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Manchu Military Organisation

The military organisation of the Chinese empire was divided into two branches, the Manchu and the Chinese. Apart from the effete Manchu army, the military forces of the empire may be further divided into two classes: (a) The ineffective official army under military command; (6) The effective unofficial army under civilian command. The Chinese constitution in the period before the reform edicts of 1905-1906 provided for two independent sets of military organizations - namely, the Manchu army and the several provincial armies.

While Chinese troops, at the time of the China-Japan war, were the laughing-stock of the world, it should not be forgotten that the chief cause of their failure was lack of anything like competent command. Chinese troops trained under foreign officers become very efficient. There can be no question of the personal bravery of the Chinese, of their indifference to wounds and death, and of their power to endure hardships.

The modern army of China is the child of the collapse of 1900. It is true that prior to the Boxer explosion a few 'model' divisions had already been organized as a result of the disastrous Japanese war of 1894-95. There was, for instance, one division of Northern troops under a General Nieh Avhich, although the fact has never been properly chronicled, fought with the utmost gallantry against the international armies around Tientsin, advancing against entrenched positions until it was almost entirely destroyed. There were also some well-trained troops at Nanking and Hankow.

Above all there was Yuan Shih-kai's picked division in Shantung. It was this division which was the germ of the modern Chinese army. When the fugitive Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi and the Emperor Kwang Hsu returned to Peking from far-off Hsianfu in 1902, and sanctioned Yuan Shihkai's scheme for a National Army, events marched so rapidly-for Asia at least-that by 1905 Yuan Shih-kai as viceroy of the metropolitan province of Chihli and chief of the Army Board was able to hold army manoeuvres in which 100,000 well-trained men participated.

An imperial decree issued in 1901 after the Boxer rising ordered the reorganization of the military forces of the empire, and on provincial lines something was accomplished - especially in Chih-li under Yuan Shih-k'ai, who practically created "the Army of the North." It was not, however, until after the Russo-Japanese War that determined efforts were made to organize a national army on western lines; an army which should be responsible to the central Government and not dependent upon the provincial administrations.

In January 1905, a plan of gradual organization of the army was laid down by imperial decree, to be commenced immediately and to be completed in 1922. Recruitment was on the voluntary principle; the terms of service are ten years, three in the active army, three in the reserve, and four in the territorial. The Japanese system of training is followed. The men in the territorial army are called out for exercise every other year for thirty days, and those in the reserve for the same period every year.

The artillery was organized in regiments of three divisions, each of three batteries and six guns; the cavalry in regiments of three squadrons, each of four troops; and the infantry in regiments of three battalions of four companies. The peace strength of batteries is 100 to 130, of squadrons 224, and of battalions 504. A division consisted of two infantry brigades, each of two regiments, with a cavalry regiment, a battalion of engineers, and an artillery regiment. There were about 10,000 men on a war-footing. It was intended that there should be eventually thirty-six divisions, divided into two armies - the Northern Army and the Southern Army.

The decree of 1905 provided (on paper) for training schools for officers in each of the provinces, middle grade military schools in selected provinces, and a training collegeand military high school in Peking. The Army Board was reorganized and steps taken to form a general staff. Of quite striking significance was the movement toward centralizing the control of the army. Heretofore the army has been equipped and handled by the various viceroys. By 1905 there was a central army board, which partly controlled the troops of the different viceroys. In 1906, the Ministry of War was created, and four divisions of the army of YuanShih-Kai were assigned to its jurisdiction.

The more or less modern and effective army of China consisted, in 1906, of about 112,500 men and 570 cannon, distributed as follows: The Northern Army, of 62,500 men and 348 guns, consisting mainly of six divisions organized in Pechili and Shantung by Yuan-ShiKai, Governor of Pechili, besides some brigades and detachments organized in Honan and Hupeh; the Southern Army, of 22,500 mpn and 84 guns, consisting of levies from the provinces of Kansu, Kwangsi, and Nganhwei; the army of Hunan, 17.000 men and 90 guns; and levies from Fukien, Chekiang, and Kwangtung, numbering 10,500 men, with 48 guns.

