The Revolutionary Movement in the Hubei and Hunan New Armies
The early revolutionary movement in China looked primarily to anti Manchu secret societies to provide the manpower to overthrow the
Qing dynasty. As an adjunct to secret-society rebellion, there were some attempts to subvert official troops to the revolutionary cause. Most of these attempts, however, concentrated on using secret-society connections within the armies, and so were directed mainly at old-style forces, where secret-society influence was greatest. This strategy seldom proved effective in inducing more than a small number of troops to participate in revolutionary uprisings. Most revolutionary leaders were slow to perceive the revolutionary potential engendered by the social transformation and politicization of the New Armies. When revolutionary activists finally began to pay attention to the New Armies, it was not just the result of their disillusionment with the continued failures of secret-society uprisings, but a belated recognition of the independent growth of revolutionary sentiment and even revolutionary organizations within these newer military forces. It was no coincidence that the military uprising that finally set the 1911 Revolution in motion took place in Hubei, where the revolutionary organization of New Army troops had its earliest start and greatest effect.
The beginning of revolutionary organizing within the Hubei New Army dates to a small gathering of revolution-minded civilian students and intellectuals in Wuchang in the summer of 1904. The participants of this meeting discussed various revolutionary strategies and voiced their disillusionment about the problems of secret-society uprisings. Out of this discussion came the insight that the growing number of literate young men in the Hubei New Army created a new potential for revolutionary action. A revolutionary strategy was thus born aimed at the subversion of the New Army. Because they believed that most of the New Army's officers were too concerned with advancing their careers to risk political action, the group decided to direct their organizing efforts at common soldiers. Several members of the group immediately enlisted in the New Army to make contact with soldiers sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. A number of soldiers recruited by these infiltrators soon joined the original group to establish Hubei's first indigenous revolutionary organization, the Science Study Center.
Although the Science Study Center was forced to dissolve at the end of 1904 when its members were linked to a revolutionary plot, the establishment of this organization set a pattern for future revolutionary organizing in Hubei. A succession of revolutionary societies sprang up in the following years that continued to make the subversion of the Hubei New Army their main goal. Table 2 lists the most important of these organizations and their founding dates. Like the Science Study
Center, each organization used the guise of study societies as a cover for revolutionary activities. Owing to official detection or internal problems, none of these organizations were particularly long-lived. Nonetheless, after each setback, a new organization would eventually form, with a sufficient overlap in membership from its predecessor to establish continuity. More important, each reincarnation marked a further expansion of the revolutionary movement within the Hubei New Army.
The history of Hubei's revolutionary organizations has been traced in detail in other accounts and does not need to be repeated here. Nonetheless, there are several points concerning the development of these organizations that should be emphasized. One important feature of Hubei's indigenous revolutionary organizations was the steady "militarization" of their memberships. Whereas the original organizers of the Science Study Center were mainly civilian intellectuals, the success of their organizing efforts within the New Army meant that the members of subsequent societies were predominantly military men. For example, a majority of the two hundred odd members of the Society for the Daily Increase in Knowledge were soldiers. The title of the next organization, the Hubei Military Alliance, reflected the strong military composition of its membership. Indeed, over time, feelings that secrecy could be better maintained if membership were kept within the military led to a discouragement of civilian participation. Although all these societies had some civilian members, after the formation of the Hubei Military Alliance most were predominantly military bodies.
The exclusion of officers also remained characteristic of Hubei's revolutionary societies. This does not mean that officers were not in-
fluenced by revolutionary ideas. Indeed, revolution was reportedly a frequent topic of discussion among officers. Few, however, were willing to endanger their careers for the uncertainties of the revolutionary cause. Thus, with the founding of the Society for the Promotion of Popular Government, concern about the trustworthiness of officers led to an actual rule against their admission as members. At different times this rule was broken for some lower officers, particularly if they had been members of revolutionary organizations before rising to their posts. Nonetheless, Hubei's revolutionary societies for the most part remained not just military organizations but organizations of common soldiers.
There were also significant organizational developments in the succession of Hubei revolutionary societies. The looser structures of the earlier societies gave way to tighter and more elaborate organizations, developed to accommodate increased membership and to reduce security risks. By 1910, the Society for the Promotion of Military Studies had a cellular structure and a representative system that bore a remarkable resemblance to Leninist principles of organization. Cells were formed within individual military units, and contact with, or knowledge about, the activities or membership of other units was prohibited. Society members acting through these unit organizations elected representatives at company, battalion, and regimental levels who were responsible for continuing the subversion of their units and for handling communications between units. In contrast to the mass membership meetings of the early societies, only regimental-level representatives met each other, forming a kind of central committee. Instructions to the broader membership were then relayed down the line of unit representatives. Besides helping to maintain secrecy, this system eventually facilitated the mobilization of revolutionary soldiers by creating a shadow chain of command that could supplant the army's normal command structure.
