7. Uneasy Allies: Reds and Nationalists

China, in the period immediately after the Washington conference, was only one step removed from chaos. A coalition of warlords which called itself the national government had forced out premier Duan Qirui in mid-1920. But the Beijing regime, though recognized as the official government of China by the foreign powers, was practically without authority beyond the immediate environs of the capital city itself. Warlords ruled in most parts of China. In Guangzhou (Canton) Sun Yat-sen had presided since April, 1921, over another "republican government" set up as a rival to the warlord regime in Beijing.

In this confused and disorderly environment only two parties existed in China with any pretense of a national program: the Kuomintang under Sun Yat-sen and the tiny, idealistic Chinese Communist party (CCP). The CCP had announced it represented the inchoate Chinese masses. But the party's membership was made up mostly of professors, students and other intellectuals and the masses had not been consulted to any significant degree. The Kuomintang (KMT) believed it represented the revolutionary interests but the KMT's leadership largely reflected the landlord-merchant-industrialist-militarist elite which had dominated China since the revolution of 1911-12. Consequently, the KMT under Sun had extremely ambivalent attitudes about what sort of revolution it was going to bring to China. In addition, the Kuomintang's organization was amorphous and its membership still amounted to only a few thousand.1 Nevertheless, the KMT possessed much potential for national influence because of its experienced leaders and its reputation as the major Chinese party that had crusaded against the Manchus and the undemocratic regimes in Beijing.

But neither the CCP nor the KMT was anywhere close to achieving control of China in the face of massive warlord armies and enormous warlord ambition. Furthermore, neither party had yet come to understand what Mao Zedong finally enunciated in 1927 in perhaps his most famous aphorism: "We must be aware that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."2 The CCP operated wholly as a political party, with no military capability. The Kuomintang leaned upon the slenderest of military reeds: whichever troops any friendly warlord was willing to offer, either for money or for hope of future political benefit, usually both.

The leaders of the Soviet Union, however, knew from bitter and recent experience that power grows out of a gun barrel. These leaders had been focusing on China since the Russian revolution of 1917 for two general reasons: 1) an antagonistic China could open the Soviet Union to infiltration along the enormous Soviet-Chinese border, while 2) "semicolonial" China, if liberated, could drive out and thereby weaken the imperialist powers and might become an ally.

The Soviet Union also wanted to recover control of the Chinese Eastern railway which traversed northern Manchuria and connected Vladivostok with the rest of Russia. This line was now being run by China but Japan remained a menace. Japan controlled the South Manchuria railway which connected with the Chinese Eastern at Changchun.3 Moreover, Japan had only recently removed its huge army from eastern Siberia and still kept troops on northern Sakhalin. The Soviet Union had no illusions about Japan and a friendly China could serve as an important counter to Japanese aggression.

The Soviet Union, therefore, decided to help China to achieve unity and strength. This was something that none of the Western powers was willing to do.4 But the Soviet leaders had a difficult task deciding which elements they were going to back. They never considered relying upon the new Chinese Communist party, still tiny and still not organized into a highly disciplined professional "general staff" like the Soviet party.5 The Soviet leaders investigated warlords in various parts of China before finally settling on Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang. Even then Russia hedged its bets and courted support in Beijing and among the warlords. From the point of view of the Kremlin, Sun Yat-sen was a utopian and a reactionary but the KMT offered an inviting tool for Communist goals and, hopefully, could be taken over by Communists in time.6

Kremlin leaders concluded their best hope was an alliance with "bourgeois nationalists," or the landlord-merchant-industrialist-military groups that represented the strongest elements in the Kuomintang. In colonial and semicolonial areas, they were convinced a capitalist phase had to precede a successful revolution of the proletariat.7

Meanwhile, Sun Yat-sen's presumed supporter, Guangdong warlord Chen Jiongming, mutinied in Guangzhou, driving Sun and his wife Ching-ling out of his presidential residence under heavy bombardment and forcing them to flee to a loyal gunboat in Guangzhou harbor on June 15-16, 1922. Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), Sun's personal military advisor, came down from Shanghai and joined Sun. Chiang's loyalty evoked Sun's gratitude and marked Chiang for big jobs in the revolution. The Suns finally reached Shanghai with British and Russian assistance.8

Although Sun Yat-sen was now on the run and without a power base, the Soviet Union desire to work with him remained firm. In the second congress of the CCP, therefore, held in July, 1922, the Chinese Communists followed Comintern directives and reluctantly agreed they would "act jointly with the Kuomintang" but as a separate party in a "united front."9 At the congress, the CCP also formally organized itself into a tight vanguard party, thus adopting "democratic centralism" and the Leninist principle that all members were required to support decisions of the party once they were made (see chapter 5). The CCP, for all its tiny size (probably only a few hundred members), therefore began the process of becoming a tough professional revolutionary party.

