Biography in English

Wu P'ei-fu 吳佩孚 T. Tzu-yü 子玉 Wu P'ei-fu (22 April 1874-4 December 1939), warlord and leader of the Chihli military faction who became the dominant military leader in north China in 1922. Although his control of the Peking government was broken by Feng Yü-hsiang in 1924, he continued to dominate the Honan-Hupeh-Hunan area until 1926, when he was defeated by the Northern Expedition forces.

The son of a tradesman, Wu P'ei-fu was born in Tengchow on the northern coast of Shantung province. At the age of five, he began his early education in the Chinese classics at a local school. Because his father's death in 1887 left the family in straitened circumstances, the young Wu enrolled as a cadet attached to the naval station at Tengchow. He continued his studies in his spare time, and in 1896 he became a sheng-yuan. Because of a misdemeanor, he was deprived of this degree in the following year and was forced to flee to Peking, where he supported himself for a time by telling fortunes. He went to Tientsin in 1898 and obtained a position as clerk in the partially modernized army of Nieh Shih-ch'eng through the influence of a relative. Subsequently, he was admitted to a military preparatory school at K'aip'ing, where he remained for five months until the school was closed during the Boxer Uprising of 1900.

In 1902 Wu P'ei-fu was admitted to Paoting Military Academy, then recently established by Yuan Shih-k'ai (q.v.) ; and in this manner he began his long association with the Peiyang military clique. After specializing for a year in cartography and surveying, Wu was graduated in 1903 as a lieutenant and was assigned to a Japanese Army intelligence group based at Chefoo. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 he made several reconnaissance missions in Korea and Manchuria for the Japanese army, and at war's end he was decorated for his services by the Japanese government. One of the Japanese officers with whom Wu collaborated at that time, Okano Masujiro, later became one of Wu's military advisers, as well as one of his principal biographers.

At the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese war Wu P'ei-fu, by then a captain, was assigned to the Peiyang Army's crack 3rd Division. Late in 1906 Ts'ao K'un (q.v.) succeeded Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.) as division commander, and the 3rd Division was transferred to Changchun. After the republican revolution in 1911, the 3rd Division was recalled and was stationed in the Nanyuan quarter of Peking to support Yuan Shih-k'ai in his political maneuvering against the Nanking provisional government. To convince the delegates of Nanking that Yuan's presence was necessary in Peking to maintain order, the 3rd Division dutifully staged a "mutiny." For his part in the affair, Wu received command of the 3rd Division's 3rd Artillery Brigade, with the rank of colonel. For the next eight years, Wu P'ei-fu's career was closely linked with the 3rd Division and its commander, Ts'ao K'un. In March 1912 the division was sent by Yuan Shih-k'ai to Hunan to restrain the activities of the revolutionaries in central China. During the so-called second revolution of 1913 (see Li Lieh-chün), Wu's brigade was assigned to protect communications along the southern section of the Peking- Hankow railway. In 1915, when Ts'ai O (q.v.) led a revolt against Yuan Shih-k'ai in southwest China, Yuan ordered the 3rd Division to Szechwan to crush it. After the failure of Yuan's monarchical movement and Yuan's death in June 1916, Wu returned with Ts'ao K'un and the 3rd Division to Paoting. With Ts'ao's appointment as military governor to Chihli (Hopei) province, Wu was left in temporary command of the division. In 1917 the 3rd Division was transferred back to Hunan, where the Peiyang forces were faring badly against the "constitution protection" forces of the southwestern military leaders. During the spring of 1918 Wu P'ei-fu, in acting command of the Peiyang forces, advanced as far as Hengchow in southern Hunan and recovered most of the province for the Peking regime.

