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Homer Lea

American Soldier of Fortune

Lawrence Kaplan

Publication Year: 2010

As a five-feet-three-inch hunchback who weighed about 100 pounds, Homer Lea (1876–1912), was an unlikely candidate for life on the battlefield, yet he became a world-renowned military hero. In the Dragon’s Lair: The Exploits of Homer Lea paints a revealing portrait of a diminutive yet determined man who never earned his valor on the field of battle, but left an indelible mark on his times. Lawrence M. Kaplan draws from extensive research to illuminate the life of a “man of mystery,” while also yielding a clearer understanding of the early twentieth-century Chinese underground reform and revolutionary movements. Lea’s career began in the inner circles of a powerful Chinese movement in San Francisco that led him to a generalship during the Boxer Rebellion. Fixated with commanding his own Chinese army, Lea’s inflated aspirations were almost always dashed by reality. Although he never achieved the leadership role for which he strived, he became a trusted advisor to revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen during the 1911 revolution that overthrew the Manchu Dynasty. As an author, Lea garnered fame for two books on geopolitics: The Valor of Ignorance, which examined weaknesses in the American defenses and included dire warnings of an impending Japanese-American war, and The Day of the Saxon, which predicted the decline of the British Empire. More than a character study, In the Dragon’s Lair provides insight into the establishment and execution of underground reform and revolutionary movements within U.S. immigrant communities and in southern China, as well as early twentieth-century geopolitical thought.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: American Warriors Series


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

The research for this work initially began in the 1980s and would not have been possible without the support of a number of individuals and institutions. First and foremost, I wish to thank Joshua B. Powers. He provided me with invaluable insights about Homer Lea and Lea’s wife, his mother, when I began my research, and his family...

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pp. 3-8

Homer Lea’s career was stranger than many stories found in romantic fiction. Lea, a five-foot, three-inch hunchback who suffered from debilitating health, overcame his afflictions in pursuing dreams and ambitions such as few achieve. He is best remembered as a somewhat mysterious adventurer, author, and geopolitical strategist who challenged...

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1. Charismatic Dreamer

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pp. 9-23

Homer Lea learned early in life that he faced obstacles, challenges, and an uncertain future. Afflicted with a physically deformed body and an incurable medical disorder, he grew up in a world that normally would have destined him to the mundane existence of an invalid. His physical infirmities were compensated for, however, by a bright, clever mind...

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2. In the Dragon’s Lair

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pp. 25-40

Lea attended Stanford until his health failed. Repeated absences from the classroom due to illness and injury dampened his enthusiasm for college life. He grew impatient during his forced inactivity and recuperation and found more exciting prospects to pursue than college. The mysteries and intrigue of the Orient beckoned to...

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3. A Don Quixote in China

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pp. 41-53

As Lea sailed toward Asia, he aspired to play a significant role in the upcoming Pao Huang Hui uprising. He envisioned that if the uprising succeeded, the reform party might reward his services with a high position in the reformed imperial Chinese army. His enthusiasm helped compensate for his lack of experience, while concurrently there...

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4. General without an Army

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pp. 55-73

Lea returned to California to find that changes in Pao Huang Hui policies eliminated the need for him to act diplomatically on the society’s behalf or work toward organizing a new reform army in China. With his chances of playing a leading role in Pao Huang Hui’s affairs threatened, he reoriented his goals to coincide with its plans. He could preserve...

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5. The Imperial Reform Army

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pp. 75-85

Liang Ch’i-ch’ao’s visit to Los Angeles won useful publicity for the reform cause. After his departure, Lea seized the initiative to implement his own plans. He needed first to establish a mechanism for recruiting cadets, and then he must arrange to train them. He envisioned a reform military academy with branches throughout the...

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6. The Falkenberg Comedy

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pp. 87-104

Lea may have believed his careful maneuvering and triumphs had cleared the way for the unhindered expansion of his reform career, but to his dismay he soon learned otherwise. The new year brought new challenges to his plans from several quarters. A series of governmental investigations began looking into the cadet training, and his...

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7. Resourceful Schemer

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pp. 105-127

Lea’s triumph over Falkenberg did not solve all his problems. Governmental inquiries continued to plague the troubled reform army, and Falkenberg, bitter over his defeat, was ready to assist in Lea’s undoing. Although some of Lea’s own blundering aggravated these problems, he enjoyed sharing the public spotlight with K’ang Yu-wei...

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8. The Quill and the Sword

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pp. 129-143

Lea’s fortunes with the CIA and reformers took an irreversible downturn after he and K’ang Yu-wei parted in 1905. By the end of the year, the investigations and negative publicity surrounding the CIA culminated in its virtual dismantling and the loss of Lea’s position as its commander. His failure to revitalize the CIA was only the first...

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9. The Red Dragon Plan

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pp. 145-157

In late 1908 Lea unsuccessfully sought to become a U.S. trade representative to China for the Roosevelt administration. Concurrently, he contrived an audacious military venture in China called the Red Dragon plan that attested to his extraordinary imagination and ambition. The plan initially called for organizing a revolutionary conspiracy...

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10. Final Crusade

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pp. 159-188

Lea’s fame from The Valor of Ignorance and his growing reputation as a military strategist led to his becoming a confidential advisor to Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary movement. He had long shown his revolutionary fervor in words and action with the covert CIA and the Red Dragon plan. Now, he faced the ultimate test. Could he be of any actual...

Conclusion: The Man and the Myth

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pp. 189-214


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pp. 215-217


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pp. 219-280


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pp. 281-295


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pp. 297-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126173
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813126166

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: American Warriors Series
Series Editor Byline: Roger Cirillo See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 697174416
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Homer Lea

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Subject Headings

  • Lea, Homer, 1876-1912.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- China.
  • China -- History -- 1861-1912.
  • Sun, Yat-sen, 1866-1925.
  • Soldiers of fortune -- United States -- Biography.
  • China -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Diplomats -- United States -- Biography.
  • Generals -- China -- Biography.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • China -- History -- Revolution, 1911-1912.
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