Biography in English

Li Yuan-hung 黎元洪 T. Sung-ch'ing 宋卿 H. Huang-p'i 黃坡 Li Yuan-hung (1864-3 June 1928), the only man to serve twice as president of the republican government at Peking T(June 1916-July 1917; June 1922-June 1923).

Huangp'i, north of Hankow, was the birthplace of Li Yuan-hung. His ancestors, merchants from Anhwei, had settled in Hupeh as farmers. During the Taiping Rebellion Li's father, Li Chao-hsiang, had joined the government forces, and he had risen to the rank of captain. After retiring from the army and living on a government pension, Li Chao-hsiang went north to join a military unit stationed near Tientsin. His family joined him at Tientsin soon afterwards. Li Yuan-hung began his formal education at a private school in 1879, and five years later he became a cadet at the Tientsin Naval Academy. Upon graduation in March 1889 he was sent on a six-month training cruise to Canton and back. After acquiring some naval experience, he was appointed early in 1894 to the post of chief engineer on the cruiser Kuang-chia, then stationed at Shanghai. The ship was ordered to Port Arthur soon after the Sino-Japanese war began in 1894, but before reaching its destination it struck a hidden coral reef The crippled Kuang-chia then was shelled and sunk by the Japanese. Li, who could not swim, was washed ashore by the tide after floating in a life belt for three hours. He made his way to Port Arthur, where he remained for the rest of the war.

After the Japanese destroyed the Peiyang fleet in 1894-95, Li Yuan-hung abandoned all thoughts of a naval career. He went to Shanghai and took a position with Chang Chih-tung (ECCP, I, 27-32), the governor general of Liang-Kiang (Kiangsu, Kiangsi, and Anhwei). He was assigned responsibility for constructing fortifications at Nanking, and, under his direction, the task was completed within a year. When Chang Chih-tung was transferred to Wuchang in 1896 as governor general of Hu-Kwang (Hupeh and Hunan), he appointed Li to his staffs of military advisers. Chang planned to organize and train a modern army, the Tzu-ch'iang chün [self-strengthening army], and he sent Li to Japan in 1897, 1899, and 1902 to observe and study military modernization. Li became one of Chang's most valued assistants in building up the new army in Hupeh, and he rose steadily in rank. In 1906 he received command of the newly created 21st Mixed Brigade.

In the years immediately preceding 1911 Hupeh became a principal center of revolutionary activity, with army units in the Wuhan area as primary targets of propaganda and infiltration. In the autumn of 1910, when Li discovered that his own brigade was being infiltrated by revolutionists, he took steps to break up the Chen-wu hsueh-she, a secret organization of army officers. Despite such efforts, the revolutionary movement in Hupeh continued to gain strength. In the autumn of 1911 the Wen-hsueh-she, headed by Chiang I-wu (d. 1913), and the Kung-chin-hui, headed by Sun Wu (d. 1940; Orig. Pao-jen; T. Yaoching), secretlv joined forces and planned a revolt at Wuchang for 6 October. The date was changed to 16 October, but the accidental explosion of a bomb on 9 October in a hidden T'ung-meng-hui arsenal in Hankow and the ensuing investigation by government authorities forced the revolutionaries to initiate the revolt on 10 October. The revolutionary forces soon succeeded in driving out Jui-cheng, the Manchu governor general, and Chang Piao, the senior military officer in the Wuhan area. Because of the premature outbreak of the revolt, such recognized leaders of the movement as Sun Wu and Chiang I-wu were absent from Wuhan, leaving the revolutionaries disorganized and in desperate need of military leadership. On 11 October 1911 the revolutionaries met with the Hupeh provincial advisory council at Wuchang and named Li Yuan-hung, the senior officer remaining in Wuchang, to head the new revolutionary regime. Li, who had never been associated with the revolutionary movement and who did not wish to become involved in an anti- Manchu revolt, went into hiding. On being discovered by a search party, he consented to go with them to the provincial advisory council only after being threatened with violence. He reluctantly agreed to head a republican government at Wuchang and assumed the title of tutuh [military governor] of Hupeh. Five days later, on 16 October, he took the concurrent title of commander in chief of the Hupeh revolutionary army.

At first, Li Yuan-hung evinced little enthusiasm for the role forced upon him, and he contributed little to the new regime. The work of organizing the revolutionary government was left to such political leaders as T'ang Hua-lung and Chü Cheng (qq.v.) and the conduct of military operations was undertaken by the military bureau, headed by Sun Wu and Chiang I-wu and then by Chang Chen-wu (d. 1912; Orig. Yao-hsin; T. Ch'un-shan). After the arrival of Huang Hsing fq.v.) in the Wuhan area, Li retired in Huang's favor as commander in chief of the revolutionary army on 3 November 1911. As it became apparent that the revolutionary movement was succeeding in other provinces and would probably succeed throughout China, Li's willingness to commit his fortunes to the new regime seemed to increase. On 9 November 1911 he sent telegrams to revolutionary governments in other provinces in which he proposed that they send delegates to Wuchang to discuss the formation o£ a provisional central government. Provincial delegates began to gather in Wuchang late in November. By mid-December, because of the military situation at Wuchang, they had decided to move their conference to Nanking. They elected Sun Yat-sen to the provisional presidency on 29 December 1911 and Li Yuan-hung to the provisional vice presidency on 3 January 1912. After Sun Yat-sen's resignation in favor of Yuan Shih-k'ai, Li again was elected to the vice presidency on 20 February.

