Military Organization and Autonomy in the Northern Warlord Regimes
Although the broad political autonomy of military governors was reflected in their control over administrative structures and financial resources, its cornerstone remained the personal command of military power. Indeed, gaining personal control of military force was the means whereby military commanders in general freed themselves from outside restraints on their authority. In theory, northern and southern central governments still claimed ultimate power over the organization and deployment of military forces. In practice, they conceded most of this authority to commanders, hoping at least to maintain their nominal allegiance. While central governments continued to play some legitimating role by assigning military designations and formalizing military appointments, actual organizational and personnel decisions were generally made by the commanders themselves. Because of their access to financial resources, military governors had greater opportunities to increase their military power by the expansion of their armies. The central government was reduced to providing formal legitimation of faits accomplis. The only real limit on the military bases of the military governors was the size of their provincial treasuries.
The autonomy of the military governors from central control did not, however, mean that they had complete authority over all the military forces in their provinces. Attempts to map out the factional divisions within the Chinese military of this period have frequently assigned whole provinces to one faction or another based on the affiliations of their military governors. In Hunan and Hubei, such treatment obscures the diversity of military forces that continued to exist within each province. Temporarily leaving aside the independent armies on the provinces' peripheries, the territories under the control of Wang's and Zhang's provincial governments still contained a wide variety of "central" and "provincial" military organizations. Furthermore, both major Beiyang military factions were well represented by significant forces in each province. Not unexpectedly, the degree of control Wang and Zhang exerted over these forces differed considerably from one unit to the next. Although lacking the jurisdictional
authority and resources that contributed to the particular political strength of the military governors, many commanders of these units exhibited considerable political autonomy in their relations with both central and provincial authorities. The militarization of politics empowered military commanders in general, not just commanders who had achieved administrative office. The outline of the military forces in Hunan and Hubei in 1918 in Tables 14 and 15 shows the complexity of the resulting structure of military power under Wang's and Zhang's warlord regimes.
The core of Wang Zhanyuan's military power in Hubei remained the National 2d Division. After assuming the Hubei military governorship in 1916, Wang yielded nominal command of the division to his trusted subordinate and friend Wang Jinjing, but in early 1918 he reassumed direct command. Wang Zhanyuan expanded his core military base by recruiting new units, which he placed under loyal officers from the 2d Division. Thus in 1914 he had, as previously noted, created the 6th Mixed Brigade out of a supplemental brigade organized within the 2d Division, and placed it first under Wang Jinjing and then under another loyal subordinate, Wang Maoshang. The outbreak of the North-South War in September 1917 gave Wang Zhanyuan an excuse to engage in further military expansion. As in the past, Wang enhanced the autonomy of his forces from local Hubei interests by recruiting new soldiers from outside Hubei, particularly from his home province of Shandong. Soon after the war began, Wang expanded the 6th Mixed Brigade into a division, redesignated the National 18th Division, still under Wang Maoshang's command. Around the same time, Wang combined Shandong recruits with Provincial Defense Corps regiments he had formed in 1916 to create a new unit, the National 21st Mixed Brigade. This brigade was placed under the command of Sun Chuanfang, a Shandong graduate of Japan's Army Officers' Academy who had served under Wang in the 2d Division since before the 1911 Revolution.
Wang's efforts at military expansion were also evident in his treatment of "provincial" forces that came under his control as Hubei's military governor. When Wang became military governor, the "Hubei army" consisted of Shi Xingchuan's 1st Division and the Hubei 3d Brigade created by Duan Zhigui in 1915. During the Anti-Monarchical War, Wang expanded the 3d Brigade into a mixed brigade with the addition of artillery, cavalry, and engineering components. After Shi Xingchuan's December 1917 declaration of independence, only half of the 1st Division, Liu Zuolong's Hubei 2d Brigade, remained loyal to
Wang. Wang rewarded Liu's loyalty by upgrading his command to a mixed brigade. The redesignation of Liu's unit as the Hubei 4th Mixed Brigade revealed Wang's intention to expand the "Hubei" army into four mixed brigades. This plan was completed in late 1918 with the creation of two new units. First, new Provincial Defense Corps troops Wang had recruited to replace those used in the formation of the 21st Mixed Brigade were reorganized into the Hubei 1st Mixed Brigade. Second, one of the 18th Division's brigades was split off to form the Hubei 2d Mixed Brigade and placed under a 2d Division cavalry officer. Because of their connections to Wang's core forces, these two Hubei brigades were more closely tied to Wang than pre-
vious Hubei units. Finally, Du Xijun's Hankou garrison command remained largely undisturbed by these changes, retaining three battalions used for police duties.
There were also a number of miscellaneous non-Hubei forces stationed inside Hubei over which Wang had varying degrees of control. First, there was the 9th Division brigade under Zhang Liansheng that had refused to support Li Tiancai's declaration of independence. Since the loyalty of this brigade had been proven, Wang expanded its two regiments into two separate mixed brigades, the National 17th and 18th Mixed Brigades. A more important national force stationed in Hubei was the 8th Division under Wang Ruxian. (Wang Ruxian's own political influence had fallen drastically after his withdrawal from Hunan in 1917, and he had placed himself more or less under the protection of Wang Zhanyuan, on whose recommendation he received the post of Jingzhou garrison commander.) In addition, there was one smaller "orphan" unit that cooperated closely with Wang Zhanyuan. This was the Henan 2d Mixed Regiment, led by Kou Yingjie, which had been reassigned to Hubei after retreating from Hunan after the Anti-Monarchical War.
