The Northern Expedition: to be United or not United?

GOVT 451 Esther Chung Final Paper


Introduction The paper argues that the Northern Expedition is a successful campaign strictly in the military sense, but is a failure in terms of political unity of the warring factions. The Northern Expedition sheds light upon the divisions among military coalitions in 19th century China, whether they are between the warlords or within the United Front of the expedition. The expedition may have started out grandly with a united expeditionary force posed against the divided group of warlords, but ended in flimsy conclusions as to who conquered China. Judging solely upon the military descriptions of this paper, the expedition may appear successful. However, when the extant factions within the warlords, within the United Front, and within the second KMT forces (Collective Armies) after the split are examined, it is clear that the Northern Expedition is filled with self-fulfilling purposes and narrow-minded leaders. The paper is divided into three sections: the initial period of United Front against the divided warlords; the middle period of split within the United Front; the final period of divided KMT against divided warlords. Each section first describes the campaign in its military tactics and details, and is followed by a critique that suggests the reasons for the divisions. The paper examines three divisions and the reasons vary, but an overarching theme in the divisions is the self-interest of each party overpowering the need to unify China. As a result, the Northern Expedition begins with warring factions and ends with a civil war. There are a few disclaimers that the reader must be aware of. The Northern Expedition is a two year campaign but is vast in its details from small skirmishes to major battles. The paper focuses on mostly major battles that depict the division within the warlords or within the United Front and how these differences affected the outcomes. With that said, much of the military details of the campaign branch from the source of Donald A. Jordan, because the extant books written on the Northern Expedition alone with such high level of details are scarce.1 Most of Jordan’s sources are based on original Chinese records, so I leave the rest of the judgment to the readers. Throughout the paper, the term KMT and NRA are used sometimes to substitute the term “expeditionary force,” the coalition of CCP and KMT. This is because the Northern Expedition is known to be a KMT-led movement in Chinese sources, and both the CCP and KMT leaders have agreed that in the United Front, the CCP


Also suggested source: Harold R. Isaacs The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. If Chinese-savvy, then Bei fa zhan shi / [bian zhu zhe Guo fang bu shi zheng ju], 北伐戰史 / [編著者 國防部史政局], [Taibei] : Guo fang bu shi zheng ju, Min guo 48 [1959], [臺北] : 國防部史政局, 民國 48 [1959].


members would enter the NRA as individuals, not as CCP-representatives.2

Background The story begins with the birth of Republic of China and the fall of last imperial dynasty in China. After the Revolution of 1911 establishing Republic of China, the Qing dynasty fell in 1912 with the abdication of prince Pu-yi. Although Sun Yat-sen was the original president of the republic, he gave the title to Yuan in exchange for his convincing the Puyi to abdicate. Yuan was a man with military influence and connection with Qing, which Sun needed to stabilize China after the revolution.3 However, soon Yuan and Sun became enemies over the issue of selling Chinese assets to foreigners for funds. Sun was outraged at Yuan for committing the same crime that the Manchu practiced. Sun and Yuan split here, and Sun and his nationalist party had to flee before Yuan’s vast connection with provincial and local armies. But as Yuan himself tried to rise as emperor of China, there was a general uproar and he was overthrown. He died quietly in 1916. Yuan’s legacy was that he had allowed provincial and local military leaders to rise to power as he promoted a Tuchun or military governor system. While neglecting an establishment of strong imperial army, Yuan legitimized all forces as long as they sent their revenues to Peking.4 Thus the age of warring states began. Sun Yat-sen, having founded Tengmenghui (United League) in 19055, and having harbored the dream to democratize China as early as 1894,6 did not give up so easily. In 1918, he was called back to establish a government in Canton by Hakka general, Chen Chiungming.7 Though Sun’s life was endangered twice in this alliance when Chen disagreed with Sun, Sun was able to establish his Canton government by 1923.8 By this time, Russia began to talk with Sun about alliance without introducing Communism to China,9 and Sun sought options to democratize China by seeking support in Western countries. 10 But without realizing his National Revolution, Sun died in 1925, leaving the project to Chiang Kai-shek.

Chinese Wikipedia, “Northern Expedition” (20 Nov 2011), translated into English < %25E5%258C%2597%25E4%25BC%2590> [accessed 01 Nov 2012]. 3 Wikipedia, “Yuan Shikai” (22 Nov 2012), <> [accessed 23 Nov 2012] . 4 William Morwood, Duel for the Middle Kingdom, (New York, NY: Everest House, 1980). p.67. 5 Ibid., p.31. 6 Ibid., p.30. 7 Ibid., p.79. 8 Ibid., p.84. 9 Ibid., p.85. 10 Ibid., p.86.


Sun had established before his death the United Front between the CCP and the KMT, and it was now Chiang’s project to realize Sun’s dream through the military campaign, the Northern Expedition. The objective of the expedition was to drive out the warlords and unify China, as it is evident in the Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting: The hardships of the workers, peasants, merchants, and students and the suffering of all under the oppressive imperialists and warlords; the peace and unification of China called for by Sun Yat-sen; the gathering of the National Assembly ruined by Tuan Ch’i-jui; all demand the elimination of Wu Pei-fu and completion of national unification.11 However this objective to unify China was not the common intention of all parties involved in the expedition. For one, the warlords were divided amongst themselves based on their regional identities as well as personal ambitions. The United Front did not share in the stated objective, for the CCP leaders harbored different intentions in joining the KMT.12 Thus in expounding upon the Northern Expedition, the paper will examine sequentially the division within the warlords, between CCP and KMT, and the result of divided warlords warring against a divided front. Although there are moments of unity in the United Front and the Northern Expedition, the campaign is largely characterized by the divisions, as the issuing of civil war right after the expedition evinces.

Initial period of the expedition
Hunan and Hupeh The initial period of the expedition was wrought with divisions within the warlords. In other words, the initial period of the expedition was an era of successful military campaigns of the expeditionary force against the warlords. As the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) was in its nascent stage, it had to count on the weakness of the warlords rather than their own strength.13 The expedition began with the launch into the Hunan province in

Ko-ming wen hsien [Revolutionary documents], edited by Lo Chia-lun, (Taipei: Historical Materials Editing Committee of the Party History of the KMT), from 1950 onward as a series. Vol.12, p.831. in Donald A. Jordan, The Northern Expedition: China’s National Revolution of 1926-1928, (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawai, 1976), p.64. 12 As the CCP leader when the United Front was formed, Chen Du-xiu joined the coalition with intention to infiltrate KMT and to turn it over for CCP’s advantage; KMT leader Sun Yat -sen allowed the coalition with the condition of CCP joining the KMT as individuals to be taken under KMT leadership, not with a group identity of the CCP; Chiang Kai-shek follows Sun’s example and never quite trusts the coalition with the CCP when he becomes the leader of the KMT and the expedition. 13 Donald A. Jordan, p.67.


