After the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Chinese military modernization focussed on the professionalization of military education and training. It followed German and Japanese precedents. There were systematic attempts to instill in Chinese soldiers both the practical skills and the spiritual qualities deemed necessary for the proper performance of their professional duties. In the early twentieth century, such qualities were also demanded from the Chinese people at large: a universally disseminated ‘martial spirit’ (shangwu jingshen 尚武精神) was identified as one of the cornerstones of a strong, sovereign Chinese nation state. Soldiers were to serve as role models. This invocation of military values and virtues strengthened the political position of soldiers in relation to the state. With the legitimacy of the Manchu court dwindling, and the insecurity of early Republican governments, successive civilian governments came to lack the legitimacy to define the national interest because it was now professional soldiers who were seen to be better placed to do so. So the military men who would dismantle the Chinese state during the so-called Warlord Era (1916-28) were, in fact, acting in accordance with what state and society expected from them in their professional function.
Clemens Büttner is a research fellow and lecturer in Sinology at Goethe University, Frankfurt. He studied Sinology, Modern History, and Political Science at Friedrich-Alexander-University, Erlangen, from which he received his PhD in 2015. His interests lie in the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, he has examined Chinese modernization efforts in the fields of military professionalization and the development of religious Confucianism. His current research focuses on the relationship between nationalism and militarism.