Zhang Zongchang

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Zhang Zongchang
Zhang Zongchang
Traditional Chinese 張宗昌

Zhang Zongchang (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhāng Zōngchāng; Wade–Giles: Chang Tsung-ch'ang; 13 February 1881 – 3 September 1932), nicknamed the "Dogmeat General" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Gǒuròu Jiāngjūn)[1] and "72-Cannon Chang",[2] was a Chinese warlord in Shandong in the early 20th century. Time dubbed him China's "basest warlord".[3]


Born in poverty in Yi County (now Laizhou) in Shandong, Zhang joined a bandit gang in 1911 and rose in power after offering his band's services to the army of Jiangsu's military governor. His success as a part-time bandit chief and militiaman was short-lived, and after being defeated by rivals he sought refuge with the warlord Zhang Zuolin in Manchuria. He made a good impression, with one story being that he rose in popularity one year at Zhang Zuolin's birthday party: in contrast to other guests who showered the warlord with expensive gifts, Zhang Zongchang sent him two empty coolie baskets and failed to turn up himself. Zhang Zuolin was baffled until the purpose of the gift was ascertained: Zhang Zongchang's empty basket implied he was a man willing to shoulder whatever heavy responsibilities the warlord entrusted him with. He was subsequently rewarded with a command position in his army, though only after proving himself in battle did Zhang Zongchang visit his superior in person.

Zhang Zongchang's nickname of the Dogmeat General came from a fondness for gambling, especially for the game Pai Gow which northeastern Chinese called "eating dog meat". He kept some 30 to 50 concubines of different nationalities, including Koreans, Japanese, White Russians, French and Americans, who were given numbers since he could not remember their names nor speak their language. He was free with his gifts, lavishly squandering money and concubines on superiors and friends. As a result, his commanders were very loyal to him, contributing to his military success. According to the wife of Wellington Koo:

'[Zhang] was known everywhere as the "Three Don't Knows" (Chinese: ; pinyin: sān zhī). He said he didn't know how much money he had, how many concubines, or how many men in his army.'

Zhang Zongchang proved to be one of the more capable warlord generals, making effective use of armoured trains manned by experienced White Russian mercenaries. He recruited up to 4,600 White Russian refugees from the Russian civil war, from which he formed a cavalry regiment, complete with pseudo-Tsarist uniforms and regalia. He was also one of the first Chinese generals to incorporate women into the military on a large scale, including using a regiment of nurses consisting entirely of White Russian women. They trained their Chinese counterparts, resulting in greater efficiency in taking care of Zhang's wounded troops, a significant boost for morale and combat capability.

While having a reputation as one of the most brutal and ruthless warlords, he was also one of the most colourful. After defeating the army of general Wu Peifu by making his enemy's forces defect, he rewarded the defectors by allowing them to keep their original ranks. He then promoted his own officers, but since there was not enough metal to make the gold and silver stars for their rank insignia, he ordered the stars to be made from the gold and silver paper foil in cigarette packages. During the mass promotion ceremony, the officers were surprised to find their insignia already torn even before the ceremony had ended. During one of his campaigns, he publicly announced he would win the battle or come home in his coffin. When his troops were forced back he was true to his word—he was paraded through the streets, sitting in his coffin and smoking a large cigar. It was also a matter of public amusement that he kept his aged mother with him at all times, except when on campaign, when he left her at his opulent palace.

In 1924 he took part in the Second Zhili–Fengtian War and helped partition Shanghai between the opposing forces. In April 1925 he conquered Shanghai proper and then seized Nanjing, both for the glory of Zhang Zuolin's Fengtian clique. He was subsequently appointed military governor of Shandong, which he ruled as warlord until May 1928. Zhang traveled to Shanghai for frequent carousing sessions with Zhang Zuolin's son, Gen. Zhang Xueliang. Both men enjoyed opium, for which Shanghai was a key site in the smuggling trade, and the Fengtian economy became increasingly reliant on the drug. In an infamous incident in 1925, an argument in Zhang's headquarters over who among a group of officers should receive the biggest payment from an opium deal led to a shootout which saw three of them kill each other.

In 1928, during the Northern Expedition, Gen. Bai Chongxi led Kuomintang forces that defeated and destroyed Zhang Zongchang's army, capturing 20,000 of his 50,000 troops and almost capturing Zhang himself, who escaped beyond the Great Wall to Manchuria.[4] He fled to Japanese protection in Dalian, though remained unwilling to accept his reduced status. From Dalian, he plotted to regain his former territories. Possibly enjoying covert support by Japan, Zhang, his long-time follower Chu Yupu and another warlord, Huang Feng-chi, returned to Shandong in 1929 and launched a major rebellion against Liu Zhennian, the Nationalist-aligned de facto ruler of eastern Shandong at the time. Gathering tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers who were still loyal to them, the three warlords fought for several months against Liu's followers, thereby causing great destruction and many casualties among the civilian population. In the end, the rebellion was defeated, though Zhang managed to escape back to Dalian.[5] Later that year, he was living quietly in Beppu, Japan, with his mother, though he was thrown into the spotlight again when he "accidentally" shot Prince Xiankai (憲開), a cousin of the deposed emperor Puyi. According to Zhang the gun he was holding while standing at his hotel window happened to go off and shoot the young prince in the back, killing him instantly, though it was more likely he killed the playboy prince for dallying with one of Zhang's many concubines. He was charged, found guilty by a Japanese court and given the choice between 15 days' imprisonment or a $150 (US) fine. He chose the fine.[6]

While visiting Shandong in 1932, he was assassinated by the nephew of one of his many victims, who was in turn given clemency and pardoned by the Kuomintang government. Contemporary claims were made that the "filial murder" might have been part of a plan set up by a local governor to remove Zhang as a political rival.


  1. ^ Waldron, Arthur (2003). From War to Nationalism: China's Turning Point, 1924-1925. Cambridge UP. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-52332-5. 
  2. ^ The People's Almanac Presents The Book of Lists. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell. 1978. pp. 326–7. ISBN 0-553-11150-7. 
  3. ^ "CHINA: Basest War Lord". TIME. 7 March 1927. Retrieved May 8, 2015. 
  4. ^ "CHINA: Potent Hero". TIME. September 24, 1928. Retrieved April 11, 2011. 
  5. ^ Jowett (2017), pp. 195–200.
  6. ^ "JAPAN: Murder Price". TIME. 23 September 1929. Retrieved May 8, 2015. 


  • Jowett, Philip S. (2017). The Bitter Peace. Conflict in China 1928–37. Stroud: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1445651927. 

Further reading[edit]

  • David Bonavia. China's Warlords. Hong Kong: OUP, 1995.