He was born in Zhili province and graduated from a Japanese military academy in 1901. He was a known radical who advocated constitutional monarchy and supported Wu Luzhen's mutiny during the Xinhai Revolution. He became the boss of Tianjin.
In 1912, he secured the loyalty of the Inner Mongolian tribes to Yuan Shikai. He broke with Yuan during the National Protection War and was one of the first to fight against 's attempt to restore the Qing dynasty in 1917.
He became affiliated with Cao Kun's Zhili clique and ruled Rehe. He and Wu Peifu advocated the return of the original . He served as Li Yuanhong's in 1923. He opposed Cao and Wu's plan to invade Guangdong to defeat Sun Yatsen's rival government, preferring to negotiate unification. His tenure as premier in the Beiyang government was marked by greed and self-glorification and he was forced to flee to the British legation in Tianjin after his resignation.
In 1928, he was assassinated by Zhang Zuolin after he was found to have contacts with the Guominjun and Kuomintang.