Chinese-Soviet Relations, 1937-1945: The Diplomacy of Chinese Nationalism

Chinese-Soviet Relations, 1937-1945: The Diplomacy of Chinese Nationalism

Chinese-Soviet Relations, 1937-1945: The Diplomacy of Chinese Nationalism

Chinese-Soviet Relations, 1937-1945: The Diplomacy of Chinese Nationalism


During the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-1945, the Chinese people suffered great degradation at the hands of the Japanese. The spectacle of China's debasement as well as the very real prospect of the restoration of alien rule incensed nationalist passions throughout China. As the military, economic, and political crises deepened, three different Chinese regimes emerged--the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), and the pro-Japanese government headed by Wang Jingwei--all competing for nationalist legitimacy. Through an exhaustive and meticulous examination of available resources, John Garver here illuminates the complicated relationship between these different variants in Chinese nationalism and the Soviet Union during this period. In doing so, Garver elucidates the diplomacy of Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists, the inner history of Chinese Communist relations with the Soviet Union, and the intersection of these two themes within the larger context of international relations in East Asia and the world.


Our story is about the relationship between the Soviet Union and Chinese nationalism during a critical period in the latter's formation. One of the most significant aspects of the turbulent third and fourth decades of the twentieth century was the tempering of Chinese nationalism in the forge of total war. Nationalism, the synthesis of a powerful central state and an identification of the masses with that state through the medium of notions of race and ethnicity, had transformed the face of Europe a century and a half earlier. The French Revolution and the movements and wars associated with that upheaval had turned the largely passive and apathetic subjects of the early modern absolutist states into citizens actively concerned with the destiny of "their" countries. Once this transformation began and large numbers of ordinary people began routinely participating in the political process, the modern era of politics had begun.

Chinese nationalism arose in response to the virulent Western imperialism generated, in part, by this mass nationalism in the West. Over several millennia the Chinese had evolved a concept of the uniqueness of their own civilization and their central place in human history. But while conscious of their own unique ethnicity, China's ordinary people seldom identified with the state, and except during the periods of chaos between the twilight of one dynasty and the rise of a new one, they saw little reason to call for the strengthening of the state. The disruptive impact of Western imperialism on China's traditional society, however, gradually changed this. By the end of the Opium War in 1842, a few Chinese thinkers were calling for reforms to strengthen China's ability to withstand the Western onslaught. By the 1870s bitterness over the humiliation of China at the hands of the Westerners was widespread, as was the conviction that reforms were necessary to strengthen and save China. But it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that these ideas began percolating down to the masses and modern nationalism, mass nationalism, began to emerge. In this sense, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was China's first major nationalist movement.

By the early twentieth century, nationalist ideas were rapidly becoming the lingua franca of successful politics in China. The desire to overthrow the racially alien (at least so they were perceived) Manchus and restore Han rule was at the core of the Revolution of 1911. The alien Manchu autocracy was to be replaced by a system in which the masses of ordinary people, largely Han people, could participate via the mechanism of parliamentary democracy.

Sun Yat-sen, the foremost figure of the 1911 Revolution, is generally regarded as the father of Chinese nationalism. In the early 1920s Sun systematized his thoughts on China's struggle into his Three Principles of the People. The first of these principles was nationalism, which Sun defined as the loyalty of the Chinese race or nation--and to Sun race and nation were virtually synonymous--to the Chinese state. The purpose . . .

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