WARLORDISM IN CHINA
In the 20th century, China endured a revolution, a short-lived republic, a period of warlordism, a civil war, a partial occupation, a world war, a second revolution and a communist dictatorship. Most of the decisive events in 20th century took place in northern China. The city of Shenyang, for example, was the site of key battles in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and then was occupied by warlords, the Japanese (1931-1945), the Russians (1945-46), the Kuomintang (1946) and the Communists in 1945 and after.
After Sun Yat-sen's death in 1925, China was torn apart even more by rivalry and fighting between local warlords. The Kuomintang was taken over by Chiang Kai-shek. It and the Communists were two of many parties vying for power during a period of upheaval and anarchy that lasted until the Communists took over in 1949. Warlords and their personal armies divided up local ruler. People died from starvation and warfare in the tens of millions. Through years of wars, by the late 1920s or early 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek of the Kuomintang (Nationalists - KMT) eventually managed to defeat separatist warlords and put the whole of China under his centralized authority - largely nominally than in actuality.
As a result, to benefit themselves, many local government and military leaders, in asking for funds from the power center, exaggerated the size of their establishments by including deceased or non-existent civil servants or soldiers on their payrolls. This became so bad that there was a view that Mao Zedong could lead his Red Army on the Long March (1934-1935) to overcome the KMT partly because the local KMT troops along the way were so laden with "dead souls" as to be unable to block Mao's advance.
The warlord armies were for the most part ill-disciplined and incompetent and unable to make much progress against their rivals. Describing a battle between warlord armies in the Yangtze Gorge in 1932, American paleontologists Walter Gramger wrote: "Some of them managed to get into ravines between the pinnacles, and reach the water’s edge by steep trail, but many were actually pushed over the sheer face of the slope and rolled down to the water's edge, either killed by the fall or drowned as they plunged into the river."
Until the Communist takeover Beijing was known as Beiping (“Northern Peace”). The capital of China was in Nanjing (Nanking).
Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Time Magazine Person of the Year 1937 time.com ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wellesley Site wellesley.edu ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Soong Sisters Wesleyan College wesleyancollege.edu ; Book: Shark Fins and Millet is an excellent depiction of China in the 1930s by Polish-born journalist Ilona Ralf Sues, who met up with Big-Eared Du and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.
Links in this Website: QING DYNASTY factsanddetails.com/china ; EUNUCHS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OPIUM WARS PERIOD factsanddetails.com/china ; OPIUM AND ILLEGAL DRUGSfactsanddetails.com : FOREIGNERS AND CHINESE IN THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES factsanddetails.com/china ; factsanddetails.com/chinaTAIPING REBELLION, BOXER REBELLION, EMIGRATION AND WARS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com/china ; EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI, LAST EMPEROR AND ATTEMPTED REFORMS factsanddetails.com/china ; SUN YAT-SEN AND ATTEMPTS AT CHINESE DEMOCRACYfactsanddetails.com/china ; WARLORDISM AND CHIANG KAI-SHEK factsanddetails.com/china ; EARLY COMMUNISTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO, HIS EARLY LIFE, TACTICS AND REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ;
China Before the Communists Took Over
Good Websites and Sources on Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cixi’s Luxurious Life xinhuanet.com ; Book on Cixi royalty.nu ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; Hartford Courant hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia
Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) Brooklyn College site academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge chinaknowledge.de ; 5) China History Forum chinahistoryforum.com ; 6) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; 7 ) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia 20th Century History China History Virtual Library
Founding of the Kuomintang and Its Early Years
In August 1912 a new political party was founded by Song Jiaoren (1882-1913), one of Sun's associates. The party, the Kuomintang (Guomindang or KMT--the National People's Party, frequently referred to as the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui.
