This article examines why and how persistent political fragmentation existed alongside continued centralization in late Qing and early Republican China. By analyzing new archival material and existing scholarship, the piece argues that external intervention helped preserve the viability of a single Chinese state even as the same phenomenon also spurred ongoing fractionalization. Because major powers' governments generally saw China as an area of secondary strategic import, they tried to avoid armed conflict over the polity and seek accommodation. Since outside powers diverged in their objectives, they settled on sponsoring indigenous partners, notably various militarists as well as the Chinese Nationalists, to sustain a degree of central government rule alongside substantial regional autonomy. In reconsidering the effects of foreign intervention, this article engages the discussion on political consolidation in the late Qing and early Republic, and suggests that overly stressing integration or division tends to present incomplete accounts of the issue.


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pp. 75-98
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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