Cai E

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Cai E
General Cai E
Governor of Yunnan
In office
1911 – 1913, 1916
Succeeded by Tang Jiyao
Personal details
Born (1882-12-19)19 December 1882
Flag of the Qing Dynasty (1889-1912).svg Shaoyang, Hunan, China
Died 8 November 1916(1916-11-08) (aged 33)
Japan Fukuoka, Japan
Resting place Yuelu Mountain, Xiang River, Changsha, Hunan, China
Nationality Han Chinese
Political party Tongmenghui
Progressive Party
Alma mater Shiwu College
Tokyo Shimbu Gakko
Imperial Japanese Army Academy
Military service
Battles/wars Xinhai Revolution
National Protection War

Cai E (simplified Chinese: 蔡锷; traditional Chinese: 蔡鍔; pinyin: Cài È; Wade–Giles: Ts'ai4 E4; 18 December 1882 – 8 November 1916) was a Chinese revolutionary leader and warlord. He was born Cai Genyin (Chinese: 蔡艮寅; pinyin: Cài Gěnyín) in Shaoyang, Hunan, and his courtesy name was Songpo (Chinese: 松坡; pinyin: Sōngpō). Cai eventually became an influential warlord in Yunnan, and is best known for his role in challenging the imperial ambitions of Yuan Shikai.

Cai's name has also been romanised as Tsai Ao.[1]


Early career[edit]

The Memorial Cottage of Cai E, located in Yuelu Mountain, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Cai studied at the prestigious and progressive Shiwu Xuetang (School of Current Affairs), where he was taught by Liang Qichao and Tang Caichang, and went to Japan to study in 1899. Cai returned to China in 1900, when he was only 18, and attempted to take part in an uprising against the Qing Dynasty as part of the Self-Support Army, a revolutionary militia led by Tang Caichang. When the rebellion failed, Cai returned to Japan. During this second sojourn in Japan he received military training at the Tokyo Shimbu Gakko, followed by the Imperial Japanese Army Academy.[2]

He returned to Guangxi Province, where he held several military posts and established a military training academy from 1904-10. While in Guangxi he joined the Tongmenghui, a Chinese revolutionary organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. In 1910 he was transferred to Yunnan Province to command the 37th Brigade of the New Army and teach at the Yunnan Military Academy in Kunming. One of his pupils at the school was Zhu De, who began studying there in 1909 and graduated in 1912.

Shortly after the Xinhai Revolution began on 10 October 1911, Cai, leading the 37th Brigade, successfully occupied Yunnan. After the revolution he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Government of Yunnan.[3]

Cai E was Governor of Yunnan from 1911-13.[4] After the revolution Cai gained a reputation as a strong supporter of democracy and of Kuomintang politician Song Jiaoren. Following Song's assassination by Yuan Shikai, and Yuan's subsequent assumption of the presidency of the Republic of China, Yuan had Cai removed from office and eventually held under house arrest in Beijing.[3] Tang Jiyao replaced Cai E as Military Governor of Yunnan in 1913.[5]

Opposition to Yuan Shikai[edit]

In 1915 Yuan Shikai announced his plans to dissolve the Republic and proclaim himself the emperor of a new dynasty. After hearing of his intentions, Cai escaped detention on 11 November, first returning to Japan and then to Yunnan.[3] After returning to Yunnan, Cai established the local National Protection Army to resist Yuan and defend the Republic.[6]

On 12 December Yuan formally "accepted" a petition to become emperor, and protests spread throughout China. On 23 December Cai sent a telegram to Beijing threatening to declare independence if Yuan did not cancel his plans within two days. When Yuan did not respond favorably, Cai declared independence on 25 December and made plans to invade Sichuan. The governor of Guizhou joined Cai in rebellion, declaring independence on 27 December. Yuan had himself inaugurated as emperor on 1 January 1916, and Cai successfully occupied Sichuan later that month.[6]

The Tomb of Cai E, located in Yuelu Mountain, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Yuan sent two leading military commanders from northern China to attack Cai, but although the forces sent by Yuan outnumbered Cai's army, Yuan's commanders were either unwilling or unable to defeat him. When it became clear that Cai's rebellion would be successful, many other provinces joined him in resisting Yuan. Guangxi and Shandong declared independence in March, Guangdong and Zhejiang in April and Shaanxi, Sichuan and Hunan in May. With several provinces behind them, the revolutionaries successfully forced Yuan to abandon monarchism on 20 March 1916.[6]

After Yuan died on 6 June 1916, Cai held the positions of Governor-General and Governor of Sichuan. He left for Japan for medical treatment at Kyushu Imperial University in Fukuoka for tuberculosis later in 1916, but died shortly after his arrival. He was accorded a state funeral in China at Yuelu Mountain in Hunan on 12 April 1917.


Many of the warlords who served under Yuan Shikai did not support his ambition to revive the monarchy, and Cai E was one of the leading figures who successfully forced Yuan to step down. He served as an inspiration for the young Zhu De, who later became one of the most successful military leaders of the Chinese Red Army, the forerunner to the People's Liberation Army.

Depiction in popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Cai E - Chinese Revolutionary Leader and Warlord CCTV News - CNTV English". Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  2. ^ Yuelu Academy
  3. ^ a b c Schemmel
  4. ^ J. C.S. Hall (1976). The Yunnan Provincial Faction, 1927-1937. Dept. of Far Eastern History, Australian National University : distributed by Australian National University Press, 1976. p. 69. ISBN 0-909524-12-2. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  5. ^ Сергей Леонидович Тихвинский (1983). Модерн хисторий оф Чина. Progress Publishers. p. 624. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  6. ^ a b c Beck "Yuan Shikai's Presidency 1912-16"