The class basis of the Northern Warlords and the nature of its regime

There were great controversies over this issue in academic circles. Peng Ming held that the Northern Warlords were the representative of the landlord class, standing for the most backward and most reactionary relations of production. The direct consequence of its coming to power was the re-strengthening of the feudal forces, maintaining and consolidating the feudal rule of the landlord class to the peasantry.7 In view of the fact that the capitalist economy had developed to some extent during the reign of the Northern Warlords, Lai Xinxia argued that it did not only represent the landlord class, but also had the bourgeois coloration in some aspects or during some certain period.8 After investigating some warlords’ private capitalist economic activities, Wei Ming pointed out that some of the warlord bureaucrats were quite different from the former ruling classes, and they basically separated themselves from the feudal production relations or made some transformations, which meant that the nature of the Northern Warlords regime also became different.9 Lai Xinxia stressed that it was acceptable to say that the Northern Warlords Group contained the bourgeois nature, but we should pay attention to the

History of the Northern Warlords 109 problems of time and stage. Generally speaking, the Northern Warlords Group’s bourgeois features appeared from the later period of the First World War, we should not put these two stages together. Therefore, it was worthwhile to study how much the Northern Warlords represented the interests of the bourgeoisie.10 However, some scholars questioned Lai’s opinion. Pan Min thought that the Northern Warlords neither served the landlord class nor maintained the interests of the bourgeoisie but were a “Bonapartism regime” getting beyond the interests of a particular class. The Northern Warlords regime only had the relationship of mutual utilization with the bourgeoisie and the landlord class. Perhaps the fundamental reason for the rapid collapse of the Beiyang Government was that it did not have its class basis.11 Tang Xuefeng thought that the real social foundation of warlord particularism is not the feudal landlord class, but the bankrupt farmers and the unemployed, which reflected the morbidity of the old Chinese society.12

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