Despite Sun Yat-sen's precarious position, he proved to be a hard bargainer. When S.A. Daling, a representative of the Communist Youth International, visited him, Sun rebuffed Daling's proposal for a united front with the CCP but said he'd admit Communists into the KMT as individuals. The Comintern, with Daling unable to budge Sun, decided to force the CCP to agree to Sun's terms.10 The Comintern agent, Maring (Henricus Sneevliet) prevaricated before the CCP central committee, insisting the KMT did not just represent the "national bourgeoisie" but also petty bourgeois intellectuals, the peasants and the proletariat. These four classes, Maring said, were to ally against the imperialists, militarists, landlords and Chinese agents of imperialist business and industrial interests in China. The militarists, landlords and agents represented the strongest elements within the KMT while the peasants and proletariat were conspicuous by their absence. Faced with the resolve of the Comintern, the CCP leaders reluctantly agreed to Maring's demand but insisted that Reds be permitted to maintain their CCP membership if they entered the KMT.

On September 4, 1922, Sun called a meeting of fifty-three KMT leaders in Shanghai. This group approved Sun's policy of "alliance with the Soviets, admission of the Communists."11

Meanwhile, in January, 1923, warlord troops from Yunnan and Guangxi in Sun Yat-sen's pay recovered Guangzhou and drove Chen Jiongming out, thus giving Sun a power base once more. About the same time, Sun held extensive face-to-face negotiations with Soviet representative Adolf Joffe in Shanghai. Details of these meetings have never been disclosed but the Soviets agreed to finance and guide the KMT in a renewed bid for power. Soon thereafter the Kremlin sent advisors to help reorganize and revitalize the party. The Soviet-KMT alliance had begun.12 Significantly, the United States got very little wind of what was happening.13

In February, Sun Yat-sen returned to Guangzhou and Communists began to join the KMT.14 Sun Yat-sen began to build a Kuomintang army independent of the warlords and sent Chiang Kai-shek to the Soviet Union in August, 1923, for four months to obtain arms, study Soviet military organization and the methods of discipline in the Bolshevik party. This was the first noteworthy assignment Chiang had received. Chiang didn't like Russia and came back with the conviction that the Kremlin planned to use the Chinese Communist party as its chosen instrument.15 Chiang kept his thoughts to himself, for the Russians were providing important aid that the KMT needed badly and great opportunities for his own advancement.

Chiang was born into a moderately prosperous merchant and farmer family in the coastal province of Zhejiang. He attended the Baoding Military Academy in north China and subsequently in Japan (1907-11) studied at a military academy and served in the Japanese army. Chiang became a member of the notorious Green Gang (Qing Bang), a secret Mafia-like organization in Shanghai that monopolized the opium trade and was engaged in numerous illegal and legal operations. Chiang helped in sporadic fighting during the Chinese revolution and in 1918 joined Sun Yat-sen as a major general but remained for much of the time in Shanghai.16

In October, 1923, Mikhail Borodin, a Latvian-born revolutionary who had lived for some time in the U.S., arrived in Guangzhou as Stalin's representative.17 Borodin brought his wife, Fanya, and two American-born sons to Guangzhou and later sent the boys to the Shanghai American School, where they told their classmates their father was a lumber merchant.18 With Borodin came some forty Soviet advisors, including Gregory Voitinsky, who returned as the Comintern's representative with the CCP. Borodin's task was to reorganize the Kuomintang along centralized, Leninist lines. He succeeded well, with extremely unexpected results from the Soviet point of view.

With Sun Yat-sen's endorsement, Borodin wrote a new KMT constitution modeled after that of the Russian Communist party. It contained the same "democratic centralism" as in the CCP structure, with a central executive committee which ran the party between national congresses. It also set up strict party discipline obligating members to reregister and to accept all decisions of the party once made.19 The KMT, though not Communist, took on much of the elite, professional, disciplined, revolutionary nature of the Soviet party. From being an amorphous, disorganized body, the KMT became a powerful tool for achieving power.

