War and Geopolitics in Interwar Manchuria

Zhang Zuolin and the Fengtian Clique during the Northern Expedition


In War and Geopolitics in Interwar Manchuria Kwong Chi Man revisits the civil wars in China (1925-1928) from the perspective of the often-overlooked "warlords," who fought against the joint forces of the Nationalist and Communist parties. In particular, this work focuses on Zhang Zuolin, the leader of the "Fengian Clique" who was sometimes seen as the representative of the Japanese interest in Manchuria.
Using primary and secondary sources from China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, this work tries to revisit the wars during the period from international, political, military, and economic-financial perspectives. It sheds new light on Zhang Zuolin's decision to fight against the Nationalists and the Communists and offers an alternative explanation to the Nationalists (temporary) victory by revealing the central importance of geopolitics in the civil wars in China during the interwar period.

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Kwong Chi Man, Ph.D. (2012), University of Cambridge, is Assistant Professor of History at Hong Kong Baptist University. He has published books and articles on the military history of modern East Asia, including Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong (co-authored, Hong Kong University Press, 2014).
Acknowledgements ix
List of Illustrations xi
List of Abbreviations xiii
Note on Romanization xiv

Introduction: “Northern Expedition,” or the War for Northeast Asia? 1
State Formation and Geopolitics 5
Strategic History as an Approach 9
Northeast Asia and the “Northern Expedition” 11
The Military Factor 16
Structure 19

1 Becoming “The Eastern Three Provinces”: International Conflicts in Manchuria and Northeast Asia, 1850-1920 21
Introduction 21
Northeast Asia: Implications of Geography 22
International Relations of Northeast Asia, 1600-1920 27
China and Manchuria: From Empire to Nation? 35
Fengjin, Migration and Manchurian Society, 1636-1911 35
Manchuria and Mongolia after 1911 41
Regional Economy in Northeast Asia 43
Manchurian Economy before 1890 43
Reorienting the Manchurian Economy 45
The Competing Currencies 48
Concluding Remarks 50

2 Manchuria under Zhang Zuolin and the Fengtian Clique 52
Introduction 52
The Larger Context: Chinese Politics after the Abolition of the
Examination System 53
The Ascendancy of Zhang Zuolin and the Fengtian Clique 58
Exploiting the Circumstances 58
Enlisting Elite Support 60
From the Fengtian Clique to Anguojun: Zhang’s Military Supporters 65
Decision-making Mechanism of the Fengtian Clique 67
Military and Economic Build Up and Their Consequences 70
Regionalism and Relations with the Central Government 75
Japanese Connection Revisited 77
Becoming a National Leader: Zhang Zuolin’s Strife for Legitimacy and
Political Power 79
Zhang’s Perception of the Nation’s Problems 79
Zhang’s Struggle for Political Legitimacy 83
Concluding Remarks 88

3 The Fengtian Clique’s Strategies and Their Failure, 1925-1931 90
Phase I, January-December 1925 93
Overview 93
Responding to Political Vacuum in North China and the Soviet Design 95
The Anti-Fengtian War of 1925 103
Phase II, January-September 1926 106
The Fengtian Clique’s Attempt to Restore the Beijing Government 106
Improving the Internal and External Situation through Decisive Battle: The
Battle of Nankou, 1926 110
Phase III, September 1926-June 1927 113
Seeking Peaceful Resolution through War: The Creation of the
Anguojun 113
Increasing Japanese Pressure and Changing British Attitudes 118
The Failure in Henan and Its Impact 121
Phase IV, June 1927-June 1928 122
Responding to Defeats: The Generalissimo Government and Peace Talk with the KMT 122
Cracks in the Beijing-Mukden Regime 129
Manchuria Encircled: The Coming of a Japanese-Soviet Alliance 131
The Final Straw: Military Defeats in Late 1927 and Early 1928 133
Phase V, June 1928-September 1931 135
Strategic Inconsistency of the Fengtian Clique 135
The Decline of the Fengtian Clique’s Cohesion and Authority 137
Deteriorating Internal Condition and Geopolitical Situation 140
Concluding Remarks 142

4 Military Dimension of the “Northern Expedition” 143
Introduction 143
Military Geography and the War in China in the 1920s 144
Warfare in China in the Mid-1920s 145
Anguojun, the National Pacification Army 149
Organization 152
Equipment and Supply 155
Training and Recruitment 156
Cohesion 157
Relations with the People 159
The Henan-Anhui-Jiangsu-Zhejiang Operations, Jan-Jun 1927 160
Disaster of Dispersal: The Shanghai-Nanjing-Anhui Operations 162
The Henan Campaign: Background 166
The Henan Campaign: Mobility, Firepower and Geography 168
The Battles of Xuzhou and Longtan, June-September 1927 176
Situation After the Henan Campaign 176
Operational Success, Strategic Dilemma: The Xuzhou Battle and Prelude to
Longtan, Jun-Aug 1927 177
A Strategic Gamble Lost: The Battle of Longtan, Aug-Sep 1927 182
Tipping the Balance: The Autumn and Winter Campaigns of 1927 187
The Situation After Longtan 187
Wrong Priorities: The Shanxi Campaign, Sep-Dec 1927 188
The Second Henan Campaign, Oct-Dec 1927 192
Endgame: The Shanxi-Henan-Shandong Campaign of April 1928 195
Seeking the Decisive Battle 195
An Operational Disaster: The Southern Zhili-Shandong Campaign 197
Concluding Remarks 200

5 The Manchurian Economy and the Northern Expedition, 1925-1928 202
Introduction 202
The Fall of the fengpiao and Its Effects, 1926-1928 204
Financial Limitations Faced by the Fengtian Clique 212
Limited Internal Revenue and High Expenditure 212
Decline of the Value of Silver 216
Japanese and Russian Presence and Their Financial Policies in
Manchuria 218
Bankruptcy of the Central Government 220
The Fengtian Clique’s Attempts to Overcome Financial Difficulties 222
Issuing fengpiao 222
Increasing Tax and Manipulating Currencies 223
Issuing Bonds or Borrowing 226
Collecting the Customs Surtax 229
The Financial Collapse of the Fengtian Clique 233
Failure to Secure Shanghai and the Financial Difficulties of Beijing 233
The Succession Crisis and North-South Peace, Jan-June 1928 235
Concluding Remarks 238

Conclusion 240

Appendix 1: Literature Review 245
Appendix 2: A Note on the Sources 249
Appendix 3: Short Biographies of the Anguojun Figures 251
Appendix 4: Glossary 258
Appendix 5: Order of Battle of the Anguojun and the NRA, March 1927-April 1928 262
Bibliography 285
Index 318
All interested in modern Chinese history, modern East Asian history, geopolitics and international relations in East Asia, and military and strategic history in general.
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