Yan Xishan file photo [31255]

Yan Xishan

Given NameXishan
Born8 Oct 1883
Died23 May 1960


ww2dbaseYan Xide was born to merchant Yan Shutang (courtesy name Yan Ziming) in Hebian Villiage, Wutai County (now part of Xiang County), Shanxi Province, Qing Dynasty China in 1883. In 1889, his mother passed away, and he was sent to his maternal grandmother. Originally the arrangement was temporary, but when his father remarried and the second wife made clear that she did not wish to care for Yan, he remained with his maternal grandmother permanently. At age 9, he began studying Confucian classics by private tutor. At age 16, he adopted the courtesy name Yan Xishan (Wade-Giles romanization: Yen Hsi-shan). Returning to his father, he began working for the Yan family business. After the family business failed during the economic disaster of the late 1890s, he enrolled in a tuition-free government-financed military academy in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province om 1901. In 1904, he was sent to Japan to study at the Tokyo Shimbu Gakko military preparatory academy; upon graduation, he attended the Japanese Army Academy, graduating in 1909. While in Japan, he had taken Japan's successful Westernization to heart, and thought China needed to go through a similar transformation lest it never regain regional influence again, ceding that position to Japan. Also while in Japan, in 1905, he had met the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. Believing in Sun's efforts, he joined the Tongmenghui, a underground political party aimed at overthrowing the Qing monarchy to establish a republic. He was also a member of the radical and militant Dare-to-Die Corps. He returned to China in 1909 and was made an instructor at a Shanxi military preparatory school. Later in 1909, he scored well in his public servant examinations and was promoted to command a squad in Qing's New Army in Shanxi Province. In 1911, when the Xinhai Revolution broke out, he joined the revolutionaries, leading his troops against those remaining loyal to Qing. After Qing Dynasty's fall, with the support of provincial troops, he proclaimed himself the military governor of Shanxi Province. In 1913, Yuan Shikai's troops moved into Shanxi, forcing Yan to flee northward into Shaanxi Province. Distancing himself from Sun, he was able to persuade Yuan to restore him as the governor of Shanxi, under the watchful eye of Yuan's lieutenants. In 1917, shortly after Yuan's death, Yan consolidated his power in Shanxi Province and became one of the more influential warlords in Northern China.

ww2dbaseYan was known as a progressive governor who was willing to implement great reforms to improve the lives of the people of Shanxi.

ww2dbaseOn the topic of public health, Yan generally had a good track record. In 1918, a outbreak of bubonic plague in northern Shanxi eventually killed 2,664 people over the course of two months. He took the opportunity to invite foreign doctors and epidemiologists to Shanxi to improve the province's medical facilities. In 1921, he established the Research Society for the Advancement of Chinese Medicine based in Taiyuan, which was effectively a four-year medical school, staffed by German-, English-, and Japanese-speaking medical professionals. In 1934, under Yan's direction, Shanxi Province announced a ten-year plan for improving public health of the province. This plan ambitiously called for a province-sponsored medical professional in every village, but the start of WW2 would prevent this plan from being carried out. Nevertheless, by 1949, Taiyuan had three government-run modern hospitals in the city.

ww2dbaseIn regards to opium and other narcotics, although he held a strong stance against such addictions, some of his top officials were secretly a part of the opium trade, and thus his efforts were constantly sabotaged and never implemented effectively; as an alternative, he ordered the establishment of a government monopoly on opium in order to control production and trade.

ww2dbaseYan also devoted much time and effort on the economy of Shanxi, although the lack of talent in this field in his administration placed a limit on what could be achieved. In 1923, he created a 100,000-strong conscript militia and maintained it similar to the methods employed by Japan and the United States with their reserve forces; the military was paid well and it gave him the labor force for building infrastructure and for providing additional manpower to farms when needed. He also introduced heavy industry to the province, establishing salt plants, chemical plants, and the Taiyuan Arsenal. The arsenal was the only one in China capable of building field artillery pieces, though unfortunately it was fallen to the Japanese very early in WW2.

ww2dbaseYan's support for women's rights was notable. He established primary schools exclusively for peasant girls in order to combat illiteracy among women in Shanxi Province. In 1925, he announced that women were allowed to attend college-level institutions in his province. He also established stiff criminal penalties against those who still secretly practiced footbinding.