Wu aspired to the military governorship of Hunan, but his hopes were dashed by Tuan Ch'i-jui, then the premier at Peking, who awarded the post to one of his own followers. This rebuff to his ambitions probably was one of the factors which turned Wu P'ei-fu against Tuan Ch'i-jui. Already Wu's loyalty to Tuan's leadership of the Peiyang military establishment had been undermined by the split of the Peiyang group into the rival Anhwei and Chihli factions: Wu and his immediate superior, Ts'ao K'un, were identified with the Chihli faction, while Tuan was the leader of the then dominant Anhwei faction. Also, while his forces were bogged down near the Hunan-Kwangsi border, Wu was approached by emissaries of the opposing Hunanese leaders, who urged him to consider the advantages to China of bringing the war in Hunan to a peaceful conclusion. Impressed by their arguments, resentful of Tuan, and in personal command of a powerful army well beyond the reach of Tuan's authority, Wu P'ei-fu decided to embark upon a course of action which would bring increasing independence from the military leadership of Tuan in Peking.

The change in Wu's attitude became apparent in August 1918. At that time he circulated the first of many open telegrams proposing an end to the civil war and the unification of north and south China by peaceful means. In this and later telegrams, though not attacking Tuan Ch'i-jui by name, Wu voiced his disapproval of Tuan's policy of uniting China by military force. He also denounced the Nishihara loans and other secret agreements which Tuan's government was negotiating with Japan, in particular the agreements concerning Japanese concessions in Wu's native province of Shantung. After the student demonstrations of the May Fourth Incident of 1919 in Peking, Wu sent an open telegram to Hsu Shih-ch'ang (q.v.), the president, expressing his sympathy for the students' opposition to the government's dealings with Japan.

Tuan Ch'i-jui responded to Wu's criticism by warning him about the consequences of disobeying orders from the Peking government. On the advice of Ts'ao K'un, Wu restrained his verbal attacks for a briefperiod. By mid-January 1920, however, he was ready to chart a more aggressive course. He telegraphed Peking for permission to return north from Hunan with the troops of the 3rd Division. After several such requests had been refused, Wu publicly announced his intention to withdraw his troops from Hunan. At the time, he was reported to have made a secret agreement with the Canton military government to turn over the areas he vacated in Hunan to the southern allies of Sun Yat-sen in return for large quantities of military supplies. On 25 May 1920, in defiance of the Peking government, Wu began to transfer his forces to Hankow and thence northward up the Peking-Hankow railway to Paoting. Aroused by this open challenge of his authority, Tuan Ch'i-jui dismissed Wu and Ts'ao K'un from office. On 14 July, Tuan's National Pacification Army (Ting-kuo chün) took to the field against the 3rd Division. Assisted by a large detachment sent from Manchuria by Chang Tso-lin (q.v.), the Wu-Ts'ao forces bested the National Pacification Army in a series of engagements along the Peking-Hankow railway. Tuan hastily resigned from office and took refuge in the Japanese concession in Tientsin.

As a result of this conflict, known as the Chihli-Anhwei war, Wu P'ei-fu became the dominant figure in the Chihli military clique, overshadowing his nominal chief, Ts'ao K'un. However, Ts'ao's ally Chang Tso-lin, regarded Wu's growing power as a challenge to his own ambitions in north China and sought to curb Wu's influence. Thus, at a conference of warlords held in Tientsin in April 1921 —attended by Chang Tso-lin; Ts'ao K'un; Chin Yün-p'eng (q.v.), the premier; and Wang Chan-yuan (1861-1934), the military governor of Hupeh — Chang insisted that Wang Chan-yuan, rather than Wu P'ei-fu, receive the coveted post of inspector general (Hsun-yueh-shih) of Hupeh and Hunan.