1926. Throughout these initial phases of the campaign, two military tactics come into play: 1) the strategy to attack one warlord at a time and to utilize the warlords’ internal divisions for the benefit of the expeditionary forces; 2) the strategy to portray KMT and expeditionary forces as the legitimate national party and force. As these tactics were successfully launched in the initial period, more warlords joined the NRA initiative to save themselves, and the locals joined the expeditionary forces to participate in the national cause. The background context of Hunan explicates why the expedition chose to begin with Hunan. Prior to 1926, Hunan was a region filled with northern Chinese warlords. There were constant conflicts between the native subordinates and the regional overlords.14 This allowed the KMT to manipulate one warlord against another within the province during the campaign. As Hunan was a mountainous region and a hard area to penetrate with direct, all-out military attack, the KMT resorted to such a manipulation. As an example of warlords division, there was a native-subordinate and northern Chinese warlord rivalry between Chao Heng-ti and Wu Pei-fu, and between Chao and his own subordinates. Under the jurisdiction Chao, there were Yeh Kai-hsin, Tang Sheng-chih, and Ho Yao-tsu as the Hunanese division commanders.15 Chao relied on Yeh Kai-hsin the most, and tried to wield his power in the region by using Yeh to check the other commanders’ power. The KMT saw through this division and utilized it to the fullest. The KMT had inner connections in the region through a KMT member, Tan Yen-kai.16 Tan maintained his force of 15,000 Hunanese troops in Kwangtung, and was a man worth of KMT trust, for he had expressed coinciding personal ideology with that of the KMT. In addition to Tan, the KMT also had Liu Wen-tao, Chen Ming-shu, and Pai Chung-hsi as insiders into Hunan, for they had personal connections with Tang Sheng-chih.17 There were connections even on the highest level of military commanders, between Chiang himself and Chao Heng-ti. It is recorded that Chiang even telegrammed Chao a week before the July 1926 beginning of the expedition and pleaded to reunite in “the new national movement that would strengthen China against her enemies.”18 All these diplomatic communications were made to avoid any bloody battles over the mountain passes near the Yangtze basin.
14 15

Ibid., p.68. Ibid., p.70. 16 Tan was placed in Hunan after the Revolution of 1911, and but was forced into exile by the northern warlords. Ibid. 17 The KMT also had Cheng Chien, commander of the NRA’s Sixth Army, who was a classmate of Ho Tao -tsu, another Hunanese commander. Ibid. 18 Ibid., p.71.


The KMT began to manipulate the division between Chao and Tang. Because Tang, like many local warlords, hoarded his income from taxing his area, he was not happy when Chao ordered his Hunanese divisions to send the local taxes they collected to the Hunan capital, Changsha.19 Disgruntled Tang listened to KMT persuasions and they agreed to an alliance on February 24, 1926.20 When Tang attacked Chao, with Wu Pei-fu conveniently out of the scene,21 Chao had to make a run. Chao fled out of Changsha, into the north.22 The KMT jumped into the conflict, to create further divisions, by criticizing Wu Pei-fu and carrying out propaganda against him and on the northern warlords on February 25 and 26.23 On June 2, Tang made the alliance official by accepting Chiang’s offer to become the commander of the Eighth Army in the NRA.24 Soon, Tang received the official title as governor of Hunan through KMT’s National Government.25 This was a moment when the self-interests of both the former warlord Tang and the KMT government met and produced a joint action. Though successful here, the warlord-KMT coalition did not last throughout the expedition, as the paper will explain further later. What is also worthy of note here is that the KMT government acted as the “legitimate government” with power to bestow titles and rights of governorship to the friendly warlords (Tactic #2 mentioned in the introduction to the initial period examination). Thus, by utilizing the regional breaches between the overlord and divisional warlords, and portraying itself as the source of national leadership, the KMT forces were able to penetrate Hunan strategically, minimizing casualties and saving the troops for battles in the future.


To get to the military forces logistics, Tang Sheng-chih had 9,000-man division in the Hsiang valley. Tang also possessed 27 of Hunan’s 75 tax-collection districts. This would mean a minimum income of $800,000 monthly, in addition to the income the provincial lead and zinc mines brought at $90,000 monthly. Plus, there was the “special tax” on opium collected in his districts, meaning he had additional income of $1 million monthly. And lastly there was the monthly allocation from the provincial government for Tang’s division calculating into $240,000. In U.S. Changsha Consul C.D. Meinhardt to State Department, March 12, 1925, SD 893.00/7319, MF 329-51, in Chinese dollars then valued at approximately 2/U.S. dollar. In Donald A. Jordan, p.71. 20 Ibid., p.72. 21 Wu Pei-fu was engaged in North China against the forces of Feng Yu-xiang. Ibid. 22 Ibid., p.72. 23 Ibid. The KMT sent forces to aid Tang, but the NRA was still outnumbered greatly in southern Hunan. Once Wu Pei-fu’s battles in the north ended with expulsion Feng Yu-hsiang in April 1926, Tang had to recall his regimens form northern Hunan, evacuate his forces from Changsha, and return to his valley. 24 Ibid. Tang then soon moved up the divisional command to become an army command in the NRA< and his regimental commanders then moved up to become division commanders. This is actually a warlord practice that the NRA adopted for the rest of the era of the Northern Expedition. 25 Ibid., p.74.



This tactic is at play once the expedition turns offensive on July 9, 1926.27 From late June to early July, the NRA moved out of Canton and placed its troops along the Lien River and the Lu River. Along the Lien River, the Kwangsi troops of the Seventh Army and the Hunanese forces of Tang Sheng-chih were stationed. Along the Lu River, there were two Fourth Army divisions, an Independent Regiment from Canton, and a remainder of forces of Tang.28 In this battle between the NRA-Tang coalition and the northern warlords’ forces, the presence of Tang with the coalition force gave them legitimacy in the eyes of the local

26 27

Donald, A. Jordan. Ibid., p.73. The NRA Fourth Army division under Chang Fa-kuei and Cheng Ming-shu arrived at the front of the battle against Wu Pei-fu. At this time, Wu was still preoccupied with fights in the North China. 28 Ibid.


Hunanese.29 The NRA is seen as the source of legitimate leadership in the eyes of the locals throughout the expedition, as the local peasants also joined the NRA in the Mi-lo River campaign. As the Fourth and Sixth army crossed the Mi-lo River, and cut across the Yeuhchou’s railroad into Wuhan,30 the railroad workers took up the nationalist cause and cut the rail and telegraph lines to hinder the northern warlords’ retreat from Yeuhchou.31 The locals saw the NRA as a legitimate force in the area, not just another foreign invasion. The Lien and Lu River battle formation also reveals how the NRA avoided attacking all the warlords at the same time (Tactic #1). On July 5, 1929, the Seventh and Eighth Armies broke through the river lines, and then the Fourth Army on the right side joined in the battle, taking the NRA through the river lines to Changsha.32 But throughout these battles, the NRA was careful not to instigate Sun Chuan-fang, who was the overlord of the Kiangsi province, bordering the eastern Hunan region. On July 11, the Lien-Lu River battle was successful and the warlords fled north. The NRA strategies were successful in its manipulation of warlords division. As the NRA strength grew, there were increasing cases of warlord defection. After the victory, NRA grew in strength and marched to the Mi-lo River.33 By August 1926, Chiang’s force and various commanders of KMT gathered in Hengyang with 100,000 troops of NRA.34 At this time some warlords band-wagoned to NRA, such as warlords Peng Hang-chang and Wang Tien-pei, who were convinced by the NRA victory across the Lien-Lu line and joined in. After the Mi-lo River campaign, the Kiangsi warlord Sun Chuan-fang was threatened with his subordinates’ defections.35


