The Fall of Tang Xiangming
One of the heaviest blows Yuan Shikai received during the Anti-Monarchical War was the betrayal of Tang Xiangming. From the beginning of the monarchical movement, Tang sought to prove his loyalty to Yuan by harshly suppressing anti-monarchical dissent and using his administration to generate support for the monarchy. The outbreak of war, however, created conditions that forced Tang to reconsider his position. In an opportunistic leap, Tang joined Yuan's opposition. With Yuan's death and the war's end, Tang turned his attention to the consolidation of his military and administrative authority over Hunan province. If he had been able to achieve his goals, Tang would have made the transition to warlordism. Instead, Tang's
own military power remained too weak to survive in the militarized conditions that emerged from the war.
Tang's first cause for concern in the Anti-Monarchical War was the poor showing of Yuan's troops on the western Hunan front. Despite their numerical superiority, the northern troops Yuan sent into the province could do no more than block the advance of Guizhou National Protection forces. Cheng Qian interpreted the stalemate in western Hunan as an indication of the loss of faith in Yuan by his own Beiyang commanders. Tang could certainly draw the same conclusion. Still, Tang's position in Hunan was not seriously endangered until March 15, when Guangxi's military governor, Lu Rongting, declared his province's support for the National Protection Movement. By April, Guangxi troops were massing for an invasion on Hunan's southern border, creating the threat of a two-front war. Tang therefore began searching for a way to dissociate himself from Yuan while still preserving his own political position.
Tang's first move was to open negotiations with Yuan's opponents to see if some political accommodation was possible. Here Tang had an advantage in his influential brother, Tang Hualong. Although Tang Hualong had served in a number of important positions in Yuan's government, he withdrew his support for Yuan at the outbreak of the war and joined other non-revolutionary but anti-monarchical politicians in supporting the National Protection Movement. Originally, Tang Hualong had tried, without much success, to persuade his brother to bring Hunan out against the monarchy. Once Yuan's position began to deteriorate, though, Tang Xiangming was able to turn to his older brother to initiate secret talks with Yuan's political and military opponents. As a result of these contacts, Tang was able to obtain an agreement from top National Protection leaders, such as Cai E, Liang Qichao, and Lu Rongting, allowing him to retain his military governorship in exchange for Hunan's declaration of independence.
Seeking to forestall political opposition inside Hunan to his continuation in office, Tang also used his brother's assistance to open secret negotiations with Tan Yankai. As a result of his role in the Second Revolution, Tan had been placed under house arrest in Beijing. After being pardoned in 1915, he took up residence in Shanghai, a gathering point for civilian politicians and military officers fleeing the political terror in Hunan. Negotiations between Tan and Tang's emissaries in Shanghai soon expanded to include Tan Zhen, the head of the Hunan branch of the Revolutionary Party, and other revolutionary activists. The negotiations resulted in another agreement guaranteeing
Tang's position as military governor in return for his breaking with Yuan. At the same time, concessions were also extracted from Tang to share power with Hunan's "popular party" (mindang ), an umbrella term chosen to cover the range of Yuan's political opponents from moderate politicians to revolutionary activists. Under the terms of the agreement, Hunan's civil governorship, as well as certain military positions, would be filled by "popular party" nominees. Thus Tang agreed to a partial return to the provincialist regime destroyed after the Second Revolution.
In negotiating these agreements, Tang was playing a dangerous game. On the one hand, the agreements would not go into effect until he actually declared independence. Until then, he was still vulnerable to attack by National Protection forces. On the other hand, if any word of his perfidy leaked out, he could expect retribution from the northern forces occupying the province. To defend himself in either eventuality, Tang sought to increase his own military power. Yuan, of course, was no longer in a position to object to Tang's military aggrandizement. First, Tang recalled the Hunan Mixed Brigade from western Hunan to strengthen Changsha's defenses. Second, he began the rapid recruitment of new troops. Under the guise of creating a new "Patrol and Defense Force" (Xunfangying), Tang soon raised fifteen battalions, largely recruited from disbanded Hunan soldiers. These troops were placed under Li Youwen, a Hunan naval officer and a member of Tang's staff. Tang also authorized Guo Renzhang, a former military officer and national assemblyman, to recruit five battalions of "mine guards" in the counties south and west of Changsha to provide additional protection.
Tang's next task was to keep from being caught in a clash of opposing forces. Lu Rongting's Guangxi forces still planned to advance into southern Hunan. The first obstacle to their advance was the army of the Lingling garrison commander, Tang's protégé Wang Yunting. Unwilling to bear the brunt of a Guangxi attack, Wang declared independence on April 26 and assumed the title of commander-in-chief of the South Hunan National Protection Army. Guangxi troops then began to move freely across the border. There is reason to believe that Tang gave tacit approval to Wang's action as a means of exerting pressure on Yuan Shikai. In negotiations with Lu Rongting, Tang devised an agreement that could be presented to Yuan promising the withdrawal of Guangxi and Guizhou troops from Hunan if Yuan would do the same with his northern forces. Yuan agreed to this settlement after receiving Tang's assurance that he would keep Hunan
loyal after the mutual withdrawal had taken place. Tang then worked out agreements with the main northern commanders in Hunan to begin the pullback of their troops.
