Sunday, February 17, 2008
The Old Marshal: Zhang Zuolin
ZHANG ZUOLIN AND THE WESTERN ARMAMENTS TRADE
The global armaments trade that found new sources in smaller, but still profitable areas outside the European theatre was almost ideal for a warlord such as Zhang Zuolin. During the latter stages of World War I, Zhang was compelled to rely on alliances with other warlords or arrangements with Japan. For example, the seizure of arms at Qinhuangdao in February 1918 was concluded between Duan Qirui and Zhang. The Japanese-Zhang connection not only included the issue of arms and armaments, but also financial aid, advisers, and economic development in the Northeast.' These involvements with the Anhui clique and the Japanese,
however, compelled Zhang or his representatives to expend energy in political manoeuvring and economic negotiations. The price, for example, of securing armaments from the Anhui clique with the additional assurance of political legitimacy over Jilin drew Zhang and his Fengtian clique out of their powerful base in the Northeast and into the unpredictable area of Chinese politics and civil wars south of the Great Wall. Yet, following his defeat, Zhang's bargaining position was severely weakened vis-a-vis other warlord factions. His 1917-18 Anhui ally was now a contending force in Shanghai and Zhejiang. Negotiations with the Zhili
clique would be from a weak position. Consequently, alliances with major cliques, and the only one of power was the Zhili, were impossible. Furthermore, the Japanese were unreliable. Under these circumstances, Zhang Zuolin's entrance into the Western armaments trade was inevitable. However, he did not do so reluctantly. For a militarist with the simple objective of reinvigorating his sagging forces, the opportunity to deal on the open market for articles of war with no more requirements than shrewd bargaining and payment in cash or other rights were attractive. The main question was which arms dealer could provide the best commodity at the best price. Although Chinese politics spurred Zhang to deal internationally, his armaments agreements were relatively straightforward, without the restrictive considerations of political repercussions. The armaments transactions made by Zhang Zuolin and his Fengtian clique are well-documented by Western sources. One of the chief reasons for this situation is that Zhang had a prosperous economic base and could embark on arms acquisition on a grand scale. That he was compelled to deal with Western entrepreneurs was also a consequence of Chinese politics. Zhang developed and expanded his military establishment not only by building up arms and armaments, but also by engaging in chemical experiments and hiring Western munition experts, advisers, and mercenaries. Naturally, the magnitude of his involvement in the Western armaments trade did not escape the notice of Western observers. Though all warlord armaments acquisitions were technically in contravention of the Arms Embargo Agreement, the trade was relatively unhindered. British reprimands to the Italians, who openly advertised their stock, and the French, who used their diplomats to sell munitions of war to the Chinese went unheeded." Since the pre-eminence of British military might in China was acknowledged by foreigners and Chinese, arms negotiations were conducted clandestinely. The actual transfers of war materials into China, however, were open to the scrutiny of customs officials, diplomats, merchants, and others interested in Chinese imports. Large consignments generally passed through treaty ports and they were, in turn, duly recorded by government functionaries. Large caches of arms, armoured tanks, and airplanes were difficult to conceal. On the other hand, transactions
involving hand guns or small cargoes of rifles that could easily be disguised among bales of newspaper or rugs, kegs of nails, or barrels of shrimps entering the port cities by small steamers or going overland to warlord camps were difficult to trace. Chinese seamen were also found smuggling small arms from Vancouver or Marseilles to revolutionaries in Guangzhou and to warlords. These sporadic small arms transfers, however, hardly indicated the extent of Western involvement in the armaments trade. It was the large transfers, sometimes initiated by Western officials, that indicated trends. These were reported to the home office in Paris or
Washington. Thus, while the involvement of warlords in the international armaments trade will never be fully documented, there were enough armaments exchanges of significant magnitude to provide a fairly accurate analysis of the international scope of the trade in warlord China. Chinese Warlords and the Armaments Trade 75
THE WHITE RUSSIANS
