The Independent Provincial Forces
The survival of "independent" provincial forces that rejected Beijing's authority complicated the structure of military and political power in Hunan and Hubei after the stalemate of the North-South War. Hubei's independent forces controlled the border region between Sichuan and Hubei west of the commercial port of Yichang and most of Shinan prefecture, a lobe of territory sandwiched between Sichuan and Hunan in Hubei's southwestern corner. In Hunan, independent forces controlled a large swath of counties, some twenty in all, west of Changde and Baoqing, as well as most of the counties south of Wu Peifu's base at Hengyang. Although they were united in the goal of driving out the northern armies occupying their provinces, the internal political fragmentation of the independent forces of Hubei and Hunan was again a reflection of warlordism at work.
One factor contributing to the political fragmentation of Hubei and Hunan's independent forces was their diverse origins. From the beginning, the Hubei independent army was divided between Shi Xing-chuan's Hubei troops and Li Tiancai's non-native "guest army." The independent Hunan army included not only the remnants of the regular army's 1st and 2d Divisions but also the garrison forces of western Hunan, still based primarily on surviving Green Standard troops, and the local Guard Corps of garrison commands from southern and southwestern Hunan. As a result of the rapid military expansion that took place during the North-South War, many components of these forces broke off to become independent units in their own right. Furthermore, many new forces were raised in both Hubei and Hunan over the course of the war. Although equally committed to the cause of independence from northern control, most had only weak connections to the original independent forces. The shattering defeats suffered by these forces during the northern counterattack that began the second stage of the war, and their disorderly retreats, further hampered efforts
to maintain a unified command structure. By the time the military situation stabilized, the independent "armies" of Hubei and Hunan were poorly articulated combinations of military forces.
Complicating the internal divisions in the Hubei and Hunan independent armies were their political relationships with their southern allies. All the independent forces swore nominal allegiance to the alternate "national" government established at Canton at the beginning of the North-South War. This helped legitimate their continued opposition to Beijing. Practically speaking, though, the Canton government was too hampered by its own internal political conflicts to effect any real influence, let alone control, over the independent armies in Hubei and Hunan. At the same time, these forces were never strong enough to stand alone against their northern opponents without some outside assistance. Thus Guangxi military aid was crucial to Hunan's success in the first stage of the war, while the defeat of Hubei's forces was largely because of their inability to obtain such support. After the independent armies were forced to retreat to the resource-poor periphery of their respective provinces, their need for military support, weapons, and financial assistance only increased. Seeking such aid, the independent armies were perforce drawn into the political conflicts that divided the southern military forces into three main factions. These factions were usually identified by the nomenclature they employed to label their armies. The faction centered on Lu Rongting and the Guangxi army retained the designation National Protection Army (huguojun ) from the Anti-Monarchical War period. The largely Guangdong-based local military commanders associated with Sun Yatsen adopted the title of Constitutional Protection Army (hufajun ). Finally, the Yunnan army led by Tang Jiyao, with its Sichuan and Guizhou allies, styled itself the National Pacification Army (jingguojun ). Hubei and Hunan independent forces adopted these same labels as they sought out the most beneficial factional alliance. At the same time, appeals to different factional authorities helped individual commanders justify autonomous stances in relation to other forces.
Of the two independent provincial armies, Hubei's was by far the most fragmented, largely owing to the proliferation of new forces initially raised in response to Shi Xingchuan's and Li Tiancai's declarations of independence. Among the organizers of these new forces were a significant number of prominent Hubei revolutionaries, including a Guomindang national assemblyman, Liu Ying, and the 1912 Hubei minister of military affairs, Cai Jimin, as well as past Hubei military commanders, including the former Hubei 1st Division commander
Tang Keming, the 3d Division commander Wang Anlan, the 7th Division commander Tang Xizhi, and the 8th Division commander Ji Yulin. The participation of these men revealed the hopes raised by the Hubei independence movement. First, Hubei revolutionaries optimistically saw a military base that might finally eliminate Beiyang power from their province and make a contribution to Sun Yat-sen's Constitutional Protection Movement. Second, Hubei officers who had had their hopes of military advancement shattered by Hubei army disbandments saw new career opportunities in the development of a new, independent, and expanding Hubei army. This second goal prompted large numbers of retired Hubei officers and recent military school graduates to offer their services to Shi, Li, or other commanders. While these two different motivations did not necessarily conflict, there was a potential for a division along revolutionary and nonrevolutionary lines. Cooperation was difficult, inasmuch as men like Ji Yulin, Liu Ying, and Cai Jimin had participated in post-1911 revolutionary activities in Hubei, while Shi Xingchuan, Li Tiancai, Tang Keming, and Wang Anlan had been active in their suppression.
