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Delanceyplace: Forgotten Ally

After the abdication of the last Chinese emperor in 1912, the country had fragmented into the chaos of regional warlords. In 1921, it was Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalist party, based in Guangzhou and under the protection of a local warlord, who were most committed to trying to unify the country. But they lacked enough funding for an effort of that scale and unsuccessfully sought support from the European powers and Japan. They then turned to newly communist Russia. Why would Russia be interested in supporting a non-communist party in China? Because of its fear of Japan, which had unexpectedly won the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 -- the
first Asian power to ever overcome a European one. Russia knew that a fragmented China would not be an effective buffer against Japan, and was therefore willing to support the Nationalist party as long as it desisted in its efforts to crush
China's new and far-smaller Communist party. This created an opportunity that might not otherwise have existed for a young revolutionary named Mao Zedong. writes Rana Mitter.

By 1921, with the assistance of a sympathetic warlord, Chen Jiongming, Sun [Yat-sen]
was based in Guangzhou (Canton), where he set up a revolutionary government. The
Nationalists were in power, even if only in one region of China. ...

Yet despite the talent that Sun and [the highly popular Wang Jingwei] brought to
the Nationalist Party, their prospects seemed limited unless they could find some
powerful supporter who would arm them. Sun Yat-sen had had no success in persuading
the European powers to back him. He had more hopes of Japan, declaring in a speech
at Kobe in 1924 that since Japan's victory over Russia in 1905, the peoples of Asia
had cherished the hope 'of shaking off the yoke of European oppression.' However,
Sun's idea of pan-Asianism, the philosophy of Asian unity, meant something rather
different in governmental circles in Tokyo: not cooperation, but domination by
[Japan itself].

Then, in 1923, Sun made a decision that would help shape the path of Chinese history.
For years, he had been seeking foreign support for his dream of launching a revolutionary
army that would unify China, with him as its president. The Western powers had all
turned him down flat. But there was another hand to play in the early 1920s. By
1921 the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia had been secured after a bloody and vicious
civil war. Leon Trotsky, the fiery foreign minister of the new regime, was eager
to find opportunities to use the Comintern, the agency responsible for spreading
revolution abroad. In 1923 Sun held talks with Adolf Joffe, the representative of
the Comintern, for a formal alliance between the Nationalists and the Soviets.
In the Soviet view, China was too backward for a socialist revolution. Instead,
a 'national bourgeois' party, the Nationalists, should carry out the first revolution.
Sun agreed, content to ally with Russia, believing that alone among Western nations
she had shown 'benevolence and justice.' ...

The new alliance changed the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. During the first
couple of years of the party's history, it was a tiny and marginal political grouping
(as well as being officially illegal). It made grand claims about fomenting a revolution
among urban workers, Bolshevik-style, but in reality it had little prospect of
doing so. Cooperation between Sun and the Soviets gave the CCP a crucial opportunity
to expand. On Soviet advice, many Communists also joined the Nationalists, forming
the United Front, making the two parties hard to distinguish during this period.
The alliance made sense ideologically for Sun as well. His political philosophy,
which he termed the 'Three Peoples Principle's,' consisted of democracy, nationalism,
and the idea of 'people's livelihood,' a vague social welfarism that was sometimes
rendered as 'socialism' in English. He was not a Communist, but he and the Soviets
had enough in common to make the alliance useful for both sides. Sun's prestige
was also enough to calm the more conservative elements in the Nationalist Party
who were wary of the Bolsheviks.

"Revolutionary politics were forged on a small island in Guangzhou (Canton) Harbor.
The nerve center was the Whampoa (Huangpu) military academy, where the Soviets
tutored China's revolutionaries. For both the Nationalists and Communists, the experience
of working with the Soviets between 1923 and 1927 on the National Revolutionary
Army (NRA) was crucial. Wang Jingwei worked in the political education department
of the academy, and alongside him was a rising star of the CCP, Zhou Enlai (later
to become Chinas premier under Mao). On the military side, Chiang Kai-shek rose
rapidly in the officer corps as his organizational skills became better known and
better valued, along with his comrade from his Japan days, He Yingqin. Also at the
Academy were Hu Zongnan and Xue Yue, both of whom would provide crucial military
service to Chiang during the war years.

The alliance was of particular interest to the young Communist Mao Zedong, as it
meant a much larger party base which he could use to plan radical revolution.

Author: Rana Mitter
Title: Forgotten Ally
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: Copyright 2013 by Rana Mitter
Pages: 43-45

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