During the warlord drive to unify China following the death of Yuan Shikai, another unification campaign was taking place. A civil war erupted after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Trying to bring all of Russia under the leadership of the Communist party compelled Leon Trotsky's Red Army to push eastward to the Pacific coast. The army made inroads into Siberia and eventually to Vladivostok, where the last stand for the White Russians took place. The chief anti-Bolshevik army was the Ceskoslovenska Druzina, which also played a part in Zhang Zuolin's armaments transactions. This was a legion of Czechs who were Russian citizens which was formed in the opening month of World War I from Czech and Slovak prisoners of war. It was initially part of the Russian Third Army, and its members were chiefly used for intelligence and psychological warfare. The legion was, therefore, specifically designed to operate on Russian soil. In February 1917, several leading officials of the Provisional Government of Russia, who were close friends of Thomas Masaryk including the foreign minister, Paul Milyukov, agreed to the establishment of a Czechoslovak Army Corps as part of the Russian Army. Its purpose was to fight against Central Power troops. It participated in the Battle of Zborov on 3 July 1917 which temporarily prevented the disintegration of the Russian front. Immediately after the Russian Revolution in November 1917, the objective of
the Czech Legion was still to fight for the Allied Powers. But once Masaryk began negotiating with the Soviet government, the aims became confused. The confusion was increased by the fact that, after the collapse of the eastern front, the legion was marooned on Russian territory. With the change in government in Moscow, Masaryk knew that he had to work out an agreement with the Soviets in order to save his legion. As a result of his diplomacy, the Czech Legion was assigned to proceed to the western front via Siberia and Vladivostok. From there,
it would cross the Pacific Ocean to North America where it would leave Halifax for England and continental Europe. The actual reason for Soviet compliance with this scheme, however, stemmed from Russian fears about the possible activities of forty-two thousand armed Czech soldiers on its soil." Since Soviet Russia was no longer at war with Germany as a consequence of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk signed on 3 March 1918, there was little need for the Czechs. Moreover, their continued presence in Russia might provoke an adverse reaction from the Central Powers.
Despite their planned exit, the Czech troops, through Thomas Masaryk, symbolized the continued efforts to defeat Germany and their age-old oppressor, Austria-Hungary. The legion which already possessed 168 rifles, 50,400 rounds of ammunition, and one machine gun with 1,200 rounds per train was able to acquire secretly a great quantity of weapons during its five thousand mile journey to Vladivostok by way of the Trans-Siberian Railway." Consequently, it represented a considerable military force. 76 Arming the Chinese
On 14 May 1918, at Chelyabinsk along the Trans-Siberian Railway, several Czech soldiers killed a Hungarian after he had injured a Czech with a part of a broken stove. The incident prompted Trotsky to order the legion to disarm completely. Since the Soviets were out of the war, the Czechs were expendable, and more importantly, the Red Army had begun to recruit Hungarians and German prisoners of war. While the question for the Soviets was one of revolutionary consolidation, the Czech Legion viewed Trotsky's action as a declaration of war.
The Bolshevik's attempt to liquidate the Czechs as a fighting force inevitably brought them into conflict with the Red Army. The fighting between the Bolsheviks and the Czech legion along the Trans-Siberian Railway gave the Allies the impression that the Czechs were essentially anti-Bolshevik. The British and French, who were pressing Japan and the United States to intervene in Siberia first against the Germans and their allies and second against the Bolsheviks, thus began to perceive the Czech Legion as "a spearhead for the Allied intervention. "I2 The spark at Chelyabinsk was just the excuse the Allied forces needed to intervene and stop the spread of communism in Siberia.
By 29 June 1918, fourteen thousand Czech troops led by General Dietrichs, a Russian of Czech descent, had entered Vladivostok, disarmed the Bolsheviks there, and brought the city under Allied control. Since six hundred thousand tons of war materials were located at Vladivostok," there was some cause for jubilation in the Allied headquarters. From July 1918, the Czech Legion began to prepare for an offensive against the Bolsheviks in lrkutsk as part of the White Russian counterrevolutionary forces. Passage from Vladivostok across the Pacific was now no
longer entertained. The civil war raged until October 1922 when the Bolsheviks took Vladivostok. Even though Dietrichs, who decorated his private railway coach with ikons, tried
to turn the conflict into a religious war during its last stages, he could not lift the sagging morale of his troops.'4 All hope was lost. As early as July 1922, negotiations for evacuation began to occur with greater frequency. One such negotiation involved Zhang Zuolin.
