Republic Of China

Republic of China
The republic that Sun Yat-sen and his associates imagined slowly came about. The
revolutionists lacked an army, and the power of Yuan Shikai began to outdo that of
parliament. Yuan revised the constitution at will and became dictatorship. In August 1912 a new political
party was founded by Song Jiaoren ( 1882-1913), one of Sun’s associates. The party, the Guomindang was
an blend of small political groups, including Sun’s Tongmeng Hui . In the national elections held in February
1913 for the new bicameral parliament, Song campaigned against the Yuan administration, and his party
won a majority of seats. Yuan had Song assassinated in March; he had already arranged the
assassination of several pro-revolutionist generals. Animosity toward Yuan grew. In the summer of 1913
seven southern provinces rebelled against Yuan. When the rebellion was suppressed, Sun and other
instigators fled to Japan. In October 1913 an intimidated parliament formally elected Yuan president of the
Republic of China, and the major powers extended recognition to his government. To achieve international
recognition, Yuan Shikai had to agree to autonomy for Outer Mongolia and Xizang. China was still to be
suzerain, but it would have to allow Russia a free hand in Outer Mongolia and Britain continuance of its
influence in Xizang.
In November Yuan Shikai, legally president, ordered the Guomindang dissolved and its members
removed from parliament. Within a few months, he suspended parliament and the provincial assemblies
and forced the promulgation of a new constitution, which, in effect, made him president for life. Yuan’s
ambitions still were not satisfied, and, by the end of 1915, it was announced that he would reestablish the
monarchy. Widespread rebellions ensued, and numerous provinces declared independence. With opposition
at every quarter and the nation breaking up into warlord factions, Yuan Shikai died of natural causes in
June 1916, deserted by his lieutenants.
Nationalism and Communism
After Yuan Shikai’s death, shifting alliances of regional warlords fought for control of the Beijing
government. The nation also was threatened from without by the Japanese. When World War I broke out
in 1914, Japan fought on the Allied side and seized German holdings in Shandong Province. In 1915 the
Japanese set before the warlord government in Beijing the so-called Twenty-One Demands, which would
have made China a Japanese protectorate. The Beijing government rejected some of these demands but
yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession. Beijing also
recognized Tokyo’s authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. In 1917, in secret
communiqus, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for the Japan’s naval
action against Germany.
In 1917 China declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under
Japanese control. But in 1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the claim to
Shandong. When the Paris peace conference of 1919 confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and
Beijing’s sellout became public, internal reaction was shattering. On May 4, 1919, there were massive
student demonstrations against the Beijing government and Japan. The political fervor, student activism,
and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student protest
developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement. The intellectual milieu in which
the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period
from 1917 to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture
Movement, and the terms are often used synonymously. Students returned from abroad advocating social
and political theories ranging from complete Westernization of China to the socialism that one day would
be adopted by China’s communist rulers.
Opposing the Warlords
The May Fourth Movement helped to rekindle the then-fading cause of republican revolution. In
1917 Sun Yat-sen had become commander-in-chief of a rival military government in Guangzhou in
collaboration with southern warlords. In October 1919 Sun reestablished the Guomindang to counter the
government in Beijing. The latter, under a succession of warlords, still maintained its facade of legitimacy
and its relations with the West. By 1921 Sun had become president of the southern government. He spent
his remaining years trying to consolidate his regime and achieve unity with the north. His efforts to obtain
aid from the Western democracies were ignored, however, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union,
which had recently achieved its own revolution. The Soviets sought to befriend the Chinese revolutionists by
offering sca…..thing attacks on “Western imperialism.” But for political expediency, the Soviet leadership
initiated a dual policy of support for both Sun and the newly established Chinese Communist Party (
CCP). The Soviets hoped for consolidation but were prepared for either side to emerge victorious. In this
way the struggle for power in China began between the Nationalists and the Communists. In 1922 the
Guomindang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the
need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in
Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China’s national unification. Soviet advisers–the most prominent of
whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin–began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the
reorganization and consolidation of the Guomindang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union. The CCP was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the Guomindang, and its members
were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP was still small at the time, having
a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Guomindang in 1922 already had 150,000
members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in
mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek ( Jiang Jieshi in pinyin), one of Sun’s
lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months’ military and political study in Moscow. After
Chiang’s return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa Military Academy
outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the Guomindang-CCP alliance. In 1924 Chiang
became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun’s successor as
head of the Guomindang and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government.
Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped
to initiate was gaining momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the
National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern
warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. By 1926, however, the Guomindang had
divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March
1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers,
imposed restrictions on CCP members’ participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the
preeminent Guomindang leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the
CCP, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally
launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926.
In early 1927 the Guomindang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and
the left wing of the Guomindang had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from
Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to
destroying the Shanghai CCP apparatus and established an anti-Communist government at Nanjing in
April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing;
the Communist and left-wing Guomindang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at
Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the
next decade.
The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CCP to
foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of
revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha,
Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was
staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong ( 1893-1976), who would
later become chairman of the CCP and head of state of the People’s Republic of China. Mao was of
peasant origins and was one of the founders of the CCP.
But in mid-1927 the CCP was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by
their left-wing Guomindang allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime. By 1928 all of China was
at least nominally under Chiang’s control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international
recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in
conformity with Sun Yat-sen’s formula for the three stages of revolution–military unification, political
tutelage, and constitutional democracy–China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark
on the second, which would be under Guomindang direction.