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List of warlords and military cliques in the Warlord Era

Major Chinese warlord coalitions as of 1925

The Warlord Era is the time period of China beginning from 1916 to the mid-1930s, when the country was divided by various military cliques, following the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916. Communist revolution broke out in the later part of the warlord period, beginning the Chinese Civil War. The era nominally ended in 1928 at the conclusion of the Northern Expedition with the Northeast Flag Replacement, beginning the "Nanjing decade". However, "residual warlords" continued to exist into the 1930s under de jure Kuomintang rule, and remained until the end of the Communist victory in 1949.[1]

The warlords and military cliques of the Warlord Era are generally divided into the Northern Factions and the Southern Factions. The following is a list of cliques within each faction, and the dominant warlords within that clique.

Contents

Northern FactionsEdit

 
Flag used by the Northern governments of China

The cliques in the North emerged from the fragmentation of the Beiyang Government/Army. Most of them were generals under Yuan Shikai. After the death of Yuan, they separated and formed cliques in their own sphere of influence.

Anhui cliqueEdit

The Anhui Clique was so named because many of its most influential members were from Anhui, including founder Duan Qirui. It had a affiliated political party, the Anfu club, and a financial wing, the New Communications clique, under Deputy Foreign Minister Cao Rulin.

The clique had close ties to Japan, granting heavy concessions in exchange for funding and military training,[2][3] and advocated war against the German Empire as part of the First World War, as well as military suppression of the Kuomintang.

The clique was removed from power after the Zhili-Anhui War and slowly faded from prominence.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Duan Qirui

段祺瑞

  1916–1926 Premier: 1913, 1916–18; President: 1924-26: Negotiated the Nishihara Loans with Japan in exchange for Shandong Concession, triggering the May Fourth Movement
Xu Shuzheng

徐樹錚

  1916–1920 Duan Qirui's right-hand man; led expedition that reconquered Mongolia and temporarily brought it back under control
Duan Zhigui

段芝貴

  Minister of War: 1917-1919
Jin Yunpeng

靳雲鵬

  Premier: 1919-1921
Wang Yitang

王揖唐

  Chairman of the House of Representatives 1918-1920
Lu Yongxiang

盧永祥

  Ruler of Zhejiang and Shanghai, his refusal to hand over Shanghai caused the Second Zhili–Fengtian War
Zhang Jingyao

張敬堯

  1917–1920 Governor of Hunan noted for his exceptional brutality; assassinated in 1933 after he became involved with the Japanese plot to enthrone Puyi as emperor of Manchukuo
Wu Guangxin

吳光新

  1917–1920 Governor of Hunan[4]
Ni Sichong

倪嗣衝

  former supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire; eliminated in the Zhili-Anhui War
Qu Tongfeng[5]

曲同豊

Chen Shufan

陳樹藩

  1916-1921
Zheng Shiqi

鄭士琦

  1923-1925 Military governor of Shandong (1923–25) and Anhui (1925).[6]
Zhang Huaizhi

張懷芝

  1912-1924 Viceroy of Shandong.[7] Former supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire; eliminated in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War
Wang Yongquan

王永泉

  1918-1924 Military Governor of Fujian Province.[8]

Zhili cliqueEdit

Zhili was the province surrounding Beijing, now the province of Hebei.

The Zhili clique was formed by officers disgruntled with the Anhui clique and rallied around Feng Guozhang. It was aligned to Western powers.

The clique took power after the Zhili-Anhui War but lost it after the Second Zhili-Fengtian War.

It was largely wiped out during the Northern Expedition.[9][10]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Guozhang

馮國璋

  1916–1919 Served as President 1917-1918. Died in 1919 and was succeeded by Cao Kun
Cao Kun

曹錕

  1919–1924 Bribed his way to the presidency and served from 1923 to 1924; arrested and imprisoned during the Beijing coup by Feng Yuxiang
Wu Peifu

吳佩孚

  1919–1927 Military commander and strategist of the Zhili Clique credited with the victories that pushed Zhili to power but ultimately failed hold onto power in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War
Sun Chuanfang

孫傳芳

  1919–1927 Controlled most of the Lower Yangtze but defeated in the Northern Expedition
Lu Jianzhang

陸建章

supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire, killed by Fengtian clique in 1918[11][12]
Li Chun[13]

李純

 
Wang Zhanyuan[13]

王占元

  Hubei warlord
Chen Guangyuan[13]

陳光遠

 
Wang Chengbin

王承斌

  Ethnic Manchu
Peng Shoushen

彭壽莘

-1924
Kou Yingjie

寇英傑

-1927
Qi Xieyuan

齊燮元

  1920-1924 Inspector-general of Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Anhui Provinces. Later Japanese puppet, executed after the war.[14]

Fengtian cliqueEdit

Fengtian is the former name of Liaoning province, and was the political center of Manchuria.