Finally, there was another whole cluster of units in Hubei over which Wang Zhanyuan had almost no control. These were the forces under Duan Qirui's brother-in-law, Wu Guangxin. After Wu's retreat from Sichuan in 1917, Duan ordered him to remain in western Hubei as Upper Yangzi commander-in-chief, headquartered at Yichang. During his Sichuan campaign, Wu suffered from his dependence on the cooperation of various commanders whose units were assigned to aid him. After returning to Hubei, only two of these units, the 13th Brigade and the 2d Mixed Brigade, remained under Wu's authority. In 1918, seeking to expand his own personal military base, Wu recruited some ten thousand soldiers from his home province of Anhui to form four new infantry brigades. Duan encouraged this expansion as a means of preserving the military presence of the Anhui faction in Hubei to counterbalance Wang Zhanyuan. Wang responded by assigning different forces under his control to "aid" Wu in the defense of western Hubei. This created a stalemate that thwarted Wu's ambitions, but still left his forces largely independent of Wang Zhanyuan's control.
In Hunan, Zhang Jingyao had to contend with an even more complex alignment of military forces. Zhang's own core army was the National 7th Division. Given the sheer number of forces that participated in the northern conquest of Hunan, though, Zhang's military
position at the beginning of his tenure as military governor was not particularly strong. Thus, Zhang also sought to expand his military base by creating new units. Zhang placed some of these forces under loyal followers who had accompanied him from Shandong, including several pacified bandit leaders. He also gave important commands to several of his brothers, as well as other relatives. The most notorious case was an ill-disciplined brigade, later upgraded to a division, assigned to Zhang's younger brother, the profligate playboy Zhang Jingtang. Because all these forces underwent frequent changes in their designations, and these designations had little bearing on their actual troop strength, it is nearly impossible to provide an exact accounting of Zhang's troops. This multiplication of military units, however, only superficially increased Zhang's military power. Most of these new units were rather indiscriminately recruited, often by the absorption of pacified bandits, and turned out to be of very low quality. As a result Zhang had great difficulty enforcing his orders beyond the immediate stretch of territory from Changsha to Baoqing in central Hunan where his troops were concentrated.
As military governor, Zhang Jingyao did have jurisdiction over a number of Hunan provincial forces that remained loyal to Beijing. For example, the defeated Hunan commanders Chen Fuchu and Zhu Zehuang returned to Hunan with the northern counterattack and tried to regather some of their former troops into a new division. In the end, only a brigade could be raised, and it was placed under Zhu's control. In compensation for his lost command, Chen was allowed to recruit a small local defense corps as "East Hunan pacification commander." Both Wang Zhengya, Chang-Li garrison commander, and Qing Heng, Chang-Li vice commander, reconfirmed their loyalty to Beijing after their garrison areas were overrun by advancing northern troops. Finally, the former South Hunan garrison commander, Zhao Chunting, was allowed to reestablish his old command, recruiting former subordinates and pacified bandits as his troops. While these forces contributed to the complexity of Hunan's military forces, they were too weak to have an impact on the provincial military structure of power.
Zhang Jingyao's authority was weakest over the other northern military units that had accompanied him into Hunan. A list of the commanders of these units reads like a warlord's Who's Who. Zhang's closest allies were a medley of units that had entered Hunan as part of the expeditionary force led by Shandong's military governor, Zhang Huaizhi. These forces suffered rather extensive losses from southern
attacks during the war and remained garrisoned in eastern Hunan, where their advance had halted. Most of the commanders of these forces were associated with Duan Qirui's Anhui faction, and they therefore generally allied themselves with Zhang Jingyao on broad political questions. At the same time, they did not necessarily see themselves as inferior to Zhang and were seldom willing to subordinate themselves entirely to his will.
The strongest northern military forces in Hunan, and the ones that gave Zhang Jingyao the most trouble, were those that allied themselves with the Zhili faction. By far the largest (with approximately 35,000 troops) and most important of these forces was the army led by Wu Peifu. Wu's core military base was the Beiyang 3d Division, formerly commanded by Cao Kun. Cao had given Wu command of the 3d Division to lead the assault first on Hubei's independent forces, then on Hunan. For the Hunan campaign, though, Cao also gave Wu control over four mixed brigades that had been formed from Huai Army remnants in Zhili in 1916. Wu's forces were mainly garrisoned in southern Hunan, his headquarters being at Hengyang. Besides Wu's army there were three other major Zhili-allied northern units in Hunan. First, Fan Guozhang's 20th Division remained garrisoned around Yuezhou in northern Hunan. Second, the 11th Division under Li Kuiyuan was stationed at Pingjiang, Liuyang, and Changsha—overlapping some territory garrisoned by Zhang Jingyao's forces. Finally, Feng Yuxiang, the "Christian general" who later became one of China's leading military figures, held Changde with his 16th Mixed Brigade.
