Empire of China (1915–1916)

Coordinates: 39°54′N 116°23′E / 39.900°N 116.383°E / 39.900; 116.383
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Empire of China
Anthem: 《中華雄立宇宙間》
"China Heroically Stands in the Universe"
Land controlled by the Empire of China (1915–1916) shown in dark green; land claimed but uncontrolled shown in light green.
Land controlled by the Empire of China (1915–1916) shown in dark green; land claimed but uncontrolled shown in light green.
39°54′N 116°23′E / 39.900°N 116.383°E / 39.900; 116.383
Largest cityShanghai
Official languagesStandard Chinese
Heaven worship
GovernmentAuthoritarian military dictatorship under a Self-proclaimed monarchy
• 1915–1916
Hongxian Emperor
Prime Minister 
• 1915–1916
Lu Zhengxiang
LegislatureNational Assembly
Historical eraWorld War I
• Establishment of the Empire
12 December 1915
25 December 1915
• Abolition of the Empire and abdication of Hongxian Emperor
22 March 1916
• Death of Yuan Shikai
6 June 1916
CurrencySilver yuan
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Republic of China
Republic of China
Empire of China
Traditional Chinese中華帝國
Simplified Chinese中华帝国

The Empire of China was a short-lived attempt by statesman, general and president Yuan Shikai from late 1915 to early 1916 to reinstate monarchy in China, with himself as the Hongxian Emperor. The attempt was unsuccessful; it set back the Chinese republican cause by many years and fractured China into a period of conflict between various local warlords.

Preparations for formation[edit]

The Hongxian Emperor at his coronation ceremony

After Yuan Shikai was installed as the second Provisional Great President of the Republic of China established by Sun Yat-sen, he took various steps to consolidate his power and remove opposition leaders from office.[citation needed] Both Sun and Yuan were "modernizers", Sun was a "radical revolutionary", while Yuan was a "conservative reformer".[1]

To secure his own power he collaborated with various European powers as well as Japan. Around August 1915, he instructed Yang Du (楊度) et al. to canvass support for a return of the monarchy. On 11 December 1915, an assembly unanimously elected him as Emperor. Yuan ceremonially declined, but "relented" and immediately agreed when the National Assembly petitioned again that day.[2]

On 12 December, Yuan, supported by his son Yuan Keding, declared the Empire of China with himself as the "Great Emperor of the Chinese Empire" (simplified Chinese: 中华帝国大皇帝; traditional Chinese: 中華帝國大皇帝; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Dìguó Dà Huángdì), taking the era name Hongxian (simplified Chinese: 洪宪; traditional Chinese: 洪憲; pinyin: Hóngxiàn, "Promote the Constitution"). However, Yuan, now known as the Hongxian Emperor, delayed the accession rites until 1 January 1916. He had Manchu clothes removed from culture and had Han clothes revived but had put some changes to it. He wore new Han clothes to attend a dress rehearsal, but it was sabotaged by his Korean concubine.[citation needed]

Soon after, the Hongxian Emperor started handing out titles of peerage to his closest relatives and friends, as well as those whom he thought he could buy with titles.[citation needed]

The Aisin Gioro family of the Qing dynasty, then living in the Forbidden City, "approved" of Yuan's accession as emperor, and even proposed a "royal marriage" of Yuan's daughter to Puyi, the last Qing monarch.[citation needed]


Yuan Shikai as the Hongxian Emperor of his new Imperial China

The year 1916 was to be "Hongxian Year 1" (洪憲元年) rather than "Republic Year 5" (民國五年),[2] but the Hongxian Emperor was opposed by not only the revolutionaries, but far more importantly by his subordinate military commanders, who believed that Yuan's assumption of the monarchy would allow him to rule without depending on the support of the military.

