The Politicization of the Military
The traditional imperial system inherited by the Qing dynasty was a centralized bureaucratic monarchy that discouraged all political activity outside the government, and severely limited political criticism even within its bureaucracy. In the dynasty's last two decades, an unprecedented growth of extragovernmental political activity challenged this tradition, ultimately bringing down the imperial system, along with the Qing dynasty, in the 1911 Revolution. Mary Rankin has shown how the formation of a "public sphere" based on expanded elite managerial functions in the nineteenth century provided a foundation for elite political activism and oppositional public opinion. The most important factor in the acceleration of this process and its extension from local to national affairs at the end of the nineteenth century was the impact of foreign imperialism. In particular, China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War provided a patriotic imperative for elite political activism. The result was an elite-based reform movement seeking social, political, and economic changes to prevent the further erosion of national sovereignty, while also demanding a greater political voice in determining the content and implementation of these reforms. A profusion of magazines and newspapers helped to spread the nationalist message, while new means of political expression emerged in the form of public meetings, petition drives, and political clubs.
The Qing court was not totally unresponsive to these new political demands. On the one hand, the government tried to take the initiative by instituting official reforms, including of course the establishment of the New Armies. On the other hand, in 1907 the court acknowledged demands for broader political participation and sought to keep it under control by approving the formation of local, provincial, and national assemblies. For many nationalist Chinese, though, these dynastic reforms were too late and too limited. The result was a debate over whether national strength would be best achieved by the dynasty's preservation or by its overthrow. In 1911 this issue was finally resolved by a republican revolution.
The politicization of Chinese society that began in the late Qing
period was a process that did not cease with the 1911 Revolution. In the decade following the revolution it grew to include ever-larger segments of Chinese society, culminating in mass movements involving large numbers of common workers and peasants. However, in the period up to the revolution, politics largely remained an elite affair. The social transformation of the New Army became important in this context. The politicization of the Chinese military began when educated young men entered the New Army who shared in the same general nationalist awakening that was stirring the broader elite to political activism.
The earliest and most obvious manifestation of the politicization of the military did not occur within the army itself but within military schools, with their large concentration of students drawn from elite backgrounds. Lucian Pye has suggested that modern military training in itself sensitizes army officers in developing nations to their country's backwardness and thus increases their inclination to intervene in politics. However, in the Chinese case, the politicization of many military students preceded their enrollment in military schools. Indeed, as already noted, nationalist concerns often affected their decisions to pursue military careers in the first place. Many military students had even been active in reform or revolutionary movements before their entry into military schools. Nonetheless, the concentration of large numbers of students, both military and civil, in urban centers created the environment for an even greater spread of nationalist and eventually revolutionary ideas. The politicization of military students thus had less to do with their military studies than with the conditions responsible for the general politicization of China's modern educated students.
Student politicization was especially evident among the young Chinese who gathered in Japan to pursue higher educations. While in the last years of the nineteenth century fewer than a hundred Chinese were studying in Japan, by 1906 the number leaped to nearly eight thousand. Of these students, almost seven hundred were enrolled in military schools. Although the size of the student community was itself a factor in the growth of the student political movement in Japan, these students' relative freedom from official supervision also gave them greater scope to engage in political activity. The political atmosphere in Japan was also intensified by the presence of various outlawed political activists who found Japan a convenient operating base. They included not only the revolutionary followers of Sun Yat-sen, but exiled reformers whose attempt to carry out radical reform from inside the Qing government (the Hundred Days' Reform) had been
suppressed in 1898. Under these conditions, the Chinese student movement in Japan became the vanguard of the general nationalist student movement.
Military students in Japan were no less politically active than their civil counterparts. The case of Wu Luzhen provides a prominent and early example of the range of political activities pursued by some military students in Japan. Born into an impoverished Hubei gentry family, Wu had been moved by China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War to enlist in the new-style army organized by Zhang Zhidong in Hubei in 1896. Zhang selected Wu from the ranks to attend Hubei's first military academy and in 1898 sent him as a government student to Japan. There Wu joined the select first Chinese class of Japan's Army Officers' Academy. Soon after his arrival in Japan, Wu met Sun Yat-sen and joined his revolutionary party, the Xingzhonghui. Taking advantage of the political instability around the time of the Boxer Up-rising, Wu participated in an ill-fated uprising attempt in Hubei led by the reformer Tang Caichang. When this plot was uncovered, ending in Tang's capture and execution, Wu returned to Japan, where he continued his military studies. This failure did not end Wu's political activities. For example, he participated in the foundation of the Chinese Students' Association, an organization that soon became a center of political activity for the flood of Chinese students coming to Japan. As with many other students, Wu apparently saw no contradiction in his desire to serve the nation through a military career and political activities that placed him at odds with China's ruling dynasty.
