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Republic of China - The Northern Army / Pei Yang Army

The Northern Army was founded upon principles set down by Yuan Shih K'ai, the genius of things military in China. The great drawback of the Republican Army during the 1911 Revolution was that it was largely made up of nondescripts, as ignorant of warfare as is possible to' imagine, while in the Northern Army there were none but highly trained men in whom were instilled strongly the absorbing lessons of the army. The knew nothing else. They did nothing else. They were fighting machines, and they fought on the same principle as machines in good order work. There were certain great weaknesses in the Chinese military organisation that had yet to be removed. But with the Northern Army, that army which was founded by Yuan Shih K'ai himself - and he was looked upon as the greatest military reformer of the time - it had the minimum of these defects.

The army that Yuan created, and which in 1911 was mainly engaged in fighting the Revolutionary enemy, was not so much a branch of the Chinese Army, but Yuan's Army, moulded as he wanted it. His soldiers, first of all, had been taught loyalty. What other soldiers in the world would have stood the test of loyalty as did those northern soldiers during the early days of November, when the only news they received was the report that a number of cities had gone over to the cause they themselves were fighting with their lives to quell? But the Imperialists knew that, no matter how many battles they would be able to win, no matter how great their slaughter of the Revolutionists would be, the cause of the Revolution was destined to win. This slowly began to force itself upon them, and desertions were commonly reported.

From the beginning of the revolution - that is, from October, 1911 - the Northern Army was conscious of its strength. A number of the Northern provinces had completed their reorganization that Yuan Shih-kai at the time of the Manchu abdication had certainly a quarter-of-a-million fairly well-found troops under his direct orders. South of the Yangtsze the situation was very different. Some provinces had no more than mixed brigades of reorganized troops; and although five Southern provinces - Hupeh, Kiangsi, Chekiang, Kwangtung, and Yunnan - could each muster at least one good modern division with artillery and transport, they were without proper arsenals and were vastly outnumbered by swarms of old levies. Moreover, all the machinery of army administration, as well as all the reserves of arms and ammunition, were under the control of Peking; and the borrowing-power had been inherited by those who were ten minutes from Legation Street. It will be seen that the odds could not but be heavily in favour of the North.

With the installation of Yuan Shih-k'ai, the creator of the Northern army, as the President of the Republic, the Southern army was to a large extent disbanded in pursuance of his policy of national economy. But at the same time he reinforced the Northern army with new recruits, with improved munitions, and also with increased financial support. To the Southern provinces, the loyalty of which to his Government he had reasons to suspect, he dispatched some picked regiments of the Northern army, which he could trust.

During the month of January 1912 Yuan Shi-kai had been counselling the empress dowager to sign an edict of abdication for the emperor. Various forms were drawn up, and finally on Feb. 12, the Abdication Edict was issued endorsing the establishment of a republic. The end of hostilities found several hundred thousand troops under arms. The compromise had included an undertaking by the new Government to assume obligations that had been incurred by the revolutionists, and to pay off the revolutionary troops. ... If the troops were not paid they would mutiny and riot and loot, and perhaps kill their commanders. . . . The presence of bodies of armed men throughout the country, who had composed the revolutionary armies, was a grave danger. These soldiers had hardly any discipline, and they might at any time drift into banditry.

What Gambetta found in clericalism republican China indeed soon discovered in her militarists. The army, reinforced by myriads of men who had managed to acquire firearms, was plainly the enemy; for the soldiers openly declared that they had made the revolution, and that without them the revolutionary leaders could not have lived an hour. This was unfortunately only half the truth and therefore as dangerous as all half-truths inherently are.

For the revolution was as much the work of the foreigner as it was of the Chinese. The Manchus could never have been dethroned had their borrowing-power on foreign markets not been deliberately cancelled by the action of foreign diplomacy, which yielding to the clamor of publicists declared that the Western world would maintain strict neutrality until a decision was reached. Consequently, the army in spite of its boast was really dependent on an alien paymaster who could only be reached by a method which its leader and creator - Yuan Shih-kai - had brought to a fine art. This method was a mixture of bluff, promises to rival legations, and threats - above all, threats that if hard cash were not forthcoming all China would go up in flames. By finding the monthly quotas for the troops Yuan Shih-kai became supreme.

