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Chinese History - Warlord Cliques (junfa 軍閥)

Periods of Chinese History
Anhui Clique - Fengtian Clique - Guangdong Clique (s. Chen Jiongming) - Guizhou Clique - Yunnan Clique (s. Tang Jiyao) - Zhili Clique
Chen Jiongming - Feng Yuxiang - Tang Jiyao - Yan Xishan


Anhui Clique 皖系

The Anhui Clique (Wanxi 皖系) derived its name from the home province of one of the most important leaders (see governors of Anhui), Duan Qirui 段祺瑞. Other warlords of this military group were Xu Shuzheng 徐樹錚 (Fujian), Jin Yunpeng 靳雲鵬 (Shandong), Duan Zhigui 段芝貴 (Fengtian, Hubei), Fu Liangzuo 傅良佐 (Hunan), and Ni Sichong 倪嗣冲 (Anhui).
In 1916, after the death of Yuan Shikai 袁世凱, Duan Qirui held important civil and military positions in the central Beiyang government 北洋政府 in Beijing. Duan Qirui and Cao Rulin 曹汝霖 looked for international support, especially by Japan, and proclaimed war to Germany and Austria. President Li Yuanhong 黎元洪 who was not content with this decision, dismissed Duan Qirui as Prime Minister (see posts in the Beiyang government) in 1917 and with this decision provoked the declaration of independance of a dozen provinces that sided with Duan Qirui. Even worse, Zhang Xun 張勳 tried to reinstall Aisin Giorro Puyi 愛新覺羅溥儀 who had been the last child emperor until 1911, as emperor of China. Duan Qirui with his armies suppressed this monarchist movement (Zhang Xun fubi 張勳復辟) and was able to control the Beiyang government in Beijing. Even president Feng Guozhang 馮國璋, leader of the Zhili Clique 直系, was not able to freely exert government. His powerful ambitions, backed by Japanese foreign loans, went so far to reconquer China and to subdue all other warlords, including the movement of Sun Yat-sen 孫中山 who proclaimed a movement for the protection of the constitution (hufa yundong 護法運動). The informal position of Duan Qirui who several times acted as Premier was formally legalized by the creation of the Anfu Club (Anfu julebu 安福俱樂部) whose members elected one among the most powerful warlords. Even the parliament was penetrated by so many members of the Anfu Club that the 1918 parliament was called Anfu Parliament (Anfu guohui 安福國會). The Anfu Parliament replaced president Feng Guozhang by Xu Shichang 徐世昌 who did not side with the Zhili Clique like Feng Guozhang did.
In 1920 finally came the clash between the Zhili and the Anhui Clique (Zhi-Wan zhanzheng 直皖戰爭). The Zhili Clique had created an alliance with the Fengtian Clique 奉系 and was able to defeat Duan Qirui's armies, his Anhui Clique dissolved, and their generals submitted. Beijing came under the control of the Zhili Clique. Duan Qirui was elected provisional president in 1924 as independent person. Other warlords of the defeated Anhui Clique were powerholders until the Northern Expedition (Beifa 北伐).

