Beijing coup

Beijing coup

The Beijing coup (Pinyin:"beijing zhengbian") refers to the 1924 coup d'etat by Feng Yuxiang against the Beiyang government of Chinese President Cao Kun. Although there have been several coups in Beijing before and after, the 1924 coup remains the most significant and dramatic.


In 1923, Cao Kun became president by bribing the National Assembly. His Zhili clique had already established itself as the dominant military force in China through successive military victories. However, he was not satisfied with being just a strongman and wanted the prestige of being head of state. He ousted President Li Yuanhong from office and openly offered five thousand dollars to any member of parliament to elect him president. There was massive public outrage against his plan but he succeeded despite a counter-bribe by Zhang Zuolin, Duan Qirui, and Sun Yat-sen to "not" elect him. He was inaugurated on the Double Ten Day of that year with a newly minted constitution. Once in office, he neglected its duties to concentrate on defeating the rival warlord factions.

One of his subordinates, Feng Yuxiang, became increasingly dissatisfied with Cao and Wu Peifu. He had sympathies with Sun Yat-sen's Kuomintang government in Guangzhou. In addition, Japan had supplied him 1.5 million yen via Zhang Zuolin to topple the government because of the Zhili clique's strong anti-Japanese policy. In the autumn of 1924, the Zhili clique went to war with Zhang Zuolin's Fengtian clique in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War. With Wu at the helm of Zhili's armies, it was expected to be victorious. If the Fengtian clique was destroyed, the Zhili clique can finish off its few remaining rivals in the south.

On the early morning hours of 23 October, Feng Yuxiang's troops seized control of key government buildings, public utilities, and the roads leading into and out of Beijing. Cao Kun was placed under house arrest and stripped of his presidency. Wu received message of the coup and became incensed. He pulled his army away from the front and marched them towards Beijing. However, Zhang Zuolin took advantaged and pursued the Zhili army and landed a decisive victory outside Tianjin.

Wu and his remaining forces fled to central China where they met up with his ally Sun Chuanfang. All of north China was divided up between the Fengtian clique and Feng Yuxiang, whose army was now known as the Guominjun (Nationalist Army). Zhang Zuolin took the prosperous northeast while Feng had the poor northwest.

After the coup, Feng had put Huang Fu as acting president. He initiated several reforms on Feng's behalf including the expulsion of Puyi from the Forbidden City and abolishing the role of the old bell and drum towers as the official timepiece. However, Huang refused to guarantee foreign privileges and Zhang wanted someone else to replace him. Feng and Zhang agreed to dissolve the discredited National Assembly and create a provisional government with Duan Qirui as its head.


The coup also enabled the negotiations for national reunification between Feng, Zhang, Duan, and Sun Yat-sen. They were fruitless and Sun died in March 1925. Feng and Zhang came to blow when Guo Songling defected to the Guominjun.

The greatest impact the coup had was that it bought time for the Kuomintang to build up its National Revolutionary Army for the Northern Expedition. Had the coup not happen, the Zhili clique would have finished off the Kuomintang after defeating the Fengtian clique. The KMT was already written off as impotent and insignificant due to its previous infighting. As for Feng, he was saved by allying with Chiang Kai-shek during the expedition but later became disillusioned with his leadership. He rebelled against Chiang and was defeated during the Central Plains War in 1930.

in culture

The coup was mentioned in Bernardo Bertolucci's film "The Last Emperor" though it erroneously claims the president fled the capital instead of being put under house arrest.

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