Ibid., p.75. Allegedly, the Hunan peasants would hide the produce from their supply masters to prevent them from supporting Wu Pei-fu’s forces. There are also records by the South China Morning Post that loca l Hunanese joined the NRA. 30 Ibid, p.78. 31 Ibid. Again, evidence that the KMT cause was perceived by the people as legitimate. 32 Ibid., p.75. 33 Ibid. The march to the Milo River proved arduous as the soldiers were overtaken by cholera. A Second Army advisor pictures what it was like during the march: “Sometimes there are no provisions, my colleagues tear off some sort of grass, chew it and are full.” 34 Ibid., p.76. 35 Ibid., p.78. Also, to make matters worse for the northern warlords,Wu could not come to direct aid even though he had his naval base in the region because he could not command it until after the battles in the north subsided.



As the KMT pushed the battle into Wuhan, the warlords mistrust and defection among themselves wore down the warlords’ coalition from within. The NRA destroyed Wu’s defensive forces one by one, despite their strong barricades along the Ting-szu Bridge. After taking the bridge, the NRA advanced to the Hosheng Bridge, which was under personal command of Wu Pei-fu. Wu, taking command, initially appeared to engage the NRA with strong counterattack across the bridge, but due to his focus on offensive rather than defensive tactics, Wu lost the bridge to the NRA’s flanking tactic. By August 30, 1929, Wu’s Hunan and Hupeh troops began their retreat up north. As Wu lost two bridgeheads and 8,000 troops, he sent his pleas to Sun Chuan-fang of Kiangsi for reinforcement. Again, warlords were divided here. Even though Wu had called upon Sun before to flank the NRA and engage it in Hunan, Sun did not offer up his aid immediately. Taking advantage of Sun’s hesitation, the NRA strengthened its fortification along the Kiangsi flank. 37 The records suggest that secret negotiations existed between KMT and Sun. There are even allegations that a pact was reached between Chiang Kai-shek and Sun, wherein the NRA would take Changsha while Sun can then freely engage with Chang Tso-lin in Shantung. Although Sun ended up aiding Wu’s forces, his 200,000 troops were led by different provincial authorities and was not an effective force.38
36 37 38

Donald, A. Jordan. Ibid., p.79. Ibid., p.82.


Making matters worse for Wu, Liu Tso-lung defected. Liu was in charge of artillery battalions in the Hanyang perimeter, one of Wu’s two main forces. As Wu retreated from Hunan and southern Hupeh, the NRA and Wu’s forces clashed in Hanyang.39 The NRA was having difficulties breaching Wu’s fortified regions, but the battle turned around with Liu’s defection.40 Wu further retreated into Wuchang, Hupeh’s capital, and the battle waged on for a month there.41 Thus, the KMT strategy of creating alliances with warlords and focusing their attack on one warlord at a time created the division within the warlord group and proved successful in the initial campaign period.

Kiangsi and the East Route In the Hunan and Hupeh campaigns, the two main strategies of targeting one warlord at a time and utilizing warlords’ internal division, and winning the popular support by portraying the expeditionary forces as legitimate national force led to success of the expedition in its initial period. This was also the case for the campaigns in Kaingsi and East Route. For the purpose of this paper, this section will only flesh out how the military tactics were used similarly for the advantage of the expeditionary forces.42

39 40 41 42

Ibid., p.81. South China Morning Post (16 September 1926). In Donald A Jordan, p.81. Donald A. Jordan, p.81. For greater detail into military records, consult Donald A Jordan, p.83-106.



After successful campaigns in Hunan and Hupeh, Chiang decided Kiangsi as the next isolated target of the Northern Expedition Kiangsi was the area of warlord Sun Chuang-fang. Despite the communications between Sun Chuan-fang and Chiang Kai-shek, Sun had made up his mind to aid Wu. The offensive move into Kiangsi was critical at this early juncture of the expedition, because if the expeditionary forces could not march beyond Hunan and Hupeh, then it would be isolated in the region, with impending threats from Kwangtung.


Donald, A. Jordan.




At this time, Sun Chuan-fang had his army composed of five provinces of Kiangsu, Anhui, Kiangsi, Chekiang, and Fukien.46 But the loyalties of the provincial forces to Sun were questionable. Noticing this, Chiang again utilized the KMT tactic of dividing his enemies and conquering one at a time. Initially, it was too easy for Chiang: at the battle in Wuchang, key forces under Sun gave in on October 10, 1926, by voluntarily opening the city gates to the NRA forces after days of stalemate.47 Chiang then noticed the division between Sun and the Chekiang warlords Hsia Chao, Chou Feng-chi, and Chen Yi.48 As the expeditionary forces moved into Kiangsi, the KMT offered Hsia a position in KMT in exchange for defection against Sun.49 The KMT also promised Hsia provincial autonomy. Plus, Chiang Kai-shek and Hsia were fellow military men who once trained together at the Chekiang Military Academy.50 Hsia accepted the KMT offer and became the provisional chairman of the Provincial Government Committee and

44 45

Donald, A. Jordan. Ibid. 46 Donald A. Jordan, p.85. 47 Ibid., p.86. 48 Since in the days of the Qing Empire, Chekiang was an area wrought with independence riots. Once Sun Chuan-fang took over the area with somewhat cordial accord with the three warlords, he made a mistake in not listening to their calls for autonomy. When Sun moved on with his troops to Nanking after his victories in Chekiang, Hsia assumed Sun would grant Chekiang back to Hsia’s supervision. However, when Hsia created the declaration of autonomy and a constitution, Sun sent his forces back into Chekiang, revoked the constitution, and established one of his men as the military governor. Such crude tactics did not sit well with the warlords, and the expeditionary forces used this weak link against Sun. Ibid., p.86-91. 49 North China Herald (Shanghai) (October 23 and 30, 1926). Reuter reports from Canton dated Oct 19 and 23. South China Morning Post (Oct 21 and 28, 1926), p.8. In Donald A Jordan, p.90. 50 Donald A. Jordan. p.90.


commander of the Eighteenth Army in the NRA.51 Unfortunately, the first KMT alliance with one of the three warlords ended abruptly. Sun, who somehow knew of Hsia’s defection plan,52 captured and decapitated Hsia.53 Nevertheless, the KMT continued its support for Chekiang autonomy. 54 Despite Sun’s proposal to allow independence of Chekiang, Chou Feng-chi defected to the NRA on December 11, 1926. Following Chou, Chen Yi then defected to NRA on December 17. Chou earned his position in the NRA as the field commander for the operations in Chekiang, and Chen Yi became the commander of the Nineteenth Army of the NRA. 55 And Chiang Kaishek, perhaps realizing that granting autonomy to the warlords’ regions is the only way to keep the warlords on his side, made the wise choice of honoring Chekiang independence officially: Then, on the Nineteenth [of December, 1926], the Shanghai convention announced that Chekiang was independent of Sun’s United Provinces, and that it was an autonomous province, which would: 1) implement selfgovernment for Chekiang with provincial personnel; 2) oppose militarists who might seek to carve out their own “autonomous areas…56

