The Political Legacy of Yongying Organization
In studies published in Chinese in the 1930s, Luo Ergang first linked the origins of warlordism to the development of the yongying . Luo particularly focused his attention on the personalization of military power that was manifested in yongying organization. According to Luo, the yongying were not national armies; rather, they "belonged" to their commanders. While this personalization of military power in itself undermined the central power of the court, it had an even greater political effect when yongying commanders obtained posts as governors or governors-general and thus gained control over provincial administrations and finances. According to Luo, the possession of personal armies allowed late Qing governors and governors-general to emerge as provincial "dictators" capable of resisting central orders, or even threatening the court, in the pursuit of their own interests. The
rise of the yongying therefore resulted, not only in the loss of central control over military force, but in a broader devolution of central political power to provincial governors and governors-general.
Luo Ergang's interpretation was further elaborated, and introduced to Western scholars, through the work of Franz Michael. Michael's main contribution was the development of the concept of "regionalism" to describe the decline of central power that began with the formation of the yongying . According to Michael, "regional leaders" such as Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang "organized their own military forces in their home regions, combined this locally-based military power with political organizations loyal to them, and drew their financial support from the regions they occupied. These regional organizations provided their leaders with bases of autonomous power." Thus, for Michael, the personal military power provided by the yongying , which he refers to as "regional armies," was responsible for a broader "regional" combination of military, administrative, and financial powers by yongying commanders. Michael also notes that the ascension of these commanders to positions as governors and governors-general institutionalized the autonomous power bases they had created as army leaders.
Both Luo and Michael maintain that the personalist organization of the yongying became an enduring characteristic of Chinese military organization from the mid nineteenth century on. It both created regional autonomy under the Qing and served as the foundation for warlordism after the fall of the Manchu dynasty. Thus the rise of warlordism is directly connected to changes in military organization that began in the mid nineteenth century. "The situation of 'soldiers belonging to the generals' began with the military expansion during the reign of the Xianfeng emperor [1851–61]," Luo observes. "Undergoing a number of developments, this situation led first to the dufu (governors and governors-general) of the Guangxu reign [1875–1908], and then progressed further to create the regionally separate warlords of the Republican period." Michael likewise sees Republican warlords as the direct heirs of nineteenth-century regional leaders. "Regional power, once established, eventually held its own," he notes. "The organizations of Tseng Kuo-fan [Zeng Guofan], Li Hung-chang [Li Hongzhang] and other regional leaders of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the disintegration of dynastic power that finally led to the collapse of the dynasty and to the system of warlordism that replaced it." One appeal of the Luo-Michael thesis is that it sees warlordism as the result of a lengthy process of general political
decline rather than as a temporary aberration. The widespread influence of this theory is seen in its frequent citation in both general textbooks and specialized studies of warlordism.
This interpretation of the origins of warlordism has not gone completely unchallenged. Criticism of the thesis, however, has come not from the field of warlord studies but from scholars of late Qing political and military organization. These scholars have argued convincingly that the personal powers of the midcentury yongying commanders, and later governors and governors-general, were never as great nor as autonomous as portrayed by Luo and Michael. To the extent that these scholars present a different view of late Qing political structure, they also challenge the suitability of the Luo-Michael thesis as an explanation of the origins of warlordism.
Ralph Powell, Wang Ermin, and Liu Kwang-ching have all questioned the tendency of the Luo-Michael thesis to discount the loyalty of the yongying commanders to the dynasty as a factor enabling the court to maintain considerable central control. According to these scholars, as long as the legitimacy of the Qing emperor was recognized, the court retained key central powers, which were effectively used to hinder the development of regional political autonomy. The most important of these powers was that of appointment. First, the appointments of yongying commanders as provincial governors and governors-general need not be seen as the court's de facto recognition of the power of military commanders who had gotten beyond its control. Chinese emperors traditionally used senior civil posts as rewards for men who had performed significant military services for the dynasty. Such appointments did not therefore automatically signify a devolution of central power. Second, up to the fall of the dynasty, the court proved quite capable of transferring or removing these top officials at will. Even though some leading figures, such as Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, had lengthy tenures in important posts, Liu Kwang-ching has shown that most provincial governors continued to be rotated on a regular basis. Finally, Liu also notes that although the governors were largely able to select yongying officers and staff for their expanded personal secretariats, the dynasty maintained its power of appointment over most regular military and civil bureaucrats. Under these circumstances the autonomy of provincial governors does not appear to have been as great as Luo and Michael would have us believe.
Although the considerable degree of independent military power exercised by yongying commanders during the period of rebellion is sel-
dom denied, critics have also noted that the lack of central authority over these forces was not as complete or as lasting as claimed by the Luo-Michael thesis. This is most notably seen in the court's ability to order drastic reductions in yongying strengths after the rebellions ended. Indeed, in the case of Zeng Guofan's Xiang Army, the demobilization was nearly complete. The dynasty furthermore retained ultimate authority over the deployment of the yongying and was able to enforce the transfer of forces from one province to another over the opposition of provincial governors. Liu Kwang-ching has also shown that the court increased bureaucratic control over many yongying officers by giving them concurrent appointments in the Green Standard Army. Thus the court had means to assert its authority over the yongying and did so with some success.
Some scholars have also raised questions about the supposed financial independence of yongying commanders and late Qing governors and governors-general. David Pong's study of military financing in Jiangxi Province during the Taiping Rebellion shows that yongying commanders such as Zeng Guofan were indeed able to gain unprecedented control over certain revenues, such as the lijin . Nonetheless, he also shows that these sources of income were never sufficient for their needs. In the end, Zeng remained dependent on the court for access to provincial revenues from Jiangxi and other provinces to meet his military expenses. Liu Kwang-ching also notes that the court never lost its power to approve financial disbursements and by this means prevented the yongying commanders from achieving complete fiscal independence. Furthermore, he shows that after the suppression of the rebellions, the central government gained access to a large portion of the revenues from new provincial sources such as the lijin by demanding special remittances for central expenses. Thus, the special sources of income created to support the yongying did not become the exclusive financial preserves of the post-Taiping governors and governors-general.