ww2dbaseYan supported education in general, not just for women. Many province-funded schools were established, some tuition-free, such as the two-year-curriculum school he established for his military junior officers. He also worked with Christian missionaries from the west to establish schools (although it was interesting to note that he failed to come to the aid of Christians when anti-western sentiment marked Christians as targets of violence).

ww2dbaseAlthough he had viewed Japan as a threat to China as early as his cadet days in Japan, Yan admired Japan's ability to draw its population's unfaltering devotion for the government, and he attempted to implement similar practices in Shanxi. His version of militarism, known as "Yan Xishan Thought", was largely based on the ideals of Neo-Confucianism which placed great importance on self-criticism and self-cultivation. He organized regular gatherings that were structured very similar to Christian weekly sermons, and these gatherings often placed the government as the pinnacle of social structure which was akin to contemporary Shinto. Although he admired Karl Marx, Yan rejected the Chinese Communist Party's philosophies; instead, he thought Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was the proper way to ensure the livelihood of the peasants and the workers.

ww2dbaseYan's military education and how he rose to power established him as a military leader by reputation, but his record thus far as an officer was poor. Politics, however, was undoubtedly his strong suit. Knowing Shanxi does not offer him the large population nor strong economy that he needed in the rivalry with other warlords, he masterfully manipulated his alliances in the 1920s and 1930s, frequently shifting his friendship between several warlords and cliques, placing himself in the position where others wished to recruit him in their alliances in order to have an edge over others. In 1926, in order to counter the growing powers of Zhang Zuolin in Northeastern China, Yan shifted his position to align with Chiang Kaishek during Chiang's Northern Expedition military campaign. In Dec 1926, he was officially given rank in the Nationalist Party's National Revolutionary Army. In Jan 1927, Chiang made Yan the commanding officer of Nationalist forces in the north. In Jun 1927, he was made the commander of the Nationalist 3rd Group Army. He suffered a defeat at the hands of Zhang Zuolin's troops at Niangzi Gate of the Great Wall on the border of Shanxi and Hebei Provinces in Nov 1927, but a series of successes led him to become the commander that captured Beiping for the Nationalists on 8 Apr 1928. Chiang rewarded Yan by naming him the deputy commander of all Nationalist forces in 1929 and recognized him as the governor of Shanxi Province. He was also awarded the Order of Precious Tripod First Class on 1 Jan 1930. In Feb 1930, however, Yan turned against Chiang, allying with Feng Yuxiang, Li Zongren, and Wang Jingwei during the Central Plains War. During that war, Yan's troops took control of Shandong Province in Jun 1930. Prematurely satisfied with the progress of the war, he made plans to establish a new central government with himself as the president and Wang Jingwei as the prime minister. When Zhang Xueliang, successor to Zhang Zuolin who was assassinated by the Japanese in 1928, unexpectedly entered the war on the side of Chiang, attacking and defeating Yan's forces in Shandong, Yan fled to Dalian in the Japanese-occupied Kwangtung Leased Territory, not returning to Shanxi until he had appeased the victorious Chiang Kaishek and Zhang Xueliang in 1931. In Dec 1931, at the 4th National Congress, his membership at the Central Executive Committee was restored. He remained superficially loyal to Chiang until late 1931, when on 18 Dec 1931 a group of students protested against the Nationalist government as Japan effectively took control of the whole of Northeastern China. Nationalist policemen fired on the students, angering the populace. Yan took the chance to expel influential Nationalist Party officials from his province. Chiang, focused in his dealing with the growing Communist threat while admiring Yan's stern anti-Japanese stance, allowed Yan to remain in power in Shanxi; furthermore, Chiang named Yan a Pacification Commissioner in 1932, and subsequently appointed Yan to the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission. In the latter role, he took control over Suiyuan Province, developing its large iron deposits (representing 24% of China's iron deposits) and resettling a large number of his soldiers in Suiyuan to farm the land. In Nov 1934, Chiang visited Taiyuan and praised Yan's administration. In 1935, he was promoted to the rank of General First Class.

