Sunday, 26 May 2013

Chinese Nationalism and China-Taiwan Relations (Part II) - The Struggle for the Republic of China and the First Years of the Guomindang (1912-1927)

During the past few years the so-called "rise of China" has led to an increasing interest in news and books about the Middle Kingdom. However, the focus is often not China itself, but rather "what China's rise means for us". As a consequence, certain aspects of Chinese history and culture are completely sacrificed to the thirst for current events and economic and political analyses that aim at answering the question of whether China is or will be a threat to us.

Accordingly, much of the history that could help understand China is left out of the media. Most especially, the history of the Republic of China, first on the mainland and then on Taiwan, does not attract public attention. The plethora of books about Mao Zedong, the People's Republic of China, and the present development of the mainland, completely obscure that part of the history of the country. It is as if what happened before the foundation of the People's Republic of China had no connection whatsoever with today's China; as though the Communist era had meant a complete break from what preceded it, and the present were disconnected from the past.

However, it is not possible to understand China today if we don't understand the continuities, as well as the breaks, that characterize the country's history from 1911 onward. Above all, we cannot understand the China-Taiwan issue without a knowledge of the development and evolution of Chinese nationalism after the end of the Qing Dynasty.

In my last post, I tried to explain the genesis of Chinese nationalism during the last decades of the Chinese Empire. Now, I would like to focus on the development of nationalism after the revolution of 1911, and most especially on the ideology of the Guomindang (KMT), the party that ruled mainland China from 1927 to 1949.  

In January 1964, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China, in his New Year's Message addressed his "fellow countrymen" on mainland China, overseas, and on the island of Taiwan, where the Republican government had retreated in 1949 after having lost the entire Chinese mainland to the Communists. This is what the President had to say to his people:

Today is the fifty-fifth anniversary of the glorious founding of the Republic of China. It is a day of special significance to our country and people, civilian and military alike, because it heralds a shining and triumphant era of national recovery and reconstruction! The revolutionary spirit and national sense of righteousness as demonstrated by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Father of our Republic, and by our revolutionary martyrs, cannot but live forever in the hearts of the Chinese people [...]. 
Fellow countrymen: with the victory of counteroffensive [against the Communists on the mainland] and national recovery steadily growing nearer, and in view of the duty and responsibility of revolution and national reconstruction which we all must shoulder I hereby call for the formation of a nation-wide Anti-Communist League for National Reconstruction as a rallying center for all anti-Communist elements on Taiwan, on the Chinese mainland, and in overseas areas. [...] 
We have transformed Taiwan into a model province for practicing the Three Principles of the People. In other words, we have brought about and fostered a strength and confidence surpassing any in the previous fifty-two years of our national revolution!

Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975)
This New Year's Message sums up the ideology of Chiang Kai-shek and of the Guomindang. It is an interesting statement because it was made in hindsight, looking back at the history of the Republic of China. It shows that Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang had, in the previous fifty-five years, developed an almost religious nationalist doctrine revolving around the almost holy figure of Sun Yat-sen, the myth of the Revolution and revolutionary martyrdom, as well as anti-Communism. 

As I shall try to show, despite Chiang's anti-Communism, the Guomindang and the Communist Party shared a common nationalist legacy, which was less obvious during Mao Zedong's rule, but which has become ever stronger after his death. In order to understand the China-Taiwan question, we should bear in mind the existence of this common legacy between the parties that - one autocratically, the other democratically - are currently still governing the PRC and the ROC. 

The Founding of the Republic of China (1912)


On 10 October 1911, revolutionaries belonging to the 8th Engineering Battalion of the 8th Regiment of the New Army in Wuchang began an armed insurrection, one of the many that had been organized to overthrow the  Qing government between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. All revolts had so far failed, and no one expected that this uprising would create a domino effect, and that province after province and city and after city, the whole of China would declare its independence from the central government in Beijing.


Establishment of the Republic of China with display of two flags of the Wuchang Uprising


The failure of the Qing Dynasty to protect China from foreign aggression and to carry out extensive economic and political reforms, had convinced a large part of the elite that the Chinese people must get rid of the absolute monarchy if they wanted to create a new, strong, modern China. The staunchest supporters of a Republican China were the revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen. 

After the numerous defeats they had suffered, the sudden success of the Wuchang Uprising took them by surprise. When the revolution broke out, Sun Yat-sen was in the United States, and when he learnt of the victory of the Republicans, he immediately made preparations for his return to China. This is how Sun Yat-sen related in his memoirs the events that led to the revolt:

The atmosphere in Wuchang was electrical. Comrades Sun Wu, Liu, and others decided to act and raise a rebellion of the troops. However, quite unexpectedly, our committee was discovered, and thirty people were imprisoned [...] At this time, there fell into the hands of the Imperial authorities a list of our artillerymen and other soldiers who were taking part in the work of the Revolution. With the object of saving these comrades from inevitable destruction, it was necessary to act immediately with great urgency [...]. 
Governor Jui Chen,hearing the noise of the cannonade, immediately fled to Hankow, and appealed to the Consul of a "certain" country to bombard the city. But [...] my old acquaintance, the French Consul, who informed the meeting that this rising had taken place on my instructions, [...[ declared that the revolutionaries of the Sun Yat-sen Party were by no means making a senseless mutiny, but were fighting for the reconstruction of a political authority. 
Therefore, they cannot be classed with the Boxers, and they should not be interfered with [...]. The other Consuls joined [...] and passed a resolution of non-intervention and maintenance of neutrality (Sun 1953, pp. 169-170).

Since the stand of the Western Powers was favourable to the revolutionaries,
Sun Yat-sen
the Chinese authorities fled to Beijing. The whole Hubei province was soon in the hands of the insurgents, and this success led to the downfall of the Empire.



The Qing government first tried to save itself by appointing General Yuan Shikai as Premier of the National Assembly in Beijing. Since Sun Yat-sen was abroad, he could neither lead the revolution nor take part in the negotiations between the Republicans and the Imperialists. Yuan Shikai held talks with another leader of the revolutionaries, the British-trained jurist Wu Ting-fang. 

Wu left Yuan Shikai no doubt: the position of the revolutionaries was that the Qing government had to give place to a republic, and that this was the precondition for any further negotiation (see Harley Farnsworth MacNair: Modern Chinese History - Selected Writings. Vol. 2. 1927, p.p. 716-717). Seeing that no compromise could be reached, on 28 December 1911 the Empress Dowager issued an Edict, in which she proclaimed that:

the representative of the People's Army (i.e. the Revolutionaries) Wu Ting-fang, steadfastly maintains that the mind of the People is in favor of the establishment of a republican form of government as its ideal [...]. This is a matter that should not be decided by one part of the nation alone [...] Therefore it is advisable to call a provisional National Convention and leave the issue to the Convention to decide (ibid., p. 717).

