Read MODERN TIMES: Chapter Eleven of A History of China, free online book, by Wolfram Eberhard, on

THE REPUBLIC (1912-1948)

1 Social and intellectual position

In order to understand the period that now followed, let us first consider the social and intellectual position in China in the period between 1911 and 1927. The Manchu dynasty was no longer there, nor were there any remaining real supporters of the old dynasty. The gentry, however, still existed. Alongside it was a still numerically small middle class, with little political education or enlightenment.

The political interests of these two groups were obviously in conflict. But after 1912 there had been big changes. The gentry were largely in a process of decomposition. They still possessed the basis of their existence, their land, but the land was falling in value, as there were now other opportunities of capital investment, such as export-import, shareholding in foreign enterprises, or industrial undertakings. It is important to note, however, that there was not much fluid capital at their disposal. In addition to this, cheaper rice and other foodstuffs were streaming from abroad into China, bringing the prices for Chinese foodstuffs down to the world market prices, another painful business blow to the gentry. Silk had to meet the competition of Japanese silk and especially of rayon; the Chinese silk was of very unequal quality and sold with difficulty. On the other hand, through the influence of the Western capitalistic system, which was penetrating more and more into China, land itself became “capital”, an object of speculation for people with capital; its value no longer depended entirely on the rents it could yield but, under certain circumstances, on quite other things the construction of railways or public buildings, and so on. These changes impoverished and demoralized the gentry, who in the course of the past century had grown fewer in number. The gentry were not in a position to take part fully in the capitalist manipulations, because they had never possessed much capital; their wealth had lain entirely in their land, and the income from their rents was consumed quite unproductively in luxurious living.

Moreover, the class solidarity of the gentry was dissolving. In the past, politics had been carried on by cliques of gentry families, with the emperor at their head as an unchangeable institution. This edifice had now lost its summit; the struggles between cliques still went on, but entirely without the control which the emperor’s power had after all exercised, as a sort of regulative element in the play of forces among the gentry. The arena for this competition had been the court. After the destruction of the arena, the field of play lost its boundaries: the struggles between cliques no longer had a definite objective; the only objective left was the maintenance or securing of any and every hold on power. Under the new conditions cliques or individuals among the gentry could only ally themselves with the possessors of military power, the generals or governors. In this last stage the struggle between rival groups turned into a rivalry between individuals. Family ties began to weaken and other ties, such as between school mates, or origin from the same village or town, became more important than they had been before. For the securing of the aim in view any means were considered justifiable. Never was there such bribery and corruption among the officials as in the years after 1912. This period, until 1927, may therefore be described as a period of dissolution and destruction of the social system of the gentry.

Over against this dying class of the gentry stood, broadly speaking, a tripartite opposition. To begin with, there was the new middle class, divided and without clear political ideas; anti-dynastic of course, but undecided especially as to the attitude it should adopt towards the peasants who, to this day, form over 80 per cent of the Chinese population. The middle class consisted mainly of traders and bankers, whose aim was the introduction of Western capitalism in association with foreign powers. There were also young students who were often the sons of old gentry families and had been sent abroad for study with grants given them by their friends and relatives in the government; or sons of businessmen sent away by their fathers. These students not always accepted the ideas of their fathers; they were influenced by the ideologies of the West, Marxist or non-Marxist, and often created clubs or groups in the University cities of Europe or the United States. Such groups of people who had studied together or passed the exams together, had already begun to play a rôle in politics in the nineteenth century. Now, the influence of such organizations of usually informal character increased. Against the returned students who often had difficulties in adjustment, stood the students at Chinese Universities, especially the National University in Peking (Peita). They represented people of the same origin, but of the lower strata of the gentry or of business; they were more nationalistic and politically active and often less influenced by Western ideologies.

In the second place, there was a relatively very small genuine proletariat, the product of the first activities of big capitalists in China, found mainly in Shanghai. Thirdly and finally, there was a gigantic peasantry, uninterested in politics and uneducated, but ready to give unthinking allegiance to anyone who promised to make an end of the intolerable conditions in the matter of rents and taxes, conditions that were growing steadily worse with the decay of the gentry. These peasants were thinking of popular risings on the pattern of all the risings in the history of China attacks on the towns and the killing of the hated landowners, officials, and moneylenders, that is to say of the gentry.