The proliferation of forces in the Hubei independence movement created immediate conflicts over the location of ultimate authority within the movement. In early January 1918, Li Tiancai, with Shi Xingchuan's approval, ordered the arrest and execution of Ji Yulin and his close associate Que Long, the former Hubei 8th Division brigade commander, who had been regathering their old comrades into an independent force. Confident of their own revolutionary and military credentials, they refused to join forces with Li or Shi on any terms but their own. Although Li and Shi had not yet agreed which of them would take precedence, neither welcomed the formation of forces that questioned their leading role. The execution of Ji and Que was the first of many conflicts over authority yet to come.
After their retreat to western and southwestern Hubei, the various revolutionary and military leaders who joined the Hubei independence movement created a confusing array of military units. Since military force was the main determinant of power, military expansion became a primary concern of every commander. Isolated as these commanders were from ready sources of weapons, recruitment drives often brought in more new soldiers than could be effectively armed. Lacking adequate pay, many commanders rewarded their followers with superfluous titles. To enhance their own prestige, commanders also claimed inflated designations for their forces, and titles for themselves, not justified by actual troop strength. The result was reflected in a popular
description of the "three mores" said to characterize southwestern Hubei at this time: "more officers than soldiers, more soldiers than guns, and more bandits than people."
The main factor exacerbating the internal conflicts among various independent forces was fierce competition over the limited resources of the region where they settled. Li Tiancai's resources were the best because his troops held territory along the Yangzi River on the Hubei-Sichuan border where they could tax commercial traffic. This taxation benefited in particular from the lucrative trade in Sichuan salt. Most of the other Hubei forces, though, were restricted to the Shinan prefecture, one of Hubei's poorest regions. ("The sky is never clear for three days, the land is never level for three miles, and no one has as much as three cents," one stock description of it noted.) Out of necessity, the commanders who settled in this area quickly established control over local administrations, usually by ensuring the appointment of compliant magistrates, in order to tap into local tax revenues. The contest for these resources fostered a drive for military expansion, while this military expansion in turn increased demands on the region's already limited resources. The prevalence of banditry mentioned in the previous paragraph was partially owing to the increasing poverty and social tensions that grew out of this situation.
There were several attempts to establish a unified command over these competing forces. Initially, Shi's departure eased the selection of an overall commander. After long negotiations, Li Tiancai received recognition as commander-in-chief of the Hubei independent army in April 1918. He did not, however, get along well with many of his supposed subordinates, especially those with revolutionary backgrounds, so he was unable to establish any meaningful control over most of them. Later efforts were made to overcome the internal rivalries within the Hubei independent forces by bringing in prominent military figures from the outside to establish a neutral general command. This simply increased internal conflicts, inasmuch as individual commanders resisted the control of new commanders-in-chief and the various commanders-in-chief fought to assert authority over each other.
While individual commanders remained largely autonomous, jealously preserving their own territories and military forces, certain internal factional alliances did appear. First, there was a continuing division between Li Tiancai's non-Hubei army and the native Hubei independent forces. The native Hubei forces in turn generally divided along revolutionary and non-revolutionary lines. The first group cen-
tered on Cai Jimin; the second was led by Tang Keming. Each man claimed the title of commander-in-chief, and their composite "armies" consisted of many different units. These factional divisions not only influenced struggles over leadership and territory but were evident in the stances taken on broader political issues. For example, the more pragmatic military professionals around Tang Keming were more willing to accept compromises in peace negotiations with the north as long as they could guarantee the survival of their own commands. In contrast, the revolutionary faction was more likely to oppose such compromises as a betrayal of the goals of the independence movement.