ww2dbaseIn 1935, when Japanese troops and puppet state Manchukuo troops invaded Chahar Province, China, Yan worked with the Suiyuan Mongolian Political Council to organize military opposition to the invasion. After the Japanese failed to recruit Yan to their side by promises of power, Yan published an open letter in Sep 1935 in which he denounced Japanese ambition on Chinese territory, and he successfully persuaded Chiang to pledge military support should Shanxi be attacked by Japan. In Feb 1936, 34,000 Chinese Communist troops crossed into southwestern Shanxi, began a recruitment campaign, and began a guerrilla campaign against Yan's troops; Chiang sent troops in support of Yan, but the Communists evaded destruction by splitting into small groups. In Mar 1936, Manchukuo troops moved into and took control of northeastern Suiyuan Province, which Yan's forces was unable to prevent. They did, however, successfully thwart the Aug 1936 attempt by the newly established puppet state of Mengjiang's attempt to move into eastern Suiyuan. Seeing that Japanese invasion of Shanxi was imminent, Yan began putting all students in compulsive military training, and in Oct 1936 he began to enter in secret negotiations with the Communists for a possible united front against the foreign threat. Toward the latter effort, he allowed the Communists to establish cells in Taiyuan, and he released Communists from prisons, including at least one general, Wang Ruofei. In Nov 1936, Mengjiang troops attacked again, but even armed with Japanese weapons and supported with Japanese aircraft, Yan's commanding general in Suiyuan, Fu Zuoyi, blunted the attack and recovered most Suiyuan territory. After capturing several Japanese Army officers among Mengjiang's ranks, Yan publicly revealed Japan's direct involvement with the invasion.

ww2dbaseAfter WW2 officially began in China in 1937, Yan concluded that Japan no longer required using troops from puppet states to do its bidding, thus Suiyuan and Shanxi Provinces could soon see incursions by the Japanese Army itself. Yan personally visited the national capital, Nanjing, to consult with Chiang Kaishek. In this meeting, Chiang made Yan the commander of the Second War Zone (Shanxi, Suiyuan, Chahar, and northern Shaanxi), thus giving Yan greater authority and more resources to conduct the war. With these, he mounted an attack against Mengjiang and Manchukuo troops in northern Chahar Province, hoping to quickly surprise and overwhelm them quickly before the arrival of the Japanese Army. Mengjiang and Manchukuo forces were quickly defeated. When Japanese troops attempted to reinforce them, they were initially stopped at Nankou Pass of the Great Wall with heavy casualties, but greater firepower eventually allowed them to overpower Shanxi forces. To instill discipline, Yan ordered the execution of General Li Fuying, who ordered the withdraw from Nankou Pass without Yan's authorization. He also publicly announced that should he himself flee from the Japanese, every soldier would have the right to execute him as well. Reaching out to the Communists, he invited the Communist 8th Route Army to enter Shanxi, and named its commanding officer Zhu De the Deputy Commander of the Second War Zone. The combined Shanxi-Communist force, the Japanese advance was stopped at Pingxingguan, but as Communist units began to avoid direct confrontations, Shanxi troops could not shoulder the burden alone and began to fall back toward Taiyuan, though morale remained high and resistance remained strong. At Yuanping, for example, a shingle brigade of Shanxi troops held out against the Japanese advance for over a week, allowing reinforcements sent by the Nationalist central government to take up defensive positions at Xinkou. At the subsequent Battle of Xinkou, central government and Shanxi troops held against attacks by the Japanese Itakagi Division for over a month, forcing Japan to send in more troops, attacking Taiyuan from a second direction, in the east. When Japanese troops took control of Taiyuan, it had destroyed about 90% of Yan's strength, but at the same time Japan also suffered 30,000 dead in the campaign for Shanxi Province, which was far greater than what the Japanese leadership had expected. With Taiyuan lost, Yan relocated his headquarters to the field, but refused to leave the province. Japan attempted to negotiate with Yan, offering to establish another puppet state in Shanxi with him at the helm, but Yan rejected the offer. He was finally driven out of Shanxi into Shaanxi when Japan launched another offensive and captured Linfen and Lingshi. In the spring of 1938, the Japanese Army relocated a number of units out of Shanxi, and Yan took the opportunity to re-enter his province and established his headquarters in the mountainous regions of Qixian. Balancing politics and looking past grudges, he was able to coordinate effectively between Shanxi troops, Communist troops, and Nationalist troops against Japanese attempts to expand their territory. In 1939, when Communist-Nationalist relationship worsened across the country, however, Yan found Communist units under his nominal command sabotaging his war effort. He quickly ordered attacks against the Communists, clearing Qixian of Communist influence, but large tracts of rural Shanxi remained under Communist 8th Route Army control.

