Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

9
THE RADICALIZATION OF CHINESE POLITICS

Sun Yatsen and Events in the South, 1913-1923

We must now return to 1913 in order to look more closely at the parallel events in the south, and the gradual consolidation of the Nationalist regime.

From 1913 Sun struggled to maintain a foothold amid the military and political rivalries of the south and south-west. His first problem was that opposition to Yuan Shikai was by no means unanimous even among his own supporters. While the Guomindang in the south favoured war, most of the parliamentary party opposed it. Among the provincial military commanders only one, Li Liejun of Jiangxi, was determined to resist; his colleagues in Hunan, Anhui, and Jiangsu were prevented from effective action by disagreement among their officers, who were as split on the issue as public opinion generally. These circumstances account for the easy victory of Yuan Shikai's Beiyang commanders.

Even when in 1915 Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor unified action against him was difficult to achieve. The then dujun of Guangdong was no supporter of the Guomindang, whose members he constantly harassed. Support against Yuan Shikai therefore had to depend on the provinces of the south-west. A National Protection Army was formed. Its leaders, however, were not supporters of Sun's Nationalist Party; they were Progressives associated with Liang Qichao. This division in political allegiance remained important.

The National Protection Army, though small and hungry, held out stubbornly until support for Yuan's re-established monarchy leaked away even among those most closely associated with him. When Yuan relinquished the throne the south-western forces still stood to, demanding that he should also relinquish the presidency.

Support for Yuan Shikai by the conservative dujun of Guangdong threatened this continued resistance, and as a result a new factor appeared in the politics of the south, and one which was to play a major role thereafter. In order to curb the dujun the armies of Guangxi were invited to Canton. They soon dominated the province. In the military council which was set up as an alternative government to that of Beijing, composed of the military leaders of the National Protection Army, Lu Rongting the Guangxi commander was the most powerful member.

Yuan Shikai's death on 6 June 1916 seemed to have resolved the problem,

-195-

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