Disbandment in Hunan
There was a substantial consensus among provincial and national leaders that the large-scale disbandment of provincial armies was the only real solution to the problems created by revolutionary military expansion, but while the advantages of disbandment were easily recognized, its implementation was fraught with difficulties. The extra financial costs needed to meet the discharge pay and pensions of large numbers of troops would add considerably to the already heavy
burden of military expenses. Disbandment would also threaten the livelihoods of common soldiers and the careers of officers. Men who had benefited from the opportunities for military advancement created by the revolution might well be expected to resist any threat to their positions. An ill-conceived disbandment policy might actually produce the military disorder that disbandment sought to forestall. Thus, although many provinces recognized the need for disbandment, not all were able to surmount the problems disbandment itself would cause. In this context, Hunan's success in carrying out a nearly complete demobilization of its provincial army stands out as a significant achievement.
Disbandment proposals began to be raised publicly within the Hunan government in early 1912, ranging from a plan for the forced discharge of all untrained troops to a project for the rehabilitation of excess troops as railroad construction workers. At this early stage, Tan Yankai was unwilling to commit himself publicly to any one specific plan. This was not because of any hesitancy by Tan about the need for disbandment. Indeed, he ultimately supported a radical scheme for the complete demobilization of Hunan's regular army. He was concerned, though, that premature discussion of disbandment plans might provoke military resistance. Tan and a small group of advisers therefore worked secretly on a disbandment strategy that would not be unveiled until they were sure of their ability to carry it out.
Tan and his advisers recognized that enforcing disbandment might in itself require the application of some military force. To show favoritism by excepting any one regular army unit from disbandment to perform this function might increase general military discontent. Likewise, there was no assurance that any Hunan troops could be relied upon to suppress provincial comrades-in-arms who resisted demobilization, so Tan and his advisers turned to the idea of using non-Hunan troops, whose lack of ties to the Hunan army would make them more amenable to this task. To this end, Tan first sent an emissary to Beijing to explore the possibility of transferring some northern army units to Hunan. This idea was abandoned, however, as a result of fears that the mere presence of northern troops might provoke such popular distrust as to make it impossible for them to preserve order. A better solution presented itself in the form of a unit of Guangxi troops commanded by a Hunan native, Zhao Hengti.
Zhao Hengti's background and connections made him a suitable ally for Tan and his elite government. Zhao was a member of a prominent landowning family from Hengyang and a 1908 graduate of
Japan's Army Officers' Academy. After returning from Japan, he was assigned to Guangxi, where he rose to the command of that province's New Army cadets. With the outbreak of the 1911 Revolution, Zhao volunteered to join an expedition of Guangxi's best troops to the revolutionary front. Passing through Changsha on the way to Nanjing, the disciplined troops under Zhao's command made a favorable impression on Hunan's leaders. After reaching Nanjing, Zhao's unit was designated the 16th Brigade of the 8th Division, with Zhao as brigade commander. A number of circumstances favored Zhao's reassignment to Hunan. First, his position in Nanjing was insecure because of conflicts with his superiors in the 8th Division. Second, although Zhao might have been sent back to Guangxi, that province's new military governor, Lu Rongting, was an old-style military commander who was not eager for the return of Zhao's New Army troops. Third, Zhao was easily approached because he was engaged to the sister of Tong Meicen, a member of Tan's staff who was assisting in the preparation of Hunan's disbandment plans. Finally, Huang Xing, as commander of Nanjing's military forces, had begun his own program to disband excess soldiers and was likely to welcome any proposal to take the burden of supporting Zhao's troops off his hands. Zhao's reassignment to Hunan was therefore a proposal readily acceptable to all parties.
