Zhang Zuolin's rule of Manchuria : the structure of warlordism in republican era China



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The Warlord Period (1912-1928) was characterized by endemic warfare and chaos. This thesis attempts to offer greater understanding of the so-called warlord system in operation after the fall of the Qing dynasty, and in this end to use Zhang Zuolin as specific example of this system. It my intention that by highlighting the nature of Zhang's rule, characterized by factionalism and a non-autocratic structure, a more systematic understanding of the convoluted nature of politics during the Republican period will be reached. I have chosen to organize this paper into three distinct sections: 1) a macro-level analysis of warlordism along with theoretical concerns and operational definition of the term "warlord," 2) tracing the rise of Zhang Zuolin's rise to power, 3) examining of Zhang's state through the relation between civil and military factions. It is my hope that by examining a specific warlord and the context that they operated in, a more balanced understanding of the warlord period can be reached. While I do not disagree with the fact that the Warlord Period was characterized by villainous deeds by regionally based despots, however, the purpose of the warlord regimes transcended mere exploitation. Certainly personal profit and power were definite substantial factors guiding the actions of those in power, but at the same time the role of warlords during the Republican period was more than that of a simple villain. Rather, warlords, such as Zhang Zuolin, acted to fill the void created by the lack of a strong central government in post-imperial China by using their military power to maintain some semblance of a functioning regional government. A reappraisal of the warlord period is needed, which includes a more objective analysis of the role, function, and legacy of these regional power holders that is not dominated by value laden judgments. I do not intend to offer an apologist revision of history, but merely provide an objective analysis that also takes into account the context of the system that guided many of the warlord's actions.