International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies (WCILCOS) (5th : 2012)

Early life of Yuan Shikai and the formation of Yuan family Gee, Kachuen Yuan; Chao, Janey Sheau Yueh


Research Statement This paper is a revised and updated report of the authors’ research findings on the history of Yuan Shikai 袁 世凯 family. We began our research in 2008 when we traveled to China to collect archival documents and published books, as well as historical photographs, about the Yuan family. Upon returning to the United States, we presented the first report of our findings in 2009 and began the preparation of writing a book. However, since 2010, there has been a surge of renewed interest in studying and re-evaluating Yuan Shikai’s life and career. Based on evidences found in historical records, historians now realized that, despite his faults, Yuan was not just a total autocrat who selfishly betrayed China for his own gains. Actually, Yuan was proactive in modernizing and reforming China, and had made significant contributions. Simultaneously with the development of this new trend, the Yuan family was brought into focus again. Two associations of Yuan descendents were founded in Henan in 2010/11 to research the ancestry of the clan, to restore ancestors’ property, and to collect new information about contemporary members. Many stories about the family and biographies of members that were not made public in 2009 are published in various journals and internet networks now. Since we are writing a complete and up-to-date book about Yuan family’s history, it is necessary for us to review all these new materials, evaluate them for accuracy and validity, and then update and expand our research with the new data. This report is a summary of our new findings which will be incorporated into our forth coming book, The Yuan Chronicle. Research Methodology We began our new research in early 2010 by first establishing contact with the Association of Yuan Descendents. The chairman and members of the association sent to us, by mail or electronically, documents about Yuan ancestry taken from Yuan family records and Xiangcheng gazetteers. At the same time, the authors also acquired several out of print books about the Yuan family through connections with publishers in China. Interviews by phone with several relatives whom we did not meet in 2008 were conducted and recorded. Starting in 2011, we consolidated the materials collected and began the evaluation of data. Stories that were fictional without proper documentation were discounted. Biographies were verified by at least two sources. Whenever possible, we also tried to confirm dates and names with the source supplier by phone or email. This process of validation is still ongoing, since our contacts in China continue to send us new information. Next year, we plan to make another trip to China in March to meet the Yuan Association members and other contacts in person. We will ask them to review the data we collected and correct any possible mistakes. We also plan to visit Xiangcheng again to review original documents about Yuan ancestry. After we return from China, we plan to write a summary report to be presented in this conference, and then complete the book by the end of 2012. Structure The first part of the paper traces Yuan ancestors who settled in Xiangcheng, Henan 河南项城in the 17th century, and recounts the rise of the family from its humble beginnings to prominence. New biographical sketches of Yuan Shikai’s elders and the impact of their teaching on his personality were introduced here. The second part of the paper focuses on the early life of Yuan Shikai, the shaping of his character, and the formation of his large family. Life of prominent Yuan sons, including Keding 克定 and Kewen 克文, were portrayed with more details and accuracy, with new information on the relationship between the two brothers added. Biographies of Yuan daughters, if known, were also introduced. Lastly, the paper presents selected records of interviews with contemporary Yuan descendents that were not included in the first report.

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