In November, 1923, a series of events took place which revealed much about the true nature of the Kuomintang. The warlord Chen Jiongming suddenly menaced Guangzhou and Sun and his party feared they would have to flee once more. Borodin, to mobilize mass support for the party, proposed that Sun Yat-sen promise land to peasants by confiscating landlord holdings, plus wage-and-hour rights for workers. Sun refused to issue worker or land decrees because some of his important followers objected but agreed to reduce peasants' land rent by 25 per cent. Meanwhile, Borodin himself organized a small strike force of local Communists and, using the methods of the Red terror during the Russian revolution, attacked Chen's troops with wholly unexpected ferocity. This, plus pressure for action on the warlord armies allied to the KMT, caused Chen to retreat posthaste. Now no longer in danger, Sun declined to order the rent reduction.20 At this point the Kuomintang showed its hand as a party that would support the landlords, factory owners, merchants and other bourgeoisie. The marriage of the Nationalist and Communist parties could not last.

Conflicts emerged almost immediately. Eleven prestigious KMT members warned Sun that the Communists were plotting to take over the party. Sun rejected the warning, saying Russia was working with the KMT, not the Communists. Even so, Sun revised Borodin's constitution, naming himself leader with veto power over all decisions and not subject to election. For their part, the Reds sought to get into positions to dominate the Kuomintang and they always operated as a "bloc within" the KMT.21

The Kremlin recognized that, if the Nationalists were ever going to defeat the warlords and gain power, they needed their own army indoctrinated with KMT ideals. The most pressing requirement was a corps of responsible, well-trained officers who could organize and command an efficient army. The Russians undertook to finance and help organize such an officers corps. In May, 1924, Sun opened the Army Officers Academy on the island of Huangpu (Whampoa) in the Zhu Jiang (Pearl) river ten miles south of Guangzhou. The first class of five-hundred cadets was drawn from middle schools and colleges all over China. The Soviet Union provided most of the financial cost, along with a core of trained military advisors. Graduates of Chinese military academies and Chinese who had studied at Japanese military schools also won staff positions. Chiang Kai-shek lobbied Sun successfully to be named commandant. The academy produced excellent, well-trained officers and many of these men, because of the strong Chinese teacher-student bond, became members of Chiang's clique or group. But Whampoa also had important connections with Communism. Zhou Enlai, returning from a work-study program in France, served as deputy chief of political instruction. And four important future Communist leaders were instructors there: Lin Boqu, Ye Jianying, Nie Rongzhen and Chen Yi. Another future Red commander, Lin Biao, was among the 7,400 graduates of Whampoa.22

The Soviet Union had been negotiating with the Beijing regime for over a year to restore diplomatic relations and to get back the Chinese Eastern railway. On May 31, 1924, the Beijing regime recognized the Soviet government. Although the Soviet Union renounced all unequal treaties with China, the Russians gained joint management of the Chinese Eastern railway with China and quickly began to dominate the railway again. The Soviet Union also recognized Chinese suzerainty over Outer Mongolia but this was an empty gesture, for Russia already had marked out this border country for Soviet domination.23

On November 13, 1924, Sun Yat-sen departed for Beijing in hopes of being named president of China. He had formed a cynical agreement with several warlords to unify the country under Sun's presidency. There was never any hope of this unnatural alliance and, before it collapsed of its own weight, Sun became ill with liver cancer and died on March 12, 1925.

The Russians meanwhile demonstrated their interest in power and not in principle by attempting to win over the warlord Feng Yuxiang and other warlords allied with him. This group created a so-called national people's army (Guomin Jun). The Soviet Union sent military advisors in hopes of influencing Feng and the other warlords. But though happy to get Russian help, they never agreed to any alliance.24

Sun Yat-sen also exhibited little principle in his last months. His plan to negotiate with power-hungry warlords demonstrated his willingness to compromise with any forces to gain power for himself.

* * * * * * * * * *

With Sun's death, his political mantle fell upon the shoulders of two men of quite different political outlook: Wang Jingwei, Sun's personal assistant, and Hu Hanmin, a chief lieutenant. Wang led the left wing of the KMT and Hu the right. But Wang, notorious for being able to compromise on virtually any principle, quickly assumed the leadership role.25

Chiang Kai-shek concentrated on educating new classes of Whampoa cadets. He and his officers also set up two training regiments, which became the core of two divisions of the "party army." This national revolutionary army was growing under the guidance of a military advisor sent by Stalin, a natural tactician with no formal military training, General Vasilii K. Blyukher (known as Galen in China), and with arms smuggled in from Russia.26

At this time, a violent outburst occurred in Shanghai which mobilized much of the nation against the imperialist powers and greatly strengthened the Kuomintang's position with the people.27 Communist leaders had revived the labor movement in the treaty-port cities, and their strikes were directed especially against the imperialists. The unions struck twenty-two Japanese-owned cotton mills in Shanghai in February, 1925, and in Qingdao, Shandong, in April.