During the Russo-Japanese war, the Chinese army was already so strong that the Russian commander, Kuropatkin, anxiously watched its movements and the Russian diplomats in Peking were very busy in order to prevent a possible demonstration of the Chinese army in the direction of the Manchurian theatre of war. In 1909 there were in China nine regular divisions, so that up to the outbreak of the revolution in 1911-1913 the Imperial Guards division was already in existence.

At the time this created a great sensation: it was felt by all far-seeing men that Yuan Shih-kai was deliberately raising a force to take the place of the Eight Banners, or Manchu army-corps, which had been the means of effecting the Manchu conquest of China in the seventeenth century and whose organization - on paper - survived although the men were entirely worthless and unequipped. Japan, who had just beaten Eussia in her Manchurian war, began to realize anew that China was not really a negligible quantity, and that given an army and navy of even moderate efficiency China could re-establish the Far Eastern situation which had existed prior to the Korean war of 1894. [A portion of the astonishing diplomatic story which was enacted in Peking in the period 1914-18 is due to this one fact-namely, the Japanese fear of a militant China.]

This rapid development of military power in China seriously alarmed Japan, and the European States began to look with suspicion on the armament of the Asiatic giant. But the creation of an imperialistic army even for purposes of defense against foreign invaders very soon became unpopular among the Chinese, and the heavy expenses which the country had to bear in keeping up such a huge military organization only hastened the coming revolution, which put an end to Chinese imperialism and its military machinery.

Considerable progress had been made by 1910 in the evolution of a body of efficient officers. In practice the administration remained largely provincial - for instance the armament of the troops was provided by the provincial governors and was far from uniform. The scheme contemplated the creation of "a force about 400,000 strong in 36 divisions and in two armies, the northern and the southern. Recruitment was on the voluntary principle, except in the case of the Manchus, who apparently entered the new army instead df the "eight banners." The terms ofservice were three years with the colors, three in the reserve and four in the territorial army. The Japanese system of training was followed. Reservists were called out for 30 days every year and the territorialists for 30 days every other year.

Up to 1909 six divisions and one mixed brigade of the northern army had been organized in Shan-tung Chih-li and Ho-nan; elsewhere three divisions and six mixed brigades; total strength about 60,000 with 350 guns. These figures do not include the provincial foreign trained troops. The efficiency of the troops varied; the northern army was superior to the others in training and armament. About a third of the 60,000 men of the new army were in 1909 stationed in Manchuria.

The work of reorganizing the Chinese army in accordance with the plan adopted in 1905 was marked by considerable progress during 1910, and it was believed in military circles that it will have been completed long before 1922, the time limit set by the act. This was largely due to the fact that, in July 1909, the Emperor assumed supreme command of both branches of the national forces, the army being placed under the direct control of a military council of which the Prince Regent was the head. According to the plans adopted, the ancient military forces of the empire were to be replaced by a real imperial, or national army, organized on modern lines. Up to 1910 a little more than six divisions of the Northern army had been organized, and about four divisions of the Southern army. The total strength of the troops is now about 100.000 men, with 525 guns.

Had the revolution of 1911 not created an interregnum, the modern Chinese army would have reached its full authorized establishment (thirty-six field divisions with a peace-footing of half-a-million men and a war-footing of something over a million) at about the time of the commencement of the World War. But the revolution broke up the reorganization scheme long before it was completed; mixed the old-style and the new troops; and by lowering the standard and introducing politics into the army destroyed unity and discipline.