When Wang Chan-yuan returned to Wuchang as inspector general, he immediately was confronted with threats of mutiny among his troops and by an invasion of Hunan by independent Hunanese militarists. Wang sent urgent pleas to Wu P'ei-fu for military assistance, but Wu kept his troops standing by at Loyang and waited for his rival to be overthrown by the Hunanese armies. Two days after Wang was driven from his post on 7 August 1921, the Peking government appointed Wu to succeed him as inspector general of Hupeh and Hunan. At the same time, Wu's subordinate Hsiao Yao-nan( 1875-1 926; T. Heng-sheng) was made military governor of Hupeh, and Sun Ch'uan-fang (q.v.) became commander in chief of the upper Yangtze region. With the ouster of Wang Chan-yuan, Wu P'ei-fu and his colleagues moved quickly against the Hunanese. Wu advanced from Loyang to Hankow and dispatched a fleet of warships upriver against Yochow, in northern Hunan. Yochow fell on 27 August and the Hunanese armies, confronted on two sides by Wu's troops, soon were defeated. Despite this success, Wu was reluctant to extend himself southward into Hunan, for he was suspicious of Chang Tso-lin's intentions in north China. On 1 September 1921 Wu concluded a truce with the Hunanese leaders, leaving them in control of much of their native province. The following month, he succeeded in driving back an attack by Szechwanese troops in western Hupeh. Having thus secured his flanks to the south and west, Wu was ready to turn his attention to north China and his chief antagonist, Chang Tso-lin.

While Wu had been strengthening his position in central China, Chang Tso-lin had been working to extend his influence over the government in Peking. In December 1921, with the backing of the communications clique and the Anhwei faction, he succeeded in installing his candidate, Liang Shih-i (q.v.), as premier. To counter Chang's influence, Wu P'ei-fu resorted to tactics similar to those he had used against Tuan Ch'i-jui. He issued a series of public telegrams attacking the Liang Shih-i government for its financial dealings with Japan. In particular, he denounced Liang for having undermined the position of the Chinese delegation to the Washington Conference by negotiating separately with the Japanese government regarding the question of former German concessions in Shantung. Wu's campaign against the Liang government gained the support of several military and civil governors and also a large segment of public opinion, and after only a month in office, Liang Shih-i was obliged to resign under fire. Thwarted by Wu's tactics in the political sphere, Chang Tso-lin began to move troops from Manchuria into Hopei province and announced his intention of unifying China by force of arms.

The ensuing struggle between Wu P'ei-fu and Chang Tso-lin, known as the first Chihli- Fengtien war, broke out in January 1922, but for some months the fighting was carried on in desultory fashion. Playing for time in order to concentrate his scattered forces, Wu at first confined hostilities on his part to a "war of telegrams," criticizing Chang's policy of unifying China by military force and urging Chang to withdraw his troops north of the Great Wall. Wu secretly ordered his subordinate Feng Yü-hsiang (q.v.), then military governor of Shensi, to rush his troops eastward to Honan; and to offset an alliance between Chang Tso-lin and Sun Yat-sen, Wu reportedly made secret arrangements with Sun's lieutenant Ch'en Ch'iung-ming (q.v.) to obstruct Sun's plans for a northern expedition from Kwangtung into Hunan and Kiangsi. By the end of April, both Wu and Chang were prepared for an open test of strength. Although inferior in numbers and equipment to Chang's Japanese-trained forces, Wu's troops gained the upper hand in a number of engagements near Peking and forced the Fengtien army to retreat northward to its base in Manchuria.

As a result of his victory over Chang Tso-lin, Wu P'ei-fu became the dominant military figure in north China. His past pronouncements against Japanese interference in China and in favor of peaceful unification of the country, as well as his support of the "able men" cabinet of Wang Ch'ung-hui (q.v.), earned for him a reputation as a public-spirited leader of patriotic and liberal leanings. During the latter part of 1922, however, Wu's plans for peaceful unification under the "able men" cabinet were frustrated by the designs of his old chief, Ts'ao K'un. Wu's failure to back the Wang Ch'unghui cabinet against the scurrilous and unscrupulous attacks of Ts'ao's partisans, and his unwillingness to dissociate himself openly from Ts'ao's schemes to make himself president, soon disenchanted many of his admirers in liberal circles.

Early in 1923 Wu P'ei-fu suddenly reversed his former stand in favor of peaceful unification and began preparations to unite China by military force. The chief obstacle to his plans was Chang Tso-lin, who, since his defeat at Wu's hands the year before, had been building up his military forces in Manchuria for another move into north China. While Wu was engaged in assembling troops and equipment for another encounter with his adversary to the north, he also tried to extend his influence into the provinces of south China. In the spring of 1923 he forced the Peking government to appoint Sun Ch'uan-fang military governor of Fukien and Shen Hung-ying, an allied Kiangsi militarist, military governor of Kwangtung. At the same time, he encouraged a young subordinate, Yang Sen (q.v.), to invade Szechwan. Although Sun Ch'uan-fang eventually succeeded in taking over Fukien, Yang Sen was only partially successful in establishing himself in Szechwan, and Shen Hung-ying was badly defeated by Sun Yat-sen's forces in Kwangtung.

