In December 8 1895, Empress Dowager Cixi appointed Yuan Shikai the commander of 4,000 men that formed the basis of the first New Army. Further expanded to 7,000, this New army became the most formidable of the three army groups stationed near Beijing and proven effective against the Boxers in Shandong province. Yuan showed his loyalty to the Qing's court, nevertheless nothing more than a symbolic gesture, by committing only a detachment to relieve Beijing out of foreign hands.
The New Army was gradually expanded and upgraded in the following years, becoming the only militia that the Qing court could rely on amidst revolutionary upraisings throughout China. Yuan became increasingly disrespectful of the dynasty and only loyal to the party which he benefited from; his defection to Cixi against Guangxu Emperor was a major blow to the Hundred Days Reform.
Successful example of the new army was followed in other provinces. The New Army of Yuan was renamed to "Beiyang" on June 25 1902 after Yuan was officially promoted to the "Minister of Beiyang". By the end of the dynasty in 1911, most provinces had established sizable new armies; however the Yuan's army was still most powerful, comprised of six groups and numbered more than 75,000 men.
Yuan tightly gripped the command of army since its establishment by installing officials only loyal to him; however after his death in 1916, the army groups were quickly fragmented into four major forces of combatting warlords, respective to the locations of garrisons. These army groups and generals played different roles in the politics of China until the establishment of the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War.
Notable figures of Beiyang