Central Plains War

Last updated
Central Plains War
Part of the Warlord Era
Zhongyuan map.png
Map showing the province of Henan and two definitions of the Central Plain (中原) or Zhōngyuán
DateMarch 1929 – November 1930
  • 1st main phase: March – November 1929 [1]
  • Autumn War: September 1929 – summer 1930 [2]
  • 2nd main phase: May – November 1930

Nationalist government victory

Flag of the Republic of China.svg Nationalist government of China
Materiel support:
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Germany [3]
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czechoslovakia [3]
Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan [3]
Warlord coalitions of Yan Xishan, Feng Yuxiang and Li Zongren
Minor factions:
Zhang Fakui's army [2]
Tang Shengzhi's army [4]
Commanders and leaders
Chiang Kai-shek
Han Fuqu
Liu Zhi
Hu Zongnan
Chen Cheng
Tang Enbo
Ma Hongkui
Ma Bufang
Max Bauer [5]
Zhang Xueliang (from September 1930)
Yan Xishan
Feng Yuxiang
Li Zongren
Bai Chongxi
Fu Zuoyi
Zhang Fakui [2]
Tang Shengzhi [4]
Units involved

National Revolutionary Army

Warlord coalitions

240,000+ (1929) [7]
295,000 (1930) [8]
Allied warlords:
Hundreds of thousands [9]
Northeastern Army:
409,000 (1930) [9]
c. 650,000 (1929) [7]
c. 700,000 (1930) [8]
Casualties and losses
30,000 killed, 60,000 wounded (Nationalist gov. claim) [10]
150,000 (modern estimate) [10]
150,000 (Nationalist claim) [10]
High civilian casualties [10]

The Central Plains War (simplified Chinese :中原大战; traditional Chinese :中原大戰; pinyin : Zhōngyúan Dàzhàn) was a series of military campaigns in 1929 and 1930 that constituted a Chinese civil war between the Nationalist Kuomintang government in Nanjing led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and several regional military commanders and warlords that were former allies of Chiang.

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau, and in the Kangxi Dictionary. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.


After the Northern Expedition ended in 1928, Yan Xishan, Feng Yuxiang, Li Zongren and Zhang Fakui broke off relations with Chiang shortly after a demilitarization conference in 1929, and together they formed an anti-Chiang coalition to openly challenge the legitimacy of the Nanjing government. The war was the largest conflict in the Warlord Era, fought across Henan, Shandong, Anhui and other areas of the Central Plains in China, involving 300,000 soldiers from Nanjing and 700,000 soldiers from the coalition. [11]

Yan Xishan Chinese general

Yan XishanIPA: [jɛ̌n ɕǐʂán]; 8 October 1883 – 22 July 1960) was a Chinese warlord who served in the government of the Republic of China. He effectively controlled the province of Shanxi from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution to the 1949 Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. As the leader of a relatively small, poor, remote province, he survived the machinations of Yuan Shikai, the Warlord Era, the Nationalist Era, the Japanese invasion of China and the subsequent civil war, being forced from office only when the Nationalist armies with which he was aligned had completely lost control of the Chinese mainland, isolating Shanxi from any source of economic or military supply. He has been viewed by Western biographers as a transitional figure who advocated using Western technology to protect Chinese traditions, while at the same time reforming older political, social and economic conditions in a way that paved the way for the radical changes that would occur after his rule.

Feng Yuxiang Chinese general and politician

Feng Yuxiang was a warlord and leader in Republican China from Chaohu, Anhui. He served as Vice Premier of the Republic of China from 1928-30. He was also known as the Christian General for his zeal to convert his troops and the Betrayal General for his penchant to break with the establishment. In 1911 he was an officer in the ranks of Yuan Shikai's Beiyang Army but joined forces with revolutionaries against the Qing Dynasty. He rose to high rank within Wu Peifu's Zhili warlord faction but launched the Beijing coup in 1924 that knocked Zhili out of power and brought Sun Yat-sen to Beijing. He joined the Nationalist Party (KMT), supported the Northern Expedition and became blood brothers with Chiang Kai-shek, but resisted Chiang's consolidation of power in the Central Plains War and broke with him again in resisting Japanese incursions in 1933. He spent his later years supporting the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang.

