Contemporary writers of the Yuan Shih-k'ai period, on whichever side of the struggle their sympathies lie, have little that is good to say of him. All they could admire was his technique, and this they praised wholeheartedly. Foreign observers with less training in the subject found the ins and outs of his manipulations too complex to follow and had to be content with grasping what they could of the main outlines of his method, which could be summed up as playing all ends against the middle and promising more to everyone than he had any intention of granting. But to us, now that a certain time has intervened, the story is clearer and stands out for what it is, a tragedy that should be commemorated in grand opera.
The leader of the Northern peace delegation was an old friend of Yuan's named T'ang Shao-i. Yuan must have regretted giving him the post, as T'ang soon proved himself embarrassingly sincere and really became converted to republicanism. Dr. Wu T'ing-fang, his Southern opposite number, submitted to him a four-point plan, the first two points providing for the abolition of the Manchu Court and the creation of a republican government. The others were merely discussions of details concerning the Emperor's welfare after abdication and that of other Manchus. On the important matters T'ang communicated with Yuan and then put forward an alternative plan to form a National Assembly to decide between republic and monarchy, and also no doubt to make other governmental decisions afterwards. Though Yuan had been the instigator of this suggestion, as soon as it had been made he publicly disowned it and declared T'ang had exceeded his authority in making it. He demanded T'ang's resignation. The aim of these contradictory actions was a reinforcement of Manchu faith in Yuan, which he certainly achieved, though at the cost of revolutionary good will and a certain rift in the lute