As time went on, the Chinese student movement in Japan was increasingly radicalized by the seeming inability of the Qing government to defend the nation against imperialist aggression. A case in point was student agitation in 1903 against the Russian occupation of Manchuria. At the suggestion of the Hunan revolutionary leader Huang Xing, 130 students attending a protest meeting formed a special "Student Volunteer Army" to fight the Russians. The Qing court, however, saw the students' activities as inappropriate interference in foreign affairs and asked that the Japanese government disband the Student Army. Incidents such as this intensified student disillusionment with the dynasty and increased the appeal of revolutionary solutions. Along with other Chinese students in Japan, large numbers of military students joined Sun Yat-sen's expanded revolutionary organization, the Tongmenghui, when it was founded in 1905. Among these were over a hundred students from Japan's Army Officers' Academy, or over one-third of its Chinese enrollment.
The politicization of Chinese military students in Japan was impor-
tant because of the influence they exerted after their assignment to military posts in China. Many would continue to participate surreptitiously in political and revolutionary activities within the military. Wu Luzhen, who returned to Hubei in 1901, was again an early example. Zhang Zhidong was impressed enough with Wu's talents to ignore his known political leanings and appoint him to a series of important posts in the Hubei New Army. Despite his official position, Wu maintained contacts with reformists and revolutionaries both inside and outside China. There is some evidence that Wu himself would have preferred the establishment of a constitutional monarchy to republican revolution. However, in his political activities he did not always distinguish between these two alternatives. Thus, as an officer in Hubei, Wu was credited with providing assistance to revolutionary organizations and encouraging the enlistment of intellectuals with revolutionary sympathies in order to spread nationalist ideas within the New Army.
Because of their advanced military educations, many graduates of Japanese military schools were assigned posts in Chinese military academies, where they played an influential role in spreading new political ideas among their students. One such person was Jiang Zuobin, another Hubei graduate of Japan's Army Officers' Academy, who was among the first of its students to join the Tongmenghui in 1905. Upon his graduation in 1907, Jiang became an instructor at the Baoding Officers' Academy. There, at least according to his own somewhat self-serving memoirs, he secretly inculcated his students with revolutionary ideas and helped to form revolutionary organizations. Jiang noted that several dozen of his classmates, including six of his fellow Hubei provincials, also returned to take posts in New Army units or military schools, with similar hopes of promoting revolutionary activities. Thus, many politicized graduates of Japanese military schools became conduits for the spread of new political ideas through both Chinese military schools and the New Armies.
Within China, students at military schools were likewise a particularly receptive audience for nationalist and revolutionary ideas. The only difference between them and their compatriots at Japanese military schools was that stricter supervision by school officials in China often inhibited open political activity. Nonetheless, such activity did sometimes take place, again within the context of the broader student nationalist movement. For example, nearly the entire student body of Hunan's Military Primary School joined in a massive student funeral procession cum political demonstration held in Changsha in 1906
for two young Hunan political activists who had committed suicide. As with their Japanese-trained counterparts, these military students would carry their political ideals with them after their graduation and assignment to New Army posts. In contrast to the Japanese graduates, though, military students in China often had a more direct influence on the rank and file of the New Armies while they were still in school. This was particularly true in Hubei, where students in the Special Military Primary School were drawn entirely from the ranks of the Hubei New Army. These students maintained close ties with educated soldiers in their original units and thus provided a special channel for the spread of anti-Manchu ideas back into the army.
The politicization of the New Army was not solely based on the influence of military-school graduates. The large number of educated young soldiers were themselves easily moved by the same nationalist concerns that stirred military students to political activity. Within the army, though, there was less opportunity for either soldiers or officers to engage in open political activity. Unlike other elites in Chinese society at this time, the military was granted no legal outlet for political expression. Even so, military men began to ignore legal constraints and participate in some open political activities in the Qing dynasty's last years. For example, men in uniform made up almost half of those attending a large public rally held in Hankou in 1910 to protest the possible granting of foreign loans for railway construction. No less a figure than Li Yuanhong, commander of Hubei's 21st Mixed Brigade, joined the "railroad-protection movement" by participating in the formation of Hubei's Railway Assistance Association. Li was even nominated to serve on a delegation to carry Hubei's protests over this issue to Beijing, though this nomination was soon withdrawn in recognition of the trouble such a commission might cause an active service officer. Such cases, limited as they are, show the extent to which many military men shared in general elite political concerns. As elite dissatisfaction with dynastic policies grew, it is also hardly surprising that increasing numbers of military men also began to look with favor on the idea of revolution. Indeed, the politicization of the military found its greatest and most significant expression in secret revolutionary activity.