Yuan Shikai assumed the presidency in February of 1912. He had the support of his own Beiyang Army – China’s strongest – in the north and a deal with the National Alliance in the south. He was to rule China, more or less, until his death in 1916. The constitutional basis for Yuan’s rule came from his selection as premier by the Qing’s recently founded National Assembly and the official abdication of the Qing. The government of the southern revolutionaries also recognized Yuan, anticipating a republican political system in which they could lay claims to power as well. The new Republic adopted a five-color flag, representing the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan, and Hui (Muslim) nationalities, and it used the Western solar calendar. Time was reset. The years were to be counted not in reign periods, nor from the birth of Confucius or the Yellow Emperor, nor yet from the birth of Christ – but from the founding of the Republic itself. Year One had begun.
The new Republic claimed the mantles of both modernity and nationalism. Men cut their queues (or had them cut forcibly); more slowly, women unbound their feet. For city residents, handshaking began to replace – or supplement – bowing. Yet republican political institutions did not take root.