Northern Expedition part 02

 Beiyang star  Flag of the Republic of China Army  Emblem of the Kuomintang

Note: Beiyang star // Flag of the Republic of China Army // Emblem of the Kuomintang



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Nationalist rapprochement

Li Zongren, the de facto leader of the Nanjing government, set out to negotiate a possible reconciliation between the Wuhan Government (Wang Jingwei) and Nanjing government (Chiang Kai-shek/Jiang Jieshi). The talks, however, were interrupted on Aug. 24 when Sun's troops, supported by Wuhan dissenters, attacked the warship in the Yangtze on which Li was staying. Still, the talks had succeeded in getting Wuhan to cooperate with the Nanjing government. Wang Jingwei, upon the end of negotiations, ordered the purging of all Communists in Wuhan. This sparked a counter-coup by Communist troops in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, resulting in the deaths of 8,000 Nationalist troops, while many others fled. This chaos in Wuhan contributed to its destabilization and the strengthening of the Nanjing government.

Battle of Longtan

On August 25 Sun Chuanfang's army, now close to the Yangtze, launched an all-out attack on the Nationalist Forces. The worst hit was the First Route Army, defending the strategically placed area of Longtan, vital to the supply of Nanjing via Shanghai. The battle raged around Longtan, especially on Mt. Wulongshan, where Nationalist troops stubbornly held out far longer than was expected, assuring that Sun could not continue his advance to Nanjing. Bai Chongxi, recognizing the importance of Longtan, ordered reinforcements brought up as quickly as possible. Units of the Seventh and 19th Corps arrived on the scene on August 28 and pushed Sun's battered army back to Longtan, relieving Mt. Wulongshan's defenders and buying time for further troops to arrive. On August 30 the full might of the Second Route Army attacked Longtan and, by late afternoon had recaptured the city. Sun's army, with losses equal to two-thirds of its original strength, fled across the Yangtze in defeat.

Second Expedition

The period between September and November was calm and the Nationalists, once more led by the reinstated Chiang Kai-shek, reorganized themselves, though it was not until January 2 that this was formally announced. The Wuhan government, finally bowing to pressure, reconciled itself with Chiang and formally merged with the Nanjing government. On December 12 Nationalist forces, after reoccupying most of the territory lost that summer, recaptured Xuzhou. In response, Zhang Zuolin ordered that all loyal troops join his Anguo-jun Army, which had formed in response to the losses incurred by Sun Chuanfang's counteroffensive. However, it was not until April 2, following the conclusion of the Fourth Meeting of the Congress of the Kuomintang, that Chiang ordered the beginning of the Second Expedition.

The Nationalists swept across the remains of Sun Chuanfang's and Xu Kun's Zhili Clique forces and reached the Yellow River in mid-April, 1928. When Yan Xishan declared his intention to take Beijing, Zhang decided it was best to evacuate. On June 4 Zhang, who was heading north from Beijing by train, was assassinated by Japanese conspirators, operating from Japan's Kwantung Army. Yan's forces occupied Beijing and the city was renamed "Beiping" or "Northern Peace". Zhang's son, Zhang Xueliang, took control of Manchuria and decided to cooperate with Chiang and the Kuomintang, replacing all banners of the Beiyang government in Manchuria with the Nationalist government flag, due to his desire to drive Japanese influence out of Manchuria. Thus China was nominally reunited under one government.


During the Nanjing Incident, the Kuomintang took on the western imperialist powers in China, launching an all-out attack against their concessions in many Chinese cities. Chinese forces stormed the consulates of the US, Britain and Japan, looting nearly every foreign property and almost assassinating the Japanese consul. Nationalist forces killed an American, two Britons, one Frenchman, an Italian and a Japanese. Chinese snipers targeted the American consul and the Marines who were guarding him—Chinese bullets flew into Socony Hall where American citizens were hiding out. One Chinese soldier declared, "We don't want money, anyway, we want to kill." The Kuomintang forces also stormed and seized millions of dollars worth of British concessions in Hankou, refusing to hand them back to Britain. Britain then decided to give them up.