Such was the picture of the middle class and those who were ready to support it, a group with widely divergent interests, held together only by its opposition to the gentry system and the monarchy. It could not but be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve political success with such a group. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the “Father of the Republic”, accordingly laid down three stages of progress in his many works, of which the best-known are San-min chu-i, ("The Three Principles of the People"), and Chien-kuo fang-lueeh ("Plans for the Building up of the Realm"). The three phases of development through which republican China was to pass were: the phase of struggle against the old system, the phase of educative rule, and the phase of truly democratic government. The phase of educative rule was to be a sort of authoritarian system with a democratic content, under which the people should be familiarized with democracy and enabled to grow politically ripe for true democracy.

Difficult as was the internal situation from the social point of view, it was no less difficult in economic respects. China had recognized that she must at least adopt Western technical and industrial progress in order to continue to exist as an independent state. But the building up of industry demanded large sums of money. The existing Chinese banks were quite incapable of providing the capital needed; but the acceptance of capital from abroad led at once, every time, to further political capitulations. The gentry, who had no cash worth mention, were violently opposed to the capitalization of their properties, and were in favour of continuing as far as possible to work the soil in the old style. Quite apart from all this, all over the country there were generals who had come from the ranks of the gentry, and who collected the whole of the financial resources of their region for the support of their private armies. Investors had little confidence in the republican government so long as they could not tell whether the government would decide in favour of its right or of its left wing.

No less complicated was the intellectual situation at this time. Confucianism, and the whole of the old culture and morality bound up with it, was unacceptable to the middle-class element. In the first place, Confucianism rejected the principle, required at least in theory by the middle class, of the equality of all people; secondly, the Confucian great-family system was irreconcilable with middle-class individualism, quite apart from the fact that the Confucian form of state could only be a monarchy. Every attempt to bolster up Confucianism in practice or theory was bound to fail and did fail. Even the gentry could scarcely offer any real defence of the Confucian system any longer. With Confucianism went the moral standards especially of the upper classes of society. Taoism was out of the question as a substitute, because of its anarchistic and egocentric character. Consequently, in these years, part of the gentry turned to Buddhism and part to Christianity. Some of the middle class who had come under European influence also turned to Christianity, regarding it as a part of the European civilization they had to adopt. Others adhered to modern philosophic systems such as pragmatism and positivism. Marxist doctrines spread rapidly.

Education was secularized. Great efforts were made to develop modern schools, though the work of development was continually hindered by the incessant political unrest. Only at the universities, which became foci of republican and progressive opinion, was any positive achievement possible. Many students and professors were active in politics, organizing demonstrations and strikes. They pursued a strong national policy, often also socialistic. At the same time real scientific work was done; many young scholars of outstanding ability were trained at the Chinese universities, often better than the students who went abroad. There is a permanent disagreement between these two groups of young men with a modern education: the students who return from abroad claim to be better educated, but in reality they often have only a very superficial knowledge of things modern and none at all of China, her history, and her special circumstances. The students of the Chinese universities have been much better instructed in all the things that concern China, and most of them are in no way behind the returned students in the modern sciences. They are therefore a much more serviceable element.

The intellectual modernization of China goes under the name of the “Movement of May Fourth”, because on May 4th, 1919, students of the National University in Peking demonstrated against the government and their pro-Japanese adherents. When the police attacked the students and jailed some, more demonstrations and student strikes and finally a general boycott of Japanese imports were the consequence. In these protest actions, professors such as Ts’ai Yuean-p’ei, later president of the Academia Sinica (died 1940), took an active part. The forces which had now been mobilized, rallied around the journal “New Youth” (Hsin Ch’ing-nien), created in 1915 by Ch’en Tu-hsiu. The journal was progressive, against the monarchy, Confucius, and the old traditions. Ch’en Tu-hsiu who put himself strongly behind the students, was more radical than other contributors but at first favoured Western democracy and Western science; he was influenced mainly by John Dewey who was guest professor in Peking in 1919-20. Similarly tending towards liberalism in politics and Dewey’s ideas in the field of philosophy were others, mainly Hu Shih. Finally, some reformers criticized conservatism purely on the basis of Chinese thought. Hu Shih (born 1892) gained greatest acclaim by his proposal for a “literary revolution”, published in the “New Youth” in 1917. This revolution was the logically necessary application of the political revolution to the field of education. The new “vernacular” took place of the old “classical” literary language. The language of the classical works is so remote from the language of daily life that no uneducated person can understand it. A command of it requires a full knowledge of all the ancient literature, entailing decades of study. The gentry had elaborated this style of speech for themselves and their dependants; it was their monopoly; nobody who did not belong to the gentry and had not attended its schools could take part in literary or in administrative life. The literary revolution introduced the language of daily life, the language of the people, into literature: newspapers, novels, scientific treatises, translations, appeared in the vernacular, and could thus be understood by anyone who could read and write, even if he had no Confucianist education.

