Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Between Rhetoric and Reality: Nationalist China's Tibetan Agenda during the Second World War (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Between Rhetoric and Reality: Nationalist China's Tibetan Agenda during the Second World War (1)

Article excerpt

BETWEEN RHETORIC AND REALITY: NATIONALIST CHINA'S TIBETAN AGENDA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (1)

Previous researches have suggested that the Japanese invasion of China proper, and the emergence of a group of powers allied with China in her straggle against Japan, provided the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Government with an opportunity to advance its claims to the "lost" border regions and restore China's past territorial glory. Scholarly works have also argued that, being a member of the "Great Four" after Pearl Harbor, the Chinese talked volubly about restoring their authority over traditional frontier peripheries. In addition, it has been suggested that, with regards to Tibet, in the early 1940s, Chiang Kai-shek's wartime regime in Chongqing was even prepared to resort to military force to bring the long-lasting Tibetan issue to an end. (2) This research intends to offer a different story. Here it is suggested that, efforts made by the KMT during wartime to assert its rights in the southwest frontier peripheries were primarily based on considerations of regime security and military strategy. These considerations were felt to be more important than the ideological contours of Chinese nationalism shaped as early as Sun Yat-sen's era. In other words, China's so-called "positive policy," if there was such a thing, towards Tibet in the Second World War was actually a reluctant yet unavoidable alternative that Chongqing had to adopt to ensure the survival of their weak regime in a precarious milieu. As will be revealed in the following discussions, Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT regime were actually taking a far more pragmatic stance towards the Tibetan issues. Moreover, wartime China's professed frontier and Tibetan policy at the highest official level did not necessarily affect the actual Sino-Tibetan political scenario.

By sifting carefully through available sources, particularly the recently released Chiang Kai-shek Papers and the Nationalist Government Archives, this study intends to reconstruct a sober picture of wartime Sino-Tibetan relations and to re-examine the facts. Here it will be argued that there is actually a discrepancy between what we have learned from wartime Chinese supreme leaders' political propagandist work, and the superficially presented facts which present-day scholarly works have heavily relied upon, and how policymakers of the wartime Chinese government perceived and implemented their frontier agendas. This study further suggests that as late as the early 1940s the formulation of a definite and clear Chinese territoriality, with Tibet unconditionally included, remained a pending and unresolved issue to the Chinese Nationalist authorities.

I. The Tibetan Agenda in the Context of a New Political Milieu

The Nationalist Government, a reincarnation of Sun Yat-sen's southern local regime in Canton, was officially inaugurated in July, 1925. Within three years, the Nationalist Revolutionary Army, under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership, defeated several warlords in south and central China. When the KMT troops captured Beijing in the summer of 1928, the Nationalist government formally declared its reunification of China. Since its inception, the Nationalist regime had grand ambitions that made it look different from other so-called "warlord regimes." In their propaganda, the Nationalists not only sought to defend the far-flung borders that the Chinese Republic inherited from the Manchu empire, but also to reunify the whole nation and to protect its sovereignty. With a view to achieving this grandiose goal, a revolutionary political construct emerged for the first time in China's long political history. (3) At various political functions, the Nationalist government constantly reiterated its claim of the "lost" outlying territories, such as Outer Mongolia and Tibet, as inseparable part of Chinese territory (see Figure 1). Concerning frontier and minority affairs, the KMT high echelons repeatedly reinforced revolutionary and nationalist spirit as well as party guidelines in its official propaganda. …

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