The conflict started on May 15 after a guard at a Japanese textile mile in Shanghai shot a number of Chinese strikers trying to wreck machinery. One died. Labor leaders and university students demonstrated repeatedly against the imperialist powers. The protests culminated on May 30, 1925, when an English police inspector ordered police to fire on protesting students and workers, killing twelve and injuring scores. The killings set off a violent wave of protests all across China. A general strike developed in Shanghai on June 1 and more riots erupted for several days while police tried to repress them, killing ten more Chinese. Foreigners in Shanghai began to fear for their lives and the imperial powers rushed in 1,300 marines to patrol the streets. Foreign police killed more protesting Chinese in foreign concessions elsewhere in China.

Patriots persuaded labor leaders in Hong Kong to join in a general strike and boycott on June 21 in Hong Kong and at the foreign concessions of Shamian (Shameen) island in the Guangzhou harbor. On June 23, thousands of Chinese attended a noontime rally, then marched in an orderly parade that reached Shaji (Shakee) street on the bund facing Shamian island where British and French troops were posting a heavy guard. As the parade was passing the British bridge across the narrow strip of water separating bund from the island, someone opened fire. The imperial troops, mostly secure behind their barricades, sprayed machine-gun fire against the defenseless massed parade, killing fifty-two and wounding 117 Chinese, against one foreigner killed and eight or nine wounded. The people of Guangzhou clamored for war. But the KMT diverted the anger into a boycott of British goods, stoppage of all trade with Hong Kong and a strike of Chinese workers in the British colony. The strike was only partially successful, but the boycott lasted until October, 1926.

Chapter 8: The Alliance Dies in a Bloodbath >>

1. Cambridge, vol. 12, chapter 11, "The Nationalist Revolution: from Canton to Nanking, 1923-28," by C. Martin Wilbur, professor of history emeritus, Columbia University, p. 530-1.

2. Cambridge, vol. 13, chapter 14, "Mao Tse-tung's Thought to 1949," by Stuart Schram, professor of politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, p. 822.

3. The Chinese Eastern railway consisted of a line connecting eastern Siberia and the Soviet maritime province through northern Manchuria in the province of Heilongjiang, and also consisted of a north-south branch between Harbin and Changchun. The South Manchuria railway ran from Changchun to Lüda (Dairen) and Lüshun (Port Arthur) on the tip of the Liaodong peninsula (called the Kwantung peninsula by the Japanese). See Cambridge, vol. 12, p. 143.

4. Cambridge, vol. 12, p. 304.

5. Schwartz, p. 38.

6. Hsü, pp. 519-20; Schram, p. 59; Schwartz, p. 38.

7. Harrison, pp. 41, 48; Schwartz, p. 38.

8. Hsü, pp. 485-6; Cambridge, vol. 12, chapter 6, "The Warlord Era: Politics and Militarism under the Peking Government, 1916-28," by James E. Sheridan, professor of history, Northwestern University, pp. 311, 313-4; chapter 11, "The Nationalist Revolution: from Canton to Nanking, 1923-28," by C. Martin Wilbur, professor of history emeritus, Columbia University, pp. 527-8; Seagrave, pp. 168-72.

9. Harrison, p. 46; Schram, p. 61; Cambridge, vol. 12, chapter 10, "The Chinese Communist Movement to 1927," by Jerome Ch'en, professor of history, York University, Toronto, p. 516. Ch'en places the time of the second CCP congress in May and at Hangzhou (Hangchow).

10. Harrison, pp. 48-49; Schwartz, p. 40-41; Hsü, pp. 520-1; Schram, p. 61; Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 532-3.

11. Hsü, p. 520; Cambridge, vol. 13, chapter 2, "China's Internatinal Relations," by Shinkichi Eto, professor of international relations, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, p. 109; Iriye, pp. 38-40.

12. Cambridge, vol. 12, p. 533; Harrison, p. 51.

13. Iriye, pp. 48-49.

14. Schwartz, pp. 48-49; Harrison, pp. 52-53; Schram, p. 66. At the third CCP congress in Guangzhou in July, 1923, Mao Zedong, 29 years old, was elected to the central committee of the party.

