From Political Centralism to Constitutional Monarchy: The Quest of Yuan Shikai and his advisors, 1912-1916

Jun Fang


This thesis explores the intellectual background to Yuan Shikai’s four and a half years presidency and his ill-fated decision to restore a constitutional monarchy. Utilizing the influential treatises of Yuan’s advisors Yang Du, Liang Qichao, and Frank Goodnow, which published in 1915, and investigating other materials on Yuan’s presidency, this thesis finds that the quest of Yuan and his advisors, ending liberalism and provincialism in the early Republic—replacing the National Assembly with the Political Conference and depriving the provincial military-civilian governors of their authority—and centralizing authority were derived from their common belief that there was only one right path for China: a constitutional system under political centralism. The study of Yuan’s conviction and his actions to establish constitutionalism through political centralism also shows that the modern transformation of China, from autocratic system to constitutional system, required a strong central government that could guarantee national unity and stability.