The Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor (simplified Chinese: 宣统帝退位诏书; traditional Chinese: 宣統帝退位詔書; lit. "Xuantong Emperor's Abdication Edict") was an official decree issued by the Empress Dowager Longyu on behalf of the six-year-old Xuantong Emperor, who was the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, on 12 February 1912, as a response to the Xinhai Revolution. The revolution led to the self-declared independence of 13 southern Chinese provinces and the sequent peace negotiation between the rest of Imperial China with the collective of the southern provinces. The issuance of the Imperial Edict ended the Qing dynasty of China, which lasted 276 years,[a] and the era of imperial rule in China, which lasted 2,132 years.
The Qing dynasty was established by the Manchus in 1636. In Chinese historiography, the Qing dynasty bore the Mandate of Heaven after it succeeded the Ming dynasty in 1644. In the late 19th century, wars with foreign powers led to the loss of territories and tributary states, such as Hong Kong in the First Opium War and Korea in the First Sino-Japanese War, which significantly reduced the Chinese people's trust in the empire, fueling Chinese nationalism. The sentiment was strengthened by the failed political reform, where the desire to form a constitutional monarchy resulted in the establishment of the Prince Qing's Cabinet with the majority being part of the imperial family in May 1911.
The revolutionaries aided by millions of overseas Chinese calling for a government reform continued to launch anti-Qing military campaigns in southern China, yet these campaigns were soon suppressed by the government. In October 1911, however, the uprising in Wuchang in central China caused nationwide echos, where 13 out of 18 Han-majority Chinese provinces declared independence from the empire and later established a republican government led by the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. In response to the call for constitutional democracy, the Imperial Government appointed Yuan Shikai as the prime minister, yet Yuan continued to negotiate with the revolutionaries who later offered to make Yuan the first president of the Republic of China and to provide preferential treatment for the imperial family. To confront the internal pressure, Yuan ordered 50 of generals and senior officials in Beiyang Army, led by General Duan Qirui, to publish telegraphes calling for peace and threatening the imperial family. The Empress Dowager Longyu, on behalf of the Xuantong Emperor, issued the imperial edict which transferred power to the nascent Republic of China and two sequent edicts.
The true author of the edict is debated, but it is believed that Zhang Jian drafted the edict. However, a report on Shen-Pao, a leading Shanghai newspaper then, on 22 February 1912, titled the sad words by the empress when issuing the edict of the abdication, says that the edict was first drafted by Zhang Yuanqi, the Deputy Minister of Education, amended by Xu Shichang, shown to the Empress by Yuan Shikai on 25 January 1912. After reading the edict, the Empress was said to cry with tears streaming down, and added her own personal seal instead of the imperial seal to the edict. The personal seal of the Empress shows the four Chinese characters meaning the great way of the nature and the heaven (Chinese: 法天大道), which suggested her scorn towards the new republic.
The full texts of the Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor, in English translation and the Classical Chinese original, are as follows:
By Imperial Decree:
I am in receipt of an Edict from the Empress Dowager Longyu: Complementing an earlier uprising of the people's army, all provinces have risen in allegiance, Jiuzhou–Huaxia has been plunged into disorder, and the populace has been afflicted with great misery. Yuan Shikai was specially ordered to appoint Commissioners to receive those agents and representatives of the people's army, in order to commence a national assembly on the state of the nation and the governance thereof. Two months have since elapsed, without a settlement concluded nor progress noted. Great distances lie between the South and the North, each upholding its own against the other. Merchants' travels are disrupted and scholars are exposed, as should the Government be undetermined, the livelihoods of the populace ought soon follow. Now, the majority of the people are leaning towards republicanism; provinces in the South and the Central took the pioneering step in advocating for it, then the officers in the North also desired to follow their example. In the universal desire of the heart of the people may be discernible the will of Heaven. How dare we then, for the honor and glory of but one surname, persist in opposing the desire of millions of common-folk? In conscience, the general position abroad must be examined and popular opinion domestically ought be considered. I, together with the Emperor, henceforth and hereby transfer the ruling power to the common citizenry, and do ordain that the form of Government herein shall be one of constitutional republicanism. This is to satisfy the demands of those within the Four Seas who detest disturbances and yearn for peace, and to follow the example of the ancient sages in regarding all under Heaven as common territory.
Yuan Shikai, having been formerly elected Prime Minister by the Advisory Council, now standing at this juncture marking the transition to the new Government from the old, has himself devised a plan for unifying the South with the North. May Yuan Shikai organize with full powers a provisional republican Government and confer with the people's army as to the methods of procedure for the Union, such that peace may be assured and restored to the people and country, all while retaining the complete territorial integrity of the lands of the five races—Manchu, Han, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan—which shall combine to form a great Republic of China. I, together with the Emperor, may retire into a leisured life and spend our years pleasantly, enjoying the courteous treatment from the citizens, and witnessing with our own eyes the realization of great governance. Would this not be a grand feat? End of Decree.
Endorsed by the Empress Dowager Longyu on behalf of the six-year-old Xuantong Emperor, the edict explicitly transferred the sovereignty over all the territories held the Qing dynasty at the time of its collapse—including Tibet, Xinjiang, and Outer Mongolia—to the Republic of China.
Signatories to the edict were:
The Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after His Abdication allowed the Xuantong Emperor to retain his imperial title and enjoy other privileges following his abdication, resulting in the existence of a nominal court in the Forbidden City called the "Remnant Court of the Abdicated Qing Imperial Family" (遜清皇室小朝廷) from 1912 to 1924. Feng Yuxiang revoked the privileges and abolished the titular court in AD 1924.
The edict was first collected by Zhang Chaoyong, the secretary of the cabinet, who saved it with two sequent imperial edict regarding the abdication and the 3 February edict authorising peace negotiation with the revolutionists in a single scroll. After Zhang died, the president of Beijing Normal University bought the scroll. Since 1975, the scroll has been part of the collection of the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, now known as the National Museum of China.
The Xuantong Emperor issued three edicts of abdication throughout his life. The first two was issued in his capacity as Qing emperor, including the one described in this article and another issued following the failure of the Manchu Restoration. The third one was issued after the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, in his capacity as Emperor of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state during World War II.
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