As it turned out, fast-moving events forced Tang to declare independence before all these arrangements were completed. The end of April and early May saw an eruption of popular uprisings across Hunan. In this period, Liu Zhong's secret-society forces captured a string of important towns in central Hunan (Xiangxiang, Shaoyang, Xinhua, and Hengshan) before being forced to retreat by northern troops. On May 15, a battle broke out in the streets of Changsha when Tang's supposed ally Guo Renzhang, hoping to make himself military governor, attempted an unsuccessful coup against Tang with his mine guards. Meanwhile, Cheng Qian's Hunan National Protection Army was expanding its influence over Hunan's southwestern counties. By late May, Cheng claimed control over a force equal to three brigades. On May 24, western Hunan's Tian Yingzhao finally ended his fence-straddling and declared support for the National Protection Movement. Meanwhile, contrary to their agreement with Yuan, Guangxi troops continued to advance into Hunan on the heels of the withdrawing northern armies, threatening to expose Tang's treachery. Afraid to lose control over the situation. Tang finally denounced Yuan on May 29 and declared independence.
Despite the blow of Tang's betrayal, Yuan attempted to salvage the situation by reversing his orders for the withdrawal of northern troops from Hunan. Before these orders could take effect, though, Yuan died. This effectively ended the civil war by meeting, even if by default, the National Protection Movement's main objective. Having already initiated the withdrawal of their troops, the northern commanders in Hunan decided to honor their agreements with Tang to leave the province.
The end of the civil war did not bring political peace to Hunan; rather, it raised new questions about Tang's position as military governor. The withdrawal of northern armies removed most of the military forces that had previously guaranteed Tang's authority in the province. More important, Yuan's death destroyed the foundation for the expedient agreements guaranteeing Tang's continuation in his post. Immediately after Yuan's death, conflicts began to arise over the terms of the agreement Tang had negotiated with the "popular party" and their applicability in this new situation. With the end of the war, Tang saw less need to make concessions to the "popular party" and more opportunities to shore up his own military and political position.
By taking a perfunctory attitude toward the implementation of the agreement, though, Tang also provided new justification for opposition to his rule.
Tan Yankai and his allies were acutely aware that no real political compromise with Tang would be possible if he maintained a monopoly over provincial military forces. One of their most important demands was thus for the creation of a new Hunan National Protection Army, to be placed under the command of officers representing the "popular party." On Tan's recommendation, a group of Hunan military officers were dispatched to Hunan before Tang's declaration of independence to implement this proviso. This group was led by the former commander of the Hunan 3d Division, Zeng Jiwu. Among the officers accompanying Zeng were Zhao Hengti, the former Guangxi brigade commander, and Chen Fuchu, 3d District Guard Corps commander, both of whom had joined Tan in Shanghai after their prison sentences for their participation in the Second Revolution were commuted. Immediately after Tang's declaration of independence, Zeng Jiwu received the title of commander-in-chief of the Hunan National Protection 1st Army, while the other members of his entourage were given subordinate military appointments. Zeng's army was supposed to be created by the transfer of troops from existing Hunan units under Tang's control, along with new recruitment. Yuan's death, in Tang's eyes, eliminated the need for this army, so few troops were assigned to Zeng's command, and the National Protection 1st Army remained a hollow shell. Insofar as the purpose of the army was not solely to prosecute war against Yuan but to provide military support for the "popular party" in Hunan, Tang's neglect of this provision became a serious point of political contention.
Matching Tang's reluctance to support the organization of a new Hunan National Protection Army was his effort to disperse irregular anti-Yuan people's armies. Seeing these armies as patriotic forces, and potential military backers, some revolutionaries advocated arming and provisioning them as regular army units. Originally, Tang made some concessions to this view by agreeing to have some of these forces incorporated into the Hunan army. In the name of carrying out this agreement, though, Tang ordered the people's armies to submit to inspections and ordered the immediate disbandment of all forces found lacking "true patriotism, a strict military appearance, or complete arms." Not surprisingly, those that submitted to inspection were quickly rejected and dispersed. Perceiving the sham, most forces re-
fused to comply. This gave Tang an excuse to carry out the forcible suppression of the most threatening people's armies.
The other side of Tang's determination to prevent the establishment of military forces not under his control was his effort to strengthen his own military power. After the withdrawal of the northern armies, the only effective troops left around Changsha were the Hubei-recruited Hunan Mixed Brigade and Li Youwen's newly created Patrol and Defense army. Tang quickly sought to increase his own military strength further by raising several new "supplemental regiments" (buchongtuan ). Although these regiments were recruited within Hunan, Tang sought to ensure their loyalty by placing them under the command of Hubei officers. In every regard, Tang's military policies appear to have been aimed not at reaching an accommodation with his new "popular party" allies but at preparing for a confrontation with them.