Fengtian Clique 奉系

The Fengtian Clique (Fengxi 奉系) was dominated by Zhang Zuolin 張作霖, governor of Fengtian province 奉天 (modern Liaoning; see governors of Fengtian). He controled local potentates like Wu Junsheng 吳俊陞 (Heilongjiang), Zhang Zuoxiang 張作相 (Jilin), Sun Liechen 孫烈臣 (Heilongjiang, Jilin), Zhang Jinghui 張景惠, Yang Yuting 楊宇霆 and Zhang Zongchang 張宗昌 (Shandong). The northeastern corner of Republican China, the "Three Eastern Provinces" (Dong san sheng 東三省: Fengtian, Jilin, Heilongjiang) stood under the influence of Japan that had occupied Korea since 1905 and penetrated into the economic sphere of northeastern China since. The warlords of this area were supported by Japan as they particularist tendencies made it easier for Japanese merchants and trusts to undertake their activities on Chinese territory.
In 1920 the generals of the Fengtian Clique allied with the Zhili Clique 直系 to fight against the Anhui Clique 皖系 that all strove for control over the government in Beijing. But as soon as differences between the Fengtian and Zhili generals deepened, the Fengtian Clique changed side and allied with the Anhui Clique and even with Sun Yatsen's 孫中山 National Government in Guangzhou to the so-called Triangle Alliance (Sanjiao tongmeng 三角同盟). Political differences resulted in the first war between the Fengtian and the Zhili Clique (Zhi-Feng zhanzheng 直奉戰爭) in 1922. The generals of the Fengtian Clique were defeated, withdrew to the north and proclaimed the independency of the northeast. During the next years Zhang Zuolin reorganised his armies, partially with Japanese support, and founded marine and airforce. In 1924 a second war with the Zhili Clique erupted, mainly fought north of Beijing, and Zhili general Feng Yuxiang 馮玉祥 (Henan, Shaanxi) deposed the Beijing government under president Cao Kun 曹錕 and installed the warlord Duan Qirui 段祺瑞 as provisional president, with the consent of Zhang Zuolin. Zhang Zuolin was able to control the north of China and so provoked the alliance of southern warlords under the leadership of Sun Chuanfang 孫傳芳, governor of Zhejiang. Under this pressure the peaceful agreement between Zhang Zuolin and Feng Yuxiang could not further be maintained. Guo Songling 郭松齡, a Zhili general, fielded his troops against Zhang Zuolin, but Zhang was able to defeat his new opponent. In 1926 a new alliance between Zhang Zuolin's Fengtian Clique and the Zhili Clique was created, this time against Feng Yuxiang and his National Army (guominjun 國民軍). At the same time a new challanged arose in the south: the National Revolution Army (guomin geming jun 國民革命軍) of the Kuomintang 國民黨 started with the Northern Expedition (Beifa 北伐) to defeat all warlords in the north. Zhang Zuolin again reorganised his troops to the State-Pacification Army (Anguojun 安國軍). In June 1928 the Kuomintang generals occupied Beijing and repelled Zhang Zuolin to the north. This failure might have been the reason for his assassination by a bomb that exploded in his train at the town of Huanggutun (hence called ""Huanggutun affair" 皇姑屯事件). Some historians ascribe his assassination to Japanese militarists. His son Zhang Xueliang 張學良 took over the post of military governor of the Three Eastern Provinces but in December 1928 surrendered to the Kuomintang. The Beiyang government 北洋政府 that was hitherto supported by the Fengtian Clique was ended. Zhang Xueliang retained his posts as member of the local government and military governor of the northeast (dongbei bianfang zhangguan 東北邊防長官).

Guangdong Clique 粵系 See Chen Jiongming

Guizhou Clique 桂系

The Guizhou Clique (Guixi 桂系) was dominated by Lu Rongting 陸榮廷 and controlled the provinces of Guizhou (see governors of Guizhou), Guangxi, and partially Guangdong and Hunan. Other important warlords of the Guizhou Clique were Chen Bingkun 陳炳焜 (Guangdong), Tan Haoming 譚浩明, Mo Rongxin 莫榮新, and Shen Hongying 沈鴻 英 (Guangdong).
The most powerful period of the Guizhou Clique was around 1916 when Lu Rongting was able to gain the support of the Beiyang government 北洋政府 that nominated him regional commander (xunyueshi 巡閱使) of Guangxi and Guangdong. During the movement protecting the constitution (hufa yundong 護法運動) Lu Rongting supported the movement against the Anhui warlord Duan Qirui 段祺瑞 but he also established contacts with Wu Peifu 吳佩孚 of the Zhili Clique 直系 to expel Sun Yat-sen 孫中山 from Guangzhou. Only in 1920 Sun could return to Guangdong and Lu Rongting's army was driven out of this province. Together with the warlords in neighboring provinces Sun Yat-sen defeated Lu Rongting who took his flight to Shanghai. In 1922 the new Guizhou warlords, Lin Junting 林俊廷 and Han Caifeng 韓彩鳳 founded an Independance Army (Zizhijun 自治軍) and occupied Guangxi province. This was just the time when Chen Jiongming 陳炯明 challenged the Nationalist government in Guangzhou. One year later Lu Rongting returned to Guizhou and tried to over again the control of the Guizhou Clique - but in vain. The appeal of the Kuomintang 國民黨 was so strong at that time that Guizhou warlords like Li Zongren 李宗仁 and Huang Shaohong 黃紹竑 accepted the dominance of the Guangzhou government. Lu Rongting withdrew, and the armies of other warlords like Shen Hongying disintegrated. For a couple of months until the end of the Northern Expedition (Beifa 北伐), some other warlords, including Yang Ximin 楊希閔, Li Zongren, Huang Shaohong and Bai Chongxi 白崇禧 controled the territory of Guizhou and Guangxi but stayed submissive to Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石.