The political autonomy of military commanders in this period is most visible in the actions of these "Zhili" commanders. Their factional association was mainly based on their dissension from Duan's war policy in Hunan. While Zhang Jingyao and his "Anhui" allies favored renewing the war, the "Zhili" commanders supported the cease-fire. The refusal of these commanders, led by Wu Peifu, to obey orders to continue their advance, as well as their unauthorized opening of cease-fire negotiations, revealed the weakness of Beijing's control over their armies. They were no more willing to subordinate themselves to Zhang Jingyao. Indeed, the strategic spread of Zhili faction forces throughout Hunan acted as a severe restraint on Zhang's powers as military governor.
There were many ways in which, irrespective of their factional alignments, various military commanders in both Hunan and Hubei
manifested their independence from both central and provincial control. Most obvious were the unauthorized actions taken to secure funds for military expenses. All military commanders in this period faced the problem of meeting troop payrolls. Because of Beijing's recurring financial difficulties, troop pay for "national" northern units in Hunan and Hubei was almost always in arrears. Theoretically, these units could have laid claim to the national revenues withheld by the military governors at the provincial level. In practice, Wang and Zhang paid their own forces first and left other units, particularly those of their factional enemies, to wait for direct central reimbursement. Not surprisingly, many commanders felt justified in seeking their own financial solutions.
The most common means used by military commanders to secure funds for their troops was simply to seize local tax revenues. In 1918 Zhang Jingyao complained that because of unauthorized seizures of their funds by various military commanders, local lijin bureaus had forwarded none of their revenues to the provincial treasury. When commanders lacked ready access to local tax revenues, they might also seek loans or contributions from local gentry or merchant organizations. For example, in August 1919, the 11th Division commander, Li Kuiyuan, sought a substantial loan from the Hunan Chamber of Commerce. Mirroring the coercive threats Zhang Jingyao used against the same body, Li warned that an "accident" might occur if his disgruntled troops remained unpaid. Various commanders stationed in southern Hunan, from Wu Peifu to Zhao Chunting, similarly called upon the local Hengyang Chamber of Commerce to provide them with loans. On one occasion, Wu offered local land taxes as collateral for a loan. This, and Wu's intervention to hasten the collection of these taxes, reveals that he had no qualms about waylaying these local revenues for his own purposes. Such cases seem to have been more common in Hunan, perhaps because of Zhang Jingyao's comparative weakness in dealing with the military commanders in his province. Nonetheless, there were also periodic reports in Hubei of local funds being retained by military commanders or advanced to meet local military expenses. Few military commanders had access to funds anywhere comparable to the sizable financial resources at the disposal of the military governors. However, to the extent that individual commanders could secure their own funds to meet their immediate expenses, they increased their freedom from both central and provincial control.
Besides the seizure of local tax revenues, some military commanders also interfered in local administration in ways not strictly in accord with their military duties. The most obvious example of this was the removal or replacement of county magistrates or other local officials. This often occurred when "enemy" officials were removed from newly conquered territories during military campaigns. Some commanders, however, also took it upon themselves to replace local officials accused of corruption. Military commanders might also "recommend" candidates for vacant posts in their garrison areas, mirroring the recommendations of military governors to the central government with respect to provincial posts. The prevalence of such interference in local appointments in Hunan can be seen in a special central order obtained by Zhang Jingyao confirming that he alone had the authority to appoint local officials. The specific mention of cases in the territory garrisoned by Wu Peifu's forces reveals where Zhang had the most difficulty exerting this authority. Nonetheless, perhaps unwilling to give Wu any offense, the order also acknowledged the division commander's prerogative of offering recommendations for Zhang's consideration. Some military commanders also intervened in specific areas of civil administration. For example, Feng Yuxiang involved himself in a wide variety of activities in Changde, from the restoration of public works to the regulation of public morals.
Despite such interventions, military commanders in the northerncontrolled areas of Hunan and Hubei normally did not take direct or complete control over the administration of the territories they garrisoned. Unlike the military governors, they had no general jurisdictional authority, short of declaring complete independence, that would support such action. Furthermore, several different units were often stationed in the same area, largely precluding attempts by commanders to divvy up administrative control among themselves on a territorial basis. Administrative interventions usually occurred on an ad hoc basis for some immediate need, such as payroll shortfalls. In most cases, commanders could obtain compliance from local governments and communities to meet these needs without taking direct charge of local administrations. Commanders could usually rely on county magistrates, for example, to advance troop pay from local funds, and to provide their armies with food, lodging, and equipment bearers. The evaluation of magistrates for promotions based on their performance of such services helped to ensure the subordination of local civil government to resident, or even passing, military forces. The threat
of force, or troop disorder, was enough to obtain whatever additional contributions might be needed from local communities. Instances where military commanders seized local tax revenues or replaced local officials are important in revealing the potential they possessed for political autonomy. The actual authority they chose to exercise, however, was more expediently determined and could vary considerably depending on specific conditions and the personal predilections of individual commanders.