The North-South War and the Triumph of Warlordism
Yuan Shikai's death quickly ended the Anti-Monarchical War, but it provided no solution to any of the broader constitutional and political questions that had troubled the Chinese Republic from its inception. Within the central government, the relative powers of the president, the premier, and the National Assembly remained in dispute. The reassertion of provincial autonomy during the war, by both "loyal" northern provinces as well as "independent" southern provinces, revived the problem of defining central-provincial relations. By summer 1917, failure to resolve these issues resulted in the formation of an alternate southern "central" government at Canton [Guangzhou]. Wracked by their own internal factional divisions, neither the Beijing nor the Canton governments was able to exert full authority over the provinces that putatively gave it their allegiance. Indeed the political military factions that hampered the stability of both northern and southern governments became competing sources of authority unto themselves. The Republic thus faced a continuing political crisis grounded in the inability to reach a consensus on the locus of legitimate political authority.
This ongoing political crisis and the fragmentation of political authority encouraged the continued militarization of politics. Faced with seemingly irreconcilable political conflicts, little inhibition remained about the use of force to oppose those whose claims to authority were seen as illegitimate. Likewise those seeking to establish their political claims had little alternative but to use force against those who rejected their legitimacy. The continuing crisis of political authority thus resulted in a succession of military conflicts and civil wars.
The fragmented nature of China's military organization also in-
fluenced the continued recourse to military force in the settlement of political conflicts. The entire military did not have to be won over to a particular political viewpoint for it to intervene. Instead individual forces, or rather their commanders, could be approached to take political action. The numerous military forces in existence increased the possibility of finding a sympathetic ear for any cause. At the same time, the multiplicity of military forces also made a military solution to the diffusion of Chinese authority more difficult. In states with a single cohesive army, the military sometimes intervenes to shore up the authority of the central government or to support the claims of one of several competing political parties. Alternately, the army might deal with a crisis of authority by establishing a military dictatorship to impose its own will on competing political forces. The organization of China's military inhibited its ability to play a unifying role in any of these forms. The largest cohesive military force at the beginning of the Republic had been the Beiyang Army. Yet, as proven by Yuan's failed dictatorship, even the Beiyang Army was insufficient to dominate the entire nation. Attempts to unify the nation by military force continued, but no military coalition was strong enough to achieve this end in the decade after Yuan's death. Indeed, the pull of different political forces on individual commanders favored continued military fragmentation. Thus political and military fragmentation were mutually reinforcing processes.
The interaction of these circumstances culminated in the final triumph of warlordism. The militarization of politics, and continual civil warfare, strengthened the political influence of military commanders. The existence of competing centers of political authority gave military men added leverage to pursue their own political interests. An increasing number of commanders took advantage of the political opportunities before them to make the transition to warlordism.
All these problems and processes were clearly represented in one military conflict that would begin in Hunan in late 1917 over yet another attempt from Beijing to restrict provincial autonomy. Hunan's restored civilian regime enjoyed a brief respite while Beijing itself was racked by political struggles over the reconstitution of the central government following Yuan Shikai's death. This respite ended, though, after the Beiyang Army consolidated its control over the Beijing government and patched up its own internal differences long enough to attempt the reextension of northern military power into the south. The replacement of Tan Yankai by a Beiyang appointee provoked yet another civil war that roughly pitted the loosely allied provinces of the
south against the Beiyang-dominated north. While none of the issues originally raised in this conflict were resolved by it, this "North-South War" did provide individual military commanders, north and south, further opportunities to expand their political influence and develop their own political interests. Not only did this war help to consolidate the general triumph of warlordism in China but it specifically ensured that Hunan was finally and inextricably drawn into its vortex.
Crisis at the Center and Beiyang Military Power
A crisis of authority within the central government following Yuan's death created the immediate context for the renewed political application of military power. The most important military players in this political conflict, and its ultimate winners, were the Beiyang Army commanders who had served as Yuan's base of military support. The Beiyang Army, though, was no longer the same cohesive force that Yuan had used to establish his dictatorship. The first cracks in Beiyang unity appeared in its mixed response to the monarchist movement. Divided opinions over the correct response to the crisis that followed Yuan's death marked the further emergence of factions within the Beiyang Army. In terms of the rise of warlordism, though, the importance of this situation was not the realignment of Beiyang military power into smaller groupings, but the increased political autonomy of individual commanders. Although Beiyang control over the central government would be the outcome of this crisis, the factional breakdown of the Beiyang Army lessened its ability to provide a sufficient coercive base for a new centralizing effort.
After succeeding to the presidency in the summer of 1916, Li Yuanhong attempted to patch together a national government that would be acceptable to all the competing political forces that had emerged during the Anti-Monarchical War. To maintain the support of the Beiyang Army and the central bureaucrats, Yuan Shikai's main power base, Li appointed one of Yuan's most prominent subordinates, Duan Qirui, to serve as premier. At the same time, Li sought to ensure the cooperation of the independent southern provinces by meeting their demands for the restoration of the National Assembly dissolved by Yuan in 1914 and a return to the provisional 1912 constitution. This compromise established a fragile truce, but it could not create the consensus needed to ensure political stability. Indeed, the restoration of the provisional constitution reopened the divisive political issues that had plagued the Republic in its first years.