It may be said that the literary revolution has achieved its main objects. As a consequence of it, a great quantity of new literature has been published. Not only is every important new book that appears in the West published in translation within a few months, but modern novels and short stories and poems have been written, some of them of high literary value.

At the same time as this revolution there took place another fundamental change in the language. It was necessary to take over a vast number of new scientific and technical terms. As Chinese, owing to the character of its script, is unable to write foreign words accurately and can do no more than provide a rather rough paraphrase, the practice was started of expressing new ideas by newly formed native words. Thus modern Chinese has very few foreign words, and yet it has all the new ideas. For example, a telegram is a “lightning-letter”; a wireless telegram is a “not-have-wire-lightning-communication”; a fountain-pen is a “self-flow-ink-water-brush”; a typewriter is a “strike-letter-machine”. Most of these neologisms are similar in the modern languages of China and Japan.

There had been several proposals in recent decades to do away with the Chinese characters and to introduce an alphabet in their place. They have all proved to be unsatisfactory so far, because the character of the Chinese language, as it is at this moment, is unsuited to an alphabetical script. They would also destroy China’s cultural unity: there are many dialects in China that differ so greatly from each other that, for instance, a man from Canton cannot understand a man from Shanghai. If Chinese were written with letters, the result would be a Canton literature and another literature confined to Shanghai, and China would break up into a number of areas with different languages. The old Chinese writing is independent of pronunciation. A Cantonese and a Pekinger can read each other’s newspapers without difficulty. They pronounce the words quite differently, but the meaning is unaltered. Even a Japanese can understand a Chinese newspaper without special study of Chinese, and a Chinese with a little preparation can read a Japanese newspaper without understanding a single word of Japanese.

The aim of modern education in China is to work towards the establishment of “High Chinese”, the former official (Mandarin) language, throughout the country, and to set limits to the use of the various dialects. Once this has been done, it will be possible to proceed to a radical reform of the script without running the risk of political separatist movements, which are always liable to spring up, and also without leading, through the adoption of various dialects as the basis of separate literatures, to the break-up of China’s cultural unity. In the last years, the unification of the spoken language has made great progress. Yet, alphabetic script is used only in cases in which illiterate adults have to be enabled in a short time to read very simple informations. More attention is given to a simplification of the script as it is; Japanese had started this some forty years earlier. Unfortunately, the new Chinese abbreviated forms of characters are not always identical with long-established Japanese forms, and are not developed in such a systematic form as would make learning of Chinese characters easier.

2 First period of the Republic: The warlords

The situation of the Republic after its foundation was far from hopeful. Republican feeling existed only among the very small groups of students who had modern education, and a few traders, in other words, among the “middle class”. And even in the revolutionary party to which these groups belonged there were the most various conceptions of the form of republican state to be aimed at. The left wing of the party, mainly intellectuals and manual workers, had in view more or less vague socialistic institutions; the liberals, for instance the traders, thought of a liberal democracy, more or less on the American pattern; and the nationalists merely wanted the removal of the alien Manchu rule. The three groups had come together for the practical reason that only so could they get rid of the dynasty. They gave unreserved allegiance to Sun Yat-sen as their leader. He succeeded in mobilizing the enthusiasm of continually widening circles for action, not only by the integrity of his aims but also because he was able to present the new socialistic ideology in an alluring form. The anti-republican gentry, however, whose power was not yet entirely broken, took a stand against the party. The generals who had gone over to the republicans had not the slightest intention of founding a republic, but only wanted to get rid of the rule of the Manchus and to step into their place. This was true also of Yuean Shih-k’ai, who in his heart was entirely on the side of the gentry, although the European press especially had always energetically defended him. In character and capacity he stood far above the other generals, but he was no republican.

