Zhang Zuolin (simplified Chinese: 张作霖; traditional Chinese:
張作霖; pinyin: Zhāng Zuòlín; Wade–Giles: Chang Tso-lin)
(1875–1928) was the warlord of
Manchuria from 1916–28, during the
Warlord Era in China. He successfully invaded
China proper in October
1924 in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War. He gained control of Peking,
including China's internationally recognized government, in April
1926. The economy of Manchuria, the basis of Zhang's power, was
overtaxed by his adventurism and collapsed in the winter of 1927–28.
He was defeated by the Nationalists under
Chiang Kai-shek in May 1928.
He was killed by a bomb planted by a Japanese
Kwantung Army officer on
4 June 1928. Although Zhang had been Japan's proxy in China,
Japanese militarists were infuriated by his failure to stop the
advance of the Nationalists.
Zhang was fiercely anti-Republican and supported the restoration of
Qing dynasty. His nicknames include the "Old Marshal" (大帥, P:
Dàshuài, W: Ta-shuai), "Rain Marshal" (雨帥, P: Yǔshuài, W:
Yü-shuai) and "Mukden Tiger". The American press referred to him as
"Marshal Chang Tso-lin,
Tuchun of Manchuria".
1.1 Early life
1.2 Growth of power in Manchuria
2 Fortress Manchuria
3 Japanese and Russian influences
4 Civil reform
5 War in north China
6 Regional development
7 The beginning of the end
8 The end
9 See also
Zhang was born in 1875 in Haicheng, a county in southern Fengtian
province (modern Liaoning) in northeastern China, to poor parents. He
received little formal education, and the only non-military trade that
he learned in his lifetime was a small amount of veterinary
science. His grandfather had come to the northeast after fleeing a
Zhili (modern Hebei) in 1821. As a child, Zhang was known by
the nickname "Pimple." He spent his early youth hunting, fishing and
brawling. He hunted hares in the Manchurian countryside to help
feed his family. In appearance he was thin and rather short.
It was asserted that he was a
Han Chinese Bannerman by Zhang.
When he became old enough to work, he got a job at a stable in an inn,
where he became familiar with many bandit gangs operating in Manchuria
at the time. As early as 1896 Zhang himself was a member of a
well-known bandit gang. In one version of his beginnings as a
warlord, during a hunting trip he spotted a wounded bandit (Honghuzi)
on horseback, killed him, took his horse and became a bandit himself.
By his late 20s he had formed a small personal army, acquiring
something of a
Robin Hood reputation. His bandit career was
euphemistically referred to as his experience in the "University of
the Green Forest", as he was illiterate.
In 1900 the
Boxer Rebellion broke out, and Zhang's gang joined the
imperial army. In peacetime he hired his men out as escorts for
traveling merchants. In the
Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 the
Japanese Army employed Zhang and his men as mercenaries. At the end of
Qing dynasty Zhang managed to have his men recognised as a
regiment of the regular Chinese army, patrolling the borders of
Manchuria and suppressing other bandit gangs. Dr. Louis Livingston
Seaman met Zhang during the Russo-Japanese War, and took several
photographs of him and his troops as well as writing an account of his
Growth of power in Manchuria
During the 1911
Xinhai Revolution some military commanders wanted to
declare independence for Manchuria, but the pro-
Manchu governor used
Zhang's regiment to set up a "Manchurian People's Peacekeeping
Council", intimidating would-be rebels and revolutionaries. For his
efforts in preventing civil disturbance and revolution, Zhang was
named the Vice Minister of Military Affairs.
On 1 January 1912
Sun Yat-sen became the first President of the
Republic of China
Republic of China in Nanjing. Yuan Shikai, operating out of Beijing,
sent other northern military commanders a series of telegrams,
advising them to oppose Sun's administration. To gain Zhang's loyalty,
Yuan sent him a large shipment of military provisions; Zhang sent Yuan
an enormous (and costly) ginseng root in return to symbolize their
friendship. Zhang then murdered a number of leading figures in his
base city of
Shenyang (then known as "Mukden"), and was rewarded with
a series of impressive-sounding titles by the nearly defunct Manchu
court. When it became obvious to Zhang that Yuan would usurp control
of the central government, he endorsed Yuan's rule over that of either
Sun or the Manchus. After Zhang put down a rebellion in June 1912,
Yuan raised him to the rank of Lieutenant-General. In 1913 Yuan
attempted to move Zhang away from
Manchuria by having him transferred
to Mongolia, but Zhang reminded Yuan of his successful efforts to keep
local order, and refused.
