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warlord, in modern Chinese history, autonomous regional military commander. In the political chaos following the death (1916) of republican China's first president and commander in chief, Yüan Shih-kai, central authority fell to the provincial military governors and regional military groups emerged based on personal loyalties. During the next decade there was a series of wars between shifting coalitions of military cliques in N China for the collection of provincial and national revenues and for control of the republican government at Beijing. Between 1926 and 1928 the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang party and the army under Chiang Kai-shek in alliance with prorevolutionary militarists wrested control of N China from the regional armies of Chang Tso-lin, Wu P'ei-fu, and Sun Ch'uan-fang. However, the new Kuomintang government at Nanjing was able to establish central administrative and fiscal hegemony over only a few provinces in SE China. Most provinces continued to be controlled by local militarists until the unification of China following the Communist victory in 1949.
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a military leader of a nation or part of a nation, esp one who is accountable to nobody when the central government is weak
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005