Thus the first period of the Republic, until 1927, was marked by incessant attempts by individual generals to make themselves independent. The Government could not depend on its soldiers, and so was impotent. The first risings of military units began at the outset of 1912. The governors and generals who wanted to make themselves independent sabotaged every decree of the central government; especially they sent it no money from the provinces and also refused to give their assent to foreign loans. The province of Canton, the actual birthplace of the republican movement and the focus of radicalism, declared itself in 1912 an independent republic.

Within the Peking government matters soon came to a climax. Yuean Shih-k’ai and his supporters represented the conservative view, with the unexpressed but obvious aim of setting up a new imperial house and continuing the old gentry system. Most of the members of the parliament came, however, from the middle class and were opposed to any reaction of this sort. One of their leaders was murdered, and the blame was thrown upon Yuean Shih-k’ai; there then came, in the middle of 1912, a new revolution, in which the radicals made themselves independent and tried to gain control of South China. But Yuean Shih-k’ai commanded better troops and won the day. At the end of October 1912 he was elected, against the opposition, as president of China, and the new state was recognized by foreign countries.

China’s internal difficulties reacted on the border states, in which the European powers were keenly interested. The powers considered that the time had come to begin the definitive partition of China. Thus there were long negotiations and also hostilities between China and Tibet, which was supported by Great Britain. The British demanded the complete separation of Tibet from China, but the Chinese rejected this (1912); the rejection was supported by a boycott of British goods. In the end the Tibet question was left undecided. Tibet remained until recent years a Chinese dependency with a good deal of internal freedom. The Second World War and the Chinese retreat into the interior brought many Chinese settlers into Eastern Tibet which was then separated from Tibet proper and made a Chinese province (Hsi-k’ang) in which the native Khamba will soon be a minority. The communist regime soon after its establishment conquered Tibet (1950) and has tried to change the character of its society and its system of government which lead to the unsuccessful attempt of the Tibetans to throw off Chinese rule (1959) and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India. The construction of highways, air and missile bases and military occupation have thus tied Tibet closer to China than ever since early Manchu times.

In Outer Mongolia Russian interests predominated. In 1911 there were diplomatic incidents in connection with the Mongolian question. At the end of 1911 the Hutuktu of Urga declared himself independent, and the Chinese were expelled from the country. A secret treaty was concluded in 1912 with Russia, under which Russia recognized the independence of Outer Mongolia, but was accorded an important part as adviser and helper in the development of the country. In 1913 a Russo-Chinese treaty was concluded, under which the autonomy of Outer Mongolia was recognized, but Mongolia became a part of the Chinese realm. After the Russian revolution had begun, revolution was carried also into Mongolia. The country suffered all the horrors of the struggles between White Russians (General Ungern-Sternberg) and the Reds; there were also Chinese attempts at intervention, though without success, until in the end Mongolia became a Soviet Republic. As such she is closely associated with Soviet Russia. China, however, did not quickly recognize Mongolia’s independence, and in his work China’s Destiny (1944) Chiang Kai-shek insisted that China’s aim remained the recovery of the frontiers of 1840, which means among other things the recovery of Outer Mongolia. In spite of this, after the Second World War Chiang Kai-shek had to renounce de jure all rights in Outer Mongolia. Inner Mongolia was always united to China much more closely; only for a time during the war with Japan did the Japanese maintain there a puppet government. The disappearance of this government went almost unnoticed.

At the time when Russian penetration into Mongolia began, Japan had entered upon a similar course in Manchuria, which she regarded as her “sphere of influence”. On the outbreak of the first world war Japan occupied the former German-leased territory of Tsingtao, at the extremity of the province of Shantung, and from that point she occupied the railways of the province. Her plan was to make the whole province a protectorate; Shantung is rich in coal and especially in metals. Japan’s plans were revealed in the notorious “Twenty-one Demands” (1915). Against the furious opposition especially of the students of Peking, Yuean Shih-k’ai’s government accepted the greater part of these demands. In negotiations with Great Britain, in which Japan took advantage of the British commitments in Europe, Japan had to be conceded the predominant position in the Far East.

Meanwhile Yuean Shih-k’ai had made all preparations for turning the Republic once more into an empire, in which he would be emperor; the empire was to be based once more on the gentry group. In 1914 he secured an amendment of the Constitution under which the governing power was to be entirely in the hands of the president; at the end of 1914 he secured his appointment as president for life, and at the end of 1915 he induced the parliament to resolve that he should become emperor.

