Friday, November 30, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Chen Pao-shen

Chen Pao-shen (or Chen Baochen) was born in 1848 in Fuzhou, a region which had produced many scholars for Imperial China. Chen Pao-shen showed great promise in his youth, studying and becoming quite expert in the fields of history, philosophy and the Confucian classics. He successfully passed the famously difficult civil service examinations and became a mandarin, all at a surprisingly young age. He was still in his twenties when he became a prominent official at the Manchu court. It was also during this time that Chen Pao-shen married and started a family, eventually having sixteen children. However, his time at the Qing court was not without some problems. Chen Pao-shen was a very loyal man and a very traditional man but not totally averse to change when change was needed. He recognized that there were problems in Imperial China that the court would have to be corrected and that they would have to adapt in order to do so. Because he was not bashful in speaking his mind on such subjects, he incurred the wrath of the Empress-Dowager who finally dismissed Chen Pao-shen.

The respected scholar returned to his native Fuzhou and taught school as a humble teacher for the next thirty years. However, though notoriously slow to do so, the Empress-Dowager was not so close-minded as many people think and did begin to adopt some reforms toward the end of her life. She also decided that the infant prince, Aisin-Gioro Pu-yi, would be the next to sit on the Dragon Throne. Putting personal feelings aside, the Empress-Dowager decided that no one would be better qualified for the job of tutor to the future boy-emperor than Chen Pao-shen. He was summoned from Fuzhou to the Forbidden City where he remained for the next twenty-one years. In the past he had been sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat and vice-president of the Board of Rites but as tutor to the emperor he would have more influence than he would ever have had before in the future of Imperial China. Unfortunately, Imperial China was not to last very long, coming to an end in 1911 and 1912. Still, Chen Pao-shen remained loyal to the Qing dynasty and carried on with his duties as imperial tutor.

Chen Pao shen (right) with the Emperor
Today, thanks to a certain film (which is probably the only reason most people have any idea who the last Emperor of China was), most people think of Reginald F. Johnston as the only teacher the last Emperor of China had. Of course, this is not true (and I realize Chen Pao-shen was featured in the same film but his was a more minor part). Chen Pao-shen was the primary teacher and guiding force for the Emperor throughout his childhood and even after Johnston was brought in, Chen Pao-shen continued to be one of his closest advisors. As the Emperor wrote in his autobiography, “With Chen Pao-shen, I had one spirit. When Johnston came, I had two spirits.” Chen Pao-shen taught the Emperor the classics of Chinese literature and how to draw the proper moral lessons from the works of Confucius. Johnston came when the Emperor was older to teach him in a more western fashion. Also, because of the film, some mistakenly view Chen Pao-shen as someone comfortable with the status-quo and against taking any overt action to restore the Chinese monarchy. This, of course, is not true.

Chen Pao-shen was as committed as any other Qing loyalist to the restoration of the empire, however, he wanted to keep it a purely internal matter. He was a widely respected scholar at the time and was able to meet on good terms with representatives of the republic. Under the Articles of Favorable Treatment, the republic had made pretty good deal for the emperor and Chen Pao-shen did not want to jeopardize that. He preferred to work with Chinese republican officials and generals to get them on the side of the monarchist alternative and so restore the imperial system from the inside. Because of this, he supported the short-lived restoration of the empire in 1917 by General Chang Hsun (Zhang Xun) but he also learned from that fiasco to be very careful about stepping out on a limb before knowing that there was a reasonable chance of success. He also learned from that experience that promises of support from government officials could not always be trusted.

In time, Chen Pao-shen began to be overshadowed by the more ambitious mandarin Zheng Xiaoxu. Still, in 1925, after the Emperor had been evicted from the Forbidden City and forced to relocate to Tianjin, Chen Pao-shen packed up his family and followed his monarch into “exile”. It was there, however, that the eventual break came as the court divided into two factions, represented by Chen Pao-shen and Zheng Xiaoxu. It involved, of course, the friendly overtures of the Japanese culminating in their offer to help restore the Emperor to power in Manchuria. Zheng Xiaoxu pressed the Emperor to accept the Japanese offer, fearful that such an opportunity would never come again. This was not unjustified. After all, for decades the imperial court had tried to gain support (or buy it) with republican officials and warlords all to no avail. They took the Emperor’s money but never actually took any action to help him. Japan, another monarchy that believed firmly in the imperial system, was actually taking action. Chen Pao-shen, however, wished to take things slower and more cautiously.

Chen Pao-shen did not want to offend the Chinese republic but to try to gain more prestige and more of a following with the goal of the republic restoring the Articles of Favorable Treatment. Once that was done, they could try to influence Chinese officials to restore the monarchy completely. This strategy, also, has good points to it. The Qing court had been forced to rely on foreign support in the past and, in the end, the Qing suffered for it. He did not want the Emperor restored by a foreign power and he also believed that the Japanese would never support a total restoration of the Great Qing Empire across the whole of China. He believed that they should try to stay close and relevant to the circle of power in China and not make an enemy of the Chinese government. When it came down to it, the Emperor chose to accept the Japanese offer as the Chinese republicans, especially after the desecration of the Qing tombs, had completely disgusted him and turned him off of any idea of ever reconciling with them. When the Emperor made his decision, Chen Pao-shen, for the first time, refused to go along with and would not go to Manchuria. He remained in China and died not long after in 1935 at the age of 88.


  1. One of Chen Baochen's granddaughter, Chen Yu passed away this morning in Malaysia. She's in her 90s.

    1. Hi Tap Hoey, would you mind if I asked about your relation to Chen Yu?


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