The Kuomintang of China was one of the dominant parties of the early Republic of China, from 1912 onwards, and remains one of the main political parties in modern Taiwan. Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, advocated by Sun Yat-sen. It is the oldest political party in the Republic of China, which it helped found. It is currently the ruling party in Taiwan. The Kuomintang refer reverentially to founder Sun Yat-sen as the "Father of the Nation." [Source: Wikipedia]
The Kuomintang traces its ideological and organizational roots to the work of Sun Yat-sen, a proponent of Chinese nationalism, who founded Revive China Society in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1894. In 1905, Sun joined forces with other anti-monarchist societies in Tokyo to form the Tongmenghui or the Revolutionary Alliance, a group committed to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of a republican government. The group planned and supported the Republican Revolution of 1911. [Ibid]
The Kuomintang was established at the Huguang Guild Hall in Beijing, where the Revolutionary Alliance and five smaller pro-revolution parties merged to contest the first national elections. Sun, the then Premier of the ROC, was chosen as the party chairman with Huang Xing as his deputy. The most influential member of the party was the third ranking Song Jiaoren, who mobilized mass support from gentry and merchants for the KMT on a democratic socialist platform in favor of a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The party was opposed to constitutional monarchists and sought to check the power of Yuan. The Kuomintang won an overwhelming majority of the first National Assembly in December 1912. [Ibid]
But Yuan soon began to ignore the parliament in making presidential decisions and had parliamentary leader Song Jiaoren assassinated in Shanghai in 1913. Members of the KMT led by Sun Yat-sen staged the Second Revolution in July 1913, a poorly planned and ill-supported armed rising to overthrow Yuan, and failed. Yuan, claiming subversiveness and betrayal, expelled adherents of the Kuomintang from the parliament. Yuan dissolved the KMT in November (whose members had largely fled into exile in Japan) and dismissed the parliament early in 1914. [Ibid]
Yuan Shikai proclaimed himself emperor in December 1915. While exiled in Japan in 1914, Sun established the Chinese Revolutionary Party, but many of his old revolutionary comrades, including Huang Xing, Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin and Chen Jiongming, refused to join him or support his efforts in inciting armed uprising against Yuan Shikai. In order to join the Chinese Revolutionary Party, members must take an oath of personal loyalty to Sun, which many old revolutionaries regarded as undemocratic and contrary to the spirit of the revolution. [Ibid]
Thus, many old revolutionaries did not join Sun's new organisation, and he was largely sidelined within the Republican movement during this period. Sun returned to China in 1917 to establish a rival government at Guangzhou, but was soon forced out of office and exiled to Shanghai. There, with renewed support, he resurrected the KMT on October 10, 1919, but under the name of the Chinese Kuomintang, as the old party had simply been called the Kuomintang. In 1920, Sun and the KMT were restored in Guangdong. [Ibid]
China Around the Time of World War I
After Yuan Shikai's death, shifting alliances of regional warlords fought for control of the Beijing government. The nation also was threatened from without by the Japanese. When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan fought on the Allied side and seized German holdings in Shandong Province. In 1915 the Japanese set before the warlord government in Beijing the so-called Twenty-One Demands, which would have made China a Japanese protectorate. The Beijing government rejected some of these demands but yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession. Beijing also recognized Tokyo's authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. In 1917, in secret communiques, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for the Japan's naval action against Germany. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“In 1917 China declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under Japanese control. But in 1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. When the Paris peace conference of 1919 confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and Beijing's sellout became public, internal reaction was shattering. [Ibid]
In 1922 the Kuomintang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers--the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin--began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the Kuomintang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“The CCP was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the Kuomintang, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Kuomintang in 1922 already had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi in pinyin), one of Sun's lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. [Ibid]
“After Chiang's return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa (Huangpu in pinyin) Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the Kuomintang-CCP alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the Kuomintang and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government. [Ibid]
Kuomintang and Communists After Sun Yat-Sen’s Death
Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped to initiate was gaining momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. By 1926, however, the Kuomintang had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers, imposed restrictions on CCP members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent Kuomintang leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CCP, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“In early 1927 the Kuomintang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and the left wing of the Kuomintang had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CCP apparatus and established an anti-Communist government at Nanjing in April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Kuomintang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the next decade. [Ibid]
“The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CCP to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who would later become chairman of the CCP and head of state of the People's Republic of China. Mao was of peasant origins and was one of the founders of the CCP. [Ibid]
“But in mid-1927 the CCP was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing Kuomintang allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime. By 1928 all of China was at least nominally under Chiang's control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in conformity with Sun Yat-sen's formula for the three stages of revolution--military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy--China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark on the second, which would be under Kuomintang direction. [Ibid]
“The decade of 1928-37 was one of consolidation and accomplishment by the Kuomintang. Some of the harsh aspects of foreign concessions and privileges in China were moderated through diplomacy. The government acted energetically to modernize the legal and penal systems, stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Great strides also were made in education and, in an effort to help unify Chinese society, in a program to popularize the national language and overcome dialectal variations. The widespread establishment of communications facilities further encouraged a sense of unity and pride among the people. [Ibid]
“There were forces at work during this period of progress that would eventually undermine the Chiang Kai-shek government. The first was the gradual rise of the Communists. [Ibid]
Gen. Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) was a militarist and former warlord who opposed reform but was associated with reform and established a system described as Confucian fascism. One of Sun Yat-sen’s lieutenants from the early revolution days, hee was married to Sun's sister-in-law, became the President of Chinese Republic in 1928, battled the Communists for more than two decades, and ruled Taiwan from 1945 until his death in April 1975. Chiang’s name in Mandarin is Jiang Jieshi. Chiang Kai-shek is Yue dialect,
Chiang Kai-shek was regarded as a shrewd politician but a poor administrator. His life was defined by his battle against the Communists which took a variety of forms over the years. In many respect there wasn’t much that separated him from other warlords except they managed to hold on to some kind of power and stay relevant for a long time. Chiang is sometimes called the man who lost China but in reality he never held it to begin with.
In his book The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China former U.S. foreign service officer Jay Taylor argues that Chiang was not the corrupt bumbler he was made out to be but rather was “far-sighted, disciplined and canny strategist” who “made the most of the weak hand dealt him.”
In his book Enter the Dragon: A Look at the Western Fever Dream of Insatiable Chinese Power Tom Scocca wrote, ‘Generalissimo Chiang, emerges here as neither a politician nor a military genius but a man with a gift for the sort of politics practiced with armies: warlord politics, in the warlord-ruled aftermath of Qing China. Unfortunately for Chiang, Mao was better at it, and better at ruling the territory he controlled. Chiang's struggle to defeat the Japanese, only to lose the country to the Communists...as the Nationalists fall back from one provisional capital to the next, till they end up off the mainland entirely.]
Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in China Brief, ‘ Chiang Kai-she is one of the most important figures in modern China, but also one of the least understood and most regularly caricatured. Chiang unified his country with the Northern Expedition of 1925-29 and presided over the Nanking decade, a period of economic and institutional development as well as considerable freedom that was cut short by the Japanese invasion of 1937. Against that onslaught, Chiang led an indomitable resistance that was arguably China’s finest twentieth century hour, but when the struggle was completed, he gambled on an offensive war to destroy his Communist rivals for power, and lost almost everything...Chiang inspired powerful loyalty among his closest Chinese followers and had Western friends as well, not the least of whom was Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine. ‘[Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]
Books: Chiang Kai-shek: China’s Generalissimo and the nation He Lost by Jonathan Fenby (Carrol & Graf, 2004); The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China by Jay Taylor (Belknap, 2009)
Chiang Kai-shek's Early Life
Chiangs wedding's Chiang Kai-shek was born in 1887 in a remote village in the eastern province of Zhejiang. The son of a village salt merchant, he was raised by his widowed mother and began working at the age of nine after his father died. When he was 14, he entered an arranged marriage. He later obtained a divorce from wife.
At the age of 18, Chiang left China to train at Tokyo's Military Preparatory Academy. Chiang was impressed by Japanese discipline and sophistication and hoped to bring the same qualities to the Chinese army. He liked the Japanese winters and said that living in Japan gave him a fondness for "eating bitterness."
