The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History

By R. Keith Schoppa | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Social Revolution: Alternatives for
State and Nation, 1928–60

STRUGGLES TO RECONSTRUCT CHINESE SOCIETY

The Nature of Guomindang Control:
The Republic of China, 1928–37

In the decade before Japan's 1937 invasion, both the Guomindang and a reborn Communist Party experimented with various approaches, old and new, in their efforts to establish a modern Chinese nation-state, or at least to begin that process. Having risen on the powerful wave of nationalism, Chiang Kai-shek had the opportunity to assert Chinese nationalism vis-à-vis the seemingly omnipresent imperialist powers. In this regard, by 1933 China had recovered its tariff autonomy and gained control of the Maritime Customs service; through negotiations, it was able to reduce the number of foreign concessions from thirty-three to thirteen. Because it promulgated new law codes (a Western-imposed requirement), it was able to negotiate the issue of extraterritoriality for the first time.

Chiang's power lay in three positions that he held. As president of the government, he was head of state with power to set domestic policy and to deal with foreign powers. As chairman of the party, he controlled the organ that, in line with the thought of Sun Yat-sen, was to serve as tutor for the people until their eventual realization of republicanism (see document 8, appendix 2). The length of this period of party tutelage was not spelled out. As commander-in-chief of the party army, he held military power as his most important resource. On paper, Chiang looked supreme. But the reality was otherwise. There were challenges to all three of his positions. While the Northern Expedition had technically united the country and ended the warlord scourge, “residual warlordism” remained a problem, a political and military challenge: twice in this decade, Chiang's armies launched campaigns against warlord-led armies. A revived Communist movement in southeast China emerged also as a political and military threat that led to five military

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