Tag Archives: Wang Jingwei

The Rise of the Communists and the Fall of the KMT

This week I read Strategy and the Chinese Civil War by my friend, Adam Elkus. The piece appeared in a special edition, “Strategic Misfortunes,” of Infinity Journal. IN a private communication, Adam told me the piece “dispense[s] with some of the CPP’s own myth-making,” which I agree with. It’s a fascinating article, and one that knee-caps the idea that Mao Zedong was particularly unusual in his knowledge of agrarian guerrilla warfare. (Mao certainly, however, was a fantastic self-promoter.)

KMT China Was A Failed State

I think I disagree with Elkus’s article in one area. Throughout the article Adam writes as if the KMT was an effective government; that is, as if China was not already a failed state by the time that Chiang Kaishek seized power. While this point does not problematize Elkus’ assertion that the rise of the Communists was result of KMT military failure, it should clarify that KMT military failure was primarily a result of KMT political failure, and not simply the result of a few bad strategic decisions.

In the rest of this post I want to take issue with several points of the KMT chronology laid out by Elkus, including

1. The “KMT” that ran mainland China between and 1949, and Taiwan from 1946-2000, is a successor to the “KMT” founded by Sun Yatsen in Beijing.
2. The KMT conducted a White Terror in mainland China in the 1920s
3. The KMT attempted to use the NRA to eliminate the Communist Party
4. The KMT embarked on the Strong Point offensive for primarily military, and not political, reasons

The [Chinese] KMT Was  Never A Secret Society


China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War motivated the Qing leaders to create a powerful and bureaucratic military organized around European lines with the aid of German advisers. The 1911 revolution was not won by mass mobilization; Sun Yat-Sen’s GMD was a secret society that focused its efforts on winning over intellectuals, economic elites, and soldiers in Qing military forces. Yuan Shikai, Marshal of the Qing’s forces, defected with his elite Beiyang Army to Sun’s side and tilted the military balance in favor of the rebels. A lack of political consensus over the structure and distribution of political power helped fragment the military balance and thus create the impetus for China’s infamous ‘warlord period’.

In Chinese histories there are two political parties known as “KMT,” which Adam calls “GMD.” The first, known in simplified hanzi as 國民黨 and literally translated as National People’s Party, was a reorganization of secret societies founded by Sun Yatsen for the purpose of overthrowing the Qing dynasty and institution an anti-Manchu race war in mainland Chinese. The others, sometimes known as the “KMT” or the “Chinese KMT,” known in traditional hanzi as 中國國民黨, and literally translated as the “China National People’s Party,” was founded by Sun Yatsen in 1919-1923 with Soviet Assistance (in nearly the same time and place and with nearly the same cast as the founding of the Communist Party), for the purpose of overthrowing the Beijing Government and reconquering the foreign concessions on Mainland China.

More seriously, the and its predecessors (the Revolutionary Alliance, the Revive China Society, etc) played only a marginal role in the collapse of the Qing. The Qing collapsed because of an outbreak of racial violence (including genocide) along Rwandan lines against the Manchu minority, combined with the military coup by the Yuan Shikai. Sun, the foreign face of the intervention, was not involved.

(Throughout this article I will reference to both parties simply as “KMT.” Elkus uses the term “GMD,” based on the pinyin transliteration of the name, that was never used at the time to refer to the KMT, and is only rarely used to refer to the Chinese KMT.)

The KMT Was Incapable of Conducting a White Terror

German influence may have been eventually eclipsed by the Soviets, but German ideas still figured strongly in GMD doctrine and operations. GMD and CCP political-military commanders both had military training in Europe and received training from Soviet advisers in the Whampoa Military Academy, before the White Terror suppression of CCP forces in Shanghai and beyond by the GMD that ended their putative alliance in the late 1920s. Both the GMD and the CCP adopted political commissar systems and were strongly influenced by the Soviet idea of the party army

Adam Elkus is not alone is calling the April 12 Incident a “White Terror,” but the term “White Terror” dramatically exaggerates the scale and competency of the KMT at the time.