During 1923-24 Wu P'ei-fu was visited regularly at his military headquarters in Loyang by Chinese and foreign dignitaries who recognized that he, rather than Ts'ao K'un's shadow government in Peking, was the actual center of power in north China. As inspector general of Chihli-Shantung-Honan (a post held by Ts'ao K'un until he became president in October 1923), Wu controlled a large territorial base extending from Peking to the Yangtze province of Hupeh (under his subordinate Hsiao Yao-nan). It was from this large domain rather than from the Peking government that Wu derived the revenues needed to maintain his large armies and to finance his plans for military unification of China. Apart from the land tax, the salt gabelle, and periodic "squeeze" extracted from wealthy merchants of Hupeh, Wu's greatest source of income was the Peking- Hankow railway. Beyond its economic significance, the railroad constituted Wu's major line of communication and transport by which he could rapidly move men and supplies between north and central China. It was, therefore, vital to Wu's military plans that the line be kept in operation. It undoubtedly was this consideration that prompted Wu, who formerly had shown a paternalistic benevolence toward labor organizations, to suppress the Peking- Hankow railway workers' strike of February 1923. This incident, in which some 80 workers were killed by Wu's troops, together with his undisguised espousal of a policy of military unification and his toleration of Ts'ao K'un's unsavory regime in Peking, contributed to a rapid decline in Wu's popularity after 1922. For quite different reasons, Wu had also become unpopular with his military associates. A stern disciplinarian, he stood aloof from his officers and frequently treated even senior subordinates with a brusqueness bordering on contempt. As a result, he alienated many of the officers under his command, the most important being Feng Yü-hsiang, upon whose support Wu had relied heavily in his victory over Chang Tso-lin in 1922.

In September 1924 Chang Tso-lin began to move his troops southward from Manchuria. In response to an urgent plea from Ts'ao K'un, Wu hurried from Loyang to Peking, where he announced that he would field an army of 200,000 men. It was at that point that Wu committed the gravest error of his career. Although he realized that Feng Yü-hsiang was not entirely trustworthy, he nevertheless placed him in command of the 3rd Division and assigne
him to the Jehol front. Wu reasoned that he could ensure Feng's reliability by ordering two of his other subordinates, Hu Ching-i (d. 1925; T. Li-seng) and Wang Ch'eng-pin (b. 1873; T. Hsiao-po), to keep watch on Feng's movements. Wu was unaware that Hu, Wang, and Peking garrison commander Sun Yueh (1878-1928; T. Yü-hsing) had joined Feng in a conspiracy against him. On 23 October 1924, while Wu was personally commanding his forces near Shanhaikuan, Feng Yü-hsiang suddenly returned with his army to Peking, imprisoned Ts'ao K'un, and circulated a telegram calling for an immediate end to the war. The following day, Ts'ao K'un was forced to order a truce and to dismiss Wu P'ei-fu from the post of inspector general of Chihli-Shantung-Honan.