Sun then sought out another alliance, this time with Meng Chao-yueh. With Meng, Sun captured Chen Yi and seemed to have regained Chekiang by January 1927. Then the NRA and Sun’s forces clashed at Lanchi and Chinhua, resulting in Sun’s defeat.57 At Tunglu, on Februray 11, 1927, Meng’s forces were also defeated. Sun’s forces began to pull back toward Hangchow.58 By February 23, most of Sun’s forces retreated into Shanghai, behind the Hangchow-Shanghai rail line.59 It was another successful “divide and conquer” moment of the united expeditionary forces against the warlords. In the initial period, the expeditionary
51 52

Ibid., p.91. There are allegations that Chen Yi, rival of Hsia, had tipped Sun off. Ibid., p.90. 53 Ibid., p.91. 54 The KMT integrated the All-Chekiang Association with the Affiliated Association of Kaingsu, Chekiang, and Anhui. The association called for self-rule of the provinces. U.S. Shanghai Consul C.E. Gauss to the Secretary of State, December 6, 1926 (893.00/7990), in which Gauss interpreted the movement as one coordinated by the KMT to weaken Sun’s hold on the United Provinces. See also Hsien-tai shih-liao [Contemporary historical materials]. Vols. 3 and 4. Shanghai: Hai T’ien Publishing Society, 1934, p.174-176. In Donald A. Jordan, p.100. 55 Donald A. Jordan, p.102. 56 For more information, see Donald A. Jordan, p.102. 57 Sun’s commanding officers of a brigade, regiment, and three battalions, and 2,000 soldiers were killed in this battle. Ibid., p.103. 58 Ibid., p.104. 59 Ibid., p.105.


force took Hunan, Hupeh, and Kiangsi successfully through manipulation of warlord defections.

Critique: Warlord politics A topic worthy of note here is the nature of warlords’ defections. The reason why the initial stages of the expedition were successful was because the warlords remained divided in their coalitions. It is interesting to know that the three warlords of Chekiang who chose to defect against Sun actually once defected toward him in the earlier civil war era of the region. Then the reader may ask why the warlords had to defect constantly? The answer lies in the regional identity and self-interest of the warlords. Lucian Pye writes in his book about warlord politics, that it is dangerous for a leader, an overlord, to depend entirely on the subordinate warlords.60 Because Sun Chuan-fang was an outsider to the three warlords who have grown up and attended the Chekiang Military Academy, Sun ’s aggressive rule did not suit well the regional warlords. The case is similar with Meng Chao-yueh, Sun’s field commander. Meng was also an outsider in the region and could not cooperate with the Fukein units.61 On the other hand, Chiang Kai-shek, with his background rooted in the Chekiang Military Academy, and his group of nationalist armies with a seemingly legitimate cause must have been a more attractive choice for the warlords. However, the similar origins did not necessarily guarantee a stalwart warlord trust, as seen through the speech of Chou Feng-chi, one of the Chekiang warlords who defected to Chiang: “…neither the Northern Army nor the Southern Army were his friends and that any who invaded Chekiang automatically became his enemy…” 62 An example of warlord defection against Chiang is Tang Sheng-chih’s defection under Russia’s prodding. In spring of 1927, when the split between KMT right and left was flagrant, Tang defected against Chiang, taking warlord Li Tsung-jen, a Guangxi warlord and a KMT general, as well.63 Tang was one of the warlords in the initial period of Northern Expedition who cooperated with Chiang and allowed the NRA to enter the Hunan province. Thus, the nature of warlord politics in seeking one’s self-interest first could be used for the expedition’s advantage but could also hurt the expedition when the warlord found a better alternative than what the

Lucian Pye, Warlord Politics: Conflict and Coalition in the Modernization of Republican China, (New York, NY: Praeger Publishers, 1971), p.48. 61 Donald A. Jordan, p.104. 62 Shen Pao (26 November, 1926), in Donald A. Jordan, p.100. 63 Donald A. Jordan. p.113.


expedition promised him. Another theory states that the political setting of constant flux of threats and alliances after the fall of Qing dynasty shaped the narrow worldview of the warlords and their divisive behaviors.64 Many of these theories point to how divided the warlords were during the warring states period and during the expedition. As the expeditionary forces remained united in its initial phase, they were able to exploit their opponent’s division and lead successful campaigns in Hunan, Hupeh, and Kiangsi. However, once this seemingly united coalition of the expeditionary forces started to fall apart, the expedition stumbled.

Middle period of the expedition
Shanghai: the split If the campaigns at Hunan, Hupeh, Kiangsi, and Chekiang were wrought with warlords divisions and KMT manipulations of the internal conflicts, then Shanghai campaign was when the situation reversed: internal division within the expeditionary forces came into light during this campaign. The expedition suffered in the division between the CCP-Russia bloc and the “KMT right,” as the prerogatives of the groups diverged. Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT-right wanted to avoid an addition of military conflict with the foreigners in Shanghai, and focus on one enemy at a time—a strategy which has worked well in the expedition so far. On the other side, the CCP-Russia bloc and the KMTleft wanted to use the anti-foreign uprisings of the masses to drive out all foreigners out of China and begin a proletariat movement. Though the concept of unifying China was shared, the two blocs differed in their strategy.65

64 65

Lucian Pye. Chen Kung-po, of KMT-left, head of provincial finance department at Wuhan in 1927, wrote: “There was nothing then that influenced the order and finances of the rear more than the strikes. What the KMT needed there was stability, but what the CCP needed was strikes…Local order, stability, and sources of revenue—those were the affairs of the KMT, not the concerns of the CCP.” Chen Kung-po, Hang feng chi [Collection of the north th wind]s. 4 ed. (Shanghai: Association of Local Government, 1945), p.103-104. In Donald A. Jordan, p.221.