Here is are some comparisons of other “White Terrors

  • April 12 Incident: 350 dead
  • Greek White Terror: 1,200 dead
  • Hungarian White Terror: 1,300 dead
  • Taiwanese White Terror: 3,500 dead
  • Bulgarian White Terror: 5,000 dead
  • German White Terror: 15,000 dead
  • Finnish White Terror: 20,000 dead
  • Russian White Terror: Tens of Thousands
  • Spanish White Terror: 200,000 dead

While the April 12 incident was aimed at destroying the urban wing Chinese Communist Party, the KMT had neither the capability or will to enforce a “terror.”

The KMT Allowed the Communists to Escape

The final encirclement campaign severely reduced the CCP base areas. The GMD’s aggressive pursuit of the Communist remnants during the torturous Long March destroyed nine tenths of CCP military power. Were it not for the onset of Japanese aggression, it is quite likely that the GMD would have completely destroyed the weakened CCP forces. The Second Sino-Japanese War not only provided breathing room for the CCP, but also allowed the CCP the opportunity to finally compete for political authority on a national scale. CCP forces infiltrated behind Japanese lines to organize the masses against the Japanese and build up a power base.

As in contemporary mainland China, the relationship between the Army, Party, and Government is ambiguous. As this is the only section of my post that deals primarily with military matters, I will refer to the armed-wing of the KMT’s State-Military-Party triarchy by its name at the time, the “National Revolutionary Army” or NRA.

The only area where Elkus succumbs to Communist myth-making is in two sentences, where Elkus claims

1. The National Revolutionary Army aggressively persued the remnants of the Chinese Soviet Republic. Thus, the collapse in Communist personnel from 86,000 to 7,000 in one year was because of successful attacks by the NRA on the CSR troops
2. The Japanese invasion for the major obstacle to the NRA destruction of the CSR in Yan’an

Both of these claims are incorrect.

First, the CSR military was composed of informally conscripted troops, the majority of whom defected as soon as they were able. The collapse of the CSR terror apparatus during the beginning of the long march thus began wave after wave of escapes, leaving the CSR to be composed exclusively of (a) a small group of fanatical believers and (b) warlords and fighters who had death sentences from the KMT that they were unable to negotiate away. The KMT’s decision to have the NRA allow the CSR forces to escape is in keeping with Sun-Tzu’s maxim to avoid a victory of annihilation, and instead allow one’s enemy a means of escape.

Second, the NRA was unable to destroy the Communists, not because of the Japanese, but because the NRA was a simply the strongest of many militias operating in mainland China at the time. The true battle was not military, but political. Rival claimants to KMT supremacy, such as the “Christian Warlord” Feng Yuxiang (and his confusingly named “KMA,” or Nationalist Army), Wang Jingwei (who may or may not have been the legitimate President of the Republic of China), and Song Qingling) (the ultra-hot widow of Sun Yatsen), and the father-and-son duo Zhang Zuolin and Zhang Xueliang (who kept Mussolini’s daughter as a mistress and later was powerful enough to kidnap Chiang Kaichek, eventually going on to the longest-serving political prisoner in recorded history) prevented Chiang and the KMT from being able to consider the liquidation of any one faction as either necessary or desirable.

The KMT Was Fighting For Bargaining Position, Not Victory

Thus, the GMD decided to embark on the Strong Point offensive, an attempt to destroy the CCP’s political apparatus to the west in Yan’an as well as the trapped CCP army in the east.[xxxi] The Strong Point offensive was based on the tenuous assumptions that the GMD had secured its conquered territory and could afford to shift its effort away from the northeast and northern theaters. It failed to finish off the CCP, even though it came close enough that the party headquarters in Yan’an were evacuated.[xxxii] By the end of the Strong Point offensive in 1947, the CCP still had its strategic base in the northeast, and the GMD had failed to fully pacify a single region or completely destroy the Communist mobile armies. The GMD’s strategic reserves were exhausted, and it lacked the resources to properly defend all of its gains. The GMD held the coastline and all of the major cities and railroads from Shaanxi to Shandong, but this counted for little as long as Communist armies remained intact.