The Fengtian clique controlled most of Manchuria up to Shanhaiguan and had an uneasy, close relationship with Japan. Its civilian branch was the Communications Clique, under Premier Liang Shiyi.

It took power in Beijing after the Second Zhili-Fengtian War but could not stop the Kuomintang during the Northern Expedition, and was driven from Manchuria after the Mukden Incident and merged with the Kuomintang.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Zhang Zuolin

張作霖

  1916–1928 Leader of the Fengtian Army, ruler of Northeast China; Assassinated by a Japanese military officer for his failure to halt the expansion of the Kuomintang
Zhang Xueliang

張學良

  1928–1937 Son and successor to Zhang Zuolin, he eventually reconciled the Fengtian clique with the Kuomintang
Guo Songling

郭松齡

  1920–1925 General in the Fengtian Army. Rebelled during the Anti-Fengtian War but was defeated and killed in action
Zhang Zongchang

張宗昌

  1925–1928 Ruler of the Shandong province
Zhang Haipeng

張海鵬

 
Zhang Jinghui

張景惠

  Afterwards Prime Minister of Manchukuo
Li Jinglin[15]

李景林

 
Tang Yulin

湯玉麟

 
Wan Fulin

萬福麟

 
Wu Junsheng

吳俊陞

  Commander of Fengtian Cavalry
Yang Yuting

楊宇霆

  Executed by Zhang Xueliang for his part in the assassination of Zhang Zuolin
Liu Zhennian

劉珍年

"King of East Shandong"; defected to KMT during the Northern Expedition[16], defeated by Han Fuqu
Xu Lanzhou

許蘭洲

  1895-1928 originally a Qing general, later served under Zhang Zuolin[17]

Shanxi cliqueEdit

Formed in the aftermath of the Xinhai Revolution, the Shanxi clique was limited to Shanxi province only.

Although affiliated with the Anhui clique, Yan Xishan remained neutral until the Northern Expedition, during which he sided with the Kuomintang.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yan Xishan

閻錫山

  1911–1949 Military ruler of Shanxi; Joined the Kuomintang but later rebelled against Chiang Kai-shek in the Central Plains War.[18] Defeated by the Communists in 1949, withdrew to Taiwan
Fu Zuoyi

傅作義

  1927–1949 ruler of Suiyuan; defected to the Communists in 1949
Shang Zhen

商震

 

GuominjunEdit

Also known as the Northwestern Army, it was formed from disgruntled Zhili clique officers during the Second Zhili-Fengtian War, through the Beijing Coup.

Although originally sympathetic to the Kuomintang, it rebelled in the 1930 Central Plains War and was defeated.[18] It was closely aligned to the Soviet Union.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Yuxiang

馮玉祥

  1924–1934 Leader of the Northwest, initially Zhili warlord
Yang Hucheng

楊虎城

  1918-1936 Shaanxi ruler from 1926, helped kidnap Chiang Kai-shek in the Xi'an incident.[19]
Sun Yue

孫岳

  1924–1928
Liu Zhenhua

劉鎮華

  Originally Anhui clique, then defected to the Zhili clique, then Guominjun and finally to the KMT.[20]
Hu Jingyi

胡景翼

  1924–1925 Military governor of Henan
Deng Baoshan

鄧寶珊

Subordinate of Hu Jingyi, later Communist governor of Gansu, killed in the Cultural Revolution.
Yue Weijun

岳維峻

Bie Tingfang

別廷芳

  Henan warlord; switched to KMT
Sun Dianying

孫殿英

  Henan bandit; allied with Feng Yuxiang, Zhang Zongchang[21]
Song Zheyuan

宋哲元

  1927–1930 Defected to KMT in 1930, warlord of Chahar Province and Rehe Province
Jing Yuexiu

井岳秀

  1913-1936 Northern Shaanxi warlord, cooperated with various other cliques.[22]
Han Fuqu

韓復榘

  1930–1938 Chairman of the Shandong Province; Defected to KMT in 1930.[16] arrested and shot after abandoning his province when the Second Sino-Japanese War started.
Shi Yousan

石友三

  1912–1940 Chairman of Anhui province, 1929. Known as the "Defector General" for his repeated defections between various warlords, KMT factions, communists and Japan.[23]
Fan Zhongxiu

樊鍾秀

1911-1931 served many different factions successively, killed in the Central Plains War
Ji Hongchang

吉鴻昌

  Later joined the Communist Party, executed by the KMT.
Zhang Zhijiang

張之江

 

Ma cliqueEdit

The "Three Mas of the Northwest" originated in the Kansu Braves militia formed during the Dungan Revolt (1895). All Ma Clique Generals were Hui Chinese Muslim Kuomintang members. Fought against the Guominjun during the Central Plains War.

