With war raging in Europe, conflict also reigns in the Far East between two traditional enemies, Japan and an internally-divided China. On December 11, 1915, the first president of the new Chinese republic, Yuan Shih-kai, who had come to power in the wake of revolution in 1911 and the fall of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912, accepts the title of emperor of China.
Japan had declared war on Germany in August 1914, capturing the most important German overseas naval base at Tsingtao, on China’s Shantung peninsula, by amphibious assault. In January 1915, Japan’s imperialist-minded foreign minister, Kato Takaaki, presented China with the so-called 21 Demands, which included the extension of direct Japanese control over more of Shantung, southern Manchuria, and eastern Inner Mongolia and the seizure of more territory, including islands in the South Pacific controlled by Germany.
If accepted in their entirety, the 21 Demands would have essentially reduced China to a Japanese protectorate. Though Yuan, a former general and China’s president since February 1912, when he succeeded Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Peoples’ party, was forced to accept all but the most radical of the demands, he attempted to use Chinese anger over them to justify his bid for restoring the monarchy and installing himself as emperor. Having already dismissed the Chinese parliament and expelled the KMT party from the government, he was now ruling through provincial military governors throughout the country. The return to monarchy was met by such strong opposition within and outside of China, including from some of those same military governors, that Yuan was quickly forced to return the country to the republican form of government. He died in 1916.
READ MORE: China: A Timeline