The Strong Point offensive was founded on a political, and not military, assumption: that a partition of China was now inevitable. China in 1947 was believed to be divided by three large patrons, each with client regions

  • Britain, and her client Tibet and colony Nepal
  • Russia, and her clients Manchuria, Mongolia, East Turkestan
  • The US, and her client KMT, on the mainland and Taiwan

The KMT correctly concluded that it was inconceivable any of the major foreign powers would completely abandon all of their Chinese clients. Thus, national reunification was impossible. The KMT’s strategy at that point was to abandon attempts to reunify by force any area in the zone of a patron state, and instead attempt to consolidate the zone within the patronage of her patron, the US. The KMT also realized that time was not on its side: in the absence of a home-grown military solution, the large powers would likely partition China at the Yellow River.

Thus, the Strong Point’s assumption was not that the Communists had been defeated in Manchuria, but that the Communists were about to win a political victory everywhere north of the Yellow River unless the facts on the ground changed, rapidly.

Final Analysis

Elkus’s Strategy and the Chinese Civil War is a vital piece, in that it shatters the myth that Mao was a particularly insightful guerrilla leader, or that Communism was particularly attractive to the Chinese people in the 1930s and 1940s. It can be improved by further recognizing that the KMT, another Leninist Party, was likewise unpopular, ill-equipped, and indecisive.

Chiang, Mao, and Wang

Middle to late 20th century China was dominated by three men.

Wang Jingwei was the most educated. He spoke English with his friends, and went to graduate school oversees. Predictably, he cast in his lot with the Japanese.

Chiang Kaishek was an adolescent in a Japanese military academy. He was the first publicly known Chinese “Red,” famous for an early attack on the middle class in Canton. Predictably, he became famous fighting both the Japanese and the Communists, and was a pro-American leader.

Mao Zedong was a librarian who hated to travel. Into his old age he would quote classical poetry, and he spent the least time abroad of any of these men. Predictably, he launched the anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution and throw in his lote with the Soviet Union’s “internationalism.”

I begin this way because of a recent thread on Chicago Boyz, “CHINA-BURMA-INDIA: Remembering the Forgotten Theater of World War II” by onparkstreet. The discussion of this post revolved around two American Generals, Claire Chennault and Joseph Stillwell, who had dramatically impressions of Chiang Kaishek’s commitment to the American cause during the Second World War.

Chennault (whose wife was a Beijinger) believed that Chiang was a brilliant leader willing to take risks to drive back Imperial Japan and its client, the Nanjing Regime of Wang Jingwei. Stillwell (who spoke Chinese and lived in Beijing for four years during the 1920s) believed that Chiang was corrupt imbecile who refused to engage in any real fighting against the Empire of Japan.

Both were half right. Chiang was a brilliant leader who refused to engage in any real fighting against the Empire of Japan.

The reason for this is that Chiang, like Wang (But unlike Mao) was not a romantic fool. Chiang and Wang both quickly realized that China was so weak and divided that no Chinese faction could seriously influecne the fate of the great powers, but all were in danger of extinction. Therefore Chiang and Wang both bided there time and let fate have its way.

In this way, Chiang and Wang shared a perspective with Deng Xiaoping, who in his old age wrote to his senior followers:

Observe carefully, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership. Enemy troops are outside the walls. They are stronger than we. We should be mainly on the defensive.

Sickness took Wang Jingwei’s life in 1944. After Mao’s reckless pro-attack stance lead to the liquidation of the Communist Party in Hebie during Japan’s “Three-Alls” reprisal campaign, the Communists also took the defensive.

The fall of Japan spelled the end of the Wang Regime, but both the Communists and the KMT benefited from their defensive posture. Because cadres of both parties (the CCP and the KMT) and armies (the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, and the KMT’s National Revolutionary Army, or NRA) were largely intact, both were able to radically remake post-war society following the establishment of the Communist Regime in Beijing and the KMT Regime in Taipei Regime in 1949.

Review of “Sun Yatsen” by Marie Claire Bergere, translated by Janet Lloyd

To this day, the ideology of the Republic of China on Taiwan, and the Chinese KMT, is derived from the Gettysburg address

That a government
of the people,
by the people, and
for the people,
shall be established in China.

