Wang Shizhen

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Wang Shih-chen
Related People

Biography in English

Wang Shih-chen (1861-1 July 1930), one of Yuan Shih-k'ai's three chief assistants (with Tuan Ch'i-jui and Feng Kuo-chang) in organizing and training the Peiyang Army. In 1917 he served as premier and minister of war at Peking, and in 1922 he became president of the college of marshals.

Chengting, Chihli (Hopei), was the birthplace of Wang Shih-chen. The Wang family had been well-to-do and had produced officials and military officers. However, Wang's father and uncle both died when he was a young child, and the family finances quickly diminished. Because he was a sickly child, Wang was late in starting to school. After a few years of traditional education, about 1876 he began to train himself in archery and horseback riding to develop the proficiency required by the military examinations. In 1877 he enlisted in the Chengting garrison force. It later was transferred to Shanhaikuan, the strategic pass between China proper and Manchuria. In 1885, when Li Hung-chang (ECCP, I, 464-71) established a military academy in Tientsin, Wang Shih-chen became a member of its first class. After three years of modern military training, he was graduated in 1888 and was sent back to Shanhaikuan to take charge of artillery instruction. He and his students went to Korea in 1894 to take part in the Sino- Japanese war. Because of the humiliating defeat sustained in that war, China embarked on a program of military reorganization. In 1896 Wang Shih-chen became chief assistant to Yuan Shih-k'ai in the Newly Created Army and commander of the engineering corps. He also participated in various teaching and course development programs at the Tientsin Military Academy. In 1900, when Yuan Shih-k'ai was appointed governor of Shantung, Wang was entrusted with the arrangements for the transfer of his troops from Tientsin to Shantung. When Yuan became governor general of Chihli in 1902, he instituted a new army program in which Wang played an important role. After the establishment of a provincial training center at Paoting, Wang was made commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade and was given general responsibility for training. A commission for army reorganization was established at Peking in 1903, and Wang Shihchen became chief of its department of military training. He later was appointed chief of the department of military administration and commander of the 6th Division of the New Army. When the commission for army reorganization was brought under the Board of the Army, Wang was made acting vice president of that board. He was confirmed in that office in mid- 1907, at which time he also became provincial commander in chief of the garrison force in northern Kiangsu. After he had made several requests for relief because of ill health, Wang was allowed to resign from these offices in 1910. When the revolution began in 1911, he was recalled to serve as governor general of Hupeh and Hunan and, later, as minister of war. When the republic was established, he retired to his native Chengting. In the summer of 1914 Yuan Shih-k'ai, who then held the presidency at Peking, persuaded Wang Shih-chen to come out of retirement and to hold office in the Peking government. Wang was made resident director of the office of the supreme commander of military forces and head of the model corps at Peking, Yuan's personal elite force. In 1915 Wang became acting minister of war, and in 1916 he was appointed chief of general staff. He evidently remained aloof from Yuan Shih-k'ai's monarchical movement. The death of Yuan Shih-k'ai in June 1916 did not damage Wang Shih-chen's career. In June 1917 he was appointed minister of war. During the restoration attempt of Chang Hsün (q.v.), he was appointed grand councillor. When the forces of Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.) moved against Chang Hsün at Peking, Wang led the cadets of the model corps in support of Tuan's troops. Later in 1917, after Feng Kuo-chang (q.v.) became acting president, Wang served as premier and minister of war. He resigned in 1918. In 1922 he was made a marshal and was appointed president of the college of marshals. Early in 1925 Tuan Ch'i-jui, then provisional chief executive at Peking, convened the so-called rehabilitation conference. Wang Shih-chen served as a delegate to this conference and as chairman of the military reorganization committee. Later, when Chang Tso-lin and his Fengtien forces entered Peking in 1926 and when the Northern Expedition forces won control of Peking in 1928, Wang attempted to preserve peace and order in the city. Thereafter, until his death on 1 July 1930, he led a quiet life in the old capital.

During a militarist-dominated period in north China, Wang Shih-chen showed little interest in the struggle for personal position, territorial control, or private fortune. It is said that he always refrained from talking about his own achievements. When asked, he would say : "These are all 'mirrored flowers' and 'reflections of the moon in water' which are highly illusory. What good does it do to reminisce?" On his deathbed he said that the death of a man is like the fading of smoke, and his last wish was that his funeral would be a simple one.

Biography in Chinese

All rights reserved@ENP-China