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Chiang Kai-sheks China 1928-1937

A ONE PARTY STATE: The Nanjing Decade

In 1928, when Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang Jieshi) reached Beijing at the end
of his Northern Expedition, he proclaimed that he had unified China
and that the country was under his control and the control of his party,
the Guomindang (also known as the Nationalists). He and his
Revolutionary Army had disposed of MOST of the warlords and
butchered the Communists in Shanghai and in other places.
So this is the case study of the way he ruled China over the next 10
years, known as the Nanjing Decade (ND), because Chiang made his
capital in Nanjing, in central China, not far from Shanghai, the
economic capital of China. The Japanese invasion of 1937 ended the
Key ideas on the Nanjing Decade
1. How much control did Chiang have over China?
He had a narrow political base, among the business and banking
families of Shanghai and only really controlled four provinces, the
richest and most populous portion of China. A number of warlords
did survive. Chiang was unable to rule Shanxi province, which
remained firmly in the hands of the warlord, Yan Xishan. Manchuria
was ruled by warlord Zhang Zuolin but he agreed to recognize
Chiangs authority in 1928. However Manchuria was seized by Japan
in 1931 and Zhang was assassinated by the Japanese. There was
also the added problem of GMD generals in the south slipping into
warlordism as Chiang moved north and then there were the
2. What did Chiang do to improve the dreadful conditions of
the peasants?
Very little! This was a major weakness that was to be exploited in
the years that followed the ND. The peasants felt no connection to
Chiangs government and were barely aware of its existence. The
GMD had no party organization in the provinces and was cut of
from the vast population. Famine was a major problem: between
1929 and 1931 over a million people died of hunger in NW China.
The GMD made no serious attempt to deal with bribery and
corruption that had pervaded the warlord period. A small privileged
group grew wealthy. Chiang had married into one of Chinas richest
families: the Soong; and his closest friends were from the new
wealthy industrialist classes. Four families the Soong, Kung, Chen

and Chiang controlled the banking system and most major

3. What did Chiang do for China?
Quite a lot for the economy (if you were in business, middle class or
A silver dollar (the Yuan) and a new paper currency was
introduced to replace the old Tael
The Banking system was modernized
The right to collect customs duties was returned to China by
treaties with the foreign powers
Some foreign concessions were returned to China by Britain and
Belgium but the International Settlement in Shanghai and most
other foreign concessions remained in foreign hands until WW2
A Ministry of Railways was created and succeeded in building a
number of new lines. From 1928 to 1937 the railway network
grew from 13,000km to 21,000km
Highways were built extending the road system from 1000km in
1921 to 115,703km in 1937
Modern airlines were introduced providing an air network
throughout China
Industry was expanded, especially in cotton weaving, flour,
matches, cement and chemicals
The education system was reorganized. There was a five-fold
growth in the number of secondary schools in the decade
4. Was Chiang Kai-shek a fascist?
Although democracy was the goal of the GMD, Chiang himself was
no democrat. He believed the Chinese people for not ready for
democracy. He was strongly influenced by Confucianism and also
Fascism which was gaining popularity in Europe in the 1930s
(Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany).
I believe that unless everyone has absolute trust in one man we
cannot reconstruct the nation and we cannot complete the
revolution, Chiang Kai-shek.
The best illustration of fascist influence in China during the ND is
the Blue Shirts created in 1932, they resembled the Italian Black
Shirts and the Nazi Brown Shirts. The Blue Shirts were a secret
police organization formed by a group of Huangpu Academy officers
and supported by bankers and industrialists in Shanghai. The Blue
Shirts imprisoned or executed many who opposed Chiang Kai-shek
and the GMD.

In 1934 Chiang started the New Life Movement, based on

Confucian ideas. Chiang regarded a good citizen as one who gave
loyal obedience to the government, and the press was strictly
controlled. After 1932 the government introduced a campaign of
repression many people were arrested and accused of being
Communists. Hundreds of books were burned or banned. Under
Chiang China was little more than a military dictatorship.
5. Did Chiang effectively deal with the threat from the
communists? After five Extermination Campaigns in which his
armies eventually surrounded and flushed the communists out of
Jiangxi province, Chiang was not able to destroy them completely
and they were able to survive the Long March (1934-35) and
regroup in Yanan from where they were eventually able to defeat
The Long March is important for the following reasons:
It was during the LM that Mao won his struggle with the 28
Bolsheviks and took control of the CCP. This happened at the
Zunyi Conference (January 1935)
The Communists lost 90% of their soldiers on the LM because
Chiangs troops were chasing them all of the way, BUT many of
the brave and dramatic events became part of legend and were
used to inspire the CCP in later years e.g. the Luding Bridge
Mao was able to regroup the communists in Yanan and it was
from there that his successful plans for the Communist revolution
were hatched. The Yanan Spirit was an important reason for
the CCPs victory over the GMD in the Civil War (1945-49).
6. How did Chiang deal with the threat from the Japanese?
In 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria, in 1932 they bombed
Shanghai, from 1933 to 1936 they nibbled at Chinas northern
provinces, and in 1937 they invaded China. This was the beginning
of the Anti-Japanese War (1937-45), also known as the SinoJapanese War. Chiang was reluctant to fight the Japanese because
he was too intent on getting rid of the communists. He was
kidnapped by the northern warlord, the Young Marshall and forced
into making a United Front with the communists and war with the
Japanese. These issues are at the heart any questions on Chiangs
foreign policy.