Factional divisions within the independent forces also reflected differing alignments to the southern powers. Cai Jimin and his more revolutionary followers generally followed the principles of the Constitutional Protection Movement and looked to Sun Yat-sen for leadership. Nonetheless, since the Yunnan army controlled most of Sichuan and Guizhou, it was the most natural ally for the Hubei forces. As a Yunnan native, Li Tiancai cooperated easily with Tang Jiyao and assumed a National Pacification title. Tang Keming likewise argued that geographical circumstances demanded a Yunnan alliance. However, while Tang Jiyao was eager to have Yunnan's hegemony recognized, his actual assistance in financial or military terms was so niggardly as to limit severely his influence. Both Tang Jiyao and the Canton government participated in efforts to create a unified Hubei command, but neither had sufficient influence to ensure the subordination of all forces.
In the end, the politics of the Hubei independent army during its sojourn in southwestern Hubei continued to be defined, not by factional alignments, but by the struggle of individual commanders for the survival of their own forces. The competition for territory and resources resulted in persistent military conflicts, in which one day's ally became the next day's enemy. In 1919, Cai Jimin was killed in a fight between his troops and a Sichuan army unit. Although Cai's followers suspected Tang Keming's complicity, the evidence suggests that it was simply a local struggle over territory. When Tang Keming attempted to establish his authority over all Hubei forces after Cai's death, he was quickly driven from power. In this case, Tang found he had enemies not only among Cai's followers but among his own subordinates, who chafed under his heavy-handed command. By ousting Tang, his officers saw an opportunity to strengthen their own positions. With the disintegration of the Hubei independent army into
increasingly autonomous military units, the original hopes of the independence movement deteriorated into an extreme, fragmented form of petty warlordism.
The demise of the Hubei independent army finally came in late 1920 when Sichuan military commanders ended Yunnan's hegemony over their province and drove out its occupying forces. Fearing their Yunnan connections, Sichuan forces also pushed Li Tiancai's army and other independent Hubei forces out of eastern Sichuan. This crowded even more soldiers into the few counties of Shinan prefecture. Widespread popular uprisings occurred when these troops attempted to impose their own financial exactions on an already overburdened population. Militarily threatened on several fronts, and under attack from within, many forces simply disintegrated. Taking advantage of this situation, Hubei's northern armies finally advanced to reclaim control over the province's southwestern counties. Although remnant bands survived for several years, the Hubei independent army ceased to exist as a political force.
The situation of the Hunan independent army differed from that of its Hubei counterpart on a number of points. First, it began with a much larger military base, incorporating most of the regular Hunan army as well as most provincial garrison command forces. Second, its reputation and morale received a considerable boost from its victory in the first stage of the war. Third, even after its retreat, the Hunan independent army remained in control of a more substantial territorial, and thus resource, base. Nonetheless, the component forces in the Hunan independent army showed many of the same tendencies toward autonomous political behavior and political fragmentation that were characteristic of the Hubei independent army.
The stage was set for the political factionalization of the Hunan military when, very shortly after Liu Jianfan and Lin Xiumei's declarations of independence, Cheng Qian returned to Hunan on Sun Yatsen's orders to take charge as commander-in-chief of the Hunan "Constitutional Protection Army." Cheng's arrival resurrected the division between Hunan officers who had originally followed Cheng in the Anti-Monarchical War, including Lin Xiumei, and those who had gained their positions through Tan Yankai's influence, such as Zhao Hengti and Liu Jianfan. In Tan's absence, Zhao Hengti became the recognized leader of this later group of officers. For the first stage of the war, however, this internal factional division remained muted in the face of the greater political tension that developed between the Hunan army and its Guangxi allies.