In 1915, when it became clear that Yuan intended to declare himself
emperor, Zhang was one of the few officials who supported him. Besides
political opportunism, Zhang probably recognized that Yuan's monarchy
would likely be short-lived and could be attacked later. Because
Zhang's main rival for power in Manchuria, Zhang Xiluan, when asked
about Yuan's ambitions, had told Yuan to "think about it a bit more",
Zhang Xiluan was recalled to Beijing, while
Zhang Zuolin was
In March 1916, after many southern provinces revolted against Yuan
Shikai's government, Zhang supported him but expelled a local military
governor sent by
Duan Qirui to replace him, with some support from
local Japanese officers in the Kwangtung Army.
Zhang's authority and Yuan appointed Zhang superintendent of military
Liaoning (known as "Fengtian" until 1929). After Yuan died
in June 1916, the new central government named Zhang both military and
civil governor of Liaoning, the essential components of a successful
Zhang, a monarchist, had always remained cordial with Puyi, the last
Emperor of China, and had sent him a gift of £1,600 for his wedding
as a token of loyalty. In 1917 he plotted with Zhang Xun, a
Qing-loyalist general, to restore the abdicated
Puyi to the
throne. After Zhang Xun rebelled,
Zhang Zuolin remained neutral
and actually supported
Duan Qirui in suppressing Zhang Xun after it
became clear that Duan would win. Zhang was able to absorb soldiers of
nearby commanders who had been linked to the rebellion, increasing his
own power. He intervened and took control of China's northernmost
province, Heilongjiang, after a rebellion there forced the local
governor to flee. Because the governor of
Jilin had been linked to the
attempt to restore the monarchy, Zhang had allies from Jilin
successfully agitate for the governor's dismissal in Beijing. By 1918
Zhang's control of
Manchuria was complete, except for the small areas
held by the Japanese Empire.
A Tianjin-based honghuzi leader negotiated with Zhang Zuolin.
Zhang Zuolin, ruler of
Manchuria and Chinese warlord.
In 1920 Zhang was the supreme ruler of Manchuria. The central
government acknowledged this by appointing him Governor-General of the
Three Eastern Provinces. He began to surround himself in luxury,
building a chateau-style home near Shenyang, and had at least five
wives (an accepted practice of any powerful or wealthy Chinese at the
time). In 1925 his personal fortune was estimated at over 18 million
yuan (roughly $2.6 million).
His power rested on the Fengtian Army, which was composed of about
100,000 men in 1922 and almost triple that number by the end of the
decade. It had obtained large stocks of weapons left over from World
War I and included naval units, an air force and an armaments
industry. Zhang integrated a large number of local militias into his
army, and thus prevented
Manchuria from falling into the chaos which
China proper at the time.
Jilin province was ruled by a
military governor, who was said to be a cousin of Zhang; Heilongjiang
had its own regional warlord, who never displayed any ambitions
outside the province.
Manchuria officially remained a part of the Republic of
China, it became more or less an independent kingdom isolated from
China by its geography and protected by the Fengtian Army. The only
pass at Shanhaiguan, where the
Great Wall meets the sea, could easily
be closed. In a time when the central government was barely able to
pay the salaries of its civil servants, no more revenues were
forwarded to Beijing. In 1922 Zhang took control of the only rail
link, the Beijing-
Shenyang Railway, north of the
Great Wall and also
kept these revenues. Only postal and customs revenues were continued
to be sent to Beijing, because they had been pledged to the victorious
foreign powers after the failed
Boxer rebellion of 1900, and Zhang
feared their intervention.
It was proposed that Zhang Zuoling's domain (the "Three Eastern
Provinces") take Outer Mongolia under its administration by the Bogda
Khan and Bodo in 1922 after pro-Soviet Mongolian Communists seized
control of Outer Mongolia.
Japanese and Russian influences
Manchuria shared a long border with Russia, which had been weakened
militarily after the October Revolution. The line of the Chinese
Eastern Railway, which was under Russian control, ran through northern
Manchuria and the land immediately on either side of the tracks was
considered to be Russian territory. From 1917 to about 1924 the new
Communist government in Moscow was having such difficulties
establishing itself in
Siberia that often it was not clear who was in
charge of operating the railway on the Russian side. Still, Zhang
avoided a showdown and after 1924 the Soviets re-established their
dominance over the railroad.
The precariousness of the situation was demonstrated by an outbreak of
pneumonic plague in Hailar, a town at the western end of the Chinese
Eastern Railway, in October 1920 Chinese troops were present in great
number and turned railway quarantine into a farce. The soldiers freed
some of their comrades who had been imprisoned as contacts, and they
escaped to the mining town of Dalainor on the Amur River, where a
quarter of the population died. In the other direction, all of the
towns along the
Chinese Eastern Railway
Chinese Eastern Railway as far as
infected. Around 9,000 died, while only a few contacts were able to
reach south Manchuria.