Besides the interconnected succession of revolutionary societies that had begun with the Science Study Center, one other revolutionary organization played an important role in the subversion of the Hubei New Army, the Forward Together Society (Gongjinhui). The Forward Together Society was founded in Tokyo in 1907 by revolutionary activists, mainly from central China, who had fallen out with the leadership of the Tongmenghui over several issues. For example, they disagreed with the Tongmenghui's strategy of concentrating uprisings along China's southern coast instead of in the central Yangzi River valley. In the beginning, the Forward Together Society continued to
view secret societies as the main force for revolutionary uprisings. However, activists pursuing this course in Hubei were quickly disillusioned by their inability to exert real control over their supposed secret-society allies. Therefore, in 1909, the Forward Together Society in Hubei also turned its attention to the subversion of the Hubei New Army, adapting many of the recruiting techniques and organizational features developed by the Science Study Center and its successors.
Despite the convergence of revolutionary strategies, the Hubei branch of the Forward Together Society remained distinct from other Hubei revolutionary organizations on a number of points. First, while recruiting within the military, the Forward Together Society remained more open to civilian participation. Second, the Forward Together Society maintained closer ties to revolutionary groups outside Hubei. The Science Study Center and the Society for the Daily Increase of Knowledge had originally had some ties with broader revolutionary groups such as Huang Xing's Huaxinghui and Sun Yat-sen's Tongmenghui. Both these societies, however, were forced to dissolve when their ties to uprising plots by these larger bodies were discovered. Thus for security reasons the organizations that followed the Society for the Daily Increase in Knowledge turned inward, maintaining few contacts with outside groups. One of the contributions of the Forward Together Society was to reconnect Hubei to the broader revolutionary movement. This was especially true in September 1911, when a tenuous merger was effected between the Forward Together Society and the Literature Society, the last in the chain of indigenous Hubei revolutionary societies.
Although no completely reliable figures are available, by October 1911 between one-fourth to one-third of Hubei's New Army, four to six thousand soldiers, had probably been recruited into one or the other of Hubei's revolutionary organizations. In no other province was the subversion of the New Army so extensive. There are a number of reasons for the relative success of the revolutionary movement in Hubei. First, the Hubei New Army had been in existence longer than any other New Army outside the Beiyang Army. Revolutionary organizing began in the Hubei army while many other provincial New Armies were still in the process of formation or were quite small. Second, the Hubei New Army was mainly garrisoned in Wuhan, a major treaty port, where nationalist and revolutionary influences were easily felt. Third, unlike in the Beiyang Army, official precautions against revolutionary organizing were relatively lax. There can be no doubt, though, that the most important factor contributing to the
success of revolutionary organizing in the Hubei New Army was its especially high concentration of literate soldiers. The presence of these soldiers first attracted revolutionary organizers, and the demand for educated recruits enabled revolutionary activists to infiltrate the New Army with ease. Outside personal contacts, the written word was the major means for the dissemination of revolutionary thought. Revolutionary newspapers were specifically directed at New Army soldiers, gaining their attention with stories on official corruption in the army. More inflammatory revolutionary tracts or pamphlets were often left secretly under soldiers' beds. The large number of literate soldiers in the Hubei New Army made such tactics effective. Thus, since the social transformation of the New Army was most advanced in Hubei, the Hubei New Army was particularly susceptible to revolutionary subversion.
In contrast, revolutionary organizing in the Hunan New Army had a fairly late start. Indeed, it was not until 1910 that revolutionary activists in Hunan began to look seriously at the revolutionary potential of the province's New Army. Before this, Hunan revolutionaries primarily focused on establishing ties to secret societies. Even on the eve of the 1911 Revolution some important revolutionary leaders continued to see the New Army as an auxiliary force to support secret-society uprisings. Nonetheless, a sympathetic base for revolutionary organizing did form within the Hunan New Army. Within a few years of the New Army's creation, military school graduates, including many graduates of Japan's Army Officers' Academy, had supplanted the army's initial officers, who had been drawn from old-style forces. As previously noted, the Hunan New Army also attracted a considerable number of educated young men, and even holders of lower-level degrees, into its ranks as common soldiers. Few of these men had not been exposed to revolutionary literature, and many were predisposed to the revolutionary cause.
