[Author’s Note: A special word of thanks is due John Malch and the Webmaster at the Full-Spectrum-Dominance docking site for forcing the questions that needed asking.]
For 2,000 and more years China lived under imperial rule. China’s silk, tea and the sciences
brought home to Europe by Western explorers donated fuel to restart the engine of Western civilization after the dark ages. Thanks to China’s development of the compass, gunpowder, paper making, and printing, we in the West have been able to find ‘the war’, wage it, record it and get the word out to everyone else about how well it all went. Like any other large central government, Chinese imperial rule bred massive corruption, a military turned inward on the people, a nanny-state to keep the citizenry predictable and rebels easily identifiable, and the required surveillance to calm the state’s paranoia. And then, in 1912, the 2,000 years of imperial rule was over; ousted by a few insiders that liked the ring of the word ‘republic’.
The embryo of the Chinese republic was an interesting hybrid. As the cells of the new body politic came alive, “the embryological processes of differentiation of cells, tissues, and organs and the development of organ systems according to the genetic “blueprint” of the potential organism and environmental conditions” began to unfold; the morphogenetic creation that is China today was underway. China’s imperial rule ended bathed in corruption rather than blood. The Qing/Manchu Dynasty’s Aisin-Gioro PuYi, China’s last emperor, abdicated the Dragon Throne by proxy; the Empress Dowager Longyu, the mother who adopted him, signed the paperwork.
China was up to its imperial neck in debt when the toddler, PuYi, assumed the Dragon Throne in 1908. Foreign entanglements, particularly with Britain, had “humbled the Qing in
battle, carved out rich territories and extracted huge payments”. The imperial goods were pawned for state income because income from other sources had slowed to a trickle. Provinces separated from the empire, citizens revolted and demanded a republic. The revolutionaries were rewarded on October 10, 1911 in Nanjing when Sun Yat-sen was installed as the first president of the Republic of China. In a last ditch effort to regain central control, General Yuan Shikai became the court appointed prime minister. General Yuan Shikai wasn’t overly attached to the idea of a republic but he did want the Qing dynasty gone by whatever means necessary.
Shikai made an offer the imperial family could not refuse. When faced with beheading, Empress Dowager Longyu, Prince Yikuang, and the Empress Dowager’s head eunuch, Xiao Dezheng each took over $1.6 billion in silver to the bank. The rest of the royal court was given the leave-or-lose-your-head option only. PuYi left the Forbidden City, and as he grew into manhood ruled a Japanese controlled corner of North East China briefly. Later, Chairman Mao allowed PuYi to work in the Botanical Gardens until his death in 1967, from complications of kidney cancer and heart disease. We know this history through Jia Yinghua’s, The Extraordinary Life of the Last Emperor. An historian and former government official, Yinghua, compiled the fascinating history of China’s pivot point between imperial rule and a republic from the secret archives at Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound, and from interviews with relatives of the imperial courtiers. Continue reading