The assistance of Guangxi troops under the command of Lu Rongting's subordinate, Tan Haoming, largely made Hunan's initial success in driving northern armies from the province possible. It soon became clear, though, that Guangxi's military aid was not without its price. After the capture of Changsha, Cheng Qian added the civil governorship to his title of commander-in-chief, thus laying claim to both Hunan's military and civil administrations. However, Lu Rongting hoped to expand his own political influence into Hunan and did not want one of Sun Yat-sen's allies assuming such power. Therefore, he forced Cheng to resign the governor's post and to yield control of provincial administration to Tan Haoming. Meanwhile, Lu and Tan alienated much of the Hunan military by their initial insistence on leaving Yuezhou in northern hands while they pursued peace negotiations. This made it appear that the Guangxi leaders were willing to trade away the security of Hunan's borders in order to achieve their own political goals. Finally, Hunan appreciation for Guangxi's military assistance was seriously weakened when Tan Haoming preserved his own military power by retreating southward ahead of the 1918 northern counterattack. This left Hunan forces to bear the brunt of the northern onslaught. The antagonisms created by these Guangxi actions generally increased the influence of pro-Sun Yat-sen and pro-Yunnan factions within the Hunan army.
One important effect of the northern counterattack in the second stage of the war was to divide Hunan's forces territorially into two different groups. Under the leadership of Cheng Qian and Zhao Hengti, most of the regular Hunan army and the original Guard Corps and garrison command forces from south and central Hunan withdrew to the province's southernmost counties. Meanwhile, the forces that originated in western Hunan retreated westward to their old bases. The two most important of these forces were led by the West Hunan garrison commander, Tian Yingzhao, and vice garrison commander, Zhou Zefan. However, there were also a number of new units recruited over the course of the war, the most important of which was led by the Chen-Yuan circuit intendant (daotai ), Zhang Xueji. Thus when hostilities ended in mid 1918, the Hunan independent army had split into separate southern and western groups.
The autonomous position of the West Hunan forces was manifested in a number of ways. Early in the war, individual West Hunan commanders had issued political statements and proposals separate from those of other leaders of independent forces. As the northern counter-attack ground to a halt, the West Hunan commanders jointly negotiated
their own cease-fire with northern commanders on the West Hunan front. Finally, in late 1918 the West Hunan commanders joined to establish their own government at Chenzhou, with Tian Yingzhao as the head of military administration and Zhang Xueji as head of civil administration. Under the authority of this government, these military commanders appointed local magistrates, collected local taxes, and even issued their own currency and "military" bonds. Thus they established their own separate warlord regime.
West Hunan's commanders also emphasized their autonomy through their alliances. As with much of the rest of the Hunan military, the West Hunan forces resented the Guangxi army's self-interested actions during the first stage of the war. After their retreat to western Hunan, it became possible for them to seek a new patron in Tang Jiyao whose assistance could reach them through Yunnan-dominated Guizhou. By mid 1918 most West Hunan commanders acknowledged Yunnan's hegemony and had accepted National Pacification Army designations. Besides the small amount of military and financial aid they received from this alliance, by nominally placing themselves and their armies under Yunnan's authority, the West Hunan commanders were better able to resist attempts by the leaders of the South Hunan independent army to claim authority over them. However, not all the West Hunan commanders chose to take this path. After returning to his base in southwestern Hunan, Zhou Zefan refused to accept a National Pacification designation for his army, instead using National Protection or Constitutional Protection titles, showing that he intended to maintain an independent balancing position between his supposed West Hunan allies and the South Hunan forces.