By February of 1927, trouble began with the CCP-organized National General Labor Union (GLU), as the union began to assassinate Chinese and foreign industrialists in Shanghai.67 The CCP saw great opportunity in the anti-foreign rebellions in that they could be used for instigating proletariat movements. In its diverging tactics and goal, the CCP made clear its intention to separate the KMT party from within, as it labeled Chiang as the KMTright, naturally encouraging the division between Chiang’s leadership and the KMT-left and right. The CCP grew bolder in criticizing Chiang, by verbally accusing Chiang of having secret alliances with the warlords and the Japanese imperialists.68 Russia aided the CCP efforts by attempting to replace Chiang with General Tang Sheng-chih, the Hunanese warlord who defected to NRA earlier in the expedition. Fortunately for Chiang, the period up to March of 1927 proved successful in terms of military conquests. Chiang reacted to CCP-Russia accusations by requesting Borodin out of China in February 26,69 and continued the NRA expedition as best as he could. The warlords’ defections to the NRA continued to aid the movement. Under Sun Chuan-fang, there was Chen Tiao-yuan who was a classmate of Sun at Tokyo’s Shinkan Gakko, and also Commander in Chief of Sun’s Anui forces. As Chen was debating to defect to NRA, one of
66 67

Donald, A. Jordan. Donald A. Jordan, p.109. These unions were not created just to diverge with the plan of KMT’s. They were originally created in a joint effort with KMT against Sun Chuan-fang’s forces. 68 Ibid., p.111. 69 Ibid., p.112.


his forces with Liu Pao-ti defected on February 20. This defection opened up the pass of Chimen, and the NRA entered Anhui. Within two weeks, Chen himself defected, providing the NRA with his Yangtze forces, a brigade of Wang Pu, and the rest of the Hunan Army with Yeh Kai-hsin.70 With this defection, the NRA took the city of Hofei. 71 Another defection came with Pi Shu-cheng, who was negotiating with a KMT officer Niu Yung-chien on handing over Shanghai. In addition, Yang Shu-chuang, Sun’s admiral, defected to NRA and brought his fleet over to the expeditionary forces. With these defections, the NRA was able to capture city of Soochow, and the area from Changchou to Henglin by March 21, 1927.72 The Chekiang units also continued to aid Chiang by moving toward Sungchiang and Lake T ’ai to entrap Sun’s forces.73 But after March 1927, the internal conflict within the expeditionary force emerged more clearly, halting the progress of the Northern Expedition. The effect of the internal conflict on the Northern Expedition is reflected in the defeats of NRA during April 1927. After the capture of Pengpu in early April, the momentum of military success in Anhui and Kiangsu died out. The northern warlords’ coalition, Ankuochun, pushed back the NRA southward from the Tientsin-Pukou railroad, pushing the NRA forces 100 miles through Kiangsu and Anhui, back to Yangtze. The fact that these defeats in April of 1927 are left out in the official military history of the expedition emphasizes the low morale of the time.74 In actual, the internal division was budding as early as the spring of 1926, when the Central Executive Committee (CEC) in Wuhan—mainly ran by the CCP 75 —abolished Chiang Kai-shek’s posts. 76 Such political tension intensified in the spring of 1927, as Wuhan’s CCP-led GLU clashed with the National Labor Union of KMT.77 Chiang, becoming more aware of the negative effects of the division within the KMT party, issued a statement to his generals to prevent further defection to CCP: “…there should be no intra-Party conflict

70 71

Ibid., p.113. Ibid., p.114. 72 Ibid., p.115. 73 Ibid., p.110. 74 Ibid., p. 125. 75 At the time, Hsu Chien and Teng Yen-ta were executives of CEC in Wuhan; they were known to be highly responsive to the CCP-Russia bloc. Ibid., p.119. 76 Chiang’s Ministry of the Military was replaced by Wuhan’s Military Council, which also usurped Chiang’s Commander in Chief’s authority of allocating the output of arsenals to the armies. Chiang’s authority in military education was also taken away, preventing further production of loyal junior officer corps under Chiang. Finally, with the removal of Chen Ming-shu, a supporter of Chiang, the CCP was sending out signals of division to the rest of the loyal generals to Chiang. Ibid., p.119. 77 Ibid., p.122.


until the military operation has been completed and that everyone should support the C-in-C [Commander in Chief] until a discussion of the matters involved can be held.”78 Despite his efforts, the infighting between the KMT and CCP sector of the United Front only exacerbated over time, leading to more clashes in Canton, and in Chenchiang, Kiangsu in the second week of April, 1927.79 The situation worsened as the CCP instigated Japan’s anger by leading a GLU riot against the Japanese concession in Hankow.80 The CCP aggressions against areas of foreign concession were not helping the KMT objective in leading a controlled Northern Expedition. As the NRA took Shanghai, Chiang had to guarantee security to areas of foreign concessions because he feared foreign intervention would stall the Northern Expedition even more.81 Finishing the Northern Expedition was the foremost priority to Chiang. When the CCP continued to thwart his attempts to unify China and drive out the warlords, Chiang eventually chose the purge card: the Shanghai massacre of 1927. But one purge could not blot out a whole group of CCP infiltrators in the KMT system. Chiang now had two more enemies to fight in addition to the warlords: the CCP members and the foreigners. After the split of the United Front became more defined in the middle period of the expedition, the NRA movement stalled.82

Critique: Why division at this point, not earlier? If the United Front efforts were so successful in the initial period of the expedition, one may wonder why the CCP and KMT decided to split during this expedition despite the obvious costs to the expedition efforts. The answer lies in the nature of coalition: the United Front is a misnomer in the sense that there was never an intention for a united effort on the

Kuowen chou-pao [National news weekly]. Shanghai and Tientsin: Kuowen Chou-pao Soc., (April 10, 1927), n.p. In Donald A. Jordan, p.122. 79 Donald A. Jordan. p.123. 80 South China Morning Post (20 Apr 1927), p.12. In Donald A. Jordan, p.127. 81 The NRA voiced this determination in April 1927: The purpose of the military operations of the Northern Expedition is to establish a nation governed by the people and to get rid of the warlords. Our army occupied Hunan, Kaingsi, Hupeh, Fukien, Chekiang, Anhui, and other provinces and the unification of the entire nation will be accomplished soon. The Party Army’s success is the victory of the people… In accordance with international morality we shall guard the lives and property of foreigners. We have occupied Shanghai by more than force. We request that consuls inform your nationals to carry on your activities as usual and order the marines not to misunderstand our motives and not to carry out means to obstruct our revolutionary cause. South China Morning Post (8 April 1927), p.12. In Donald A. Jordan, p.116. 82 Donald A. Jordan, p.128.


level of political leadership of the CCP and KMT. Though the coalition may have begun with good tidings externally, by the time of the expedition, Chiang Kai-shek consented to the coalition with the plan of achieving a KMT-led unification of China, and the CCP shook hands while holding to its own plan of leading a labor movement throughout China. Both leaderships were not ready to settle for anything less. But at the time, the coalition was essential for both parties as the CCP lacked military power and the KMT lacked financial sponsor for its expedition. In sum, the coalition was inevitable in the sense that each party could offer what the other did not have, but the split was built in the pact in that the two parties started out with different intentions in leading the coalition. Firstly, the external factors led the two parties toward each other. The CCP was formally organized in July 1921. By the time the Northern Expedition began in 1926, CCP was but a fledging organization. The Russian leadership was aware of the lack of organization structure in the CCP and encouraged the CCP to build a coalition with the KMT movement.83 Once the CCP followed the Russian advice, they did experience a spurt of growth through the Northern Expedition. In 1922, the CCP had around 200 to 300 members.84 With the expedition’s passing of Hunan, the CCP grew exponentially.85 From May to August of 1926, the Kwangtung Peasant’s Association alone increased by 75,000.86 On the other hand, the KMT was in need of financial sponsor. After founding the party, Sun Yat-sen sought aids in foreign sponsors, mainly in the western hemisphere.87 But after many rejections, he had to settle with aid from Russia. And what Russia wanted at the time was for KMT to build a coalition with the CCP. Sun had no choice but to appease the Russian leadership. But when each party’s motivation behind the coalition is examined, it becomes obvious that both sides never trusted each other as allies. The Russian leadership, with its strong ties with the CCP,88 had encouraged the coalition but under the condition that it be only temporary:

