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The Warlord Era was a period in the
history of the Republic of China The History of the Republic of China begins after the Qing dynasty in 1912, when the formation of the Republic of China as a constitutional republic put an end to 2,000 years of imperial rule. The Manchu-led Qing dynasty ruled China proper from 1 ...
when control of the country was divided among former military cliques of the
Beiyang Army The Beiyang Army (Pei-yang Army; ), named after the Beiyang region,
and other regional factions from 1916 to 1928. In
historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have ...
, the Warlord Era began in 1916 upon the death of
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
, the ''
de facto In law and government, ''de facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with ''de jure'' ("by law ...
''
dictator , the Italian dictator from 1922 to 1943 and Adolf Hitler, the German dictator from 1933 to 1945 A dictator is a political leader who possesses autocracy, absolute power. A dictatorship is a state ruled by one dictator or by a small clique. The ...
of China after the
Xinhai Revolution The 1911 Revolution, also known as the Chinese Revolution or the Xinhai Revolution, ended China's last imperial dynasty, the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and resulted in the establishment of the Republic of China on 1 January 1912. The revolution wa ...
overthrew the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The mult ...
and established the
Republic of China Taiwan (), officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. Neighbouring countries include the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the south. The main island of Ta ...
in 1912. Yuan's death created a
power vacuum In political science and political history, the term power vacuum, also known as a power void, is an analogy between a physical vacuum to the political condition "when someone in a place of power, has lost control of something and no one has repla ...
that spread across the
Mainland China Mainland China, also known as the Chinese mainland, China mainland, or the Mainland Area of the Republic of China is the geopolitical area under the direct jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since October 1, 1949. It include ...
regions of
Sichuan Sichuan (, Standard Mandarin pronunciation: ; alternatively romanized as Szechuan or Szechwan) is a landlocked province in Southwest China occupying most of the Sichuan Basin and the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau between the Jinsha ...
,
Shanxi Shanxi (; formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is Taiyuan, while its next most populated prefecture-level ...
,
Qinghai Qinghai (; alternately romanized as Tsinghai, Ch'inghai), also called Kokonur, is a landlocked province in the northwest of the People's Republic of China. As one of the largest province-level administrative divisions of China by area, the pro ...
,
Ningxia Ningxia (, ; alternately romanized as Ninghsia), officially the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR), is a landlocked autonomous region in the northwest of the People's Republic of China. Formerly a province, Ningxia was incorporated into Gansu ...
,
Guangdong Guangdong (alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung) is a coastal province in South China on the north shore of the South China Sea. The capital of the province is Guangzhou. With a population of 113.46 million (as of 2018) a ...
,
Guangxi Guangxi (; alternately romanized as Kwanghsi; ; za, Gvangjsih), officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in South China and bordering Vietnam (Hà Giang, Cao Bằ ...
,
Gansu Gansu (; alternately romanized as Kansu) is a landlocked province in Northwest China. Its capital and largest city is Lanzhou, in the southeast part of the province. The seventh-largest administrative district by area at , Gansu lies between the ...
,
Yunnan Yunnan () is a landlocked province in the southwest of the People's Republic of China. The province spans approximately and has a population of 48.3 million (as of 2018). The capital of the province is Kunming. The province borders the Chinese ...
and
Xinjiang Xinjiang, SASM/GNC: ''Xinjang''; zh, c=, p=Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang; officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (PRC), located in the northwest of the countr ...
. The Nationalist
Kuomintang The Kuomintang (KMT) () is a major political party in Taiwan which originated as a revolutionary political party during the Republican Era on the Chinese mainland, where it is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Nationalist Party. Founded ...
government of
Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)Singtao daily. Saturday edition. 23 October 2010. section A18. Sun Yat-sen Xinhai revolution 100th anniversary edition . was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political phil ...
based in
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China. Located on the Pearl River about north-northwest of Hong Kong and no ...
began to contest Yuan's
Beiyang Government The Beiyang government (), officially the Republic of China (), also sometimes spelled Peiyang Government or the First Republic of China, refers to the government of the Republic of China which sat in its capital Peking between 1912 and 1928. ...
based in
Beijing Beijing ( ), alternatively romanized as Peking ( ), is the capital of the People's Republic of China. It is the world's most populous national capital city, with over 21 million residents within an administrative area of 16,410.5 km2 ( ...
as the legitimate government of China. The Warlord Era was characterized by constant
civil war A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region or t ...
between different factions, the largest of which was the
Central Plains War The Central Plains War () was a series of military campaigns in 1929 and 1930 that constituted a Chinese civil war between the Nationalist Kuomintang government in Nanjing led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and several regional military commanders ...

Central Plains War
which involved more than one million soldiers. The Warlord Era ended in 1928 when the Kuomintang under
Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek (31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-cheng and romanized via Mandarin as Chiang Chieh-shih and Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the le ...

Chiang Kai-shek
officially unified China through the
Northern Expedition The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) of the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the "Chinese Nationalist Party", against the Beiyang government and other regional warlords in 1926. The ...
, marking the beginning of the
Nanjing decade The Nanjing decade (also Nanking decade, ''Nánjīng shí nián'', or The Golden decade, ''Huángjīn shí nián'') is an informal name for the decade from 1927 (or 1928) to 1937 in the Republic of China. It began when Nationalist Generalissimo ...
. Several of the warlords continued to maintain their influence through the 1930s and the 1940s, which was problematic for the Nationalist government during both the
Second Sino-Japanese War The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) was a military conflict that was primarily waged between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. In China, the war is known as the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (), or as the Asi ...
and
Chinese Civil War The Chinese Civil War was a civil war in China fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China (ROC) and forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC) lasting intermittently between 1927 and 1949. The war is genera ...
.


Terminology

During
World War I World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously known as the Great War or "the war to end all wars", i ...
the
New Culture Movement The New Culture Movement (''Xin wenhua yundong)'' was a movement in China in the 1910s and 1920s that criticized classical Chinese ideas and promoted a new Chinese culture based upon western ideals like democracy and science. Arising out of disill ...
leader
Chen Duxiu Chen Duxiu ( zh, t=陳獨秀, w=Ch'en Tu-hsiu; October 8, 1879 – May 27, 1942) was a Chinese revolutionary socialist, educator, philosopher and author, who co-founded the Communist Party of China (with Li Dazhao) in 1921. From 1921 to 1927, he serv ...

