Battle of Yangxia

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jul 4, 2024

Table of Content


The Battle of Yangxia, also known as the Yangxia Defense, was the biggest military engagement of the Xinhai Revolution.

It was fought from October 18 to December 1, 1911, between the revolutionaries of the Wuchang Uprising and the loyalist armies of the Qing Dynasty. The battle was waged at Hankou and Hanyang, which together with Wuchang collectively form the three cities of Wuhan in central China. Although they were fewer in number than the Qing armies and possessed fewer weapons, the revolutionaries fought valiantly in defense of Hankou and Hanyang. After heavy and bloody fighting, the stronger loyalist forces eventually prevailed, capturing both cities, but 41 days of determined resistance by the Revolutionary Army allowed the revolution to strengthen elsewhere as other provinces defected from the Qing dynasty. The fighting ended after the commander-in-chief of the Qing forces, General Yuan Shikai, agreed to a cease-fire and sent delegates to peace talks with the revolutionaries. The political negotiations eventually led to the abdication of the last emperor, the end of the Qing dynasty and the formation of a unity government for the new Republic of China.

On October 10, 1911, revolutionaries in Wuchang launched an uprising against the Qing Dynasty. They quickly occupied Hankou and Hanyang, on the north bank of the Yangtze River, and made Li Yuanhong their commander. On Oct. 14, the Qing court in Beijing ordered Yinchang and Feng Guozhang to lead the Pei-yang Army Corps (also called the "Beiyang Army"), the regime's strongest military unit, against the Wuhan uprising. Sa Zhenbing, commander of the Qing Navy, was ordered to sail from Qinhuangdao to Shanghai and then up the Yangtze River to Wuhan to assist in military operations. The Qing court also recalled Yuan Shikai, the founder of the Beiyang Army, from retirement and appointed him viceroy of Huguang, but did not initially give him formal powers. Yuan had been forced into retirement in 1908 because the court feared he was exerting undue influence.

Yinchang, a Manchu nobleman, reached Hankou by rail and attempted to take control of the northern outskirts of the city. On October 18 more than 1,000 revolutionary fighters attacked Liujiamiao, a railway station guarding the northern approach to Hankou, but were repulsed and retreated to Dazhimen. In the afternoon, the revolutionaries regrouped and, with the help of railwaymen, ambushed a train carrying Qing troops heading south. The train derailed and caused the Qing troops to flee, and more than 400 were killed by the revolutionaries. The following day the revolutionary forces, supplemented by enthusiastic volunteers, grew to more than 5,000 and captured Liujiamiao. The revolutionaries on October 20 tried to continue toward Wushengguan further north, but were repulsed with heavy losses. However, their victory at Liujiamiao boosted the morale of the revolutionary movement. On October 22, Hunan and Shaanxi province both declared their independence from the Qing regime.

Following Liujiamiao's setback, the Qing court removed Yinchang from command and handed formal power to Yuan Shikai, whose Beiyang Army lieutenants, Feng Guozhang and Duan Qirui, led the 1st and 2nd armies on Wuhan, respectively. On October 26, the Beiyang Army quickly moved south by rail and attacked the northern outskirts of Hankou with heavy artillery and machine guns. The revolutionaries suffered over 500 casualties in action and were also hampered by the indecisive leadership of Zhang Jingliang, who was suspected of collaborating with the Qing government. The revolutionaries lost and then regained Liujiamiao, only to lose it finally to Qing troops on October 27. Qing armies entered the city and the two sides engaged in fierce house-to-house fighting.

On October 28 Huang Xing and Song Jiaoren, two leaders of the Tongmenghui or Revolutionary Alliance, arrived in Hankou from Shanghai to support the revolutionaries. On the 29th Huang brought more than 1,000 reinforcements to Wuchang, which had resisted 6,000 revolutionaries against superior Qing forces. Due to inferior weapons, the revolutionaries suffered heavy losses, but were supported by local residents. In retaliation, Feng Guozhang ordered the demolition of Hankou. The fire burned for three days and destroyed much of the city. From November 1, Qing troops controlled Hankou. Both sides suffered losses in the thousands.

