Li Yuanhong - The Only Person Who Was Twice President of the Republic of China
Li Yuanhong was a Chinese general and political figure during the Qing dynasty and the republican era. He was twice president of the Republic of China.
A native of Huangpi, Hubei, he was the son of a Qing veteran of the Taiping rebellion. He graduated from Tianjin's naval academy in 1889 and served as an engineer in the First Sino-Japanese war. His cruiser was sunk and he survived because of his life belt since he could not swim. He later joined the army and became senior military officer in Hankou. In 1910, he attempted to break up revolutionary rings that infiltrated his 21st Mixed Brigade. He did not arrest any caught in subversive activities, but simply dismissed them.
When the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 broke out, the Wuchang mutineers needed a visible high-ranking officer to be their figurehead. Li was well respected, had supported the Railway Protection Movement, and knew English which would be useful in dealing with foreign concerns. He was reportedly dragged from hiding under his wife's bed and forced at gunpoint to be the provisional military governor of Hubei despite killing several of the rebels. Though reluctant at first, he embraced the revolution after its growing momentum and was named military governor of China on November 30. Qing Premier Yuan Shikai negotiated a truce with him on December 4.
Despite Li commanding the rebel army, Sun Yat-sen of the Revolutionary Alliance became the first provisional president in Nanjing on January 1, 1912. Li was made vice president as a compromise and he formed People's Society to campaign for the presidency. Meanwhile, the north was still under the control of the Qing. A negotiation made Sun step down in favor of Yuan Shikai as president with Li keeping his vice-presidency. This ended the Qing dynasty and reunified north and south China. People's Society later merged with the pro-Yuan Republican Party.
In 1913, he combined the Republicans with Liang Qichao's Democratic Party to form the Progressive Party. The Progressives became the biggest rivals to the opposition Nationalists led by Sun. He supported Yuan against Sun during the Second Revolution which earned him the enmity of his former comrades. When Yuan pulled off his presidential coup, Li was viewed as a potential threat and confined in Beijing where he became a passive bystander under Yuan's grip. Yuan could never fully trust Li because he wasn't a protege within the Beiyang Army's inner circle and because of his past association with the revolutionaries. Nevertheless, Yuan married his son to Li's daughter to strengthen their ties. Li kept his office and honors as vice president but had no power. Some factions called on Li to claim the presidency when Yuan crowned himself emperor in 1916. He refused for fear of his life but he also declined aristocratic titles granted by Yuan, a decision which would help his standing later on. Li remained in self-imposed isolation at his residence during the monarchic period, and until the death of Yuan.
Li served as president from June 7, 1916 to July 14, 1917. When Yuan died, he left a will containing Li's name along with Premier Duan Qirui and Xu Shichang. The will was an imperial tradition started by the Kangxi emperor, and was not constitutional in the republic. However, the Beiyang generals pressed Li into office, since he was acceptable to the rebellious southern provinces. Li tried to return to the 1912 constitutional arrangement, but Duan held the real power. The National Assembly of the Republic of China reconvened on August 1, 1916, after having been disbanded over two and a half years earlier. Duan was eager to pull China into World War I but Li was more hesitant. They conflicted greatly over Duan's decision to cut ties with Germany. Li forced Duan to resign on May 23, 1917, when the premier's secret loans from Japan were exposed. Duan fled to Tianjin to muster his forces, and most generals abandoned the government. In response, Li asked General Zhang Xun for assistance. In exchange, Zhang asked for the dissolution of parliament which was granted on June 13. Zhang, who was secretly pro-German, unexpectedly occupied Beijing from June 14 to July 12 of 1917 and kept the president prisoner. Zhang then proceeded with a move that would undermine most of his support when he attempted to restore Emperor Puyi and the Qing dynasty on July 1. Li was released to the Japanese legation where he asked for Duan's assistance in saving the republic. Duan overthrew Zhang and was reinstated as premier. Vice President Feng Guozhang was made acting president in Nanjing. On July 14, distraught from recent events, Li officially resigned from office and moved to Tianjin in retirement.
He served again as president of China between 11 June 1922 and 13 June 1923 after Cao Kun forced out President Xu Shichang. Li was chosen because he was respected by all of the factions and was hoped to reunify the country. He accepted only with the private assurances that warlord forces be disbanded; they were never honored. Like his first term, he called back the original National Assembly but he was even more powerless than before. He organized the "Able Men Cabinet" consisting of prestigious experts but it became undone when he arrested the finance minister for graft after examining rumours and circumstantial evidence; a court threw out the charges. Cao soon harbored presidential ambitions himself and orchestrated strikes to force Li out of office. Cao went as far as trying to bribe the assembly into impeaching him. When Li was vacating the capital, he attempted to take the presidential seal with him but was intercepted. He fled to Japan for medical treatment and returned to Tianjin in 1924 where he later died.