From top to bottom official life in China was unthinkably corrupt. It is certain that Duke Tasi Tao, brother of the regent, whom he had placed over the war office, grew fabulously rich through his sales of commissions in less than three years. So extreme did the evil become that in 1911 the revolutionaries were able before the struggle to put their generals in command of the most important divisions and brigades of the army. The fact that, when the crisis came and some of the princes were still for fighting it out, forty-six generals of the Northern Army sent a telegram demanding the abdication of the throne and the setting up of a republican form of government, showed that many of those generals still held their commissions, as well as suggests a suspicion that Yuan had come to the place where he could play on the winning side.

Manchu Banners - 1644-1842

On the establishment of the dynasty in 1644 the victorious troops, composed mainly of Manchus, but including also Mongols and Chinese, were permanently quartered in Peking, and constituted a hereditary national army. The force was divided into eight banners, and under one or other of these all Manchus and all the descendants of the members of other nationalities were enrolled. They form the bulk of the population of the "Tatar city" of Peking. Each adult male was by birth entitled to be enrolled as a soldier, and by virtue of his enrolment had a right to draw rations - i.e. his allowance of the tribute rice, whether on active service or not.

Detachments from one or other of the banners were stationed as garrisons in the chief provincial centres, as at Canton, Fuchow and Hang-chow, &c, and their descendants still occupied the same position. As a fighting force the Manchu garrisons both in the capital and in the provinces had long become quite effete. In the capital, however, the elite of the Manchu soldiery were formed into a special corps termed the Peking Field Force. Its nominal strength was 20,000, the men were armed and drilled after the European fashion, and fairly well paid. There were other corps of picked Manchus better paid and better armed than the ordinary soldier, and it was computed that in 1901 the Manchu army in or near Peking could muster 40,000, all more or less efficient.

Dating from the time of the Manchu conquest during the first half of the seventeenth century, the Manchu "nation in arms" had been divided into eight "Banners," three superior and five inferior. The three Superior Banners are: (i) The Bordered Yellow (yellow being the color of the Imperial family); (ii) The Plain Yellow; and (iii) The Plain White. The five Inferior Banners are: (iv) The Bordered White; (v) The Plain Red; (vi) The Bordered Red; (vii) The Plain Blue; and (viii) The Bordered Blue.

Just as every Chinese was inscribed in his native district, in which he was liable (in theory) to pay tribute while living, and to which his bones are taken when dead, so all living Manchus were inscribed in their proper Banners, under which they (were supposed to) fight to maintain the conquest and receive their quota of the tribute and other (theoretic) benefits of the conquest. The main force of the eight Banners was "encamped" in Manchuria and in and around Peking, and was provided in the capital with rations drawn from the tribute rice, of which some two million piculs (125,000 tons) were received annually. Outside Peking was the "military cordon" of twenty-five cities of Chihli, at which were settled military colonies drawn from the eight Banners. Outside these, again, are the provincial garrisons.

When the conquest was completed, the Manchus proceeded to associate the Chinese with themselves in the government of the empire, and to hold the country by garrisons stationed at a few strategic points; and, in the original scheme, the garrisons in the provinces made a total of half the garrison of the capital. Of the provincial garrisons about half were in a northern belt, designed partly as an outer defence to the capital, partly to look out on Mongolia; these were at the following places: Shantung: Tsingchowfu and Tehchow. Honan: Kaifeng. Shansi: Kweihwating, Suiyuanting, and Taiyuanfu. Shensi: Sianfu. Kansu: Ningsiafu, Liangchowfu, and Chwangliang. The garrisons designed primarily to hold down the conquered Chinese were stationed at the following places: Szechwan: Chengtu. Hupeh: Kingchow (guarding the outlet of the Yangtze Gorge). Kiangsu: Nanking, with sub-garrison at Chinkiang. Chekiang: Hangchow, with sub-garrison at Chapu, once its seaport, now silted up. Fukien: Foochow. Kwangtung: Canton.