On November 3, Li Yuanhong handed over command of the revolutionary forces to Huang Xing. Their strength was boosted by the arrival of revolutionaries from Hunan. By then 11 provinces had seceded from the Qing regime. The Qing Navy had also defected, sending some ships to assist the siege of the Jiangsu-Zhejiang Revolutionary Army in Nanjing and other ships to support the revolutionaries in Wuhan. In Hanyang, the revolutionaries had 13,000 soldiers deployed against 30,000 Qing troops across the Han River in Hankou. Huang Xing, against the advice of Sun Wu and others who preferred to defend Hanyang, attempted to retake Hankou. Yuan Shikai, on the other side of the river, was determined to exploit the Qing army's local advantage to halt the momentum of the nationwide revolution. On November 17, the revolutionaries shelled Hankou from Guishan Heights in Hanyang and crossed the Han River in a two-pronged attack. The revolutionaries' artillery was inaccurate and their right flank was blocked by a barrage of Qing Army artillery. The left flank crossed the river alone, encountered strong resistance from the superior Qing forces and was forced to retreat on the evening of the 18th after suffering more than 800 casualties.

On November 21, the Qing armies launched their invasion of Hanyang. A force bypassed the revolutionaries' defense by striking from Xiaogan further west. The two sides clashed with Sanyanqiao. On November 22 another Qing force managed to cross the Han River from Hankou and eventually captured the strategic heights of Hanyang. The revolutionaries twice sent reinforcements from Wuchang across the Yangtze River to Hanyang, but suffered heavy losses along the way. Another group of revolutionaries in Wuchang planned to cross the Yangtze River to Hankou and then attack Liujiamiao behind the Qing lines, but the commander of this group was drunk and did not join the assault force, which faced heavy Qing artillery barrages from the opposite bank and could not land. The Hunan reinforcements were so disgusted by what they perceived as efforts by the Hubei revolutionaries to preserve their strength that they left the front lines and returned to Hunan, despite Li Yuanhong's efforts to clear up the misunderstanding. After seven days and nights of fierce house-to-house fighting, the Qing forces gradually made their way into the center of the city, capturing the Hanyang ammunition factory and the revolutionaries' artillery positions on Guishan. On November 27, the revolutionaries withdrew from Hanyang. More than 3,300 revolutionary fighters and residents had died defending Hanyang.

In late November Feng Guozhang and Duan Qirui prepared and presented plans to Yuan Shikai to take Wuchang. By then, despite the Qing successes in Wuchang, Sichuan had separated from the regime and revolutionaries were threatening to take Nanking and Shanxi. On the evening of December 1, Yuan Shikai agreed to a three-day ceasefire and began talks with the revolutionaries in Hankou. The ceasefire was extended for another three days, then for 15 days and finally until the end of December. On December 18, Yuan sent delegates on behalf of the Qing court to the negotiations in Shanghai. On December 25, 1911, Sun Yat-sen returned to Shanghai from exile and established the Republic of China on January 1, 1912. He agreed to hand over the presidency of the provisional government to Yuan Shikai in exchange for the latter's assistance in securing the abdication of the last Qing emperor. When this took place on February 12, 1912, the Qing dynasty formally ended its 267-year reign in China.

With the December 1, 1911 cease-fire, the conflict shifted from the military to the political arena. This was a politically calculated decision by Yuan Shikai, who understood that if the revolution, which had made him indispensable to the regime, was completely suppressed, he would again be destined for retirement. At the same time, in the Battle of Yangxia, he had demonstrated that his Beiyang Army was the most powerful armed force in China. With his personal power at its peak, he chose to maneuver politically to position himself at the top of the new political regime.

During the 41-day battle, 13 other Chinese provinces joined the revolution and declared their independence from the Qing Dynasty. Peace talks were held at the British concession in Hankou and then moved to Shanghai in late December. The political negotiations eventually led to the abdication of the last Qing emperor, Pu Yi, and the formation of a United Provisional Government of the Republic of China led by former loyalist Yuan Shikai and revolutionaries Sun Yat-sen, Li Yuanhong and Huang Xing. In October 1912 Yuan bestowed honors on commanders on both sides of the battle for their contributions to the founding of the Republic. A memorial in Wuhan was built to commemorate those who lost their lives, including 4,300 unknown soldiers, in the battle.

Japanese war artist T. Minyano created a series of lithographic illustrations of the battle, which were printed in Japan in 1920.


  1. Battle of Yangxia
  2. Battaglia di Yangxia
  3. ^ Su (1998), p. 43.
  4. ^ (Chinese) "阳夏战争:改变中国命运的血战之一[图]" 2010-07-15

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