Yuan Shikai was the leader of the first modernized army in China. He didn't pass the exam
to become an officer, but he was admitted into the army based on his military diplomacy.
He worked his way to the top, so to speak, and eventually became President of the Republic
of China. He wished however to seize more power, but his efforts would ultimately fail.
Yuan Shikai was born in 1859, during the revolution of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. His
grandfather on his mother's side fought in the revolution on the anti-revolution side.
Yuan was adopted at an early age by one of his uncles. As a child he often liked to
partake in physical activities. For example, he preferred the martial arts to studying for
his officers exam; which is why he failed.
Yuan always had a good sense of leadership, perhaps acquired from his skills in the
martial arts; however, he failed his entrance exam into the Chinese Officer Program. Only
when an incident took place with Korea, was Yuan able to demonstrate his abilities to lead
and strategize. In 1894, with War raging against Japan, Yuan however was still doomed to
lose. The defeat on the part of China drove the nation into an international crisis.
After the war, many foreign countries started to look at China as a place to colonize.
Finally, in 1900, the Boxers United in Righteousness stood up to fight against the
foreigners, shouting "Help the Qing dynasty, and destroy the foreigners!" Yuan,
however, ignored their cry and removed them. His fame among the Western power grew all the
more for that. Then, the Qing Dynasty became the representative of imperialism. He
expanded the modern army especially in the Manchu area, not to defend his country from
outsiders, but to repress domestic rebellion.
And there are those who had doubts about such a despotic regime, such as Sun Yat-Sen's
group. Sun Yatsen had managed to establish the Republic of China, but he lacked the power
to force a Manchu abdication. He had no choice but to call on the assistance of Yuan
Shikai. In this way, Yuan Shikai seized power in a big way, placing himself at the head of
the Republic. Yuan wasted no time in dissolving the Republican government and amending the
constitution to make himself president for life. When this met with regional opposition,
he took the natural next step in 1915 of declaring an Imperial restoration and pronouncing
himself China's latest emperor. He seceded, taking Guangxi, Guizhou and much of the rest
to bring the breakaway provinces back into the imperial ambit, and in the confusion Yuan
himself passed away in 1916.
He was good at planning conspiracies, and good at making strategies. He used crucial
persons like Empress Dowager Cixi by offering bribes and incentives. And he associated
with people he hated, for he was extremely suspicious of others. He wanted to keep himself
close to any possible conspiracy against him, and in this sense he can be considered a
fairly paranoid person. Due to such a personality, and his evil deeds, Yuan Shikai is
still hated by the Chinese today.
Yuan had tremendous support in his success in becoming a significant Chinese leader. Two
forces in particular influenced his life greatly. One was the Empress Dowager Cixi, and
another was the Western powers. He went over the Dowager Cixi's side in the political
reform in 1898, and got trust from her. And he also suppressed the Boxers United in
Righteousness, and built his reputation with the foreigners. It is because he was
supported by the two main forces that he could retain his power.