The shuffling of political players that accompanied the reconstitu-
tion of the central government resulted in some new combinations of political principles and practical politics. Seeking to enhance his position, Duan championed the cause, originally upheld by Yuan Shikai's opponents, of strengthening the premiership in relation to the presidency. Yuan's former political adversaries, meanwhile, were unwilling to see Duan, Yuan's main successor, assume a dominant position in the central government. Accordingly, they generally supported Li's attempts to preserve the presidency's power. Duan's idea of a strong premiership did not, of course, represent the responsible party cabinet system originally envisioned by Song Jiaoren. On the contrary, Duan faced an uncooperative, and at times an outright hostile, National Assembly dominated by Nationalist Party members. Thus the previous constitutional questions over the respective powers of the president and the premier, and the relationship between executive and legislative branches, reemerged in a three-cornered power struggle between Li, Duan, and the National Assembly. This power struggle soon manifested itself in a variety of specific debates over domestic and foreign issues. The lack of a consensus as to where final authority rested within the central government not only made decision-making more difficult but left the legitimacy of any decision open to challenge.
Military commanders in this period took an active part in the debates over general constitutional and specific political issues. Indeed, by this time, commanders regularly announced their political views in open telegrams, which were then given wide publicity in the popular press. Southern military leaders generally backed Li and the National Assembly in their contests with Duan. As might be expected, Beiyang and other northern commanders in turn supported Duan against his political adversaries. To a certain degree, military men were simply continuing the expanded political roles they had assumed during the Anti-Monarchical War. At the same time, the proponents of different political positions also courted the support of these military commanders, thereby encouraging and validating their continued political participation. Under these circumstances, military men became accustomed to treatment as a political constituency to be consulted in the formulation of government policy. By this participation, though, they also brought the threat of force into the political process.
Because of their closer proximity to the capital, Beiyang and other northern military commanders generally had a greater impact on Beijing politics than their southern counterparts. Following the precedent established by Feng Guozhang during the Anti-Monarchical War, they strengthened their collective voice through joint conferences. The loose
organization represented by these conferences soon became known as the dujuntuan , or military governors' association. Seeking to retain the favored position they attained under Yuan, the military governors' association generally supported Duan Qirui against his challengers—whether Li Yuanhong, the National Assembly, or southern military leaders and provincial politicians. Although Li frequently denounced the activities of the dujuntuan as unwarranted interference in national affairs, its demands bore an implicit threat of force not easily ignored.
The political threat presented by the dujuntuan was actualized in April 1917 when Duan called a conference of his military supporters to provoke a final showdown with Li. On Duan's behalf, this conference made a series of political demands for constitutional revisions, culminating in a call for the dissolution of the National Assembly. Faced with this ultimatum, Li instead ordered Duan's removal from the premiership. Duan in turn refused to accept the legality of Li's order and withdrew to Tianjin to organize his military supporters. Demanding both Duan's recall and the acceptance of his policies, Duan's supporters began to declare their independence of Li's government. Having failed with threats, Duan was prepared to use actual military force to resolve his conflict of authority with Li.
The only flaw in Duan's strategy was his expectation that the Beiyang coalition represented by the dujuntuan would unite behind his break with Li. This turned out to be an unwarranted assumption. The dujuntuan was an expedient alliance of commanders who found their joint conferences useful in promoting their common interests. Beyond this, these commanders remained divided among themselves over a range of political issues and strategies, particularly when their individual interests were at stake. One Beiyang leader who found Duan's interests contrary to his own was Feng Guozhang. In late 1916, the National Assembly elected Feng to fill the vice-presidency vacated by Li Yuanhong's move to the presidency. After this, Feng began to harbor hopes of eventually succeeding Li as president. Feng's ambitions would be poorly served if Duan successfully asserted the primacy of the premiership over the presidency. There was also an incipient rivalry between Feng and Duan for the leadership of the Beiyang Army. Duan's success in this issue would weaken Feng's claim to Yuan's mantle. Therefore, from his military base in Jiangsu Province, Feng announced that he would take a neutral stand between Duan and Li. He then persuaded several other Beiyang commanders, including Hubei's Wang Zhanyuan, to do likewise.
Feng's break with Duan over this issue was a manifestation of an
emerging factional division within the Beiyang Army. The faction led by Feng eventually became informally known as the Zhili clique. On the other side were Duan and his followers, the Anhui clique. Although based on strong military components, Feng and Duan also drew civil bureaucrats and politicians into their respective cliques. From this point on, Chinese politics increasingly took on the characteristics of a factional system, the workings of which have been excellently described by Andrew Nathan. This factional system, however, also developed interactively with the rise of warlordism. Clientalist ties inside the Chinese army provided a natural foundation for the exchange relationship that is the basis of factionalism. Warlord politics for the most part was factional politics. Within the context of developing factional politics, though, the emergence of warlordism is best understood from the level of individual military commanders. For these men, involvement in factional politics was simply one way to achieve their own political objectives. Wang Zhanyuan's maneuvering during this period clearly reflected the independent political calculations of a warlord.
As noted in Chapter 6, Wang had shown an appreciation for the benefits of continued Beiyang unity during the Anti-Monarchical War. After this war, he became an active participant in dujuntuan conferences and consistently supported Duan in his struggles with Li Yuanhong and the National Assembly. Indeed, he was a member of the delegation that presented the final demands of the dujuntuan to Li on Duan's behalf. When Li dismissed Duan, Wang publicly stated his disapproval and reiterated the dujuntuan call for the National Assembly's dissolution. Therefore it was something of a surprise when Wang refused to join other pro-Duan military commanders in declaring independence. Instead, he announced his continued support for Li's government and called for peaceful negotiations to resolve the political crisis. For Wang, other political considerations had clearly overridden the demands of Beiyang unity.
