a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Second Chinese Warlord War

Also called: First Zhili–Fengtian War

Years: 1922-1922
Battle deaths: 20,000 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]

Published: 2014-08-03 23:00:46 | Updated: 2014-08-03 23:33:21
The Warlord Era (Chinese: 軍閥時代; pinyin: Jūnfá shídài, 1916–1928) was a period in the history of the Republic of China when the country was divided among military cliques in the mainland regions of Sichuan, Shanxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, Guangdong, Guangxi, Gansu, Yunnan and Xinjiang.


The First Zhili–Fengtian War (First Chihli-Fengtien War; Chinese: 第一次直奉戰爭; pinyin: Dìyīcì Zhífèng Zhànzhēng) was a 1922 conflict in the Republic of China’s Warlord Era between the Zhili and Fengtian cliques for control of Beijing. The war led to the defeat of the Fengtian clique and the fall of its leader, Zhang Zuolin, from the coalition Zhili-Fengtian government in Beijing. Wu Peifu was credited as the strategist behind Zhili’s victory.

Having jointly seized Beijing in 1920, the Fengtian and Zhili cliques controlled the nominal government of China. Tensions soon began building between the two cliques in their uneasy coalition government. In 1922, the Fengtian clique replaced Premier Jin Yunpeng with Liang Shiyi without getting the prior consent of their partner, the Zhili clique. While the Zhili clique had the backing of the British and Americans, the Fengtian leader was backed by Japan. The Japanese government had once supported their enemy, the Anhui clique, but had switched sides soon after the change of power. On December 25, 1921, a cabinet under Liang Shiyi’s leadership was formed with strong support from Zhang Zuolin, whereupon the new cabinet immediately granted amnesty to six former cabinet members of the Anhui clique. The Zhili clique strongly opposed the plan but were overruled.

The conflict further intensified as the new cabinet refused to give some three million dollars in military budgets previously promised to the Zhili clique. As a result, Wu Peifu and other Zhili clique members forced Liang Shiyi to resign on January 25, 1922. With the pro-Fengtian clique cabinet having collapsed only a month after its formation, Zhang Zuolin threatened to resolve the conflict by force. Troops were deployed on April 10, 1922, though Wu Peifu and his Zhili clique did not formally denounce their opponent until April 25, 1922.
Fengtian troops deployed on April 10, 1922. After the war broke on April 29, 1922, the Zhili army on the eastern front was driven back to Renqiu and Hejian (河间). Western Zhili forces did not make any progress under the heavy shelling of Fengtian army. On April 30, 1922, Wu Peifu personally went to the front-line to order heavy shelling of the Fengtian front, while his main force outflanked the Fengtian rear. As Zhili troops launched its surprise attack on May 4, 1922, the 16th Division of the Fengtian army (composed of ex-Zhili troops commanded by Feng Guozhang) defected to Wu Peifu. The Temporarily Organized 1st Division of the Fengtian army was forced into retreat from Fengtai, and their defense collapsed on the western front. It was only when the 1st Division of the Fengtian army was deployed in a counterattack was the Zhili advance checked and Changxindian (长辛店) was retaken.

This successful counteroffensive by the Fengtian clique was, however, short lived. Wu Peifu changed tactics by faking a retreat, luring the advancing Fengtian army into an ambush. As the unsuspecting Fengtian troops advanced, it overstretched itself. Seizing the opportunity, Zhili troops flanked the enemy and seized victory once again. This time, the victory was complete; the remaining Fengtian troops of the western front was completely annihilated, with the Zhili army turning its attention eastward.
The Fengtian army on the eastern front was initially victorious, with the Zhili forces holding on in a desperate rearguard action. However, as news of their defeat in the west reached the 1st echelon of the Fengtian army, brigade commander Bao Deshan (鲍德山) refused to continue to attack the enemy, and left his flank dangerously exposed. In danger of being cut off, Zhang Zuolin ordered a general retreat to avoid total annihilation. The Fengtian 2nd echelon, under the command of his son, Zhang Xueliang, was the cream of the Fengtian army, and became the main target of the Zhili attack. Having achieved complete victory in the west, Wu Peifu redeployed his crack troops (the 3rd and 26th Division) and personally directed their attack on Zhang Xueliang’s unit. Although Zhang Xueliang successfully repulsed the enemy’s attack with minor casualties, they were eventually forced to lead an organized retreat, abandoning ground.

The 3rd echelon of the Fengtian army on the eastern front was under the command of Li Jinglin (李景林), and initially succeeded in beating back attacks at Yaoma crossing (Yaomadu, 姚马渡). Though capturing over a thousand enemy troops, reports of the western defeat saw morale collapse. Taking advantage of the situation, Zhili forces renewed attacks on the 3rd echelon headquarters in Horse Factory (Machang, 马厂), succeeding in killing and capturing over seven thousand Fengtian troops, and forcing the latter to give up Poplar Willow Green (Yangliuqing, 杨柳青). 3rd Echelon forces retreated to Northern Warehouse (Beicang, 北仓). While preparing to organize a defense at Junliangcheng, the Fengtian troops run into a nearly twenty-thousand Zhili reinforcements arrived by train. Subsequently defeated, the surviving Fengtian army was forced to withdraw to Luanzhou.

By this time it was obvious the Fengtian clique was soundly defeated, and on May 5, 1922, the 23rd Division of the Zhili army - under the command of Wang Chengbin (王承斌) - entered Tianjin. Fengtian forces suffered over twenty thousand fatalities, ten thousand desertions, and forty thousands surrendered to the Zhili clique.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved 2014-08-03


Notes on fatalities

[1] Battle deaths: Correlates of War, Intra-State War Data v4.1 #692 - fatalities unknown. According to the Wikipedia article the Zhili army suffered only a low amount of losses while the Fengtian lost 20,000. No sources are given for these figures.

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



Advertisment is a distraction, we know, but it helps us pay our ISP.