Chiang Kai-Shek— the understudy of the Father Of The Nation, Sun Yat-Sen— in 1925 took over the Nationalist Party, headquarted in Nanjing. As you may recall, Sun Yat-Sen had only recently sent him to Russia to learn their methods. Thus it was, in 1926, Chiang Kai-Shek was able –as the author’s of Wealth And Power (THE book on modern Chinese political history) put it– to use his new Russian-trained army to “bring China’s patchwork of feudal warlords back into semblance of national unity” and produce “a stunning and unexpected triumph.”
Chiang Kai-Shek was a military man through and through, interested in “military strategy, tactics, and technology.” In his youth Chiang Kai-Shek had been part of what our authors call a “dare to die” assassins squad with the goal of murdering local government officials. Unfortunately for him, his martial skills did not entirely make-up for his lack of charisma. Our authors tell us that he proved to be a man “incapable of truly promoting mass political organization”— a limitation which would ultimately contribute to his downfall.
Unlike most of the intellectual and governmental leaders of this period in Chinese history, who almost all agreed that China had to drastically change if it wanted to survive in the modern world, Chiang Kai-Shek advocated a return to the ancient Confucian virtues… “Does the New Culture Movement mean the overthrow of the old ethics and the rejection of national history?” he asked. Does it mean “the blind worship of foreign countries and the indiscriminate introduction and acceptance of foreign civilization? If it does, the New Culture we seek is too simple, too cheap, and too dangerous.”
It was Chiang Kai-Shek who instituted the National Day Of Humiliation that I spoke of several posts back, a day for Chinese to think on their national shame and let it burn inside of them, stoking the flames of their desired revenge. Said Chiang Kai-Shek… “Today, you can only endure the insults and prepare yourselves for vengeance.” In his book, China’s Destiny, he practically quotes Liang Qichao when he writes that “We must be strong before we can be free.”
Interestingly, Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife attempted to found in China what amounted to a new religion for the Chinese people. Chiang Kai-Shek apparently felt that his new religious organization contained the answers to the questions that the Chinese were asking themselves. The new religion was dubbed the New Life Movement, and it was a blend of Chiang Kai-Shek’s beloved Confucianism and his wife’s Christianity [interestingly, Chiang’s former boss, Sun Yat-Sen was also a Christian… it surprises me to learn how much Christianity figures into the history of modern China, going back at least to the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions of the 1800s]. As our authors’ describe New Life, it contained about zero sexiness (it stressed abstinence, modesty, and good hygiene among other good Christ-fucian values). Surprisingly (ahem), it never caught on.
In the 1920s, serving under Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai-Shek was instructed to form a United Front with the Communists so that some semblance of order and cooperation could be brought to the country. The Nationalists and Communists had at least one goal they could agree upon: the territorial integrity of China must be maintained, and the bandits and warlords rising up in the different provinces must be put down. However, after succeeding Sun Yat-Sen as the Nationalist Party leader and subduing the warlords of the North, Chiang Kai-Shek turned his attention to destroying his supposed partners, the Communists. To this end he launched, in 1927, the White Terror Massacre. After the massacre, he found he was still faced with two tough problems: 1) the Japanese, who had not slowed in their aggressive rise to Empire since converting to Western military technology and methods in the late 1800s, and 2) the remnants of the routed Communists, now in-hiding in the countryside, and including a very resilient, unafraid, and determined Mao Zedong.
The Japanese had effectively taken control of Manchuria— a large area that many Chinese considered a fundamental part of the Chinese nation. In an act of desperation to save his homeland, a Manchurian military leader (unnamed by our authors, unless I missed it) actually managed to kidnap Chiang Kai-Shek in late 1936. The group had no particular desire to kill him, nor even to torture or ransom him. Instead, they kidnapped him to convince him to re-form, in spite of the White Terror Massacre of the previous decade, the United Front with the Communists. Thus united, the kidnapping warlord felt that the united forces of China would be more than a match for the Japanese and drive them from Manchuria.
Upon release, Chiang Kai-Shek was actually true to the promise he had made in order to obtain his release, and he formed the Second United Front. It must have been a very pragmatic Chinese Communist Party in existence then, indeed, for them to agree with the same man who so recently traitorously murdered so many of their comrades and driven those still alive into hiding.
The focus of the Chinese nation under the Second United Front became the ejection of the Japanese from China’s dominions. However, even fighting the Japanese instead of each other, the war did not go well for China. Within a year, in December 1937, the Japanese had captured the Nationalist capital city of Nanjing, and in retribution for the renewed Chinese attacks upon them, they occupied the city and wounded, raped, tortured, and massacred not thousands of inhabitants, but hundreds of thousands. This atrocity is now known as the Rape Of Nanjing.
And so it was, after half a century of soul-searching and wrenching reform attempts, China’s sufferings and humiliations at the hands of foreigners were not only NOT subsiding– they were growing more nightmarish. The country was torn apart from within by the Nationalist-Communist rift, and was being ravaged from without by Imperialist jackals. The future of China in the late 1930s looked as bleak as it ever had.
Other HAMMERING SHIELD posts on the politics of modern China…