In 1928 Chinese Muslim Gen. Bai Chongxi led Kuomintang forces that defeated and destroyed the army of Fengtian Clique Gen. Zhang Zongchang, capturing 20,000 of his 50,000 troops and almost capturing Zhang himself, who escaped to Manchuria.

Bai personally had around 2,000 Muslims under his control during his stay in Beijing in 1928 after the Northern Expedition was completed. It was reported by TIME magazine that they "swaggered riotously" in the aftermath Bai Chongxi announced in Beijing in June 1928 that the forces of the Kuomintang would seize control of Manchuria, and the enemies of the Kuomintang would "scatter like dead leaves before the rising wind". Gen. Bai was nicknamed "The Hewer of Communist Heads".


The Northern Expedition is viewed positively in China today because it ended a period of disorder and started the formation of an effective central government. However, it did not fully solve the warlord problem, as many warlords still had large armies that served their own needs, not those of China. The left wing at the time criticized Soviet leader Joseph Stalin for relying on Chiang, a "bourgeois" figure who betrayed the "proletariat." This view was presented in an influential narrative by Harold Isaacs in his book, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, the 1938 edition of which included a preface by Leon Trotsky.

The only faction destroyed during the expedition was the Zhili clique. Local provincial warlords who seized or enhanced their power included Li Zongren of the New Guangxi Clique, Yan Xishan of the Shanxi clique, Feng Yuxiang and his Northwestern or Guominjun Clique, Tang Shengzhi in Hunan, Chiang Kuang-Nai in Fujian, Sheng Shicai of Xinjiang, Long Yun of Yunnan, Wang Jialie of Guizhou, Liu Xiang and Liu Wenhui of the Sichuan Clique, Han Fuqu of Shandong, Bie Tingfang (别廷芳) of Henan, the Ma Clique of Ma Bufang and his family in Qinghai, Ma Hongkui in Ningxia, and Ma Zhongying in Gansu, Chen Jitang and his Guangdong Clique, Lu Diping (鲁涤平) of Jiangxi and Jing Yuexiu (井岳秀) of Shaanxi. This was because of their alliance with the Kuomintang. They acted as franchisees of the party, wore NRA uniforms and espoused the party doctrine. With the exception of the Xinjiang and Fengtian cliques, the warlords who survived 1928 tended to have some background in revolutionary circles, some going back to the Tongmenghui era.

The wars between these new warlords claimed more lives than ever in the 1930s. This would prove to be a major problem for the KMT all the way through World War II and the following civil war. Chiang gained the greatest benefit from the expedition, however, for the victory achieved his personal goal of becoming paramount leader. Furthermore, he made the military command superior to KMT party leadership, which resulted in his dictatorship later.

It is worth noting that the Northern Expedition was one of only two times in Chinese history when China was united by a conquest from south to north. The other time was when the Ming Dynasty succeeded in expelling the Mongol-Yuan Dynasty from China. The Northern Expedition opened the way for another war between the Kuomintang and Guominjun during the Muslim conflict in Gansu (1927–30).

Trotsky and Stalin

The Northern Expedition became a point of contention over foreign policy between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Stalin followed an opportunist policy, ignoring Communist ideology when necessary. He told the CCP to stop complaining about the lower classes and follow the KMT's orders. Stalin believed that the KMT middle and upper classes would defeat the western imperialists in China and complete the revolution. Trotsky wanted the Communist party to complete an orthodox proletarian revolution and opposed the KMT. Stalin funded the KMT during the expedition. Stalin countered Trotskyist criticism by making a secret speech in which he said that Chiang's right-wing Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the imperialists, that Chiang had funding from rich merchants and that his forces were to be utilized until squeezed for all usefulness like a lemon before being discarded. However, Chiang quickly reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by liquidating the Communist party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.

See also

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