The agreement between Dietrichs and Zhang Zuolin was a simple transaction involving refuge and cash for the Czech Legion in the Three Eastern Provinces in the event of their defeat and munitions of war for the Fengtian army in exchange. While the fact that both Dietrichs and Zhang Zuolin had anti-Bolshevik leanings may have influenced initial contact, this was not the key determinant. The major consideration was survival. For the Czechs in the White Russian army, it meant that they had a relatively safe haven in China from there they could return to
Europe. For Zhang, the arms transactions provided part of the necessary tools for military rebuilding. While the amount of arms and armaments were relatively small and did not make much of an impact on the overall build-up of the Fengtian military capability, the transactions demonstrated that Zhang would buy from any dealer. Concomitant with other deals, it not only provided Zhang and his faction Chinese Warlords and the Armaments Trade with the ability to survive in the hostile world of Chinese politics but also to maintain control of the Northeast.
The military transactions conducted between the Czech Legion and Zhang Zuolin were reported by Harold Porter, the British consul in Harbin, afterhe talked with General Lochvitzky, Dietrichs' agent in Harbin. Made through a Rumanian intermediary named Rachinsky, the transaction involved two exchanges. Transportation was relatively straightforward. The munitions were shipped from Vladivostok via the Chinese Eastern Railway to a small border town called Pogranichnaya. After crossing the border to Suifenhe, the cargoes stopped at Harbin where they were transferred to the South Manchurian Railway to Changchun and finally to Shenyang.lS The first exchange included more than thirty thousand rifles valued at thirteen yen each with accompanying rounds of amrn~nition.T'~h ese arms, concealed among a cargo of tea, were transported over the protests of Barentzen, the Danish deputy commissioner of customs at Pogranichnaya and the custom officials at
Suifenhe and reached Harbin in twenty-two cars. From there, they were moved to
Shenyang without further interference. The second transaction dealt with other commodities of war. On 3 October 1922, it was reported that fifteen cars reached Shenyang via the South Manchurian Railway bringing 626 cases containing 500 shells, 209 cases with 5,016 bombs,
200 cases consisting of wiring and other materials for land mines, and one airplane." Three White Russian aviator experts accompanied the shipment. Zhang had originally agreed to hire one pilot to replace the Frenchman, Mars. Also included in this package were two generals, three colonels, and a munitions expert who was employed to manufacture bombs.'"
Zhang Zuolin's dealings with Dietrichs were essentially above board, chiefly because the Czechs needed the safety of the Three Eastern Provinces, but transactions with the ltalians were sometimes shady. All Chinese were affected, politically or in their daily life, by the tremendous power of Westerners in economic exchanges. And in the unpredictable world of arms procurement, especially in a country ruled not by Chinese law, but by international courts, legalities, and jurisdictions imposed by force, the Western seller clearly held the upper hand. Since the warlords had urgent military needs, unscrupulous practices by Western arms dealers were inevitable. The possibility of Western traders taking advantage of their superior legal and material positions to dupe warlords was always present, since the buyers had no avenues of redress. Even if the international courts had been accessible, the Arms Embargo Agreement of 1919 made clear that arms transactions with specific military intentions were illegal except to such parties as the Shanghai Municipal Council Police Force or the Maritime
Customs Service - institutions deemed necessary by the imperialist countries in China. As a result, a warlord's political power had no effect on unfair Western dealers. When a German merchant sent rifles with unmatched rounds of ammunition to Zhang Zongchang, for example, he had no avenue of complaint. It was not a question of his military incompetence, but an arms trade that favoured the Western seller. The nature of the market also dictated the type of weapons sold. Mannlicher 6.5 mm. rifles and carbines, Mauser 7.9 mm. rifles, model 1888, German Lugers, and Hotchkiss machine guns were all available.20 Reports that the warlords
possessed inferior and outdated arms did not consider which munitions were available to them. Because China needed arms, it became a dumping ground for the Western surplus. Western countries exported war materials considered expendable and, perhaps, unsophisticated, while countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay, and warlord China, which were less-developed militarily, were ready buyers. Disposing of munitions that were anachronistic by Western standards, but modem in China therefore sometimes gave rise to dishonesty and chicanery on the part of the sellers. Even Zhang Zuolin, who was considered by the British and French to be the potential strong man in China, was not immune from the bad faith of Westerners.