This naturally aroused the resentment of the republicans, but it also annoyed the generals belonging to the gentry, who had the same ambition. Thus there were disturbances, especially in the south, where Sun Yat-sen with his followers agitated for a democratic republic. The foreign powers recognized that a divided China would be much easier to penetrate and annex than a united China, and accordingly opposed Yuean Shih-k’ai. Before he could ascend the throne, he died suddenly and this terminated the first attempt to re-establish monarchy.

Yuean was succeeded as president by Li Yuean-hung. Meanwhile five provinces had declared themselves independent. Foreign pressure on China steadily grew. She was forced to declare war on Germany, and though this made no practical difference to the war, it enabled the European powers to penetrate further into China. Difficulties grew to such an extent in 1917 that a dictatorship was set up and soon after came an interlude, the recall of the Manchus and the reinstatement of the deposed emperor (July 1st-8th, 1917).

This led to various risings of generals, each aiming simply at the satisfaction of his thirst for personal power. Ultimately the victorious group of generals, headed by Tuan Ch’i-jui, secured the election of Feng Kuo-chang in place of the retiring president. Feng was succeeded at the end of 1918 by Hsue Shih-ch’ang, who held office until 1922. Hsue, as a former ward of the emperor, was a typical representative of the gentry, and was opposed to all republican reforms.

The south held aloof from these northern governments. In Canton an opposition government was set up, formed mainly of followers of Sun Yat-sen; the Peking government was unable to remove the Canton government. But the Peking government and its president scarcely counted any longer even in the north. All that counted were the generals, the most prominent of whom were: (1) Chang Tso-lin, who had control of Manchuria and had made certain terms with Japan, but who was ultimately murdered by the Japanese (1928); (2) Wu P’ei-fu, who held North China; (3) the so-called “Christian general”, Feng Yue-hsiang, and (4) Ts’ao K’un, who became president in 1923.

At the end of the first world war Japan had a hold over China amounting almost to military control of the country. China did not sign the Treaty of Versailles, because she considered that she had been duped by Japan, since Japan had driven the Germans out of China but had not returned the liberated territory to the Chinese. In 1921 peace was concluded with Germany, the German privileges being abolished. The same applied to Austria. Russia, immediately after the setting up of the Soviet government, had renounced all her rights under the Capitulations. This was the first step in the gradual rescinding of the Capitulations; the last of them went only in 1943, as a consequence of the difficult situation of the Europeans and Americans in the Pacific produced by the Second World War.

At the end of the first world war the foreign powers revised their attitude towards China. The idea of territorial partitioning of the country was replaced by an attempt at financial exploitation; military friction between the Western powers and Japan was in this way to be minimized. Financial control was to be exercised by an international banking consortium (1920). It was necessary for political reasons that this committee should be joined by Japan. After her Twenty-one Demands, however, Japan was hated throughout China. During the world war she had given loans to the various governments and rebels, and in this way had secured one privilege after another. Consequently China declined the banking consortium. She tried to secure capital from her own resources; but in the existing political situation and the acute economic depression internal loans had no success.

In an agreement between the United States and Japan in 1917, the United States, in consequence of the war, had to give their assent to special rights for Japan in China. After the war the international conference at Washington (November 1921-February 1922) tried to set narrower limits to Japan’s influence over China, and also to re-determine the relative strength in the Pacific of the four great powers (America, Britain, France, Japan). After the failure of the banking plan this was the last means of preventing military conflicts between the powers in the Far East. This brought some relief to China, as Japan had to yield for the time to the pressure of the western powers.

The years that followed until 1927 were those of the complete collapse of the political power of the Peking government years of entire dissolution. In the south Sun Yat-sen had been elected generalissimo in 1921. In 1924 he was re-elected with a mandate for a campaign against the north. In 1924 there also met in Canton the first general congress of the Kuomintang ("People’s Party"). The Kuomintang (in 1929 it had 653,000 members, or roughly 0.15 per cent of the population) is the continuation of the Komingtang ("Revolutionary Party”) founded by Sun Yat-sen, which as a middle-class party had worked for the removal of the dynasty. The new Kuomintang was more socialistic, as is shown by its admission of Communists and the stress laid upon land reform.

