China Odyssey



A yellow line marks the limit of a tourist's approach to Xinhuamen, the "Gate of New China" built by Yuan Shih-kai. This formal entrance to the Zhongnanhai (an imperial garden in central Beijing) is located just to the West of the Forbidden City. It is the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the People's Republic of China. The word "Zhongnanhai" is often used as a term for the Chinese leadership. Although photographs were allowed at the front gate, we were prevented from taking pictures when crossing the bridge at the north end of the gardens by the diligent, but not unfriendly, guards at each end of the bridge who politely intercepted us when they saw cameras coming out. We did not appreciate the sensitive nature of the activities behind the trees in this parkland beside the lake.

The builder of Xinhuamen, Yuan Shih-kai, was a powerful military figure and minister in the Imperial Government who was a leader in the modernization of the military and the educational system. As Sun Yat-sen's revolutionary movement gained momentum, Yuan Shih-kai negotiated the abdication of the Emperor, in exchange for being named president of the new Chinese Republic with the reluctant consent of Sun Yat-Sen. Betraying his Republican allies, Yuan Shih-kai eventually restored the monarchy with himself as emperor. This attempt to consolidate popular support actually undermined his power. Although he abdicated as emperor, his presidential authority was undermined and the central government was disintegrating when he died on June 5, 1916. The "warlord era" had begun.

Chinese Republican postage stamp issued on December 14, 1912
depicting President Yuan Shih-kai who built Xinhuamen.

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© Derrick Grose, 2014