Li Yuan-hung remained at Wuchang as tutuh of Hupeh and did not join the government after it moved to Peking. Yuan Shih-k'ai, in an attempt to consolidate the new government's control of China, worked to reduce the power of revolutionary and regional leaders by separating them from their power bases in the provinces. Although some leaders left the provinces to accept attractive positions at Peking, Li Yuan-hung repeatedly refused to leave Hupeh and assume office at the new capital. In Hupeh, his relations with the local military chiefs, particularly the T'ung-meng-hui leader Chang Chen-wu, became increasingly strained. Li urged them to accept Yuan Shih-k'ai's invitation to serve as military advisers in Peking, and in the summer of 1912 Chang Chen-wu and other Hupeh military leaders departed for the capital. Soon afterwards, Li sent a confidential telegram to Yuan Shih-k'ai in which he accused Chang Chen-wu of fomenting revolt among the troops and recommended his execution. Yuan had Chang shot on 15 August and justified his action by publishing Li's telegram. This action undermined Li's popularity in Hupeh and weakened his relations with the Hupeh military and the newly formed Kuomintang.

Li Yuan-hung managed to maintain his position in Hupeh until the so-called second revolution of 1913 collapsed, but his waning prestige and inability to find allies made it increasingly difficult for him to resist the political and military pressures exerted on him by Yuan Shih-k'ai. Even before the outbreak of hostilities between Yuan's forces and the Kuomintang troops, he had bowed to Yuan's request for free passage through Hupeh to attack the Kuomintang forces in Hunan and Kiangsi. The expansion of Peiyang power to the Yangtze provinces after the second revolution made Li's position almost untenable. In December, Yuan Shih-k'ai dispatched his trusted lieutenant Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.) to Hankow to demand that Li assume office in Peking. On 9 December, Li boarded the private train which Tuan had provided for him and left for Peking. On arrival at the capital, Li Yuan-hung was given a ceremonious welcome by Yuan Shih-k'ai and was accorded all the honors and courtesies due a vice president. Yuan also made him chief of general staff and arranged the marriage of one of his sons to Li's elder daughter. Despite these honors and courtesies, Li soon discovered that he had no real authority at Peking. In December 1913 his name was used to head a list of Yuan's military supporters who demanded the dissolution of the National Assembly. In May 1914 he was appointed to head the new but powerless Ts'an-cheng-yuan [council of state], which Yuan created as a replacement for the national assembly. He was created Wu-i ch'in-wang [Prince Wu-i] in Yuan's new imperial order in 1915. Throughout this period, Li repeatedly asked to be relieved of his offices and to be allowed to retire to his native province, but Yuan denied his requests. Because he could not extricate himself from Peking, Li adopted an attitute of passive non-cooperation. Li Yuan-hung's political captivity appeared to be at an end when Yuan Shih-k'ai died on 6 June 1916. Li acceded to the presidency on 7 June. He soon found, however, that most of the real authority of the government had been assumed by Tuan Ch'i-jui as premier and that Tuan and his supporters in the Peiyang clique regarded him as little more than a figure-head. Li was at a disadvantage in opposing Tuan, for he lacked personal military backing and close relations with major factions in the National Assembly. His resentment of Tuan's monopoly of power led to considerable friction between the two men, and the situation was aggravated by the peremptory actions of Tuan's deputy Hsü Shu-cheng (q.v.). Tuan's enemies in the National Assembly, led by Sun Hung-i, the minister of interior, sought to use Li as a bridle for Tuan's power. Li's opposition to Tuan usually took the form of refusing to sign measures proposed by Tuan and his supporters. A major issue which arose at Peking during this period was the question of whether China should enter the First World War on the side of the Allies. Li did not oppose the idea of declaring war on Germany, but he refused to accept Tuan Ch'i-jui's methods of achieving this end. In March 1917 Tuan submitted for Li's signature an official telegram to the Chinese minister in Japan which announced the Chinese government's decision to sever relations with Germany. Li refused to sign any such document without the approval of the National Assembly. As Tuan continued to press for China's entry into the war, his relations with Li and the National Assembly steadily deteriorated. In April, Tuan convened a meeting of Peiyang military leaders to ensure acceptance of his war policy, but this action and its implied threat of military coercion merely served to stiffen Li's opposition and to arouse such indignation in the National Assembly that its members demanded Tuan's resignation. On 23 May, emboldened by the expressed feelings of the National Assembly and by assurances of military support from Chang Hsün (q.v.), Li dismissed Tuan from the premiership. In naming a new premier, Li made an effort to placate the Peiyang militarists. On 28 May 1917 he appointed Li Ching-hsi, a former associate of Yuan Shih-k'ai, to succeed Tuan Ch'i-jui. Almost immediately all of the northern military governors except Chang Hsün declared their provinces independent of the Peking government. Tuan Ch'i-jui and his associates planned this action in the hope that Li would turn to Chang for aid and that Chang, who dreamed of restoring the Ch'ing dynasty to power, would drive Li and the National Assembly from Peking. Li soon invited Chang to Peking to mediate the political crisis, and Chang advanced on the capital with a force of 5,000 men. After seizing control of Peking, Chang compelled Li on 12 June to issue an order dissolving the National Assembly. On 1 July, Li refused to sign an order restoring the Manchu monarchy. By this time, Li had come to believe that only Tuan Ch'i-jui could preserve the republic, and on 2 July he sent an order to Tientsin which reappointed Tuan premier and instructed him to raise an army against Chang Hsün. An order was sent to Feng Kuo-chang (q.v.), the vice president, instructing him to assume the duties of the presidency during the crisis. On 3 July, Li took refuge in the Japanese legation, where he remained until the monarchists were overthrown by Tuan Ch'i-jui on 14 July. Tuan soon induced him to resign from the presidency in favor of Feng Kuochang, and on 27 August 1917 Li left Peking for Tientsin.

