List of warlords and military cliques in the Warlord Era

The Warlord Era was a historical period of the Republic of China that began from 1916 and lasted until the mid-1930s, during which the country was divided and ruled 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]

Major Chinese warlord coalitions as of 1925

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.

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


  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


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


  Minister of War: 1917–1919
Jin Yunpeng


  Premier: 1919–1921
Wang Yitang


  Chairman of the House of Representatives 1918–1920
Lu Yongxiang


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


  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


  1917–1920 Governor of Hunan[4]
Ni Sichong


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


Chen Shufan


Zheng Shiqi


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


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


  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.[9]

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.[10][11]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Guozhang


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


  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


  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


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


supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire, killed by Fengtian clique in 1918[12][13]
Li Chun[14]


Wang Zhanyuan[14]


  Hubei warlord
Chen Guangyuan[14]


Wang Chengbin


  Ethnic Manchu
Peng Shoushen


Kou Yingjie


Qi Xieyuan


  1920–1924 Inspector-general of Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Anhui Provinces. Later Japanese puppet, executed after the war.[15]

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 Shanhai Pass and had a close relationship with Japan.[16] 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


  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


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


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


  1925–1928 Ruler of the Shandong province
Zhang Haipeng


Zhang Jinghui


  Afterwards Prime Minister of Manchukuo
Li Jinglin[17]


Tang Yulin


Wan Fulin


Wu Junsheng


  Commander of Fengtian Cavalry
Yang Yuting


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


  "King of East Shandong"; defected to KMT during the Northern Expedition,[18] defeated by Han Fuju
Xu Lanzhou


  1895–1928 originally a Qing general, later served under Zhang Zuolin[19]

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


  1911–1949 Military ruler of Shanxi; Joined the Kuomintang but later rebelled against Chiang Kai-shek in the Central Plains War.[20] Defeated by the Communists in 1949, withdrew to Taiwan
Fu Zuoyi


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




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.[20] It was aligned to the Soviet Union.[21]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Yuxiang


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


  1918–1936 Shaanxi ruler from 1926, helped kidnap Chiang Kai-shek in the Xi'an Incident.[22]
Sun Yue


Liu Zhenhua


  Originally Anhui clique, then defected to the Zhili clique, then Guominjun and finally to the KMT.[23]
Hu Jingyi


  1924–1925 Military governor of Henan
Deng Baoshan


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


Bie Tingfang


  Henan warlord; switched to KMT
Sun Dianying


  Henan bandit; allied with Feng Yuxiang, Zhang Zongchang[24]
Song Zheyuan


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


  1913–1936 Northern Shaanxi warlord, cooperated with various other cliques.[25]
Han Fuqu


  1930–1938 Chairman of the Shandong Province; Defected to KMT in 1930.[18] arrested and shot after abandoning his province when the Second Sino-Japanese War started.
Shi Yousan


  1912–1940 Chairman of Anhui province, 1929. Known as the "Defector General" for his repeated defections between various warlords, KMT factions, communists and Japan.[26]
Fan Zhongxiu


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


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



Ma cliqueEdit

The "Three Mas of the Northwest" originated in the Kansu Braves militia formed during the Dungan revolt. 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.[27]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Ma Anliang


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


  1912–1928 De facto leader after Ma Anliang;[28] Ruler of Ningxia[29] and Suiyuan[30][31][32][33]
Ma Hongbin


  1921–1928 brief acting Chairman of Gansu Province and Ningxia Province[34]
Ma Hongkui


  1923–1949 Army commander then ruler of Ningxia Province from 1932[35]
Ma Zhongying


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


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


served under Ma Zhongying
Zhang Peiyuan


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


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


  1931–1938 Ninghai Army ruler of Qinghai province
Ma Bufang


  1938–1945 Ninghai Army ruler of Qinghai province
Ma Buqing


  Ninghai Army

Xinjiang cliqueEdit

Under Yang Zengxin, the clique organized the defence against the Soviet encroachment,[36][37] but later closely affiliated with the Soviet Union.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yang Zengxin


  1912–1928 Ruler of the Xinjiang province from the Qing era. Always recognized whichever government was dominant.[36]
Ma Fuxing


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


  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


  1928–1934 Ruler of the Xinjiang province.
Sheng Shicai


  1933–1944 Ruler of the Xinjiang province and Soviet puppet

Manchu RestorationistsEdit

In July 1917 a clique of generals and officials were able to conquer and occupy Beijing, temporarily restoring the deposed child emperor Puyi for a little over a week.[38]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Zhang Xun


  July 1–12, 1917 Leader of the Manchu restoration, installed himself as Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet
Kang Youwei


  July 1–12, 1917 Helped Zhang Xun in the restoration
Jiang Chaozong


  July 1–12, 1917

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.


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,[39] 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


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


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


  1926–1950 Senior General in the Kuomintang
Hu Hanmin


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


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


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


  1918–1922 Shaanxi revolutionary commander, later headed the Control Yuan.[40]

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


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


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


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


  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


  1911–1916 Leader of the Yunnan Army
Zhu De


  1911–1920 protege of Cai, later Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[41][42]
Tang Jiyao


  1913–1927 Military governor of Yunnan
Hu Ruoyu


  1927 Governor of Yunnan
Long Yun


  1927–1945 Governor of Yunnan
Lu Han


  1937–1949 Ethnic Nuosu and cousin of Long Yun, defected to communists in 1949.[43]

Guizhou warlordsEdit

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

Name Years of dominance Notes
Liu Xianshi


  –1920 originally a Qing dynasty commander, neutral between the Beiyang and KMT, overthrown by his nephew Wang Wenhua.[44]
Wang Wenhua


  1920–1921 KMT-supporting warlord, assassinated by Yuan Zuming.[45]
Yuan Zuming


  1921–1927 Initial aligned to the Beiyang government, nominally acknowledged the KMT government in 1926, but assassinated a year later.[46]
Wang Jialie


  1929–1935 Nominally acknowledged KMT rule, deposed by KMT during the pursuit of the Long March.[47]

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.[48]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Cen Chunxuan


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


Chen Binghun


Shen Hongying


  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.[49][20]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Li Zongren


Bai Chongxi


  1923–1949 Muslim, Head of the Chinese Islamic National Salvation Federation,[50][51] widely considered successor-designate of Chiang.
Huang Shaoxiong


Xia Wei



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


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


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


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


Chen Jitang



Sichuan cliqueEdit

During the period from 1927 to 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


  1912–1913 Tongmenghui revolutionary, founder of the clique[52]
Liu Cunhou


  Qing dynasty commander, joined the KMT in 1928.[53]
Xiong Kewu


  Revolutionary, eliminated in 1925.[54]
Li Jiayu


Luo Zezhou


Liu Xiang


Yang Sen


Liu Wenhui


  later warlord of Xikang Province, defected to the Communist Party[55]
Tian Songyao


Deng Xihou



Hunan warlordsEdit

Hunan Province was ruled by successive autonomous warlords.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Tan Yankai


  1912–1920 Kuomintang politician
Zhao Hengti


  1920–1926 friendly to the Zhili Clique
Tang Shengzhi


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


  subordinate of Tang; later Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[56]
He Long


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


Cheng Qian


  KMT commander for Hunan


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External linksEdit