Studies on Yuan Shikai’s construction of the Beiyang Army and his reign over China

Yuan Shikai was the founder of the Northern Warlords. After the 1911 Revolution, as the President of the Republic of China, Yuan held the ruling power of the central government of Beijing and promoted the Northern Warlords to the height of their prosperity. However, this period of prosperity did not last long. In December 1915, Yuan Shikai claimed to be the emperor flagrantly, which was opposed by the opposition factions with different positions including the Southwest National Protection Army (Hu Guo Jun). Yuan had to end his reign in a flurry and died in June 1916. Li Zongyi’s The Biography of Yuan Shikai (Zhonghua Book Company, 1980), Li Xinzong’s History of the Republic of China (Volume of 1912-1916) (Zhonghua Book Company, 1981), Hou Yijie’s The Lifetime of Yuan Shikai (Henan People’s Publishing House, 1982) and other monographs made systematic, comprehensive and pertinent records of this historic stage. The monographic studies of this period mainly focused on the following aspects:

The process and evaluation of Yuan Shikai’s founding of the Beiyang Army

Lai Xinxia pointed out that Yuan Shikai’s founding of the Beiyang Army had roughly gone through four stages: The New Army, the Wuwei Right Army, the Beiyang Standing Army and the Beiyang Six Divisions. But Deng Yibing held that the stage division of the Beiyang Army building process should reflect the gradual development of the Beiyang Army from a general New Army of the late Qing Dynasty (there was the Self-Strengthening Army in the South then) into a military group. Therefore, Yuan Shikai’s Beiyang Army building process should be divided into three stages: the first one is the New Army stage, the second one is the stage of the Wuwei Army and its vanguard, and the third one is the Beiyang Army stage.19 As for Yuan Shikai’s role in the formation of the Northern Warlords, Lai Xinxia held that it was mainly embodied in three important events: the organization of manpower, the establishment of rules and regulations for the army building and being skilled in seizing the opportunity for combat. As for the evaluation of Yuan Shikai’s Beiyang Army, Wu Zhaoqing proposed that we should not confuse the military system reform of the Beiyang New Army with the Northern Warlords’ crimes which had wrecked our country and ruined our people, and we should not deny the progressiveness of the Northern Warlords because of its crimes, which replaced the feudalist military system with the capitalist military system; the admission of the position of the Beiyang New Army’s military system reform in the history of China’s military development did not mean that we would deny the Beiyang New Army’s reactionary nature and its reactionary role in the history.20

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