After his defeat in 1922, Zhang Zuolin was open to almost any transaction that would help rebuild his military strength. His earlier dealings with the Italians in 1919 had been straightforward and productive," and the remaining arms and ammunition stored at Tianjin and Shanhaiguan had reached his army by January 1921 at the port of Huludao, situated along the coast of the Liaodong Wan." In 1922, he successfully completed a purchase of Fiat spare parts and engines for his air force valued at $40,000 as well as additional materials worth $80,000 from the Italian~.I~n' January 1923, it was reported that Zhang had negotiated a $5 million transaction with a Corporal Bacci of the ltalian army who was also a
representative of the Royal Italian Arms Factory. The contract called for rifles, machines, mounts, and field guns as well as ammunition to be delivered at Huludao in three months. An advance of $500,000 was paid. At the end of the three months, there had been no delivery. When he sent a representative to Shanghai to recover the bargain money, Zhang was confronted with a Mixed Court injunction prohibiting its recovery." The Bacci contract was a clear illustration of the power that Westerners possessed in China. Though courts were established for Western countries to have easy access into China, they could be used by swindlers and profiteers as well. Warlords had to respond accordingly. Thus, despite this breach of faith, Zhang Zuolin still desired contact with the Italians, and transactions continued. In September 1923, arms and ammunition along with two Curtiss airplanes arrived in
While the Italians initiated and sometimes reneged on their basically small arms contracts, the British were more interested in larger transactions involving air technology. In order to avoid the embarrassment of being accused of flouting its own agreement, Britain carefully made the distinction between "commercial" use and "military" purposes for airplanes and supplementary materials sold to Chinese warlords. The transaction that aroused the most discussion was the agreement between the Chinese government of Duan Qirui and Vickers Limited. Communicated to Sir John Jordan on 11 October 1919, it was attacked by the Americans and the Japanese for violating the embargo.26E ven Jordan's earlier claim that the vehicles "were in no way suitable for military purpose^"^' could not satisfy Britain's detractors. Japan's denunciation of this transaction was extremely vehement especially after it discovered that the "only Chinese employed on aviation were military men."2s It
appeared that the embargo was specifically designed to prevent Japanese monoply
of the armaments trade.
At the centre of the Vickers contract was the Vickers loan of •’1,803,200 at an interest rate of 8 per cent concluded with Duan Qirui's government. It was floated in London in October 1919. When M. Nagai, the consul at the Beijing Japanese legation questioned the nature of the loan, Max Muller of the British legation replied that the "issue of the loan was finally sanctioned on condition that the proceeds should remain in Great Britain and be applied, under the supervision of Messrs. Vickers and as occasion demands, exclusively to the purchase of sites and the construction and equipment of aerodromes and repair shops necessary for the
effective use of aeroplanes. "2y
The Vickers contract called for the delivery of twenty-four completely assembled Vimy commercial airplanes and twenty fully equipped Avro biplanes with ten spare engines and sundry spare parts. As of March 1921, fourteen Vimy airplanes with spare parts had been accepted by the Chinese minister in London and were awaiting shipment." To pay for these vehicles, the Chinese Ministry of Finance instructed the Salt Administration to allocate 100,000 silver dollars per month out of the salt surplus released as a sinking fund in interest to Vickers beginning on 11 January 1922 until all debts were paid." Although a change in government occurred following the 1920 Anhui-Zhili war, the negotiations and implementation of the Vickers transaction were not affected. Duan Qirui's fall from power did not void the contracts made between his government and Westerners. The Westerners expected the succeeding governments to acknowledge the validity of previous transactions and make the necessary payments. Thus, deals made by the Anhui clique in 1919 became the
obligations of the Zhili faction in 1920. The acceptance of the Vickers' contract, for example, meant that Cao Kun and Zhang Zuolin could divide the Vickers' vehicles as spoils of war. The new recipients were also obliged to complete the loan payments.
The Vickers loan and subsequent airplane transactions were made with the approval of the British government. Besides Armstrongs, Vickers was the leading British arms maker and shipbuilder. But the end of the World War I in 1918 caused a decrease in sales and the laying off of workers, especially in the shipyard^.'^ To alleviate this slump, Vickers increased its aircraft production in the belief that air travel held much promise. Since its ties with the government were cemented during the war, it looked again to London for aid to alleviate its financial crisis. But the British government had reduced its air force to a tenth of its wartime
capacity. The government therefore sought overseas markets to assist its major armaments industrial ally. The Vickers transaction with Duan Qirui was one result of this concern. Another reason was the attraction of the China market. In the same year that the Vickers loan was concluded paving the way for the Vickers contract, Handley Page of England completed an aircraft transaction on 24 February 1919 with Duan Qirui. It called for the delivery of six large 01400 passenger airplanes costing f 10,550 each.33 Following the Anhui-Zhili war of
1920, these planes were seized by Cao Kun and Zhang Zuolin and were relocated at Baoding and Shenyang. In December 1920, Handley Page revealed to the British government that it had secretly signed a •’897,200 contract with the new Zhili-Fengtian coalition for thirty "F" 3 flying boats, fifty N-T-2 B's flying boats, twenty-five "S" airplanes, fifty-five Rolls Royce engines as spares, and fifty 200- horsepower Viper engines also as spares.34T his contract, however, did not meet with the approval of the British government. In a conversation castigating Handley Page, the British charge d'affaires, R. H. Clive, told the Handley Page representative, H. St. Clair Smallwood, that London supported the Vickers transaction because of the potential of the China market. He said that the:
Department of Overseas Trade felt that the opportunity of getting in on the ground floor in aviation in China was one not lightly to be dismissed especially after the French had got in first in Japan.'