In 1911, Chiang returned to China and joined the Kuomintang and became a young officer in the new Republic of China army. He became a military aid to Sun Yat-sen but lost his position when Sun was ousted and was forced to seek exile in Japan
Chiang’s rise to power began as a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, who was supported by the Soviet Union. In 1923, Chiang had spent three months in the USSR consulting, seeking cooperation and addressing the executive committee of the Comintern. In June 1924, he stood beside Sun Yat-sen on the platform as the Whampoa Military Academy, of which he would become superintendent, was opened. It is here that the soon-to-be-victorious Nationalist army was trained. It was made possible by a Russian gift of 2.7 million yuan and a monthly stipend of 100,000 yuan. Chiang Kai-shek’s military academy trained a new generation of officers who would soon embark on the Northern Expedition. Zhou Enlai (1898–1976), who later become premier of China under the communists, was a political commissar at this academy.[Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]
Chiang Kai-shek’s Character and Background
Chiang Kai-shek was a man full of contradictions. After he converted from Buddhism to Methodism in 1930 he felt the Bible revealed God's plan for China. He said, "To my mind the reason we should believe in Jesus is that He was a leader of a national revolution." Yet, despite his Christian inspirations, he was not shy about using violence or underhanded methods to achieve his objectives. In Shanghai, for example, he hired gangsters from the brutal Green Gang to kill thousands of students and labor organizers with purported ties to the Communists. His ties to corruptions earned him the nickname “General Cash-My-Check.”
Sometimes Chiang Kai-shek lived like a monk and dressed in unadorned military fatigues. He didn’t like Western toilets. He could also be quite extravagant. In Taiwan, he lived in a home with rare Amur leopard skins draped on the walls and a panda skin rug in front of the fireplace.
In a review of Chiang Kai-shek, The Generalissimo by Jay Taylor, Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: Taylor makes a real attempt to capture Chiang’s tortuous personality. Seething with an inner violence that exploded in volcanic rages as a young man, once in power he succeeded in outwardly controlling it beneath a mask so rigid and cold that it isolated him even from his followers. Sexual rapacity was combined with puritan self-discipline, skills in political manoeuvre with bungling in military command, nationalist pride with retreatist instinct, threadbare education with mandarin pretension. In a narrative Taylor gives us a vivid sense of many of these contradictions, even if he looks away from others. Writing to rehabilitate the Generalissimo, whose reputation is not high in the West, he is driven, not to deny outright, but to minimise the murders and mismanagements of his reign. He does so principally by giving him—repeatedly, although not invariably—the benefit of the doubt. A better sense of Chiang’s vindictiveness, and of the low-grade thuggishness of his regime, in which torture and assassination were routine, can be gained from Jonathan Fenby’s less inhibited account, Chiang Kai-shek: The Generalissimo and the China He Lost. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]
"No other figure in the tangled constellation of the interwar Kuomintang acquires any relief in his story. The reasons why Chiang could rise to power require a contextual explanation, however. They do not lie in his individual abilities. For these were, on any reckoning, very limited. The extremes of his psychological make-up cohabited with his mediocrity as a ruler. He was a poor administrator, incapable of properly co-ordinating and controlling his subordinates, and so of running an efficient government. He had no original ideas, filling his mind with dog-eared snippets from the Bible. Most strikingly, he was a military incompetent, a general who never won a really major battle—decisive victories in the Northern Expedition that brought him to power going to other, superior commanders. What distinguished him from these were political cunning and ruthlessness, but not by a great margin. They were not enough on their own to take him to the top. [Ibid]
"The historical reality was that no outstanding leaders emerged from the confused morass of the KMT in the Republican period. The contrast between Nationalists and Communists was not just ideological. It was one of sheer talent. The CCP produced not simply one leader of remarkable gifts, but an entire, formidable cohort, of which Deng was one among several. By comparison, the KMT was a kingdom of the blind. Chiang’s one eye was a function of two accidental advantages. The first was his regimental training in Japan, which made him the only younger associate of Sun Yat-sen with a military background, and so at the Whampoa Academy commanding at the start of his career means of violence that his rivals in Guangzhou lacked. The second, and more important, was his regional background. Coming from the hinterland of Ningbo, with whose accent he always spoke, his political roots were in the ganglands of nearby Shanghai, with its large community of Ningbo merchants. It was this base in Shanghai and Zhejiang, and the surrounding Yangtze delta region, where he cultivated connections in both criminal and business worlds, in what was by far the richest and most industrialised zone in China, that gave him his edge over his peers. The military clique that ruled Guangxi, on the border with Indochina, were better generals and ran a more progressive and efficient government, but their province was too poor and remote for them to be able to compete successfully against Chiang. [Ibid]
Chiang Kai-shek Marries Madame Chiang Kai-shek
Real Soong Sisters In 1926, a year after he became leader of the Kuomintang, Chiang Kai-shek married Soong Mei-ling, Known to some people as the "Dragon Lady," Soong was born in 1897 in Shanghai. She grew up in Piedmont, Georgia in the United States and graduated from Wellesley College in 1917. Her English was better than her Chinese.