Late in December 1911 Sun Yat-sen arrived in Shanghai from Paris. His authority was such that the National Assembly in Nanjing offered him, as the undisputed leader of the revolutionaries, the post of Provisional President of the  new state called Republic of China (see Dillon 2010, pp. 146-147). In his memoirs, Sun recounts the moment in which he proclaimed the Republic:

[T]he deputies from all the provinces of China, assembled in the city of Nanking [=Nanjing], elected me Provisional President of China. In 1912 I assumed office, and ordered the proclamation of the Chinese Republic, the alteration of the lunar calendar, and the declaration of that year as the First Year of the Chinese Republic. Thus thirty years passed as one day, and only after their completion did I achieve my principal aim, the aim of my life - the creation of the Chinese Republic [中華民國; pinyin: Zhōnghuá mínguó] (Sun 1953, pp. 175-176).


 Sun Yat-sen with the Five Races Under One Union flag, symbolizing the unity of Han Chinese, Manchus, Mongols, Muslims and Tibetans, and the Blue Sky with a White Sun flag

The day following his election, Sun presented a programme outlining the major steps the new Republic ought to undertake to achieve the ultimate goals of the revolution. Herein Sun addressed the issue of national unity and territorial integrity:

I say the foundation of a state is the People. The different races such as Hans, Manchus, Mongols, Muhammedans, and Tibetans are now to be united as a nation. This is what I call the unity of our Races (MacNair 1927, p. 720).

It is extremely important to stress this point. Nowadays people criticize the government of the PRC for pursuing an alleged 'imperialistic' policy in Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan etc. However, we should emphasize that the concept of 'one China' comprising all territories of the former Qing Empire was already enshrined in Chinese nationalism long before the Communist Party was founded. Sun Yat-sen and his successor Chiang Kai-shek struggled to unite all parts of what they considered China. It did not matter to them whether these areas were under factual control of the government. In fact, the Republican government was never able to control the whole territory it claimed to represent. But in their view, actual control and sovereignty claim were two separate things. 

From this perspective, when the Communist Party and the Guomindang both argue that there is only one China, they do it in the same way Sun Yat-sen did. For the CCP and the KMT alike, which are both imbued with the spirit of Chinese nationalism, there is and can only be 'one China' and one Chinese government. This does not mean that Taiwanese nationalism is not legitimate, on the contrary. Both Chinese and Taiwanese nationalists have legitimate - though incompatible - political programmes. But it is important to understand what Chinese nationalism is about and why it is still a powerful force in the debate over the future of China-Taiwan relations. It is thus important to show that Sun Yat-sen, as soon as he took over the Presidency, declared the unification of the nation in the boundaries of the former Empire as a vital task for the future of the new Republic.

Although the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen's dream, had been established, it soon became clear that the consolidation of the new government was far more difficult than the revolutionaries had predicted. The overthrow of the Manchus did not usher in an era of peace and prosperity, but rather a protracted period of chaos, social unrest, disillusionment, and of wars. In the collective memory, the Republican era is not associated with the rebirth of China, but with warlordism, corruption, economic weakness, civil struggles and foreign aggression.

Sun Yat-sen's post as Provisional President by no means contributed to the stability of the new state. Though he was the most influential and revered man in China, Sun accepted to retire from the function of President as soon as the Manchu Dynasty was officially overthrown. In fact, we should bear in mind that despite the proclamation of the Republic the Manchu Dynasty had not relinquished its title and had not recognized the Republican government as legitimate. Since no official abdication had occurred, China de facto had two governments, the Republican and the Imperial. Sun Yat-sen's task was to lead the Republic of China until the Manchus had resigned and the country had been pacified. In the oath he took on January 1st, Sun declared:

[I will] perform my duty in the interest of the public, until the downfall of the absolute oligarchic Government has been accomplished, until the disturbances within the nation have disappeared, and until our Republic has been established as a prominent nation on this earth [...]. Then I [...] shall relinquish the office of Provisional President (MacNair 1927, pp. 718-719).

Today, it is almost forgotten that in 1912 a civil war between the Imperialists and the Republicans could have broken out. In fact, the Manchu aristocrats were unwilling to give up their power, and some of them wanted to resist the revolutionaries. They were backed by their military commanders, among them Yuan Shikai.

Yuan Shikai became the most influential person at the imperial court during the revolution. His political genius and personal ambition led him to adopt a pragmatic stance towards both the Qing and the revolutionaries. At first, he played the role of mediator between the Republicans and the Manchu Dynasty, trying to save the latter. But the revolutionary forces were resolutely determined to oust the Manchus. When Yuan Shikai demanded the dissolution of the provisional government in Nanjing, Sun Yat-sen was firm: he would make concessions only if Yuan Shikai pledged loyalty to the new Republic (see Chen 1972, p. 98).

Yuan Shikai realized that his political career wouldn't last long if he sacrificed himself for the Qing Dynasty. The salvation of the Empire was a lost cause, because the majority of China's elites would not tolerate any compromise on this matter and were ready to fight. Yuan Shikai thus changed his strategy. He strove to solve the crisis by ensuring a smooth transition from Empire to Republic, presenting himself as a peacemaker and a faithful servant of the new state.

The Imperial family was divided between those who favoured an abdication and those who wanted to suppress the revolution. Yuan Shikai made clear to the imperial family that if they wanted to fight against the revolutionaries the sum of 12 million taels had to be made ready to finance the war. But the imperial treasury was empty, and none of the Manchu princes was ready to sacrifice his personal fortunes to pay for the army (ibid., p. 99).

On January 26, the imperial cabinet met at Yuan Shikai's residence. 40 high-ranking officers of Yuan's troops had sent a telegram urging the Manchus to abdicate. On that very night, Liang-pi, the army chief-of-staff, was killed by a fanatic revolutionary on his way home. Following this murder, the fear for the safety of the imperial family increased.


Emperor Xuantong (right, standing) , commonly known by his name Puyi (1906 – 1967).
He was the last Emperor of China. 


Empress Dowager Longyu
On January 27, the Empress Dowager Longyu (1908 – 1912), the wife of the deceased Emperor Guangxu and the adoptive mother of the last Chinese Emperor, Puyi, was in a state of panic; she screamed at Yuan Shikai's deputies, beseeching them to convey to the General the message that the Emperor's and her own life were in his hands, and that he had to save them from death (ibid., p. 100).



Three days later, Empress Longyu made the decision that would end the most ancient Empire in the world: she agreed to proclaim the abdication of the Qing Dynasty. The revolutionaries, wishing to avoid further conflicts, granted the imperial family special privileges: the Emperor would retain his title and be treated by the Republican government with the respect due to a foreign sovereign, he would receive an annuity, be allowed to reside in the imperial palace, perform traditional religious rituals etc. (see MacNair 1927, pp. 723-724).

On the 12th of February 1912 (the 25th day of the 12th month of the 3rd year of Emperor Xuantong's reign), the Empress issued the Abdication Edict. By this edict the imperial family entrusted Yuan Shikai with ample powers, a decision that would have major consequences for the future. The authority conferred upon Yuan by the Empress, as well as his role as a mediator between the Manchus and the Republicans, became the foundation of his political ascendancy in the young Republic. Here is an excerpt from the Abdication Edict:

I, Empress Dowager, [...] together with the Emperor, hereby hand over the sovereignty [ 統治權: tǒng zhì quán] to be the possession of the whole people, and declare that the constitution shall henceforth be Republican, in order to satisfy the demands of those [...] hating disorder and desiring peace, and anxious to follow the teaching of the sages, according to which the country is the possession of the People (天下爲公). Yuan Shi-kai, having been elected some time ago president of the National Assembly at Peking, is therefore able at this time to of change to unite the North and the South - let him then, with full powers so to do, organize a provisional Republican Government (MacNair 1927, p. 722-723).