Franz Michael's concept of the development of regionalism is considerably weakened by the picture of more limited autonomy of yongying commanders and provincial governors presented by these scholars. In a study of the Huai Army, Wang Ermin goes even further, raising questions about the application of the concept of regionalism to the yongying . Although their officers and men were predominantly drawn from one province or area, the yongying often campaigned or were stationed in other provinces. Wang notes that the Huai Army was never stationed in Anhui, where it had originally been formed,
and was eventually scattered, on court orders, over a number of provinces. Likewise, in spite of its Anhui origins, the Huai Army received financial support, not from the province of Anhui, but from Li Hongzhang's main financial base in Jiangsu. Thus, according to Wang, aside from their original recruiting bases, the "regional" character of yongying forces is not easily identifiable. In the end, Wang is unwilling to characterize yongying commanders like Li Hongzhang as nascent warlords controlling autonomous regional power bases. Instead, he proposes that yongying leaders simply used their positions to build "military factions" (junxi ) that were little different from the personal political factions commonly found in the Chinese bureaucracy in any dynastic period.
Finally, scholars studying the role of provincial governors and governors-general in the late Qing political structure have challenged the view embedded in the Luo-Michael thesis of an oppositional relationship between these officials and the central government. While not ignoring the contradictions that often existed between the court and its provincial officials, these scholars offer convincing evidence that late Qing governors and governors-general generally acted more as centralizing agents than as autonomous "regional leaders" undermining central power. According to Wang Ermin, the powerful military organization created by Li Hongzhang in northern China while he was Zhili governor-general served dynastic policy aimed at increasing military strength in the capital area. Li's power was thus not organized in opposition to the central government but in support of it. Liu Kwang-ching complements Wang's conclusions with a study of Li Hongzhang's role as leader of the "self-strengthening" reform movement. On the one hand, according to Liu, court support remained essential for the implementation of Li's modernizing program. On the other hand, with this support Li performed central government functions in pursuit of clearly national goals. Daniel Bays reaches a similar conclusion about another leading Qing provincial official, Zhang Zhidong, during his tenure as governor-general at Canton (Guangzhou). According to Bays, Zhang could not act independently of imperial sanction, and his power depended less on any personal power base than on imperial favor. As governor-general, Zhang pursued national goals and acted as an agent for central interests. In this regard he often conflicted with, rather than represented, entrenched local or regional interests. Livingston Merchant has even shown how the Qing court used the establishment of a new governor-generalship over the three northeastern Manchurian provinces in 1907 to strengthen both central
and civil control over the region. Given such evidence, it is untenable simply to view late Qing governors and governors-general as autonomous regional "dictators" who accumulated power at the expense of the Qing court.
The critics of the Luo-Michael thesis do not deny that late Qing provincial governors and governors-general were in some regards more powerful figures than their pre—Taiping Rebellion predecessors. Their studies, however, reflect a more complicated understanding of the sources of late Qing political power beyond the control of personal military forces. In particular, late Qing governors and governors-general gained power through their leadership in various "self-strengthening" or reform programs. While these programs depended on court support and served national aims, the governors who were most successful in their promotion also obtained a larger share of national and local revenues and control over the personnel of new agencies outside the regular bureaucracy. At the same time, leadership in these programs resulted in the creation of power not so much at expense of the central government as through the general expansion of state activity.
The strength of late Qing governors and governors-general does suggest a more indirect factor that may have influenced the later rise of warlordism. When military commanders in the Republican period took control over provincial governments, they quite naturally looked to late Qing governors and governors-general as models that allowed for a strong executive with broad authority over both military and civil administration. The only difference was that provincial warlords were able to operate in the absence of the central controls that had restricted the autonomy of their late Qing predecessors.
On a more general level, the combined civil-military authority granted late Qing governors also reflected a mutual permeability between civil and military spheres in late imperial China that may have had some influence on later warlordism. At least in principle, Chinese tradition praised the combination of civil and military talent in cultivated gentlemen. Chinese officials were generalists, expected to be competent in both civil and military affairs. As seen in some instances described above, civil officials were often given supervisory powers, or even direct command, over military forces. Similarly, members of the civilian gentry led the way in the organization of the yongying . Conversely, successful military commanders might be rewarded with civil titles or posts. Within this cultural and institutional tradition, the assumption of civil powers by military men in the Re-
public was not necessarily looked upon askance. At the same time, however, the mutual permeability of the civil and military spheres cannot in itself be seen as causing warlordism. Indeed, this permeability obviously allowed a flow in two directions. While it may have lowered inhibitions against the rule of military men in the Republic, for most of the late imperial period this permeability functioned more to maintain civil control over the military.
Returning to the issue of the legacy of the yongying , the more detailed research that has emerged since Luo and Michael presented their views suggests that they may have exaggerated the effects of yongying organization on late Qing political structure. The works of revisionist scholars generally fail to support the conclusion that the formation of the yongying was responsible for a serious decline of central power and the rise of autonomous regional power bases. However, one further aspect of the Luo-Michael thesis remains to be explored: the effect of the yongying on subsequent Chinese military organization. It is, after all, the similarities between the personally oriented yongying and the private armies of the warlords that appear to be the strongest sign of a causal relationship between mid-nineteenth-century changes in military organization and the rise of twentieth-century warlordism. However, to show this linkage, continuity must also be traced through the intervening military developments of the late Qing period.