In his diary the American General Joseph Stilwell described her as a “clever, brainy woman....Direct, forceful, energetic. Loves power, eats up publicity and flattery, pretty weak on her history. Can turn on charm at will and knows it.”
In her letters to her American friends, Madame Chiang Kai-shek wrote that her husband had the power and charisma of a military man and the charm and tenderness of a poet, sometimes suprising her with presents of plum blossoms.
Even so Chiang Kai-shek and his wife had a notoriously tempestuous relationship. He converted to Christianity They had no children. Chiang had a son from his first, marriage, who later became leader of Taiwan. Chiang had a second, adopted son, from his second marriage to a woman he chased when he was 32 and she was 13 and who later got a doctorate at Columbia University in New York.
Movie Soon Sisters Madame Chiang Kai-shek was one of the Soong sisters. It was said of Soong sisters: “One loved money; one loved power; and one loved China.” Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the one who loved power. Soong Ching-ling, the wife of Sun Yat-sen. was the one who loved China. The third sister Soong Ai-ling, who married the banker H.H. Kung, a scion in one of China’s wealthiest banking families, was the one who loved money. The sister’s brother T.V. was an influential politician, serving as the Kuomintang finance minister and prime minister at various times.
The Soong sisters were daughters of Charlie Soong, a Shanghai-based missionary turned publishing tycoon who made a fortune selling Bibles. Charlie was brought up on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. He was taken by Methodist missionaries to North Carolina where he converted to Christianity (all the Soong sisters were Christians).
All the Soong sisters were educated ay Wesleyan College for women in Macon, Georgia. T. V. Soong, Soong May-ling's eldest brother and the republic's finance minister, went to Harvard; his rival, the financier H. H. Kung, went to Oberlin and Yale.
Film: The Soong sisters were the subject of the1995 film by Cheung Yuen-ting, Three Sisters.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek and China
In 1936, Madame Chiang Kai-shek came to her husband's rescue when he was held hostage by rebel troops sympathetic with the Communists. She is also believed to have played a part in convincing her husband to form an alliance with the Communists to fight the Japanese. At one point, she led the Chinese air force.
In the 1920s Madame Chiang Kai-shek set up schools for orphans of the revolutionary army. During the eight-year war with Japan, she visited combat units and hospitals. In 1943, she toured the U.S. and spoke twice before the U.S. Congress, trying to drum support for China in their struggle against the Japanese. In one speech she said, "The only thing oriental about me is my face."
In his book Enter the Dragon: A Look at the Western Fever Dream of Insatiable Chinese Power Tom Scocca wrote, ‘Madame Chiang comes and goes in the struggle—now managing the air force, nowsmuggling furs and other goods through the overstrained military supply lines. She risks her life in the mud and chaos helping war victims and writes chatty letters back to a Wellesley classmate about the experience. She achieves her apotheosis not in China but in the US, on a prolonged lobbying tour seeking more aid in the fight against Japan: enrapturing Congress and lecture crowds with her speechmaking (and her wardrobe), convincing her hosts that they are in the presence of a great leader of a great democratic nation. She urges lawmakers to ‘help bring about the liberation of man's spirit in every part of the world’ and is at the center of a star-studded extravaganza for thirty thousand US sympathizers in the Hollywood Bowl...while she ‘ carried on a torrid and barely concealed affair with former Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie.
Kuomintang Under Chiang Kai-shek
After Sun Yat-sen's death in 1925, the Kuomintang splintered into competing factions. Chiang Kai-shek allied himself with warlords in southern and central China and emerged as the Kuomintang leader in 1926. He built up his army with the help of the Soviet Union, who regarded the Kuomintang as more progressive than the warlords in the north, and was able to crush the warlords in the north.