Attempted to destroy the Xinjiang Clique during the Kumul Rebellion but was defeated by Soviet Red Army intervention.[24]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Ma Anliang

馬安良

1912–1918 Ruler of the Gansu province, Outranked all the other Ma Clique generals.
Ma Fuxiang

馬福祥

  1912–1928 De facto leader after Ma Anliang[25]; Ruler of Ningxia[26] and Suiyuan[27][28][29][30]
Ma Hongbin

馬鴻賓

  1921–1928 brief acting Chairman of Gansu Province and Ningxia Province[31]
Ma Hongkui

馬鴻逵

  1923–1949 Army commander then ruler of Ningxia Province from 1932[32]
Ma Zhongying

馬仲英

  1929–1934 Chief of the 36th Division and ruler of Gansu and Southern Xinjiang (Tunganistan)
Ma Hushan

馬虎山

  1934–1950 Chief of the 36th Division and ruler of Southern Xinjiang (Tunganistan)
Ma Zhancang

馬占倉

served under Ma Zhongying
Zhang Peiyuan

張培元

1929–1934 Han Chinese Commander of Ili, allied with the Ma Clique against the Xinjiang Clique
Ma Qi

马麒

  1915–1931 Ninghai Army ruler of Qinghai province, influential in Gansu province
Ma Lin

馬麟

  1931–1938 Ninghai Army ruler of Qinghai province
Ma Bufang

馬步芳

  1938–1945 Ninghai Army ruler of Qinghai province
Ma Buqing

馬步青

  Ninghai Army

Xinjiang cliqueEdit

Under Yang Zengxin, the clique organized the defence against the Soviet encroachment,[33][34] but later closely affliated with the Soviet Union.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yang Zengxin

楊增新

  1912–1928 Ruler of the Xinjiang province from the Qing era. Always recognized whichever government was dominant.[33]
Ma Fuxing

馬福興

  1912–1924 Titai of Kashgar, Military Commander of Southern Xinjiang
Ma Shaowu

馬紹武

  1924–1937 Executed Ma Fuxing on Yang Zengxin's orders, then replaced him as Tao-yin of Kashgar, Military Commander of Southern Xinjiang
Jin Shuren

金樹仁

  1928–1934 Ruler of the Xinjiang province.
Sheng Shicai

盛世才

  1933-1944 Ruler of the Xinjiang province and Soviet puppet

Southern FactionsEdit

 
Flag of China used by most southern factions

The military cliques in the South are generally regional revolutionary leaders that took over after the fall of Qing Dynasty in Xinhai Revolution.

KuomintangEdit

The Nationalist Party of China, derived from the Tongmenghui revolutionary organization, it established a rival government of the Republic of China in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in the 1913 Second Revolution and in the 1917 Constitutional Protection War. Its military arm was the National Revolutionary Army.

The party nominally reunified China in 1928 after defeating most Northern factions during the Northern Expedition,[35] governing the country from Nanjing.

Run as a Dang Guo (黨國), or Party-State, along the lines of the organisational principles of Leninism, the party's ideology was based on Socialism and Nationalism. Initially Soviet-backed, after the Shanghai Massacre it allied with Germany.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Sun Yat-sen

孫中山

  1912–1925 Founder of the Republic of China and leader of the Kuomintang
Chiang Kai-shek

蔣介石

  1926–1975 Military leader of the Kuomintang and later President
He Yingqin

何應欽

  1926–1950 Senior General in the Kuomintang
Hu Hanmin

胡漢民

  1925–1936 Leader of the right wing faction of the Kuomintang
Liao Zhongkai

廖仲愷

  1923–1925 Architect of the First United Front with the Chinese Communist Party
Wang Jingwei

汪精衛

  1925–1944 Leader of the left wing faction of the Kuomintang, later Japanese collaborator during World War II
Yu Youren

于右任

  1918–1922 Shaanxi revolutionary commander, later headed the Control Yuan.[36]

Communist PartyEdit

The Communist Party of China, formed in 1921 in the aftermath of the May Fourth Movement. Its military arm eventually became the People's Liberation Army.

The party was allied with the Kuomintang during the first phase of the Northern Expedition, but the two sides split following the Shanghai massacre in 1927. The two parties would then fight a decades long civil war, which ended with the Kuomintang retreat to Taiwan and the founding of the People's Republic of China on the mainland.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Chen Duxiu

陳獨秀

  1921–1927 Party co-founder and first General Secretary, ousted after the Shanghai Massacre
Li Dazhao

李大釗

  1921–1927 Party co-founder, captured and executed by Zhang Zuolin during the Northern Expedition
Zhou Enlai

周恩来

  1924–1976 Senior party leader, later Premier of the People's Republic of China
Mao Zedong

毛澤東

  1935–1976 Party activist, later party chairman and Chairman of the People's Republic of China

Yunnan cliqueEdit

The Yunnan Military Government was established on October 30, 1911, with Cai E elected as the military governor. This marked the beginning of the "Yunnan clique".

