This Day in History: Lu Yongxiang – Shanghai's Forgotten Warlord

By Dan Stein, March 25, 2021

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Lu Yongxiang, who was Shanghai's warlord for five years, was finally driven out on October 13, 1924. This is his story.

The two decades after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 was the age of warlordism. While a Beijing civilian government was nominally in charge, throughout China warlords reigned supreme. Shanghai was no exception. From 1919-1924, Shanghai’s warlord was the Shandong-born former Qing military commander Lu Yongxiang.

Lu was born in 1867 in Jiyang, Shandong. Growing up dirt poor, he decided his way out was via the military. He first joined the Qing’s Huai Army in 1890, followed by the Beiyang Army under Yuan Shikai, where he'd suppress the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion.

After the founding of the Republic of China in 1912 Yuan became President. He appointed Lu head of the Beiyang’s 10th Division, in charge of Zhejiang. Lu stood by Yuan when, in 1915, he declared himself Emperor. However, with Yuan’s untimely death the next year, Lu needed a new powerbase to throw his weight behind.

At the beginning of Lu’s Shanghai reign, there were three main warlord cliques in China: the Anhui Clique, led by Anhui native son and former China Prime Minister Duan Qirui; the Zhili Clique, led first by Hebei-born former China VP (and brief President) Feng Guozhang and later the ‘Jade Marshall’ Wu Peifu; and the Fengtian Clique, led by Liaoning’s ‘Mukden Tiger’ Zhang Zuolin.

READ MORE: This Day in History: Mukden Tiger and The Huanggutun Incident

‘Mukden Tiger’ Zhang Zuolin

In return for supporting Duan and his Anhui Clique, Lu was named military governor of Zhejiang and Chinese Shanghai in August 1919. This was a mere three months after the May 4th Movement broke out, a country-wide show of disappointment with China’s direction after the Qing’s demise and of outrage over Qingdao’s post-WWI Japan handover (which Duan secretly agreed to).

The former residence of Lu Yongxiang at 718 Yanan Zhong Lu

On Lu’s watch in Shanghai, the CCP was founded and city resident Sun Yat Sen held the first KMT congress in Guangzhou. Both of these parties were vehemently against the warlords, and each would later come to power.

Towards the end of his reign in late 1924, Lu became embroiled in a Beijing proxy battle for control of the country. By this time Duan was out of power and China’s de-facto leader, Zhili warlord Wu Peifu, was in charge. However, his position on the ‘iron throne’ was about to be challenged by Fengtian leader Zhang Zuolin.

Wu Peifu on the cover of Time Magazine

Wu thought his Zhili loyalist in Jiangsu, Qi Xieyuan, and not Lu, should control Shanghai. Indeed, Shanghai was considered part of Jiangsu province during this time, not Lu’s Zhejiang, so Lu ruling Shanghai was a bit of an anomaly.

Qi Xieyuan

Working with Fujian warlord and Zhili stalwart Sun Chuanfang, Wu waged the Jiangsu-Zhejiang War. Wu ultimately drove Lu into Japanese exile in October 1924 and put his man Qi in place. However, Qi’s rule in Shanghai would not last long.

Sun Chuanfang

Zhang Zuolin soon sent his trusted right hand man, ‘The Dogmeat General’ Zhang Zongchang, to Shanghai. Infamous for his 26 nationality harem and NSFW poetry, the 1.9m tall Zhang Zongchang made haste of Qi and ruled Shanghai under the flag of Fengtian for the first half of 1925. Lu returned once ‘Dogmeat’ was victorious in Shanghai, but he was driven out by Sun Chuanfang again a few months later. Lu then fled to Tianjin, keeping a low profile until his death in 1933.

READ MORE: This Day In History: The Dogmeat General, China's Basest Warlord

‘The Dogmeat General’ Zhang Zongchang

Back in early 1924, when Lu Yongxiang was still very much in charge, a series of events changed the course of Shanghai’s underworld for the next decade. The notorious Green Gang mobster ‘Pockmark’ Huang Jinrong owned the Gongwutai Theater, on the border between the French Concession and International Settlement. He frequently gave the stage to his 26 year old mistress Lu Lanchun, 30 years his junior, hoping to propel her dream career as an actress and singer.

Lu-Lanchun-copy.jpgAspiring actress and singer, and gangster's moll, Lu Lanchun

One evening, certain rowdy crowd members, unimpressed with Lu Lanchun’s performance, showered her with boos. This was possibly because of a pre-show snub. Having zero tolerance for such blatant disrespect, Pockmark Huang sent his goons to teach these egregious taunters a lesson. After they were given a thorough beating, Huang realized he was in trouble. One of the beaten men was none other than Lu Xiaojia, the son of Lu Yongxiang. Upon learning how his own kin was treated, the elder Lu went into a rage, ordering Huang to be kidnapped.

The former residence of Lu Xiaojia at 1396 Yuyuan Lu

Through deft negotiation, which included a big cut off of the French Concession opium racket and several gold ingots, Huang’s right-hand man successfully negotiated his release. After being manhandled so openly though, Huang had to yield his position as pater familia to the man who got him home. Going forward, Shanghai’s criminal underworld had a new top dog: ‘Big Eared’ Du Yuesheng.

READ MORE: We Talked to The Great-Grandson of Shanghai's Baddest Gangster

Notorious Green Gang mobsters ‘Pockmark’ Huang Jinrong and ‘Big Eared’ Du Yuesheng

For more This Day in History stories, click hereSpecial thanks to The Chinese History Podcast and its humble narrator Laszlo Montgomery for providing a wealth of information for this article.

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