In this study of a confused and relatively neglected period of Chinese history, I have sought to do three things. First, I have endeavored to clarify the relations among the warlords and show that they were essentially rational men dealing with very complex problems of political survival and adjustment. Second, I have tried to suggest that, by focusing on the problems of power in Chinese society, and analyzing situations according to the logic of power, it is possible to obtain important insights into both individual political behavior and the behavior of the entire Chinese political system. Third, I have sought to demonstrate that the modernization of China can be usefully viewed as a profound tension between tendencies toward the restoration in modern guise of an essentially monolithic structure and tendencies toward more open and competitive politics, of which the warlords were a principal but not always happy example.
I have not had much to say about the warlords as individuals. Instead, I have accepted them as a diverse group of men who blended traditional Chinese views and modern ideas in about the same proportion as would be expected of a political class that still had roots in a society that was only beginning to modernize. In dwelling mainly on their organizational and power concerns, I have tried to identify the real problems that they saw as governing their behavior and point out that their limitations as modernizers of China were linked to the basic facts of political life in a society in which the traditional forms of power had crumbled. My analysis suggests that little improvement or, for that matter, even significant change would have occurred if the warlords, either individually or collectively, had had different views on questions of public morality and had adopted new ideologies. Their behavior was controlled too much by the nature and distribution of power in the Chinese society of that era to have been greatly influenced by values and objectives unrelated to the requirements of political survival.