The Japanese posed more of a problem. After the Russo-Japanese war of
1904-05 they had gained two important outposts in south Manchuria: The
Guandong (Kwantung) Leased Territory consisted of a 218-square-mile
(560 km2) peninsula in the southernmost part of Manchuria. It
included the ice-free port of Dairen (known as
Dalian in Chinese),
which became the main link to Japan. Reaching northward from the
South Manchurian Railway
South Manchurian Railway passed through
to as Mukden by the Japanese), linking up with the Chinese Eastern
Railway in Changchun. The land on either side of the railway tracks
remained extraterritorial, now being controlled by the Japanese
Kwantung Army. This army maintained 7,000-14,000 men in Manchuria,
tolerating and being tolerated by the Fengtian Army, although Zhang
kept up a war of words, playing on anti-Japanese sentiments in the
At the beginning of the 1920s Zhang transformed
Manchuria from an
unimportant frontier region to one of the most prosperous parts of
China. He had inherited a financially weak provincial government--in
1917 Fengtian faced ten outstanding loans from foreign-controlled
consortia and banks totaling over 12 million yuan. Zhang chose Wang
Yongjiang, who had served as head of a regional tax office, for the
task of solving Fengtian's financial problems. He was appointed
Director of the Bureau of Finance.
A number of currencies were circulating in the province, as was the
custom in China, and the paper notes issued by the provincial
government had experienced a steady depreciation in value. Wang
decided to switch to a silver standard and set the initial value of
the new silver yuan equal to the Japanese gold yen, which was accepted
Korea and Manchuria. Much to the surprise of the Chinese
the new currency even gained in value against the gold yen, although
Japanese businessmen claimed that it was not backed up by sufficient
silver reserves. Wang then used the newly gained credibility to
introduce another note, the Fengtian dollar, which was not convertible
into silver anymore. However, it was accepted by the government for
the payment of taxes, a sign of faith in its own currency.
Next Wang turned to the chaotic tax collecting system. Because of his
former job, he was well acquainted with the abuses of the system and
introduced a number of controls. The provincial government had also
invested government funds in various enterprises, many of which were
poorly managed. Wang ordered a review of government-sponsored firms.
From 1918 revenues rose steadily, and by 1921 all outstanding loans
had been repaid and there was even a budget surplus. Wang was rewarded
by being appointed Civil Governor of Fengtian province while remaining
Director of the Bureau of Finance. He retained the title of Military
Governor of Fengtian. Still, more than two-thirds of the budget was
allocated to the military.
War in north China
Map showing the territory controlled by
Zhang Zuolin (in green) during
Northern Expedition period
In the summer of 1920 Zhang made a foray into north China on the other
side of the Great Wall, trying to topple Duan Qirui, the leading
warlord of Beijing. He did this by supporting another warlord, Cao
Kun, with troops and they successfully ousted Duan. As a reward, Zhang
was granted control over most of inner Mongolia to the west of
Manchuria. He had become a figure of national prominence, but he was
confronted by Wu Peifu, a divisional commander of the North China
Zhili clique, which was based in the province of
Zhili that surrounded
Beijing. In the spring of 1922 Zhang personally took the position of
Commander-in-Chief of the Fengtian Army, and on 19 April his forces
entered China proper. Fighting started three days later, and on 4 May
they were seriously defeated by the
Zhili Army in what came to be
known as the First Zhili-Fengtian War. Three thousand troops had been
killed and 7,000 wounded, and Zhang's units retreated to Shanhaiguan
Zhili forces were in control of Beijing, Zhang's image as a
national leader had been destroyed and he reacted by declaring
Manchuria independent from
Beijing in May 1922.
On 22 June Wang left
Shenyang for Japanese-controlled Dalian,
allegedly for treatment of an eye infection. From there he challenged
Zhang by demanding restrictions to military spending and complete
control over civil affairs. Zhang gave in, lifted martial law and
agreed to a separation of civil and military administration in all of
the three provinces. Wang returned on 6 August, thereby ensuring
Manchuria's continued stability.
In the following years Wang realised a far-reaching development plan.
He tried to bring more workers into the booming Manchurian economy.
Most had come on a temporary basis, returning to their homes in north
China in winter. The Manchurian government now encouraged them to
bring women and children, and settle permanently. As an incentive,
they were made eligible for reduced fares on all Chinese-owned
railways in Manchuria, received funds to build a dwelling and were
promised total ownership after five years of continuous occupation.
