Empire of China (1915–16)

Empire of China
Zhōnghuá Dìguó
Flag Twelve Symbols emblem
Zhōngguó xióng lì yǔzhòujiān
"China Heroically Stands in the Universe"
Location and maximum extent of the territory claimed by the Empire of China.
Capital Beijing
Languages Chinese
Government Absolute monarchy
   1915–1916 Hongxian Emperor
Prime Minister
  1915–1916 Lou Tseng-Tsiang
Historical era World War I
   Established 12 December 1915
  National Protection War 25 December 1915
   Disestablished 22 March 1916
Currency Chinese Yuan
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Republic of China (1912–49)
Republic of China (1912–49)
Today part of  China

The Empire of China (simplified Chinese: 中华帝国; traditional Chinese: 中華帝國; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Dìguó) was a short-lived attempt by statesman and general Yuan Shikai from late 1915 to early 1916 to reinstate monarchy in China, with himself as the Hongxian Emperor (simplified Chinese: 洪宪皇帝; traditional Chinese: 洪憲皇帝; pinyin: Hóngxiàn Huángdì). The attempt was ultimately a failure; 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

After Yuan Shikai was installed as the second Provisional Great President of the Republic of China, he took various steps to consolidate his power and remove opposition leaders from office. 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 a 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.[1] 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, "Constitutional Abundance"). However, Yuan, now known as the Hongxian Emperor, delayed the accession rites until 1 January 1916. A dress rehearsal was sabotaged by his Korean concubine. 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.

The Aisin Gioro family, then living within the Forbidden City but as foreign monarchs rather than Chinese ones, "approved" of the Hongxian Emperor's accession, and even proposed a "royal marriage" of the emperor's daughter to Puyi.


Yuan Shikai as the Hongxian Emperor

The year 1916 was to be "Hongxian Year 1" (洪憲元年) rather than "Republic Year 5" (民國五年),[1] 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.[1] 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" calendrical system restored. Yuan reigned a total of 83 days.[1]

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

After Yuan's death on 5 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

Alternate flag of the Empire of China[2]

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.[1]

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 was slightly modified in December 1915, with 共和五族 (Five Races Under One Union) replaced by 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 5-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.

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 peerage by the Hongxian Emperor

Crown Prince (储君)

Prince of the First Rank Wuyi (武義親王 Wǔyì qīn wáng)

Dukes of the First Rank (一等公 Yī děng gōng)

Marquesses of the First Rank (一等侯 Yī děng hóu)

Counts of the First Rank (一等伯 Yī děng bó)

Viscounts of the First Rank (一等子 Yī děng zǐ)

Barons of the First Rank (一等男 Yī děng nán)

Baron of the Third Rank (三等男 Sān děng nán)

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Empire of China (1915–16).


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Kuo T'ing-i et al. Historical Annals of the ROC (1911–1949). Vol 1. pp 207–41.
  2. 中國的旗幟 (Flags of China) (Chinese)
  3. https://archive.org/stream/chinaherhistoryd00park#page/384/mode/2up
Preceded by
Republic of China
Empire of China
Succeeded by
Republic of China
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