I was adopted by the famous General Woo, who defended the Manchus in the Taiping Rebellion. Like my (foster) father I was always loyal to the Qing ruling dynasty. They say that in the days of my youth I “showed a propensity for pleasure-seeking and excelled in physical activity rather than scholarship. ” However, nobody could deny my outstanding artfulness in managing people and circumstances. I argue here that my personality can be characterised in a three-fold manner: a practical individual, a modern reformer, and a traditional politician.
My career started in Korea where the Ch’ing brigade of the Anhwei army was dispatched in 1882 not to let Japanese occupy the territory. Two years later, as China’s resident general, I was a success in controlling the situation in the Korean revolt to maintain the suzerainty of China on the local political scene. My later critics were clever enough to acknowledge me as “a great soldier,” but they were wrong ascribing the loss of Korea to my poor diplomatic abilities. What ever good my knack in diplomacy is, it was I who took the difficult assignment to form the Beiyang Army, in 1895.
We recruited German instructors to train the Chinese militia from different provinces in the camp near Tianjin, where they received high salary (though, I think, they served not for money but for ideology). Later those soldiers of mine formed “a separate military elite” and “the nucleus of the Beiyang warlords. ” In 1900, the Boxers started to assassinate Christians and foreigners all over the Chinese provinces. I prohibited murders in Shantung, the province under my command, though my subordinates were not so happy about it.
My decision grounded on pure practical understanding of the broader political situation. As a hereditary civil servant, I disobeyed then Tz’u-his, the empress dowager, who secretly encouraged the Boxer revolt. But the price to pay for closing my eyes on the political intrigues was too high. If not for my ability to keep the trained troops on guard of the foreign civilians, the Allied military forces would not have taken mercy on the province. In the period from July 1901 till 1907, I headed the New Army under the Manchus request.
My mind was after the European-style military forces; therefore, as governor-general of Zhili, I replaced the Chinese traditional police forces consisting of lictors and yamen runners with police troops serving under a Head Bureau of Police Affairs (Jingwu zongju). Tianjin was made my police headquarters hosting about twenty-eight hundred men who maintained order. In 1907, when the government turned face to the European republican patterns and started craving for modernisation, I authorised elections for a local council in Tianjin.
Let keep silence those who accused me of being just a soldier and not also an astute bureaucrat hearing the voices of the epoch. Then, suddenly, both the representatives of the royal dynasty died in 1908. People rumoured later that I informed the late Dowager Empress about the revolutionary plans of the late Chinese Emperor, and they were likely to annihilate each other. After those mournful events, the Regent disliked me so much that he was ready to sacrifice the mission of my people trading support from the USA in Chinese operations against Japanese intruding into Manchuria.
I argue here that I was a traditional politician in regard of me serving the Qing dynasty and not fishing in dark waters by myself. On November 8, 1911, I was elected premier of China by Beijing provisional National Assembly. Three days later, the Qing court ratified National Assembly’s appointment and ordered me to form a cabinet. On November 13th, 1911, I entered Peking with my trained and loyal army to maintain order on request of the Prince Regent who pleaded “to save the dynasty. ” Once again I had to display my traditional political orientation, as well as practical skills.