Yunnan Clique 滇系 See Tang Jiyao

Zhili Clique 直系

After the dead of Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 in 1916 some generals of the Beiyang troops arranged in a military clique that controlled Zhili province. The first head of this Zhili Clique (Zhixi 直系) was president Feng Guozhang 馮國璋, after his death in 1919 Cao Kun 曹昆 (Zhili) and Wu Peifu 吳佩孚. Most important generals of the Zhili Clique were Li Chun 李純 (Jiangsu, Jiangxi), Wang Zhanyuan 王占元 (Hubei, Jiangxi), Xiao Yaonan 蕭耀南 (Hubei), Chen Guangyuan 陳光遠 (Jiangxi), Cai Chengxun 蔡成勳 (Jiangxi), and Sun Chuanfang 孫傳芳 (Fujian, Jiangsu).
In 1912 Feng Guozhang was the general that suppressed the so-called "second" revolution (dierci geming 弟二次革命) of Sun Yat-sen. He took his seat in Nanjing and only returned to the north after the failure of the re-inthronisation of the emperor in July 1917. With the support of Great Britain and the United States the Zhili Clique was engaged in several wars against the Anhui Clique that likewise desired the control of the central Beiyang government in Beijing. In 1920 Cao Kun and Wu Peifu created an alliance with the Fengtian Clique in the northeast and attacked the armies of the Anhui Clique. After their victory the warlords of the Zhili and the Fengtian Cliques controlled the government in Beijing. But differences between the two cliques aggravated and resulted in the First War between the Zhili and the Fengtian Cliques (shouci Zhi-Feng zhanzheng 首次直奉戰爭) in 1922. The victorious Zhili warlords, Cao Kun and Wu Peifu, were now the masters of Beijing. Under their pressure the government came back to normal rules of law (huifu fatong 恢復法統) and Li Yuanhong 黎元洪, the old hero of the 1911 revolution, was installed as president for the third time and replaced Xu Shichang 徐世昌, candidate of the Anhui warlords. Furthermore, the Guangdong warlord Chen Jiongming 陳炯明 was stipulated to undertake military action against Sun Yat-sen in Guangzhou who had to leave his retreat in the south. The Zhili warlords were on the height of power and installed new military governors in Guangdong (Shen Hongying 沈鴻英), Fujian (Sun Chuanfang 孫傳芳), and Sichuan (Yang Sen 楊森). In 1923 warlord Wu Peifu who is ill-reputed for his massacre of workers of the Beijing-Hankou railway (Er-qi can'an 二‧七慘案), and warlord Cao Kun deposed Li Yuanhong, and had himself elected president.
The next year, 1924, saw the dissolution of the Zhili Clique under the pressure of a new triple alliance of the Kuomintang 國民黨, the Fengtian and the Anhui Clique (sanjiao tongmeng 三角同盟). Feng Yuxiang 馮玉祥 (Henan, Shaanxi), a general of the Zhili clique, secretly cooperated with the Fengtian clique when he foresaw the downfall of Cao Kun and Wu Peifu. During the Second war between the Zhili and Fengtian Cliques (dierci Zhi-Feng zhanzheng 第二次直奉戰爭) Feng Yuxiang occupied Beijing, imprisoned Cao Kun and had installed a new government (Beijing zhengbian 北京政變). Wu Peifu's army dissipated. The victor of the Second War reorganised his troops as the National Army (guominjun 國民軍) and invited Sun Yat-sen to create a united national government. On the way to Beijing the Nations's father died (March 1925). Duan Qirui 段祺瑞, a warlord of the Anhui Clique, proved to be more powerful than Feng Yuxiang and became president. The control of the Beiyang government now lay in the hands of the Fengtian warlord Zhang Zuolin.
This situation provoked new resistance from the southeast that was lead by Sun Chuanfang. Sun allied with the rest of the Anhui warlords and occupied the southeastern provinces, including Shanghai. Wu Peifu used this situation to make himself leader of a new group of warlords loyal to the old Zhili Clique and occupied central China. The situation at the eve of the Kuomintang's Northern Expedition was Beijing being controlled by Zhang Zuolin (Fengtian Clique), China's east by Sun Chuanfang (Zhili Clique), and China's central provinces by Wu Peifu (Zhili Clique). But the resistance of these warlords proved not to be full-heartedly. Only a few months were enough for the well-trained National Revolutionary Army (Guomin geming jun 國民革命軍) of the Kuomintang to conquer the territory controlled by the Zhili warlords until summer 1927.