Rent for the land was canceled for the first years. Most were sent to
the interior of Manchuria, where they reclaimed land for agriculture,
or worked in forestry or mines. Between 1924-29 the amount of land
under tillage increased from 20 to 35 million acres (80,000 to
Manchuria's economy boomed while chaos and uncertainty reigned in the
rest of China. An especially ambitious project was to break the
Japanese monopoly on cotton textiles by creating a large mill, which,
much to Japan's sorrow, succeeded. The government also invested in
other enterprises, among them quite a number of Sino-Japanese
companies. During this time the
Fengtian Army successfully kept a lid
on Manchuria's many bandits. Various railway lines were built, among
them the Shenyang-Hailong line, which opened in 1925. In 1924 Wang
amalgamated three regional banks into the Official Bank of the Three
Eastern Provinces, and became its General Director. By this he tried
to create a development bank and at the same time keep accurate
records of military spending.
The beginning of the end
After the disastrous defeat of 1922, Zhang had reorganized his
Fengtian Army, started a training program and bought new equipment,
including mobile radios and machine guns. In the autumn of 1924
fighting broke out again in central China. Zhang saw an opportunity to
capture north China and
Beijing and become head of the central
government. While most other warlord armies fought along the Yangtze
River, Zhang attacked north China. The
Second Zhili–Fengtian War had
begun. In a surprise move, a
Zhili commander, Feng Yuxiang, toppled
Cao Kun and took control of Beijing. He shared power with Zhang and
both appointed the same
Duan Qirui he had ousted in 1920. By August
Fengtian Army controlled four large provinces within the
Great Wall (Zhili—where
Beijing was located, but not Beijing
Jiangsu and Anhui). One unit even marched as far
south as the city of Shanghai. However, the military situation was so
unstable that Sun Chuanfang, a
Zhili clique warlord whose sphere of
influence extended along the Yangtze, managed to push back the
Fengtian Army again. By November Zhang held only a small corner of
north China, including a corridor connecting
Beijing with Manchuria.
Beijing continued into the spring of 1926.
Manchuria was placed under martial law again, while its economy
disintegrated under the burden of the insatiable war machine. Old
taxes were increased and new taxes invented. Zhang demanded that more
paper money be printed, out of step with silver reserves. A most
serious crisis erupted when, in November 1925,
Guo Songling revolted
and ordered his troops to turn back and march on Shenyang. The
Japanese brought in reinforcements to protect their interests in
Manchuria, but Zhang managed to put down the revolt in December. Even
more seriously, Wang Yongjiang, now the civil governor of Manchuria,
realized that his work of nine years had been in vain. He left
Shenyang in February 1926 and resigned. Before his death from kidney
failure on 1 November 1927, Wang, totally disillusioned, did not reply
when Zhang asked him to return, severing all connections with Zhang.
Zhang Zuolin at the office of the Generalissimo on 24 May 1928, before
Main article: Huanggutun incident
With the loss of his financial expert, Zhang took drastic action: in
March 1926 he appointed a new governor, whose only job was to supply
Fengtian Army with large amounts of money. He issued new
provincial bonds, forcing businesses and local communities to purchase
them. (Early in 1927, he even entered into the opium trade by selling
expensive licenses for the sale and use of opium.) Bank reserves and
railway revenues were plundered, while ever more paper notes were
issued. The best indicator of Manchuria's economic decline was the
value of the Fengtian dollar (yuan), which had started on parity with
the Japanese gold yen: by February 1928, 40 yuan was equivalent to 1
gold yen. In the winter of 1926, Manchuria's economy collapsed.
Workers went on strike, hungry immigrants flooded back into Shenyang
because they could not find any work.
Zhang Zuolin provided weapons to anti-
Guominjun Muslim rebels led by
Ma Tingrang during the Muslim conflict in Gansu (1927–30).
In June 1926, Zhang had managed to capture Beijing, and rumours
swirled that he was planning to proclaim himself emperor. Instead,
a year later he proclaimed himself Grand Marshal of the Republic of
China, and thus led China's internationally recognized government.
However, the Nationalists led by
Chiang Kai-shek attacked his forces
and in May 1928 the
Fengtian Army had to retreat towards Beijing. In
addition, Japan applied pressure on Zhang to leave
Beijing and return
to Manchuria, and underscored this by bringing reinforcements to
Tianjin. Zhang left
Beijing on 3 June 1928.
