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. Followed by the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916, and 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 nominal Kuomintang rule, and remained until the end of the Chinese Civil War 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.

Northern Factions

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 clique

  • The Anhui Clique was so named because many of its most influential members were from Anhui, including founder Duan Qirui.
  • The clique was removed from power after the Zhili-Anhui War and slowly faded from prominence.
Name Years of dominance Notes
Duan Qirui Duanqirui.jpg 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 Xu Shuzheng.jpg 1916–1920 - Duan Qirui's right-hand man

- Led expedition that reconquered Mongolia and temporarily brought it back under control

Duan Zhigui Duanzhigui.jpg - Minister of War: 1917-1919
Jin Yunpeng Jin Yunpeng.jpg - Premier: 1919-1921
Wang Yitang Wang Yitang2.jpg - Chairman of the House of Representatives 1918-1920
Lu Yongxiang Lu Yongxiang.jpg - Ruler of Zhejiang and Shanghai, his refusal to hand over Shanghai caused the Second Zhili–Fengtian War
Zhang Jingyao Zhang Jingyao.jpg 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 Wu Guangxin.jpg 1917–1920 - Governor of Hunan[2]
Ni Sichong Ni Sichong.jpg - former supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire; eliminated in the Zhili-Anhui War
Qu Tongfeng[3]
Chen Shufan Chen Shufan.jpg 1916-1921
Zheng Shiqi Zhengshiqi.jpg 1923-1925 Military governor of Shandong (1923–25) and Anhui (1925).[4]

Zhili clique

Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Guozhang Fengguozhang.jpg 1916–1919 - Served as President 1917-1918

- Died in 1919 and was succeeded by Cao Kun

Cao Kun Cao kun.jpg 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 Wu pei fu 430.jpg 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 Sunchuanfang.jpg 1919–1927 - Controlled most of the Lower Yangtze

- Defeated in the Northern Expedition

Lu Jianzhang supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire, killed by Fengtian clique in 1918[7][8]
Li Chun[9] Li Chun.jpg
Wang Zhanyuan[9] Wang Zhanyuan3.jpg Hubei warlord
Chen Guangyuan[9]
Wang Chengbin Wang Chengbin.jpg Ethnic Manchu

Fengtian clique

Name Years of dominance Notes
Zhang Zuolin Zhang Zuo-lin.png 1916–1928 - Leader of the Fengtian Army, ruler of Manchuria

- Assassinated by a Japanese military officer for his failure to halt the expansion of the Kuomintang

Zhang Xueliang Zhang Xueliang.jpg 1928–1937 - Son and successor to Zhang Zuolin

- Eventually reconciled the Fengtian clique with the Kuomintang

Guo Songling GuoSongling.jpg 1920–1925 - General in the Fengtian Army

- Rebelled during the Anti-Fengtian War but was defeated and killed in action

Zhang Zongchang Zhang Chongchan.jpg 1925–1928 Ruler of the Shandong province
Zhang Haipeng Zhang Haipeng.jpg
Zhang Jinghui Zhang Jinghui2.JPG Afterwards Prime Minister of Manchukuo
Li Jinglin[10] Li Jinglin.jpg
Tang Yulin Tang Yulin.jpg
Wan Fulin Wan Fulin.jpg
Wu Junsheng Wu Junsheng.jpg - Commander of Fengtian Cavalry
Yang Yuting Yang Yuting.jpg - 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[11], defeated by Han Fuqu

Shanxi clique

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yan Xishan Yan Xishan.png 1911–1949 - Military ruler of Shanxi
- Joined the Kuomintang but later rebelled against Chiang Kai-shek in the Central Plains War[12]
- Defeated by the Communists in 1949, withdrew to Taiwan
Fu Zuoyi Fu Zuoyi.jpg 1927–1949 - ruler of Suiyuan; defected to the Communists in 1949


  • Also known as the Northwestern Army; originally sympathetic to the Kuomintang but rebelled in the 1930 Central Plains War and was defeated.[12]
Name Years of dominance Notes
Feng Yuxiang 02fengyuxiang-1-.jpg 1924–1934 Leader of the Northwest, initially Zhili warlord
Sun Yue Sun Yue.jpg 1924–1928
Hu Jingyi Hu JIngyi2.jpg 1924–1925 Military governor of Henan
Bie Tingfang Bie Tingfang.jpg Henan warlord; switched to KMT
Sun Dianying Sun Dianying.jpg Henan bandit; allied with Feng Yuxiang, Zhang Zongchang[13]
Song Zheyuan Song Zheyuan.jpg 1927–1930 Defected to KMT in 1930, warlord of Chahar Province and Rehe Province
Han Fuqu Han Fuju.JPG 1930–1938 Chairman of the Shandong Province; Defected to KMT in 1930.[11] arrested and shot after abandoning his province when the Second Sino-Japanese War started.

