Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Homer Lea

Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune

Lawrence M. Kaplan
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Homer Lea
    Book Description:

    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. Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune 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, Homer Lea 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2617-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (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 conventional wisdom and confronted significant odds to create for himself a role in world politics. He began his adventures in 1900, after dropping out of Stanford University and going to China during the Boxer Rebellion, and ultimately became the trusted personal military advisor to Chinese revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen during...

  6. Chapter 1 Charismatic Dreamer
    (pp. 9-24)

    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 and a steadfast determination. Knowing that he could find no happiness in submitting to fate, he took unusual risks and became committed to transcending the constraints of his body and his health.

    Homer Lea’s grandfather, Dr. Pleasant John Graves Lea, possessed an adventurous...

  7. Chapter 2 In the Dragon’s Lair
    (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 him.

    Lea had barely settled into the first semester of campus life at Stanford before health issues intervened. Not many weeks after his twenty-first birthday, and shortly before the end of the fall semester, his headaches and eyesight worsened. He knew he could not endure the semester. He also knew...

  8. Chapter 3 A Don Quixote in China
    (pp. 41-54)

    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 was no place in his thinking for the idea of failure. Although his hopes for glory and adventure in China would fail to materialize as he anticipated, undaunted, he would impetuously embark on another path of opportunity.

    K’ang Yu-wei welcomed news of Lea’s impending arrival...

  9. Chapter 4 General without an Army
    (pp. 55-74)

    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 his dreams and ambitions only by devising and selling the Pao Huang Hui a military plan that conformed to its new policies. Making such a plan work, however, called for more than imagination and persuasion; it called for perseverance...

  10. Chapter 5 The Imperial Reform Army
    (pp. 75-86)

    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 United States. After much theorizing, talk, and wishful thinking, he moved into action, only to find the task more difficult than he had anticipated.

    Lea learned that George W. West, a local civil engineer and recent dropout from the West Point class of 1902, might be interested...

  11. Chapter 6 The Falkenberg Comedy
    (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 nemesis, Richard Falkenberg, rose to challenge him for control of the reform army. Lea escaped catastrophe, but he came close to losing his academy and his army.

    Lea and the reformers had hardly a moment to enjoy the flattering press coverage from the Tournament of Roses...

  12. Chapter 7 Resourceful Schemer
    (pp. 105-128)

    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 before a wave of damaging publicity cracked the foundations of his reform army. By the time Lea responded with a resourceful scheme to revitalize his personal and institutional reform party interests, it was too late to undo much of the damage.

    After K’ang Yu-wei disavowed Falkenberg, Lea left Los Angeles...

  13. Chapter 8 The Quill and the Sword
    (pp. 129-144)

    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 problem he faced. A subsequent reorganization of the Pao Huang Hui signaled the impending demise of the CIA’s remnants. As various factions and leaders broke off for different pursuits, Lea was forced to do the same. He soon settled on writing as a...

  14. Chapter 9 The Red Dragon Plan
    (pp. 145-158)

    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 to conquer several Chinese provinces and later expanded to include the entire Chinese Empire. It bordered on fantasy. Yet that did not stop him from convincing a coterie of supporters to embark on a quest so risky that it seemed doomed from the outset—but also so potentially lucrative as to...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. Chapter 10 Final Crusade
    (pp. 159-188)

    Lea’s fame fromThe Valor of Ignoranceand 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 political or military service to the Chinese revolution and its leader while at the same time crusading for a revival of Anglo-Saxon militancy? He came close to realizing his dreams, but tragically, while at the crossroads of achieving...

  17. Conclusion: The Man and the Myth
    (pp. 189-214)

    Unraveling the man and the myth has been a topic of debate since Lea first went to China in 1900. He has been revered as a genius by some, vilified as a charlatan by others, and considered a man of mystery by many. Not even his family or closest friends were privy to a full account of his adventures. Ermal, who was very close to him, acknowledged that “the actual details of his work in China were very sketchy.”¹ Newmark claimed he had “never heard the full account,” and he did not believe anyone else ever had either.² Van Loan...

  18. Appendixes
    (pp. 215-218)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 219-280)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-296)
  21. Index
    (pp. 297-318)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)