Chen Duxiu
introduced the term ''Junfa'' ( 軍閥), taken from the Japanese ''gunbatsu'', which was taken in turn from the German. It was not widely used until the 1920s, when it was taken up by left-wing groups to excoriate local militarists. Previously, these militarist leaders were known as a ''Tuchun'' ( 督軍), or provincial military governor, owing to the system
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
introduced after his centralization of power.


Origins

The origins of the armies and leaders which dominated politics after 1912 lay in the military reforms of the late
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The mult ...
. During the
Taiping Rebellion The Taiping Rebellion, also known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, was a massive rebellion or civil war that was waged in China from 1850 to 1864, between the established Qing dynasty and the theocratic Taiping Heavenly Kingdom ...
(1850–64), the Qing dynasty was forced to allow provincial governors to raise their own armies, the ''
Yong Ying Yong Ying (, literally "brave camps") were a type of regional army that emerged in the 19th century in the Qing dynasty army, which fought in most of China's wars after the Opium War and numerous rebellions exposed the ineffectiveness of the Manchu ...
'', to fight against the Taiping rebels; many of these provincial forces were not disbanded after the Taiping rebellion was over, like
Li Hongzhang Li Hongzhang, Marquess Suyi (also romanised as Li Hung-chang; 15 February 1823 – 7 November 1901) was a Chinese politician, general and diplomat of the late Qing dynasty. He quelled several major rebellions and served in important positio ...
’s
Huai Army The Huai Army (), named for the Huai River, was a military force allied with the Qing dynasty raised to contain the Taiping Rebellion in 1862. It was also called the Anhui Army because it was based in Anhui province. It helped to restore the stabili ...
. Strong bonding, family ties and respectful treatment of troops were emphasized. The officers were never rotated, and the soldiers were handpicked by their commanders, and commanders by their generals, so personal bonds of loyalty formed between local officers and the troops, unlike Green Standard and Banner forces. These late Qing reforms did not establish a national army but instead they mobilized regional armies and
militia A militia () is generally an army or some other fighting organization of non-professional soldiers, citizens of a country, or subjects of a state, who may perform military service during a time of need, as opposed to a professional force of regu ...
s that had neither standardization nor consistency. Officers were loyal to their superiors and formed cliques based upon their place of origins and background. Units were composed of men from the same province. This policy was meant to reduce dialectal miscommunication, but had the side effect of encouraging regionalistic tendencies. Although the post-Taiping Rebellion governors are generally not recognised as the direct predecessors of the warlords, their combined military-civil authority and somewhat greater powers as compared to earlier governors provided a model for Republic-era provincial leaders. The fragmentation of military power due to the Late Qing's lack of a unified military force, exacerbated by the rise of provincialism during the revolution, was also a strong factor behind the proliferation of warlords. Apart from administrative and financial obstacles, the late Qing government seemed to have relied on this divided military structure to maintain political control. The
Confucian , Shanxi Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a w ...
disdain for the military was swept aside by the rising necessity of military professionalism, with scholars becoming heavily militarized, and many officers from non-scholarly backgrounds rising to high command and even high office in civil bureaucracy. At this time, the military upstaged the
civil service The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leadersh ...
. Influenced by German and Japanese ideas of military predominance over the nation, coupled with the absence of national unity amongst the various cliques in the officer class, led to the fragmentation of power in the warlord era. The most powerful regional army was the northern-based
Beiyang Army The Beiyang Army (Pei-yang Army; ), named after the Beiyang region,
under
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
, which received the best in training and modern weaponry. The
Xinhai Revolution The 1911 Revolution, also known as the Chinese Revolution or the Xinhai Revolution, ended China's last imperial dynasty, the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and resulted in the establishment of the Republic of China on 1 January 1912. The revolution wa ...
in 1911 brought widespread
mutiny Mutiny is a revolt among a group of people (typically of a military or of a crew) to oppose, change, or overthrow an organization to which they were previously loyal. The term is commonly used for a rebellion among members of the military against ...
across southern China. The revolution began in October 1911 with the mutiny of troops based in Wuchang (Present-day Wuhan). Soldiers once loyal to the Qing government began to defect to the opposition. These revolutionary forces established a provisional government in
Nanjing Nanjing ( ), formerly romanized as Nanking, is the capital of Jiangsu province of the People's Republic of China and the second largest city in the East China region. With 11 districts, Nanjing, which is located in southwestern Jiangsu, has an ...
the following year under Dr.
Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)Singtao daily. Saturday edition. 23 October 2010. section A18. Sun Yat-sen Xinhai revolution 100th anniversary edition . was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political phil ...
, who had returned from his long exile to lead the revolution. It became clear that the revolutionaries were not strong enough to defeat the
Beiyang army The Beiyang Army (Pei-yang Army; ), named after the Beiyang region,
and continued fighting would almost certainly lead to defeat. Instead, Sun negotiated with Beiyang commander Yuan Shikai to bring an end to the Qing and reunify China. In return, Sun would hand over his presidency and recommend Yuan to be the president of the new republic. Yuan refused to move to
Nanjing Nanjing ( ), formerly romanized as Nanking, is the capital of Jiangsu province of the People's Republic of China and the second largest city in the East China region. With 11 districts, Nanjing, which is located in southwestern Jiangsu, has an ...
and insisted on maintaining the capital in
Beijing Beijing ( ), alternatively romanized as Peking ( ), is the capital of the People's Republic of China. It is the world's most populous national capital city, with over 21 million residents within an administrative area of 16,410.5 km2 ( ...
, where his power base was secure. Reacting to Yuan's growing
authoritarianism Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by the rejection of political plurality, the use of a strong central power to preserve the political ''status quo'', and reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic v ...
, the southern provinces rebelled in 1913 but were effectively crushed by Beiyang forces. Civil governors were replaced by military ones. In December 1915 Yuan made clear his intentions to become
emperor of China Emperor of China, or ''Huáng dì'' was the monarch of China during the Imperial Period of Chinese history. In traditional Chinese political theory, the emperor was considered the Son of Heaven and the autocrat of All under Heaven. Under the Han ...
and found a new dynasty. The southern provinces rebelled again in the
National Protection War The National Protection War (), also known as the anti-Monarchy War, was a civil war that took place in China from 1915–1916. Only three years earlier the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing dynasty, had been overthrown and the Republic of China esta ...
; but this time the situation was far more serious because most Beiyang commanders refused to recognize the monarchy. Yuan renounced his plans for restoring the monarchy to woo back his lieutenants, but by the time he died in June 1916 China was fractured politically. The North-South split would persist throughout the entire Warlord Era.