At the end of 1924 Sun Yat-sen with some of his followers went to Peking, to discuss the possibility of a reunion between north and south on the basis of the program of the People’s Party. There, however, he died at the beginning of 1925, before any definite results had been attained; there was no prospect of achieving anything by the negotiations, and the south broke them off. But the death of Sun Yat-sen had been followed after a time by tension within the party between its right and left wings. The southern government had invited a number of Russian advisers in 1923 to assist in building up the administration, civil and military, and on their advice the system of government had been reorganized on lines similar to those of the soviet and commissar system. This change had been advocated by an old friend of Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, who later married Sun’s sister-in-law. Chiang Kai-shek, who was born in 1886, was the head of the military academy at Whampoa, near Canton, where Russian instructors were at work. The new system was approved by Sun Yat-sen’s successor, Hu Han-min (who died in 1936), in his capacity of party leader. It was opposed by the elements of the right, who at first had little influence. Chiang Kai-shek soon became one of the principal leaders of the south, as he had command of the efficient troops of Canton, who had been organized by the Russians.

The People’s Party of the south and its governments, at that time fairly radical in politics, were disliked by the foreign powers; only Japan supported them for a time, owing to the anti-British feeling of the South Chinese and in order to further her purpose of maintaining disunion in China. The first serious collision with the outer world came on May 30th, 1925, when British soldiers shot at a crowd demonstrating in Shanghai. This produced a widespread boycott of British goods in Canton and in British Hong Kong, inflicting a great loss on British trade with China and bringing considerable advantages in consequence to Japanese trade and shipping: from the time of this boycott began the Japanese grip on Chinese coastwise shipping.

The second party congress was held in Canton in 1926. Chiang Kai-shek already played a prominent part. The People’s Party, under Chiang Kai-shek and with the support of the communists, began the great campaign against the north. At first it had good success: the various provincial governors and generals and the Peking government were played off against each other, and in a short time one leader after another was defeated. The Yangtze was reached, and in 1926 the southern government moved to Hankow. All over the southern provinces there now came a genuine rising of the masses of the people, mainly the result of communist propaganda and of the government’s promise to give land to the peasants, to set limits to the big estates, and to bring order into the taxation. In spite of its communist element, at the beginning of 1927 the southern government was essentially one of the middle class and the peasantry, with a socialistic tendency.

3 Second period of the Republic: Nationalist China

With the continued success of the northern campaign, and with Chiang Kai-shek’s southern army at the gates of Shanghai (March 21st, 1927), a decision had to be taken. Should the left wing be allowed to gain the upper hand, and the great capitalists of Shanghai be expropriated as it was proposed to expropriate the gentry? Or should the right wing prevail, an alliance be concluded with the capitalists, and limits be set to the expropriation of landed estates? Chiang Kai-shek, through his marriage with Sun Yat-sen’s wife’s sister, had become allied with one of the greatest banking families. In the days of the siege of Shanghai Chiang, together with his closest colleagues (with the exception of Hu Han-min and Wang Chying-wei, a leader who will be mentioned later), decided on the second alternative. Shanghai came into his hands without a struggle, and the capital of the Shanghai financiers, and soon foreign capital as well, was placed at his disposal, so that he was able to pay his troops and finance his administration. At the same time the Russian advisers were dismissed or executed.

The decision arrived at by Chiang Kai-shek and his friends did not remain unopposed, and he parted from the “left group” (1927) which formed a rival government in Hankow, while Chiang Kai-shek made Nanking the seat of his government (April 1927). In that year Chiang not only concluded peace with the financiers and industrialists, but also a sort of “armistice” with the landowning gentry. “Land reform” still stood on the party program, but nothing was done, and in this way the confidence and co-operation of large sections of the gentry was secured. The choice of Nanking as the new capital pleased both the industrialists and the agrarians: the great bulk of China’s young industries lay in the Yangtze region, and that region was still the principal one for agricultural produce; the landowners of the region were also in a better position with the great market of the capital in their neighbourhood.

