9/24/13 - china needs money

In today's selection -- from Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945 by Rana Mitter. After the abdication of the last Chinese emperor in 1912, the country had fragmented into the chaos of regional warlords. In 1921, it was Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalist party, based in Guangzhou and under the protection of a local warlord, who were most committed to trying to unify the country. But they lacked enough funding for an effort of that scale and unsuccessfully sought support from the European powers and Japan. They then turned to newly communist Russia. Why would Russia be interested in supporting a non-communist party in China? Because of its fear of Japan, which had unexpectedly won the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 -- the first Asian power to ever overcome a European one. Russia knew that a fragmented China would not be an effective buffer against Japan, and was therefore willing to support the Nationalist party as long as it desisted in its efforts to crush China's new and far-smaller Communist party. This created an opportunity that might not otherwise have existed for a young revolutionary named Mao Zedong:

"By 1921, with the assistance of a sympathetic warlord, Chen Jiongming, Sun [Yat-sen] was based in Guangzhou (Canton), where he set up a revolutionary government. The Nationalists were in power, even if only in one region of China. ... 


"Yet despite the talent that Sun and [the highly popular Wang Jingwei] brought to the Nationalist Party, their prospects seemed limited unless they could find some pow­erful supporter who would arm them. Sun Yat-sen had had no success in persuading the European powers to back him. He had more hopes of Japan, declaring in a speech at Kobe in 1924 that since Japan's victory over Russia in 1905, the peoples of Asia had cherished the hope 'of shaking off the yoke of European oppression.' However, Sun's idea of pan-Asianism, the philosophy of Asian unity, meant something rather different in gov­ernmental circles in Tokyo: not cooperation, but domination by [Japan itself].


"Then, in 1923, Sun made a decision that would help shape the path of Chinese history. For years, he had been seeking foreign support for his dream of launching a revolutionary army that would unify China, with him as its president. The Western powers had all turned him down flat. But there was another hand to play in the early 1920s. By 1921 the Bolshe­vik Revolution in Russia had been secured after a bloody and vicious civil war. Leon Trotsky, the fiery foreign minister of the new regime, was eager to find opportunities to use the Comintern, the agency responsible for spreading revolution abroad. In 1923 Sun held talks with Adolf Joffe, the representative of the Comintern, for a formal alliance between the Na­tionalists and the Soviets. In the Soviet view, China was too backward for a socialist revolution. Instead, a 'national bourgeois' party, the National­ists, should carry out the first revolution. Sun agreed, content to ally with Russia, believing that alone among Western nations she had shown 'be­nevolence and justice.' ...


Trotsky Portrait
Leon Trotsky in 1921
Sun Yat-sen
Sun Yat-sen


"The new alliance changed the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. During the first couple of years of the party's history, it was a tiny and marginal political grouping (as well as being officially illegal). It made grand claims about fomenting a revolution among urban workers, Bol­shevik-style, but in reality it had little prospect of doing so. Cooperation between Sun and the Soviets gave the CCP a crucial opportunity to ex­pand. On Soviet advice, many Communists also joined the Nationalists, forming the United Front, making the two parties hard to distinguish during this period. The alliance made sense ideologically for Sun as well. His political philosophy, which he termed the 'Three Peoples Principle's,' consisted of democracy, nationalism, and the idea of 'people's livelihood,' a vague social welfarism that was sometimes rendered as 'socialism' in English. He was not a Communist, but he and the Soviets had enough in common to make the alliance useful for both sides. Sun's prestige was also enough to calm the more conservative elements in the Nationalist Party who were wary of the Bolsheviks.


"Revolutionary politics were forged on a small island in Guangzhou (Canton) Harbor. The nerve center was the Whampoa (Huangpu) mili­tary academy, where the Soviets tutored China's revolutionaries. For both the Nationalists and Communists, the experience of working with the So­viets between 1923 and 1927 on the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) was crucial. Wang Jingwei worked in the political education department of the academy, and alongside him was a rising star of the CCP, Zhou Enlai (later to become Chinas premier under Mao). On the military side, Chiang Kai-shek rose rapidly in the officer corps as his organizational skills became better known and better valued, along with his comrade from his Japan days, He Yingqin. Also at the Academy were Hu Zongnan and Xue Yue, both of whom would provide crucial military service to Chiang during the war years.

"The alliance was of particular interest to the young Communist Mao Zedong, as it meant a much larger party base which he could use to plan radical revolution."


Rana Mitter


Forgotten Ally


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2013 by Rana Mitter


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