The geopolitical logic of Wang's position as military governor in Hubei was one factor in his decision not to join the pro-Duan independence movement. In his own explanation of his decision, Wang particularly noted the military danger Hubei faced from its neighbors. Insofar as the southern provinces continued to support Li Yuanhong and the National Assembly, Duan's willingness to use military force increased the likelihood of a new north-south civil war. Since Hubei was situated on the front line of Beiyang military power in central China, Wang's forces might bear the initial brunt of such a war. Not
surprisingly, the Beiyang military governors who joined Wang in declaring neutrality in this conflict were from provinces along the Yangzi River, and thus faced the same problem. The strategic position that placed Hubei and these other provinces in danger, though, also gave them a political opportunity to act as a balancing force between the north and the south. Feng Guozhang had already used this mediating role to enhance his political position during the Anti-Monarchical War, and his neutral stand in this crisis had the same effect. By associating himself with this approach, Wang began to carve out a similar intermediary reputation for himself in national politics.
Political concerns inside Hubei may have also influenced Wang's decision against a declaration of independence. There were reports of considerable Hubei opposition, particularly within the business community, to Duan's provocative actions. One reason for this was no doubt the considerable support Li Yuanhong still retained in Hubei. Nonetheless, the fear of disorder that might accompany a new outbreak of civil war probably played an even greater role in this anti-Duan reaction. Because Wang had used his reputation for keeping order in consolidating support for his rule in Hubei, he could not easily ignore such concerns. Thus, he took special efforts to assure a gathering of the Hubei Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders, specially called to discuss the crisis, that his primary goals were "support for the central government and the preservation of order."
Internal Hubei military conditions might also have affected Wang's political stance. There were reports that the commanders of the two remaining non-Beiyang divisions in Hubei, Shi Xingchuan and Li Tiancai, remained loyal to Li Yuanhong and were ready to offer him their assistance. By rejecting an open break with Li in favor of the negotiated settlement proposed by Feng, Wang avoided the danger of an open confrontation with these commanders.
Finally, Wang's long-standing relationship with Feng Guozhang no doubt influenced his decision not to back Duan in the final confrontation with Li. Certainly without Feng's leadership, Wang would not have dared to stand alone against Duan. By again following Feng's lead, Wang solidified the close political relationship he had established with Feng during the Anti-Monarchical War. From this point on, Wang would ally himself with Feng, and the Zhili clique, in most matters. Nonetheless, Wang's actions were primarily determined by his own interests, not by his factional ties. Thus Wang's loyalty to Feng and the Zhili clique was by no means absolute, and he took special
care not to burn all his bridges with Duan. For example, Wang publicly proclaimed his deep personal regard for Duan, even as he rejected Duan's decision to break with Li. In the future, Wang would ally himself with Duan on a number of issues, to the point where some identified him more with the Anhui than with the Zhili faction. Ch'i Hsi-sheng aptly characterized Wang as a political opportunist who was not beyond a bit of double-dealing. No matter where he stood, from this point on, Wang was clearly a player, not a pawn, in the game of factional politics.
The political maneuvering that followed Duan's dismissal ultimately took a turn that few could have expected. Seeking military protection from Duan's threat, Li accepted an offer of mediation from the conservative general Zhang Xun. As the price of his assistance, Zhang forced Li to dissolve the National Assembly. However, once Zhang's troops were securely in place in Beijing, he forced Li's own resignation, and on July 1 he announced the restoration of the Qing dynasty. There is some evidence that ambiguous expressions of support from various northern military commanders originally encouraged Zhang to take this step. Nonetheless, few saw any advantage in the return of the Manchu emperor to his throne, especially in the face of the widespread popular outrage that arose immediately against the restoration. For a time, the differences between Duan and Li, between Duan and Feng, and even between north and south, were forgotten as all united to preserve the Republic. Within two weeks Zhang was defeated and the Manchu emperor was forced into his second abdication.
Although Zhang Xun's restoration attempt failed, it provided Duan with an opportunity to resolve the central government crisis on his terms. Leading the military forces that forced Zhang's capitulation in Beijing, Duan took the National Assembly's dissolution and Li Yuanhong's resignation as faits accomplis, but resumed his own position as premier. Meanwhile, Li, who had little desire to continue the struggle, acquiesced in Feng Guozhang's succession to the presidency. Taking the position that the restoration invalidated the 1912 Constitution, Duan called up a new representative body and produced a new constitutional document more to his liking. With Duan as premier and Feng as president, Beiyang domination of the central government was now assured. This achievement temporarily muted the rivalry between Duan and Feng, and laid the groundwork for a renewed effort to extend central authority into the provinces. Nonetheless, the manner in which Beiyang control over the central government was attained tainted its authority in the eyes of non-Beiyang political forces. This
set the stage for further military conflict over any new centralizing effort from Beijing.
The North-South War—Stage One
The Anti-Monarchical War had validated provincial resistance to Yuan Shikai's centralizing efforts. As a result both "loyal" and independent provinces emerged from the war with stronger control over provincial administrations. In contrast, both Li Yuanhong and Duan Qirui, despite their other differences, were strongly concerned about the effect of this situation on national unity and favored the reassertion of central authority. The power struggle between these two men, though, temporarily hindered any concerted effort by the central government toward this end. Before Zhang Xun's restoration attempt, central authority in the provinces was largely limited to the confirmation of preexisting provincial power arrangements. Thus, Li's efforts to influence the appointment of Hunan's military governor met with no success. With his victory over Li, and the consolidation of Beiyang control over the Beijing government, Duan was prepared for a more determined assault on provincial autonomy.
