Japanese Reactions to the Republic of China, 1912

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 697-698:

On December 28, 1911, the Manchu government issued a statement appealing for an end to hostilities and calling for a fair election to determine whether the people desired a constitutional monarchy or a republic. The following day, without reference to this appeal, an election was held in Nanking for the president of the provisional republican government. Sun Yat-sen was elected and took office on January 1, 1912.

Faced with this opposition at home and abroad, the cabinet abandoned hope for a constitutional monarchy. Opinion among the nobles was divided, and the situation was chaotic. Yüan concluded by asking Ijūin to offer his advice. Ijūin replied that Japan had no easy solution to offer, but he conveyed the Japanese hope for a constitutional monarchy, even if this reduced the emperor to being a mere figurehead. He added that the Japanese government was unlikely to recognize any government unless it demonstrated it was capable of suppressing disturbances. Until such time, Japan would have no choice but to treat China as a country without a government. This response upset Yüan greatly.

The end of the Manchu dynasty, after 300 years of rule, came a few weeks later. On February 12, 1912, the six-year-old Emperor Hsüan T’ung announced his abdication. Yüan Shih-k’ai formed a provisional republican government and was granted full powers to negotiate with the people’s army on unification. On the thirteenth Sun Yat-sen, recognizing Yüan’s military capability, offered his resignation as president to the Assembly in Nanking and proposed that Yüan Shih-k’ai be the new president. The Assembly agreed, and on March 10, in a ceremony held in Peking, Yüan took the oath of office as the first president of China.

Emperor Meiji’s reactions to the abdication of the Chinese emperor are not recorded, but he was undoubtedly more affected than, say, when he heard that the king of Portugal had been driven from his throne. Not only was China far closer than any European country, but his respect for China lingered despite the decisive defeat Japan had administered in the Sino-Japanese War. China may have lost its preeminence among the nations of East Asia, but when letters were exchanged between the emperor of China and the emperor of Japan, they both wrote in Chinese, and Meiji’s rescripts were dotted with Chinese words and phrases borrowed from Confucian texts.

Nationalists did not hesitate to say that the Japanese, rather than contemporary Chinese, were the true heirs to the ancient glories of Chinese civilization. The fall of the Chinese monarchy, breaking traditions of more than 2,000 years since the first emperor, could not be dismissed as most Japanese had dismissed the fall of the Ryūkyūan or the Korean monarchy as the unavoidable fate of a weak country in the modern world. During the next forty years or so, China was subjected by the Japanese military to humiliation and the ravages of war, but it continued to exercise a powerful attraction on Japanese intellectuals who felt that the Chinese past was in large part their own.

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Filed under China, democracy, Japan, Korea, language, military, nationalism, philosophy

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