Chen Jiongming 陳炯明 and the Guangdong Clique 粵系

Chen Jiongming (1878-1933) is often called the leader of the Guangdong Clique (Yuexi 粵系). He soon became a sideliner of Sun Yat-sen's Kuomintang 國民黨 and had to escape to Singapore after the failure of the so-called Second Revolution (erci geming 二次革命) in 1913. In 1916 he became the most prominent military leader of Guangdong province and helped Sun Yat-sen to create a refuge in Guangzhou. He also earned merits in conquering the south of Fujian province and repelling the troops of the Guizhou Clique (Guixi 桂系). He became member of the 1921 government of Sun Yat-sen but resisted his plan for a northern expedition. He was stripped off his posts in 1922 but took revenge, shelled the presidential building and planned to kill Sun Yat-sen. Chen Jiongming was reinstalled as supreme commander (zongsiling 總司令), but only to be expelled from Guangdong in the next year by a united army of Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangzhou troops. His last troops were defeated in 1925, and Chen Jiongming spent the rest of his life in Hong Kong.

Feng Yuxiang 馮玉祥

Feng Yuxiang (1882-1948) is one of the most brilliant warlords who did not clearly participate in one of the three main warlord cliques. He only became prominent when he, as a general of the Zhili Clique, occupied Beijing in 1924 during the Second War between the Zhili and Fengtian Cliques, deposed president Cao Kun 曹昆 and forced Prince Puyi 溥儀 to leave the imperial palace. He immediately left the Zhili Clique and built up his own National Army (guominjun 國民軍). He invited Sun Yat-sen to come to Beijing and to constitute a new united national government. But soon he was forced by the mighty warlords Zhang Zuolin and Duan Qirui to leave Bejing and to go to Zhangjiakou 張家口 where he resided as commandand of the northeastern frontier (Xibei bianfang duban 西北邊防督辦). In 1926, after a visit in the Soviet Union, he rearranged his National Army, became member of the Kuomintang 國民黨 and helped Chiang Kai-shek during the Northern Expedition. Although he participated in the purification movement of Jiang Kai-shek against the communists, there soon developed differences between him and the Kuomintang dictator. Feng Yuxiang allied with Yan Xishan and Li Zongren 李宗仁 and fought against Chiang Kai-shek's armies in 1930 but was defeated and withdrew.
Feng Yuxiang was not content with the politics of Chiang Kai-shek who did not resist the Japanese troops that occupied northeastern China but who wasted his miliary power in fought against the communists instead. In 1933 he started to build up an allied resistance force in the province of Chahar (Chahar minzhong kang Ri tongmeng jun 察哈爾民眾抗日同盟軍). Chiang Kai-shek was able to depose him, and Feng Yuxiang withdrew from the political and military stage for several years. Only in 1936 he again became active and propagated to resume the politics of Sun Yat-sen of a united front, together with Song Qingling 宋慶齡, widow of Sun Yat-sen, and He Xiangning 何香凝. During the Resistance War, Feng Yuxiang again and again assembled troops and fought for him own, without relying on either the communists or on the Kuomintang that had deprived him his command.
After the war he visited the United States where he criticized the support for Chiang Kai-shek. He proposed instead to assist in the establishing of a united government of several political forces. After this international success, he was elected as chairman of the political committee of the Kuomintang and should participate in a committee for the constitution of a new govenment. On the way to China he died.