In 1928, Chiang led his army from southern China into Beijing. For political ideology he combined Sun's "Three Principles of the People" with his own "New Life Movement," based on Methodist principals.
In December 1931, Chiang’s government collapsed after the Japanese took control Manchuria. Tens of thousands of students rioted in Nanking, taking virtual control of the government there. In Manchuria students demonstrated against the unwillingness of the Chinese army under Chiang to fight the Japanese.
Around the time this was happening Chiang wrote in his journal, “The war with Japan is not a matter of victory or defeat. It’s a matter of life or death for a people and their country” and “our determination will even overcome fate. I’ll wipe out the disgrace” and “we will not think about victory or defeat and national interest. We will sacrifice ourselves to show the class of our country and display national spirit.” Before and during World War II the Kuomintang mounted little resistance against the Japanese.
China Under Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang
Chiang succeeded Sun Yatsen as the de facto leader of China. He broke with his Soviet advisers and with the communists but by 1927 was successful in defeating the northern warlords and unifying China. The years 1928 to 1937 are often referred to as the Nanjing Decade because of the national development that took place under Chiang’s presidency before World War II when China’s capital was in Nanjing (Southern Capital). The Northern Expedition had culminated in the capture of Beijing, which was renamed Beiping (Northern Peace). Thereafter, the Nanjing government received international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China.
Ordinary Chinese suffered greatly under Kuomintang leadership. Children were forced to work in factories 13 hours a day and sleep by their machines. Women were sold off as concubines and slaves. And magistrates lent money to peasants at outrageously high interest rates so they could buy expensive fertilizers, then lowered the price of the crops at harvest time and seized the land when the peasant couldn't pay back the loans. While Chiang Kai-shek's army warehouses overflowed with grain, people in the Hunan province were starving to death, and eating bark and leaves to survive.
Kuomintang soldiers were largely feared by the general population. Parents feared their daughters would be raped by them when they appeared in town. In some places bowls of urine were placed in houses when the soldiers were around to create a smell so vile no one would want to enter. One elderly woman told the New York Times, “None of the parents wanted to have their older girls at home. When the Nationalist soldiers came...young girls fled to the mountains, cut their hair and covered their faces with dirt.”
Chiang never controlled China, just changing parts of it. In the 1930s, Japan controlled Manchuria, the Communist held much of Shanxi, the Soviet Union controlled Mongolia and Xinjiang, and Europeans held the treaty ports on the coast. In these conditions Chiang moved his government from city to city based largely on which enemy he could strike a deal with.
Chiang attempt to hold the Japanese armies at bay while battling the Communists. After the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion in 1937 he joined forces with Mao and then joined the allies after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the Rape of Nanking Chiang Kai-skek and his top general escaped from Nanking while ordering Kuomintang troops to defend the city oven though he knew there was little they could do to stop he Japanese advance. Japanese historians have argued that many lives would have been saved had the nationalist army turned over the city to the Japanese .
Chiang Kai-shek Taken Prisoner
Kuomintang army On December 12, 1936, a year after the Long March, Chiang Kai-shek was taken prisoner by his own generals at Hua Qing Pool, a Tang Dynasty resort near Xian. In what later became known as the Xian Incident, Chiang was taken, reportedly wearing only pajamas, after a Manchurian general named Zhang Xueiling (General Chang)—who wanted Chiang to turn his attention form fighting the Communists to fighting the Japanese— made a deal with Zhou Enlai for the Communists and Kuomintang to cease hostilities and unite against the Japanese.
According to one story Chiang was held for two weeks before he escaped by jumping out of window. In truth, Chiang met with Communist and Manchurian leaders and endorsed the deal made by Zhang and Zhou, bringing a temporary end of the Civil War. The deal was reportedly worked out by Madame Chiang who arrived in Xian 11 days after her husband was captured and managed to sweet talk Zhang into setting him free within 48 hours. Chiang was released by Zhang who was later arrested and imprisoned by Chiang who never forgave him. Zhang remained in a Taiwan jail until 1992, seventeen years after Chiang's death.
A few months later, Chiang maneuvered the Manchurian troops out of the Xian area and was getting ready to make a move on the Communists when the Japanese mounted a massive invasion in 1937 and Chiang was forced to cancel his plans and defend his territory against the Japanese.
