The Historical and Political Influence of Imperialism and Colonialism upon 21st Century China

By Shekarabi, Nooshan; Rabii, Narges | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Historical and Political Influence of Imperialism and Colonialism upon 21st Century China


Shekarabi, Nooshan, Rabii, Narges, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


"We stand for self-reliance We hope for foreign aid but can not be dependent on it. We depend on our own efforts, on the creative power of the whole army and the entire people".

Mao--January 10, 1945

The History of Chinese Politics

In order to truly appreciate the significance of the current influence of 20th century imperialism and colonialism on modern day China, it is crucial to acknowledge the political history of China towards the end of the imperial system in 1912. The year 1912 marked a profound change in the history of China. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, China's political, economic, and military influence had declined due to the growing regional power of imperial Japan and the penetration of Western powers. The last Chinese dynasty--the Qing--was abolished ending 2000 years of imperial rule. The Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) then established the Republic of China on January 1st, 1912.

Yuan Shikai was the leader of the revolution against the Qings who dissolved the parliament and ruled as a dictator. Yuan's death in 1916 and the absence of a strong central leadership fragmented China further and created a political upheaval that China was not prepared to confront. China was facing a complete lack of control and power at the hands of local warlords who engaged in unfair taxation, corruption, and violence as a means of survival. It is notable that Japan's persistent, imperialistic ambitions made matters much worse for China due to the seizure of Shandong and southern Manchuria. The Western allies met in Paris in 1919 for the post-war Peace Conference and made a decision that helped to fuel the fire of a political uprising. It was concluded in Paris that the rights given in secret by the Western allies to the Japanese following their expulsion of the Germans from the leased areas of Shandong would be confirmed. This invasion by the Japanese, whom were already despised by the Chinese, led to the patriotic protest called the "May Fourth Movement" in 1919.

Three thousand students gathered to protest at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Peaceful protest soon turned into violence when a pro-Japanese official was assaulted and a government official's home was set on fire. The government arrested many students and imprisoned them. Demonstrations of this nature took place in over two-hundred locations. This marked a new expression of nationalism in China with students, factory workers, and women in the forefront. The authorities eventually were defeated when the protestors victoriously marched out of prison. This day was an important day as China embarked on a new era of intellectual, cultural, and political greatness and distanced itself from a more traditional past.

Sun Yat- Sen as the leader of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) in China placed maintenance of order and socio-economic reform of utmost priority for the nation. Sun Yat-Sen envisioned victory over the warlords and the unification of China between 1921 and 1925. It is an interesting coincidence that as Sun Yat-Sen was helping to strengthen the Nationalist Party, the Communist Party influenced by the Soviet Union was established in China in 1921. The Kuomintang accepted cooperation with the Communists although there may have been no consensus on whether the Communist revolution should be a proletarian or peasant movement in China. We know via history that the latter prevailed. The Russians were instrumental in the framing of the Party's constitution as well as reorganizing the armies of southern China. The army was being led by Sun's brother-in-law, General Chiang Kai-Shek. Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925 and Chiang Kai-Shek took control of power.

Chiang Kai-Shek was faced with the enormous task of trying to reunite a nation of four hundred million people of whom ninety-five percent were peasants and fewer than twenty million literate. Chiang Kai-Shek was successful at his work. …

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