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Ancient fortifications, modern firepower, and warlord politics : subtitle a study on the Siege of Xi’an and its historical significance Tsang, Kingsley


The Warlord period (1916-28) is a much-neglected era in modern Chinese scholarship. Scholars tend to ignore it because the events were complicated and the warlords acted without an ideological commitment. They are seen as violent but unsophisticated thugs with minimum affects on the history of Chinese military. The Siege of Xi'an (April to November 1926) demonstrated the fallacy of this assumption and the uniqueness of the warlord military system. The warlords managed to fuse the Chinese and Western military experience in a hybrid warring style. This ad hoc system was utilized with great effectiveness under the circumstances of the time. One cannot transplant general military assumptions to this period since they fail to take into account the characteristics of the warlords. This study will ascertain the historical significance of the Siege of Xi'an during the Warlord period. The siege was the climax of the 1926 anti-Guominjun campaign between the Northern warlords Feng Yuxiang and the alliance of Zhang Zuolin and Wu Peifu. This was the last major campaign of the Warlord period with the three main players engaged in ferocious battles all over North China. The Guominjun prevailed in the end because a small detachment of its soldiers managed to hold the strategic city of Xi'an in an eight months siege. It showed the hybrid nature of the warlord military system as well as relevant regional and local issues. This study is divided into three parts: Part One discusses the historical and geopolitical importance of Xi'an; Part Two briefly summarizes the anti- Guominjun campaign, the military dispositions of the warlords and their strength and weakness; Part Three details the eight months' siege. The siege and the circumstance that gave rise to it are reconstructed based on sources from Chinese and Western secondary analyses, newspapers, Shaanxi gazetteer, the biographies of Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan.

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