Conflicts, Organisations, Men, and Ideas in Republican China

Wednesday
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room 1

  • Organised by Clemens Büttner and Edward A. McCord
  • Egas Moniz Bandeira, Chair
  • Clemens Buettner, “Militarizing the nation: Chinese state-building and the fascist turn of the GMD in the 1930s”
  • Edward A. McCord, “Toward a Social History of Modern Chinese Warlordism”
  • Vivienne Xiangwei Guo, “Achieving the ‘Good Government’ with the ‘Good People’: Wu Peifu and the May Fourth Intellectual in 1922”
  • Harold Tanner, “From Shangdang to the Dabieshan: Liu Bocheng and the Challenges of Military Professionalism in the Chinese Civil War”
  • Kwong Chi Man, Discussant

Military events provided the context for major turning points in the formation and conception of the modern Chinese nation-state. In China, wars shaped the borders of the state, led to the collapse of old and the establishment of new regimes, motivated a re-evaluation of the military profession, and provided the impetus and starting point for many discourses on the Chinese nation and its place in the world. By analyzing the effects of military conflicts, organizations, men, and ideas on Republican China, this panel aims to highlight the importance of the military as a driving force—and mirror—of modern Chinese history. Going beyond the political and military activities of warlords, Edward A. McCord aims to identify the main elements of a social history of modern Chinese warlordism. Focusing on Wu Peifu’s 1922 call for a “Good Government,” Vivienne Xiangwei Guo examines the intellectual, ideological and cultural aspects of warlord rule. Clemens Büttner recontextualises the “fascist turn” of the Guomindang regime in the 1930s by relating it to the often-overlooked militaristic strand of modern Chinese nationalist thinking. Harold Tanner traces the professionalization of Communist forces under the command of Liu Bocheng during the Chinese Civil War, which laid the foundation for Communist victory in the Huaihai Campaign and expedited the collapse of GMD rule on the mainland.

Clemens Buettner, “Militarizing the nation: Chinese state-building and the fascist turn of the GMD in the 1930s

Soon after the Northern Expedition of 1926–28, it became clear that the (nominal) reunification of China under the Nationalist government would not automatically lead to a consolidation of the Republican polity and a revitalization of the disunited and dispirited Guomindang (GMD) party. In order to overcome this dual crisis of state power and party disillusionment, the GMD right-wing turned towards European fascist movements for inspiration. There, various disciplined fascist parties had gained influence—and eventually won state power—by mobilising large parts of the respective population for their cause. In the eyes of GMD right-wingers, the combination of a disciplined party and social mobilization held the prospect of reviving the Chinese modernization project. While the GMD’s fascist turn has been met with a renewed scholarly interest in recent years, two points have previously received little attention: (1) In China, the ruling regime aimed to consolidate its power by means of social mobilization, thus relying on precisely those tools that European fascist movements had employed to overthrow those who held power, and (2), Chinese fascism was characterised by an especially strong tendency on socio-political militarisation. This paper argues that it is with respect to this emphasis on social mobilisation and comprehensive militarisation that the GMD’s fascist turn ought not to be regarded as a political turnaround. Instead, its guiding principles aligned well with those that had guided the Chinese nation-state-building project since the early 20th century.

Edward A. McCord, “Toward a Social History of Modern Chinese Warlordism

Since the assumption or seizure of political power was a defining feature of modern Chinese warlordism (and indeed for warlords in most contexts), it is not surprising that the main focus of scholarship on warlordism has been on their political or military activities. Nonetheless, warlordism emerged from a social context and once established also had a social impact. To date, however, there has been little effort to construct a social history of warlordism in any comprehensive way.  This article seeks to begin a process of identifying the main elements of a social history of modern Chinese warlordism, starting with possible contributions to this project by current scholarship.  The article will first look at the social background and status of commanders, officers, and soldiers in the warlord era.  For example, the article will examine the various ways in which the control of military force by warlord commanders was translated into elite power through social status, political influence, and financial wealth. Second the article will look at the broader impact of warlordism on development of Chinese society in the early 20th Century.

Vivienne Xiangwei Guo, “Achieving the ‘Good Government’ with the ‘Good People’: Wu Peifu and the May Fourth Intellectual in 1922

In 1922, after Wu Peifu had secured his victory in the Zhili-Fengtian Clique War, Hu Shi, Cai Yuanpei, Li Dazhao, and other prominent intellectual figures published a political statement, calling for the establishment of a Good Government. This intellectual-led movement was immediately echoed by Wu, who expressed his commitment to realising a government that is ‘constitutional,’ ‘open to all,’ and ‘with a plan.’ The exchange of ideas and political collaborations between Wu Peifu and China’s leading intellectual resulted in the birth of a remarkable, albeit short-lived, cabinet comprising mainly Wu’s amanuences and intellectual associates.
What were the political and cultural thoughts imbedded in the blueprint for the Good Government? What were the ideas into which Wu and the intellectuals were united and what set them against one another? How did they initiate and sustain their communication, and, indeed, how and why did their collaborations dwindle eventually? Most importantly, how should such collaborations between China’s military strongmen and the intellectual be understood in the shifting contexts of state-building?
Focusing on the intellectual, ideological, and cultural aspects of warlord rule while breaking the historiographical boundaries between the man of guns and the man of letters, this paper will initiate in-depth research into Wu Peifu’s political thought and persona, and, most importantly, into the communication and networking unfolded between him and the May Fourth intellectual during the crucial period of China’s cultural renewal and state-making.

Harold Tanner, “From Shangdang to the Dabieshan: Liu Bocheng and the Challenges of Military Professionalism in the Chinese Civil War

When China’s War of Resistance against Japan drew to a close in early August 1945, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee ordered Communist forces in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan border region to occupy the key north-south railway lines and take control of all of North China (华北). At the time, Liu Bocheng, commander of the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan forces and his political commissar Deng Xiaoping had around 125,000 poorly-equipped regular forces under their command. over the next two and a half years, Liu and Deng led their forces in a series of successful campaigns, from the Shangdang campaign in southeastern Shanxi province to the crossing of the Yellow River and reoccupation of the old Communist base area in the Dabie Mountains. In the planning and conduct of these operations, Liu Bocheng applied his wealth of experience and his Russian training to the task of transitioning his soldiers from guerrilla and warlord styles of combat to the conventional operations and centralised command style, thus laying the foundation for Communist victory in the Huai-Hai Campaign. This paper will analyse the process of military transformation and professionalisation of Liu’s forces as seen in operations from the Shangdang campaign through the Dabieshan campaign.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 1
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