The Organization of the New Armies
The real test of the effectiveness of the military self-strengthening reforms of the late nineteenth century came with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894. The army and navy units that bore the brunt of this war were considered China's best, namely, Li Hongzhang's Huai Army and the Beiyang, or "Northern," Navy. Nonetheless, the outcome of the war showed that the best was not good enough. The Huai Army was shattered and the Beiyang fleet totally destroyed. The shock and humiliation of this defeat by a much smaller Asian nation acted as a catalyst for even more fundamental military reform. At the same time, the efficiency of Japan's more thoroughly Westernized army showed the direction these reforms would have to take.
Two strong proponents of Western military organization, Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai, provided leadership for this next stage of military reform. In 1895, Zhang established a new force, the "Self-Strengthening Army" (Ziqiangjun), at Nanjing, while Yuan formed the "Newly Created Army" (Xinjianjun) in Zhili Province. With court approval, these units were the first military forces in China to be based entirely on Western models. Thus, these armies were not only equipped and trained with Western arms, but were also organized along the lines of Western armies. The simple yongying pyramidal structure was abandoned in favor of a functional division of units adapted to the use of advanced military technology. Thus, following German tables of organization, both armies were divided into three main branches—infantry, cavalry, and artillery—along with separate engineering and other technical components. German officers were employed to aid in the initial training and organization of these new units. To maintain the high quality of their armies, both Zhang and Yuan also emphasized careful recruitment, strict discipline and train-
ing, and generous pay. Nonetheless, their adoption of modern European military organization was the most radical and significant feature of the Self-Strengthening and Newly Created armies.
For a number of years, the Self-Strengthening and Newly Created armies remained experimental units with little impact on the Chinese military system as a whole. China's humiliation at the hands of the foreign armies sent to suppress the anti-foreign Boxer Uprising in 1900 provided the stimulus for further military reorganization. The Self-Strengthening and Newly Created armies then became models for the establishment of other Western-style armies, conventionally labeled the "New Armies" (xinjun ) by scholars.
The most important of the New Armies was the Beiyang Army built by Yuan Shikai after he succeeded to the Zhili governor-generalship following the death of Li Hongzhang in 1901. With the Newly Created Army as its core, the Beiyang Army grew by new recruitment and the incorporation of other forces (including the Self-Strengthening Army), until by 1906 it contained six divisions. Beginning in 1901, the dynasty also developed a series of plans aimed at the establishment of Western-style forces in every province. In 1901, a weeding-out process was initiated within yongying, lianjun , and unreconstructed Green Standard forces. The best troops were to be reorganized along Western lines as provincial "standing armies" (changbeijun ), the second best were to be reorganized as reserve or constabulary units, and the worst were to be disbanded. The standing armies, usually expanded by new recruitment, became the foundation for provincial New Armies. In late 1903 a Commission for Army Reorganization was established to centralize military policies and to standardize the organization of the New Armies. In 1906 the commission unveiled a ten-year plan setting the size of Western-style New Armies in each province, and establishing a goal of thirty-six divisions for the entire nation. By 1911 considerable progress toward this goal had been made. Although few New Army units ever reached their full strength, seventeen New Army divisions and twenty independent infantry or mixed brigades were established. Although only in existence for a few years, by 1911 these new forces became the dynasty's main military force.
Beyond changes in organizational structure, another important measure that accompanied the development of the New Armies, and contributed to their superiority, was a greater commitment to the creation of a professional, Western-trained officer corps. This also reflected the acceptance of a more "scientific" or intellectual approach to military education than was seen in China's traditional military organizations.
Before the turn of the century, the only new additions to the military academies founded by Zhang Zhidong and Li Hongzhang in the 1880s were a few schools established by Zhang and Yuan Shikai in the late 1890s to provide officers for their Western-style forces. In 1901 the court finally abolished the traditional military examination system and ordered the establishment of military academies in every province. Promising students were also sent abroad, particularly to Japan, for higher military educations. In 1904, the Commission for Army Reorganization issued a more complete plan for a nationwide system of military education. Following Japanese models, military primary schools were to be established in each province, secondary schools in four major cities, and officer and staff colleges in the capital area. By 1911, most of this system was in place and graduates of Western-style military schools began to fill positions in the New Armies.