Lyman P. Van Slyke, Enemies and Friends: The United Front in Chinese Communist History, ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967). 84 Ibid., p.22. 85 Jordan A Donald, p.111. 86 Ibid., p.216. 87 In 1923, Sun approached Jacob Gould Schurman, the American Minister to China with a proposition: would the United States take China in and help its democratization process? Sun suggested that the U.S. can take China under its umbrella for a period of five years or so to teach China how to run business and industry. This would mean democratization of 400 million people, a quarter of the earth’s population. The idea was scoffed at in his time. Sun’s proposal was rejected and thenceforth Sun kept to his Russian ally. William Morwood, p.86. 88 Lyman P. Van Slyke, p.11.


…we, as Communists, should support the bourgeois movement of liberation in the colonies only if these are really revolutionary, when those who represent these movements would not oppose us in our efforts to educate and organize the peasantry and the masses of exploited people in general in the revolutionary spirit. When this is impossible, the Communists must oppose the reformist bourgeoisie.89 Further evidence is found in the thoughts of the CCP leader, Chen Tu-hsiu (at the Fourth Congress, 1922 November, Moscow): Starting from the premise that in order to exterminate imperialism in China an anti-imperialistic united front will have to be erected, our party has decided to form a united front with the national-revolutionary party, the Kuomintang. The nature of this united front will be expressed in the fact that we, under our own names and as single individuals, will join the party. The reason for it is twofold. In the first place, we want to propagandize many organized workers in the national-revolutionary party and win them over for us. In the second place, we can only fight imperialism if we combine our forces, the forces of the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. We intend to compete with this party in regard to the winning of the masses by means of organization and propaganda. If we do not join this party we shall remain isolated, and we shall preach a Communism which holds great and noble ideas, but one which the masses do not follow…If we join the party, we shall be able to show the masses that we too are for revolutionary democracy, but that for us revolutionary democracy is only a means to an end…We shall be able to gather the masses around us and split the Kuomintang.90

If the CCP came into the coalition with a split in the future in mind, then the KMT came with a determination to treat the CCP factors as its subordinates. Sun Yat-sen agreed to the coalition only under the agreement that no soldier under KMT leadership will be representing a different party other than the KMT.91 Thus Sun agreed to the coalition only

Eudin, Xenia J., and Robert C. North, eds. Soviet Russia and the East, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), p.66. In Lyman P. Van Slyke, p.12. 90 Eudin, Xenia J., and Robert C. North, eds. Soviet Russia and the East, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), p.151. In Lyman P. Van Slyke, p.18. 91 William Morwood.


when the CCP members would join the coalition as individuals, not as CCP-representatives. When Chiang Kai-shek took the KMT leadership after Sun’s death, he followed his predecessor ’s example of not trusting the CCP factors. In the Second Kuomintang Congress in January 1926, Chiang voted to limit the CCP membership in the committees to one third of the total membership of the KMT.92 In the March 20 coup, Chiang appeared to have been aware of the Communist plot to divide KMT and conquer from within, as he wrote in his manuscript: I sensed a Communist Plot…they would then send me as a prisoner to Russia via Vladivostok, thereby removing the major obstacle to their scheme of using the National Revolution as a medium for setting up a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”93 Thus the KMT leadership was aware of CCP intentions, if only vaguely, and did not trust them as their equals. Such inherent split then became evident once the two parties grew in power both militarily and financially through the expedition. Once the CCP started to strengthen through the expedition, its plan to divide the KMT became bolder. The CCP Strike Committee’s declaration in November 1926 shows such a change of attitude: …now that the power of the National Revolution has reached the Yangtze, it is time to change the methods we use against the imperialists. Our new policy is a change from a blockade to a boycott by the entire nation, from our own strike to a united national effort. It is not time to prepare for a new struggle.94 Using the KMT structure and the Northern Expedition, the CCP agitators and organizers fanned out ahead of the expeditionary forces to gain the mass’s support.95 Once the CCP had infiltrated within the KMT96 and had grown its base for mass support, it boldly instigated
92 93

Ibid., p.109. Chiang Chung-cheng (Chiang Kai-shek), Soviet Russia in China: A Summing-Up at Seventy, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957), p.39. 94 Kuowen chou-pao [National news weekly]. Shanghai and Tientsin, Soc., (7 November 1926), n. p. In Donald A Jordan. 95 Lyman P. Van Slyke, p.22. 96 In 1924, at the First Kuomintang Congress, three Communists were elected to the KMT Central Execdtuive Committee (CEC), and six others were alternative members. In 1926, at the Second Kuomintang Congress, seven Communists were members of the CEC (out of 35 total), and 24 were alternative members. The Communists also headed the Organization and Peasant Departments, and acted as secretaries or deputies in the Propaganda, Labor, Youth, Overseas, Merchant, and Women’s Departments. In Lyman P. Van Slyke, p.24. The infiltration was most notorious in the political department of NRA: according to a Russian author, in March


strikes and mass uprisings during the Northern Expedition, jeopardizing the coalition. Similar to the CCP behavior, once the KMT forces strengthened with successes in the Northern Expedition, the KMT tolerance of CCP strikes decreased. In the initial stages, when the CCP strikes against the foreign concessions or in Canton seemed to get out of hand, Chiang issued telegrams appealing its cease. Chiang was hesitant in leading an open attack against the CCP because it would also mean the end of alliance with Russia and its financial resources.97 But by 1927 when the expedition has seen its success in the initial campaigns in Hunan, Hupeh, and Kiangsi, Chiang could choose violent purge to end the hindering to the expedition once and for all. The coalition was inevitable due to the external strains on the parties, but with the diverging motivations, the coalition did not last throughout the expedition as both parties gained more power over successful military campaigns. One irony and theme about the coalition is that while the expeditionary forces were busy manipulating the warlords’ internal division, the CCP was actually applying the same strategy to the KMT, instigating left and right divisions within the nationalist party. During the final stage of the expedition, the NRA continued the march north, and led a successful military campaign. However, under the layer of military cooperation, the rivalries between different political entities remained unresolved. Thus, with the end of the expedition entered the Chinese Civil War.

Final period of the expedition
Honan and Shantung

1926, there were 876 political workers in the NRA. About 75 percent of them were communists of members of KMT-left, about 20 percent were careerists without principles, and the remaining 5 percent were members of KMT-right. It is alleged that all communists received orders to penetrate the KMT and gain influence from within. There is a slogan, “A good communist is a good member of the Kuomintang nucleus.” In C. Martin Wilbur, The Nationalist Revolution in China, 1923-1928, (London: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p.36. 97 William Morwood, p.124.