In six provinces there were no garrisons - five of them in the air strategically, Kiangsi, Hunan, Kweichow, Yunnan, and Kwangsi, and the sixth, Anhwei, being until the time of Kanghi administratively part of Kiangsu. In each of the eleven provinces thus constituting the Marches of the Manchu Empire was stationed a Warden of the Marches, the Manchu Generalissimo or Field-Marshal (Tsiang-kun), commonly called Tartar General, ranking with, but before, the viceroy or civil governor general, not generally interfering with the civil government, but originally able to impose his will upon his civilian colleague.

Notwithstanding his high rank he had no more power or influence in the defence of the empire than the Warden of the Cinque Ports had in that of England. At the beginning of the 19th Century the Manchu troops under his command were the principal force in maintaining the integrity of the empire against foreign aggression, and during the first war, ending with the peace of Nanking, 1842, it was these troops who stood the first brunt of battle, and who suffered far heavier loss than the Chinese auxiliaries. From that time they disappeared as a fighting force, and were only heard of as being ferreted from their hiding-places by the Taiping rebels and massacred.

Army of the Green Standard / Green Banner

The official army, constituting the provincial militia, was designated the Army of the Green Standard, and in the coast and riverine provinces was divided into land and water forces. The army divisions were territorial, the province being the highest unit. The provincial Commander-in-Chief is the Titu, commonly styled Titai and addressed as Kunmen ("Gate to the Camp"). The forces under his command were divided into brigades, under the command of a Chentai; brigades are divided into territorial regiments under a Hiehtai, and these again into battalions, ying (or "camps").

The nominal strength was from 20,000 to 30,000 for each province, or abdut 500,000 in all; the actual strength was about one-third of this. They were enrolled to keep the peace within their own province, and resembled a militia or local constabulary rather than a national army. They were generally poorly paid and equally badly drilled and armed.

The official hierarchy of this army existed solely for the purpose of personal profit and self-maintenance, the last thing they desire being to lead their brave followers into action, even against an unarmed mob; while the rank and file exist mainly on paper, but partly in the shape of gaudy uniforms to be filled, for inspection purposes, by temporary recruits enlisted for the day.

An imperial edict of 15 September 1907 reorganized the army of the Green Standard, the Chinese militia. It was placed under the control of the Minister of War and are all to be uniformly armed in each province and formed in battalions of three companies and squadrons of three troops. The duty of the troops in peace time remained much as previously. In war they pass under the control of regular officers, although they cannot be employed beyond the boundaries of their own province.

Provincial Levies - 1850-1900

By the end of the 19th Century the effective army was entirely, except for the possible intervention of the Titai alone, outside the official military organisation of the empire or of the province. In this, too, the unit was the province, and the effective armed forces of the provinces were under the direct command of the civil authority, the viceroys and governors, who themselves lead them in chief for the suppression of serious rebellion.

This force dated from the Taiping rebellion (1850-1864), when the official organisation was found ineffective and unwarlikc, and the provincial rulers were driven to raise bodies of irregulars and volunteers, styled yung ("brave") after the fashion of the volunteers of the French Revolution. This constituted the fighting army of China, such as it was, until forty years after its first formation, its best representative, the "foreign drilled" army of the north, went down before the Japanese in 1894; and on this foundation was erected the "New Model" army afterwards in process of organisation.

The Manchu "Banners" carried distinguishing ensigns of yellow, white, red and blue; and the Chinese territorial force were soldiers of the "Green Banner." The "volunteers" or "Provincial levies" carried banners of various colors, with a preference for red, usually one banner, some eight feet or more in length, for every ten soldiers; the "regimental colors" were generally inscribed with the name of the commander in a contrasting colour, e.g. white on red, red on blue, etc.

The only real fighting force which China possessed at the beginning of the 20th century was made up of certain special corps which were not provided for in the constitution, and consequently used to be termed yung, "braves," or irregulars, but had acquired various distinctive names. They were enlisted by provincial governors, and all had some smattering of foreign drill. They were also fairly well paid and armed. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 some of these corps were quartered near Peking and Tientsin, and came generally to be spoken of as the Army of the North.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:12:36 ZULU