The need to obtain Huang Xing's approval for Zhao's transfer to Hunan also created an opportunity to acquire Huang's political support for Hunan's disbandment plans. Huang had already spoken out in favor of the elimination of military governments and the disbandment of excess troops, so his approval could be expected. To approach Huang properly, though, Tan first broached the idea with the commander of Hunan's 12th Brigade, Cheng Qian. Cheng was a useful intermediary because he had been an active member of the Tongmenghui in his student days in Japan and had worked closely with Huang at Wuhan during the revolution. Cheng readily agreed that "all patriots" knew the necessity of disbandment, and he facilitated the dispatch of secret emissaries to meet with Huang.
Tan's negotiations with Huang Xing revealed the extent of his disbandment plans. As a Hunan native, Huang was concerned about the disorderly condition of the Hunan army and willingly gave his backing to the general principle of disbandment. He had some qualms, though, about totally disarming a major revolutionary province and sought the retention of several divisions to replace Hunan's original New Army. On this point, Tan argued adamantly that "the process of weeding out and reorganizing the army would most certainly cause a number of
conflicts. It would be better to disband the entire army and rebuild the New Army afresh."
Although Huang would later have reason to regret his decision, he accepted Tan's argument. As expected, Huang was quite willing to reassign Zhao Hengti to Hunan to provide military support for Tan's plans. To maintain secrecy, it was announced that Zhao's troops were being sent back to Guangxi via Hunan. Once Zhao arrived in Changsha, though, he was to place his unit at Tan's disposal. Tan's approach to Huang had thus obtained two objectives. First, he gained a reliable military force he could use to enforce his disbandment program. Second, he secured support for this program from one of China's most eminent revolutionary leaders. This would help undercut any opposition to disbandment from revolutionary officers or soldiers.
Tan also sought to bolster his position with central support for his disbandment plans. At Tan's request, Yuan Shikai dispatched a military "inspector" to assist in these plans. It was no coincidence that the man Tan sought to fill this position was Wang Zhixiang, Guangxi's former vice military governor and Zhao Hengti's former military superior. Besides acting as a further tie to Zhao, Wang's main function, as envisioned by Tan and his advisers, was to step forward at the appropriate moment to announce that the disbandment of the Hunan army had been centrally sanctioned. Thus with Huang Xing's blessing in one pocket and central authorization in the other, Tan could claim a mandate for disbandment that went beyond his own authority as military governor.
A reliable bureaucratic staff was also needed to carry out preparations for disbandment. Hunan's Ministry of Military Affairs (Junshibu) would have been the obvious office to perform this task. However, vested military interests within this ministry made its cooperation uncertain. Therefore, the ministry was circumvented by a new office, designated the Department of Military Affairs (Junshiting). Although its immediate task was the secret coordination of disbandment plans, the department was purposefully organized to duplicate the functions of the Ministry of Military Affairs. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the minister of military affairs protested this arrangement, but to no avail. As he feared, once the new department was in place, his now redundant ministry was abolished.
The reliability of the Department of Military Affairs was enhanced by the appointment of Zhang Qihuang, the commander of the Nanwu Army, as its head. Zhang was a member of a prominent Guangxi gentry family and a jinshi degree-holder. Thus he could be counted on to
share the basic interests of Tan's elite regime. More important, Zhang had received his jinshi degree the same year as Tan Yankai, and on the basis of this traditionally important tie he had already formed a particularly close relationship with Tan. Indeed, Zhang's original decision to join the revolution was largely the result of Tan's influence. Another factor in Zhang's favor was his Guangxi background. Despite his original posting as a Hunan Patrol and Defense commander, Zhang remained something of an outsider in the Hunan military, and he was thus less susceptible to pressure from other army officers. Finally, Zhang was particularly suited to this task because he had already gained experience in troop disbandment when he demobilized a large part of the Nanwu Army before returning to Hunan from Hubei.
Zhang Qihuang's reliability also resulted in another decision to retain the comparatively well armed and well trained Nanwu Army as an auxiliary force to assist Zhao Hengti's troops in case of any disturbance during the disbandment process. Many of Zhang's soldiers were Guangxi men recruited before the revolution along Hunan's southern border. Therefore, like Zhao's troops, the Nanwu Army was an "outside" force that could be trusted in the event that action had to be taken against Hunan troops. With this in mind, Nanwu Army men replaced the Hunan troops standing guard at the military governor's office. In case of any trouble, the military governor would thus be protected by reliable troops.