Warlord political system

Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
cut back on many government institutions in the beginning of 1914 by suspending parliament, followed by the provincial assemblies. His cabinet soon resigned, effectively making Yuan dictator of China. After
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
curtailed many basic freedoms, the country quickly spiraled into chaos and entered a period of warlordism. "Warlordism did not substitute military force for the other elements of government; it merely balanced them differently. This shift in balance came partly from the disintegration of the sanctions and values of China's traditional civil government." In other words, during the warlord era, there was a characteristic shift from a state-dominated civil bureaucracy held by a central authority to a military-dominated culture held by many groups, with power shifting from warlord to warlord. A notable theme of warlordism is identified by C. Martin Wilbur. "He pointed out that a great majority of regional militarists were 'static', that is to say that their principal aim was to secure and maintain control of a particular tract of territory." Warlords, in the words of American political scientist
Lucian Pye Lucian W. Pye (; October 21, 1921 – September 5, 2008) was an American political scientist, sinologist and comparative politics expert considered one of the leading China scholars in the United States. Educated at Carleton College and Yale Unive ...
, were "instinctively suspicious, quick to suspect that their interests might be threatened, hard-headed, devoted to the short run and impervious to idealistic abstractions". These Chinese warlords usually came from strict military background, and were brutal in their treatment toward both their soldiers and the general population. In 1921, the ''
North China Daily News The ''North China Daily News'' (in Chinese: ''Zilin Xibao''), was an English-language newspaper in Shanghai, China, called the most influential foreign newspaper of its time. History The paper was founded as the weekly ''North-China Herald'' (T ...

North China Daily News
'' reported that in the
Shaanxi Shaanxi (, ; alternately Shensi) is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China. Officially part of Northwest China, it borders the province-level divisions of Shanxi (NE, E), Henan (E), Hubei (SE), Chongqing (S), Sichuan (SW), G ...
province, prevalence of robbery and violent crimes were serious and frightened the farmers.
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
of the
Zhili Zhili, alternately romanized as Chihli, was a northern administrative region of China from the 14th-century Ming dynasty until 1911, when the region was dissolved, converted to a province, and renamed Hebei in 1928. History The name ''Zhili'' me ...
clique was known for suppressing strikes by railroad workers by terrorizing them with execution. A British diplomat in
Sichuan Sichuan (, Standard Mandarin pronunciation: ; alternatively romanized as Szechuan or Szechwan) is a landlocked province in Southwest China occupying most of the Sichuan Basin and the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau between the Jinsha ...
province witnessed two mutineers being publicly hacked to death with their hearts and livers hung out; another two being publicly burned to death; while others had slits cut into their bodies into which were inserted burning candles before they were hacked to pieces. Warlords placed great stress on personal loyalty, yet subordinate officers often betrayed their commanders in exchange for bribes known as "silver bullets", and warlords often betrayed allies. Promotion had little to do with competence, and instead warlords attempted to create an interlocking network of familial, institutional, regional, and master-pupil relationships together with membership in sworn brotherhoods and secret societies. Subordinates who betrayed their commanders could suffer harshly. In November 1925
Guo Songling Guo Songling () (1883 – 24 December 1925) was an important general of the Manchurian Fengtian clique warlord army led by Zhang Zuolin during the Chinese Warlord Era. A republican sympathiser who briefly served under Sun Yat-Sen, he was a te ...
, the leading general loyal to Marshal
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuolin (; 19 March 18754 June 1928) was an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. The warlord of Manchuria from 1916 to 1928, and the military dictator of the Republic of China in 1927 and 1928, he ...

Zhang Zuolin
—the "Old Marshal" of Manchuria—made a deal with
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
to revolt, which nearly toppled the "Old Marshal", who had to promise his rebel soldiers a pay increase; that, together with signs that the Japanese still supported Zhang, caused them to go back on their loyalty to him. Guo and his wife were both publicly shot and their bodies left to hang for three days in a marketplace in
Mukden Shenyang (; ), formerly known as Fengtian () or by its Manchu name Mukden, is a major Chinese sub-provincial city and the provincial capital of Liaoning province. Located in central-north Liaoning, it is the province's most populous city, wit ...
. After Feng betrayed his ally Wu to seize Beijing for himself, Wu complained that China was "a country without a system; anarchy and treason prevail everywhere. Betraying one's leader has become as natural as eating one's breakfast ..." "Alignment politics" prevented any one warlord from dominating the system. When one warlord started to become too powerful, the rest would ally to stop him, then turn on each other. The level of violence in the first years was restrained, as no leader wanted to engage in too much serious fighting. War brought the risk of damage to one's own forces. For example, when
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
defeated the army of Zhang Zuolin, he provided two trains to take his defeated enemies home, knowing that if in the future Zhang were to defeat him, he could count on the same courtesy. Furthermore, none of the warlords had the economic capacity or the logistical strength to inflict a decisive knockout blow; the most they could hope for was to gain some territory. None could conquer the whole country and impose a central authority. However, as the 1920s went on, the violence became increasingly intense and savage as the object was to damage the enemy and improve one's bargaining power within the "alignment politics". As the infrastructure in China was very poor, control of the railway lines and rolling stock were crucial in maintaining the
sphere of influence In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence (SOI) is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political exclusivity. While there may be a formal al ...
.
Railroads Rail transport (also known as train transport) is a means of transferring passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails, which are located on tracks. In contrast to road transport, where the vehicles run on a prepared flat surface, ...
were the fastest and cheapest way of moving large number of troops, and most battles during this era were fought within a short distance of railways. In 1925, it was estimated that 70% of the locomotives on the railway lines connecting
Wuhan Wuhan (, ) is the capital of Hubei Province in the People's Republic of China. It is the largest city in Hubei and the most populous city in Central China, with a population of over eleven million, the ninth-most populous Chinese city and one of ...
and Beijing, and 50% of the locomotives on the lines connecting Beijing and Mukden were being used for mobilizing troops and supplies. Armored trains, full of machine guns and artillery, offered fire support for troops going into battle. The constant fighting around the railroads caused much economic harm. In 1925 at least 50% of the locomotives being used on the line connecting Nanjing and Shanghai had been destroyed, with the soldiers of one warlord using 300 freight cars as sleeping quarters, all inconveniently parked directly on the rail line. To hinder pursuit, defeated troops tore up the railroads as they retreated, causing in 1924 alone damage worth 100 million silver Mexican dollars (the Mexican silver dollar was the main currency used in China at the time). Between 1925 and 1927 fighting in eastern and southern China caused non-military railroad traffic to decline by 25%, raising the prices of goods and causing inventory to build up at warehouses.