A key element in Duan's centralizing program was his willingness to use military force to bring about national unification. Not unexpectedly, Duan looked to "national" Beiyang units to serve as his enforcers and took the semi-autonomous southern provinces as his main targets. To these provinces, though, Duan's assertion of central authority looked like a cover for the expansion of Beiyang military and political power. In early August 1917, Duan obtained Feng Guozhang's acceptance of two key appointments that made his intentions clear. First, Wu Guangxin was appointed Upper Yangzi commander-in-chief and inspector (chabanshi ) of Sichuan. In the previous year, Wu had led the troops that reestablished northern military control over Yuezhou in northern Hunan. Now he was ordered to advance into Sichuan to "resolve" that province's internal conflicts. The second appointment put Fu Liangzuo, previously Vice Minister of War under Duan in 1916, into Tan Yankai's seat as Hunan military governor. Both Wu and Fu were graduates of Japan's Army Officers' Academy and had established careers in the Beiyang Army and close professional ties to Duan. Moreover, both men were related to Duan by marriage, making them particularly reliable for his purposes. Although made in the name of central unification, these appointments lit the fuse for a new civil war.
Interestingly enough, Duan's selection of Fu Liangzuo as his point-
man for the re-extension of central power into Hunan was an attempt to maneuver around Hunan's provincialist sentiments. Fu was a West Hunan native and his appointment thus met demands, made explicit in the earlier struggle against the appointment of Chen Yi, that "Hunanese rule Hunan" (Xiangren zhi Xiang ). In his literal deference to this slogan, though, Duan ignored its implicit meaning, namely the desire for a measure of provincial self-government. While willing to placate Hunan opinion by placing a Hunan native in the military governorship, Duan's basic goal was still the limitation of provincial autonomy. Likewise, no one in Hunan doubted that Fu's appointment meant anything but the revival of "northern" administrative control. Thus Hunan public opinion reacted vehemently to Fu's appointment.
Fu's appointment was also strongly opposed by Hunan's non-Beiyang neighbors. Relations between Beijing and the southern provinces were already strained as a result of the invalidation of the 1912 Constitution and the dissolution of the National Assembly. In late July 1917, Sun Yat-sen, with local Guangdong military support, called for the formation of an opposition military government in Canton to "protect the constitution" (hufa ). In August, a rump of the National Assembly met at Sun's bidding to form this government. While non-Beiyang southern military governors were not all necessarily willing to give their full support to Sun's initiative, they did reject the constitutional legality of the Beijing government. Indeed, Guangxi and Guangdong refused to rescind declarations of "autonomy" they had originally made when Li Yuanhong had come under Zhang Xun's domination. While these constitutional differences provided a theoretical foundation for the rejection of Duan's policies, more direct interests were also involved. If Fu Liangzuo's appointment in Hunan was accepted, then the positions of other southern governors were also insecure. Equally important, the projected extension of Beiyang Army influence into Hunan and Sichuan ended these provinces' utility as buffers against northern military pressure. Thus, when direct appeals to Feng Guozhang to preserve the status quo by rescinding Fu's appointment were rejected, both Lu Rongting, governor-general of Guangdong and Guangxi, and Tang Jiyao, Yunnan's military governor, offered military support to Tan Yankai to resist Fu's takeover.
Tan Yankai also learned that political pressure alone would not stop Duan's plans. Going against his normal preference for the peaceful mediation of political conflicts, Tan began to consider military resistance. Given Hunan's comparative military weakness, Tan appealed
to sympathetic provinces for aid and welcomed their offers of military assistance. Tan soon discovered, though, that the main obstacle to his plans came from within the Hunan army itself. In a military conference called to discuss Fu's appointment, Tan learned that 2d Division commander Chen Fuchu, supported by his 4th Brigade commander Zhu Zehuang, was prepared to welcome Fu to Hunan. Tan had alienated Chen during the reorganization of the Hunan army when he switched the designation of Chen's command with Zhao Hengti's, making Chen commander of the 2d rather than the 1st Division. Tan's preference for Zhao led Chen to believe reports that this action presaged the disbandment of Chen's division. Meanwhile, since both Fu and Chen were natives of West Hunan, Fu was able to use mutual local contacts to promise Chen better treatment after he assumed Hunan's military governorship. Normally, Tan could have relied on Zhao Hengti as a counterbalance to Chen. Zhao, however, was on leave at his family home in Hengyang, mourning the death of his father. Zhao's 1st Brigade commander, Li Youwen, had therefore assumed acting command of the 1st Division. As Tang Xiangming's former protégé, Li felt no special loyalty to Tan. Unable to gain the support of his top commanders, Tan wired his acceptance of Fu's appointment.
Military transfers undertaken by Tan immediately before Fu's arrival indicate that he did not completely abandon the possibility of military action at a future date. He ordered the 2d Brigade commander, Chen Jiayou, to move his brigade into western Hunan. Tan could count on Chen's loyalty because of their close personal ties and Chen's appreciation of Tan's past patronage. Likewise, Tan transferred the 4th Brigade commander, Lin Xiumei, to southern Hunan. As one of Cheng Qian's former revolutionary subordinates, Lin obviously opposed the reintroduction of Beiyang power into the province. Tan presented the transfer of these forces as a good will gesture showing a lack of military opposition to Fu's arrival. In fact, their removal from central Hunan also helped these forces to preserve a degree of autonomy. Furthermore, their transfers to the west and south enhanced their ability to join up with other southern forces in the eventuality of war.
