Great Britain, Japan and the Chinese republic February 191—October 1913

  • Peter Lowe


The abdication of the Manchus and the election of Yuan Shih-k’ai as provisional head of the Chinese republic confronted the powers with the problem of formally recognising the new state. Clearly early recognition was unlikely, as the usual principle guiding procedure was that the new government should manifestly possess control of the administration and order should be prevailing internally. The new government in China was essentially a coalition between Peking and Nanking, at least in its formative stages, and there was much disorder and confusion in the provinces. In addition, the attitude of the powers, particularly Great Britain, Japan and Russia, was complicated by the various treaty rights and privileges possessed by foreign nationals and by their territorial interests; in the case of these powers, the regions involved were Tibet, Manchuria, Mongolia and Sinkiang. Before granting recognition the powers would require a solemn undertaking from the Chinese government accepting the validity of foreign treaty rights and implicitly agreeing not to reimpose its authority over the outer regions of the former Chinese Empire, notably Tibet and Mongolia.1 However in order to impress the Chinese with the importance of these matters, the unity of the powers must be maintained.


Japanese Government Foreign Minister Commanding Officer Foreign Intervention National Assembly 
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  1. 1.
    The late Ch’ing government had pursued an active policy towards the outer regions See Alastair Lamb, The China-India Border (1964) pp. 127–47 and The McMahon Line 2 vols (1966) for Chinese policy on the Burma-Yunnan frontier. Growing anxiety was felt in Whitehall between 1908 and 1911 at the possibility of a clash with China: opinion in Calcutta was even more perturbed. On Mongolia, see Gerard Friters, Outer Mongolia and its International Position (1951).Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Jerome Ch’en, Yuan Shih-k’ai, 1859–1916 (1961) pp. 137–8.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See M. E. Cameron, ‘American Recognition Policy towards the Republic of China, 1912–1913’, in PHR 11 217–20, for a discussion of pressure exerted on the State Department.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    See T’ien-yi Li, Woodrow Wilson’s China Policy, 1913–1917 (New York, 1952) ch. 1. Li cites, p. 178, Bryan’s opposition to the possible selection of Charles W. Eliot as minister to China because: ‘Eliot was a Unitarian and did not believe in the divinity of Christ, and the new Chinese civilisation was founded upon the Christian movement there.’ Sir John Jordan, who had worked in the Far East for more than a generation, wrote after meeting Bryan once that he had discovered many things about China he had not known before, Jordan to Langley, 24 Mar 1913, Alston Papers, F.O. 800/246.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    M. B. Jansen, The Japanese and Sun Yat-sen (Cambridge, Mass., 1954) pp. 161–2. According to Sun’s interpreter, Tai T’ien-ch’ou, Katsura Taro told Sun that he favoured a radical change in Japanese policy, designed to drop the Anglo-Japanese alliance and expel Great Britain from the Far East, so that Japan could lead a Pan-Asiatic crusade to free Asian peoples from occidental tutelage. This sounds inherently unlikely and was probably wishful thinking on Tai’s part. See Jansen, p. 159, who cites Tai’s version without comment.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    See Ch. II above and Kwanha Yim, ‘Yuan Shih-k’ai and the Japanese’, in JAS XXIV 63–73. Yamagata was seventy-three in 1913 but still very alert and active. His insidious control of the army and bureaucracy had been established between 1880 and 1900 and rested on the loyalty of key figures in the army and administration, who owed their advancement to Yamagata. By 1913 these links were beginning to break down and the brasher, more bellicose type of officer typified by Aoki, was starting to act independently of the government, a trend that reached its climax in the 1930s. Yamagata emerges as an extremely cautious statesman, reluctant to risk losing the great gains Japan had made since the Meiji restoration. He was wiser, and less sinister, than the usual textbook portrait. I am grateful to Dr Andrew Fraser, formerly of the department of Far Eastern History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, for kindly clarifying for me the nature of Yamagata’s influence in the army and bureaucracy.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Jansen, p. 164, states that Yamaza belonged to the Genyosha’ and the shishi rightly hailed him as one of their own’. However see below, p. 115 for Yamaza’s views on taking up his appointment. On the Genyosha, see E. H. Norman, ‘The Genyosha: a study in the origins of Japanese Imperialism’, Pacific Affairs, XVII (1944) 261–84.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    The attitude of the government of India to Japan is discussed in Ch. VIII below. The Japanese interest in the southern provinces of China was not new but dated from the acquisition of Formosa in 1895. An imperial council in 1903 decided that apart from resisting Russian encroachment in Korea, Japanese influence must be extended in Fukien and bordering provinces, see J. A. White, The Diplomacy of the Russo-Japanese War (Princeton, 1964) pp. 80–1.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    Tours to Alston, enclosure in Alston to Grey, 12 Sep 1913, F.O. 405/212, pp. 109–110. The new American minister to China, Paul S. Reinsch, was sickened at the sight of the charred ruins when passing through Nanking some weeks later, see P. S. Reinsch, An American Diplomat in China (1922) pp. 11–12. Chang Hsun’s monarchist sympathies were revealed in 1917 when he staged the abortive restoration of the last Ch’ing emperor, the boy P’u-Yi.Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    Greene had been British agent in Pretoria before the outbreak of the South African war in 1899, see J. A. S. Grenville, Lord Salisbury and Foreign Policy (1964) pp. 242–56.Google Scholar
  11. 3.
    A. M. Pooley, Japan’s Foreign Policies (1920) pp. 87–8.Google Scholar

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© Peter Lowe 1969

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  • Peter Lowe

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