Meanwhile the Nanking government had succeeded in carrying its dealings with the northern generals to a point at which they were largely out-manoeuvred and became ready for some sort of collaboration (1928). There were now four supreme commanders Chiang Kai-shek, Feng Yue-hsiang (the “Christian general"), Yen Hsi-shan, the governor of Shansi, and the Muslim Li Chung-yen. Naturally this was not a permanent solution; not only did Chiang Kai-shek’s three rivals try to free themselves from his ever-growing influence and to gain full power themselves, but various groups under military leadership rose again and again, even in the home of the Republic, Canton itself. These struggles, which were carried on more by means of diplomacy and bribery than at arms, lasted until 1936. Chiang Kai-shek, as by far the most skilful player in this game, and at the same time the man who had the support of the foreign governments and of the financiers of Shanghai, gained the victory. China became unified under his dictatorship.

As early as 1928, when there seemed a possibility of uniting China, with the exception of Manchuria, which was dominated by Japan, and when the European powers began more and more to support Chiang Kai-shek, Japan felt that her interests in North China were threatened, and landed troops in Shantung. There was hard fighting on May 3rd, 1928. General Chang Tso-lin, in Manchuria, who was allied to Japan, endeavoured to secure a cessation of hostilities, but he fell victim to a Japanese assassin; his place was taken by his son, Chang Hsueeh-liang, who pursued an anti-Japanese policy. The Japanese recognized, however, that in view of the international situation the time had not yet come for intervention in North China. In 1929 they withdrew their troops and concentrated instead on their plans for Manchuria.

Until the time of the “Manchurian incident” (1931), the Nanking government steadily grew in strength. It gained the confidence of the western powers, who proposed to make use of it in opposition to Japan’s policy of expansion in the Pacific sphere. On the strength of this favourable situation in its foreign relations, the Nanking government succeeded in getting rid of one after another of the Capitulations. Above all, the administration of the “Maritime Customs”, that is to say of the collection of duties on imports and exports, was brought under the control of the Chinese government: until then it had been under foreign control. Now that China could act with more freedom in the matter of tariffs, the government had greater financial resources, and through this and other measures it became financially more independent of the provinces. It succeeded in building up a small but modern army, loyal to the government and superior to the still existing provincial armies. This army gained its military experience in skirmishes with the Communists and the remaining generals.

It is true that when in 1931 the Japanese occupied Manchuria, Nanking was helpless, since Manchuria was only loosely associated with Nanking, and its governor, Chang Hsueeh-liang, had tried to remain independent of it. Thus Manchuria was lost almost without a blow. On the other hand, the fighting with Japan that broke out soon afterwards in Shanghai brought credit to the young Nanking army, though owing to its numerical inferiority it was unsuccessful. China protested to the League of Nations against its loss of Manchuria. The League sent a commission (the Lytton Commission), which condemned Japan’s action, but nothing further happened, and China indignantly broke away from her association with the Western powers (1932-1933). In view of the tense European situation (the beginning of the Hitler era in Germany, and the Italian plans of expansion), the Western powers did not want to fight Japan on China’s behalf, and without that nothing more could be done. They pursued, indeed, a policy of playing off Japan against China, in order to keep those two powers occupied with each other, and so to divert Japan from Indo-China and the Pacific.

China had thus to be prepared for being involved one day in a great war with Japan. Chiang Kai-shek wanted to postpone war as long as possible. He wanted time to establish his power more thoroughly within the country, and to strengthen his army. In regard to external relations, the great powers would have to decide their attitude sooner or later. America could not be expected to take up a clear attitude: she was for peace and commerce, and she made greater profits out of her relations with Japan than with China; she sent supplies to both (until 1941). On the other hand, Britain and France were more and more turning away from Japan, and Russo-Japanese relations were at all times tense. Japan tried to emerge from her isolation by joining the “axis powers”, Germany and Italy (1936); but it was still doubtful whether the Western powers would proceed with Russia, and therefore against Japan, or with the Axis, and therefore in alliance with Japan.

Japan for her part considered that if she was to raise the standard of living of her large population and to remain a world power, she must bring into being her “Greater East Asia”, so as to have the needed raw material sources and export markets in the event of a collision with the Western powers; in addition to this, she needed a security girdle as extensive as possible in case of a conflict with Russia. In any case, “Greater East Asia” must be secured before the European conflict should break out.

4 The Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945)

Accordingly, from 1933 onward Japan followed up her conquest of Manchuria by bringing her influence to bear in Inner Mongolia and in North China. She succeeded first, by means of an immense system of smuggling, currency manipulation, and propaganda, in bringing a number of Mongol princes over to her side, and then (at the end of 1935) in establishing a semi-dependent government in North China. Chiang Kai-shek took no action.