As soon as the news of the abdication reached him, Sun Yat-sen expressed his willingness to immediately resign, thus fulfilling his oath as a Provisional President. This selfless act gained Sun great respect among the Chinese, but it was tactically unwise. Sun urged Yuan Shikai to renounce the powers bestowed upon him by the Manchus, because the Emperor had no right, according to Sun, to confer such a power; it was only the people who had this right. Nevertheless, Sun too naively accepted Yuan Shikai's promise to serve and defend the Republic. Sun Yat-sen advised the National Assembly in Nanjing to elect Yuan Shikai as President. On February 14 Sun Yat-sen declared before the Assembly:

To-day I present to you my resignation and request you to elect a good and talented man as the new President. The election of President is a right of our citizens, and it is not for me to interfere in any way. But according to the telegram which our delegate Dr. Wu [Wu Tingfang] was directed to send to Peking, I was to undertake to resign in favor of Mr. Yuan [Yuan Shi-kai], [who] has declared his political views in support of the Republic. [...] The abdication of the Ching [=Qing] Emperor and the union of the North and South are largely due to the great exertion of Mr. Yuan. Moreover, he has declared his unconditional adhesion to the national cause. Should he be elected to serve the Republic, he would surely prove himself a most loyal servant of the state (ibid., p. 728).

But Sun Yat-sen and all the revolutionaries who put their trust in Yuan Shikai were gravely mistaken. 

Meanwhile, the National Assembly worked on a Provisional Constitution, which was promulgated on the 10th of March and which, among other articles, defined the territory of the Republic of China as comprising "the twenty-two provinces [what we may call 'China proper'], Inner and Outer Mongolia, Thibet and Kokonor" (ibid., p. 729). At that time, neither Taiwan nor Hong Kong, which were respectively under Japanese and British rule, were included in the territory of the Republic of China, though the fact that they had belonged to China before the period of national humiliation did not fade from the memory of the revolutionaries.

However, it is important to understand that the supposed territorial extension of China depended on the realities of the time. For instance, in one of his works Sun Yat-sen says: "I traveled to Formosa [Taiwan], intending again to think out some means of getting into China" (Sun 1953, p. 152). Obviously, Sun considered Taiwan as not being part of China any more. He seems to have seen Taiwan as an area lost to the Japanese forever. Recovering Taiwan was not among Sun Yat-sen's priorities.


Yuan Shikai's Presidency and the Founding of the Guomindang 


The proclamation of the Republic and the abdication of the Manchus prompted a realignment of power in China. Old political structures were replaced by new ones and new elites emerged, who were supposed to govern China as members of the elected parliament, but who were completely inexperienced in state affairs. No one knew how to run a country, let alone such a huge one which had enormous economic and political problems to solve. 

Following the model of Western democracies, parties were formed as the instruments of government. Political parties had not existed in China prior to the revolution. During the last decades of the Qing Empire, there had been numerous secret societies and revolutionary organizations, which constituted the natural, albeit illegal, political opposition to the Manchu regime. The most important of these organizations was the Tongmenhui, or United League, which had been founded by Sun Yat-sen and his supporters on 30 January 1905 at a conference in Tokyo. The Tongmenghui counted only around 400 members when it was founded, but its number would increase to almost 10,000 by 1911 (Dillon 2010, p. 141).

Because of its revolutionary character, until 1912 the Tongmenghui had been a secret society. After the successful revolution, the Tongmenhui merged with other similar parties and groupings and became a legal political party. Its new name was 中國國民黨 (pinyin: Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng, meaning Chinese Nationalist Party). The Guomindang was Sun Yat-sen's party. It would subsequently rule mainland China from 1927 to 1949 and Taiwan from 1945 until 1991. The Guomindang is still one of the major parties in Taiwan, and it keeps the name 中國國民黨; the word 中國, which means 'China', shows that the Guomindang has maintained its Chinese nationalist ideology to this very day.


Flag of the Guomindang, still in use today

The Guomindang was by far the largest political alliance in the first parliamentary election in the Republic of China. Its political programme included "the political unification of China; the development of local self-government; the abolition of racial discrimination; improvement of the standard of living and the maintenance of international peace" (ibid., p. 149).

Despite being the first political force in the parliament, the Guomindang soon experienced its first major defeat. It became more and more clear that Yuan Shikai, whom Sun Yat-sen had entrusted the defence of the Republic, was in reality the most dangerous enemy of the new state. Backed by his military power, Yuan began to disregard the constitution and to intimidate his political opponents. 

Song Jiaoren
Within the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen at first belonged to the moderate wing which tried to co-operate with Yuan. But another Guomindang leader, Song Jiaoren, was more assertive. He wanted the parliament, and not the President, to govern the country. In the provincial election of 1913, the Guomindang gained 360 seats, becoming the largest party in the lower house of the National Assembly (ibid., p. 150).

As the influence of the Guomindang grew and Song Jiaoren struggled to turn numbers into actual political power, Yuan Shikai acted to consolidate his Presidency, which had already taken quasi-dictatorial character. On 20 March 1913 Song Jiaoren was shot while he was waiting for a train at the Shanghai railway station. He died two days later (ibid., p. 150).

Yuan Shikai
Song's murder initiated a period of political repression against the Guomindang. Sun Yat-sen and other party members began organizing a so-called 'Second Revolution', this time against Yuan Shikai. But in August Yuan struck, launching an attack that ended with the capture of Nanjing at the beginning of September 1913. The Guomindang did not possess the military capability to impose its will by force. Sun Yat-sen and hundreds of Guomindang members fled to Japan in August 1913, fearing for their life. Yuan Shikai ruled as a dictator and was even planning to proclaim himself Emperor. But on the 21st of May 1916 he died of natural death, and a new chapter in the history of the Republic began. 



Warlordism and the Military Restructuring of the Guomindang 


The period that followed Yuan's death did not see the establishment of a central government, but rather a further deterioration of the political situation. Local warlords took control of China, dividing the country among themselves and thus creating semi-independent states within the Republic of China. De facto, China did not have a government until 1927.

It was in this period that the Guomindang reorganized itself. The bitter experiences of Yuan Shikai's dictatorship and warlordism had changed Sun Yat-sen profoundly. He realized that the success of the 1911 revolution had only been the start of a long struggle. The Republic existed only in name. None of the major points of Sun's programme had been achieved except for the end of Manchu rule. 

