Date of Graduation

Spring 5-15-2020

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies (MAPS)


College of Arts and Sciences


Asia Pacific Studies

First Advisor

Brian Komei Dempster


Chinese history has largely been defined by a transition of power from one major imperial dynasty to another, separated by notable times of division such as the Warring States (475 BC-221 BC) and Three Kingdoms (220-280) periods. The early twentieth-century collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912 is no exception to this historical trend and gave way to a twelve-year period termed the “Warlord Era.” Dating back to the 1960s, Western scholarly discourse argued that these warlords lacked the ideologies or visons to implement any changes outside of their own personal and political interests. This research contends that warlords were not merely interested in gaining power through short-term pragmatic efforts, but possessed larger ideological concerns within their governing policies over their respective domains. Three prominent warlords to emerge out of this era who complicate the oversimplified claims of warlord governance as pragmatic self-preservation are Feng Yuxiang (冯玉祥), Zhang Zuolin (张作霖), and Yan Xishan (阎锡山). This research utilizes historical primary and secondary source material, as well as archival material (Passionist China Collection 1921-1980) and biographies (Wo de Shenghuo: Feng Yuxiang Zizhuan), to provide anecdotal evidence that highlights how these three warlords’ progressive policies were shaped by deeper motivations than mere political survival. By challenging the preconceived notions of warlord governance by past scholars and filling in omissions and gaps, this research paints a more holistic portrayal of these warlords and their contributions to early twentieth century Chinese society.