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Cai E
General Cai E
Governor of Yunnan

In office
1911 – 1913, 1916
Succeeded by Tang Jiyao
Personal details
Born (1882-12-19)19 December 1882
China Qing Dynasty Flag 1889.svg Shaoyang, Hunan
Died 8 November 1916(1916-11-08) (aged 33)
Japan Fukuoka, Kyūshū, Empire of Japan
Resting place Yuelu Mountain, Xiang River, Changsha, Hunan
Nationality Han Chinese
Political party Tongmenghui
Alma mater Shiwu College
Tokyo Zhengwu College
Imperial Japanese Army Academy
Military service
Battles/wars Xinhai Revolution
National Protection War

Cai E or Tsai Ao (simplified Chinese: 蔡锷; traditional Chinese: 蔡鍔; pinyin: Cài È; Wade–Giles: Ts'ai O; 18 December 1882 – 8 November 1916) was a Chinese revolutionary leader and warlord. He was born Cai Genyin (蔡艮寅 Cài Gěnyín) in Shaoyang, Hunan, and his was Songpo (松坡 Sōngpō). Cai eventually became an influential warlord in Yunnan, and is most well known for his role in challenging the imperial ambitions of Yuan Shikai.


Early career

Cai studied at the prestigious and progressive Shiwu Xuetang (School of Current Affairs), where he was taught by Liang Qichao and Tang Caicheng, and went to Japan to study in 1899. Cai returned to China in 1900, when he was only eighteen, and attempted to take part in an uprising against the Qing Dynasty as part of the Self-Support Army, a revolutionary militia led by Tang Caichang. When the rebellion failed, Cai returned to Japan. Cai joined the Tongmenghui, a Chinese revolutionary organization sometimes referred to in English as the "Chinese United League", after returning to Japan.[1]

Cai returned to Yunnan shortly after the Xinhai Revolution began on October 10, 1911. Leading the 37th brigade, Cai successfully occupied Yunnan. After the revolution, he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Government of Yunnan.[2] Cai E was Governor of Yunnan from 1911-1913.[3] After the revolution, Cai gained a reputation as a strong supporter of democracy, and of the Kuomintang politician Song Jiaoren. Following Song's assassination by Yuan Shikai, and Yuan's subsequent assumption of the presidency of the Republic of China, Yuan had Cai removed from office, and eventually held Cai under house arrest in Beijing.[2] Tang Jiyao replaced Cai E as Military Governor of Yunnan in 1913.[4]

Opposition to Yuan Shikai

In 1915, Yuan Shikai announced his plans to dissolve the Republic and proclaim himself the emperor of a new dynasty. After hearing of Yuan's intentions, Cai escaped detention on November 11, first returning to Japan, and then to Yunnan.[2] After returning to Yunnan, Cai established the local National Protection Army to resist Yuan and defend the Republic.[5]

On December 12 Yuan formally "accepted" a petition to become emperor, and protests spread throughout China. On December 23 Cai sent a telegram to Beijing threatening to declare independence if Yuan did not cancel his plans within two days. When Yuan did not respond favourably, Cai declared independence on December 25, and made plans to invade Sichuan. The governor of Guizhou joined Cai in rebellion, declaring independence on December 27. Yuan had himself inaugurated as emperor on January 1, 1916, and Cai successfully occupied Sichuan later that month.[5] Yuan sent two leading military commanders from northern China to attack Cai; but, although the forces sent by Yuan outnumbered Cai's army, Yuan's commanders were either unwilling or unable to defeat him. When it became clear that Cai's rebellion would be successful, numerous other provinces joined Cai in resisting Yuan. Guangxi and Shandong declared independence in March, Guangdong and Zhejiang declared independence in April, and Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Hunan declared their independence in May. With several provinces behind them, the revolutionaries successfully forced Yuan to abandon monarchism on March 20, 1916.[5]

After Yuan died, on June 6, 1916, Cai held the positions of Governor-General and Governor of Sichuan. Cai left for Japan for medical treatment later in 1916, but died shortly after his arrival. With no effective central government and with most of China under the control of "military governors", China descended into a period of warlordism.


Many of the warlords who served under Yuan Shikai did not support Yuan's ambition to revive the monarchy, and Cai E was one of the leading figures who successfully forced Yuan to step down. He served as an inspiration for the young Zhu De, who later became one of the most successful military leaders of the Chinese Red Army, the forerunner to the People's Liberation Army.

Depiction in popular culture

  • In October 2009, TVB broadcast a series about the story of Cai E and Yuan Shikai: In the Chamber of Bliss.



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