THE NATIONALIST REVOLUTION
AND THE CANTONESE RICE BUSINESS
What interrupted the rice influx to Canton was not only international market fluctuation, but also political upheavals that swept through Canton as well as through the whole of China. From the last decade of the Qing dynasty to the mid-1920s, when the Nationalists consolidated their power base in Canton and embarked on a number of political experiments under the banner of the First United Front with the Chinese Communist Party, Canton was entirely exposed to the turbulent political struggles of Republican China. With the rapidly changing political milieu around the city, in Canton the rice trade had to be more than a business. Likewise, rice relief work during rice shortages had to be more than charity for the urban poor. From the viewpoint of the Cantonese mercantile elite, gaining a public reputation through rice relief was not enough to guarantee the safe and stable management of their businesses. They also had to consider the rapidly changing political context, because a series of revolutions provided a new political meaning to business as well. From the viewpoint of the revolutionaries who came to seize the municipal power, the provisioning of the Revolution would rely entirely on the Cantonese rice business, yet it was not entirely trustworthy. How would the lifeline of the revolution be defended? Who would be the most reliable rice suppliers? Would Guomindang members and the local mercantile elite cooperate and collaborate with each other? Or would they clash? These questions became the cornerstones of the political agenda.
This chapter will trace the course that rice took into the center of political struggles. Much has been written about the political upheavals and key figures of this time, from the 1911 Revolution to the Nationalist Revolution, from Sun Yat-sen to the rise of Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. Yet one simple question has not been asked: who fed them? In the rising