Consequently, his political view 'hardened'. He came to believe that the only way to unite China was to reconstruct the Guomindang on a military basis. Faced with the reality that in China only those could rule who had an army to back them, Sun sought to establish a military rule over the country. Sun returned to China in 1917 and created a military regime in Guangdong Province. From there, he organized the struggle for the Republic. In his book Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, Sun Yat-sen - perhaps unintentionally -  laid the foundations of Guomindang one-party rule, which was to last until 1987:

Revolution, which is a destructive force of an extraordinary nature, should be followed by reconstruction of an equally extraordinary nature. After thirteen years of bitter experience, we should realize that what are known as the people's rights and the people's happiness should be a reality instead  of a mere name. If we now follow up the Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, we shall have got rid of reactionary influences by the end of military rule and shall have ushered in democracy by the end of political tutelage. 
The people will enjoy their rights and happiness as if they were already under a constitutional government. Such rights and happiness would be impossible under absolute rule disguised as constitutionalism. Moreover, the transition from political tutelage to constitutional government will be smooth and free of pitfalls (Sun 1953, pp. 6-7).

The fact that Sun turned from a staunch advocate of democracy to a supporter of military rule, albeit a temporary one, made it possible for his successor Chiang Kai-shek to become the factual dictator of China in the following decades. Sun was probably not aware of the contradictions of his theories. In fact, how could a party that claimed to represent the will of the people set up a military rule? This inconsistency was to last for two generations until democracy was finally achieved in 1991 on Taiwan. 

The order of national reconstruction shall be divided into three stages: first, the stage of military rule; second, the stage of political tutelage; third, the stage of constitutional government. [...] In the stage of military rule, the whole administrative system shall be placed under military rule. The government on the one hand should employ its armed forces to eradicate all internal obstacles and, on the other, disseminate its principles so that the people may be enlightened and national unification hastened. [...] 
As soon as a province is completely restored to order, the stage of political tutelage shall commence and the military stage come to an end. [...] People in various provinces may decide on their own constitutions and elect their own governors, but provincial constitutions must not conflict with the national constitution. The governors on the one hand should supervise self-government affairs in the provinces and on the other should administer national affairs under the direction of the Central Government. [...] 
The hsien (district) shall be the unit of local self-government. People in a self-governing district shall have the direct power of election and recall, initiative and referendum. [...] The system of popular suffrage should be put into force. Class election based on property qualifications should be abolished. [...] The people shall have complete freedom of meeting, assembly, speech, publication, domicile and religion. [...] Legally, economically, educationally and socially, the principles of sex equality shall be definitely laid down to help the growth of women's rights (Sun 1953, pp. 10; 57; 58; 59).

Sun Yat-sen's principles appear as a mix of reactionary and progressive forces. It is interesting to note the use that Sun makes of the verb "enlighten". He believed that Guomindang military rule would serve as a time to "enlighten" the masses, to make them "ready" for democracy. The clash between the democratic and autocratic elements within Sun's doctrines were one the lasting legacies of his political thoughts. De facto, they served to suppress democracy and justify one of the longest military regimes in modern history. It is hard to tell what Sun would have thought if he had seen that his disciple Chiang Kai-shek never allowed democracy and that he brutally repressed opposition.

Sun Yat-sen (seated) with
Chiang Kai-shek
The militarization of the Guomindang is shown by the importance that Sun attributed to the organization of an army capable of conquering the whole of China. To this purpose, he allied himself with the Soviet Union. In this period, Sun's ties with the Soviets as well as the Chinese Communists were quite close. Sun sent his protege' Chiang Kai-shek to Moscow to study the organization of the Red Army.

In 1924, Sun founded the Huangpu Military Academy (in the West, it is often called Whampoa Military Academy). Its aim was to train the leadership of a revolutionary army, a task that had become one of Sun Yat-sen’s highest priorities. When Chiang Kai-shek returned from the Soviet Union, he was appointed commandant of the academy. Inspired by Leo Trotzky and the Red Army, Chiang Kai-shek set about the task of  developing a strong modern army (see Dillon 2010, pp. 188-189). Interestingly enough, Chiang Kai-shek would later become one of the staunchest anti-Communist leaders in the world, as we have seen at the beginning of this post.


Sun Yat-sen [middle behind the table] and Chiang Kai-shek [on stage in uniform] at the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924.

At the inauguration of the Huangpu Academy, Sun Yat-sen declared that in order to reach the goals of the revolution, it was necessary to rely on a strong army:

Because we have lacked a revolutionary army, the warlords have dominated the Republic and impeded the progress of the revolution. Our aim in opening this academy is to create the revolutionary task anew from this day and students of this academy … will be the bones and the trunk of the forthcoming Revolutionary Army (ibid., p. 189).

On on 5 September 1924 Sun Yat-sen launched the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords and unite the country. However, he did not live to see the  success of the campaign. He died on 12 March 1925 in Beijing (ibid., p. 191). After a power struggle broke out within the Guomindang, Chiang Kai-shek became the undisputed leader of the party. He initiated the cult of personality around Sun Yat-sen, and made the Three Principles of the People the official ideology of the party and of the Republic of China. In the following years, Chiang unified most of China and established a one-party regime that, with many high and lows, constant crises and setbacks, managed to remain in power on the mainland until 1949. 


Friday, 24 May 2013

Life as a Foreigner in Taiwan - Of High School Students Interviewing Foreigners

In my post about my first impressions after coming back to Taipei from Hong Kong, I mentioned that sometimes Taiwanese high school students interview "foreigners" (meaning, I guess, Westerners) on the street. This is a kind of school assignment in Taiwan which is apparently very popular.

Well, today it happened to me again. I was sitting at Yamazaki, on the campus of National Taiwan University. I was studying Chinese; two days ago I bought a silly book at 7-11, called "這次是我愛上妳" (This time it's me who's fallen in love with you). I chose it because the books from regular bookstores are too difficult to read, and the other books from 7-11 are manga or horror books, which I don't like. So I simply picked this one.  As a man, I feel pretty ashamed to read this sort of stuff which is obviously made for a female audience; but anyway, back to the topic.

I was studying Chinese, when suddenly I saw three people, a guy and two girls, coming towards me with bright smiles on their faces. It took me a few seconds to understand what they were up to. When I saw that the  guy was holding a piece of paper, a pen and a camera, I realized they wanted to interview me. "Excuse me, can you help us with a project? Do you have time?" the guy asked. 

Actually, they had already 'invaded' my table, so how could I have said no? Had they talked to me on the street I could have said I had no time for an interview; but in the cafe', I was basically trapped and had no way to escape. 

As I already explained in my previous post, when I first came to Taiwan I did not mind being interviewed by students. But now, this just makes me feel as though I were something totally different from the rest of the people around me. In Hong Kong, I felt just like a normal person among other persons, but here in Taiwan I am a 外國人, a foreigner; a curiosity, if you will. Some people may like to be different, others not; I guess it depends on your character. 

So, there I was, sitting at a table surrounded by a group of Taiwanese students. The guy asked me to write my name and my home country on a piece of paper. 

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

"I come from Italy."

All of them said "Oooh!" (I don't know what this "oooh" meant, though).
Then he asked me the usual question, which is exactly the one I'd like to avoid: "Why did you come to Taiwan?"

