Disbandment in Hubei
Faced with military-related problems equal to if not greater than those of Hunan, Li Yuanhong carried out a program of military disbandment nearly as extensive as that of his southern neighbor. The manner in which this program was carried out, though, was significantly different. Instead of the fairly rapid demobilization of troops seen in Hunan, disbandment in Hubei was accomplished in a piecemeal fashion over a period lasting more than a year. On the one hand, the
slowness of this process suggests that Li found himself in a weaker position in relation to Hubei's military forces, precluding the more precipitous disbandment carried out by Tan. On the other hand, there are some indications that Li was also more committed than Tan to retaining a core force to meet national defense needs. Unfortunately, unlike in the case of Hunan, where the memoirs of some men involved in planning the province's disbandment are available, the sources on Hubei's disbandment are largely limited to official pronouncements and press accounts. Therefore the considerations that may have underlain Hubei's different course of action are more difficult to ascertain. Indeed, it is unclear whether Hubei ever had a single comprehensive disbandment scheme, or whether disbandment planning was as piecemeal as the process itself. In any case, persistent troop disturbances throughout this period served as a constant reminder of the instability of the Hubei army and as a goad to further disbandment.
Despite his early agreement that the stability of the Republic required a reduction of revolutionary armies, Li Yuanhong only raised specific proposals for a "contraction" of the Hubei army in May 1912. Li's immediate concern appears to have been Hubei's increasing difficulty in meeting troop pay. At this stage, Li did not call for an across-the-board elimination of specific units. Rather, perhaps in an attempt to give the appearance of evenhandedness, he proposed a reduction of the troop strength of all units. By weeding out "the old, the weak, and the unarmed," the number of soldiers per company was to be brought down to sixty men, or about half its regulation size according to New Army standards. In the following month, another target of bringing each company down to forty men was set. It was reported that once these reductions were achieved, Li hoped to consolidate Hubei's eight divisions and other miscellaneous forces into four or five divisions.
Hubei's initial disbandment approach relied almost entirely on voluntary demobilization. Unlike Tan, Li lacked either the power or the will to enforce a program of mandatory disbandment. Indeed, attempts to muster soldiers out forcibly provoked violent resistance. For example, soldiers from Hubei's 2d Brigade rioted in August 1912 when their commander attempted to meet disbandment quotas by arbitrarily selecting men for demobilization. At the same time, the bonuses initially offered to induce disbandment in Hubei were usually deemed inadequate. Thus the violent reaction of 2d Brigade soldiers to their forced discharge was exacerbated when they learned they were only to be given a paltry ten yuan. Later disbandment pay was officially set at two months' pay, or twenty yuan, but this too fell short
of Hunan's standard. The Hubei government set a bad precedent in the summer of 1912 when it offered a generous nine-year pension for the dissolution of an organization of uprising participants, the Blood Pledge Society (Bixuehui). Soldiers on active duty who had participated in the revolution quite naturally felt that they deserved equal consideration. As a result, soldiers in some units organized to offer voluntary demobilization provided they were granted higher bonuses or pensions, often referring specifically to the precedent of the Blood Pledge Society. In most cases, Li had to accept such demands, and their additional costs, in the interest of achieving peaceful disbandment.
Although the process was far from trouble-free, a considerable number of troops did agree to disband. By July 1912, more than ten thousand troops had been discharged, and by late October the Hubei army had been reduced to around sixty thousand men. About one half of these men were in the eight-division regular army. Thus the total troop strength of these eight divisions was brought down to a little more than one-third the regulation size of eight New Army divisions.
As in Hunan, the greatest resistance to disbandment came not from soldiers but from career-minded officers seeking to maintain their positions. The reduction of general troop strength prior to any elimination of military units was an adroit strategy to forestall such opposition. By decreasing the troop strength of each unit while temporarily preserving command structures, few officers' positions were immediately endangered. According to one account, the underlying goal was to ensure that once the consolidation of units began, affected officers would have fewer troops with which to resist the elimination of their commands. At the same time, attempts were made to gain the acquiescence of officers by offering them either remuneration or reassignment. For those willing to retire, varying bonuses were provided according to rank. As to the rest, plans were proposed for them to fill future military vacancies, serve as advisers in the military government, or enroll in Chinese and foreign military schools. However, most officers refused these inducements and clung to their posts. As late as January 1913, Li noted that, despite the disbandment of half of Hubei's soldiers, enough officers remained to staff all eight divisions.
Largely as a result of resistance from officers, the consolidation of Hubei's military forces made only limited progress in 1912. The greatest effort in this period was directed at the elimination of miscel-
laneous and irregular units. Some smaller forces, such as the student army, were dissolved with little or no trouble. Other units resisted reorganization or dispersal in ways that boded ill for the disbandment program. For example, in the summer of 1912, Zhang Guoquan led his troops in armed resistance against maneuvers to subordinate his independent brigade to one of Hubei's regular divisions. The military suppression of Zhang's rebellion by other Hubei forces resulted in the dispersal of his army, but it was not a solution that anyone wanted repeated. Likewise, Liu Gong doggedly resisted efforts to eliminate his Northern Expedition Army for several months, until finally pressured to resign in late September 1912. Only then was it possible to incorporate his remaining troops into the 6th Division. In the end, though, most of Hubei's irregular forces were eliminated by one means or another. The main exception to this rule was Li Tiancai's army, designated in early 1913 as the Jiangnan 1st Division. As a non-Hubei force that lacked strong local military or political ties, Li's army was perhaps allowed to remain intact because, like Zhao Hengti's Guangxi brigade in Hunan, it was seen as more reliable than many Hubei units.