Only on the surface, however. For the army had become contumacious even before the Manchus had abdicated. Its Northern leaders, roughly grouped together under the name of the Peiyang Party - Anglice, the party of the Northern seas or, better, the Northern viceroyalties - had nearly all risen from humble captaincies in Yuan Shih-kai's original model corps (organized in 1896 after the Korean war) to divisional commands; and one and all they coveted the direct control of provinces. In other words, the revolution, having abolished the viceroys, who had ruled over single or linked provinces, and substituted the Tu-tuh (now Tu-chun) or military governor for each province, the aim of all these men was to rule at the provincial capitals where provincial taxation was centred and where money necessarily was to be found.

By the use of terrorist methods, which commenced in Peking on the memorable 29 February, 1912, when the capital was sacked by the Third Division, these divisional commanders soon became the most solid factors in the very fluid post-revolutionary China. Commander after commander received as reward for fealty to Yuan Shih-kai the gift of a provincial capital; and although a parliament or assembly of some kind has been in session in Peking most of the time, such real power as there has been since 1911 has been divided among these men.

Many of the revolutionary commanders were reluctant to disband their troops, for as long as each had an army they could dominate localities, and were political factors. These generals had to be placated by the new Government in some way, their armed followers disbanded, and the local administrations brought under the authority of Peking. Even Yuan Shih K'ai's army was unreliable. A slip anywhere, a misapprehension, a lack of tact, a dissatisfied or irreconcilable revolutionist general, might start a new revolt and throw the country into disorder again.

The open revolt of the South in 1913 gave Yuan Shi-kai the opportunity, long desired, of pouring his own troops into the provinces which had hitherto been the stronghold of the Revolutionists; and the suppression of the revolt marked the triumph of his policy that peace should be maintained by the sword, and that the unity of the country should be secured by destroying his opponents. Throughout the whole country, provincial governorships were placed in the hands of his lieutenants with armies under their command; and, through them, he made his orders obeyed and his instructions accepted in the provinces. Attempts at raising a revolt against him were immediately crushed, and tranquillity was thus maintained in the country for three or four brief years, with occasional, but not serious, interruptions.

By the end of 1913, the government decided to keep a permanent army of 500,000 men, and the new revolution which broke out in Yunnan province caused the further development of the military organization. Again the famous Yuan-Shih-Kai appeared with his military plan. The country was divided into nine military districts, irrespective of provincial boundaries. A considerable proportion of the troops in these districts were men having no relation with the provinces composing the divisions in which they were stationed; all efforts had been made that the newly created army should be well and regularly paid, fed and equipped. Special privileges were introduced for the officers, as well as attractive and costly uniforms for the troops.

Yuan Shi-kai's policies survived his death in June 1916. General Tuan Ch'i-jui, one of his picked lieutenants trained in his school, became Prime Minister in the next Government. By following the example of his master in distributing provincial governorships among his Northern military colleagues, and stationing Northern troops in the South, he endeavoured to avoid internal insurrection and to exact allegiance from all the provinces.

The indictment of the South against the North was clearly stated by Dr. Wu Ting-fang, one of its prominent leaders, in the following terms: 'Northern soldiery have been sent to Southern provinces to overawe the people with the mailed fist when it is notorious that the people distrust and fear the strange soldiers. Such stationing of troops reminds one of the procedure' that conquerors adopt towards vanquished nations and subject races. Where their military power is insufficient to permit of this, . . . they do not hesitate to commission a man with a bloody record to lead several thousand undisciplined hordes to burn and pillage throughout the provinces, and, as if that were not enough, to let loose the local brigands for this purpose by furnishing them with arms and bribes. They know no law save their own interest. They acknowledge no authority save force. The highest institutions in the land, Constitution, Parliament, President, are nothing to them. . . .'

The absence of discipline in the Northern army, it is true, led to the sacking and plundering by its troops of many towns which they have captured from the Southern army, or through which they have passed en route to the field. But these outrages are committed, not from the motive of hatred against the South, but merely from the desire of getting booty with which to enrich themselves. This is clearly proved by the fact that, in the course of their looting, they make no discrimination between Northern and Southern property.

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