The Initial Agreement:
Sun Yat-Sen was not seen as a good communist ally because he structured the Guomindang to be personally loyal to him. This meant that the party would be highly secretive. Sun Yat-Sen also planned to conduct the revolution in three stages. First, a military revolution, then a “tutelage” for the Chinese people, and lastly a move to self-rule under a republican government. Despite these views, the Comintern agent called Maring visited Sun Yat-Sen in 1921 to talk and despite these talks not leading to any certain agreements, Sun Yat-Sen found Lenin’s economics promising. In Fall 1922 communists were let into Guomindang and in January 1923, Sun had talks with a Soviet diplomat, Adolf Joffe. A month later Sun Yat-Sen made his base in Canton where he had previously been ousted because of his revolutionary views. He was only let back in because militarists had overthrown Canton’s leadership. Sun created a military government to support him in Canton backed by the Soviets. The Soviets were happy to back Sun because a communist China would help protect the Soviet Union from anti-communist Japan.
The industrial labor force in China at this time was changing and in turmoil. This caused trouble for the communist party who needed to be able to organize workers. There was a lot of industrialization with workers coming into the cities to work but often these same workers would go back to their fields when it was time to plant. This created a mobile rural working class. Wages and working conditions were not good and strikes became common. Strikes didn’t always end well. Once during a railway strike, warlord Wu Peifu had thirty-five strikers killed and the leader, Lin Xiangqian, beheaded. At first, strikes were on the small scale and organize by the workers, but over time the communist party got involved. In MAy 1922, two communists, Li Lisan and Liu Shaoqi created “worker’s clubs” as a front for union organization for coal and steel workers. Soon the trend spread throughout other workers’ guilds.
These strikes helped convince some communists that the alliance was needed. Hu Hanmin, the chief counselor of the Canton military government, agreed with Lenin’s anti-imperialist arguments and looked for examples of Marxism in earlier Chinese writings. Li Dazhao, a senior Communist Party leader, also backed the alliance, but this was because he did not believe China was ready for a socialist revolution. Instead, he was focused on issues of races. The leader of the Communist Party, Chen Duxiu, did not approve of the alliance because he feared that the Guomindang were not trustworthy.
The alliance was confirmed by the Comintern agent, Borodin, who was named “special advisor” to Guomindang. A Comintern agent is an agent sent by the Soviet Union to promote communism in other countries. Borodin proceeded to reorganize the party and introduce them to democratic centralism where any decision made by the majority would be binding for all. The Soviets also need to strengthen the Guomindang military and a new military academy was created on the island of Whampoa. While most cadets were not communists, they were loyal to the commandant, Chiang Kai-Shek.
On March 12, 1925, Sun Yat-Sen dies shortly after Lenin. He does not officially appoint an heir. His plan is still carried out after his death and Chiang Kai-Shek leads his newly formed army to defeat two warlords and keep control over Canton.
In May of 1925, there were riots of Chinese workers at a Japanese textile mill. This happened because they had been locked out of the mill during a strike and broke into the mill, breaking equipment in retaliation. One of the workers was killed by a guard. This led to protests and further strikes. On May 30, in Shanghai, thousands of workers and students assembled outside the police station. This was done to demand the release of six Chinese students arrested by the British. A British inspector there ordered the crowd fired on and eleven were killed. They were called the May Thirtieth Martyrs. This led to a growing rage and a 16-month long strike in Hong Kong, which was backed by a boycott of British goods in Hong Kong.
Launching the Northern Expedition:
Zhang Zuolin was a warlord and controlled much of northern China. He was also anti-Soviet and was seen as a threat to further progress by Chiang’s armies. There was also the problem of how the Guomindang could reunite the country. A military campaign had issues of logistics, manpower, weaponry, and protecting flanks. A political campaign had the issue that the Guomindang could not lean to the left politically or the party could lose its wealthy supporters. This is because the wealthy were made up of many landlords and industrialists who were not sympathetic to the peasants’ wishes for lower rents, taxes, and higher wages.
The Guomingdang showed trends of being anti-leftist. First, the Whampoa cadets created the Society for the Study of Sun Yat-senism. This group was strongly anti-communist and spread these values. Second, after 1925, the strong leftist feels in Canton drove many wealthy Guomindang supporters out. Third, many of the warlords’ defeated troops were brought into the Guomindang’s National Revolutionary Army. These troops did not share the same revolutionary ideas or elite training as the original troops. In the late 1925 members of the Guomindang formed a faction, called the “Western Hills” to try and drive out the communists.