Another significant action taken by Tan was the removal of Wang Yunting from his position as Lingling garrison commander. As a Tang Xiangming holdover, Wang's loyalty was uncertain. Since his garrison controlled the strategic passes linking southern Hunan to Guangxi, Wang could potentially block the advance of southern troops into
Hunan or facilitate a southward advance by northern forces. Tan therefore tricked Wang into leaving his post by sending him on a special mission to Beijing. As soon as Wang left Hunan, Tan replaced him with a Hunan officer, Liu Jianfan. Liu was a Hunan graduate of the Baoding Military Academy who had served as an instructor in the Guangxi New Army before the 1911 Revolution. In 1916, Liu was a member of the military delegation sent by Tan to Hunan with Zeng Jiwu. After Tan's own return to Hunan, he rewarded Liu with a special post overseeing provincial military properties. Tan now expected Liu to return these favors. Because many of Wang's subordinate officers had been Liu's military students in Guangxi, Liu was able to take charge of the Lingling command with little trouble. Likewise, Liu's Guangxi connections were also an aid in maintaining contacts with Lu Rongting. All these maneuvers were carefully planned with an eye to future military action.
Duan initially hoped to lessen the political impact of Fu's takeover by keeping Tan temporarily as civil governor. Both Duan and Fu repeatedly urged Tan to stay on in this post. This proposal received considerable support from Hunan office-holders who hoped that Tan's continued presence would help them preserve their jobs. Tan had no illusions though about what his powers as civil governor would be. "I'm already accustomed to being a mother-in-law, how can I go back to being a daughter-in-law?" he quipped. So, claiming to be opposed in principle to separate military and civil governors, he declined these appeals. Before leaving office, though, Tan made every effort to reinforce his political base. Having obtained a promise from Fu not to make drastic personnel changes, Tan issued a flurry of official appointments. Disregarding the province's financial troubles, Tan issued bonuses for provincial officials and their staffs, disbursed owed funds to military units, and provided generous travel stipends for officials who chose to resign with him. This last minute patronage revealed Tan's hopes of a future political comeback. On September 9, Fu finally arrived in Changsha to take office. Shortly after this, Tan left for Shanghai.
The apparently peaceful transfer of power from Tan to Fu did not last long. One of Fu's first acts in office was to assert his authority over the Hunan army by undoing the special military arrangements Tan had made before his departure. He began by ordering the removal of Liu Jianfan and Lin Xiumei from their posts in southern Hunan. This forced Liu and Lin into an immediate decision. On September 18, the two men rejected Fu's orders and declared independence. They jus-
tified this action as a decision to ally themselves with other southern provinces in a fight for the restoration of the 1912 Constitution and the National Assembly. This declaration of independence was the spark that turned the increasing tensions between Beijing and the south into open warfare.
Fu Liangzuo clearly hoped to keep the rebellion in southern Hunan from spreading. He relied on Chen Fuchu to keep the Hunan 2d Division under control. To do this, the 4th Brigade under Zhu Zehuang was sent to western Hunan to watch over the less reliable 3d Brigade under Chen Jiayou. Fu also made open appeals for the allegiance of various Hunan commanders. For example, he promised to designate Hunan units as "national" rather than provincial forces, thus guaranteeing more secure positions for officers and more regular pay for troops. Fu then ordered the acting 1st Division commander, Li Youwen, to lead his 1st Brigade south to suppress the forces of Liu Jianfan and Lin Xiumei. Here the provincialism encouraged during Tan's reorganization of the Hunan army paid off. Li's troops mutinied against orders to fight their fellow provincials to aid Duan's objectives in Hunan. At this moment, Zhao Hengti also decided to come out of mourning and join the independence movement. The entire 1st Brigade therefore shifted its allegiance to Zhao and linked up with Liu's and Lin's forces. Li fled back to Changsha, accompanied only by two loyal regiment commanders who had been with him since he assumed his first Hunan command. Nearly half of Hunan's military forces were now in open rebellion.
The Hunan conflict quickly escalated to include participation by both northern and southern armies. To allay initial fears over his arrival, Fu originally pledged not to bring any northern troops with him to Changsha. As a precaution, though, Duan had garrisoned two Beiyang units, the 8th Division under Wang Ruxian and the 20th Division under Fan Guozhang, at Yuezhou. Following South Hunan's declaration of independence, these units, along with several smaller northern forces, were ordered to advance against the rebels. The possibility that a considerable northern military presence might soon be on their own borders provoked a military response from Hunan's neighbors. In mid October, a combined Guangxi and Guangdong army crossed into Hunan under the command of one of Lu Rongting's subordinates, Tan Haoming. This relieved the beleaguered independent Hunan forces and halted the northern army's advance. At this point the Hunan conflict was transformed into a full-scale war, which once again roughly divided the country along north-south lines.
The decisive factor in the course of this conflict was not the relative military strengths of the northern and southern forces, but the reemergence of internal divisions within the Beiyang Army. Whereas Feng Guozhang had agreed in principle with Duan's determination to enforce central prerogatives in the provinces, he was not prepared to do this at the cost of another civil war. Once hostilities broke out, Feng refused to back Duan's prosecution of the war and called instead for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Feng's stand was consistent with the position he had taken in previous conflicts, but power issues were also involved. Feng saw an opportunity to consolidate his position as president by taking the stance of a mediator above the fray. First, he could undermine the dominant role Duan was carving out for himself as a war leader by calling the war itself into question. Second, if successful in his mediation, Feng could present himself as the only person acceptable to both the north and the south as head of state. Wang Zhanyuan again followed Feng's lead and joined the military governors of Jiangxi and Jiangsu in calling for a cease fire. Feng's action therefore reopened the factional split within the Beiyang Army.