Li Zongren Chinese military commander, former vice-president and acting president of ROC

Li Zongren or Li Tsung-jen, courtesy name Delin, was a prominent Guangxi warlord and Kuomintang (KMT) military commander during the Northern Expedition, Second Sino-Japanese War and Chinese Civil War. He served as vice-president and acting President of the Republic of China under the 1947 Constitution.


Rise of Chiang Kai-shek

Compared to other senior party officials like Hu Hanmin and Wang Jingwei, the political status of Chiang Kai-shek in the Kuomintang (KMT) was lower in the beginning. Chiang began his rise to prominence in 1917 during the Constitutional Protection Movement and the formation of the Guangzhou government, where he displayed his military talent. The turning point came in 1923 when Chen Jiongming launched a rebellion against Sun Yat-sen in Guangzhou. Chiang's role in helping Sun to retreat from Guangzhou ultimately helped him to become Sun's protégé. [12]

Hu Hanmin Chinese politician

Hu Hanmin was one of the early conservative right factional leaders in the Kuomintang (KMT) during revolutionary China.

Wang Jingwei Chinese politician, leader of Wang Jingwei regime

Wang Jingwei, born as Wang Zhaoming, but widely known by his pen name "Jingwei", was a Chinese politician. He was initially a member of the left wing of the Kuomintang (KMT), leading a government in Wuhan in opposition to the right wing government, but later became increasingly anti-communist after his efforts to collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ended in political failure. His political orientation veered sharply to the right later in his career after he collaborated with the Japanese.

Kuomintang political party in the Republic of China

The Kuomintang of China is a major political party in the Republic of China on Taiwan, based in Taipei and is currently an opposition political party in the Legislative Yuan.

After Sun's death in 1925, factions within the Kuomintang began to surface. A power struggle between Chiang and Wang Jingwei led to the split of the KMT. Chiang was able to use his influence as the commandant of the Whampoa Academy and eventually took over the leadership of the party, forcing Wang into exile overseas. In 1926, Chiang was ceremonially chosen as the commander of the newly formed National Revolutionary Army and launched the Northern Expedition. In the course of the expedition, Chiang had managed to form an alliance with warlord armies of Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan and Li Zongren. [13]

National Revolutionary Army Nationalist Army of the Republic of China

The National Revolutionary Army (NRA), sometimes shortened to Revolutionary Army (革命軍) before 1928, and as National Army (國軍) after 1928, was the military arm of the Kuomintang from 1925 until 1947 in the Republic of China. It also became the regular army of the ROC during the KMT's period of party rule beginning in 1928. It was renamed the Republic of China Armed Forces after the 1947 Constitution, which instituted civilian control of the military.

Northern Expedition Kuomintang (KMT) military campaign

The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) of the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the "Chinese Nationalist Party", against the Beiyang government and other regional warlords in 1926. The purpose of the campaign was to reunify China, which had become fragmented in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1911. The expedition was led by Chiang Kai-shek, and was divided into two phases. The first phase ended in a 1927 political split between two factions of the KMT: the right-leaning Nanjing faction, led by Chiang, and the left-leaning faction in Wuhan, led by Wang Jingwei. The split was partially motivated by Chiang's purging of communists within the KMT, which marked the end of the First United Front. In an effort to mend this schism, Chiang Kai-shek stepped down as the commander of the NRA in August 1927, and went into exile in Japan.

Reunification of China (1928)

The flag of the Kuomintang and the flag of the Republic of China crested on a building in Harbin, Manchuria Fengtian.jpg
The flag of the Kuomintang and the flag of the Republic of China crested on a building in Harbin, Manchuria
NRA Generals in Beijing after Northern Expedition NRA Generals Northern Expedition1.jpg
NRA Generals in Beijing after Northern Expedition
NRA Commission Committee meeting Guo Jun Bian Qian Wei Yuan Hui Da Hui Bi Mu She Ying 19290125.jpg
NRA Commission Committee meeting

The Northern Expedition ended with the reunification of China in 1928 under the Nanjing government, as Zhang Xueliang declared the allegiance of his Northeast Army to the Nationalist government in Nanjing, following the assassination of his father Zhang Zuolin by the Japanese Kwantung Army. While Chiang emerged as the paramount leader of the Republic of China, the reunification soon ran into issues as different factions in the Kuomintang disagreed over demilitarization at a military conference in 1929. [14] The National Revolutionary Army was reorganized into four army groups after the Northern Expedition, incorporating armies from regional warlords. The First Army Group was formed by the Whampoa clique, alternatively known as the Central Army, which were directly led by Chiang himself. The Second Army Group consisted of elements from Guominjun led by Feng Yuxiang. The Third Army Group was led by Yan Xishan of the Shanxi clique, while the Fourth Army Group were led by Li Zongren of the New Guangxi clique. [15]