Warlord profiles

Few of the warlords had any sort of ideology.
Yan Xishan Yan Xishan (; 8 October 1883 – 22 July 1960, ) was a Chinese warlord who served in the government of the Republic of China. He effectively controlled the province of Shanxi from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution to the 1949 Communist victory in ...

Yan Xishan
, the "Model Governor" of
Shanxi Shanxi (; formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is Taiyuan, while its next most populated prefecture-level ...
, professed a
syncretic Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of reli ...
creed that merged elements of
democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislators. The decisions on who is considered par ...

democracy
, militarism,
individualism Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology and social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance an ...
,
capitalism Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Central characteristics of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets, a price system, private proper ...
,
socialism Socialism is a political, social, and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production.Arnold, N. Scott (1998). ''The Philosophy and Economics of Market Socia ...
,
communism Communism (from Latin la, communis, lit=common, universal, label=none)Ball, Terence, and Richard Dagger. 9992019.Communism (revised ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 10 June 2020. is a philosophical, social, political, and economic ide ...

communism
,
imperialism Imperialism is a policy or ideology of extending the rule over peoples and other countries, for extending political and economic access, power and control, often through employing hard power, especially military force, but also soft power. While ...
,
universalism Universalism is the philosophical and theological concept that some ideas have universal application or applicability. A belief in one fundamental truth is another important tenet in universalism. The living truth is seen as more far-reaching tha ...
,
anarchism Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that is sceptical of authority and rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. Anarchism calls for the abolition of the state, which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harm ...
, and Confucian
paternalism Paternalism is action that limits a person's or group's liberty or autonomy and is intended to promote their own good. Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior express ...
into one. A friend described Yan as "a dark-skinned, mustached man of medium height who rarely laughed and maintained an attitude of great reserve; Yan never showed his inner feelings." He kept
Shanxi Shanxi (; formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is Taiyuan, while its next most populated prefecture-level ...
on a different railroad gauge from the rest of China to make it difficult to invade his province, though that tactic also hindered the export of coal and iron, the main source of Shanxi's wealth.
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
, the "Christian General", promoted
Methodism Methodism, also called the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity which derive their doctrine of practice and belief from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John' ...
together with a vague sort of left-leaning
Chinese nationalism The current national flag of the People's Republic of China (1949–present), representing a variety of Chinese nationalism. Currently in use in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau">Hong_Kong.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-red ...
, which led the
Soviets The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a federal socialist state in Northern Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, in practice its governmen ...
to support him for a time. He banned alcohol, lived simply and wore the common uniform of an infantryman to show his concern for his men.
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
, the "Philosopher General", was a
mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat Language * Mandarin Chinese, branch of Chinese spoken in northern and southwester ...
who passed the
Imperial Civil Service exam Civil service examinations (also public tendering) are examinations implemented in various countries for recruitment and admission to the civil service. They are intended as a method to achieve an effective, rational public administration on a mer ...
, billing himself as the protector of Confucian values, usually appearing in photographs with the scholar's brush in his hand (the scholar's brush is a symbol of Confucian culture). Doubters noted, however, that the quality of Wu's
calligraphy Calligraphy (from Greek: καλλιγραφία) is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad-tipped instrument, brush, or other writing instrument. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defin ...
markedly declined when his secretary died. Wu liked to appear in photos taken in his office with a portrait of his hero
George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to vi ...

George Washington
in the background to reflect the supposed democratic militarism he was attempting to bring to China. Wu was famous for his capacity to absorb vast quantities of alcohol and still keep drinking. When he sent Feng a bottle of brandy, Feng replied by sending him a bottle of water, a message that Wu failed to take in. An intense Chinese nationalist,
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
refused to enter the foreign concessions in China, a stance that was to cost him his life when he refused to go to the International Settlement or the French Concession in Shanghai for medical treatment. More typical was Marshal
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuolin (; 19 March 18754 June 1928) was an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. The warlord of Manchuria from 1916 to 1928, and the military dictator of the Republic of China in 1927 and 1928, he ...

Zhang Zuolin
, a graduate of the "University of the Green Forest" (i.e., a bandit), an illiterate who had a forceful, ambitious personality that allowed him to rise up from the leader of a bandit gang, be hired by the Japanese to attack the Russians during the
Russo-Japanese war The Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan fought the Russo-Japanese War (russian: Ру́сско-япóнская войнá, Rússko-yapónskaya voyná; ja, 日露戦争, translit=Nichiro sensō, "Japanese-Russian War") during 1904 and 1905 ov ...
of 1904-05 and become the warlord of Manchuria by 1916. He worked openly for the Japanese in ruling Manchuria. Zhang controlled only 3% of China's population but 90% of its heavy industry. The wealth of Manchuria, the support of the Japanese and Zhang's hard-hitting, swift-moving cavalry made him the most powerful of the warlords. His Japanese patrons insisted that he ensure a stable economic climate to facilitate Japanese investment, making him one of the few warlords who sought to pursue economic growth instead of just plundering.
Zhang Zongchang Zhang Zongchang (; 13 February 1881 – 3 September 1932) was a Chinese warlord in Shandong in the early 20th century. ''Time'' dubbed him China's "basest warlord". He was known by many nicknames such as the "Dogmeat General" (). Biography Ear ...
, known as the "Dogmeat General" because of his love for the gambling game of that name, was described as having "the physique of an elephant, the brain of a pig and the temperament of a tiger". Writer
Lin Yutang Lin Yutang ( ; October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese inventor, linguist, novelist, philosopher, and translator. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation ...

Lin Yutang
called Zhang "the most colorful, legendary, medieval, and unashamed ruler of modern China". Former Emperor Puyi remembered Zhang as "a universally detested monster" whose ugly, bloated face was "tinged with the livid hue induced by heavy opium smoking". A brutal man, Zhang was notorious for his hobby of smashing in the heads of prisoners with his sword, which he called "smashing melons". He loved to boast about the size of his penis, which became part of his legend. He was widely believed to be the most ''well endowed'' man in China, nicknamed "General Eighty-Six" as his penis when erect was said to measure up to a pile of 86 Mexican silver dollars. His
harem Harem ( ar, حريم ''ḥarīm'', "a sacred inviolable place; harem; female members of the family")Harem
at ...
consisted of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian and two French women. He gave them numbers, as he could not remember their names, and then usually forgot the numbers. Other notable information on some of the above mentioned major warlords: #
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuolin (; 19 March 18754 June 1928) was an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. The warlord of Manchuria from 1916 to 1928, and the military dictator of the Republic of China in 1927 and 1928, he ...