When Wu P'ei-fu learned of Feng's betrayal, he hastened south to Tientsin to engage Feng in battle. His troops were hopelessly outnumbered, however, for they had been cut off from reinforcements in central China and badly defeated by Chang Tso-lin's forces at Shanhaikuan. As Feng's army advanced toward Tientsin, Wu boarded a navy transport at Tangku and on 7 November 1924 sailed south to Woosung and thence upriver to Hankow. There he sought to enlist the aid of Hsiao Yaonan, Sun Ch'uan-fang, and other Chihli generals. These erstwhile subordinates, seeing that Wu's power had been broken, refused to join him and recognized instead the new "executive government" of Tuan Ch'i-jui in Peking. Wu then proceeded to his former headquarters at Loyang, but the occupation of Honan by Feng's newly organized Kuominchun and the growing coolness of Hsiao Yao-nan in Hupeh forced Wu to retire with only a small bodyguard to one of his gunboats in the Yangtze. Early in March 1925, at the invitation of Chao Heng-t'i (q.v.), then governor of Hunan, he sailed upriver to Yochow, where he announced his retirement from military life. In the summer and autumn of 1925 Chang Tso-lin succeeded in extending his power southward from Peking to the Yangtze, thereby precipitating the so-called Fengtien-Chekiang war with Sun Ch'uan-fang and his allies. During this conflict, Hsiao Yao-nan and other Chihli militarists invited Wu P'ei-fu to take part in the war on the side of Sun Ch'uan-fang. Presented with this opportunity to recoup his losses, Wu hurried from Yochow to join Hsiao in Hankow. Assuming the title of commander in chief of the allied "anti-bandit" forces, he hastily assembled an army to act in conjunction with Sun Ch'uan-fang. Sun, however, had no desire to serve again under Wu's authority and, politely declining Wu's overtures, succeeded in defeating the Fengtien armies in Kiangsu and Shantung with his own forces.

Thereafter, Wu P'ei-fu and Sun Ch'uan-fang pursued their ambitions independently. In November 1925, with the outbreak of hostilities between Chang Tso-lin and Feng Yü-hsiang in the north, Sun Ch'uan-fang favored an alliance with Feng to check the power of Chang Tso-lin. Wu, on the other hand, was intent upon avenging the treachery of his former subordinate. Irked by Sun's refusal to support him in an attack on Feng, Wu joined forces with his old antagonist Chang Tso-lin against their common enemy. With the defeat of Feng Yü-hsiang early in January 1926 and his retirement to the Soviet Union, Wu P'ei-fu regained some of his prestige among the militarists of the Chihli clique, who urged him to lead them in a renewed attack upon Chang Tso-lin. Wu, reluctant to turn against his new ally and determined to continue his vendetta against Feng, attacked Feng's generals in Honan and Hopei. After several months of fighting, Wu's forces regained most of Honan province. By June, Wu again controlled the entire length of the Peking-Hankow railway.

As Wu P'ei-fu was engaging the remnants of Feng Yü-hsiang's armies in the north, events were taking place in Hunan that would endanger his entire southern flank. In March 1926 Wu's ally, Chao Heng-t'i, was forced to resign as governor of Hunan in favor of T'ang Shengchih (q.v.). T'ang's subsequent efforts to establish his control over all of Hunan were opposed by Wu P'ei-fu, who sent a strong force southward from Hupeh under the command of Yeh K'ai-hsin, one of T'ang's Hunanese rivals. After being pushed back into southern Hunan by Wu's forces, T'ang joined the National Revolutionary Army at Canton as commander of its Eighth Army. With the help of the Fourth and Seventh Armies of the National Revolutionary Army, T'ang was able to advance into central and northern Hunan. By 21 August, he had taken Yochow.

When Wu P'ei-fu learned of the reverses in Hunan, he left the Peking area to assume personal command of his battered forces in the south. Because he could not stem the advance of the Northern Expedition in southern Hupeh, he fell back to defend the Wuhan cities. On 6 September 1926 he abandoned Hankow to the victorious Nationalist forces and withdrew up the Peking-Hankow railway to Chengchow in northern Honan, where he remained with the remnants of his forces until the spring of 1927. By May of that year, however, Wu's position had become untenable. Pressed on the north and east by the armies of Chang Tso-lin, threatened from the west by Feng Yü-hsiang's advancing forces, and confronted to the south by T'ang Sheng-chih's Eighth Army, he fled southwestward through Honan with the remainder of his troops. Wu evaded the forces of Feng Yü-hsiang in western Hupeh, reached the Szechwan border in July with about 100 followers, and took refuge with his former subordinate Yang Sen. For all practical purposes, his career as a military leader had come to an end.

