The Beiyang Army was created on December 17, 1888 with Ding Ruchang as its commander. The brainchild of the famous general and statesman Li Hongzhang, the Beiyang Army was a modern, western-style military force created by the Qing Dynasty government. It had 25 warships and over 4,000 soldiers and officers.
Li Hongzhang began preparations for the foundation of the Beiyang Army in 1880 when he set up a Naval Institute in Tianjin.
The Beiyang army had two naval bases. Weihaiwei was the fleet headquarters and Lvshun was the ship repair yard. Li Hongzhang hired the Englishman W. M. Lang and the German Siebelin to train the army. After the Sino-French War, Li spent huge sums over a four year period to purchase 14 warships from England and Germany. Two ironclads, the “Dingyuan” and the “Zhenyuan” had a tonnage of over 7,300 tons.
It later emerged that from 1887 onwards, Li Hongzhang had been forced to hand funds intended for military expenditure to the Empress Dowager Cixi in order to build the Summer Palace in Beijing. This starved the Beiyang Army of funds and stunted its development.
The army was totally overwhelmed in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895.