Last Emperor’s Abdication Edict (February 12, 1912)

The following is one of several carefully orchestrated exchanges of edicts by which Yuan Shikai sought to become president of the new Republic. Yuan Shikai had commanded the Beiyang Armies and been a firm proponent of the imperial throne. By the end of 1911, as the dominant military leader in northern China, many revolutionaries believed that only he could prevent the disintegration of China into competing regional armies. His long service to the throne also positioned him as one of the few people who could persuade the young emperor (and his advisors) of the need to abdicate. In exchange for such services, Yuan Shikai demanded that Sun Yat-sen step aside and that he would replace Sun as the provisional president. Although Yuan Shikai issued a statement pledging loyalty to the republic, promising not to move the new capital back to Beijing and to allow China to adopt a full constitutional government, within months, he went back on each of these assurances.


  • 1. What reasons does the Qing leadership give for succumbing to the rising political pressures?
  • 2. What role does Yuan Shikai play as presented in the edicts below?

I, the emperor, have received an edict from the Empress Dowager Longyu stating: due to the uprising of the Republic's Army and subsequent support of the provinces, the empire flared into action and the people have suffered. I have commanded Yuan Shikai to send officials to confer with representatives of the army about the convening of a National Convention on the future form of government. Two months of deliberations have passed and yet still no agreement has been found. The north and south remain at odds with each other. As a result, all commerce and trade has come to a halt, and ordinary civil life has been interrupted. As long as the form of the government remains undetermined, people's livelihood continues to be precarious. Today the majority of the nation's people desire a republic. The southern and central provinces led [the revolution] with the northern military leaders later also joining in agreement. From the people's wishes we can see Heaven's Will. How could I go against the people's desires, simply for the sake my own family's continuing glory. Considering the general situation broadly and understanding the opinion of the people specifically, I, the Empress Dowager, guiding the Emperor, transfer the sovereignty to the people and declare that the new government will be a constitutional republic. Thus, within the nation, [we can] in the near term avoid disorder and pursue peace, and in the long term follow the teachings of the old sages that "the whole world is one community."

Yuan Shikai, already elected Prime Minister of the National Assembly [at Beijing], is likely to have a solution to unite the northern and southern provinces as one. He should be granted the total power to organize a provisional Republican government and to confer with the Republic's army a method of unification. So, wishing to assure peace for the people and the country, and that the integrity of the great Republic is maintained by the union of the five peoples: Manchus, Han, Mongols, Hui, and Tibetans.

The emperor and I will step down, free from public duties, into a more relaxed lifestyle and enjoy courtesies accorded us by the people, as we watch with satisfaction the establishment of a new government.

Sun Yat-sen’s Reply to Yuan Shikai and Resignation (February 12, 1912)

Sun Yat-sen, on February 12, 1912, resigned his position as provisional president. His contradictory feelings toward Yuan Shikai are manifest in the following documents. Like many of his revolutionary cohorts, he saw no alternative to allowing Yuan Shikai to replace him as president. Sun's fears that Yuan Shikai had little commitment to a democratic government were quickly validated when Yuan Shikai failed to honor numerous promises and moved the capital back to his powerbase in Beijing. Yuan's presidency xoas characterized by placing his cronies in power, by bribing those outside his control and by assassinating those resistant to his despotic leadership.


  • 1. What elements of his resignation disturbed Sun Yat-sen?
  • 2. Why do you think Sun only lasted six weeks as leader of China?

Dr. Sun to Yuan Shikai, Dated Nanjing,

12th February, 1912

Tang Shaoyi has telegraphed me that the Qing Emperor has abdicated and that you will support the Republic. The settlement of this great question is a matter of the utmost joy and congratulation. I will report to the National Assembly that I agree to resign the office of President in your favor. But the Republican Government cannot be organized by any authority conferred by the Qing Emperor. The exercise of such pretentious power will surely lead to serious trouble. As you clearly understand the needs of the situation, certainly you will not accept such authority. I cordially invite you to come to Nanjing and fulfill the expectations of all. Should you be anxious about the maintenance of order in the North, would you inform the Provisional Government by telegraph whom you could recommend be appointed with full powers to act in your place as a representative of the Republic? Expecting your reply to this telegram, hereby again extend to you our cordial welcome to Nanjing.


movement narrowly defined as events sparked by the student-led demonstrations of May 4, 1919, against the Treaty of Versailles. More often, it is used to identify the broad intellectual and cultural transformations that took place after Japan's Twenty- One Demands (1915) lasting well into the 1920s.

CHEN DUXIU (1880-1942)—A gifted May Fourth intellectual who helped launch and edit the New Youth in 1915, was appointed as Dean to the School of Arts at Beijing University in 1917, and was a founding member and first party secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.

NEW CULTURE MOVEMENT (c. 1917- 1923)—A movement roughly equivalent to the "May Fourth Movement," though some suggest the New Culture Movement indicates a more "thought"-oriented movement compared to the "action" agenda of the May Fourth Movement. The conflation of the terms has made them interchangeable in popular discourse.

Resignation of First Provisional President.

Dr. Sun to the National Assembly at Nanjing,

12th February, 1912

Today I present to you my resignation and request you to elect a good and talented man as the new President. The election of President is a right of our citizens, and it is not for me to interfere in any way. But according to the telegram which our delegate Dr. Wu was directed to send to Beijing, I was to undertake to resign in favor of Mr. Yuan when the Emperor had abdicated, and Mr. Yuan has declared his political views in support of the Republic. I have already submitted this to your honorable Assembly and obtained your approval. The abdication of the Qing Emperor and the union of the North and South are largely due to the great exertions of Mr. Yuan. Moreover, he has declared his unconditional adhesion to the national cause. Should he be elected to serve the Republic, he would surely prove himself a most loyal servant of the state. Besides, Mr. Yuan is a man of political experience, to whose constructive ability our united nation looks forward for the consolidation of its interests. Therefore, I venture to express my personal opinion and to invite your honorable Assembly carefully to consider the future welfare of the state, and not to miss the opportunity of electing one who is worthy of your election. The happiness of our country depends upon your choice. Farewell.

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