Another feature of Hunan's carefully considered disbandment plan was financial incentives to persuade Hunan's troops to accept disbandment willingly. Along with his last month's pay, each soldier was to be offered a bonus ranging from thirty to a hundred yuan depending on length of service and revolutionary merit. At the very least, each soldier would thus be guaranteed the equivalent of three months' pay. Disbanded soldiers were also designated reserve troops, and as such were to receive a gradually decreasing pension for more than a year. Naturally, demobilized officers were to be remunerated on a higher scale. Efforts were also made to secure other placements for these officers, for example by recommending them for central government posts. The cost of this program, estimated at well over a million yuan, was carefully calculated to make sure sufficient funds would be on hand. In the event, the overburdened provincial treasury only met the demand by printing new bank notes, but taking the long view, disbandment would result in savings that would reimburse the province in less than half a year.
Tan and his advisers were successful in completing most of their
preparations for disbandment without revealing their intentions, but this secrecy could not be maintained indefinitely. Zhao's troops arrived at Changsha in mid August, and questions were raised as to why they were delaying their journey to Guangxi. Wang Zhixiang's appointment as military inspector also raised suspicions. So as not to lose control of events, a decision was made to move forward with disbandment in early September 1912. Tan therefore called a conference of military officers to explain his reasons for the complete disbandment of the provincial army and to outline the procedures to be followed. To make sure that disbandment was carried out in a timely fashion, Tan declared that any troops not demobilized by the end of September would lose their pay and suffer cuts in their pensions for each day of delay.
The army's response to this disbandment announcement was better than expected. A number of units immediately sent representatives with petitions volunteering to do their patriotic duty by disbanding. In general, the army's senior officers, especially those who had despaired of asserting tighter control over their units, were ready to acquiesce to disbandment. Some were approached in advance to obtain their cooperation. It had been foreseen that the greatest opposition would come from middle-or lower-level officers who had been quickly promoted during the revolution and now saw their careers aborted. The only hope such officers had to resist, though, depended on their ability to stir up opposition within the ranks. This proved a difficult task. More than anything else, the fragmented response of officers and soldiers to disbandment demonstrated the lack of cohesion in Hunan's postrevolutionary army, and it was this that ultimately gave the disbandment program its chance of success.
Tan and his advisers had correctly perceived that financial inducements appealing to the common soldier would smooth acceptance of disbandment. One of Tan's associates later made this cynical observation about the soldiers' acquiescence:
The lower and middle officers all said that there would be mutinies if [disbandment] was forced, but they didn't realize that the soldiers were already quite willing. Why? Originally these men were not conscripts but a mob collected on the spur of the moment. Their dutiful intentions were less than their thought of profit. By enlisting and then quickly retiring, they could easily acquire a sum of money. The more law-abiding would put this money to use in farming or other jobs, while the shiftless would squander it in a boastful display. This is after all human nature.
Although this statement ignores the patriotic motives that inspired many recruits during the revolution, once the revolution was over, monetary gain became an important consideration. Tan was also careful to make sure that soldiers were aware of the financial incentives being offered them. Since he feared misrepresentation by dissatisfied officers if the information were transmitted through regular military channels, details of these financial inducements were circulated in public notices. This created a demand for disbandment in the ranks that could not be thwarted.
Little trouble accompanied the actual process of disbandment. The only serious disturbance occurred during the demobilization of one brigade of Mei Xing's 5th Division. The presence of a Nanwu Army guard around Tan Yankai during his farewell address to this unit was taken as a sign of his distrust. Disbandment under the guns of "foreign" troops was especially insulting to soldiers who felt they had been responsible for putting Tan in his position. For a time, defiant soldiers took up armed positions on the city walls. However, after being calmed by their officers, and surrounded by Zhao Hengti's troops, the soldiers gave up their arms and dispersed. After this incident, the demobilization of other units continued according to plan. In little over a month the entire regular army had been disbanded.