The break between Feng and Duan over Beijing's war policy opened up political options for military commanders in the field. The two main commanders of northern forces in Hunan, Wang Ruxian and Fan Guozhang, were less than enthusiastic about their assignments. Purely in terms of his own interests, neither man gained much by expending his military forces to shore up Fu's military governorship. While Feng and Duan were still united, the two commanders dared not disobey their orders. The split between the president and the premier, however, gave Wang and Fan an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction. On November 14, the two commanders, on their own initiative, called for a peaceful resolution of the war, announced a cease fire, and began to withdraw their troops from southern Hunan. Upon receiving this news, Fu Liangzuo abandoned his post. Wang and Fan apparently hoped that their advocacy of a cease fire would mollify the south sufficiently to allow one of them to take Fu's place. They established themselves in Changsha and announced their assumption of control over Hunan's military and civil administrations. Their hopes were dashed, though, as southern forces showed no intention of halting their advance. In danger of being surrounded, Wang and Fan abandoned Changsha on November 18 and retreated to Yuezhou.
Wang and Fan's retreat dealt a serious blow to Duan Qirui's military centralization scheme. As the allied southern armies moved toward Changsha, the provincial forces in western Hunan that had not yet
broken with Beijing took the opportunity to do so. Chen Jiayou's 3d Brigade rose up to attack Zhu Zehuang's 4th Brigade. Soon Zhu's troops mutinied, forcing Zhu to join his division commander, Chen Fuchu, in fleeing the province. Except for Yuezhou, which remained a northern preserve, Hunan was again free of Beijing's control. Meanwhile, Wu Guangxin's advance into Sichuan had been equally unsuccessful owing to strong resistance by Sichuan and Yunnan armies. Even before these events reached their final denouement, Duan Qirui was forced to acknowledge the failure of his policy. On November 16, 1917, Duan turned in his resignation as premier. This ended the first stage of the North-South War.
The North-South War—Stage Two
Superficially, the cessation of hostilities in Hunan in November 1917 opened the way for a negotiated settlement of the issues that divided the north and the south. In reality, the cease fire only restored the unsettled conditions that had existed before the war began. There was still no consensus on how to reconstitute central authority in a way acceptable to all sides. Meanwhile, because political influence continued to be measured by military power, each "player" jealously guarded his military position. When the tenuous post-war military status quo was threatened, renewed civil war was inevitable. The potential for a military resolution of the political conflicts that divided the nation, however, was no greater than before. The war was fought by a hodgepodge of military forces, each with their own interests to consider. Instead of contributing to national reunification, the war increased the political autonomy of military commanders.
Efforts to resolve the issues that divided the north and the south peacefully were complicated by a lack of consensus within the two opposing sides. In the south, for example, Sun Yat-sen's supporters favored continuing the war to achieve all their original "Constitutional Protection" aims and the overthrow of Beiyang power in Beijing. In contrast, Guangxi's military leaders were willing to negotiate a settlement with the Beijing government, particularly if it recognized the new status quo. To encourage this end, Lu Rongting and Tan Haoming forced their Hunan allies to halt their advance short of Yuezhou as a gesture of good faith to the Beijing government. Although Guangxi military power was sufficient to force this concession, gaining acceptance of a negotiated settlement with Beijing was another matter.
In the north, Beiyang commanders also remained sharply divided, despite the apparent defeat of Duan's war policy. Only two weeks
after Duan's resignation, a rump dujuntuan of Duan's supporters met to demand a counterattack against the south. Duan also worked to rebuild a northern military coalition to force Feng to abandon his mediation efforts. His most important accomplishment to this end was the acquisition of Japanese military loans that would eventually total 77,838,213 yen (approximately 50,000,000 yuan). The ostensible purpose of these funds was to prepare Chinese forces for participation in World War I, and Duan was put in charge of these preparations by his appointment in mid December as head of a new office, the War Participation Board. Duan, however, used this military aid to court the support of military commanders for a renewed campaign against the south. The importance of the patronage power Duan gained from these funds should not be underestimated. Even Zhang Jingyao, one of Duan's most constant political supporters, only pledged his forces to the campaign after Duan agreed to a long list of demands, including the provision of weapons and funds to allow an expansion of Zhang's army. As in the case of the reorganization loans received by Yuan Shikai in 1913, foreign aid strengthened the inclination to turn to military force for the resolution of political conflicts.
Feng's efforts to reach a mediated settlement were also hampered by a general Beiyang reluctance, even among Feng's closest supporters, to yield any real power to the south. Duan could use this concern to his advantage. For example, in early 1918 one of Duan's allies, Xu Shuzheng, reminded northern military commanders that the south's real goal was "the overthrow of Beiyang military men." Thus Xu argued that military action against the south was necessary not only for the good of the nation but "in order to determine the survival or annihilation of the entire Beiyang military group." When events in Hubei and Hunan led to further Beiyang losses, the tide turned away from Feng's policy and back to Duan's program of military unification.
The first important threat to Beiyang interests after the retreat from Hunan came when non-Beiyang forces in Hubei declared independence. Shi Xingchuan, the Hubei 1st Division commander, broke with Beijing on December 1, 1918. The commander of the 9th Division, Li Tiancai, followed suit on December 16. Shi and Li had grown dissatisfied because of Wang Zhanyuan's tendency to give preferential treatment, and pay, to Beiyang-based units. By allying themselves with the advancing southern armies, Shi and Li saw a chance to end their subordination to Wang and perhaps even remove him from
Hubei. By this political move, Shi and Li also made the transition into warlordism.
