The Chinese warlord Chang Tso-lin (1873-1928) unified Manchuria and brought it into the realm of national Chinese politics. Forced to contend with ambitious neighbors, he distrusted the Russians and leaned toward the Japanese.
Chang Tso-lin was born of peasant stock in the northeastern province of Fengtien. Lacking formal education, he joined the army and fought in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). By the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), he had organized a large force of irregulars, which he led in support of Japan. The chaotic conditions that prevailed during the declining years of the Manchu dynasty and the early period of the republic enabled Chang to further enhance his military power in Manchuria through deft military and political maneuvers. When the death of China's president, Yüan Shih-k'ai, opened the way for undisguised warlordism (1916-1928), Chang became tuchun, or military governor, of Fengtien. With the cooperation of Tuan Ch'i-jui, leader of the Anfu Clique, Chang had, by mid-1919, extended his control to the rest of Manchuria. From then until his death Manchuria was his private domain.
Chang was less successful when he sought to extend his influence into adjacent areas. His efforts in Outer Mongolia collapsed in 1921, when a new government was established under Soviet auspices. The first Chihli-Fengtien war (April-May 1922) brought the collapse of Chang's first bid for hegemony of North China. In 1924 Gen. Feng Yü-hsiang's timely defection to his side enabled Chang to establish a short-lived triumvirate in Peking with Feng and Tuan Ch'i-jui.
However, within a year Chang's fortunes had changed. He had to withdraw a substantial portion of his forces from North China, and only Japanese intervention saved Manchuria from an attempted coup. The plot, which enjoyed at least the moral support of the Soviet Union, provoked Chang to move against the Russian-controlled Chinese Eastern Railway, but threat of military retaliation forced him to back down. Having reconsolidated his position in Peking, Chang struck once again against the Russians. In a raid on the Soviet embassy on April 6, 1927, he netted volumes of incriminating documents and seized for execution Li Tachao and other Chinese Communists.
After a lifetime of shrewd manipulation of friends and foes, Chang finally fell between the millstones of Chinese nationalism and Japanese expansionism. As Chiang kaishek's Northern Expedition moved into North China in April 1928, the Japanese leaders attempted to halt the fighting before it poured over into Manchuria by urging Chang to retire north of the Great Wall. Chang hesitated but finally left Peking on June 3. The following day his train was blown up by a bomb planted by Japanese conspirators. Chang's assassination was an ominous prelude to the Japanese invasion of Sept. 18, 1931, which terminated the reign of his son and heir, Chang Hsüehliang.
Further Reading on Chang Tso-lin
The literature on Chang is inadequate. An older work is Putnam Weale, Chang Tso-Lin's Struggle against the Communist Menace (1927). The papers that Chang seized in his raid on the Soviet embassy were translated and edited in C. Martin Wilbur and Julie Lien-ying How, Documents on Communism, Nationalism, and Soviet Advisers in China, 1918-1927 (1956). Chang's maneuvers in the context of warlord politics are covered in Oliver Edmund Clubb, Twentieth Century China (1964).
Additional Biography Sources
McCormack, Gavan, Chang Tso-lin in northeast China, 1911-1928: China, Japan, and the Manchurian idea, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977.