After the expeditionary force was split, the campaign was greatly hindered. The once united expeditionary force struggled through the military campaigns, uniting only in times of desperation. The KMT had two bases of KMT-left in Wuhan and KMT-right in Nanking. The expedition continued nevertheless, recommencing its march north on May 10, 1927. The first agenda was to reclaim Hofei. The NRA pushed toward Kiangsu and toward Lung-Hai Railroad.99 In the battles in Kiangsu and Anhui, the Ankuochun had superior weapons but the NRA had greater mobility, which the NRA used to its advantage in capturing the essential railroads stretching to the north. The NRA forces in Wuhan targeted the Honan province, and tried to apply its tactic of dividing the warlords and winning warlords-sympathizers. Fortunately, some of Wu Pei-fu’s army defected from the mountains in Honan. The combined force of defectors and NRA then pushed the battle line beyond Yencheng. In addition, Feng Yu-hsiang100 turned to aid the NRA against the CCP and the warlords. Feng provided controls over the Lung-Hai railroad and Peking-Hankow railroad, the essential assets to communication and support.101 Although warlord defections continued, the divided expeditionary force was allowing more defeats than in the previous campaigns. Tang Sheng-chih, the warlord who defected to
98 99

Donald, A. Jordan. Donald A. Jordan, p.129. 100 Feng was once a warlord of the Wu Pei-fu’s zhili faction, but he turned to aid Chiang in the Northern Expedition, in September 1926. “Feng Yuxiang” Wikipedia, (26 Nov 2012), <> [accessed 26 Nov 2012]. 101 Donald A. Jordan, p.132.


Chiang and then betrayed him by joining the CCP-Russia bloc, moved his troops toward Anking, Anhui, where the NRA forces were stationed. The NRA forces disintegrated, and Tang solidified his control in the area. As Chiang moved his troops to check Tang’s movement from Shantung, the Ankuochun attacked Shantung and regained Tenghsien, Lincheng, and Tsaochuang along the Grand Canal route, as well as the Tientsin-Pu-kou Railroad. Making matters worse, Sun Chuan-fang aided the warlords from the south, and the NRA had to retreat from Sun’s 50,000 troop advancement into Pengpu on August 9, 1927.102 As the expedition began to suffer in its split, the KMT-right of Nanking and KMTleft of Wuhan united in desperation.103 When the KMT forces of Nanking took many defeats, meetings between the KMT in Wuhan and Nanking grew more frequent, starting from August 24, 1927. Meanwhile, the NRA continued to suffer losses: Feng Yu-hsiang fell in the clash with Ankuochun’s Honan flank and Sun Chuan-fang pounded the NRA forces on the Nanking shore.104 Sun continued to move in offense, breaching Yangtze for a battle in Lung-tan. In desperation, when Feng made his move into Shantung, Tan Yen-kai from Nanking contacted Wang Ching-wei and Tang Sheng-chih of Wuhan for aid in the Anhui province. At this time, Chiang had resigned his position as Commander in Chief of the NRA, to ameliorate the KMT-left and right rivalry. The move worked, for the Wuhan KMT factors consented to a coordinated action against the Ankuochun. By August 30, it was clear how effective the reunited KMT forces could be, as the NRA tightened around Sun’s troops in Lung-tan. Defeating Sun’s 40,000 troops gathered in the Yangtze, the NRA tasted victory on August 31, 1927. It was a hard battle on both sides, as Sun’s forces fell from 11 divisions to 3 divisions, and the NRA casualties totaled between 8,000 and 10,000.105 From here, the NRA offensive divided into three sectors: one on route between Grand Canal and the Yellow Sea, one marching north along the Shanghai-Nanking railroad, and one remaining in Anhui to check Tang Sheng-chih’s 25,000 troops from Wuhan.106 The battle of Lung-tan against Sun showed how weak the expeditionary forces were after its split and how they could manage to achieve victory if pushed to desperate measures amongst defeats. The results are more astounding once the division within the NRA force is

102 103

Ibid., p.136. In order to allow the re-united forces to function with neutrality, Chiang stepped down from Commander in Chief position on August 12, 1927. In Donald A. Jordan, p.137. 104 Ibid., p.138. 105 Ibid., p.141. 106 Ibid., p.142.


evinced through a chart listing the different sectors within the NRA during the time of Lungtan battle.107 The different factors of the NRA also came together in desperation to defeat Tang’s forces in the western flank of NRA.108 Unfortunately, these ad-hoc unities did not last to the end of the expedition. Despite Wang Ching-wei’s return to KMT after his alliances with CCP and Russia, and Chiang Kai-shek’s resumption into position as commander of the expedition,109 the expedition faltered. It was not until February of 1928 that Chiang was able to turn his attention to the expedition again after securing the KMT base in Nanking. The last phase of the expedition was about to begin.

North China and Beijing The last campaign of the Northern Expedition was carried out in a more anxious manner than before as the KMT leadership led a decentralized NRA and as the Japanese aggressions grew more frequent. The campaign was planned to sweep from north Kiangsu to Peking in a three-month period. As the Commander in Chief, Chiang Kai-shek had to be cautious to keep the neutral stance in leading different sectors of NRA. Although Chiang stood as the suzerain, he had to grant autonomy to his four subordinates who controlled the NRA forces, from thence called the Collective Armies (CA): the first CA located in lower Yangtze basin included the forty army corps of Chiang from earlier NRA; the second CA controlled Shensi, Honan, and parts of near northwest under control of Feng Yu-hsiang; the third CA held Shansi, and was under control of Yen Hsi-shan; the fourth CA located astride Kwangsi, Hunan, and Hupei was under control of Li Tsung-jen.110 At this time of spring in 1928, the Japanese Kwangtung Army presided in Tsinan, with 3,000 troops, 2,000 Japanese civilians, and another 2,000 Japanese soldiers.111 The clashes between the Japanese and retreating warlords or the CAs grew, instigating mass uprisings and nationalist movements. The clashes were reminiscent of the time of CCPinstigated mass uprisings against foreign concessions. Chiang was afraid of external interventions into the expedition again, and stressed the primary importance of internal unification. The Propaganda department that used to be largely infiltrated by the CCP
107 108

Ibid., p.140. Ibid., p.145. 109 Ibid., p.147. Chiang continued his tactic of encouraging warlords defection in December 1927, by dispatching Lu Ho-sheng into North China as secret agent to persuade warlords leaders and their subordinates to defect from Ankuochun. Ibid., p.151. 110 Ibid., p.153. 111 Ibid., p.158.


members was restructured to be in direct subordinate relationship with the KMT government, 112 and Chiang ordered the NRA to move through areas near Japanese concessions as quickly as possible to avoid possible skirmishes with Japan.113 How much Chiang felt the need to finish the expedition speedily is implied in his speech on April 7, 1928, that states the purpose of the expedition: On this struggle depends whether the Party and nation will exist or die, whether principles will win out or fail, whether the people are to prosper or suffer, and whether our comrades flourish or fade. Observe discipline strictly, follow orders, do not sacrifice wrongly, but do your best, stir up your spirit, and accomplish what is needed. We must swear to remove the Fengtien [Manchurian] and Shantung warlords, complete the national revolution, and implement the Three People’s Principles. The tone of the speech is more urgent as it focuses on the party and its life or death situation, which Chiang connects directly with the results of the expedition. The speech contrasts from Chiang’s speech in the Hunan campaign of 1926, 114 where he was more focused on independence of freedom of whole of China. As the expedition reached its end, Chiang himself turned into a self-interested individual for the KMT party, rather than an overarching figure representing the unification of China.