One impediment to Shi and Li's aspirations was their inability to secure the backing of all their subordinates. Li Tiancai's main support came from the Yunnan-Guangxi officers and men, concentrated primarily in his 17th Brigade, who had served under him since before the 1911 Revolution. The 18th Brigade, led by Zhang Liansheng, rejected Li's overtures and pledged continued allegiance to Wang Zhanyuan. It was no coincidence the 18th Brigade consisted primarily of officers and men from northern and central China who had been attached to Li's command during the 1911 Revolution. Indeed, although Zhang was a native of Beijing, many of his officers and the majority of men came from Shandong, facilitating co-provincial ties with Wang Zhanyuan. Liu Zuolong, commander of the Hubei 1st Division's 2d Brigade, also declined to follow his commander's lead. Liu's brigade was garrisoned in small scattered units in eastern Hubei. Cut off from Shi Xingchuan's main base at Jingzhou in central Hubei, Liu may have seen continued loyalty to Wang as his only alternative. Whatever combination of factors influenced Zhang Liansheng and Liu Zuolong to remain loyal to Beijing, the fact that they were forced to make such a decision again showed how civil war politicized military men. Zhang and Liu were confronted with a situation that divided their allegiances. Whether moved by political principles or personal interests, their decision not to follow their immediate superiors into independence was a political choice. In the end, Zhang and Liu made the most politically perspicacious decision. Rather than Shi and Li riding to success on an advancing wave of southern victories, the Guangxi-ordered halt before Yuezhou left them stranded in a vulnerable position.
Despite their inability to maintain control over all their forces, Shi and Li's independence did present a threat to Beiyang interests in central China. Garrisoned at Jingzhou and Xiangyang respectively, Shi and Li controlled a wide swath of counties reaching across central Hubei from Hunan to Henan. Whoever held this territory could block the northern approach to Sichuan, provide a path for a southern encirclement of Wuhan, or even facilitate a southern drive into north China. Wang Zhanyuan originally attempted to prevent an outbreak of hostilities by accepting Shi and Li's initial public explanation that their assertion of independence was merely an attempt to preserve local order while adding pressure for peace negotiations. In his own negotiations with the two men, Wang even appeared willing to recog-
nize their autonomous military status, but only if they returned administrative control of their territories to his government. Shi and Li, though, demanded the removal of all northern troops from Hubei as their price for a settlement. This Wang could not accept. The rise of other "Constitutional Protection" forces in Shi and Li's territories, often led by revolutionaries supporting Sun Yat-sen's anti-Beiyang goals, increased the threat of the Hubei independence movement to northern power. By early January, all Beiyang leaders, including members of the peace party, agreed on the necessity of suppressing the independent Hubei forces.
The northern attack on Shi and Li began in mid January 1918. From the north, the 3d Division under the command of Wu Peifu attacked Li Tiancai's forces along the Han River. At the same time, Wu Guangxin, who had retreated to the Sichuan-Hubei border after his failure in Sichuan, attacked Shi Xingchuan's army from the west along the Yangzi. Caught between these attacking forces and the heavily garrisoned Wuhan area held by Wang Zhanyuan, Shi and Li were soon defeated. Shi's forces split into two parts, some going south to join the Hunan army while the rest retreated to Hubei's southwestern border, while Shi himself retired to Shanghai. Li Tiancai led his troops in retreat from northwestern Hubei into eastern Sichuan. Although the Hubei independent forces would survive for several years, they ceased at this point to be a serious threat to Beiyang power in Hubei.
A second incident increasing north-south tensions was the occupation of Yuezhou by southern forces on January 27, 1918. Hoping to encourage peace negotiations, Tan Haoming had initially resisted pressure from the Hunan army either to drive the northern armies from Yuezhou or to provide military assistance to Shi and Li in Hubei. Nonetheless, he conceded that a northern attack on the independent Hubei forces might necessitate the seizure of Yuezhou to safeguard Hunan's northern border. When the attack on Shi and Li came, there was a noticeable buildup of northern troop strength in Yuezhou. This compelled Tan to give in to Hunan demands to seize Yuezhou. As the Hunan army advanced, Yuezhou's defending northern forces yielded the city without a fight.
As these events unfolded, northern and southern peace advocates continued to seek ways to prevent the spread of war. The northern units at Yuezhou were primarily allied to Feng Guozhang, and their withdrawal was an attempt to avoid a conflict that would harm Feng's mediation efforts. Lu Rongting in turn sought a settlement based on a
tradeoff between the defeat of the independent Hubei forces and the northern withdrawal from Yuezhou. Feng quickly found, though, that he could no longer restrain the growing impatience of the Beiyang war party. Therefore, only several days after the fall of Yuezhou, Feng ordered preparations for a counterattack on Hunan. The rehabilitation of Duan's war policy was completed when Duan returned to the premier's office on March 23, 1918. However, Duan's policy had already been implemented several weeks before with the renewal of hostilities in Hunan.
The northern counterattack on Hunan that began in early March 1918 sought to overwhelm its southern opponents with a massive deployment of troops. In the vanguard of the invasion was Wu Peifu, leading the 3d Division and four Zhili mixed brigades in a direct assault on Yuezhou. Following in Wu's wake was a second major northern force led by the 7th Division commander, Zhang Jingyao. Finally Zhang Huaizhi, the military governor of Shandong, led a flanking attack on eastern Hunan from Jiangxi with an expeditionary army of Jiangsu, Shandong, and Anhui units. The total number of northern troops involved in this campaign eventually reached around 150,000 men. The defending Hunan and Guangxi armies were unable to withstand this onslaught. On March 18, Wu Peifu took Yuezhou. On March 26, his troops entered Changsha. By April 21, Wu's troops had reached Hengyang, the gateway to southern Hunan. Despite a counterattack by Hunan forces that inflicted a serious defeat on Zhang Huaizhi and cost Liu Jianfan his life, the northern advance could not be stopped. The Guangxi army retreated to the Hunan-Guangdong border, leaving the Hunan army with only a tenuous hold on Hunan's southern and western counties.