For the next four years, Wu P'ei-fu remained in Szechwan under the protection of Yang Sen. Although Yang had joined the National Revolutionary Army in 1926 as commander of its Twentieth Army, he had retained a large degree of independence from the National Government in Nanking. He thus was able to ignore repeated orders from Nanking to arrest his former chief. Wu, for his part, announced his retirement from public affairs and took up the study of the Buddhist canon and the Confucian classics. In the autumn of 1931, he moved with his family and a few retainers from Chengtu to Peiping, arriving there in January 1932.

In Peiping, Wu's life of retirement soon was disturbed as a result of Japanese aggression in north China. After the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, General Doihara Kenji and the Kwantung Army became increasingly interested in establishing a Japanese-controlled "autonomous" government in north China, and in 1935 Doihara made the first of many unsuccessful attempts to persuade Wu P'ei-fu to head such a regime. Wu also refused counter-offers from the National Government late in 1936, but he assured Nanking that he would never serve the interests of another nation. After the Sian Incident of December 1936 (see Chiang Kai-shek, Chang Hsueh-liang), Wu's attitude underwent a noticeable change. Expressing alarm over the spread of the "red evil" and "foreign influences" at work in Nanking, he indicated interest in cooperating with the Japanese against what he believed to be the growing power of Communism in China. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war and the establishment of the Japanese-sponsored regimes under Wang K'o-min (q.v.) in Peking and Liang Hung-chih (q.v.) in Nanking, it soon became apparent to the Japanese that they needed a leader of greater prestige than either Wang or Liang to induce the Chinese populace to collaborate with the Japanese authorities. In 1938 Doihara's agents again approached Wu P'ei-fu. Although Wu appeared willing to consider their proposals, his price for cooperation was impossibly high. He demanded not only a free hand in mobilizing a Chinese anti-Communist army of 500,000 men, supplied and equipped by Japan, but also the gradual withdrawal of all Japanese troops from Chinese soil. When the Japanese proved unwilling to grant his demands, Wu resisted all further efforts to enlist his participation. By November 1938 the Japanese had decided to look elsewhere. Late in 1939, while under considerable pressure to collaborate with the new Japanese candidate, Wang Ching-wei (q.v.), Wu P'ei-fu developed blood-poisoning from an infected tooth. He died in Peiping on 4 December 1939, at the age of 67. With the permission of the Japanese occupation authorities, Wu's friends and former adherents gave him an elaborate funeral in Peking, while the National Government in Chungking honored him for his refusal to serve the Japanese. At war's end, Wu's remains were disinterred and reburied in a state ceremony. Although his overbearing manner and fierce temper had antagonized many of his military colleagues and subordinates, his personal honesty and his indifference to wealth and high political office had won the admiration of many contemporaries, both Chinese and foreign.

Wu P'ei-fu married twice. He was survived by his second wife, nee Chang. Because he had no son of his own, he adopted as his heir Wu Tao-shih, the son of his deceased younger brother, Wu Wen-fu.

Wu P'ei-fu was something of a writer and a patron of the traditional culture. Following his flight to Szechwan in 1927 he had ample leisure to reflect upon his past experiences as well as the chaotic state of his country. As one who respected the military traditions of loyalty exemplified in such martial heroes of the past as Kuan Yü and Yueh Fei, Wu concluded that both his own and his country's misfortunes were due to the breakdown of the traditional moral order. It was in this vein that he composed a brief treatise entitled Hsun-fen hsin-shu (1930) in which he extolled such traditional virtues as filial obedience, loyalty, sincerity, and propriety and their importance in maintaining social order and discipline. In a manner reflecting, perhaps, his military background, Wu admonished his readers to be content with their appointed station and to fulfill but not exceed the duties of their position. After his departure from Szechwan for Peking in 1931, Wu gave a number of speeches and lectures on various aspects of traditional moral philosophy. These were collected and printed in such works as the P'eng-lai Wu-kung chiang-hua lu (1932) and the Cheng-i tao-ch'üan (1936). A commemorative collection of his writings, together with his biography and nien-p'u, was published by his old friends and associates in Taiwan as the Wu P'ei-fu hsien chi (1960).

Biography in Chinese

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