112 113

Ibid., p.155. Ibid., p.160. 114 “The importance of this fight is not only in that it will decide the fate of the warlords. But, whether or not the Chinese nation and race can restore their freedom and independence hangs in the balance. In other words, it is a struggle between the nation and the warlords, between the revolution and the anti-revolutionaries, between the Three People’s Principles and imperialism. All are to be decided now in this time of battle…so as to restore independence and freedom to our Chinese race.” This is the speech Chiang Kai-shek gave to his generals before the NRA attack on the Mi-lo line in the Hunan campaign, 1926. In Donald A. Jordan, p.76.



With a certain sense of urgency in nearing the end of the expedition, the different CAs and leaders united in the march to Peking. The First CA took Tehchou on May 13, 1928. It then combined forces with Feng Yu-hsiang to move to Peking together. The Third CA under Yen Hsi-shan made up the left wing of the movement north.116 On May 8, Yen took Shuochou and pushed Ankuochun out of northern Shansi. By May 25, the Ankuochun was pushed down out of Shansi highlands. With Yen’s Third CA bordering Shansi, Feng and his Second CA could follow the Peking-Hankow Railroad. Yen and Feng met in Paoting and attacked it together. The Ankuochun, preoccupied with Paoting, let open Chiang-chia-kou and Nan-kou, the critical gates into Peking. The Ankuochun did not go without a fight. The Ankuochun had superior firepower to NRA and effective rail communications, but the joint attack of Feng and Yen was able to cut off the rail and highway crossroads critical to Ankuochun offensive. 117 Once the CAs led a united attack against the warlords, the expedition was successful, even if for a temporary period. In moments of strong Ankuochun attack, the CAs only united stronger. From May 17 to 25, Chang Tso-lin of Ankuochun threw his 200,000 troops in counterattack. Braced together, Li Tsung-jen came with his Fourth CA to aid Feng on the north of the PekingHankow Railroad. After Yen’s opening of Nan-kou, the KMT attack recommenced on May 25.118 On May 28, the First CA moved to Tsangchou. The Ankuochun retreated to Ting River,
115 116 117 118

Donald, A. Jordan. Ibid., p.162. Ibid., p.163. Ibid., p.164.


the Wen-an swamp, and across the Grand Canal at Manchang. The CAs met with Feng at the Lowei railroad station, and with Yen at the Shih-chia-chuang station. The final attack to Peking was underway. Once the united CAs made their advance, the warlords defaulted to their selfinterests and habit of preserving their own forces. The northern line was comprised of Chang Tso-lin in the west, Sun Chuan-fang on the center, and Chang Tsung-chang on the east near Tientsin. On June 3, 1928, Chang withdrew to Manchuria by train, choosing the Japanese umbrella in the area. Then Sun withdrew from Ku-an on June 4, moving into Japanese Dairen. On June 6, Yen’s CA moved into Peking in a relatively bloodless campaign. The KMT tactic of persuading warlords to defect was also utilized in this last phase of the expedition. Lu Ho-sheng of KMT has been working with northern warlords since December of 1927. The tactic proved effective when General Hsu Yuan-chuan of the Manchurian Sixty Army under Chang Tsung-chang in Tientsin defected on June 1928. Chang could not retain Tientisn after the defection and withdrew.119 Unfortunately, Chang’s train blew up near Mukden on June 4,120 allowing his son, Chang Hsueh-liang to come in power. Despite the outcries of his father ’s subordinates, the Chang junior shook hands with KMT as his own forces were safe in Manchuria. The KMT national flag flew on Chang’s Mukden headquarters on December 29, 1928.121 China was finally united.

Conclusion Was China really united? On December 29 of 1928, the Northern Expedition may have led a united force on its famous march from Canton to Peking and planted a flag in Peking, but all it achieved was an external show of unification. After the expedition ended, the warlords still emanated its presence throughout China. It is true that the expedition overthrew the warlords Wu Pei-fu, Sun Chuan-fang, Chang Tsung-chang, and Chang Tso-lin. But in their place new factional struggle sprouted: the Nationalist government in lower Yangtze valley, the Kwangsi clique of Hupei, Hunan, and Kwangsi, Feng Yu-hsiang’s Kuominchun in Shensi and Honan, stretching into Shantung and Hopei, Yen His-shan of Shansi, with influences in Peking-Tientsin, and Chang Hsueh-liang with Manchurian generals

119 120 121

Ibid., p.167. There are allegations that the Japanese were involved in this incident. Ibid., p.168.


in control of the northeast of China.122 In addition, the Northern Expedition must not be mistaken to have touched every area of China. The expedition scarcely touched most of West and Southwest China. Local leaders in Szechwan, Kweichow, and Yunnan were alive and thriving. Even Kwangtung, home of the nationalist revolution, did not sit too closely with Nanking by the end of the expedition.123 The northern expedition may have begun with the grand ideal of national unification of China, but in the end it was an amalgamation of battles between different sectors of military powers: warlords, KMT, CCP, and Japanese and foreign forces. Although the march of expeditionary force from Canton to Beijing is impressive in its military feats, the expedition showed how the CCP and KMT factors in the United Front harbored their selfinterests in realizing the leadership of their own party, how the warlords were primarily concerned with their own respective area’s well-being and failed to lead a prolonged collective counterattack against the expedition, and how the Japanese and foreign forces only complicated the expedition further with their own self-interests in carving up China. While the military tactics of dividing the warlords worked for the advantage of the expeditionary force, the expeditionary force itself split in its act to unify China, and it also failed to achieve its objective in driving out the warlords and unifying China. The expedition may have been a success strictly in its military feats, but in terms of unity of the actors involved in the campaign, the expedition only etched the existing rivalries deeper.

122 123

C. Martin Wilbur, p.193. Ibid., p.194.


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South China Morning Post (20 Apr 1927), p.12. In Donald A. Jordan. South China Morning Post (8 April 1927), p.12. In Donald A. Jordan. U.S. Shanghai Consul C.E. Gauss to the Secretary of State, December 6, 1926 (893.00/7990), in which Gauss interpreted the movement as one coordinated by the KMT to weaken Sun’s hold on the United Provinces. See also Hsien-tai shih-liao [Contemporary historical materials]. Vols. 3 and 4. Shanghai: Hai T’ien Publishing Society, 1934, p.174-176. In Donald A. Jordan. Wikipedia, “Yuan Shikai” (22 Nov 2012), <> [accessed 23 Nov 2012]. William Morwood, Duel for the Middle Kingdom, (New York, NY: Everest House, 1980).