ww2dbaseIn 1940, Ryukichi Tanaka was made the chief of staff of the Japanese First Army, which was stationed in Shanxi. Tanaka had known Yan from prior to the war, and tried to again recruit Yan into a joint effort against the Communists. Yan received permission from Nanjing to engage in such talks, but by Dec 1940 these talks fell apart after Tanaka refused to withdraw from Shanxi province, something that Yan demanded. In May 1941, Tanaka returned to Shanxi and attempted to reopen negotiations, this time reaching as far as getting support from General Yoshio Iwamatsu to speak with Yan, but these talks would ultimately stall as well as Yan refused to yield to Japanese demands for food, supplies, and iron ore. Japan would continue to attempt to engage Yan for the remainder of the war, but to no official success. Yan's forces' increased intensity in actions against Communists in 1944 drew suspicion by some as a secret Shanxi-Japanese cooperative effort, however.

ww2dbaseAfter the end of WW2, Yan recruited thousands of Japanese soldiers in northwestern Shanxi into the Shanxi army, which gave him the strength to counter the Communist threat in Shanxi. Knowing that this recruitment would be unpopular with the central government and with the United States, he was known for staging shows of disarming Japanese troops before Nanjing representatives and American reporters, and returning the weapons to Japanese soldiers, now flying his banner, by the same evening. When he regained Taiyuan, he found the factories to be run by technically capable Japanese mechanics, engineers, and managers. In a similar vein, he recruited most of them in order to keep the factories running. At the highest point, about 15,000 Japanese, mostly military servicemen, worked for Shanxi. About 5,000 Japanese would flee from Yan after learning that the Americans were providing free transport to repatriate Japanese servicemen, but a majority of them remained loyal to Yan. When Taiyuan would eventually fall to Communist control on 22 Apr 1949, the commander of the Japanese in Shanxi, former Kwangtung Army officer Imamura Hosaku, committed suicide for failing to defend the city for his employer; this suggested the type of loyalty Yan had won from his mercenaries.

ww2dbaseIn late Aug 1945, as the chief of the Second War Area, Yan launched a large scale offensive against Communist forces. This campaign was met with total defeat, losing a large number of troops and equipment. As the Second War Area was disbanded, Yan remained the governor of Shanxi Province. After additional losses in mid-1946, he's power base in Shanxi was effectively limited to the cities of Taiyuan and Datong only. In Jul 1947, he was named a National Assembly Representative and a member of the Legislative Yuan. In Jul 1948, another failed offensive against Communist forces near Taigu, Shanxi, losing several thousand soldiers.

ww2dbaseIn late Mar 1949, Yan departed from Taiyuan for Nanjing, hoping to gather support from the central government for the besieged city. On 22 Apr, he sent a cable from Nanjing, urging his officers to refuse demands for surrender. Two days later, the Communists launched the final offensive for the city, capturing the city by 1000 hours. In the afternoon, acting governor Liang Huazhi and Chairwoman of the Provincial Women's Association Yan Huiqing (Yan Xishan's fifth sister) committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Communists. A number of other high ranking officers and officials committed suicide in the subsequent days as well. After the fall of Taiyuan, Yan fled to Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China with the government. He found himself attempting to broker a peace between political rivals Li Zongren and Chiang Kaishek so that the central government could better face the Communists, which by then was already scoring repeated victories. He was able to persuade Acting President Li to form a new government which included Chiang's supporters, with Yan as the head of the Executive Yuan, mediating between the two sides. Despite Yan's efforts, Chiang, who controlled the treasury and suspected the war had already been lost, chose to move nearly all the money to Taiwan rather than allow Li to purchase supplies needed for the war. In the final days of the war, forces loyal to Li focused on defending Guangdong Province and Guangxi Province, while forces loyal to Chiang focused on defending Sichuan Province, without any coordination with each other. Yan's attempts to reconcile the two sides failed to yield any results. When the war was lost, Li fled to the United States, abandoning his presidential duties, and Yan assumed the role of Acting President of the Republic of China on 20 Nov 1949, stepping down on 1 Mar 1950. Although held in high regard as a senior advisor to Chiang, he was without any political allies. More than once he requested for permission to retire to Japan, but they were denied. He spent the remainder of his life writing books on philosophy, history, and politics. He passed away in 1960 and was buried in the Qixingjun region of Yangmingshan in Taiwan. For decades, Yan's aids remained to care for his grave, care for his former residence, and cared for his widow Xu Zhuqing. According to Yan's will, all his possessions were left for his widow. In Mar 1970, Xu passed away and was buried together with Yan. The aids remained to care for the grave and the former residence. In 2004 and in 2010, the former residence and the grave site were, respectively, made historic sites by the Taipei city government. The last of his aids, Zhang Riming, aged 81, retired from caring for the two sites in 2011. In Jan 2018, the former residence opened its doors as a museum.

