Warfare in Chinese History

By Hans J. Van Der Ven | Go to book overview
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STATE BUILDING (1928–1934)ast

Warlord warfare between 1916 and 1928 was waged between standing infantry armies. These wars were of short duration and aimed at the control of large cities, railroad lines, and rivers. Local populations remained relatively unaffected by such campaigns. The militaries that fought them imitated pre-World War I European models, which have been called 'institutionalized warfare'.1 In such warfare in Europe, armies were centrally controlled. Uniforms, laws, rituals, and barracks clearly separated the civil and the military realms, and battles took place in territories and timespans bounded by a series of convention and laws. When World War I began in Europe, the expectation was that the conflict would be a short, if mighty, clash. This changed only as these armies became stuck in trenches. The fighting then became a long war of attrition, seemingly pointless, but nonetheless consuming huge numbers of the population and with often improvised state structures geared toward mobilizing all available human and material resources, in the process laying the foundations for the social welfare state. Institutionalized warfare made way for total war.

Arthur Waldron's treatment of warlord warfare in China's turning point is important in forcing us to take a less condemnatory approach to the warlords and bringing the impact of warlord warfare, especially for the creation of institutional and cultural vacuums in which new developments became possible, into our understanding of historical change. Waldron's work also offers a detailed and insightful discussion of the Zhili-Fengtian war of 1924, drawing us skilfully into the various battles that made up this war, the logistical efforts

K.J. Holsti, The state, war and the state of war (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
I acknowledge with gratitude the helpful criticisms of Ch'en Yung-fa, Joseph Esherick, and an anonymous reviewer of Brill Academic Publishers.


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Warfare in Chinese History


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