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National Protection War
Date25 December 1915 – 14 July 1916
LocationSouthwest, South and East China
  • National Protection Army victory
  • Abdiction of Yuan Shikai
Empire of China Republic of China (1912–1949) Republic of China
Commanders and leaders

Yuan Shikai
Zhang Jingyao
Ma Jiceng
Cao Kun

Feng Yuxiang

Republic of China (1912–1949) Cai E
Republic of China (1912–1949) Tang Jiyao
Republic of China (1912–1949) Liang Qichao
Republic of China (1912–1949) Li Liejun

Republic of China (1912–1949) Lu Rongting
700,000+ 200,000+

The National Protection War (simplified Chinese: 护国战争; traditional Chinese: 護國戰爭), also known as the anti-Monarchy War, was a civil war that took place in China between 1915 and 1916. The cause of this war was Yuan Shikai's proclamation of himself as Emperor. Only three years earlier, the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, had been overthrown and a Republic of China established in its place. As a result of this declaration, military leaders including Tang Jiyao, Cai E, and Li Liejun declared their independence in Yunnan Province and launched expeditions against Yuan. Yuan's army faced several defeats which led other provinces in the south to declare independence as well. With immense pressure from the entire nation, Yuan Shikai was forced to abdicate and died a few months later.


After Yuan Shikai plotted the assassination in 1913 of Song Jiaoren, a prominent leader of the Kuomintang, Sun Yat-sen launched the Second Revolution (Chinese: 二次革命) against Yuan. It was unsuccessful and Sun was forced to flee to Japan while the Kuomintang was dissolved. Between August and December 1915, supporters of Yuan began to clamour for the restoration of a Chinese monarchy. On December 12, Yuan declared himself emperor of the Chinese Empire under the era name Hongxian. The new empire was due to formally launch on January 1, when he intended to conduct the accession rites.


General Cai E

Shortly after Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor, military leaders Cai E and Tang Jiyao of Yunnan Province declared independence on December 25 in the provincial capital, Kunming. They organized the National Protection Army and began an expedition against Yuan. Yuan Shikai sent 80,000 men in an attempt to attack Yunnan, but his troops suffered a major defeat in Sichuan Province. Before this defeat, Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces declared their independence between February and March 1916. Guangdong, Shandong, Hunan, Shanxi, Jiangxi, Jiangsu all followed suit and declared their independence shortly thereafter, and discord began to surface even inside the government in the national capital of Beijing. Faced with surmounting pressure, Yuan Shikai was forced to abandon the empire on March 22 and died soon after on June 6. The National Protection War was proclaimed a success, with the provinces rescinding their declarations of independence.

Northwest China

The Governor of Xinjiang, Yang Zengxin was a former Qing dynasty official who approved of Yuan Shikai's monarchism, and was against republicanism. Yang commanded thousands of Chinese Muslim troops. He ruled Xinjiang with a clique of Yunnanese, being from Yunnan himself. His subordinate Muslim Generals Ma Fuxing and Ma Shaowu were also Yunnanese. When some of the Yunnanese revolutionaries wanted to join Cai E in revolting against Yang, he beheaded them at a New Year's banquet in 1916. Yang was made a Count by Yuan Shikai.


The reopening of the National Assembly of the Republic of China in Beijing on August 1, 1916 following the National Protection War.

The National Protection War symbolized the beginning of the separation between the North and the South after the establishment of the Republic of China. Yuan Shikai was a legitimate president of the Republic, but his attempt to become Emperor was thwarted by the military opposition of the southern provinces. Even after the end of Yuan's short-lived monarchy, the Beiyang government in Beijing was no longer able to maintain control over the military leaders of the southern provinces. After the death of Yuan Shikai, the Beiyang government lost its leadership over warlords in the provinces and infighting among cliques within the Beiyang government began in earnest; meanwhile Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang created a military government in Guangzhou in the far south, leading to the protection of the Constitution.

China's Warlord Era would last for years until Chiang Kai-shek unified China through the Northern Expedition, the Central Plains War and many other civil wars before the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War.


  • Fairbank, John King; Twitchett, Denis (1983). The Cambridge History of China: Republican China 1912-1949, Part 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521235419.
  • Putnam Weale, Bertram Lenox (1917). The fight for the republic in China. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 490. OCLC 1541271.

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