I have two options; I can either lie and invent some plausible story, or just tell the truth. Well, I didn't really have the time to come up with a story. Besides, when I lie my face turns red and I get very nervous. So, I just told them that I had come to Taiwan for love. Then one of the girls, a very cute one with a sweet smile, asked me: "Did you two get married?"

Well, would I be sitting in a cafe' in the afternoon reading a Chinese book if I had married her? Hopefully not. Anyhow, they already understood from my expression what the answer was, and they laughed. And so did I. 

"What do you think of Taiwanese people?" was the next question.

I said: "Taiwanese people are very nice"; they smiled. I paused, and then added: "At the beginning". They looked pretty surprised, but still smiled. 

"Why?"

"Everyone in Taiwan is nice when you first meet them", I said. "But when you become good friends, they change. For example, if I am wearing ugly shoes when I first meet someone, he or she will never say 'Your shoes are ugly'. But if you get close to each other, they will just say this sort of things. My European friends are usually the opposite; the closer we get, the nicer we become. But in Taiwan, I often made the experience that people who at the beginning were sweet and friendly, afterwards changed and showed me their 'real self' which they didn't show at the beginning; some of them even turned out to have a pretty bad temper and get angry very easily." 

Please don't misunderstand; I am not suggesting everyone in Taiwan has a bad temper. I shall explain in a future post what I mean exactly.

They asked me another question that I can't remember, and then the interview was over. We took the customary picture together (which will be part of their presentation, I assume), then they thanked me and left.

I went back to studying Chinese, but a few minutes later, I saw another group of people approaching. This time there were two guys and two girls. The girls were in charge of the interview, and the guys of filming. 

I have to say that this group was completely different from the previous one. They were much more talkative, and they seemed more interested in what I had to say. The interview also lasted longer and, to be honest, this time I truly enjoyed it because they were really nice, funny and curious (I wanted to use the word 'passionate', but perhaps that would be too much).

The first questions were, of course, what is my name and where I come from. The most interesting thing about them was the focus of their interview. The third question was: "What do you think about Taiwanese boys and girls?" 

I didn't really understand what they meant; they explained they wanted to know if there is any difference in men-women relationships between Taiwan and Europe. I said that, in my opinion, Taiwanese tend to accept gender roles more than Europeans. For instance, some girls want their boyfriends to pay everything for them, they want their husband to be the main 'bread earner', or they expect their boyfriends to carry their bags, spoil them etc. (again, I am oversimplifying and basing what I say on some of my experiences).

Then they asked me a really funny question: "How do you think Taiwanese girls look like?"

That was totally unexpected. I can't imagine they're going to show this kind of interview to their classmates and teachers! Anyway, I looked at the girl who was sitting next to me, and I must admit, she was absolutely beautiful and cute (fairly enough, the other one was pretty, too, but that's a matter of taste). So, the words came out of my mouth almost automatically: "I think Taiwanese girls are cute ... and pretty." I wasn't sure if I should go on, but, well, I just said it: "and sexy." When I said sexy, they laughed out loud. 

We chatted for a while. They asked me, of course, why I came to Taiwan. They also wanted to know if I can speak Chinese. At that point, I showed them my book full of notes to prove that my Chinese still needs a lot of improvement. But they were very impressed I was reading a book at all. 

"This is a stupid book," I said. "Look!" I showed them the cover, and they laughed. "I feel so ashamed to read this kind of stuff in public that I always put my hand on the cover when I'm on the MRT."

They also asked me a few questions about Italy: what places they should visit if they go travelling there, and so on. I think the interview lasted for around fifteen minutes, or even more. They were very friendly, and also relaxed. Most students usually seem in a hurry, as if they wanted to finish the interview as quickly as possible. But they weren't. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask them to send me the picture.   

As I said, I did enjoy this last interview. But this experience somehow also confirmed the feeling I had when I came back from Hong Kong around a week ago. I wonder if there is any other country in the world where high school students walk around on a campus interviewing foreigners. Apparently, 'we' foreigners are seen as something different, something locals are curious about, but also very distant from. Interviews are one of the funny parts of the love-hate relationship between Taiwan and the West. I just can't help thinking that foreigners are often seen as 'status symbol objects', a sort of cool decoration. 

I remember that when I came to Taiwan the first time I had a very interesting experience. One of my Taiwanese friends asked me to go to her university for a presentation. Students had to talk about their experiences with language exchange partners or pen pals. Most of her classmates only corresponded with their foreign friends, but I was in Taiwan and she could bring to her class the real me instead of a mere picture. So, I agreed to help her. My friend gave the presentation, and afterwards the other students gathered around us and asked me questions. 

To be fair, they were all very nice and friendly, no doubt. But honestly, I felt as if I was an animal in a zoo; a very special animal, for sure, who can talk and wears clothes, but still... 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Chinese Nationalism and China-Taiwan Relations (Part I)

Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek with United States
ambassador Patrick J. Hurley, 1945


The China-Taiwan question - a legacy of the Civil War between the Communist and the Nationalist Party of China that ended in 1949 - is perhaps the most dangerous territorial dispute of the 21st century, having the potential to trigger a major armed conflict between the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan, and the United States. Despite China's claim that it is a purely domestic matter, the China-Taiwan question has broad international repercussions. It continues to be one of the major challenges in Sino-American relations and a possible destabilizing factor in the entire East Asian region.

The Taiwan question is not only of paramount importance in order to understand the current geopolitical situation in the Far East, but also in order to understand the origin and the nature of modern Chinese nationalism. It is not possible to comprehend why China and Taiwan are still maintaining the fiction of "one China" as a united country, if one does not look back at the roots of the nationalist movements that shook China in the 19th and 20th century, and which until today shape the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang, abbreviated KMT) on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Imperial China and the Origin of Chinese Nationalism


For centuries, China did not define her identity in terms of modern nationalism, but rather on the basis of culture. Ethnicity and politics were thus subordinated to what was understood as Chinese civilization. Through this form of cultural statehood it was possible to partly integrate numerous ethnic minorities, such as the Mongols, Manchus, Arabs, Turks etc., into an empire which was in its majority of Han Chinese stock. Until today, China claims to be a multiethnic state comprising 56 nationalities (Hao 2010, p. 14).

One of the peculiarities of China's history is that her civilization survived for thousands of years despite the presence of belligerent peoples at her periphery which threatened her militarily. In some respects these ethnic groups were comparable to the tribes that invaded the Roman Empire from the 3rd century onward. But whereas the Roman Empire collapsed under the pressure of Germanic and other 'barbaric' peoples, Chinese civilization endured defeats and conquests by foreign tribes, surviving until the present day.

Two of the three dynasties that ruled China during the last 650 years of the Empire were founded by foreign invaders. First the Mongols and then the Manchus overwhelmed Han dynasties and governed the Middle Kingdom for a total of 276 years (ibid., p. 80). 

The last Han dynasty was the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which in the late 17th century crumbled due to palace corruption and peasant rebellions. In 1644 troops of the Manchu people, exploiting the weakness of the Ming, attacked China and began a military campaign that ended with the conquest of the whole Empire. 