Tang Jiyao 唐繼堯 and the Yunnan Clique 滇系

Tang Jiyao (1883-1927) was the prominent leader of the Yunnan Clique (Dianxi 滇系). As governor of Yunnan he occupied the neighboring province of Guizhou in 1912 and took part in the suppression of the so-called Second Revolution (Erci geming 二次革命). After governor Cai E 蔡鍔 had been DIAO to Beijing in 1913 Tang Jiyao took over the military control of Yunnan and invaded Sichuan province. When Yuan Shikai proclaimed himself emperor in 1915 he took part in the uprising against the military dicator in Beijing, and shortly afterwards supported Sun Yat-sen in his struggle for the constitution (hufa yundong 護法運動), only to align with the Beiyang government that should now be supported by the Zhili Clique. He reorganised his troops to the State-Pacifying Army (Jingguojun) 靖國軍 that several times intruded the provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan. His attempts to control the southwest failed when he was driven out by Gu Pinzhen 顧品珍, warlord in Sichuan, and fled to Hong Kong in 1921. One year later he was allowed to return with the support of the Guangzhou based Kuomintang 國民黨 and should reign almost independantly for the next years. At the begin of the Northern Expedition in 1926 he sought contact with Wu Peifu and Sun Chuanfang, adversaries of the Kuomintang, and organized a National Government Party (Minzhidang 民治黨) that was anti-communist. In 1927 Tang Jiyao was forced by Long Yun 龍雲, Hu Ruoyu 胡若愚 and Lu Han 盧漢 to leave his post and died immediately after his dismission.

Yan Xishan 閻錫山

Yan Xishan (1883-1960) was a warlord who almost independently controlled the province of Shanxi. In the final months of the Northern Expedition he sided with Chiang Kai-shek and took over Jiang's policy of suppressing the Communist movement (qing dang fan gong 清黨反共 "purify the party and expel the communists"). He became supreme commander of the north and was member of the Kuomintang 國民黨 parliament and the central political conference (zhongyang zhengzhi huiyi). His local and national power became so eminent that he was able to resist Chiang Kai-shek, together with Feng Yuxiang 馮玉祥, and proclaimed his own government in Beiping (Beijing) in 1930. In the following war with Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang-Yan-Feng dazhan 蔣閻馮大戰) he was defeated and withdrew to Dalian 大連. In 1932 he returned to Shanxi and governed this region again, almost independently from the National Government in Nanjing. During the Japanese War (Kang Ri zhanzheng 抗日戰爭) when Chiang Kai-shek decided to wipe away the communists in their area around Yan'an 延安/Shaanxi (fangong moca 反共摩擦, 1939) Yan Xishan attacked the communist base in Shanxi from the east. Although Yan Xishan undertook secret negotiations with the Japanese, he did not surrender. After the war he participated in the civil war against the communists but lost his ground. He had to flee to Guangzhou, later to Sichuan and left mainland China in 1949 to Taiwan. He became president of the Republic of China and died in the reduced republic in 1960.


2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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