Originally Posted by Tocomocho
So, WI Yuan Shikai sides with the Emperor and surprises both Ronglu and Cixi attacking their forces before they could be prepared? Can the Boxer Rebellion be avoided? Has the 100 Days Reform a chance to success or it's doomed from beginning?
You may not be surprised to learn that this was one of the PODs I considered for my "Superpower Empire" TL. Indeed, I believe it is entirely plausible that Yuan could have remained on the reformers' side--all it would have taken was the promise of a better deal than the one Cixi could come up with. After all, Guangxu was
the legitimate Emperor, and could grant sizeable perks.
The big question is whether it would have saved the Qing dynasty, and the short answer is: I don't know. But it would probably have saved the Imperial system itself. My personal theory is that the system remained salvageable until 1912, at the cost, of course, of drastic structural reforms; beyond that it was too discredited.
The reform movement did have a sizeable support base among China's modern elites, and with the continuing endorsement of the Imperial court, would probably have gathered enough critical mass to overcome the resistance of conservative elements. Conversely, without encouragement from the top, the Fists of Harmony would have remained a minor nuisance at best. Another critical factor is the attitude of the various powers encroaching on China at the time; they may support modernization as it would provide greater opportunities for investment, or may cynically consider that China shouldn't be allowed to modernize too
successfully, lest it become more difficult to satellize. Japan in particular may be wary of its large neighbor pulling off a Meiji analogue, though the Western powers may see a chance to play both Asian countries against one another. Should the reform movement be allowed to proceed unimpeded to 1914, the beginning of WW1 will likely incite Germany on one hand, and France and Britain on the other, to offer various deals in order to have China on their side.