This ideology, known as the Three Principles of the People (三民主义), was first promulgated by Sun Yatsen. Sun is recognized as the the first President of China by both the Communist and KMT governments. His wife, Song Qingling, would become the honorary President of the People’s Republic of China. One of his sister-in law, Song Ailing, would marry H.H. Kung, the richest man in China at the time. His other sister-in-law would marry Chiang Kaishek. Sun’s most trusted deputy, Wang Jingwei, was the president of the Republic of China (Collaborationist) government under the Japanese. Born in China, holding a fake Hawaiian birth certificate, and arrested by the Manchus in Britain, Sun was the most fascinating person who I knew the least about.

Unfortunately, Sun Yatsen by by Marie Claire Bergere does not spend much time on these most fascinating aspects of his life. Rather, this biography is told through the stages of Sun’s political career, focusing primary on how the ideology of the Three Principles of the People developed, and how his specific conception of those principles changed over time. Primarily, the main division of Sun’s life is before and after became President (for only three weeks) of the Republic of China.

Before the Presidency, Sun was a revolutionary against the Manchu-dominated Qing dynasty, born near Hong Kong in a city that now bears his name. Anti-manchu/Anti-Qing was widespread in the area then, as it is now, and the intellectuals of the population felt that the Han Chinese were a subjected people under the Empire of the Great Qing, which is now referred to by mainland Chinese historians as the “Multi-National Empire.” While a sympathetic history of the founding of the Great Qing Empire can be read in Perdue’s China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Asia, Zhongshan and many others who were alive during the decline of the Qing compared the foreign (Manchu), corrupt, and incompetent government of Canton Province against the foreign (British), law-abiding, and efficient government of Hong Kong, and saw potential friends.

Sun’s early history is complicated. He was educated in Hawaii and Hong Kong, visited Britain and France, and raised money for several revolts. All of these involved a hoped-for “united front” of intellectuals, secret societies, and foreign powers, with the primary goal being the expulsion. Predictably, intellectuals were poor soldiers, and the mafia was self-interested. So were foreign powers. Their willingness to support terrorism against the Great Qing were inversely proportional to their power in the region. So the British were disinterested, the French were curious but unreliable, but the Americans would be a source of income for the Christian progressive, and the Japanese, they would be good friends.

Interestingly, Sun became an enemy of a man he once tried to ally himself with — Kang Youwei. Kang was a classically educated reformer who had been central to the Western Affairs Movement and the Hundred Days of the Guangxu Emperor. These reforms centered around creating a National Exam with a math and sceince component, eliminating sinecures, creating modern schools, establishing a Constitutional monarchy, encourage western investment, modernize the military, and support a network of Chambers of Commerce. The Guangxu Reform would have made the Meiji Restoration look pale in comparison, if it had not been aborted by that Mao Zedong in a skirt, Cixi. The reformers were scattered, Guangxu was murdered, and Chinese politics radicalized. While Sun’s solution to this problem was revolution, Kang (even in exile) warned against radical change. China would not become a modern country for a hundred years anyway, he wrote, so there was no need (or point) to create chaos to hurry the process along. While its tempting to fault Sun for his radicalism and naivte — Sun felt that because the Chinese people had enjoyed centuries of stable government, they would never participate in a radical revolution — Kang’s attacks on Christianity as a ‘dog religion’ doubtless did not help matters. I can’t help but think that history would have been kinder to the Chinese people if Kang’s Society to Protect the Emperor would have been successful.

It was in Japan, that Sun — by this time a generation older than the Chinese students who looked up to him — was permanently residing in as the Cixi (the female version of Mao Zedong who had launched the First Cultural Revolution, which was fortunately put down through multilateral intervention). The Qing reformers who Cixi had opposed during her lifetime recognized the situation, and even while in exile warned against violent revolution. (One wrote that, if the Qing were violently overthrown, it would not be until the year 200 that China could be considered a major power.) Their policies included ending what remained of feudalism, trying to establish a modern army under the military reformer Yuan Shikai, abolishing the outmoded National Exam (which had been a test of poetry, philosophy and rhetoric, instead of science or useful knowledge), and so on. The speed at which the reformers now tried to make up for lost time, however may have bene their undoing. Influential families who had invested heavily in preparing their sons for the national exams now had limited futures, local boards set up to implement reforms proved mutinous and after fighting broke out, it was Yuan Shikai who negotiated the fall of the regime.