Northeast China was the area where the Manchus created their first settlements


The Manchus were a confederation of tribes that had settled in northeast China and had created a powerful state called Manchuria. Even before invading China, they had been influenced by Chinese civilization. In 1636, the Manchu ruler Hong Taiji (1592 - 1643) gave his state a Chinese name: Qing (清), meaning pure, clear. He and his successors tried to combine their own traditions with Chinese culture and social order. Hong Taiji's clan, the Aisin Gioro, remained the leading clan of the Manchus. All Manchu emperors came from the Aisin Gioro clan, including the last Chinese emperor, Aisin Gioro Pu Yi (see Dillon 2010, pp. 14-15).



Shunzhi, the first Qing Emperor of
China (he reigned from 1644 to 1661).


Emperor Xuantong (宣統皇帝), commonly known by his Manchu name of Aisin-Gioro Puyi.
He was the 12th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty and the last Emperor of China. 

When Western powers first came into contact with China, the Chinese treated them like they had treated other foreign ethnic groups in the past. For example, when the Portuguese occupied Macau in 1553, the Chinese did not drive them away, but forced them to pay a tribute, or "rent". The Portuguese were not ceded Macau legally until 1887 (Hao 2010, p. 77). Before that date, the Chinese state did not attempt to solve the sovereignty dispute, because in their eyes there was none. This shows that China saw herself as a civilization-state that believed in her superiority and did not regard foreign infiltration as a deadly menace as long as they recognized the authority of the Emperor (in this case through the payment of a tribute).
  
This does not mean that there were no ethnic conflicts in China, on the contrary. The relationship between Han Chinese and minorities were ambivalent, especially when these minorities were the rulers, as in the case of the Mongol and Manchu dynasties.

Chinese attitudes towards outsiders were fraught with ambivalence. On the one hand, a claim to cultural universalism led the elite to assert that the barbarian could be 'sinicized', or transformed by the beneficial influence of culture and climate. On the other hand, when their sense of cultural superiority was threatened, the elite appealed to categorical differences in nature to expel the barbarian and seal the country off from perverting influences of the outside world (Dikötter 1992, p. 29). 

John Barrow, an English statesman who took part in the first British diplomatic mission to China (the so-called Macartney Mission, from 1792 to 1794), describes the rising tensions between the Manchus and the Han Chinese. He states that the Manchus had largely adopted the language, dress, manners and customs of the Han majority, but that after having consolidated their power they had become more assertive towards the Han:

In proportion as the Tartar (=Manchu) power has increased, they have become less felicitous to conciliate the Chinese. All the heads of departments are now Tartars. The ministers are all Tartars; and most of the offices of high trust and power are filled by Tartars. 
And although the ancient language of the country (i.e. Chinese) is still preserved as the court language, yet it is more than probable that Tartar pride, encreasing [sic!] with its growing power, will ere long be induced to adopt its own. 
The Emperor Kaung-shee [Kangxi] indeed took uncommon pains to improve the Mantchoo language, and to form it into a systematic Thesaurus or dictionary; and Tchien-Lung [Qianlong] directed that the children of all such parents as were one a Tartar, the other a Chinese, should be taught the Mantchoo language; and that they might pass their examinations for office in that language. 

I could observe, that the young men of the royal family at Yuen-min-yuen spoke with great contempt of the Chinese. One of them, perceiving that I was desirous of acquiring some knowledge of the Chinese written character, took great pains to convince me that the Tartar language was much superior to it [...]. An ill-natured remark [...] on the cramped feet and the hobbling gait of a Chinese woman met with their [the Manchus'] hearty approbation; but they were equally displeased on hearing the clumsy shoes worn by the Tartar ladies compared to the broad flat-bottomed junks of the Chinese (John Barrow: Travels in China, Chapter VII).
Manchu women in 1900. One of the visible differences between Manchus and Han Chinese was that the Manchus never adopted the custom of footbinding

Despite conflicts and frictions, since the Han Chinese saw culture as the most important element of the Chinese state and society, it was possible for other ethnic groups to be integrated into the system as long as they were willing to accept the superiority of Chinese civilization. The ambivalent relationship between the Han majority and the various ethnic minorities, however, remained a constant of the nascent modern Chinese nationalism and has not yet been entirely solved.

The modern concept of nationalism in China began to emerge as a result of Western, and subsequently Japanese, economic and military domination.

During the period between the first Opium War (1839-1842) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900), China suffered humiliating military defeats and was transformed into a semi-colony of the West and Japan. Other than previous foreign rules like that of the Mongols and the Manchus, Western colonialism had disastrous effects for China that threatened her very existence. 

Western powers not only did not accept the superiority of Chinese civilization, but they acted according to the new economic logic of colonialism that aimed at exploiting China economically while hindering her industrial or technological development. Chinese intellectuals began to realize that the old imperial system wasn't working any longer, and craved for political and social change. That was the period in which, influenced by Western thinking and as a form of self-defence, Chinese nationalism developed (Hao 2010, pp. 82-83; Dillon 2010, pp. 105-106).

At first, Chinese intellectuals believed that they could resist foreign aggression by simply adopting Western technology and science while maintaining the essence of the Chinese state and civilization. This concept was implemented by what is known as the Self-Strengthening Movement (自強運動, 1860s-1895). The movement was in its core a conservative project that aimed at catching up with Western technology while rejecting Western culture. This was known as the principle of "Chinese learning as the essence, Western learning as the function" (中學為體,西學為用). This idea was first developed by Feng Guifen (1809-1874), and then by Zhang Zhidong (1837-1909) (see Hao 2010, p. 83; Dillon 2010, p. 106).

However, the movement was only partly successful. It proved impossible to introduce Western technologies without adopting other social and economic characteristics of the West which had created industrial and technological development. Therefore, the movement didn't manage to stop foreign powers from gaining further territorial and economic concessions in the Empire. 

A subsequent reform movement, known as the Hundred Day Reform (1898), was another attempt, but this time more radical, to modernize China. It was launched by Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) and intellectuals such as Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929). 

Following China's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895, Chinese elites were shocked by the humiliation suffered at the hands of Japan, a country that the Chinese had until that moment considered inferior to them. As a response, many members of the gentry formed political organizations to protest against the peace Treaty of Shimonoseki, according to which China, among other things, had to cede the island of Taiwan to Japan.

Reformer Kang Youwei
One of the most important of such organizations was the Self-Strengthening Society, founded by Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Yuan Shikai and others in September 1895. The Guangxu emperor, who was at that time only 27 years old, co-opted the reformist elites and started the Hundred Day Reform movement, which was, however, soon neutralized by palace intrigues (see Dillon 2010, pp. 115-116). The reform programme was too progressive, and conservative groups resisted deep innovations.

The Qing state seemed unable to carry out real reforms and bring about the change more and more people felt China needed. But a new generation of intellectuals and revolutionaries was emerging, and they were increasingly radical in their ideas for the salvation of China. The most famous of them was the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, who would give a major contribution to the downfall of the Chinese Empire and the success of the Republican Revolution.