Progress in the consolidation of the regular army was slower than the elimination of irregular forces. Throughout 1912, periodic announcements appeared of plans to reduce the regular army to four divisions. Nonetheless, all eight divisions remained firmly in place. Finally, in early 1913, a new scheme was introduced to reorganize the army into three divisions and two independent infantry brigades. From January to March, new officers' appointments were made for these units. Artillery and cavalry regiment appointments were also made, revealing a determination to create the auxiliary units that would bring these divisions up to New Army organizational standards.
It is no accident that the only division commanders left in the 1913 reorganization were Li's most loyal supporters, Tang Keming, Cai Hanqing, and Wang Anlan (see Table 9). The new divisions were not, however, simply based on these men's commands. Their former divisions were contracted to form one brigade under one of their previous brigade commanders. The second brigade in each division was taken from a different division, under one of its original brigade commanders. By these means at least some charges of favoritism could be avoided. By this time troop disbandment had been sufficiently successful for the placement of soldiers in a smaller number of divisions to occur without creating any great difficulty. However, an excessive number of officers still remained, and efforts had to be redoubled to
encourage their retirement or to find other placements for them. As a result, it would be several months before this reorganization could be completed.
There were two divisions, the 2d and the 8th, not incorporated into the new structure of the Hubei army. The commander of the 2d Division, Du Xijun, as one of Li's loyal supporters, received a special appointment as Hankou garrison commander. His remaining troops were reassigned as patrol battalions to protect this important commercial port. The commander of the 8th Division, Ji Yulin, received no such special consideration. There were obvious reasons for this omission. First, Ji's army was the only division that had been organized entirely out of local revolutionary forces and had no New Army base. Furthermore, its officers were largely revolutionary activists with little military education or experience. Ji and his officers had also shown little respect for Li's authority and had been a constant source of trouble for the Hubei government. Li therefore had sufficient reasons to seek Ji's removal and his division's total elimination. Early in 1912, Ji offered to resign and disband his army as a patriotic gesture. He soon regretted this offer, though, and adamantly resisted all attempts to cancel his command. Only when Ji and some of his officers were implicated in an uprising plot in April 1913 was it possible to close his headquarters and incorporate the remnants of his army into the new 3d Division.
With a few exceptions, such as the case of Ji Yulin, Li's cautious approach to the reorganization of the Hubei army forestalled potential opposition. As such, the slow pace of disbandment was as much a sign of Li's continued weak control over the army as it was a reflection of his concern for its officers and men. Nonetheless, at no point did Li consider replacing the Hubei army entirely with a simpler system of local defense forces, as in Hunan. Thus he was apparently committed to preserving the Hubei army, albeit after considerable weeding out, in its form as a New Army—style force. This, then, may have been another factor in the decision to pursue a slower, staged demobilization. Whatever Li's intentions, the Hubei army in early 1913 was still far removed from the New Army ideal. Partial disbandment only reduced the size of the problems presented by the Hubei army rather than eliminating them entirely. The remaining troops were still of a lower quality than their New Army predecessors, while at the same time more highly paid and less disciplined. Revolutionary influences inside the Hubei army also continued to make it a potential political threat to Li and his government, as evidenced by the South Lake uprising of August 1912. A more permanent solution to these problems was found in a plan to rebuild the Hubei army by combining continued disbandment with new recruitment by conscription.
As early as April 1912, Li had advocated the establishment of a conscription system as a way to improve the quality of the new Republic's soldiers. In doing so, Li followed the path of late Qing New Army reformers, who had likewise proposed, but generally failed to implement, the institution of a draft. Li's early disbandment proposals also promoted the idea of a conscription system to serve Hubei's future recruitment needs, even suggesting the establishment of a model brigade or division on this basis. Not until early 1913, though, did Li finally propose the replacement of all existing troops with new draftees. An added benefit of this plan was the financial saving that could be obtained by replacing older soldiers paid at a rate of ten yuan a month with new troops who were to be given six yuan a month.
Concerned about releasing large numbers of potentially disorderly soldiers into society at one time, Li did not intend his conscription proposal to be implemented immediately. Nonetheless, when news of this proposal reached the Hubei army, the reaction of many soldiers was to petition for immediate disbandment. Up to this point, disbanding soldiers had been able to demand demobilization bonuses much higher than the regulation twenty yuan. Now those who remained feared that because of their decreasing numbers they would be forced
to accept a lower amount. By uniting to ask for immediate disbandment, they would still have the strength of numbers to demand higher bonuses. The result was a rush of disbandment demands from many different army units in late March and April of 1913. The soldiers successfully used past precedents, and the implicit threat of disorder if their terms were not met, to negotiate bonus payments ranging from fifty to seventy-five yuan. Concerned that insufficient military forces might be left to maintain order, Li had to plead for some soldiers to remain at their posts, promising that they too would receive the higher bonuses when their own time for disbandment came. Although the negative side of this disbandment rush was to saddle the Hubei treasury with an even greater financial burden, on the positive side it eased the reorganization of the Hubei army by removing remaining troop surpluses from as yet unreconstructed units. Indeed, the large number of troops discharged at this time appears to have left even the newly formed divisions undermanned.