The signal for the outbreak of war was an “incident” by the Marco Polo Bridge, south of Peking (July 7th, 1937). The Japanese government profited by a quite unimportant incident, undoubtedly provoked by the Japanese, in order to extend its dominion a little further. China still hesitated; there were negotiations. Japan brought up reinforcements and put forward demands which China could not be expected to be ready to fulfil. Japan then occupied Peking and Tientsin and wide regions between them and south of them. The Chinese soldiers stationed there withdrew almost without striking a blow, but formed up again and began to offer resistance. In order to facilitate the planned occupation of North China, including the province of Shantung, Japan decided on a diversionary campaign against Shanghai. The Nanking government sent its best troops to the new front, and held it for nearly three months against superior forces; but meanwhile the Japanese steadily advanced in North China. On November 9th Nanking fell into their hands. By the beginning of January 1938, the province of Shantung had also been conquered.

Chiang Kai-shek and his government fled to Ch’ung-k’ing (Chungking), the most important commercial and financial centre of the interior after Hankow, which was soon threatened by the Japanese fleet. By means of a number of landings the Japanese soon conquered the whole coast of China, so cutting off all supplies to the country; against hard fighting in some places they pushed inland along the railways and conquered the whole eastern half of China, the richest and most highly developed part of the country. Chiang Kai-shek had the support only of the agriculturally rich province of Szechwan, and of the scarcely developed provinces surrounding it. Here there was as yet no industry. Everything in the way of machinery and supplies that could be transported from the hastily dismantled factories was carried westward. Students and professors went west with all the contents of their universities, and worked on in small villages under very difficult conditions one of the most memorable achievements of this war for China. But all this was by no means enough for waging a defensive war against Japan. Even the famous Burma Road could not save China.

By 1940-1941 Japan had attained her war aim: China was no longer a dangerous adversary. She was still able to engage in small-scale fighting, but could no longer secure any decisive result. Puppet governments were set up in Peking, Canton, and Nanking, and the Japanese waited for these governments gradually to induce supporters of Chiang Kai-shek to come over to their side. Most was expected of Wang Ching-wei, who headed the new Nanking government. He was one of the oldest followers of Sun Yat-sen, and was regarded as a democrat. In 1925, after Sun Yat-sen’s death, he had been for a time the head of the Nanking government, and for a short time in 1930 he had led a government in Peking that was opposed to Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship. Beyond any question Wang still had many followers, including some in the highest circles at Chungking, men of eastern China who considered that collaboration with Japan, especially in the economic field, offered good prospects. Japan paid lip service to this policy: there was talk of sister peoples, which could help each other and supply each other’s needs. There was propaganda for a new “Greater East Asian” philosophy, Wang-tao, in accordance with which all the peoples of the East could live together in peace under a thinly disguised dictatorship. What actually happened was that everywhere Japanese capitalists established themselves in the former Chinese industrial plants, bought up land and securities, and exploited the country for the conduct of their war.

After the great initial successes of Hitlerite Germany in 1939-1941, Japan became convinced that the time had come for a decisive blow against the positions of the Western European powers and the United States in the Far East. Lightning blows were struck at Hong Kong and Singapore, at French Indo-China, and at the Netherlands East Indies. The American navy seemed to have been eliminated by the attack on Pearl Harbour, and one group of islands after another fell into the hands of the Japanese. Japan was at the gates of India and Australia. Russia was carrying on a desperate defensive struggle against the Axis, and there was no reason to expect any intervention from her in the Far East. Greater East Asia seemed assured against every danger.

The situation of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chungking government seemed hopeless. Even the Burma Road was cut, and supplies could only be sent by air; there was shortage of everything. With immense energy small industries were begun all over western China, often organized as co-operatives; roads and railways were built but with such resources would it ever be possible to throw the Japanese into the sea? Everything depended on holding out until a new page was turned in Europe. Infinitely slow seemed the progress of the first gleams of hope the steady front in Burma, the reconquest of the first groups of inlands; the first bomb attacks on Japan itself. Even in May, 1945, with the war ended in Europe, there seemed no sign of its ending in the Far East. Then came the atom bomb, bringing the collapse of Japan; the Japanese armies receded from China, and suddenly China was free, mistress once more in her own country as she had not been for decades.