Wuwei Corps

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Troops of the Wuwei Corps led by Yuan Shikai escorting Empress Dowager Cixi back to the Forbidden City in 1902 Wuwei Right Troop1.jpg
Troops of the Wuwei Corps led by Yuan Shikai escorting Empress Dowager Cixi back to the Forbidden City in 1902

The Wuwei Corps [1] (simplified Chinese : ; traditional Chinese : ; pinyin :Wǔwèijūn; Wade–Giles :Wu-wei chün) [2] or Guards Army [2] [3] was a modernised army unit of the Qing dynasty. Made up of infantry, cavalry and artillery, it was formed in May [3] or June 1899 and trained by western military advisers. The guard took responsibility for the security of Peking (Beijing) and the Forbidden City, with Ronglu as its supreme commander. This move was an attempt by the Qing imperial court to create a western-style army equipped with modern weaponry following the Qing Empire's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. Three out of the five divisions of the Wuwei Corps were disbanded after two years due to attrition caused by the Boxer Rebellion.



Empress Dowager Cixi held supreme power at the Qing imperial court after she placed the Guangxu Emperor under house arrest. Ronglu, who controlled the Grand Council and the Ministry of Defence, subsequently received orders to recruit a 90,000-men army drawn from various units under the control of Nie Shicheng, Song Qing, Dong Fuxiang and Yuan Shikai. [4] [5] [6]

Five Divisions of the Wuwei

The corps consisted of five "divisions" described as "regiments" by some sources: [1] Left, Right, Front, Rear, and Center [2] [3] [lower-alpha 1]

Wuwei Divisions
FrontNie Shicheng
Rear Dong Fuxiang
LeftSong Qing
Right Yuan Shikai

Of these, "by far the strongest" [2] was Yuan Shikai's Right Division, which was merely a rebranding of his existing New Army formed in 1895, [3] while Nie Shicheng's Front Division, trained by German military advisers, ranked as second best. [7] These two divisions enjoyed the advantage of a modernised infantry military system and training, while the other three divisions still employed the traditional Manchu Banners Army system. Differences in the prowess of the divisions became apparent during training, even though the entire Guards Army had the same modern weaponry.

Prior to the creation of the Wuwei Corps, Nie Shicheng's Front Division was known as the "Tenacious Army" ( Wuyi jun, [lower-alpha 2] ), [2] while Song Qing's troops previously bore the name "Resolute Army" (毅軍 Yi jun). [8] These armies were similarly armed with Mauser rifles and Maxim machine guns. [2]

Dong Fuxiang (Tung Fu-hsiang) led an army of Muslim warriors, dubbed "the 10,000 Islamic rabble" in the West at the time. [7] In China, Dong's troops were familiarly known as the "Gan army" (甘軍 [lower-alpha 3] ) which used the abbreviated name of Gansu Province where many of these soldiers originated. "Gan army" is a literal translation, but English sources usually use the paraphrased name "Kansu Braves". [7]

By imperial edict, Ronglu received nominal command of the entire Wuwei Corps. [9] His initial task was to incorporate the four pre-existing divisions within the new structure of the Wuwei Corps. [9] Ronglu later added the Centre Division with himself as commander, a unit composed mostly of Manchu bannermen. [9] [lower-alpha 4]

Boxer Uprising

During the war against the Eight-Nation Alliance, the Front Division, Rear Division and the Center Division suffered heavy casualties and were disbanded following signature of the Boxer Protocol. The Right Division and the Left Division remained in Shandong Province to suppress a group of Boxers known as the Yihetuan rebels. Both these units remained at full strength as they had not come up against troops of the foreign powers.

From March 1899 onwards at the height of the Boxer conflict, Ma Yukun (馬玉崑) and Jiang Guiti became co-commanders alongside Song Qing at the head of the Left Division. [10]

Explanatory notes

  1. Although the Chinese names for these units featured the stem jun, literally "corps" or "army", recent studies in English appear to coalesce around referring to these units as "divisions" (Purcell 2010, Wang 1995, etc. probably after Powell 1972). The transition from "army" to "divisions" was expressed in one study as follows: "Jung-lu [Ronglu] then proceeded to reorganize the four armies (now divisions)".Purcell 2010 , p. 29
  2. ; Wǔyì jūn; Wu-i chün
  3. 甘军; 甘軍; Gān Jūn; Kan Chün
  4. During this period, despite his appointment to the Grand Council, Ronglu retained command of the Beiyang Army that defended the capital region. [2]


  1. 1 2 Ding 1986, p. 47.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Powell 1972, pp. 102–103.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Wang 1995, p.  71: "In May 1899, Yuan Shikai, commander of China's strongest army, the Wuwei Youjun or the Right Division (new name for Yuan's Newly Created Army) of the Guards Army [Note: The Guards Army or Wuwei Jun included Left, Right, Front, Rear, and Center Divisions]..."
  4. Liu 1978.
  5. Guo Hui 郭辉 (2009). "An Account of Ronglu's Military Activities" 荣禄军事活动述论 (Thesis) (in Chinese). M.A. Thesis, Hebei University.
  6. "The specifics of 'Cixi's westward journey' ("慈禧西行"始末)". Xinhai Net (辛亥革命网) (in Chinese). 2010-12-06. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  7. 1 2 3 Bodin 1979, p. 26.
  8. Powell 1972, pp. 102–103; Bodin 1979, p. 26.
  9. 1 2 3 Purcell 2010, p. 29.
  10. Ding 1986, p. 47 ("On the Chinese side, the left regiment of the Wuwei division led by Ma Yukun and the Lian division of Zhili led by He Yongsheng were putting up a stubborn defence within the city"; Rhoads 2011, p. 82 ("It looked to Jian Guiti (1843-1922), commander of the Left Division of the Guards Army"; Liu 1978, p. 98 ("時間:光緒二十五年二月至宣統三年九月(1899年3月至1911年12月)... 總統: 宋慶 馬玉崑 姜桂題 二十一~三十五營 武衛左軍" [translation: "Time: March 1899 to December 1911, commander: Song Qing, Ma Yukun, Jiang Guiti. 21–35 battalions. Guards Army's Left Division"].

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