The basis of warlord politics was the institution of personal armies at the disposal of individual military commanders. The principal warlords were sovereign over their organizations and in their domains, and there were no formal or legal authorities that could regulate or control their actions. The autonomy of the commanders was of course limited by the realities of life and, above all, by the balance of power in which they were caught, the perpetual shortage of financial resources, the loyalty of their dependent commanders and their associate warlords, and finally their own sense of social consciousness and national idealism.
In short, both the strength and limitations of the warlords lay in their organizational structures, and therefore it is appropriate that we begin our analytical treatment of the warlord period by looking at the character of their organizations, by noting the categories of leaders, the patterns of loyalty they developed, and their use of traditional bonds and personal ties. Many of these organizational considerations involved the basic problem of modern China, the balance between technical competence and loyalty obligations that plagued every warlord and still to this day hounds Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communists as they grapple with the "Red and Expert" question. We shall bring together all these organizational questions in a brief case study of Feng Yü-hsiang's army, the Kuominchün, or the National People's Army, which was the first Chinese army that sought to identify itself with both the spirit of nationalism and populism. The phenomenon of personal armies has been apparent during most periods of Chinese history, and especially during the periods between dynasties. It was a major factor in the fall of the Han. 1 One of the perennial problems in the traditional pattern of Chinese government was that of the relationship of civil authority to the military during periods of both peace and war. The ambiguous feeling of the literati toward military affairs generally meant that the military commanders were relegated to a subordinate position but not one in which they were always successfully controlled by civil officials.