The most important figure in the revolutionary activation of the Hunan New Army was a young officer named Chen Zuoxin. Chen began his revolutionary career, even before entering military school, as a participant in Tang Caizhang's abortive 1900 uprising in Hubei. In 1902 Chen quit his classical studies to enroll in a military training school in Changsha. After his graduation, Chen entered the Hunan New Army and rose to the position of artillery platoon commander. He remained an ardent reader of revolutionary literature and organized a revolutionary study group in the army under the guise of academic study. Finally, in 1909 Chen's activities were discovered
and he was arrested. Only the sympathetic protection of his Japanese-trained company commander limited his punishment to transfer to another unit. When a rice famine resulted in rioting in Changsha in April 1910, Chen felt that a revolutionary situation had arisen. He therefore approached the commander of his regiment, a graduate of Japan's Army Officers' Academy, and urged him to "seize the opportunity." Lacking Chen's confidence, the officer refused to act, but limited disciplinary action against Chen to discharge from the army. After the loss of his post, Chen remained in Changsha and maintained close ties to revolutionary sympathizers within the New Army.
In mid 1910, Hunan revolutionary activists outside the New Army finally began to turn to it as a possible source of revolutionary power. Chen Zuoxin then became the main link between these men and his former New Army comrades. For example, in July 1910, Jiao Dafeng, leader of the Hunan branch of the Forward Together Society, met Chen for the first time to discuss raising military support for a secret-society uprising. In early 1911, revolutionary activists meeting in Changsha to support a Tongmenghui uprising in Canton again looked to Chen to raise a response within the New Army. At this time, a cavalry platoon commander, Liu Wenjin, assumed responsibility for actual organizing within the Hunan New Army. Liu first tried to obtain the support of other lower officers, but few were yet willing to risk their careers for the revolutionary cause. He then turned his attention to recruiting common soldiers, among whom he found a more enthusiastic response. In March 1911, Liu was able to gather sixty to seventy representatives from various New Army units for a meeting that resolved to work to spread the revolutionary message further within the Hunan army and to prepare to respond to revolutionary outbreaks elsewhere in China. Unfortunately, the provincial authorities learned of this meeting, and further planning had to be postponed. Liu and other leaders of this meeting were able to escape punishment, however, when sympathetic New Army officers warned them of pending official actions. Despite this setback, Liu, like Chen Zuoxin, continued to work secretly to prepare the Hunan New Army for revolutionary action. Four months later, Liu was able to organize a meeting of over two hundred men, mainly soldiers from the New Army, who pledged to continue military preparations for a revolutionary uprising.
Besides Chen Zuoxin and Liu Wenjin, few other New Army officers were actively involved in revolutionary organizing in Hunan before the 1911 Revolution. Therefore, as in Hubei, the main military
participants in the revolutionary movement were common soldiers. Nonetheless, it is significant that effective suppression of this movement was thwarted by officers, who, as noted by one observer, "although not daring to participate in revolutionary activities, also did not dare to suppress them." Although these officers may have rejected the revolutionary appeals of Chen Zuoxin and Liu Wenjin out of concern for their own careers, they were not necessarily unsympathetic to the revolutionary cause. Indeed, some of the Hunan New Army's Japanese-trained officers had entered the Tongmenghui in their student days. This was the case with Chen Qiang and Zhang Yipeng, two New Army battalion commanders who had warned the participants in the March 1911 revolutionary meeting of pending official suppression. Even though these two men were unwilling to take a more active role in revolutionary plotting, they did agree in secret correspondence with former revolutionary comrades to provide tacit aid for these activities. Thus while not providing leadership for the revolutionary movement, the presence of such officers helped to create a climate that allowed the movement to expand within the New Army.
Compared to the rich and complex history of the revolutionary movement in the Hubei New Army, this summary of revolutionary activities in the Hunan New Army makes for thin reading. In Hunan there were no equivalents of the tightly organized revolutionary societies that one sees in Hubei. Nonetheless, by 1911 there had been a significant growth of revolutionary sentiment within the Hunan New Army. Furthermore, the revolutionary meetings organized by Liu Wenjin had elected representatives for each New Army unit who were made responsible for revolutionary propaganda and organization within these units. Thus, even if no formal revolutionary society had been established, a rudimentary revolutionary network existed that could be mobilized when the need arose. In the end, revolutionaries within the Hunan New Army were not organizationally strong enough to initiate a successful uprising on their own, but once the revolution had started elsewhere, the revolutionary potential of the Hunan New Army could easily be tapped.