Northern Expedition (1926–1927)

The Northern Expedition (zh-cp |c=北伐|p=běi fá) was a military campaign led by the Kuomintang (KMT) from 1926 to 1928. Its main objective was to speed up the Chinese revolution against feudalism and imperialism plaguing China after the Xinhai Revolution and unify China under the Nationalist banner by ending the rule of local warlords.

The term “Northern Expedition” may also be understood to include a related campaign in 1928, which is otherwise called the Second Northern Expedition, during which the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) captured Beijing (8 June 1928) and paved the way for the Chinese reunification (1928).


The Northern Expedition began from the KMT's power base in Guangdong province. In 1925 the May 30th Movement announced the chains for strike and protest against western imperialism and its warlord agents in China. At the same time, the alliance between KMT and CPC was questioned after the Zhongshan Warship Incident in March 1926, and the following events made Chiang Kai-shek the paramount military leader of KMT in effect. Although Chiang doubted Sun Yat-sen's policy of alliance with the Soviet Union and CPC, he still needed aid from the Soviet Union, so he could not break up the alliance at that time. Above all, Chiang needed a stage to indicate his role of paramount leader and military talent. On the other hand, the Soviet Union and CPC cherished the alliance more than Chiang, as they did need a stage to show their friendship to the KMT. Thus all three parties agreed to launch the Northern Expedition to solve their own problems.

The main targets of this expedition consisted of three notorious and powerful warlords of China: Zhang Zuolin who governed Manchuria, Wu Peifu in the Central Plain of China and Sun Chuanfang in eastern coast of China. Advised by the famous Russian general Vasily Blyukher using the pseudonym Galen, the HQ of the expedition decided to use all its power to defeat these warlords one by one: first Wu, then Sun, and finally Zhang. On July 9 1926, Chiang gave his lecture to 100,000 soldiers of the National Revolutionary Army, which was set up by the students trained in the Whampoa Military Academy and equipped with Russian arsenal in the opening ceremony, which was the official commencement of Northern Expedition. NRA soldiers were far better organized than the warlord armies which they faced, for they had good military advisors, better weapons and commissars from CPC to inspire the soldiers. In addition, the NRA was regarded as a progressive force on behalf of ordinary people persecuted by warlords, for which it received warm welcome and strong support from peasants and workers. It was no surprise the NRA could march from Zhu River area to Yangtze River in less than half a year and annihilate the main force of Wu and Sun, and strengthen its force from 100,000 to 250,000.


Today, the Northern Expedition is viewed positively by Chinese because it ended a period of disorder and started the formation of an effective central government. However it did not fully solve the warlord problem, as many warlords still had large armies that served their needs, not those of China.

The irony is that when the old warlords such as Wu and Sun were brought down, new warlords such as Chiang, Li Zongren and his New Guangxi Clique arose. In addition, Yan Xishan's Shanxi clique, Feng Yuxiang and his Northwestern or Guominjun Clique, Zhang Xueliang of the Northeastern or Fengtian Clique remained.

Local provincial warlords seized or enhanced their power such as Tang Shengzhi in Hunan, Chiang Kuang-Nai in Fujian, Sheng Shicai of Xinjiang, Long Yun of Yunnan, Wang Jialie of Guizhou, Liu Xiang and Liu Wenhui of the Sichuan Clique, Han Fuqu of Shandong, Bie Tingfang (别廷芳) of Henan, the Ma Clique of Ma Bufang and his family in Qinghai, Ma Hongkui in Ningxia, and Ma Zhongyin in Gansu, Chen Jitang and his Cantonese Clique, Lu Diping (鲁涤平) of Jiangxi, Jing Yuexiu (井岳秀) of Shaanxi.

The wars between these new warlords claimed more lives than ever in the 1930's. This would prove to be a major headache for the KMT all the way through WW2 and the following civil war.

However, Chiang did get the greatest benefit from the expedition, for the victory achieved his personal goal of becoming paramount leader. Furthermore, Chiang made the military command superior to KMT party leadership, which resulted in his dictatorship later.

Significantly, even before the objectives of the Northern Expedition had been achieved cooperation between KMT and CPC broke down. In the April 12 Incident in the summer of 1927, CPC members and parts of the KMT political left-wing broke their ties with Chiang. But with the military now firmly in Chiang's grasp, these proved no match for him, and all CPC members of the KMT were expelled. This would also prove to be the beginning of a 20 year long KMT/CPC civil war that ended with the KMT's withdrawal to Taiwan in 1949.

It is worth noting that the Northern Expedition was one of the only two times in Chinese history when China was united by a conquest from south to north. The other time was when the Ming Dynasty succeeded in expelling the Mongol-Yuan Dynasty from China.

ee also

* National Revolutionary Army
* Whampoa Military Academy
* Chiang Kai-shek
* Military of the Republic of China
* History of the Republic of China
* Sino-German cooperation
* Central Plains War
* Kuomintang

External links

* [ ROC Ministry of National Defense Official Website]
* [ The Armed Forces Museum of ROC]

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