Warlord Rebellion in northeastern Shandong
|Warlord Rebellion in northeastern Shandong|
Zhang Zongchang, instigator and leader of the rebellion
Red Spear Society
White Spear Society
|Commanders and leaders|
|7,000 (initially, later more)||
|Casualties and losses|
|1,500+ killed||Thousands killed, the rest deserted|
|Thousands civilians killed|
The Warlord Rebellion in northeastern Shandong was an uprising of several allied Chinese warlord armies under the leadership of Zhang Zongchang in 1929. The rebels wanted to regain their former territories in Shandong from Liu Zhennian, the man who had defected from Zhang to the Nationalist government in Nanjing after the Northern Expedition. After some initial successes, the rebels were defeated due to the indiscipline of their forces. In the end, the uprising failed to topple Liu Zhennian's rule over eastern Shandong, but resulted in high civilian casualties and widespread destruction at the hands of both sides in the conflict.
After the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916, China disintegrated as various military commanders seized power throughout the country. Organized into cliques, they controlled the Beiyang government and constantly fought against each other for supremacy in what came to be known as the Warlord Era. One of the most notorious warlords from this period was Zhang Zongchang, who was the de facto ruler of Shandong at the time and known for his brutality. Although he was hated and feared by the civilian population due to his authoritarian methods, the so-called "Dogmeat General" commanded a relatively loyal army and managed to keep Shandong under his control for much of the late 1920s; in this he was aided by subordinates such as Chu Yupu and Liu Zhennian. Zhang's rule came to an end, however, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government defeated him during the Northern Expedition in 1928. Like many other warlords, Zhang was not willing to accept his reduced status and exile in Dalian. In order to regain his former power base, he began to plot an uprising with his long-time follower Chu Yupu and another warlord, Huang Feng-chi. Zhang also allegedly tried to enlist the help of the White Russian commanders Grigory Semyonov and General Konstantin Petrovich Nechaev. Historian Philip S. Jowett considered it possible that at least Nechaev actually supported Zhang.
In his plans to recapture Shandong, Zhang Zongchang had a number of important assets: firstly, tens of thousands of his former soldiers still remained in Shandong. Most of them had not been able to join the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) after Zhang's defeat, and remained unemployed. In a precarious economic situation and mostly still loyal to their old commander, they joined his forces for a second time. These Shandong and Zhili Army ex-soldiers were not necessarily reliable nor combat-effective, however. In the face of the Nationalist forces during the Northern Expedition, Zhang's followers had "melted away without putting up much of a fight", and were even more lacking in training and weaponry now that they had been demobilized. While Zhang's forces were not in the best shape, they had the advantage of not having to face regular NRA troops in eastern Shandong, as the area was under the control of Zhang's former associate Liu Zhennian. Liu had defected to the Nationalists during the Northern Expedition, and was awarded to rule eastern Shandong like an "unreformed warlord" without intervention since October 1928. Although de jure part of the NRA, Liu's forces were typical of the average warlord, and suffered from little training in comparison to regular armies. Liu was not particularly loyal to the Nationalist government in Nanjing, and he had no support from the local population which he had terrorized, having driven them into rebellion in some areas. The counties of Laiyang and Zhaoyuan were held by Red Spear Society peasant insurgents by early 1929. Lastly, Zhang possibly had covert support from the Empire of Japan, which increased his confidence in recapturing Shandong.
In spring 1929, the rebellion started with a "well-organized insurrection" at Longkou and Huangxian. Liu's local garrison quickly defected to the rebels. Soon after, Zhang, Chu and Huang landed with a small retinue and began to gather their former troops. After a short time, Huang had gathered an army of 26,000 men and the warlords began to move on Zhifu, the most important city of northeastern Shandong. Their opponent, Liu, had much fewer NRA soldiers at his disposal and would receive only "half-hearted" support from the central government during the rebellion: 200,000 rounds of ammunition and 50,000 yuans as war chest.
After some skirmishes, Zhang arrived at Zhifu with a large force, for whose defense Liu had only been able to muster 7,000 men. The two sides clashed on 14 February, and the rebels were defeated despite their superior numbers, probably because they were badly armed and trained in comparison to the NRA soldiers. Furthermore, Zhang Zongchang, who might have rallied his men, was nowhere to be found during the engagement. The warlord army lost 500 men (200 dead, 300 captured) and, more importantly, 2,000–3,000 rifles as well as 15 machine guns. Zhang and his allies remained undaunted by this first setback, and retreated to Dengzhou where they set up their base. What followed were weeks of "desultory fighting" during which government as well as rebel troops terrorized the local population. Warlord soldiers razed six towns and 50 villages, partially in retaliation for the murder of a rebel officer and an assassination attempt on Zhang, but also out of frustration about the disappointing course of the rebellion as well as simple greed and vandalism. Captured women and girls were sold as slaves on Huangxian's market for 10–20 Mexican dollars (the Mexican silver dollar was the main currency used in China at the time). On the other side, Liu ignored any orders from Chiang Kai-shek, while his men posed as "protectors" at the same time as they robbed and abused the local peasants. Many citizens of Zhifu had so little confidence in the government forces' capabilities to end the rebellion that they fled to Dalian.