After the completion of disbandment, the Hunan regime still had periodic trouble with its former troops. Reports came in from the countryside that disbanded soldiers were "behaving lawlessly, interfering in public affairs, cheating the common people, and causing disorder through unlawful assemblies." A large number of disbanded soldiers congregated in Changsha, where they continued to be a political menace to the Hunan regime. This was particularly evident in early 1913, when fears were raised about the government's ability to meet military pensions and disbanded soldiers and officers began to agitate for a lump sum payment. A bomb was thrown at the head of the Finance Department after he voiced his opposition to this proposal. During this period, many disbanded soldiers also joined secret organizations plotting the overthrow of "corrupt officials," and they were prominent participants in a number of unsuccessful antigovernment plots and uprisings. Nonetheless, disorganized and disarmed, these disbanded troops were much less a threat to the Hunan regime than if they had remained in active service.
Despite his radical disbandment program, Tan never intended to strip Hunan of all armed forces. If nothing else, the depredations of disbanded troops alone pointed to the need to maintain some forces to
safeguard local order, a major concern among Tan's elite supporters. Therefore, after completing the disbandment of the regular army, Tan instituted a new military system designated the Guard Corps (Shoubeidui). Under this system, Hunan was divided into six districts, with five to ten battalions per district, and 240 men per battalion. (See Table 8 for a breakdown of these units, their commanders, and their headquarters.) The troops for this new system were drawn primarily from the remnants of old Patrol and Defense units or other miscellaneous forces that had not been included in the postrevolutionary regular army. For example, Wang Zhengya led his troops back to their original home area as commander of the 4th District. Zhang Qihuang's Nanwu Army was reorganized as the Capital Guard Corps, with six battalions, under one of Zhang's old subordinates. Altogether the Guard Corps system contained forty-seven battalions, a total of some eleven thousand men. Except for the Capital Guard Corps at Changsha, these forces were dispersed into local garrisons that functioned much like the Patrol and Defense Force system. As in this previous system, these garrisons were large enough to provide for local order but too small to pose a military threat to the provincial government. In western Hunan existing Green Standard troops also remained in their garrisons, with no more than a few efforts to modernize their weapons and training.
Beyond the Guard Corps system, Tan had originally committed himself to establishing a new force modeled after the New Army. Indeed, Tan had used this commitment to entice the support of Huang Xing and the Hunan officer corps to his disbandment plan. Tan was in no hurry, though, to fulfill this promise, citing Hunan's continuing financial troubles to delay new troop recruiting. Only in mid 1913 were Nationalist Party leaders, foreseeing imminent conflict with Yuan Shikai, able to obtain Tan's agreement to appoint Cheng Qian to head the Department of Military Affairs so that he could oversee the creation of a new provincial army. Conflict with Yuan broke out, however, before the recruitment of this force could be completed. The only New Army-style force in Hunan in the last year of Tan's regime was therefore Zhao Hengti's Guangxi brigade, which contained only the actual troop strength of one regiment.
The military policies pursued in Hunan after the 1911 Revolution largely reflected the elite and civil nature of Tan Yankai's government. The maintenance of local order was clearly a primary concern of the provincial regime. Both the disbandment of revolutionary forces and the establishment of the Guard Corps served this basic purpose. It was hardly surprising that Tan Yankai was less committed to continuing the Qing New Army program. The main function of the New Armies was to provide for the national defense against foreign threats. Given Hunan's inland location, there was little likelihood of a foreign threat sufficient to justify the immediate rebuilding of the New Army. Hunan's difficult financial situation also provided little incentive to assume the burden of supporting an army intended to serve national rather than local defense needs. Provincial military power was therefore reduced and restructured to meet the regime's concern for order while staying within the province's means. With the success of his disbandment program, Hunan's "civilian military governor" had shown that it was possible to subordinate the military to civilian authority and civilian interests.