The Luo-Michael thesis discounts the changes that occurred with the formation of the New Armies and instead finds only the continuation of trends seen in the organization of the yongying . Since they were still organized provincially, the New Armies are perceived as the personal armies of governors and governors-general, and as serving as the basis of continued regional autonomy. The New Armies, then, are simply viewed as transformed yongying providing a bridge to the later private armies of the warlords.
The case of Yuan Shikai and the Beiyang Army is usually singled out as the most important example of this linkage. Since Yuan succeeded to Li Hongzhang's posts as Zhili governor-general and commissioner of northern trade in 1901, he is seen as the direct heir to Li's regional organization. Yuan's Beiyang Army is likewise seen as a yongying offshoot, since initial recruits for Yuan's Newly Created Army were culled from Li's Huai Army. Despite Yuan's use of German military organization, Luo Ergang notes that Yuan's personal control of the Beiyang Army resulted in a situation "that was in fact not the slightest bit different from that created by the Xiang Army system." In the end, the Beiyang Army is seen as providing Yuan with the personal military base he later needed to seize political power as president of the Chinese Republic. Likewise, the emergence of Yuan's Beiyang Army subordinates as warlords after his death is seen as the result of their inheritance of the fragments of his regional military organization. Thus the perpetuation of yongying -style military organizations is presented as leading directly to warlordism.
In an effective extension of earlier critiques of the Luo-Michael
thesis, Stephen MacKinnon has challenged the above interpretation with his own studies of Yuan Shikai's rise to power and the development of the Beiyang Army. First, MacKinnon has shown that Yuan's power over the Beiyang Army was more limited than usually assumed. "Although Yuan Shih-k'ai [Shikai] had considerable influence over the Peiyang [Beiyang] Army, the central government in Peking [Beijing] had ultimate financial and administrative control," he observes. "Yuan's influence over the army depended upon the strength of his political position in Peking and not upon his control of an autonomous regional base in Chihli [Zhili]." MacKinnon notes that Yuan's own financial resources were insufficient to meet the needs of the Beiyang Army. Expansion, or even maintenance, of the Beiyang Army was only possible because of court support that ensured the allocation of other funds for Yuan's use. Yuan's ability to obtain this financial support, and to maintain administrative control of the Beiyang Army, was dependent on his influence over the Empress Dowager and his facility at court politics.
Second, MacKinnon rejects the idea that Yuan Shikai controlled a regional base autonomous from the central government. Rather, Yuan was a nationalist who "saw the salvation of the Chinese nation in the creation of a strong, centralized state." When combined with the previously cited revisionist studies of late Qing governors and governors-general, MacKinnon's interpretation suggests a more sophisticated picture of the structure of power in the late Qing period than a steady devolution of power to regional military leaders. Indeed, MacKinnon proposes an alternative model of "three simultaneously expanding and overlapping modes of power" at central, provincial, and local levels.
Finally, MacKinnon uses the case of the Beiyang Army to address the issue of the personal organization of military power that supposedly linked the New Armies to the private armies of the warlords. According to MacKinnon, the centralized and functionally divided structure of the Beiyang Army followed "comparatively modern professional bureaucratic lines" that contrasted sharply with the simple, personalized organization of the yongying . At the same time, these organizational differences were also accompanied by a reduction of the personalism that had characterized the yongying . For example, MacKinnon shows that Beiyang officers were regularly rotated. This functioned to eliminate the ties of personal loyalty within specific units between soldiers and officers, and between lower officers and their superiors. Furthermore, whereas yongying officers were selected on the
basis of personal or regional connections, Yuan emphasized military education and training in the recruitment of his officers. Because of their independent military qualifications, MacKinnon finds that their loyalty to Yuan was based more on professional expediency than on personal loyalty. In conclusion, given its dependence on court financing and support and its modern organizational structure, MacKinnon argues that the Beiyang Army was a "national" rather than a "private" army.