This chaos allowed the Red Spear Society which already occupied parts of the hinterland to expand its influence, as many locals turned to the peasant rebels to protect them. Other villages in Shandong formed their own self-defense groups, but these did not necessarily cooperated. In Tung-nan County, at least three irregular armed groups were active at the time of the warlord incursion, namely the small "Southern Army", the 2,000-men strong force of Wang Tzu-ch'eng, and a White Spear Society branch. Although the latter had been explicitly mobilized to protect locals from Zhang Zongchang's forces, it instead had to defend itself from attacks by the other two bands. After defeating them, the White Spears became rather popular and powerful in Shandong's hinterland. Nevertheless, none of the secret socities could openly challenge the rampaging soldiers, as the peasant militias were too poorly armed.
In early March, the warlord alliance and Liu agreed to a five-day ceasefire during which the rebels attempted to bribe Liu to defect back to them. They offered him 100,000 yuan, but Liu "thought his loyalty was worth at least 500,000 yuan". Zhang and his allies did not meet this price, however, and Liu remained on the government side. As no agreement was forthcoming, both Zhang and Liu gathered more troops, and with the truce over, the rebels again marched on Zhifu. They besieged the city, and were soon reinforced by opportunistic bandits and another warlord, Sun Dianying, who brought 7,000 fresh soldiers with him. Eventually, the city's defenders were betrayed by their own comrades: One of Liu's regiments under Colonel Liang defected to the rebels, allowing them to capture the city on 1 April. Initially, the warlord forces behaved relatively disciplined, but on 6 April "they ran amok" in Zhifu, starting a six-day long crime spree of killing, looting and raping. Eventually, the officers managed to regain control over their men and put a stop to the "worst outrages", though at this point the city was largely destroyed. Meanwhile, Zhang used his victory and conquest of more territory to impose heavy taxes on the local population.
Liu and some of his forces had managed to retreat from Zhifu to Muping, where the warlord army again put them under siege. This time, however, the indiscipline and lust for plunder of his troops crippled Zhang's attempt to finally destroy Liu. Losing interest in fighting and preferring to loot the undefended countryside, so many warlord soldiers deserted their posts that Zhang was eventually forced to lift the siege. While Zhang was still surrounded by number of loyal troops, his situation quickly deteriorated and Liu soon retook Zhifu in a counter-offensive. By mid-April, any remaining unity among the warlords' army had collapsed; the rebels fled into the countryside, where they became little more than a number of "disorganised rabbles". The leaders of the insurgency simply attempted to escape the wrath of the government troops and civilian population.
While Zhang was able to return to Dalian on 23 April, Chu Yupu and his remaining 4,500 loyal troops fled to the town of Fushan, whose 20,000 inhabitants they took hostage. The following 13-day siege by Nationalist forces was marked by atrocities at the hands of Chu's soldiers. Besides mass rapes and robberies, the defenders also tied women and children to posts on the town walls in order to use them as human shields. Soldiers from both sides who were wounded in front of the city were left to die, as neither side allowed Red Cross workers to bring them to safety. According to some accounts, Liu and Chu eventually allowed women and children to leave the city on the insistence of Christian missionaries. Jowett considered these accounts "doubtful", however, since "such compassion would be out of character" for either commander. When Fushan finally fell, many women and girls committed mass suicide by jumping into the town's wells because they did not want to bear the perceived "shame" of being a rape victim. Besides the civilian casualties of the siege, around 1,500 NRA soldiers and 2,000 rebels died in combat at Fushan; many surviving warlord soldiers were killed out of revenge after the town's capture. Chu Yupu, however, was spared by the Nationalists and allowed to go into exile in Korea; Jowett assumes that he bribed his opponents for safe passage.
With the warlord rebellion defeated, peace only returned temporarily to northeastern Shandong. Soon after the conflict, Liu Zhennian and another Nationalist general/warlord, Jen Ying-chi, fought a brutal two-day war over who had the greater authority in Shandong, which Liu won. Meanwhile, the Red Spears' uprising further escalated; by August 1929, the peasant rebels had taken control over much of northern Shandong's hinterland as well as Dengzhou. Having ignored the issue until then, Liu finally moved against the Red Spears in September and brutally crushed the insurgency in two months. Liu remained in power until he was ousted by Han Fuju in course of a bitter war in 1932. Unlike any of the previous warlord rulers of eastern Shandong, Han actually proved to be relatively capable and popular as civilian administrator.
Chu Yufu, on the other side, returned to Shandong soon after his exile to Korea, and was murdered. Accounts differ on how he died: According to some accounts, Liu Zhennian had him killed; others report that he was captured by vengeful peasants. These either buried him alive, or buried him up to his chin so that "black ants and the searing sun gave him the slow death he deserved". The head of the rebellion, Zhang Zongchang, continued to live a few more years in exile. He died in 1932, shot dead by the relative of an officer he had once executed.
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