|Notable commanders||Yuan Shikai|
|Flag of China (1889–1912)|
The New Armies (Traditional Chinese: 新軍, Simplified Chinese: 新军; Pinyin: Xīnjūn, Manchu: Ice cooha), more fully called the Newly Created Army (新建陸軍 Xinjian Lujun[a][b]), was the modernised army corps formed under the Qing dynasty in December 1895, following its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. It was envisioned as militia fully trained and equipped according to Western standards. In 1903 an imperial edict expanded it to 36 divisions of 12,500 men each, or total of 450,000. It was known as the Beiyang Army, and was under the command of Yuan Shikai.
There was a forerunner to the effort of modernising the Chinese army, created before the end of the Sino-Japanese War: in February 1895, the Qing court assembled its Dingwu or the Pacification Army (定武軍 Dingwu jun), consisting of 10 battalions or ying (営), totaling 4,750 men. This was initially organized by Hu Yufenaided by German advisor Constantin von Hanneken[c]
The command of this Pacification Army was turned over to Yuan Shikai by mid-December 1895,[d][e] and within a few months was renamed the Newly Created Army (新建陸軍 Xinjian Lujun) and expanded to 7,000 men. (Yuan's Newly Created Army was later to become the Guards Army's Right Division (Wuwei Youjun).)
The Newly Created Army (or simply the New Army) that was 7,000 men strong then became the most formidable of the three army groups stationed near Beijing and proved effective against the Boxers in Shandong province. Yuan refused to obey the Imperial Court's orders to halt his suppression of the Boxers when the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China during the rebellion and refused to obey orders to fight the alliance.
The New Army was gradually expanded and upgraded in the following years. Yuan became increasingly disrespectful of the dynasty and only loyal to the party from which he benefited; his defection to Cixi against the Guangxu Emperor was a major blow to the Hundred Days' Reform. After 1900, Yuan's troops were the only militia that the Qing court could rely on amidst revolutionary uprisings throughout China.
In the hunting-park, three miles to the south of Peking, is quartered the Sixth Division, which supplies the Guards for the Imperial Palace, consisting of a battalion of infantry and a squadron of cavalry. With this Division Yuan Shi Kai retains twenty-six modified Krupp guns, which are the best of his artillery arm, and excel any guns possessed by the foreign legations in Peking.
The Manchu Division moves with the Court, and is the pride of the modern army.
By his strategic disposition Yuan Shi Kai completely controls all the approaches to the capital, and holds a force which he may utilize either to protect the Court from threatened attack or to crush the Emperor should he himself desire to assume Imperial power. Contrary to treaty stipulations made at the settlement of the Boxer trouble, the Chinese have been permitted to build a great tower over the Chien Men, or central southern gate, which commands the foreign legations and governs the Forbidden City. In the threatening condition of Chinese affairs it might be assumed that this structure had been undermined by the foreign community, but this has not been done, and if trouble again arise in Peking the fate of the legations will depend upon the success of the first assault which will be necessary to take it. The foreign legations are as much in the power of Yuan Shi Kai's troops in 1907 as they were at the mercy of the Chinese rabble in 1900.
The ultimate purpose of the equipped and disciplined troops is locked in the breast of the Viceroy of Chihli. Yuan Shi Kai's yamen in Tientsin is connected by telegraph and telephone with the Imperial palaces and with the various barracks of his troops. In a field a couple of hundred yards away is the long pole of a wireless telegraph station, from which he can send the message that any day may set all China ablaze.
To-morrow in the East, Douglas Story, pp. 224-226
The Chien Men gate refers to the Zhengyangmen.
The successful example of the new army was followed in other provinces. The New Army of Yuan was renamed the Beiyang Army on June 25, 1902 after Yuan was officially promoted to the "Minister of Beiyang". By the end of the dynasty in 1911, most provinces had established sizable new armies; however, Yuan's army was still most powerful, comprising six groups and numbering more than 75,000 men. The Qing unified all of China's armies into one force, the "Chinese Army", which was commonly still called the New Army. Two-thirds of the Chinese Army was Yuan's Beiyang Army.
During the Xinhai Revolution, most of the non-Beiyang forces as well as some Beiyang units in the Chinese Army revolted against the Qing. Yuan led the Beiyang Army into opposing the revolution while also negotiating for the Qing's surrender and his ascendency to the presidency of the new republic.
Yuan kept a tight grip on the command of the army after its establishment by installing officials only loyal to him; however, after his death in 1916, the army groups were quickly fragmented into four major forces of combative warlords, according to the locations of garrisons. These army groups and generals played different roles in the politics of the Republic of China until the establishment of the People's Republic of China following the Communist Party of China's victory in the Chinese Civil War.
One of the most important legacies of the New Army was the professionalisation of the military and perhaps introduction of militarism to China. Previously, almost any male could join and soldiers were mostly poor, landless and illiterate peasants. The New Armies moved beyond the personalised recruitment and patronage of Zeng Guofan and Zuo Zongtang, which had been successful in the mid-century uprisings, but seemed discredited in the face of modern armies in Japan and the West. The New Army began screening volunteers and created modern military academies to train officers. The modernisation and professionalisation of the New Army impressed many in the gentry class to join. The young Chiang Kai-shek, for instance, briefly attended Yuan's Baoding Military Academy, which thus influenced him in forming his Whampoa Academy, which trained a succeeding generation of soldiers. Yuan and his successors equated military dominance of the political sphere with national survival. The political army would become a dominant force in China for much of the twentieth century.