Ma clique

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 were defeated by Soviet Red Army intervention.[14]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Ma Anliang 1912–1918 Ruler of the Gansu province, Outranked all the other Ma Clique generals.
Ma Fuxiang Ma Fuxiang.jpg 1912–1928 De facto leader after Ma Anliang[15]; Ruler of Ningxia[16] and Suiyuan[17][18][19][20]
Ma Hongbin Ma Hongbin.jpg 1921–1928 brief acting Chairman of Gansu Province and Ningxia Province[21]
Ma Hongkui Ma Hongkui.jpg 1923–1949 Army commander then ruler of Ningxia Province from 1932[22]
Ma Zhongying Ma Zhongying.jpg 1929–1934 Chief of the 36th Division and ruler of Southern Xinjiang (Tunganistan)
Ma Hushan Ma Hushan 1937.jpg 1934–1950 Chief of the 36th Division and ruler of Southern Xinjiang (Tunganistan)

Qinghai Province Ninghai Army

Name Years of dominance Notes
Ma Qi Ma Qi.jpg 1915–1931 Ruler of the Qinghai province, influential in Gansu province
Ma Lin Ma Lin.jpg 1931–1938 Ruler of the Qinghai province
Ma Bufang Ma Bufang.jpg 1938–1945 Ruler of the Qinghai province
Ma Buqing Ma Buqing.jpg

Allied to the Ma Clique

Name Years of dominance Notes
Zhang Peiyuan 1929–1934 Commander of Ili, allied with the Ma Clique against the Xinjiang Clique

Xinjiang clique

Closely affliated with the Soviet Union.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Yang Zengxin General Yang Zengxin.jpg 1912–1928 Ruler of the Xinjiang province.
Ma Fuxing Ma Fuxing Titai of Kashgar.jpg 1912–1924 Titai of Kashgar, Military Commander of Southern Xinjiang
Ma Shaowu Ma Shaowu.jpg 1924–1937 Tao-yin of Kashgar, Military Commander of Southern Xinjiang
Jin Shuren Jin Shuren.jpg 1928–1934 Ruler of the Xinjiang province.
Sheng Shicai Governor Sheng Shicai.jpg 1933-1944 Ruler of the Xinjiang province and Soviet puppet

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.


Derived from the Tongmenghui revolutionary organization and established a rival government of the Republic of China in Guangdong Province from 1913 to 1928. Nominally reunified China in 1928 after the Northern Expedition.[23]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Sun Yat-sen Sunyatsen1.jpg 1912–1925 Founder of the Republic of China and leader of the Kuomintang
Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek.jpg 1926–1975 Military leader of the Kuomintang and later President
He Yingqin Hyy.png 1926–1950 Senior General in the Kuomintang
Hu Hanmin Hhm.png 1925–1936 Leader of the right wing faction of the Kuomintang
Liao Zhongkai Liao Zhongkai.jpg 1923–1925 Architect of the First United Front with the Chinese Communist Party
Wang Jingwei Wang Jingwei.png 1925–1944 Leader of the left wing faction of the Kuomintang, later Japanese puppet

Yunnan clique

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 Cai E.jpg 1911–1916 Leader of the Yunnan Army
Zhu De 1916 Zhu De.jpg 1911–1920 protege of Cai, later Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[24][25]
Tang Jiyao Tangjiyao.jpg 1913-1927 Military governor of Yunnan
Hu Ruoyu 1927 Governor of Yunnan
Long Yun Long Yun2.jpg 1927-1945 Governor of Yunnan


Name Years of dominance Notes
Wang Jialie Wang Jialie.jpg 1931-1935

Old Guangxi clique

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.[26]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Cen Chunxuan Cen Chunxuan (1).jpg 1916–1920 Qing Dynasty Governor and Military Governor of Guangdong
Lu Rongting Lu Rongting.jpg 1912–1922
Chen Binghun Chen Bingkun.jpg 1916-1921
Shen Hongying Shen Hongying.jpg 1923-1925 Military governor of Guangdong (1923-1924)

New Guangxi Clique

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.[27][12]

Name Years of dominance Notes
Bai Chongxi Minister1.jpg 1923–1949
Huang Shaoxiong Huang Shaohong.jpg 1923–1949
Li Zongren Lizhongren.jpg 1923–1949

Guangdong Warlords

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 Long Jiguang.jpg 1911-1918 Qing commander, supporter of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China, later affliated with the Anhui Clique
Chen Jiongming Chen Jion-ming.png 1911–1924 Initially allied to KMT, defected to Zhili clique in 1922 but defeated by Chiang Kai-Shek
Ye Ju Ye Ju.jpg 1929–1936 Initially Long Jiguang's deputy, then Chen Jiongming's deputy
Chen Jitang Chen Jitang.jpg 1929–1936

Sichuan clique

During the period from 1927–1938, Sichuan was in the hands of five 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
Liu Wenhui Liu Wenhui.jpg later warlord of Xikang Province, defected to the Communist Party[28]
Liu Xiang Liu Xiang.jpg 1921–1938
Yang Sen Yang Sen.jpg
Tian Songyao Tian Songyao.jpg
Deng Xihou Deng Xihou.jpg

Hunan Warlords

Hunan Province was ruled by successive autonomous warlords.

Name Years of dominance Notes
Tan Yankai Tan Yankai.jpg 1912-1920 Kuomintang politician
Zhao Hengti Zhao Hengti.jpg 1920-1926 friendly to the Zhili Clique
Tang Shengzhi Tang Shengzhi.jpg 1926-1927 Defected to Chiang during the Northern Expedition, rebelled against Chiang during the Central Plains War
Peng Dehuai Peng 3.jpg subordinate of Tang; later Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Red Army[29]
He Jian He Jian2.jpg 1927-


Rulers: Chinese Administrative divisions

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