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Manchu Dynasty - The Northern Army / Pei Yang Army

The great Viceroy of Chi-li, Yuan Chi Kai, was called the Bismarck of China, immediately after the Boxer compaign organized a large foreign drilled army. He produced a fine body of men, and dressed in accordance with western ideas, but still wearing their cue which falls down from under the rear of their caps and over their jacket. It is estimated that Yuan Chi Kai with his foreign drilled military police and with his country gendarme has now a fighting force of from 50,000 to 100,000 men in his province of Chi-li alone. The troops were stationed all around the more important places of Chi-li, in the north at Shanhai Kwan, and in the south at Paotingfu, which is the capital of the province.

The bitter lesson which the Japanese gave China forced the Chinese government to organize a military force on the European model. Five divisions were created with the help of Russian, German and French instructors, and this force became a cadre for a more ambitious establishment in the future. Yuan-Shi-Kai, however, succeeded in knocking his division in Shantung into excellent shape. It was this division that afterwards laid the foundations of the national Chinese army, the formation of which begun in 1901, after the suppression of the Boxer uprising. It was a heavy task for YuanShih-Kai to organize a real army in China, on purely imperialistic lines.

The anti-militaristic feeling of the Chinese population presented a serious barrier to the militaristic attitude of the Vice-Roy of the metropolitan province of Chili, but with the help of the Japanese he at last succeeded in forming six divisions, representing about 75,000 men perfectly drilled and equipped.

For many generations China had been the least warlike of any of the great nations. Her most venerated philosopher and statesman, Confucius, taught its people that nations as well as individuals should settle their differences by appeals to right and justice. Consequently the soldier had occupied a low place in the social and political organization of the country. The tiller of the soil and the industrial classes had been preferred before him.

But in the 19th century intercourse with the European nations the Chinese learned that another spirit and a different practice governed affairs. They saw that the blasphemous declaration of the greatest warrior of modern times, that God is always on the side of the biggest battalions, governed the conduct, if not the belief, of Christendom. They had been slow to learn this sad fact, but they awakened at last to its reality. They did not reach this conclusion, however, until they had suffered the disastrous results of three wars with European powers, and until an allied army, insignificant in numbers but powerful in modern armament, had twice invaded their territory and almost unopposed had seized the capital and dictated humiliating and oppressive terms of peace. The conduct of their comparatively small but warlike neighbor, Japan, in equipping itself with the latest methods and appliances of modern slaughter and overthrowing in armed conflict China's most dreaded foe was also a very impressive lesson.

The weakness of China, from a military point of view, had impressed strongly its rulers, and measures were undertaken to create a numerous and powerful army, trained and equipped in the most advanced modern methods. Antedating the action of the central government, the two most advanced of the viceroys, Yuan Shih-kai and Chang Chih-tung, set to work to organize such armies, and great progress has already been made by them. In these two viceroyalties there were by 1905 not less than 150,000 soldiers, drilled and equipped on a modern military basis. Other viceroys and governors were following their example, and the imperial government assumed the general control of all these forces, which might constitute in time an army rivaling in numbers, training, and outfit those of Japan and the military nations of Europe.