Sun Yat-sen and Chinese Nationalism


Sun Yat-sen
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) is commonly known as the "Father of the Chinese Nation" (國父) both in the PRC and in the ROC. He was the founder of modern Chinese nationalism, and the most important figure behind the revolutionary activities that led to the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty, the end of the Chinese Empire and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. He was also the founder of the Nationalist Party (Guomindang), which was established in 1912. After Sun's death in 1925, the Guomindang created a one-party regime that ruled the Republic of China on the mainland from 1927 to 1949, and on Taiwan from 1949 to 1991. After the democratization of the Republic of China on Taiwan in the 1990s, the Guomindang succeeded in remaining one of the major political parties. The current President of the Republic of China is Guomindang's Ma Yingjiu, who was elected in 2008 and again in 2012.  

Sun Yat-sen's theories, based on the concepts of national unity, military strength and economic and social modernization, are still fundamental to understand the idea of nationalism both within the CCP and the KMT.

Sun Yat-sen's major theoretical contribution to Chinese nationalism are the Three Principles of the People (三民主義, pinyin: Sān Mín Zhǔyì). He used this term for the first time in 1905, but he codified it in his last work, a collection of sixteen lectures delivered at the Canton University between January and August 1924 (Bergere 1998, pp. 352-353).

The Three Principles of the People were of great importance for the intellectual and political history of modern China, because they created a nationalist agenda which was recognized by most political factions as guidelines for national reconstruction. As John Fitzgerald put it:

There was [...] no place for political division in Sun's dream of China. New China was in need of a new state because [...] nation and state always appear destined for each other in the nationalist imagination [...]. The Nationalist party conceived of itself not as a partisan institution within a national state structure, but as a national institution embracing the "common good" (Fitzgerald 1996, p. 32).

Sun Yat-sen's non-partisan attitude allowed him to synthesize various ideological currents. He combined nationalism, traditionalism, revolutionary spirit and Christian faith; furthermore, he showed an early interest in socialism, and he favoured the establishment of close ties between China and the Soviet Union, whose leader Lenin he deeply admired, while at the same time keeping good relations with the West. Besides, he co-operated with the warlords when he deemed necessary. The fact that his writings and theories often outlined general principles rather than offering detailed proposals for their realization (one notorious example being the concept of socialism) made his thoughts susceptible of various interpretations, which certainly helped Sun's rise as an iconic figure of Chinese nationalism revered by both conservative nationalists and communists.

The Three Principles of the People are 民族 (nationalism), 民權 (democracy) and 民生 (socialism). Sun stated that his principles were the same as Abraham Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, and for the people" (Hao 2010, p. 87). Before discussing the first principle more in detail, let us briefly examine the meaning of democracy and socialism in Sun's doctrine. 

The second principle, democracy, was based on the following four powers: suffrage, 'power of recall' (i.e. the right to recall elected representatives), popular legislative initiative and referendum (Sun 1953, pp. 144-145). "Only when the people have these four powers," said Sun, "can we say that there is a full measure of democracy" (ibid., p. 145). Democracy is definitely one of the elements of Sun's ideology which allowed him to maintain his role as the father of the nation after the end of Guomindang one-party regime.

The principle of socialism shows Sun's concern for the economic and material conditions of China. Socialism is not to be understood as Marxism, but rather as a social form of capitalism. As Sun explained:

Judging by Marx's theory, we would have to say that social change is caused by class struggle and class struggle is caused by the capitalist oppression of workers. Since the interests of capitalists and workers inevitably conflict and cannot be reconciled, struggle ensues and this struggle within society is what makes for progress. Look, however, at the actual facts of social progress in the West [...].  
When production is large and products are rich, the capitalists naturally make fortunes and the workers receive high wages. From this point of view, when the capitalists improve the living conditions of the workers and increase their productivity, the workers can produce more for the capitalists. On the capitalists' side, this means greater production; on the workers' side, higher wages. Here is a reconciliation of the interests of capitalists and workers, rather than a conflict between them" (ibid., pp. 160-161). 
The Kuomintang (=Guomindang) some time ago in its party platform settled upon two methods by which the Principle of Livelihood (=socialism) is to be carried out. The first method is equalization of landownership and the second is regulation of capital. 

Let us now go back to the first principle, nationalism. Sun Yat-sen's vision of a united and powerful China was born out of the threat which Western nations posed to the survival of the country. Sun realized that Western imperialism was profoundly different from previous foreign dominations.

China in these thousands of years has been twice crushed by political power to the point of complete subjection, during the Mongol and Manchu dynasties. But both these times we lost our country to a smaller not a larger people. Hence [...] the race has not been seriously injured (ibid., p. 8).

Sun believed that Western powers not only had such a large population that they could extinguish the Chinese race were they to subjugate it, but that the methods of Western imperialism were much more subtle and catastrophic for the future of China than simple military domination. He feared the disappearance of Chinese civilization, and he therefore perceived his revolutionary activity as the mission to save China and secure her survival in the modern world.

Accordingly, he described the San Min Zhuyi as "the principles for our nation's salvation", as "an idea, a faith, a power" (ibid., p. 1). He believed that the three principles could "elevate China on an equal position among the nations, in international affairs, in government, and in economic life, so that she can permanently exist in the world" (ibid.).

Sun had a clear understanding of the economic nature of Western oppression, which had transformed China into a semi-colony of Western powers.

[H]ow do other countries meet foreign economic pressure and check the invasion of economic forces from abroad? - Usually, by means of a tariff which protects economic development within these countries. Just as forts are built at the entrances of harbors for protection against foreign military invasion, so a tariff against foreign goods protects a nation's revenue and gives native industries a chance to develop [...].  
What is the situation now in China? [...] Because of the low tariff, foreign cloth is cheaper than native cloth. Since, moreover, certain classes of the people prefer the foreign to the native cloth, native industry has been ruined. With the destruction of this native hand industry, many people have been thrown out of of work and have become idlers. This is a result of foreign economic oppression. So, political oppression can be easily seen even by the ignorant classes, but economic oppression is an intangible thing which none of us can easily perceive [...]. 
Because of this economic mastery of China and the consequent yearly damages, our society is not free to develop and the common people do not have the means of living. This economic control alone is worse than millions of soldiers ready to kill us. And while foreign imperialism backs up this economic subjugation, the living problems of the Chinese people are daily more pressing, the unemployed are daily increasing, and the country's power is, in consequence, steadily weakening (ibid., pp. 10-13).

We see that foreign economic domination, brought about by economic mechanisms that Asian peoples had never experienced before in their history, generated intellectual movements which would subsequently lead to "development regimes", which saw it as their goal to modernize the country in order to guarantee its survival. Most East Asian countries, among them China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, are today imbued with the spirit of economic modernization that was first born at a time when Asian peoples experienced the effects of devious Western economic subjugation, and became painfully aware of their own inability to deal with these new forms of oppression.

As economist Erik Reinert points out, barring other countries from establishing their own industry through protectionism and industrial policy, while forcing them to specialize in the production of certain products - mostly raw materials - was the typical method employed by Western imperialists to impoverish other nations. One of the reasons why the American colonies rebelled against Britain in the 18th century was that the British did not want to let the American colonists build their own industry, but rather specialize in raw materials that would be processed by industries in Britain.   