ww2dbaseYan Xishan had a concubine, Xu Lansen.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia

Last Major Revision: Nov 2021

Yan Xishan Interactive Map


Yan Xishan and Sun Yatsen, China, 1911Yan Xishan with other officers, China, 1916-1918Portrait of Yan Xishan, early 1920s, seen on page 932 of 3rd Edition (1925) of WhoPortrait of Yan Xishan, 1920s
See all 28 photographs of Yan Xishan

Yan Xishan Timeline

8 Oct 1883 Yan Xishan was born in Hebian Village, Wutai County, Shanxi Province, Qing Dynasty China.
8 Apr 1928 Yan Xishan led Nationalist-aligned Shanxi Province troops into Beiping, China during the Northern Expedition.
1 Jan 1930 Yan Xishan was awarded the Order of Precious Tripod First Class.
5 Aug 1931 Yan Xishan arrived at Datong, Shanxi Province, China by aircraft.
19 Jul 1947 Yan Xishan was named a National Assembly Representative and a member of the Legislative Yuan.
29 Dec 1948 Chiang Kaishek met with Yan Xishan, Li Zongren, and Zhang Qun.
1 Jan 1949 Yan Xishan arrived in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China by aircraft.
17 Feb 1949 Chiang Kaishek and Yan Xishan met at Xikou, Zhejiang Province. China.
29 Mar 1949 Yan Xishan departed Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China by aircraft for Nanjing.
22 Apr 1949 Yan Xishan sent a cable from Nanjing, China to Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China where his troops were besieged by Communists; he urged his officers to refuse demands for surrender.
26 Apr 1949 Yan Xishan departed Shanghai, China for Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
31 May 1949 While in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, Yan Xishan was nominated the head of the Executive Yuan.
2 Jun 1949 Yan Xishan visited Taipei, Taiwan Province, Republic of China.
13 Jun 1949 Yan Xishan became the head of the Executive Yuan and the Minister of National Defense, replacing He Yingqin in both roles.
24 Sep 1949 Chiang Kaishek met with Yan Xishan, Yu Hanmou, Gu Zhutong, Xue Yue, and Li Jilan in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
25 Sep 1949 Chiang Kaishek met with Bai Chongxi, Yan Xishan, Chen Lifu, Gu Zhutong, and Gui Yongqing in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
27 Sep 1949 Chiang Kaishek met with Yan Xishan, Zhang Qun, Wu Tiecheng, Bai Chongxi, Yu Youren, Ju Zheng, Gu Zhutong, Chen Lifu, and Gui Yongqing in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
20 Nov 1949 In Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, Yan Xishan was made the Acting President of the Republic of China after Li Zongren abandoned his duties and fled to the United States.
26 Jan 1950 Gu Chutong became the Acting Minister of National Defense, replacing Yan Xishan.
1 Mar 1950 Chiang Kaishek was elected the President of the Republic of China., replacing Yan Xishan, who had been serving as the Acting President since Acting President Li Zongren abandoned his duties in Nov 1949.
15 Mar 1950 Chen Cheng became the head of the Executive Yuan, replacing Yan Xishan.
23 May 1960 Yan Xishan passed away in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.

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Yan Xishan and Sun Yatsen, China, 1911
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