When the Revolution of 1911 came and brought down the Qing Dynasty, replacing the traditional imperial system with a western-style republic, Zheng Xiaoxu was outraged and spurned all efforts to induce him to join the new government. He adamantly refused to serve the republic or to even acknowledge them as the new masters of China and he retired to Shanghai where he wrote poetry and practiced his calligraphy. In fact, it is for his art and poems that he is probably most remembered today, when he is fondly remembered at all. However, even in his retirement he did not cease to make his political views known and he wrote a number of brutally honest criticisms of the republican government. Viewing their entire establishment as illegitimate and un-Chinese he denounced the succession of governments as a collection of thieves, ineffective, self-centered and only looking to pocket as much as they could while they could before being pushed out by others. So, all in all, he had a very accurate view of the early days of the Republic of China.
|Zheng Xiaoxu and the Emperor|
It is not surprising, given the history Zheng Xiaoxu had with the Japanese and the contacts he had long had in Japan, that he would look to them for assistance at this critical time for the Qing Dynasty. However, he was not wedded to the Japanese alone and encouraged maintaining contacts with as many foreign powers as possible from White Russian exiles to British diplomats. He reasoned that if numerous powers became involved their own competition amongst themselves would prevent any one of them from dominating the Qing restoration movement. However, it was ultimately the Japanese who proved to be the only ones willing to take concrete measures to help the former Manchu Emperor and attention turned toward moving the young former monarch back to his ancestral homeland of Manchuria. Zheng Xiaoxu urged the Emperor to accept this course of action and came to be the dominant figure in the imperial court. When Japan said they would support the creation of an independent Manchuria under the leadership of the Emperor but not a full blown restoration of the “Great Qing Empire” Zheng Xiaoxu embraced the idea while his longtime rival, Lo Chen-yu, felt this was not sufficient and resigned.
Many often forget how long Manchukuo was an established country, from 1932 to 1945. As early as 1934, after Manchukuo officially became a monarchy, Zheng Xiaoxu viewed the role of the Japanese as being effectively over and resented their continued oversight of Manchu affairs. As was his nature, he was not hesitant to voice his opinions and openly clashed with the Kwantung Army high command on a number of occasions. As a result, many of the Japanese leaders came to view Zheng Xiaoxu as an enemy rather than an ally and suggested the Emperor replace him with someone else. After this attitude was clearly proven to him, Zheng Xiaoxu requested permission to retire in May of 1935 and this was granted. He was still kept under close watch until his mysterious death on March 28, 1938. The Emperor ordered that he be given a state funeral, a fittingly ceremonious end for a man who had been such a loyal servant of his monarch and perhaps merciful in that, disillusioned as he had already become, he did not live to see the final fall of the last Emperor of the “Middle Kingdom”.