With the sudden and anti-climactic collapse of the Qing in 1911, Liang saw his chance to throw his hat in the ring politically. Estranged from Sun Yat-sen’s party, however, Liang decided to support the opposition, led by Yuan Shikai.
Yuan Shikai (1859–1916) was an important Chinese general, an ally of Li Hongzhang during China’s late Qing military modernization. When the winner of China’s first and only free elections, Song Jiaoren, was assassinated in 1913, Yuan came to power under a cloud of suspicion. Yuan proved autocratic and self-serving, quickly outlawing all opposition and eventually attempting to enthrone himself as a new emperor.
Liang’s political career under Yuan was brief and ineffective. Turned off by Yuan’s despotic turn, Liang quickly resigned. He found more comfortable footing as an instigator of popular outrage at Japan’s infamous Twenty-One Demands.