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

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

11
THE NATIONALIST REGIME, 1928-1937

The Legacy of Sun Yatsen

In 1927 the history of China splits again into two interlinked but separate narratives: the history of the Nationalist government, and the history of the state within a state founded in that year by the Communist Party of China. The split had another less obvious but profound significance. It had been unquestioned by both right and left that successful change in China must take place village by village -- 'not one revolution, but half a million revolutions' was the theme. Much of the Maoist political rhetoric which in the West is often assumed to have originated from Mao himself and to have expressed his political genius -- rhetoric typified by exhortations to go back to the countryside and 'share weal and woe' with the peasants -- was the current coin of political debate at that time, and in this respect the writings of right-wingers such as Hu Hanmin were scarcely distinguishable from those of the left. Yet little had been done by 1927, by either right or left, towards the political mobilization of the masses. The workers' movement and the peasant movement collapsed at a touch in 1927. Yet this was actually the beginning of change. The Communists, driven out of the cities, could survive only by the mobilization of rural support. Chiang Kaishek, on the other hand, alarmed at left-wing infiltration of such local branches of his top-heavy party as then existed, destroyed them in the purges which followed his April coup in Shanghai.

The future of grass-roots revolution lay with the Communists. In 1927-8, after desperate efforts to re-establish their power in the cities, they retreated to create soviets scattered throughout rural China. The most notable (or perhaps only the most noted) was that associated with Mao Zedong in Jiangxi. That regime lasted through four successive Nationalist attempts to destroy it, then in 1933 it was crushed at the fifth attempt but only to be reestablished in the north-west. Meanwhile the Nationalists faced a far greater threat from Japan, as well as almost continuous armed opposition from dissident groups supported by surviving war-lords. In this chapter we will look at the history of the decade of Nationalist power from 1928 to the final Japanese invasion of 1937, and in the next chapter at the evolution of Communist policy during the same decade in its new and largely rural context.

The Nationalist regime was based ostensibly on the ideas of Sun Yatsen. Sun, however, was a political agitator, not a political theorist. The exposition

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