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Civil Government in Warlord China

Tradition, Modernization and Manchuria

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Ronald Suleski

From 1916 to 1928 powerful warlords unleashed their armies in search of territory and political power and China seemed on the verge of total collapse. Instead, a surprising amount of economic growth and modernization took place as new businesses were established, telegraph and telephone lines constructed, commercial highways and railroads built, currency reforms put in place and chambers of commerce organized to bolster local merchants. In the northeast provinces of Manchuria the warlord Zhang Zuolin was confronted by Fengtian Civil Governor Wang Yongjiang, who brought a vitality to the region that was the envy of the rest of China. Wang was motivated by the traditional ethic that civil officials had a responsibility toward local society. However, long-established values did not preclude the introduction of new-style institutions or economic organization. The resultant combination of tradition and modernization allowed China to overcome the disruptions of warlord depredations and to experience regional economic growth and periods of surprising social stability.