Despite the existence of the Chenzhou government, individual commanders in West Hunan remained largely autonomous in the control of their own garrison areas. For example, Zhou Wei, originally 2d District Guard Corps commander, took complete control of the administration of Wugang County, appointing a member of his own staff as county magistrate and establishing his own financial bureaus to raise funds for his military expenses. As in western Hubei, various commanders frequently fought over territorial bases and financial resources. There were likewise instances where subordinate officers rose to challenge their superiors. In the most notorious case, Zhou Zefan was assassinated by one of his regiment commanders, Liao Xiangyun. Liao had originally organized an independent Constitutional Protection force in Hunan in late 1917, with a commission from Sun Yat-
sen, but then accepted incorporation into Zhou's military organization. In late 1919 Zhou was drawing closer to Guangxi-allied forces in southern Hunan, antagonizing both his Yunnan-allied West Hunan associates and South Hunan forces allied with Sun Yat-sen. Liao therefore obtained the approval of both groups to initiate a coup against Zhou, killing him in the process. While this incident can be explained in terms of broader factional conflicts, it also exemplifies the manner in which the fragmentation of political authority represented in factional divisions fostered the process of warlordism. Liao had no trouble finding authorities willing to legitimate his coup against Zhou and thus establish his own independent position. Unfortunately for Liao, he was quickly overthrown in turn by Zhou's other officers, who refused to accept his claim to Zhou's mantle.
The independent army in southern Hunan was no less free of internal factional conflicts, with the major division occurring along pro-and anti-Cheng Qian lines. From the moment of Cheng's return, many Hunan officers resented his rather presumptuous claim to the title of commander-in-chief of the Hunan army. Even before the retreat to the south, some officers openly defied Cheng's authority. For example, in January 1918, Chen Jiayou (who owed his brigade command to Tan Yankai) refused to acknowledge Cheng's right to replace one of his subordinate officers. As a result of this conflict, forces loyal to Cheng ousted Chen from his post. After the retreat to southern Hunan, increased competition among military commanders for reduced resources intensified internal conflicts in the southern independent army.
The anti-Cheng Qian forces received a boost when Lu Rongting reached an agreement with Tan Yankai supporting Tan's return to Hunan as military governor. At this time, Lu was struggling with Sun Yat-sen for the control of the Canton government. By allying himself with Tan, Lu sought to regain his influence over the Hunan military and at the same time undercut Cheng Qian's ability to support Sun. Cheng meanwhile realized that Tan's return as military governor would undermine his authority as commander-in-chief and opposed it on the grounds that no purpose was served by the establishment of a military governorship in southern Hunan. With Guangxi support Tan overrode Cheng's objections, however, and returned to Hunan to reclaim the office he had lost to Fu Liangzuo at the beginning of the war.
For a time, southern Hunan supported two competing military governments, with Cheng Qian as Hunan commander-in-chief at Chen-
xian and Tan Yankai as military governor at Lingling. With no personal military power of his own and very small funds, Tan began from a very weak position, but he slowly gained support by assiduously courting Zhao Hengti and other Hunan officers who had benefited from his patronage in the past. Neither Tan nor Cheng was willing to acknowledge the authority of the other, and both men eventually told mediators that there was no solution but for one or the other of them to go. Finally, in the summer of 1919 an incident occurred that forced Cheng's departure: a Guangxi army commander arrested an alleged agent of Duan Qirui's on his way to meet Cheng, and although Cheng claimed no knowledge of the agent's connection to Duan, his opponents in the Hunan military denounced him for dealing with the enemy. Unable to halt these attacks, Cheng resigned his post.
The return of Hunan's most eminent civilian politician to the military governorship did not reestablish civilian authority over military power. Because of the legitimacy Tan's name could add to their efforts, many Hunan commanders nominally recognized his position. Tan also proved his usefulness to the anti-Cheng Qian military faction. Nonetheless, he wielded very little actual power over the disparate forces of Hunan's independent army. Indeed, Tan reportedly spent most of his days as military governor at Lingling writing poetry, practicing calligraphy, and sight-seeing. Tan now held his position at the sufferance of military men and would only keep it as long as he did not threaten their interests.
The most important difference between the independent armies of Hubei and Hunan was the Hunan army's survival. Beyond this, though, the independent forces of both provinces shared many characteristics. Conventional Chinese histories tend to treat these forces favorably as opponents of Beiyang warlordism. Judgment of these forces based on their adherence to the "correct" southern cause allows them to evade much of the opprobrium of warlordism. Simply in terms of political behavior, though, most independent force commanders in Hubei and Hunan exhibited the same characteristics of warlordism as their counterparts in the occupying northern armies in their provinces.