Chinese reunification (1928) Zhang Xueliangs announcement on 29 December 1928 on replacing all banners of the Beiyang government in Manchuria with the flag of the Nationalist government, thus nominally uniting China under one state

Chinese reunification (1928), better known in Chinese history as the Northeast Flag Replacement, is Zhang Xueliang's announcement on 29 December 1928 on replacing all banners of the Beiyang government in Manchuria with the flag of the Nationalist government, thus nominally uniting China under one state.

Zhang Xueliang ruler of Manchuria

Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsueh-liang, nicknamed the "Young Marshal" (少帥), was the effective ruler of Northeast China and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin, by the Japanese on 4 June 1928. He was an instigator of the 1936 Xi'an Incident, in which Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of China's ruling party, was arrested in order to force him to enter into a truce with the insurgent Chinese Communist Party and form a united front against Japan, which had occupied Manchuria. As a result, he spent over 50 years under house arrest, first in mainland China and then in Taiwan. He is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party as a patriotic hero for his role in the Xi'an Incident.

Zhang Zuolin Taiwanese warlord and politician

Zhang Zuolin was the warlord of Manchuria from 1916–28, during the Warlord Era in China. He successfully invaded China proper in October 1924 in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War. He gained control of Peking (Beijing), including China's internationally recognized government, in April 1926. The economy of Manchuria, the basis of Zhang's power, was overtaxed by his adventurism and collapsed in the winter of 1927–28. He was defeated by the National Revolutionary Army of the Nationalist Party of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in May 1928. He was killed by a bomb planted by a Japanese Kwantung Army officer on 4 June 1928. Although Zhang had been Japan's proxy in China, Japanese militarists were infuriated by his failure to stop the advance of the Nationalists.

First phase

Formation of anti-Chiang coalitions, first conflicts

Following the demilitarization conference in 1929, Li Zongren, Bai Chongxi and Huang Shaohong of the Guangxi clique broke off relations with Chiang in March 1929, which effectively started the confrontation between these commanders and the Nanjing government. In May, Feng Yuxiang of the Northwest Army also clashed with Chiang. In November, Li Zongren issued a declaration to form anti-Chiang coalition along with Wang Jingwei. In December, Tang Shengzhi and Zhang Fakui announced their support of the anti-Chiang coalition. The Nanjing government responded by expelling Wang Jingwei from the party for his participation in the anti-Chiang coalition. The coalition created a new KMT government in Beijing to show their defiance of the Nanjing government. In February 1930, Yan Xishan of the Shanxi clique demanded the resignation of Chiang from the KMT, which was refused. Later in the same month, Yan assumed the leadership position in the anti-Chiang coalition, with the assistance of Feng and Li while Zhang Xueliang chose to remain "loyal" to Chiang. [16]

Bai Chongxi Chinese general

Bai Chongxi was a Chinese general in the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China (ROC) and a prominent Chinese Nationalist leader. He was of Hui ethnicity and of the Muslim faith. From the mid-1920s to 1949, Bai and his close ally Li Zongren ruled Guangxi province as regional warlords with their own troops and considerable political autonomy. His relationship with Chiang Kai-shek was at various times antagonistic and cooperative. He and Li Zongren supported the anti-Chiang warlord alliance in the Central Plains War in 1930, then supported Chiang in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. Bai was the first defense minister of the Republic of China from 1946-48. After losing to the Communists in 1949, he fled to Taiwan, where he died in 1966.

Huang Shaohong Chinese politician

Huang Shaohong was a warlord in Guangxi province and governed Guangxi as part of the New Guangxi Clique through the latter part of the Warlord era, and a leader in later years of the Republic of China.

Guangxi Autonomous region

Guangxi ( ; formerly romanised as Kwangsi; Chinese: 广西; Zhuang: Gvangjsih, officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in south China and bordering Vietnam. Formerly a province, Guangxi became an autonomous region in 1958.

