A short time later it became known to a few that Yuan was seriously ill. He was suffering from Bright’s disease with its consequent weakness, loss of mental alertness, and lack of concentration. French doctors were called in, but Yuan’s wives insisted upon treating him with concoctions of their own, and on June 6, shortly after three o’clock in the morning, he died.
Even on his death-bed Yuan endeavored to save his face before the country, and his last words were a reiteration of what he knew no one believed. The story of his death is told in the China Press of June 7, 1916:
According to news from the President’s palace the condition of Yuan became critical at three o’clock in the morning. Yuan asked for his old confidential friend, Hsu Shih-chang, who came immediately. On the arrival of Hsu, Yuan was extremely weak, but entirely conscious.
With tears in his eyes, Yuan assured his old friend that he had never had any personal ambition for an emperor’s crown; he had been deceived by his entourage over the true state of public opinion and thus had sincerely believed the people wished for the restoration of the monarchy. The desire of the South for his resignation he had not wished to follow for fear that general anarchy would break out all over China. Now that he felt death approaching he asked Hsu to make his last words known to the public.
In the temporary residence of President Li Yuan-hung, situated in the Yung-chan-hu-tung (East City) and formerly owned by Yang Tu, the prominent monarchist, the formal transfer of the power to Li-Yuan-hung took place this morning at ten o’clock. Yuan Chi-jui, Secretary of State and Premier, as well as all the members of the cabinet, Prince Pu Lun as chairman of the State Council, and other high officials were present.
The officials, wearing ceremonial dress, were received by Li-Yuan-hung in the main hall and made three bows to the new president, which were returned by the latter. The same ceremony will take place at two o’clock, when all the high military officials will assemble at the President’s residence.
The Cabinet, in a circular telegram has informed all the provinces that Vice-President Li-Yuan-hung, in accordance with the constitution, has become president of the Chinese Republic (Chung-hua-min-kuo) from the seventh instance.
So ended Yuan Shi-kai’s great plot to make himself an emperor over four hundred millions of people, a plot which could only have been carried out in China. He failed, and the once valiant warrior died in the humiliation of defeat, leaving thirty-two wives, forty children and his country in political chaos.
UP THE MIN RIVER
Three days after leaving Shanghai we arrived at Pagoda Anchorage at the mouth of the Min River, twelve miles from Foochow.