Zhang Zuolin
"Warlord of Manchuria" became Japan's ally against Russia during the Russo-Japanese war. He had also served as the military governor of Mukden since 1911. #
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
was originally trained as a Confucian scholar, but later received Japanese military training at the Paoting military academy. He was thought by many Chinese and British observers to be a stabilizing force in Central China. #
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
was a soldier since childhood and like Wu, was a graduate of Paoting. He was baptized by a Y.M.C.A leader in 1913; He was known as the "Christian General" as he encouraged his troops to pursue Christianity. He seized Beijing in 1924 and demonstrated how easily a major Chinese city could be overthrown. The great ideological flexibility of warlords and politicians during this era can be well exemplified in the activities of Bai Lang, an important bandit leader. Even though he initially fought in support of the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The mult ...
with ultraconservative monarchists as well as warlords, Bai Lang later formed an alliance with republicans, declared himself loyal to Dr.
Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)Singtao daily. Saturday edition. 23 October 2010. section A18. Sun Yat-sen Xinhai revolution 100th anniversary edition . was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political phil ...
and formed a "Citizen's Punitive Army" to rid China of all the warlords.


Warlord armies

Many of the common soldiers in warlord armies were also
bandits 250px, Carmine Crocco's lieutenant Agostino Sacchitiello and members of his band from Bisaccia, Campania photographed in 1862 Banditry is a type of organized crime committed by outlaws typically involving the threat or use of violence. A p ...
who took up service for a campaign and then reverted to banditry when the campaign was over. One politician remarked that when the warlords went to war with each other, the bandits become soldiers and when the war ended, the soldiers became bandits. Warlord armies commonly
raped Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, ...
or took many women into
sexual slavery Sexual slavery and sexual exploitation is attaching the right of ownership over one or more people with the intent of coercing or otherwise forcing them to engage in sexual activities. This includes forced labor, reducing a person to a servile ...
. The system of looting was institutionalized, as many warlords lacked the money to pay their troops. Some took to kidnapping, and might send a hostage's severed fingers along with the ransom demand as a way of encouraging prompt payment. Besides bandits, the rank-and-file of the warlord armies tended to be village
conscripts Conscription, sometimes called the draft in the United States, is the mandatory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and it continues in some countries to the present day ...
. They might take service in one army, get captured, then join the army of their captors before being captured yet again. Warlords usually incorporated their prisoners into their armies; at least 200,000 men who were serving in the army of Gen. Wu were prisoners he had incorporated into his own army. A survey of one warlord garrison in 1924 revealed that 90% of the soldiers were
illiterate Literacy is popularly understood as an ability to read and write in at least one method of writing, an understanding reflected by mainstream dictionaries. Correspondingly, the term ''illiteracy'' is considered to be the inability to read and ...
. In 1926 U.S. Army officer
Joseph Stilwell Joseph Warren Stilwell (March 19, 1883 – October 12, 1946) was a United States Army general who served in the China Burma India Theater during World War II. An early American popular hero of the war for leading a column walking out of Burma purs ...
inspected a warlord unit and observed that 20% were less than tall, the average age was 14 and most walked barefoot. Stilwell wrote that this "scarecrow company" was worthless as a military unit. A British army visitor commented that, provided they had proper leadership, the men of northern China were "the finest Oriental raw material with a physique second to none, and an iron constitution". However, such units were the exception rather than the rule.


Finances

In 1916 there were about a half-million soldiers in China. By 1922 the numbers had tripled, then tripled again by 1924; more than the warlords could support. For example, Marshal Zhang, the ruler of industrialized Manchuria, took in $23 million in tax revenues in 1925 while spending some $51 million. Warlords in other provinces were even more hard-pressed. One way of raising funds were taxes called ''lijin'' that were often confiscatory and inflicted much economic harm. For example, in Sichuan province there were 27 different taxes on salt, and one shipload of paper that was sent down the Yangtze River to Shanghai was taxed 11 different times by various warlords to the sum total of 160% of its value. One warlord imposed a tax of 100% on railroad freight, including food, even though there was a famine in his province. Taxes owed to the central government in Beijing on stamp and salt were usually taken by regional authorities. Despite all of the wealth of Manchuria and the support of the Japanese army, Marshal Zhang had to raise land taxes by 12% between 1922 and 1928 to pay for his wars. The warlords demanded loans from the banks. The other major revenue source besides taxes, loans and looting was the selling of
opium Opium (or poppy tears, scientific name: ''Lachryma papaveris'') is dried latex obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy ''Papaver somniferum''. Approximately 12 percent of opium is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is ...
, with the warlords selling the rights to grow and sell opium within their provinces to consortia of gangsters. Despite his ostensible anti-opium stance, Gen.
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
, "the Christian General", took in some $20 million per annum from opium sales. Inflation was another means of paying for their soldiers. Some warlords simply ran the money printing presses, and some resorted to duplicating machines to issue new Chinese dollars. The warlord who ruled
Hunan Hunan () is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, part of the South Central China region. Located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze watershed, it borders the province-level divisions of Hubei to the north, Jiangxi to the e ...

Hunan
province printed 22 million Chinese dollars on a silver reserve worth only one million Chinese dollars in the course of a single year, while Zhang in Shandong province printed 55 million Chinese dollars on a silver reserve of 1.5 million Chinese dollars during the same year. The illiterate Marshal
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuolin (; 19 March 18754 June 1928) was an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. The warlord of Manchuria from 1916 to 1928, and the military dictator of the Republic of China in 1927 and 1928, he ...