15. Seagrave, pp. 182-3.

16. See "Chiang Kai-shek" in Howard L. Boorman and Richard Howard (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, vol. 1 (1967). Seagrave, pp. 13, 152-62, 164, reports that he located a copy of Chiang Kai-shek's police record in Shanghai, listing assorted murders and indictments for armed robbery, although Chiang was never brought to trial on any charges. At age 14, Chiang married a local Zhejiang girl, Mao Fumei, three years his senior. She bore him a son, Jiang Jingguo (Chiang Ching-kuo), in 1908. In 1921 Chiang fell in love with a prostitute, Chen Jieru, divorced his first wife, evicted a concubine, Yao Yijing, whom he'd installed in his native home at Chikou in Zhejiang, and married Chen. Seagrave says that Chiang around age 18 became familiar with the famous Chinese classic, On War, written probably in the fourth century B.C. by Sun Zi (Sun Tzu). Sun, among other things, calls for use of spies, deception and careful planning to put one's enemy in the position of being defeated before one strikes with his own forces. Seagrave says that Chiang thereafter shaped his own plans around Sun's maxims.

17. Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 533-4; Hsü, pp. 521-2; Harrison, pp. 51-52; Seagrave, pp. 175-9. Borodin (1884-1951), 39 years old when he arrived in Guangzhou in October, 1923, was born into a Jewish family of name Gruzenberg in a village near Vitebsk, Byelorussia (White Russia), and moved as an adolescent to Latvia. He joined Lenin in 1903 and the imperial government expelled him from Russia in 1906. He spent eleven years in the United States, married a Lithuanian immigrant, Fanya Orluk, and taught English to immigrants at Hull House in Chicago. Borodin returned to Russia in 1918 and jumped immediately into revolutionary work. He translated one of Lenin's major works and became one of the Comintern's emissaries, visiting Spain, Mexico and the U.S. He was arrested and imprisoned for half a year in Britain where he'd gone to help organize the British Communist party. He returned to Moscow in the spring of 1923 and Stalin chose him for the China assignment. By all accounts he was a man of high intelligence and magnetic personality.

18. Davies, p. 127.

19. Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 534-6.

20. Cambridge, vol. 12, p. 535-7; Seagrave, pp. 179-80.

21. The CCP and the KMT became rivals in attempts to organize the proletariat and poor peasants. The KMT set up bureaus for labor, farmers, youth and women but the labor and farmers groups fell under the influence of the Communists. Also, the Socialist Youth Corps of the CCP gained wide influence among educated youth. The Comintern in May, 1923, instructed the CCP to organize the peasants and prepare for an agrarian revolution. By June, 1924, the KMT had set up a plan for farmers' associations and set up an institute to prepare party workers to organize peasants. Several Communists directed this institute, including Mao Zedong (May-October, 1926). Graduates organized associations, mostly in their home counties. The CCP controlled the peasant movement, partly because few KMT members wanted to work with the peasantry. Only relatively few peasants were organized, but in a few places they were quite successful (examples: Guangning county on the Guangxi-Guangdong border and Haifeng county east of Guangzhou). Peasants fought heavy taxation and sought rent reductions from landlords. The caused landlords to hire toughs to enforce customary payments and sometimes murder organizers and burn villages. Peasants fought back, and the conflicts emphasized the differences between the reformist KMT and the revolutionary Communists. CCP infiltration angered many KMT leaders and tried to get Communists ousted. Borodin feared left and right in the KMT were coming together against the Reds. CCP leaders also were alarmed. Chen Duxiu, Cai Hesen and Mao Zedong advocated a break with the KMT by mid-June, 1924. In August, 1924, the KMT central committee stilled dissension for a time by crediting the Communist party with special responsibility for the proletariat and exhorted all KMT members to cooperate. See Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 541-45; Harrison, pp. 58-62.

22. Harrison, p. 56; Seagrave, pp. 185-7.

23. Cambridge, vol. 13, pp. 109-10; Davies, p. 129; Iriye, p. 41-42.

24. Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 568-9.

25. Hsü, p. 523; Seagrave, p. 200. Wang Jingwei (1883-1944) joined Sun Yat-sen's United party around 1905 when he was a student in Japan. In 1910 he decided to assassinate the regent to the imperial throne. Discovered, Hu expected to be executed; but the regent was so impressed with Wang's courage that he left him off with life imprisonment. After the revolution of 1911, Wang was released from prison as a hero. Wang rejoined Sun Yat-sen in 1917 and served as one of his most trusted officials until Sun's death. Hu Hanmin (1879-1936) also was educated in Japan and joined the United party in 1905. He soon became one of the party's leading polemicists. See Britannica, Micropaedia vol. v, p. 190; vol x, pp. 537-8.

26. Cambridge, vol. 12, p. 540, 546; Seagrave, p. 204.

27. Harrison, pp.62-64; Cambridge, vol. 12, pp. 547-50; Iriye, pp. 58-62; Borg, pp. 22-38.