The next morning his train reached the outskirts of Shenyang. Here the
line passed through the Japanese-operated South
Col. Kōmoto Daisaku, an officer of the Japanese Kwantung Army, had
planted a bomb along the tracks, which exploded when Zhang's train
passed under the viaduct. At the
Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal
Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946,
Okada Keisuke testified that Zhang was murdered because the Guandong
(Kwantung) army was infuriated by his failure to stop Chiang's army,
which was backed by Moscow, Tokyo's strategic rival. For two weeks
Zhang's death was kept secret while the scramble for power was
decided. That is why, according to an announcement issued by the
Fengtian Army, he officially died on 21 June 1928. Zhang was succeeded
by the eldest son of his official wife, Zhang Xueliang.
History of the Republic of China
^ Xiao, Lin, and Li 118
^ Hata 288
^ "War?" Time Sept. 8, 1924
^ a b c d Bonavia 63
^ Pamela Kyle Crossley (1990). Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu
Generations and the End of the
Qing World. Princeton University Press.
pp. 199–. ISBN 0-691-00877-9.
^ Behr 145
^ Jonathan Fenby (1 January 2003). Generalissimo:
Chiang Kai-shek and
the China He Lost. Simon and Schuster. pp. 103–.
Louis Livingston Seaman (1904). From Tokio through
the Japanese. PRINTED AT THE APPLETON PRESS, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: S.
Appleton. p. 150. Retrieved 18 March 2012. THE HEAD OF THE NOBBEN
BANDITS OF MANCHUNIA In the centre, with the author on his right and
Capt. Boyd, U.S.A., on his left, is General Chung Tzor Lin, the
Manchurian Bandit who is now an officer in the Chinese
Army LONDON SIDNEY APPLETON COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY D. APPLETON AND
COMPANY Original from the University of California Digitized Nov 21,
Louis Livingston Seaman (1904). From Tokio through
the Japanese. PRINTED AT THE APPLETON PRESS, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: S.
Appleton. p. 158. Retrieved 18 March 2012. GEN. CHUNG TZOR LIN,
ONCE THE HEAD OF THE ROBBER BANDS OF MANCHURIA, IN FRONT OF HIS YAMEN
Showing a portion of his cavalry guard, and the author standing at his
left LONDON SIDNEY APPLETON COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY D. APPLETON AND
COMPANY Original from the University of California Digitized Nov 21,
^ Bonavia 63-64
^ Bonavia 64-65
^ Bonavia 66
^ Bonavia 66-67
^ Behr 105
^ Bonavia 67-68
^ Christopher Pratt Atwood (January 2002). Young Mongols and
vigilantes in inner Mongolia's interregnum decades, 1911-1931. Brill.
p. 361. ISBN 978-90-04-12607-7.
^ Owen Lattimore; Sh Nachukdorji. Nationalism and Revolution in
Mongolia. Brill Archive. pp. 171–. GGKEY:4D2GY636WK5.
^ Nathan, Carl F. (1967). Plague prevention and politics in Manchuria
1910-1931 Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 66.
^ "Chang and the Dragon Throne". The New York Times. 1927-11-13.
ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
^ "MYSTERY ENVELOPS; Some Say Ex-
Peking Dictator Is Dead, but Others
Insist He Is Alive, Badly Wounded". The New York Times. 1928-06-07.
ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
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Behr, Edward. The Last Emperor. Bantam. 1987. ISBN 0-553-34474-9.
Bonavia, David. China's Warlords. New York: Oxford University Press.
1995. ISBN 0-19-586179-5
* Hata, Ikuhiro. "Continental Expansion: 1905-1941". In The Cambridge
History of Japan. Vol. 6. Cambridge University Press. 1988
Suleski, Ronald. (2002). Civil Government in
Warlord China: Tradition,
Manchuria New York: Peter Lang.
"War?" TIME Magazine September 8, 1924. Retrieved August 24 2011.
Xiao Xaioming; Lin Liangqi; Li Zhenguo, eds. (2006). Liaoning, Home of
the Manchus and Cradle of
Qing Empire (First ed.). Foreign Languages
Press, Beijing. ISBN 7-119-04517-2.
as President of the Republic of China
Generalissimo of the Military Government
as Chairman of the National Government
Empire of China (Yuan Shikai)
National Protection War
Death of Yuan Shikai
Constitutional Protection Movement
Paris Peace Conference
May Fourth Movement
Occupation of Outer Mongolia
1st National CPC Congress
First Zhili–Fengtian War
First United Front
Second Zhili–Fengtian War
May Thirtieth Movement
Zhongshan Warship Incident
Looting of the Eastern Mausoleum
Flag Replacement of the Northeast
Warlord Rebellion in northeastern Shandong
Central Plains War
Guangdong (Chen Jitang)
Communist Party (CPC)
Republic of China
Republic of China (1912–1949)
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