On March 20, 1926, a gunboat appears off of Whampoa island and Chiang Kai-Shek, army leader, fears it is here to kidnap him. He arrested many Russians and put Canton under martial law. This led to strained relations between Chiang Kai-Shek and the Soviets. Borodin was able to come to terms with Chiang Kai-Shek to share space with the CCP and the Guomindang but the CCP had to respect the Guomindang. This meant they could not criticize Sun Yat-Sen and could not join any Guomindang committees.
A military plan to unify China was now created, this plan was called the Northern Expedition. The strategy called for three armed thrusts; one up the Canton-Wuhan railway, one up the Gan river into Jiangxi, and the last one is up through the east coast into Fujian. Party members working ahead of the troops would organize local workers into fighting against their enemies. Two important parts of the planning were ensuring money and military manpower.
T.V. Soong, Sun Yat-Sen’s brother-in-law helped ease the Guomindang money problems. He did this by relying on taxing shipping and kerosene. He would also use bond issues to raise money for the Guomindang government.
There was added hope for a Northern Expedition when the northern warlords began feuding amongst each other. One of the Hunan commanders then decided to join the Guomindang army and the army mobilized on July 1, 1926. Changsha, the city, was captured on July 11. The army then pressed onwards toward the Miluo river and attempted to cross it between August 17 and 22. They successfully crossed and captured the tri-cities of Wuhan. Wuchang fell on October 10 after a long seige.
Fighting continued and by mid-November the National Revolutionary Army had control over the cities of Jiujiang, and Nanchang. In mid-December, the army entered the Fujian capital, Fuzhou. At this point, the army controlled seven provinces; Guangdong, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangxi, and Guizhou.
Because of this success, Chiang Kai-Shek decided to move the fight towards Shanghai. The Guomindang leaders in Wuhan, however, wanted a northern drive up the Wuhan-Peking railway. On January 11, 1927, Chiang Kai-Shek traveled to Wuhan to plead his case but was denied. The fate of Shanghai now depended on several factors; reactions of local warlords to the events in South China, the local labor movement’s strength, the attitudes of the anti-labor forces in Shanghai, the nature of foreign communities, the position of the Wuhan Guomindang leaders, and the CCP’s long-term strategy. Luckily for the party, the local warlords remained divided.
The labor movement in central and southern China was making headway. In February 1927, Shanghai labor leaders called a general strike in support of the National Revolutionary Army. Shanghai was in a standstill for two days. The strike was ended by warlord forces beheading 20 strikers and arresting 300 more. Morale still remained high and there were plans for a second strike. To control strikers, financial leaders paid the Green Gang to break up union meetings and kill troublesome workers.
In 1926 the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce held talks with Chiang Kai-Shek offering financial support. It was suspected talks to suppress labor movements were also held. The local communities were nervous because wealthy Chinese were dependent on reliable labor to live lavish lifestyles. The foreign communities were also nervous. In 1927, several incidents occurred where nationalists raided foreign homes or businesses, destroying property and attacking people.
On March 21, 1927, the CCP organized a general strike in Shanghai along with the General Labor Union. The strike included an armed insurrection in support of approaching Guomindang forces. This allowed Chiang Kai-Shek to enter the city at the end of March. He then held talks with Shanghai industrialists. At the same time, the Green Gang leaders created the Society for Common Progress. This society raided the city’s unions on April 12. On April 13, when the workers and students gathered to protest, the Guomindang fired on them and killed around 100 people. The General Labor Union organizations were then declared illegal, leading to the end of the Shanghai spring.
Wuhan Summer, Canton Winter:
The events of April 1927 prompted a response from Stalin and the communists. Stalin declared Chiang’s actions as anti-communist and said it was his intention all along to drive anti-communists out of the party. He then declared his intent to work with the Guomindang leaders in Wuhan instead. The Wuhan Guomindang was declared to be the true left and revolutionary Guomindang. The main intentions of these Wuhan leaders were to establish a solid economic and political foundation. The city was running low on funds and felt threats from surrounding warlords.
Mao Zedong was studying peasants in China. In late 1926 and early 1927, many peasants rose up and seized the land from their landlords. Mao was intrigued believed that the CCP could make use of this political passion among the peasants. In May 1927, the Wuhan Central Land Committee stated that local villages could self-govern on land redistribution. Mao Zedong was assigned the task of stirring up revolution in the countryside. He managed to rally a small army of 2,000 by early September.
The CCP was starting to distance themselves from the Guomindang and on December 11, 1927, they were ordered to overthrow Guomindang leadership in Canton. The anti-communist troops were able to stop the uprising in two days. Stalin and the Soviets, who ordered the uprising, were upset by the defeat and blamed the CCP for it.