According to his son, the years from August 1917 to April 1922 formed the most enjoyable period in Li Yuan-hung's life. He lived quietly at his estate in Tientsin and dissociated himself from all political activity. This idyllic life came to an end in mid-1922. After the Chihli leaders W'u P'ei-fu and Ts'ao K'un (qq.v.) triumphed over the Fengtien forces of Chang Tso-lin (q.v.), a number of political and military leaders joined together in a movement to achieve a peaceful unification of the northern and the southern governments by restoring the constitution of 1912 and the National Assembly of 1913 and by returning Li Yuan-hung to the presidency. Some of the supporters of this movement hoped to use it to enhance the prestige of the Chihli clique and to remove Hsü Shih-ch'ang (q.v.) from the presidency, but these aspirations were not apparent to Li Yuan-hung. He agreed to serve as president on two conditions: that the military leaders reduce the size of their armed forces and that the system of tuchün [military governors] be abolished. After receiving public assurances from the Chihli leaders that these conditions would be met, he went to Peking and assumed the presidency on 1 1 June 1922.

Despite the promises of the Chihli leaders, Li was little more than a figurehead at Peking. Both the cabinet and the National Assembly were dominated by the Chihli clique, and when Li tried to exercise his constitutional powers as president, he was either ignored or overridden by them. Ts'ao K'un and his supporters soon decided to oust Li and secure Ts'ao's election to the presidency. In June 1923 a hired "citizens corps" staged a demonstration against Li in Peking. Both the police and the soldiers of the Peking garrison, allegedly protesting arrears in their pay, surrounded Li's residence, severed the telephone and water lines, and then went on strike. These harassment tactics soon drove Li from Peking. On 13 June his train was halted near Tientsin by supporters of Ts'ao K'un, who detained him until he had signed a proclamation announcing his resignation from the presidency and had given them the presidential seal. Li Yuan-hung left Tientsin for Shanghai on 8 September 1923 in the hope of uniting Chang Tso-lin, T'ang Chi-yao (q.v.), and other enemies of the Chihli clique in support of an opposition government. When this plan failed, Li, who was seriously ill with diabetes, sailed to Japan and rested for six months at the hot springs resort at Beppu. He returned to China in May 1924 to live in complete retirement at his Tientsin estate. On 3 June 1928 he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was survived by his wife, nee Wu (d. 1929) and by his two sons, Shao-chi and Shao-yeh, and his two daughters, Shao-fang and Shao-fen. Li Shao-fang had married Yuan Shih-k'ai's son Yuan K'o-chin in 1914. Li Shao-chi, using the name Edward S. G. Li, had published The Life of Li Yuan-hung at Tientsin in 1925.

Several collections of Li Yuan-hung's papers and correspondence have been published. These include the Li fu-tsung-f ung shu-tu, published in 1912; the Li fu-tsung-t'ung shu-tu hui-pien and the Li fu-tsung-t'ung cheng-shu, which appeared in 1914; the Li ta-tsung-t'ung cheng-shu, published at Shanghai in 1916; and the Li ta-tsung-t'ung wen-tu lei-pien, which first appeared in 1923 at Shanghai.

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