This chapter returns to the beginning: the raising of the NRA in Guangdong. Arthur Waldron argued in China's Turning Point that in the middle of the 1920s, a situation developed in which national regeneration on the back of armed revolution could latch on to new opportunities. In 1924, two factions of the Northern Government that ruled China went to war. The fighting affected nine provinces, involved half a million troops, undermined the economies of large cities such as Shanghai, and weakened the political cohesion of the Northern Government. The result was a 'political and emotional vacuum' filled by the radical ideologies of the CCP and the KMT. 1 It would be the Nationalists who prevailed in the warfare that followed. In 1926, they set out from their base in Guangdong on the Northern Expedition. Two years later the NRA made it to Beijing and unified China, even if more nominally than in fact.
To explain the Nationalist victory, scholars have focused on the history of the First United Front between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists, peasant and labour movements, and Soviet involvement. 2 What still needs to be done is to explain why the Nationalists again turned towards armed revolution during the 'second rise of revolution', as the Taiwanese historian Lü Fangshan called the revitalisation of the KMT in the early 1920s. 3 The renewed positive evaluation of military action was surprising because Nationalist military efforts during the 1911 Revolution, the Second Revolution of 1913, and the Movement to Protect the Constitution of 1917 ended in a disaster and because the May Fourth Movement espoused strong anti-militarist convictions. The movement began in 1919 in protest to the Versailles Peace Treaty that assigned German privileges in Shandong Province to Japan at a time when the slaughter of the First World War abhorred all.
Further, the Nationalists still need to be placed firmly in the contemporary domestic context, especially that of warlordism, rather than seen as something quite apart from it. Warlordism provided opportunities to accumulate military force and build alliances, but also posed challenges, including the disciplining of co-opted forces that possessed local bases and gathered taxes themselves. The Nationalists, too, had to develop their military strategy in response to warlord conflicts. As well, while the Soviet intervention in the 1920s has been analysed in detail, the initial precariousness of the Soviet's commitment to the Nationalists has not been brought to the fore. It was the Nationalists' good luck that domestic developments made them the most promising partner in the middle of the 1920s in Soviet efforts to prevent a Japan-dominated China and foster revolution.