Chiang Kai-skek’s Bad Rap and General Stilwell
In World War II, Chiang was accused of caring little for ordinary Chinese and getting others to fight his battles so he could conserve his forces to fight the Communists after the war. Arthur Waldron wrote: "The negative picture of Chiang can to a certain extent be traced back to one man, the American General Joseph W. Stilwell, whom Roosevelt sent to advise Chiang, and who soon came to despise him. Stilwell, not called Vinegar Joe for nothing... Taylor shows, however, that Stilwell was himself the poor strategist: for example, now that we have all the documentation, it is clear that the American four star gravely under-estimated the Japanese in Burma (Myanmar), throwing away tens of thousands of troops in the ill-judged and failed Myitkina offensive. Chiang’s inclination to hold to the defensive was clearly prudent and would have been a better course of action. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]
"A second wellspring of anti-Chiang sentiment was the unhappy American attempt, led by General George C. Marshall, to bring internal peace to post-War China by creating a coalition government between Chiang’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists which foundered for many reasons, one of which was that, as Taylor points out, Marshall had great leverage over Chiang, who depended upon the United States for support, but none whatsoever over the Communists, who were amply supplied by Moscow. Marshall never fully understood this fact, nor did many others. The American ambassador, Leighton Stuart, for example, who had lived in China for decades as an educator and was fluent in the language, believed that ties between the Chinese Communists and Moscow were tenuous and insignificant. [Ibid]
In a review of Chiang Kai-shek, The Generalissimo , Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: Central to The Generalissimo is the aim of reversing the verdict of Barbara Tuchman’s book on the American role, personified by General Stilwell, in the Chinese theatre of the Pacific War. For Taylor, it wasn’t the long-suffering Chiang, but the arrant bully and incompetent meddler Stilwell who was to blame for disputes between the two, and failures in the Burma campaign. Stilwell was no great commander. Taylor documents his abundant failings and eccentricities well enough. But they scarcely exonerate Chiang from his disastrous sequence of decisions in the war against Japan, many of them—even at the height of the fateful Ichigo offensive of 1944—motivated by his conviction that Communism was the greater danger. From the futile sacrifice of his best troops in Shanghai and Nanjing in 1937 to the gratuitous burning of Changsha in 1944, it was a story without good sense or glory. Despite strenuous scrubbings by recent historians to blanco his military record, it is no surprise that, from a position of apparent overwhelming strength after the surrender of Japan, he crumpled so quickly against the PLA in the Civil War. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]
“There too Taylor tends to attribute to the US substantial blame for the debacle—Marshall, who had picked Stilwell, cutting a not much better figure in this part of his narrative—which he hints could have been avoided had Washington been willing to provide the massive support needed to help Chiang hold North China or, failing that, a line south of the Yangtze. These are not the sentiments of the Republican lobby that denounced the ‘loss of China’ in the 1950s. Taylor has an independent mind. Describing himself as a moderate liberal and foreign policy pragmatist, he is quite capable of scathing criticism of US policies in full support of Chiang—attacking the ‘breathtaking’ irresponsibility of Eisenhower in threatening war with the PRC during the Quemoy crisis of 1955, and composing with Dulles a secret policy document on the same island three years later, ‘extraordinary for its ignorant and far-fetched analysis’. What remains constant, however, is the American visor through which Chinese developments are perceived. [Ibid]
"Taylor concludes his story with the claim that Chiang has triumphed posthumously, since the China of today embodies his vision for the country, not that of the Communists he fought. This trope is increasingly common. Fenby retails a lachrymose variant of it, quite out of character with the rest of his book, a tourist guide in the PRC—as good as a taxi-driver for any passing reporter—telling him what an unnecessary tragedy KMT defeat in the Civil War was. In such compensation fantasies, Deng becomes Chiang’s executor, and Western visions of what China should be, and will become, are reassured. [Ibid] Image Sources: 1) Warlod map, Nolls website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 2) Chiang Kai shek, Ohio State University; 3) Chiangs wedding, wikipedia ; 4) Soong sisters, wikipedia; 5) Soong Sisters film ; 6) Kuomintang army, wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012