The "popular party" also found itself thwarted in its efforts to extend its influence into Hunan's civil administration. The last centrally appointed civil governor left his post amid deteriorating political conditions in early May, leaving the administration of civil affairs completely in Tang's hands. Tang's agreement with Tan Yankai committed him to accept a civil governor nominated by the "popular party." With Yuan's death, the disparate groups that had been subsumed under the rubric of the "popular party" broke down into numerous political factions, which made reaching any decision in its name a difficult task. Indeed, some complained that even former monarchists now claimed to be members of the "popular party." Many of the participants in the agreement with Tang agreed that the civil governor's post should go to Long Zhang, a prominent and progressive member of the Hunan gentry who had held a number of important posts in Tan's earlier provincial regime. It was impossible though to obtain a consensus on this nomination. Tang took advantage of the political dissension to maintain his own control over civil government. Disregarding the civil governor's office entirely, he even established a Department of Civil Government (Minzhengting) within the military governor's office.
Tang's actions put him at odds with the political aspirations of a wide segment of Hunan's political elite for restoration of a self-governing provincial regime. In an interview with the U.S. consul at Changsha, Long Zhang noted an overriding desire by the people of Hunan for a return to the political conditions that had existed before the Second Revolution—including the recall of the original National
and Provincial assemblies, the revival of local self-government, and the removal of officials appointed by Yuan. There were also widespread demands that civil officials either be popularly elected or be approved by the Provincial Assembly. Tang was not inclined to accept any of these demands. Although members of the Provincial Assembly regathered in Changsha and unofficially began to reassert their role as Hunan's representative body, Tang attempted to create an alternate "senate" (canyiyuan ) with an appointed membership to act in its place. Tang also maintained complete control over civil appointments, and continued to favor non-Hunan men for important provincial posts. All Tang's actions were directed at preventing the revival of a provincialist regime that he saw as inimical to his own interests.
In both military and civil affairs, Tang showed no qualms about violating his earlier agreements if he could enhance his own political position. In doing so, he disappointed the postwar expectations of both revolutionary activists and more moderate politicians for a restoration of some degree of Hunan self-government. As a result, most believed that they were released from their promises to support the continuation of Tang's military governorship. Given Tang's resolve to stay in power, though, the only way to remove him was by force. Unfortunately for Tang, there were military forces in Hunan willing to perform this function.
Cheng Qian had never been a party to the agreements to preserve Tang's position and still considered the removal of "Butcher Tang" to be as important as the defeat of Yuan Shikai. Cheng's troops thus continued to advance toward Changsha after Tang's declaration of independence, drawing in popular forces opposed to Tang's administration along the way. By mid June, although avoiding any open military conflict with Tang, Cheng's forces were deployed in Ningxiang and Xiangtan, the two counties directly west and south of Changsha. Acting alone, though, Cheng could not be sure of victory against Tang. Therefore he set out to win the support of Lu Rongting, whose large Guangxi forces had by this time taken up positions in southern and central Hunan and on the outskirts of Changsha itself. Visiting Lu's headquarters in Hengyang, Cheng convinced Lu that Tang's unpopularity would be a continuing source of political instability. Furthermore, he argued that Tang's presence provided a possible foothold for the return of the Beiyang Army, thus presenting a danger to the entire southwest. To make the threat from Tang more personal, Cheng also confided that he had intercepted an assassin sent by Tang to take Lu's life. Finally, Lu agreed to abrogate his guarantee of Tang's posi-
tion. On July 1, with Lu's backing, Cheng ordered his troops to advance on Changsha.
As Cheng's intentions became clear, Tang Xiangming found himself in an increasingly untenable situation. Lu Rongting had deployed Guangxi artillery and infantry units in a threatening position on Yuelu Mountain, directly across the Xiang River from Changsha. Meanwhile, Hunan politicians and revolutionary activists who had regathered in Changsha, including the military officers under Zeng Jiwu, began to plot an uprising against Tang. When Tang received the news that the troops he had sent to block Cheng's advance had been defeated, he decided to abandon his post. Late at night on July 4, Tang and other members of his administration embarked on a steamer for Hankou.
In the final analysis, Tang Xiangming's fall was determined by the new alignment of military power that had been created in Hunan as a result of the Anti-Monarchical War. The weakening of Yuan's power in the period immediately before his death had given Tang an opportunity to build his own military forces in Hunan. After his declaration of independence and Yuan's death, Tang attempted to strengthen his position by new military recruiting and by blocking, when possible, the formation or survival of other independent forces. In the end, though, most of Tang's forces were too recently recruited to be completely loyal to him, and too few to be effective replacements for the withdrawn northern troops. Faced with the threat of Cheng Qian's growing alliance of local troops and popular forces, and the forbidding presence of Lu Rongting's Guangxi army, Tang had little choice but capitulation.