Yet, Handley Page's contract totalling f 1,297,200 had, according to Clive, directly contravened the Arms Embargo Agreement. To Handley Page, the government's censure of its contract appeared to suggest an attempt by London to give a monopoly in the Chinese aircraft market to Vickers. Clive, however, tried to dispel this notion by emphasizing that the legation would be in the awkward position of pressing the Chinese government for payment on behalf of private companies in case Beijing defaulted. In addition, Britain was compelled to defend the Vickers contract in the face of criticism by the other signatories of the Arms Embargo Agreement. Therefore, Clive concluded that "difficulties of the legation vis-a-vis
the Vickers' machines persuaded it to stop further aeroplane contracts."36 The Handley Pdge contract was considered invalid. During the procedures bringing the Vickers contract to a conclusion in November 1920, Zhang Zuolin emphasized that he wanted to use British instructors and British aircrafts for his proposed Beijing air force with substations at Shenyang
and Baoding." By proposing that British pilots could monopolize the "advisers market" and the training of his flight personnel, he tried to gain an advantage in securing British vehicles. But Britain appeared to be steadfast in upholding the Arms Embargo Agreement. Even direct communication in June 1922 with the Vickers' representative in Beijing for ten fast scouting planes proved unrewarding. 38
In 1923, Zhang continued his efforts to persuade the British to support his military reconstruction. In an interview with Harold Porter, the British representative in Shenyang, he offered the British a large construction contract on the Huludao harbour as well as the development of coal mines at Beipiao in exchange for war munitions. Zhang also stressed his protection of the Kailan mines during the rebellions and that he had, furthermore, safeguarded British railway interests. His irritation with the British was succinctly recorded in the following statement:
Our [British] efforts to stop supply of French aeroplanes greatly annoyed him [Zhang Zuolin] and he was at a loss to understand why we should place him - the leading statesman in China today and the only power behind the provisional government - in the same category as minor military leaders, bandit chiefs and disturbers of the peace generally.39
This report demonstrated that Zhang was ready to buy elsewhere. While he valued British support, he was not willing to be hindered by their restrictions. In 1925, when Zhang had already made many contacts with sellers of war munitions, the British were told by his agent that the Fengtian army would not seek any British assistance. Instead, he urged the British not to interfere in any of Zhang's armaments transactions with other countries or their national^.^ However, by 1927 when Zhang's Anguojun Army was confronted with the Northern Expedition of the Guomindang, he had to tap any potential source of war munitions. He, therefore, repeatedly approached the British legation in Beijing for its support against Soviet influence in Chir~a.B~y' this time, there was a growing Western consensus voiced by the British minister, Sir Miles Lampson, that Zhang Zuolin '6. 1s the sole real force in China today standing for preservation of law and order and protection of foreign life.''" Lampson, in fact, urged London to allow such firms as Vickers to sell airplanes and such other materials as photographic equipment to Zhang Zhang Zuolin's need to discuss his build up of war materials for his Fengtian army and later the Anguojun with the British was indicative of the power of the leading imperialist nation in China. But restocking his armed forces was his paramount aim, especially after his defeat by the Zhili clique. The period from 1922 to 1924 has been described as a "watershed" in Zhang Zuolin's foreign policy. There was a definite "switch away from exclusive reliance on Japanese supply of weapons, equipment, and advisers toward a policy of the widest possible diversification. "44 By almost imploring the British for assistance, Zhang Zuolin appeared to be offering Britain first bid on his lucrative armaments market. The recognition of Britain's advancement in air technology was also another factor in pursuing British contracts. But Zhang's munition deals with other countries and their citizens clearly showed that he was not fearful of the British power in China. If one country refused to negotiate, there were always others that would.