It is particularly interesting to note that the United States [...] fought long and hard against the economic theories and policies that today they vehemently support. The first American Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), was an important theorist with regard to the importance of industrialization [...]. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln [...] wanted to industrialize the United States under the protection of tariffs - in clear opposition to the advice of English economists and a continuous flow of sarcastic remarks by English politicians and economists over a period of 150 years. The nineteenth-century saying in the USA was `Don't do as the English tell you to do, do as the English did' (Reinert 2007, Chapter 5).

Sun Yat-sen had certainly some understanding of the subtle Western stratagem of keeping colonies poor, and he believed that the Chinese people had to be mobilized against foreign domination to put an end to economic subjugation. 

For Sun, the only way to mobilize the Chinese people was the creation of a modern nationalism that could unite all Chinese into a single nation ready to resist foreign imperialism.

Symbol of the Guomindang
Unlike the Communists, who sought to radically change the structure of Chinese society, Sun was a conservative who wanted to utilize the elements of Chinese culture which he considered "good". According to Sun, the reason why China did not resist foreign rule was the lack of a national consciousness. He believed that the Chinese people saw themselves only as members of a family, or clan, but that they did not feel as members of the larger national community.

All within the clan are collateral kindred; each family is constantly revising its genealogical record, pushing back its ancestry tens and hundreds of generations to the age-long past . [T]his idea of "reverencing ancestors and being kind to the clan" has been imbedded for millenniums in the Chinese mind. So a Chinese ignored the downfall of his country; he did not care who his emperor was, and all he had to do was to pay his grain tax. But if anything was said about the possible extinction of his clan, he would be in terror lest the ancestral continuity of blood and food be broken, and he would give his life to resist that (ibid., p. 33).

However, Sun did not want to destroy the clan structure of Chinese society , but rather use it as a basis on which to build a modern national spirit.

Let us take the clans as small foundations and work at building up the nation upon these [...]. If our whole body of citizens can realize a great national unity upon the basis of our clan groups, no matter what pressure foreign nations bring upon us - military, economic, or population - we will not fear (ibid., pp. 33-35).

We can clearly see that for Sun nationalism was a necessary precondition for liberating China from foreign oppression.

These are the two ways of resisting a foreign Power. The first is the positive way - arousing the national spirit, and seeking solutions for the problems of democracy and livelihood. The second way is the negative way - nonco-operation and passive resistance - whereby foreign imperialistic activity is weakened, the national standing is defended, and national destruction is averted (ibid., p. 35).

Sun Yat-sen's anti-Western, 'emergency' nationalism that defines itself as a necessity for the survival of the nation and its resistance against foreign menaces, and which advocates social and economic modernization, became the official ideology of the Guomindang, and has remained a major element in the educational system of the Republic of China in Taiwan (where schools still display the portrait of Sun Yat-sen). 

However, as I have mentioned previously, Sun's nationalism also appealed to the Communists. Mao Zedong was himself an admirer of Sun, though he criticized the 'bourgeois' character of Sun's nationalist revolution. But it was with the 'Opening up and Reform' movement launched by Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s that Sun Yat-sen began to be rediscovered in the PRC and his role as a national leader reassessed. Sun became a link between China's past and Deng's Four Modernizations Programme (Bergere 1998, p. 1).

At the beginning of this post, I said that understanding Chinese nationalism is vital to understand the China-Taiwan question. I shall argue that one element in Sun Yat-sen's nationalist thinking already prefigured the current territorial dispute between mainland China and Taiwan: it is the idea of "one China". 

Sun Yat-sen advocated the establishment of a Republic that could unite the whole of China in the boundaries of the former Qing Empire. For him, territorial unity was a major political goal. Reflecting the old ambivalence between the Han majority and other ethnic groups within China, Sun Yat-sen's idea of the future role of non-Han peoples in the newly founded Republic was extremely complex: 1) Sun was an anti-Manchu leader who, as we have seen above, regarded the Manchus as a foreign element and wanted to re-establish a Han rule over the country; 2) nevertheless, Sun Yat-sen defined the borders of the Republic of China as the borders of the Manchu Empire; 3) Sun categorically opposed the independence of ethnic minorities. He advocated the unity of all peoples of China, and the territorial integrity of the nation. 



Bust of Sun Yat-sen in Sun Yat-sen Museum in Macau SAR, People's Republic of China


On the one hand, Sun seems to have believed that China was basically a Han Chinese civilization and the other ethnic groups should be subordinated to the Han: 

The Chinese race totals four hundred million people; for the most part, the Chinese people are of the Han or Chinese race with common blood, common language, common religion, and common customs - a single, pure race (Sun 1953, p. 5).

On the other hand, he insisted that the Republic of China would unite the five major nationalities. He even believed that these nationalities would have to lose their distinctive characteristics that made them different from the Han:

We shall establish an united Chinese Republic in order that all the peoples - Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Tartars and Chinese - should constitute a single powerful nation [...]. The name "Republic of Five Nationalities" exists only because there exists a certain racial distinction which distorts the meaning of a single Republic. We must facilitate the dying out of all names of individual people inhabiting China, i.e. Manchus, Tibetans etc. In this respect we must follow the example of the United States of America, i.e. satisfy the demands and requirements of all races and unite them in a single cultural and political whole, to constitute a single nation with such a name, for example, as "Chunhua" (= 中華, pinyin: Zhōnghuá) (Sun Yat-sen: Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary. A Programme of National Reconstruction for China. Taipei 1953, pp. 180-181).

We can see that the problem of the relationship between the Han majority and the ethnic minorities, which is a constant worry of the government in the PRC today, already existed in Sun's version of Chinese nationalism. The present ethnic conflicts in Tibet or Xinjiang are, from this point of view, nothing more than the inevitable consequence of this type of pan-Chinese nationalism already formulated by Sun Yat-sen and adopted by all Chinese nationalist leaders, from Chiang Kai-shek to Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping etc. For them, there is and can only be "one China", and this China has to comprise all ethnic groups and have the same territorial extension of the Qing Empire (with some pragmatic exceptions, such as Mongolia). From the perspective of the KMT and CCP, allowing Taiwan or any other region of the former Qing Empire to become independent from China, amounts to betraying the very principle of Chinese nationalism.

The idea of self-determination of any part of China is not contemplated in this doctrine, nor there is any clear guideline for regulating the relationship between the Han and the ethnic minorities. The general attitude since Sun's times seems to have been a mix of partial 'Sinicization' and the propagation of government-sponsored pan-Chinese nationalism. This kind of nationalist policy could be observed in Taiwan under Guomindang one-party rule (around 1945-1991), when Taiwanese nationalism was strictly prohibited and Chinese nationalism was the official state ideology. Another interesting example is Hong Kong, where after 1997 the Chinese authorities have been trying to propagate pan-Chinese nationalism, in order to instill in the Hong Kongers the "national spirit" that the former British colony lacked.