The level of disbandment achieved in Hubei by spring 1913 appeared on the surface to be quite favorable for Li's plans to rebuild the Hubei army on a conscript basis. Nonetheless, no progress was made toward this objective. One reason for this was Li's increasing preoccupation with the growing political conflict between China's revolutionaries and President Yuan Shikai. As discussed in Chapter 5, this conflict ultimately led to an unsuccessful rebellion, known as the Second Revolution. Li's refusal to join the struggle against Yuan exacerbated revolutionary opposition to his own regime. Seeking military support for the overthrow of both Yuan and Li, Hubei revolutionaries, including a number of discharged army officers, sought to take advantage of their remaining contacts within the Hubei army. In the spring and summer of 1913, Li uncovered and suppressed a series of plots aimed specifically at the subversion of the Hubei army and the incitement of disbanded revolutionary troops.
The problems faced by Li Yuanhong in mid 1913 highlighted the continuing political dilemma presented by the Hubei army. On the one hand, some military forces were needed to maintain local order and, increasingly, to suppress revolutionary plots. On the other hand, the continued political unreliability of the Hubei army meant that it could not be depended upon to perform these tasks. Therefore, when political tensions were at their highest, Li restricted most Hubei units in Wuhan to their camps. To forestall political trouble from the Hubei army during the Second Revolution, Li dispersed most of it to scattered garrisons around the province, leaving only some three thousand
Hubei soldiers around the capital. Although the need for more reliable troops might have been solved in the long run by Li's plan to conscript a new army, in the short run there was no time, or money, to recruit or train new soldiers. Li's ultimate solution, then, was to depend increasingly on non-Hubei troops.
Li's use of outside forces began in the fall of 1912, when he welcomed two regiments of Zhili and Jiangsu troops to aid in the preservation of order in Wuchang following the South Lake uprising. In the troubled spring of 1913, Li also frequently relied on Li Tiancai's non-Hubei army to help maintain order in the Hubei capital. The most important step toward an increased dependence on outside forces came after the discovery of another major revolutionary plot in April 1913. At this point, Li asked Yuan Shikai to send northern troops to help defend Wuhan. By mid April, over three thousand northern troops were stationed around the city. In the following weeks more northern units were dispatched to Wuhan and other major cities. Although these troops had been called in to strengthen Hubei's own defenses, Yuan took advantage of Li's invitation to initiate a buildup of forces in Hubei, which he would use during the Second Revolution to extend central control into Jiangxi Province.
With the conclusion of the Second Revolution, the balance of military power in Hubei shifted decisively in favor of the northern armies over Hubei's own military forces. As a participant in this process, Li was by no means simply a dupe of Yuan's political machinations. Li had initially requested northern troops on his own volition, and he then allowed Hubei to be used as a base for Yuan's war against rebelling southern provinces. At the close of the war, Li did not seek to have the northern armies removed from Hubei; rather, he asked that a substantial northern force be left as a permanent garrison. Indeed, concerned with continuing revolutionary disturbances, Li even requested that more northern troops be sent to the province. Meanwhile, Li also continued the disbandment of Hubei troops. By August 1913, for example, the troop strength of Hubei's 2d Division had been reduced to one regiment. Finally, Li proposed that the remaining Hubei army be further consolidated into one division and two mixed brigades, and that they only be used to guard the province's outlying areas. For Wuhan itself he advocated forming a new division, and it is significant that he suggested that its troops be recruited in northern provinces. Having welcomed northern troops into Hubei, Li found in them the solution to the dilemma of the Hubei army's political unreliability.
Chinese historians have commonly criticized Li's disbandment of the Hubei army as part of an overall scheme to eliminate revolutionary power and consolidate his own military authority. There is little question that the political threat presented by strong revolutionary influences within the Hubei army was a major concern in Li's disbandment policies. Likewise, some of Li's actions, such as the appointment of his three most loyal commanders to head the army's reorganized divisions in early 1913, clearly sought to strengthen his own authority over the army's chain of command. It would be disingenuous, however, to suggest that Li, as military governor, did not have the right to expect the Hubei army and its commanders to respect his authority. At the same time, it would be simplistic to view all of Li's actions as motivated solely by a desire to consolidate his own power. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Li's concern to reduce military expenses and to provide his province with a more stable and orderly military force. Seen in this light, Li's willingness to have Hubei's own army largely supplanted by northern troops becomes more understandable. Certainly Li wanted Yuan's army to help defend his regime from revolutionary attack, but no future warlord would have been so careless about shoring up his own military base. Indeed, by placing his desire for order ahead of the strengthening of his own personal military power, Li put his own political future in jeopardy.