Allies of Chiang Kai-shek

The Nanjing government enjoyed support from the Chinese Muslims of the Gansu province in Northwest China. While the region was originally under the sphere of influence of the Northwest Army, influential Muslim leaders including Ma Tingrang, Ma Zhongying and Ma Fuxiang broke off relations with Feng Yuxiang in 1928. Forces of the Chinese Muslims remained loyal to the Nanjing government through the war, diverting forces of Feng away from the Central Plains. [17]

Preparations for the second phase

China from 1929 to 1930 Chine 1929-1930.png
China from 1929 to 1930

The anti-Chiang coalition planned their renewed attack on the Nationalist government in Nanjing through different routes. Li Zongren was expected to lead the Guangxi Army from Guangxi and toward Hunan to threaten the stronghold of Chiang in Wuhan. Feng Yuxiang would lead the Northwest Army and march from Henan to Shandong, attacking Xuzhou while also applying pressure on Wuhan. Yan Xishan would lead the Shanxi Army and coordinate with the Northwest Army to strike Xuzhou together, and march toward Nanjing after Xuzhou is captured by the coalition.

In response to the preparations, the Nationalists assigned Han Fuqu to set up defense in the southern bank of the Yellow River to counter the Shanxi Army. Main forces of the Nationalists would be stationed in Xuzhou to await for impending offensives. [18]

Second phase

Chiang offensives (May – June 1930)

Map showing the situation of China during the Central Plains War in 1930 Central Plains War.png
Map showing the situation of China during the Central Plains War in 1930

On 11 May, the Central Army led by Chiang Kai-shek launched a series of general offensives against Yan Xishan and Feng Yuxiang. Following the Longhai Railway, the Central Army marched westward from Xuzhou, reaching the outskirts of Kaifeng in the Henan province by 16 May. The Northwest Army, being the strongest in the anti-Chiang coalition, crushed the Central Army led by Chen Cheng in Gansu by the end of May, with Chiang having escaped from near capture. [19] The Northwest Army could not capitalize on its victory, however, as the Shanxi Army was unable to arrive on time to deliver further damage to the Central Army. With the allies of Chiang in Gansu province, the Northwest Army turned to defense following the victory. In Kaifeng the Northwest Army repelled attacks by Chiang's forces, inflicting heavy casualties. The combined forces of Shanxi Army and the Northwest Army later engaged in the largest conflict of the war in their attack on Xuzhou, with both sides sustaining combined casualties exceeding 200,000. The Shanxi Army retreated from Jinan and took further losses while crossing the Yellow River. The lack of coordination between forces of the anti-Chiang coalition was the beginning of the tide turning for the Nanjing government. [20]

Change of tides (June – September 1930)

In the southern battlefields the Guangxi Army led by Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi marched northwards and captured Yueyang, but Chiang's forces managed to cut them off from behind, eventually forcing them to withdraw to their home province. In Shandong the Shanxi Army captured Jinan on 25 June. After defeating the Guangxi Army in Hunan, the Nanjing government decided to launch a major counteroffensive against the Shanxi Army in Shandong. Marching from Qingdao, Chiang's forces retook Jinan on 15 August. The Central Army then amassed troops in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, launching their final offensive against the Northwest Army which lasted from the end of August to the beginning of September. [20]

Northeast Army intervenes (September – November 1930)

On 18 September Zhang Xueliang and the Northeast Army abandoned their neutrality and declared their support for Chiang. Several days later the Northeast Army entered the North China Plain through Shanhai Pass and captured Peking two days later. The Shanxi Army withdrew to the north of the Yellow River, while the Northwest Army collapsed as the morale of the anti-Chiang coalition no longer existed. On 4 November both Yan Xishan and Feng Yuxiang announced their resignations from all of their positions, which effectively ended the hostilities and brought an end to regional challenges against the Nanjing government. [19]


The Central Plains War was the largest armed conflict in China since the Northern Expedition ended in 1928. The conflicts spread across multiple provinces in China, involving different regional commanders with combined forces of more than one million. While the Nationalist government in Nanjing came out victorious, the conflict was financially costly which had a negative influence on the subsequent Encirclement Campaigns over the Chinese Communist Party.

After the entrance of the Northeast Army into central China, the defense of Manchuria was significantly weakened, which indirectly led to Japanese aggression in the Mukden Incident. While Chiang emerged from the war having consolidated his power as the supreme leader and established himself as a "accomplished military commander", the regional factions in the Kuomintang and their rivalries remained unsolved, which led to various problems later in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. [19]

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