The Northern Army, under Yuan-Shih-kai, held manuvers in the autumn of 1905, which were attended by the foreign military attaches at Peking, and they reported with surprise that they had seen a formidable modern army, and that they had witnessed "a display momentous and epochmaking in the history of the Far East." Similar manuvers were held in October 1906, in which divisions from the two armies took part. In the October manuvers the Army of the North, the troops of the Viceroy Yuan Chi Kai, confronted the Southern army of the Viceroy Chang Chi Tung, in the vicinity of Chantefu. About thirty thousand troops from the provinces of Honan, Hupeh, Chi-li, and Changtung were engaged under the personal command of Yuan Chi Kai, Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese forces, and General Tielang, including cavalry, infantry, and artillery. According to the scheme of operations a Southern army, composed of the Hupeh and Henan forces, theoretically landed in the Yangtze valley, while one wing endeavored to reach Pekin by way of the Pekin and Hankow railroad. A Northern army, composed of the Chi-li and Changtung troops, was called upon to defend the capital without much preparation. The field tactics, and movements, comprised cavalry attacks, forced infantry marches, sham fights, and great artillery attacks with 180 guns, about half of which were mountain pieces, and the other half were field and siege cannon. Part of this artillery came from Krupp in Essen, part of it was bought in Japan, and 18 of the pieces had been constructed in the Chinese arsenals. The Chinese forces did good aiming, some splendid shooting, and clearly demonstrated themselves to be a well organized force of men who, when' well led, will make capital soldiers. The London Times correspondent, in giving a report of these latter, said: "The general opinion formed at the manoeuvers by the military attaches was not unfavorable, though many years' work * * * will be needed before the troops can claim equality with those of more advanced nations." It would seem that this great and populous Empire had at last laid aside its antiquated notions of right and justice, and had entered into the fierce competition of the Christian nations for preserving the peace of the world with vast armies and formidable navies.

Some foreign military critics were inclined, however, to minimize the importance of this movement. They said that the making of an army is a matter of years; that a fighting instinct must be created and a patriotic spirit must be back of it, in both of which the Chinese were deficient. The literati, who gave tone to public opinion, had looked down upon the fighting men, and it was questionable whether they did not still. Men of real influence in the army were rare, and it lacked capable generals. Absolute integrity was necessary, and great corruption existed in the purchase of armament and supplies. There was no medical staff, the organization was weak in cavalry, desertion was rampant, and many other improvements are necessary before the Chinese can successfully meet a Japanese or a European army. There was much truth in this criticism; but all of the difficulties cited may be overcome in time by persistency, of which the Chinese had an abundance, and by right methods, which they appeared to be applying as rapidly as possible.

The military or army reorganization board at Peking exercised supervision over the viceregal and provincial troops and gave cohesion to them, so that they would be in reality an imperial army. It has issued orders to have turned over to it all provincial arsenals and gun factories, a great step toward military centralization. An edict decreed that any official having to do with the purchase of arms and army supplies found guilty of dishonesty or accepting bribes shall be decapitated; and it is said that the frauds heretofore practiced by European armament agents were almost impossible.

The low grade of the military service was noticeable. In the past a marked difference existed between the civil and military officers of the government. A civil mandarin, for instance, was exempt from corporal punishment in case of misdemeanors, while a military officer for such offenses can be sentenced to a number of blows with the bamboo. For these reasons Chinese parents preferred to have their sons study for the literary degree, which opened to them civil official rank and title. In the reorganization of the official grades, these distinctions were done away and the military officers were placed on a status of equality with the civil mandarins.

Military officers as a class had been illiterate and many of them had risen from the ranks. These defects, it was expected, would in some measure be remedied by the general system of education. There had already been established military and naval schools in a number of provinces, and it was proposed to establish in every province two grades of military and naval schools, and in Peking an imperial military college and also a naval college, students for which will be supplied from the provincial schools just named. In addition, the imperial board of education, with a view to inspiring in the rising generation a patriotic and martial spirit, required military drill in all the government primary and grammar schools and the wearing of a uniform by all the students.

Up to 1909 six divisions and one mixed brigade of the Northern Army had been organized in Shan-tun^, 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 all the provincial foreign trained troops.) The efficiency of the troops varied; the northern army was superior to the others in training and armasient. About a third of the 60,000 men of the new army were in jggg itationcd in Manchuria.

In 1906 one Western observer concluded: "It must be admitted that the lesson... which the nations of our western civilization have with such severity taught the Chinese, that they can only enforce respect, protect their interests, and regain and maintain their sovereignty by force of arms, is in a fair way of being put into practical operation. If they can maintain their existence as a consolidated empire for a single generation longer, as they have for thousands of years, until their army is fully trained, equipped, and made efficient for war, and a navy commensurate with this imperial army built and put in hostile array, well may the nations which have despoiled them of their territory and treated their race with contumely and ostracism pray that they may return to the teachings of their great philosopher, who enjoined his followers to practice the spirit of the Golden Rule."

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