the Treaty of Versailles; both are suffering because might has overstepped the bounds of right ... Germans are now in China on equal terms with the Chinese. Even though the change has not been of Germany's seeking, it has helped greatly in the reaction of feeling.36


1. Guogi, China and the Great War, 2005, p.12.


2. The origins of the Beiyang and its collapse, in Lai Xinxia, ed., Beiyang junfa (Documents on the Beiyang warlords) Shanghai.


3. For details on this point, see Jerome Chen, Yuan Shih-Kai, Stanford University Press, 1972, 164, 201, 210.


4. Li, The Political History of China, 309.


5. Edward Friedman, Backwards toward Revolution: The Chinese Revolutionary Party, University of California Press, 1974, 169, 78.


6. Jindai shi ziliao, Materials of Modern History, Beijing, 1978, 152.


7. Zhang Pinxing, ed., Liang Qichao jiashu , Family Letters of Liang Qichao, Beijing, 2000.


8. Reinsch, An American Diplomat in China, 293.


9. See Martel to Stephen Pichon, January 2, 1918, "Le President du Conseil et Ministre de la Guerre au Ministre des Affaires etrangeres," Quai d'Orsay, 1918-1929, Chine, xL: 3; and xi.: 5-6.


10. S. E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics, London,1976, 189-91.


11. Edward A. McCord, "Warlords against Warlordism: The Politics of Anti-Militarism in Early Twentieth-Century China," Modern Asian Studies 30, no. 4 , 1996,: 797-99.


12. Liang Qichao to Liang Sishun, March 12, 1916, in Zhang, ed., Liang Qichao jiashu ,The family letters of Liang Qichao, 234.


13. Jordan to Langley, October 20, 1915, PRO, wo350/13/101.


14. For details, see Huang Zheng, Chen Changhe, and Ma Lie, Duan Qirui yu wan xi junfa (Zhengzhou shi: Henan renmin chubanshe: Henan sheng xinhua shudian faxing, 1990), 163-64.


15. Lu Zengyu, Wushi zishu , Memoir of the fifty-year-old man, pp. 18-19.


16. Dr. Goodnow's Memorandum to the President," US Department of State, ed., FRUS, 1915, 53-58.


17. Li Xisuo and Yuan Qing, Liang Qichao zhuan Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1993, 340-41; the full text of his memorandum was published in the Peking Daily News on August 20, 1915.


18. Xie Benshu, Yuan Shikai yu Beiyang junfa ,Yuan Shikai and the Beiyang Warlords, Shanghai, 1984, 70.


19. A Statement by Dr. Goodnow," The Peking Gazette, August 18, 1917.


20. American Ambassador to French Foreign Minister, June 6, 1917, Quai d'Orsay, NS, Chine, cxxxvi: 54-55.


21. French Foreign Minister, telegram to French Ambassadors in Washington, London, Tokyo, Rome, and Minister in Peking on June 8, 1917, Quai d'Orsay, NS, Chine, cxxxvi: 65.


22. The Washington Post, June 9, 1917.


23. The Washington Post, June 17, 1917.


24. China Press, July 27, 1917. For the Chinese parliament, see Guan Meirong, Wu jingliangyu rninchu Guohui, Wu Jingliang and the Parliament in Early Republican China, Taipei, 1995.


25. See,Yong Dingcheng, "Jun huo maiban Yong Jianqiu de yisheng" (Life of Arms and Munitions Merchant Yong Jianqiu), in Wenshi ziliao xuanji (Selected materials on literature and history) (Beijing: Wenshi ziliao chubanshe, 1981). This was confirmed by Hintze's reports to the German Foreign Ministry; see Politisches Archiv des Auswartigen Amts, Bonn, Hintze report, July 3, 1917, x18024 China No. 9, A24099.


26. For details on China's seat issue, see Wellington Koo Memoir, Chinese Oral History Project, Columbia University, Wellington Koo Memoir, microfilm, reel 1, is.


27. Wensi Jin, China at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, NY: St. John's University.


28. S. Bonsai, Suitors and Supplicants: The Little Nations at Versailles, 239.


29. The Diplomatic Association, "China at the Peace Conference," Far Eastern Political Science Review, Canton, August 1919, p.141.


30. "Memorandum by the secretary of state, the signing of the treaty of peace with Germany at Versailles on June 28th, 1919," Department of State, ed., FRUS, the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, u: 602.


31. Chinese Patriotic Committee, New York, July, 1919, in National Archive, State Department Records relating to the Political Relations between China and other States, 7-185/m341/roll 28/793.94/963.


32. Guang, Lu Zhengxiang zhuan, Biography of Lu Zhengxian, Taipei, 1966, p.113.


33. Elleman, Wilson and China: A Revised History of The Shandong Question, 2002, 49-50, 94-96, 107-08, 149-51, 170-71.


34. Li Huaxing and Wu Jiayi, Shanghai, 1984, 731.


35. For a good study on Sino-German relations in this period, see William C. Kirby, Germane and Republican China, Stanford University Press, 1984.


36. Henry T. Hodgkin, China in the Family of Nations, London, 1923, 168.



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