Zhang Zuolin
, who engaged in reckless printing of Chinese dollars, did not understand it was him who was causing the inflation in Manchuria, and his remedy was simply to summon the leading merchants of Mukden, accuse them of greed because they were always raising their prices, had five of them selected at random publicly shot and told the rest to behave better. Despite their constant need for money, the warlords lived in luxury. Marshal Zhang owned the world's biggest pearl, while Gen. Wu owned the world's biggest diamond. Marshal Zhang, the "Old Marshal", lived in a lavish palace in
Mukden Shenyang (; ), formerly known as Fengtian () or by its Manchu name Mukden, is a major Chinese sub-provincial city and the provincial capital of Liaoning province. Located in central-north Liaoning, it is the province's most populous city, wit ...
with his five wives, old Confucian texts and a cellar full of fine
French wine Château Pichon Longueville Baron in Pauillac corresponds well to the traditional image of a prestigious French château, but in reality, French wineries come in all sizes and shapes. French wine is produced all throughout France, in quantit ...
s, and needed 70 cooks in his kitchen to make enough food for him, his wives and his guests. Gen. Zhang, the "Dogmeat General", ate his meals off a 40-piece Belgian dinner service, and an American journalist described dinner with him: "He gave a dinner for me where sinful quantities of costly foods were served in a starving country. There was French champagne and sound brandy".


Equipment

The warlords bought machine guns and artillery from abroad, but their uneducated and illiterate soldiers could not operate or service them. A British mercenary complained in 1923 that
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
had about 45 European artillery pieces that were inoperable because they had not been properly maintained. At the Battle of Urga, the army of Gen.
Xu Shuzheng Hsu Seu-Cheng or Xu Shuzheng (; ) (11 November 1880 – 29 December 1925) was a Chinese warlord in Republican China. A subordinate and right-hand man of Duan Qirui, he was a prominent member of the Anhui clique. Early life Xu was born in Xi ...

Xu Shuzheng
, which had seized
Outer Mongolia Outer Mongolia (Mongolian script: or , Mongolian Cyrillic: or , romanization: ''Gadaad Mongol'' or ''Alr Mongol''; Manchu: ''Tülergi Monggo''; )Huhbator Borjigin. 2004. The history and political character of the name of 'Nei Menggu ...
, was attacked by a Russian-Mongol army under the command of Gen. Baron
Roman von Ungern-Sternberg Baron Roman Fyodorovich von Ungern-Sternberg (born Nikolai Robert Maximilian Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg; russian: Рома́н Фёдорович фон У́нгерн-Ште́рнберг, translit=Román Fëdorovič fon Úngern-Štérnberg; 1 ...
. The Chinese might have stopped Ungern had they been capable of firing their machine guns properly, to adjust for the inevitable upward jerk caused by the firing; they did not, and this caused the bullets to overshoot their targets. The inability to use their machine guns properly proved costly: after taking Urga in February 1921, Ungern had his
Cossacks The Cossacks * russian: казаки́ or * be, казакi * pl, Kozacy * cs, kozáci * sk, kozáci * hu, kozákok, cazacii * fi, Kasakat, cazacii * et, Kasakad, cazacii are a group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking Orthodox Christian pe ...
and Mongol cavalry hunt down the remnants of Xu's troops as they attempted to flee south on the road back to China.


Other forces

Because their soldiers were not able to use or take proper care of modern weapons, the warlords often hired foreign
mercenaries A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for ...

mercenaries
, who were effective but always open to other offers. Russian émigrés who fled to China after the victory of the Bolsheviks were widely employed. The Russian mercenaries, according to one reporter, went through the Chinese troops like a knife through butter. The most highly paid of the Russian units was led by Gen. Konstantin Petrovich Nechaev, Konstantin Nechaev, who fought for
Zhang Zongchang Zhang Zongchang (; 13 February 1881 – 3 September 1932) was a Chinese warlord in Shandong in the early 20th century. ''Time'' dubbed him China's "basest warlord". He was known by many nicknames such as the "Dogmeat General" (). Biography Ear ...
, the "Dogmeat General" who ruled Shandong province. Nechaev and his men were much feared. In 1926 they drove three armored trains through the countryside, gunning down everyone they met and taking everything moveable. The rampage was stopped only when the peasants pulled up the train tracks, which led Nechaev to sack the nearest town. To defend themselves from the attacks of the warlord factions and armies, peasants organized themselves into militant Secret society, secret societies and village associations which served as self-defense militias as well as vigilante groups. As the peasants usually had neither money for guns nor military training, these secret societies relied on martial arts, self-made weapons such as swords and spears, as well as the staunch belief in protective magic. The latter was especially important, as the conviction of invulnerability was "a powerful weapon for bolstering the resolve of people who possessed few alternative resources with which to defend their meager holdings". Magical rituals practiced by the peasants ranged from rather simple ones, such as swallowing charms, to much more elaborate practices. For example, elements of the Red Spear Society performed secret ceremonies to confer invulnerability from bullets to channel the power of ''Qi'' and went into battle naked with supposedly bulletproof red clay smeared over their bodies. The Mourning Clothes Society would perform three kowtows and weep loudly before each battle. There were also all-female self-defense groups, such as the Iron Gate Society or the Flower Basket Society. The former would dress entirely in white (the color of death in China) and waved fans that they believed would deflect gunfire, while the latter fought with a sword and a magical basket to catch their opponents' bullets. Disappointed with the
Republic of China Taiwan (), officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. Neighbouring countries include the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the south. The main island of Ta ...
and despairing due to the warlords deprivations, many peasant secret societies adopted millenarianism, millenarian beliefs, and advocated the restoration of the monarchy, led by the old Ming dynasty. The past was widely romanticized, and many believed that a Ming emperor would bring a "reign of happiness and justice for all".


Factions


Northern factions

*Anhui clique *Zhili clique *Fengtian clique *Shanxi clique *Guominjun *Ma clique *Xinjiang clique


Southern factions

*
Kuomintang The Kuomintang (KMT) () is a major political party in Taiwan which originated as a revolutionary political party during the Republican Era on the Chinese mainland, where it is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Nationalist Party. Founded ...
*Yunnan clique *Guizhou warlords *Old Guangxi clique *New Guangxi clique *
Guangdong Guangdong (alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung) is a coastal province in South China on the north shore of the South China Sea. The capital of the province is Guangzhou. With a population of 113.46 million (as of 2018) a ...
warlords *Sichuan clique *
Hunan Hunan () is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, part of the South Central China region. Located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze watershed, it borders the province-level divisions of Hubei to the north, Jiangxi to the e ...

Hunan
warlords


North

The death of Yuan Shikai split the Beiyang Army into two main factions. The Zhili clique, Zhili and Fengtian clique were in alliance with one another, while the Anhui clique formed their own faction. International recognition was based on the presence in Beijing, and every Beiyang clique tried to assert their dominance over the capital to claim legitimacy.