Yuan Shikai, however, was the Putin of his time. His tactical brilliance was matched only by his strategic idiocy. His reaction to having China handed to him on a silver platter (with Sun Yatsen happily demoted to Minister of Railroads and Song Jiaren, his main opponent, believing that establishing a peaceful political system was more important than actually defeating any of Yuan’s proposals)… was to kill Song. Yuan’s assassination of Song on March 20, 1913 was followed by Yuan declaring himself Emperor, a long and pointless series of “Revolutions” and “Expeditions,” and general chaos in the country that would proceed until Deng Xiaopeng became supreme leader nearly seven decades later.

The lesson that Sun drew from this was that it is best to be Emperor. He forced his followers to pledge loyalty personally to him, and proceeded to overthrow progressive leaders who stood in his way. Sun’s “emotional” understanding of statistics and numbers foreshadowed similar run-away enthusiasm by Mao Zedong. Sun also organized the destruction of the mercantile district of Cangon, through his aide Chiang Kaishek, when they did not pay him protection money. In his period Sun is almost perfectly an 1970s-era African despot, not even in charge of his own capital and primarily concerned with surrounding himself in a cocoon of a cult of personality.

Unfortunately, this late Sun Yatsen–one more disconnected from the world than at any previous age–was also the one who would more get to decide its future. The First National Congress of the Chinese KMT, sometimes called the “Reorganization Congress,”in 1924. This established a new party, seperate from the KMT which had been active during the anti-Qing Revolution, which include members who were both KMT and Communist. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that the first KMT congress occurred after the third Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress. Sun entered into a relationship with the Soviet Union, and its emissary to him Mikhail Borodin, in order to give him a Leninist party structure and a national academy for training an elite military class. He got both — the Chinese KMT and the Whampoa Military Academy. While conventional histories record that at this time the Communists infiltrated the KMT, it is more accurate to say the Chinese KMT was born as a parasite on the husks of the dead KMT and the still embryonic CPP.

With this done, Sun died of Stomach Cancer at the Rockefeller Foundation Hospital in Beijing, an inexplicable turn of events that left the future of China to four men: Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai of the CCP, and Chiang Kaishek and Wang Jingwei of the Chinese KMT. Fortunately for China, Deng Xiaoping and Chiang Chingkuo would be successfully in making revolutions from above and laying the foundations for the China of the future.

Sun Yaten’s Three Principles of the People provide the intellectual framework for the modern cooperation of the CCP and the Chinese KMT. In their public statements, the Chinese governments on the Mainland and on Taiwan assert that each has only incompletely realized Sun’s vision. Beijing now declares that a government ‘for the people’ can only truly be that when it is ‘of the people’ as well. For its part, Taiwan recognizes that it has only established a government of, for, and by the people in one part of China (Taiwan). Hopefully we will see the day when the Three Principles of the People are fully established, and east Asia can live in peace and democracy.

Strange Nazis

Ignácz Timonthy Trebitsc-Lincoln, a Hungarian Jew and former Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, worked for the Empire of Japan and attempted to interest the Nazis in leading a worldwide Buddhist revolution. Among his fans were Henrich Himmler (who would later commit suicide in prison, in 1945) and Rudolf Hess (who would later commit suicide in prison, in 1987).

Trebitsc-Lincoln, under the name Chao Kung (照空, which would now be spelled Zhao Kong) would reside under the Collaborationaist Nanjing Government‘s protection until his own death, in 1943. The Collaborationists were lead by Wang Jingwei, the most influential leftist in the KMT, former Chairman of the KMT, and former Prime Minister of the Republic of China, who tried (and failed) to keep Soviet advisers in China after the KMT’s first purge of the Chinese Communists in the 1920s.