MacKinnon's study of the Beiyang Army shows that the Luo-Michael thesis assumes a continuity in Chinese military organization that ignores the fundamental changes that took place in the formation of the New Armies. In their organization, the New Armies more closely resembled the Western and Japanese armies of their day than the earlier, personally oriented yongying . This was not true merely of Yuan's Beiyang Army. Donald Sutton's study of the Yunnan Army also notes that this New Army "entered the Republic with an essentially modern, non-private structure." To a large extent, then, the development of New Armies marked a rejection, not a continuation, of yongying organizational features. Contrary to the claims of the Luo-Michael thesis, the New Armies cannot be shown to have been a vehicle for the transmission of the principles of personalist organization from the yongying to later warlord armies.
Although the perpetuation of personalist military organizations may not have been responsible for the rise of warlordism, it is still possible to see some significance in the appearance of personalist structures in both mid-nineteenth-century yongying forces and later warlord armies. Personalism as an organizing principle of Chinese military organization was a recurring pattern in times of state weakness, sufficiently so for precautions to be erected against it in the late imperial military system. On a deeper level, the problem of personalism in the military was simply one manifestation of a fundamental tension in the traditional Chinese state between the social values of Confucianism, with its emphasis on personal relationships, and the bureaucratic interests of the imperial government. In this regard, while personalism may not have been the primary organizing principle in the New Armies, it may be going too far to say that it was totally eradicated in the relations between New Army commanders and their subordinates. Some scholars have indeed criticized MacKinnon for underestimating the personalist ties Yuan fostered by patronizing young officers in his army. Nonetheless, too much can be read into such personal ties, which after all are not uncommon in the functioning of
any organization. The rise of warlordism was not predicated on the continuing and growing strength of personalist organizations within China's military forces. Rather personalism reappeared as a stronger organizing force in Chinese armies as emerging warlords gained political autonomy.
Although the establishment of the New Armies initiated a major transformation of China's military system, they never completely supplanted the empire's older forces. The Banner Army in particular survived with very little change. Periodic efforts were made to incorporate some Banner troops into the new military system, and one of the Beiyang Army's six divisions was formed from retrained bannermen. But in general it was acknowledged that there was little to be salvaged from the Banner Army. In 1907 a decree was finally issued calling for the gradual disbandment of the Banner garrisons and ordering bannermen to seek civilian occupations. Nonetheless, the Qing court found it nearly impossible to free itself of its obligations to the Manchu bannermen, and by 1911 almost no progress had been made toward this goal.
More success was achieved in the reduction of non-Banner forces. As already noted, the 1901 orders initiating the establishment of Western-style provincial armies began the process of weeding out and demobilizing the worst of the older provincial forces. According to the plan formed at that time, 20 to 30 percent of the empire's Green Standard and yongying troops were slated for disbandment. In 1907 the Commission on Army Reorganization reiterated the intention to disband the worst of these troops and reorganize the remainder, along with better-quality recruits, into provincial "Patrol and Defense Forces" (xunfangying ). These units were to do double duty as a constabulary in times of peace and as reserve forces for the New Armies in times of war. Like the New Armies, they were to be equipped and trained with modern weapons. Because of the priority given to the New Armies in training and weaponry, most Patrol and Defense Forces fell far short of the new standards expected of them. Nonetheless, by 1911 Patrol and Defense Forces had been established in most provinces and they became a semimodern military presence between the New Armies and the remnants of old-style forces that remained scattered across the country.
One of the peculiar features of military reform in late Qing China, especially when contrasted with countries like Japan, was its failure to establish a single, unified national army. Certainly, vested interests as well as central administrative and financial difficulties slowed the
elimination or reorganization of old-style forces. Nonetheless, the preservation of some old-style units, along with the formation of Patrol and Defense Forces, also revealed a continuing reluctance to concentrate all military power in one organization. Purely in terms of military strength, there could be little argument against the advantages of a unified army. At the same time, the fragmentation of military power as a means of maintaining dynastic control over the military was a tradition not easily repudiated, and a strategy that continued to have some validity. Indeed, with the outbreak of the 1911 Revolution, the dynasty relied on loyal but weaker old-style forces to counter rebellious New Armies in some provinces. The failure of this effort suggests that dynastic interests might have been better served by giving more attention to counterbalancing forces. In any case, the disunited state of the Chinese army was an important military legacy of the Qing dynasty for the succeeding Chinese Republic. The specific configuration of military forces in the provinces of Hunan and Hubei on the eve of the 1911 Revolution gives a clear picture of the nature and extent of this military fragmentation.