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Government and Politics in Kuomintang China

January 29, 2010

Hung-mao Tien. Government and Politics in Kuomintang China, 1927-1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Brent Haas (2006)

Hung-mao Tien begins his highly informative study of Guomindang state-building during the Nanjing Decade (1927-1937) with a telling statement. “The Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, had ostensibly ruled China for over two decades, 1927-1949, before being defeated and replaced by the Communists. For the last twelve years of their rule, however, the Nationalists were engaged in almost continuous warfare, first with Japan and then with the Communists” (1). Thus the tone is set, and Tien’s study of the institutional and administrative structures of the Nationalist party-state effectively de-centers Nanjing in the “Nanjing Decade” and to a large extent takes the “nation” out of Nationalist China. With its wealth of detail on the administrative apparatus of the party-state, Government and Politics in Kuomintang China is the baseline source for the limits of Nanjing’s reach.

Tien finds a distinct militarization of GMD politics in the 1930’s that he views as related to Chiang’s increased control of the military and rise to preeminent power, the remaining influence of provincial militarists after the Northern Expedition, and the threat of Japanese military aggression (39). The most effective methods of projecting central power into the provinces was the administration of Bandit Suppression Zones, thus attesting to Tien’s argument for the militarization of the GMD (40, 43). The increased integration of hitherto autonomous provinces under the Bandit Suppression Zones was somewhat paradoxical in two respects. The growing power of Communists gave the Jiang common ground with both regional militarists and civilian provincial elites (98, 108). The overwhelming fiscal commitment to military campaigns, however, prevented implementation of real socio-economic reform, thus Tien concludes that the Nationalist Party’s efforts to build a modern administrative structure were rudimentary at best (43, ,178-9, 183).

Tien dedicates a large chapter to detailed discussion of intra-party cliques such as the Blue Shirts, the C.C. Clique, and the Political Study Group, and in this respect, Tien’s work resembles Polachek’s excellent study of mid-nineteenth century poetry clubs and their political ties (1992). The author concludes that while the personal loyalty of members to Jiang may have strengthened his position within the GMD apparatus, it also served to “perpetuate regionally based power groups, since some civilian leaders who were alienated from the regime made alliances with regional or provincial forces against Nanking” (179).

According to Tien’s voluminous research, Nanjing had tight and continuous control over Zhejiang and Jiangsu; initially marginal but increasing influence in Anhui, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Gansu, and Shanxi; and “non-existent or at best nominal” power in the rest. Thus in 1936, the GMD controlled only ten provinces (5, 95). Although the author admirably refrains from passing judgment on the GMD’s ability to unify and govern China had Japan not invaded, his evidence argues against that counterfactual possibility, instead calling for more research before engaging in such generalizations (182). The powerfully detailed evidence in Government and Politics in Kuomintang China highlights the need for more studies focused on regions outside or on the fringes of GMD military control, especially the southwest and northwest.

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