Duan Qirui and Anhui dominance (1916–20)

While Li Yuanhong replaced Yuan Shikai as the President after his death, the political power was in the hands of Premier Duan Qirui. The government worked closely with the Zhili clique, led by Vice President Feng Guozhang, to maintain stability in the capital. Continuing military influence over the Beiyang government led to provinces around the country refusing to declare their allegiance. The debate between the President and the Premier on whether or not China should participate in the First World War was followed by political unrest in Beijing. Both Li and Duan asked Beiyang general Zhang Xun, stationed in Anhui, to militarily intervene in Beijing. As Zhang marched into Beijing on 1 July, he quickly dissolved the parliament and proclaimed a Manchu Restoration. The new government quickly fell to Duan after he returned to Beijing with reinforcements from Tianjin. As another government formed in Beijing, Duan's fundamental disagreements over national issues with the new President Feng Guozhang led to Duan's resignation in 1918. The Zhili clique forged an alliance with the Fengtian clique, led by
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuolin (; 19 March 18754 June 1928) was an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. The warlord of Manchuria from 1916 to 1928, and the military dictator of the Republic of China in 1927 and 1928, he ...

Zhang Zuolin
, and defeated Duan in the critical Zhili–Anhui War in July 1920.


Cao Kun and Zhili dominance (1920–24)

After the death of Feng Guozhang in 1919, the Zhili clique was led by Cao Kun. The alliance with the Fengtian was only one of convenience and war broke out in 1922 (the First Zhili–Fengtian War), with Zhili driving Fengtian forces back to Manchuria. Next, they wanted to bolster their legitimacy and reunify the country by returning Li Yuanhong to the presidency and restoring the National Assembly of the Republic of China, National Assembly. They proposed that Xu Shichang and
Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)Singtao daily. Saturday edition. 23 October 2010. section A18. Sun Yat-sen Xinhai revolution 100th anniversary edition . was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political phil ...
resign their rival presidencies simultaneously in favor of Li. When Sun issued strict stipulations that the Zhili couldn't stomach, they caused the defection of KMT Gen. Chen Jiongming by recognizing him as governor of
Guangdong Guangdong (alternately romanized as Canton Province or Kwangtung) is a coastal province in South China on the north shore of the South China Sea. The capital of the province is Guangzhou. With a population of 113.46 million (as of 2018) a ...
. With Sun driven out of
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China. Located on the Pearl River about north-northwest of Hong Kong and no ...
, the Zhili clique superficially restored the constitutional government that existed prior to Zhang Xun's coup. Cao bought the presidency in 1923 despite opposition by the KMT, Fengtian, Anhui remnants, some of his lieutenants and the public. In the autumn of 1924 the Zhili appeared to be on the verge of complete victory in the Second Zhili–Fengtian War until
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
betrayed the clique, Beijing Coup, seized Beijing and imprisoned Cao. Zhili forces were routed from the north but kept the center.


Duan Qirui return as chief executive (1924-1926)

Feng Yuxiang's defection resulted in the defeat of Wu Peifu and the Zhili clique and forced them to withdraw to the south. The victorious Zhang Zuolin unpredictably named Duan Qirui as the new Chief Executive of the nation on 24 November 1924. Duan's new government was grudgingly accepted by the Zhili clique because, without an army of his own, Duan was now considered a neutral choice. In addition, instead of "President" Duan was now called the "Chief Executive," implying that the position was temporary and therefore politically weak. Duan called on Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang in the south to restart negotiations towards reunification. Sun demanded that the "unequal treaties" with foreign powers be repudiated and that a new national assembly be assembled. Bowing to public pressure, Duan promised a new national assembly in three months; however he could not unilaterally discard the "unequal treaties," since the foreign powers had made official recognition of Duan's regime contingent upon respecting these very treaties. Sun died on 12 March 1925 and the negotiations fell apart. With his clique's military power in a shambles, Duan's government was hopelessly dependent on Feng Yuxiang and Zhang Zuolin. Knowing that those two did not get along, he secretly tried to play one side against the other. On 18 March 1926, a protest march was held against continued foreign infringement on Chinese sovereignty and a recent incident in Tianjin involving a Japanese warship. Duan dispatched military police to disperse the protesters, and in the resulting melee 47 protesters were killed and over 200 injured, including Li Dazhao, co-founder of the Communist Party. The event came to be known as the 18 March Massacre. The next month Feng Yuxiang again revolted, this time against the Fengtian clique, and deposed Duan, who was forced to flee to Zhang for protection. Zhang, tired of his double-dealings, refused to restore him after re-capturing Beijing. Most of the Anhui clique had already sided with Zhang. Duan Qirui exiled himself to Tianjin and later moved to Shanghai where he died on 2 November 1936.


Zhang Zuolin and Fengtian (1924–28)

During the Second Zhili–Fengtian War,
Feng YuxiangFeng may refer to: *Feng (surname), one of several Chinese surnames in Mandarin: **Féng (surname) (wikt:冯 féng 2nd tone "gallop"), very common Chinese surname **Fèng (surname) (wikt:鳳 fèng 4th tone "phoenix"), relatively common Chinese famil ...
changed his support from Zhili to Fengtian and forced the Beijing Coup which resulted in Cao Kun being imprisoned. Feng soon broke off from the Zhili clique again and formed Guominjun and allied himself with Duan Qirui. In 1926, Wu Peifu from the Zhili clique launched the Anti-Fengtian War. Zhang Zuolin took advantage of the situation, and entered Shanhai Pass from the Northeast and captured Beijing. The Fengtian clique remained in control of the capital until the
Northern Expedition The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) of the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the "Chinese Nationalist Party", against the Beiyang government and other regional warlords in 1926. The ...
led by
Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek (31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-cheng and romanized via Mandarin as Chiang Chieh-shih and Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the le ...

Chiang Kai-shek
's National Revolutionary Army forced Zhang out of power in June 1928.


South

The southern provinces of China were notably against the Beiyang government in the north, having resisted the restoration of monarchy by Yuan Shikai and the subsequent government in Peking after his death.
Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)Singtao daily. Saturday edition. 23 October 2010. section A18. Sun Yat-sen Xinhai revolution 100th anniversary edition . was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political phil ...
along with other southern leaders had formed a government in
Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China. Located on the Pearl River about north-northwest of Hong Kong and no ...
to resist the rule of the Beiyang warlords, and the Guangzhou government came to be known as part of the Constitutional Protection War.