Province after province rebelled after his inauguration, starting with Yunnan, led by the emperor's governor Cai E and general Tang Jiyao and Jiangxi, led by governor Li Liejun. The revolters formed the National Protection Army (護國軍) and thus began the National Protection War. This was followed by other provinces declaring independence from the Empire. The emperor's Beiyang generals, whose soldiers had not received pay once from the imperial government, did not put up an aggressive campaign against the National Protection Army and the Beiyang Army suffered numerous defeats despite being better trained and equipped than the National Protection Army.

Seeing the Hongxian Emperor's weakness and unpopularity, foreign powers withdrew their support (but did not choose sides in the war). The Empire of Japan first threatened to invade, then committed to overthrowing the Hongxian Emperor and recognised both sides of the conflict to be "in a state of war" and allowed Japanese citizens to help the Republicans.[2] Faced with universal opposition, the emperor repeatedly delayed the accession rites to appease his foes. Funding for the ceremony was cut on 1 March. Yuan deliberated abandoning the monarchy with Liang Shiyi on 17 March and abandoned it on 22 March. The "Hongxian" year was abolished on 23 March and the Republic was restored.[3] Yuan reigned a total of 83 days.[2]

Empire of China ten-cash coin dated "Hongxian Year 1"

After President Yuan's death on 6 June, Vice President Li Yuanhong assumed the presidency, and appointed Beiyang general Duan Qirui as his Premier and restored the National Assembly and the provisional Constitution. However, the central authority of the Beijing government was significantly weakened and the demise of Yuan's Empire plunged China into a period of warlordism.

National symbols[edit]

Although the name of the country in Chinese was changed to the "Empire of China" (and "Hongxian" for state matters), the Hongxian Emperor continued to use "Republic of China" as the English name.[2]

The Hongxian Emperor set up the Ritual Regulations Office (禮制館), which issued the new official anthem for the Republic of China, "China heroically stands in the Universe" (中華雄立宇宙間) in June 1915. Its lyrics were written by Yin Chang (廕昌) and music by Wang Lu (王露). The lyrics were slightly modified in December 1915, with "Five Races Under One Union" (共和五族) replaced with 勳華揖讓 (Shanrang, the ancient system of Chinese emperor relinquishing seats to others in Yao and Shun's era) to be used during the Hongxian Emperor's reign.

Chinese lyrics English translation


China heroically stands in the Universe,
Extends to the Eight Corners,
The glorious descendants from Kunlun Peak.
The rivers turn greatly, the mountains continuous.
Shanrang open up the era of Yao,
For millions of myriads of years.

Yao was a legendary Chinese ruler. The era of Yao and Shun (堯天舜日) is a Four-character idiom which means times of peace and prosperity.

The national flag was changed from the original five-stripe flag to one where the red stripe is a centered cross; however, a flag with the former red stripe as a saltire was the version commonly used.[4]

The national emblem remained as the national emblem of the Republic of China (1913–1928), National emblem of Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty (十二章國徽).

List of people given peerages by the Hongxian Emperor[edit]

Yuan Shikai (first from left) offering sacrifices to heaven at a winter solstice ceremony, 23 December 1914.

Crown Prince (皇太子)[edit]

Prince of the First Rank Wuyi (武義親王)[edit]

Dukes of the First Rank (一等公)[edit]

Marquesses of the First Rank (一等侯)[edit]

Counts of the First Rank (一等伯)[edit]

Viscounts of the First Rank (一等子)[edit]

Barons of the First Rank (一等男)[edit]

Baron of the Third Rank (三等男)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shan, Patrick Fuliang (2018-09-15). Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal. UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-3781-1.
  2. ^ a b c d e Kuo T'ing-i et al. Historical Annals of the ROC (1911–1949). Vol 1, pp. 207–41.
  3. ^ Shan, Patrick Fuliang (2018). Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal, The University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 9780774837781.
  4. ^ Official specification
  5. ^ Parker, Edward Harper (22 May 2018). "China, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day". N.Y. : Dutton – via Internet Archive.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Empire of China
Succeeded by