The Hunan army was only saved from complete defeat when the northern military alliance created for the attack on Hunan began to unravel over the distribution of the war's spoils. Wu Peifu's forces had been responsible for most of the northern victories in both Hubei and Hunan. Nonetheless, after the capture of Changsha Duan promoted Zhang Jingyao, whom he considered a more loyal supporter, to the position of Hunan military governor. Duan then ordered Wu to continue his advance into Guangdong. Much like Wang Ruxian and Fan Guozhang before him, Wu was unwilling to continue expending his military forces for someone else's benefit, and soon after the capture of Hengyang, he halted his advance. Acting on his own authority, Wu then negotiated a cease fire with the southern armies. Given the importance of Wu's forces to the whole northern campaign, this action
effectively ended the fighting. The result was a military and political stalemate that would last for two years.
Wu Peifu's decision to defy his orders and cease fighting was a perfect example of the triumph of warlordism. Duan's dependency on commanders like Wu to enforce his military policy enabled them to provide or withhold their support on their own terms. In early July 1918, Wu publicly justified his action, saying: "Although military men are duty-bound to obey orders, they must also weigh the advantages and disadvantages in order to follow suitably. This would not be disobedience." With this bold, if disingenuous, rationale for the political autonomy of military commanders, Wu was claiming his right to decide the appropriateness of the orders he received. In this instance, Wu justified his cease fire as a suitable response to the "policy of national doom" he purported to see in the war in Hunan. Although originally a strong supporter of Duan's war policy, he now called for the opening of peace talks. This rather sudden conversion from the advocacy of war to the promotion of peace suggests that the "advantages and disadvantages" that Wu considered included a recalculation of his own personal interests. Whatever reasons actually influenced Wu's behavior, his assertive political autonomy was a logical outcome of the militarization of Chinese politics.
The most important indication of the triumph of warlordism in the North-South War was the extent to which the war's course was determined by the political decisions of individual military commanders. The political behavior of these commanders was not simply the result of their rejection of legitimate political authority, but also reflected the difficulty in determining where that authority should lie. The breakdown of the constitutional compromises worked out after the Anti-Monarchical War gave provinces seeking to preserve greater administrative autonomy a basis on which to question the legitimacy of the Beiyang-dominated Beijing government. Under these conditions, even Lin Xiumei, who had helped to initiate the war with his declaration of independence, later acknowledged that commanders on both sides in the war could honestly differ on where they owed their allegiance:
I think that when the two armies were waging war, northern military men no doubt said, "I am obeying my superior's orders," while southern military men certainly also said, "I am obeying my superior's orders." If we look at the loyalties of the military men on both sides, then formally speaking it is truly hard to judge who was right and who was wrong.
This problem was exacerbated by the efforts of competing authorities, whether the Beijing and Canton governments, or provincial leaders like Tan Yankai and Fu Liangzuo, to win military support for their causes. Indeed, the events of the North-South War showed how factional divisions, such as that between Feng Guozhang and Duan Qirui, also created a range of political options for military commanders. The most important consequence of this situation, though, was that military commanders were drawn into politics by the simple need to decide which authority to recognize. Meanwhile, the competition for their support also gave them leeway to pursue their own political ambitions.
The issue of motivation becomes more problematic under these circumstances. There is a tendency in many conventional Chinese histories of the warlord period to distinguish between good "military commanders" who acted out of principle and bad "warlords" who acted out of self-interest. For example, in most Chinese accounts, Chen Fuchu's decision to remain "loyal" to Beijing is disparagingly explained in terms of the gains he sought from this allegiance. In contrast, Liu Jianfan and Lin Xiumei's declared adherence to "Constitutional Protection" principles is accepted at face value. The motivations for their revolt come under less scrutiny than Chen's simply because conventional history assumes the validity of the southern case against the north and hence sees their actions as serving legitimate purposes. A different bias, though, might suggest that their declarations of independence were hardly disinterested. Indeed, as Chen charged at the time, this declaration helped Liu and Lin save their own "rice bowls" when they were threatened with dismissal.
In the end, it is difficult to measure the relative importance of public statements by commanders that are uniformly couched in principled terms with actions that appear as uniformly to serve their self-interests. No military commander moved in this period without public declarations, usually in the form of "circular telegrams" addressed to all leading officials and released to the press, justifying his action on constitutional, legal, or moral grounds. There is no reason to assume automatically that these men did not take these political arguments seriously. An excellent case study by Winston Hsieh has shown that at least some warlords, rather than being purely opportunistic, had complicated political beliefs that influenced their actions. Nonetheless, the regularity with which most actions taken by warlords clearly served their political interests suggests that principles were not normally their main concern. Although it is impossible to see into the minds of individual commanders, one can identify conditions that
allowed self-interest to take increasing precedence over principle as a motivating force.
The differences in opinion over what constituted legal authority meant that there was no lack of legal and constitutional arguments to support different political positions. Faced with the prospect of competing authorities vying for support, military men had the opportunity to determine which allegiance best advanced their own interests. Under these conditions, no military commander had any difficulty justifying self-interested actions in principled terms. This was certainly a situation that favored the unprincipled. At the same time, even commanders motivated by strong principles could not afford to ignore more practical political considerations. Just as civilian politicians often need to make political compromises to get elected, military commanders had to maintain their military bases to retain their political influence. Commanders who acted purely out of principle against their own interests were quickly eliminated from the field. Warlord behavior was therefore often defined by what Lucian Pye has called the "paramountcy of mere political survival." Whatever issues originally brought military men into politics, the conditions created by the militarization of politics ensured that their own interests would increasingly determine the course of political conflict. Hence, the struggle between central-government control and provincial autonomy that had supposedly provoked the North-South War ended only in the further fragmentation of political power among competing warlords.