Sun Yat-sen and "Constitutional protection" military junta in Guangzhou (1917–22)

In September Sun was named generalissimo of the military government with the purpose of protecting the Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China, provisional constitution of 1912. The southern warlords assisted his regime solely to legitimize their fiefdoms and challenge Beijing. In a bid for international recognition, they also declared war against the Central Powers but failed to garner any recognition. In July 1918 southern militarists thought Sun was given too much power and forced him to join a governing committee. Continual interference forced Sun into self-imposed exile. While away, he recreated the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. With the help of KMT Gen. Chen Jiongming, committee members Gen. Cen Chunxuan, Adm. Lin Baoyi (admiral), Lin Baoyi and Gen. Lu Rongting were expelled in the 1920 Guangdong–Guangxi War. In May 1921 Sun was elected "extraordinary president" by a rump parliament despite protests by Chen and Tang Shaoyi, who complained of its unconstitutionality. Tang left while Chen plotted with the Zhili clique to overthrow Sun in June 1922 in return for recognition of his governorship over Guangdong.


Reorganization of military junta in Guangzhou (1923–25)

After Chen was driven out of Guangzhou, Sun returned again to assume leadership in March 1923. The party was reorganized along Leninist democratic centralism, and the alliance with the Communist Party of China came to be known as First United Front (China), First United Front. The Guangzhou government focused on training new officers through the newly created Whampoa Military Academy. In 1924, the Zhilii clique fell out of power, and Sun travelled to Beiping to negotiate terms of reunification with leaders from Guominjun, Fengtian and Anhui clique. He was unable to secure the terms as he died in March 1925 from illness. Power struggles within the KMT ensued after the death of Sun. The Yunnan–Guangxi War broke out as Tang Jiyao tried to claim party leadership. In the north, there were Anti-Fengtian War, struggles led by Guominjun against Fengtian-Zhili alliance from November 1925 to April 1926. The defeat of Guominjun ended their reign in Beiping.


Reunification

Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek (31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-cheng and romanized via Mandarin as Chiang Chieh-shih and Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the le ...

Chiang Kai-shek
emerged as the protégé of Sun Yat-sen following the Zhongshan Warship Incident. In the summer of 1926, Chiang and the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) began the
Northern Expedition The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) of the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the "Chinese Nationalist Party", against the Beiyang government and other regional warlords in 1926. The ...
with the hopes to reunify China.
Wu Peifu Wu Peifu or Wu P'ei-fu (; ; April 22, 1874 – December 4, 1939) was a major figure in the struggles between the warlords who dominated Republican China from 1916–27. Early career Born in Shandong Province in eastern China, Wu initially ...
and Sun Chuanfang of the Zhili clique were subsequently defeated in central and eastern China. In response to the situation, the Guominjun and
Yan Xishan Yan Xishan (; 8 October 1883 – 22 July 1960, ) was a Chinese warlord who served in the government of the Republic of China. He effectively controlled the province of Shanxi from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution to the 1949 Communist victory in ...

Yan Xishan
of
Shanxi Shanxi (; formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of the province is Taiyuan, while its next most populated prefecture-level ...
formed an alliance with Chiang to attack the Fengtian clique together. In 1927, Chiang initiated a April 12 Incident, violent purge of Communists in the Kuomintang, which marked the end of the First United Front. Though Chiang had consolidated the power of the KMT in Nanking, it was still necessary to capture Beiping (Beijing) to claim the legitimacy needed for international recognition. Yan Xishan moved in and captured Beiping on behalf of his new allegiance after the Huanggutun incident, death of Zhang Zuolin in 1928. His successor, Zhang Xueliang, Chinese reunification (1928), accepted the authority of the KMT leadership, and the Northern Expedition officially concluded. The politics of the Nanjing Decade of Kuomintang leadership over China were deeply shaped by the compromises with warlords that had allowed the victory of the Northern expedition. Most provincial leaders were military commanders who joined the party only during the expedition itself, when the warlords and their administrators were absorbed wholesale by Chiang. Although dictatorial, Chiang did not have absolute power as party rivals and local warlords posed a constant challenge. Despite the reunification, there were still ongoing conflicts across the country. Remaining regional warlords across China chose to cooperate with the Nationalist government, but disagreements with the Nationalist government and regional warlords soon broke out into the
Central Plains War The Central Plains War () was a series of military campaigns in 1929 and 1930 that constituted a Chinese civil war between the Nationalist Kuomintang government in Nanjing led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and several regional military commanders ...

Central Plains War
in 1930. Northwest China erupted into a Xinjiang Wars, series of wars in Xinjiang from 1931 to 1937. Following the Xi'an Incident in 1936, efforts began to shift toward preparation of Second Sino-Japanese War, war against the Japanese Empire. The warlords continued posing problems for the National Government up until the communist victory in 1949, when many turned on the KMT and defected to the CCP, such as Yunnanese warlord Lu Han (general), Lu Han, whose troops had earlier been responsible for receiving the surrender of the Japanese in Hanoi and had engaged in widespread looting. Although Chiang was generally not considered personally corrupt, his power was dependent on balancing between the various warlords. Although he understood and expressed hatred at the fact that KMT corruption was driving the public to the communists, he continued dealing with warlords, tolerating incompetence and corruption while undermining subordinates who became too strong so as to preserve unity. After the Japanese surrender, warlords turned against the KMT.


See also

*List of aircraft used in China before 1937, List of aircraft used by both central government and warlord air forces of China *Sino-German cooperation until 1941 *
Chinese nationalism The current national flag of the People's Republic of China (1949–present), representing a variety of Chinese nationalism. Currently in use in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau">Hong_Kong.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-red ...
*Military of the Republic of China *Politics of the Republic of China *Warring states period


References


Citations


Further reading

* * * * * Jowett, Philip. ''Chinese Warlord Armies 1911–30'' (Men-at-Arms Series 2010) * Lary, Diana. “Warlord Studies.” ''Modern China'' 6#4 (1980), pp. 439–470
online
* * * McAleavy, Henry. "China Under The Warlords, Part I." ''History Today'' (Apr 1962) 12#4 pp 227-233; and "Part II" (May 1962) , 12#5 pp 303-311. * Michael, Franz H. “Military Organization and Power Structure of China during the Taiping Rebellion.” ''Pacific Historical Review'' 18#4 (1949) , pp. 469–483
online
* * * * * * * * {{Warlord era Warlordism in Republican China, Military history of the Republic of China Warlordism 1910s in China 1920s in China Republic of China (1912–1949)