Name Years of dominance Notes
Cai E

蔡鍔

  1911–1916 Leader of the Yunnan Army
Zhu De

朱德

  1911–1920 protege of Cai, later Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[37][38]
Tang Jiyao

唐繼堯

  1913-1927 Military governor of Yunnan
Hu Ruoyu

胡若愚

1927 Governor of Yunnan
Long Yun

龍雲

  1927-1945 Governor of Yunnan
Lu Han

盧漢

  1937-1949 Ethnic Nuosu and cousin of Long Yun, defected to communists in 1949.[39]

Guizhou warlordsEdit

Guizhou Province was dominated by a series of successive autonomous warlords.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Liu Xianshi

劉顯世

  -1920 originally a Qing dynasty commander, neutral between the Beiyang and KMT, overthrown by his nephew Wang Wenhua.[40]
Wang Wenhua

王文華

  1920-1921 KMT-supporting warlord, assassinated by Yuan Zuming.[41]
Yuan Zuming

袁祖銘

  1921-1927 Initial aligned to the Beiyang government, nominally ackowledged the KMT government in 1926, but assassinated a year later.[42]
Wang Jialie

王家烈

  1929-1935 Nominally acknowledged KMT rule, deposed by KMT during the pursuit of the Long March.[43]

Old Guangxi cliqueEdit

Guangxi province announced its independence on November 6, 1911. Originally, the revolutionaries supported the Qing Governor to remain in position. However, he later left the province, and Lu Rongting succeeded his position.[44]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Cen Chunxuan

岑春煊

  1916–1920 Qing Dynasty Governor and Military Governor of Guangdong
Lu Rongting

陸榮廷

  1912–1922
Chen Binghun

陳炳焜

  1916-1921
Shen Hongying

沈鴻英

  1923-1925 Military governor of Guangdong (1923-1924)

New Guangxi cliqueEdit

After the Guangdong-Guangxi War, the Old Guangxi clique was no longer effective, and was replaced by the New Guangxi clique. Supported the Kuomintang's Northern Expedition but rebelled during the Central Plains War.[45][18]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Li Zongren

李宗仁

  1923–1949
Bai Chongxi

白崇禧

  1923–1949 Muslim, Head of the Chinese Islamic National Salvation Federation,[46][47] widely considered successor-designate of Chiang.
Huang Shaoxiong

黃紹竑

  1923–1949
Xia Wei

夏威

 

Guangdong warlordsEdit

Guangdong was independent on November 8. The Guangdong Army was in the early 1920s mostly dominated by Chen Jiongming. In the 1930s, Chen Jitang was chairman of the government.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Long Jiguang

龍濟光

  1911-1918 Qing commander, supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China, later affliated with the Anhui Clique
Chen Jiongming

陳炯明

  1911–1924 Initially allied to KMT, defected to Zhili clique in 1922 but defeated by Chiang Kai-Shek
Ye Ju

叶擧

  1929–1936 Initially Long Jiguang's deputy, then Chen Jiongming's deputy
Deng Benyin

鄧本殷

 
Chen Jitang

陳濟棠

  1929–1936

Sichuan cliqueEdit

During the period from 1927–1938, Sichuan was in the hands of multiple warlords. No warlord had enough power to take on all the others at once, so many small battles occurred, pitting one warlord against another.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yin Changheng

尹昌衡

  1912-1913 Tongmenghui revolutionary, founder of the clique[48]
Liu Cunhou

劉存厚

  Qing dynasty commander, joined the KMT in 1928.[49]
Xiong Kewu

熊克武

  Revolutionary, eliminated in 1925.[50]
Li Jiayu

李家鈺

 
Luo Zezhou

羅澤洲

Liu Xiang

劉湘

  1921–1938
Yang Sen

楊森

 
Liu Wenhui

劉文輝

  later warlord of Xikang Province, defected to the Communist Party[51]
Tian Songyao

田頌堯

 
Deng Xihou

鄧錫侯

 

Hunan warlordsEdit

Hunan Province was ruled by successive autonomous warlords.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Tan Yankai

譚延闓

  1912-1920 Kuomintang politician
Zhao Hengti

趙恆惕

  1920-1926 friendly to the Zhili Clique
Tang Shengzhi

唐生智

  1926-1927 Defected to Chiang during the Northern Expedition, rebelled against Chiang during the Central Plains War
Peng Dehuai

彭德懷

  subordinate of Tang; later Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[52]
He Long

賀龍

  Began his military career under a Hunan warlord, later joined the Kuomintang and then the Chinese Red Army
He Jian

何鍵

  1927-
Cheng Qian

程潛

  KMT commander for Hunan

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External linksEdit

  Media related to Warlords of China at Wikimedia Commons