China History – The End of the Empire and the Nationalist Movement

By | January 7, 2022

On February 12, 1912, the final renunciation of the throne by the last emperor, the child Pu Yi, opened a new phase in Chinese history. In October of the previous year, a victorious revolution had led to the proclamation of the republic. After Pu Yi was deposed, General Yuan Shikai, commander of the best troops of the Empire, became its president, whose betrayal had favored the success of the rioters. The uprising of 1911 had been initiated by Southern revolutionaries mostly from the merchant class and among whom were many students who had returned from abroad. Leading them was Sun Zhongshan, a doctor who has long fought for the national rebirth of China, advocating the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and the creation of a republican regime based on ‘ three principles of the people ‘, nationality, democracy, well-being. These three principles were later incorporated into the political program of the Guomindang, the nationalist party founded by Sun in 1912 to unite the old revolutionary societies. Strengthened by his control over the army, Yuan Shikai, once he obtained the presidency of the republic, thought of getting rid of the Guomindang by declaring it illegal; he brought the capital back to Beijing, from Nanjing where it had been transferred during the provisional government of Sun Zhongshan and began to govern autocratically with clear intentions of monarchical restoration. His death in 1916 aggravated the conflict between the Guomindang revolutionaries and the Beijing government. remained at the mercy of the generals who made war their profession and aimed to establish personal fiefdoms in the various provinces. After the First World War broke out, in August 1917 the Chinese government declared war on the Central Powers despite the opposition of the Guomindang deputies who, in protest, left the capital, establishing a military government in Canton under the command of Sun Zhongshan. The failure recorded at the Versailles Peace Conference by the Chinese delegation, which failed to obtain the return of the territories already occupied by the Germans from the allied powers, triggered violent demonstrations in the main cities of the country. Leading the protest were mostly students inspired by the Enlightenment movement ‘For a new culture’, New youth, on which professors and intellectuals influenced by Western culture waged fierce campaigns against traditional institutions and values. Alongside the students, exponents of the new classes uprooted from the traditional Confucian order also participated in the movement, such as the merchant bourgeoisie, which grew up above all in ports in contact with Western economic interests, and the nascent industrial proletariat. Sun Zhongshan turned to these new forces when, following the Leninist example, he reorganized the Guomindang with the collaboration of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in Shanghai on the initiative of a group of intellectuals converted to Marxism, including the librarian of the University of Peking Mao Zedong and overseas-trained figures such as Zhou Enlai. The Soviet government for its part had been able to reconcile the sympathies of the Chinese nationalists by spontaneously renouncing all the privileges obtained by Tsarist Russia and had sent emissaries from the Comintern to Canton to help organize not only the Communist Party but Guomindang himself on the basis of a common anti-imperialist struggle. Sun Zhongshan, whose government the Western powers persisted in not recognizing, accepted the support offered by the Soviet Union and the international communist movement and allowed the Chinese Communists, while retaining their organization, to join the Guomindang. He then proceeded to a redefinition of his ideology of the ‘three principles of the people’, accentuating the anti-imperialist character of his nationalism and developing agrarian reform programs.

According to recipesinthebox, Sun’s death in March 1925 was followed by violent anti-imperialist agitations, which increased the already strong influence of the Communists within the Guomindang. This provoked the reaction of the more conservative elements; a long, confused conflict ensued, which was resolved with the victory of the latter and with General Jiang Jieshi taking over the leadership of the Guomindang. In April 1927, while at the head of an army he marched north to subdue the ‘warlords’ and unify China, Jiang broke with the Communist Party, massacring the cadres gathered in Shanghai with a surprise action. Among the survivors of the massacre was Mao Zedong, who had spent the previous three years studying and trying to organize peasant struggles especially in Hunan province, coming to the conclusion, not in line with the ideological foundations of his party, that the real great revolutionary potential in China was constituted by the peasant masses and that the future of the revolution would depend on the ability of the Chinese proletariat and the Communist Party to put themselves at their side head. Taking refuge with a handful of comrades in the mountainous area between Fujian and Jiangxi, Mao founded a Soviet-like community, earning the support of the peasants with the immediate implementation of the agrarian reform and forming a first nucleus of army. Meanwhile Jiang Jieshi was completing campaigns against the ‘warlords’ of the north, at least formally unifying China under the rule of Guomindang, whose headquarters had been established in Nanjing. As a next step, Jiang turned against the Communists, waging five ‘annihilation campaigns’ between 1930 and 1934. Only on the fifth attempt did he manage to defeat the opposing army, but more than half of this, about 100,000 men, escaped the encirclement and unhooked in an epic march that took the 30,000 survivors to Shaanxi, north China, after a covered on foot of 10,000 kilometers. The ‘long march’ benefited the communist cause, allowing to politicize the peasant populations of the regions crossed and creating an extraordinary cohesion among the participants, who formed the core of the party’s senior cadres in the subsequent phase of expansion and seizure of power. In Shaanxi the Communists organized an autonomous Soviet administration, with capital in Yan’an, applying the principles already experimented before and above all freeing the peasants, through the agrarian reform, from the oppression of the landlords. Mao was recognized as the undisputed leader of the communist movement in China.

The Japanese invasion and the civil war

The Japanese had long ago undertaken insidious economic penetration into Manchuria and northern China. When they realized that the victory of the nationalist regime against the ‘warlords’ would put them in front of a less corruptible and more inconvenient interlocutor, they took a pretext to occupy Manchuria in 1931, erecting it the following year in a separate state, the Manchukuo, formally independent, actually under their control. A clash between Chinese and Japanese troops in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing provided the Japanese with the opportunity in 1937 to spread into Chinese territory in order to detach the five northern provinces. Large popular demonstrations were held across the country in favor of a reconciliation between Guomindang and the Communists to make a common front against Japan, and Jiang Jieshi was forced to enter into negotiations to set the terms of the collaboration. The communist armed forces, while maintaining their unity, were placed under the command of the nationalist general, while the Soviet base of Yan’an was transformed into an autonomous region. The Marco Polo Bridge incident thus developed into a Sino-Japanese war, which after Pearl Harbor was grafted into the Second World War. During the conflict, relations between nationalists and communists were marked by mistrust and in some cases by open hostility, which resulted in civil war when an attempt to form a coalition government failed in 1946. After initial successes of the nationalists, the Communists took the lead and extended their control over Manchuria and all of northern China. In 1949 they conquered the rest of the country and on 1 October the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in Beijing. The nationalist government, having taken refuge in Taiwan, was able to maintain control of the island thanks to American support (until 1971 it was Taiwan that occupied China’s seat in the United Nations).

The success of the communist forces was mainly due to the support of very large sections of the population and the corruption of the nationalist administration, which had thrown the country into a very serious economic crisis. The peasant masses and intellectuals were the best allies of the Communist troops. Popular consensus facilitated the work of rebuilding the country, after the long years of war against Japan and after the civil war. In June 1950, an agrarian reform law was promulgated with the aim of redistributing land to small farmers throughout the country. In the same year, a thirty-year alliance agreement between China and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow, followed by a treaty that guaranteed technical and economic assistance to China from the Soviet side.

China History - The End of the Empire and the Nationalist Movement