BECK index

Republican China in Turmoil 1912-1926

by Sanderson Beck

Yuan Shikai's Presidency 1912-16
China under Warlords 1916-19
May Fourth Movement of 1919
China's Struggle for Power 1920-24
Sun Yat-sen and Guomindang 1920-24
May 30th Movement of 1925-26
Lu Xun's Stories

This chapter has been published in the book EAST ASIA 1800-1949.
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Yuan Shikai's Presidency 1912-16

Qing Dynasty Fall 1875-1912

Yuan Shikai was born into a family of officials in 1859, and he purchased an official title in 1880. He rose in the army and had more than a dozen wives and many children. After the 1895 defeat by Japan he trained officers in Korea, where he became resident. In 1898 Yuan made the critical decision to stay loyal to Empress Cixi, dooming the reforms of Kang and Emperor Guangxu. As governor of Shandong he disobeyed imperial orders by punishing criminal Boxers, but he refused to march on Beijing in early summer of 1900. He was governor-general of the capital province of Zhili 1901-07, and he had started schools for self-government by 1906; but his power was weakened when he was transferred to Beijing the next year. After Cixi died in November 1908, Yuan was quickly pushed into retirement. During the 1911 revolution he was summoned by the Qing regime and cleverly negotiated more power for himself with them and with the revolutionaries. He insisted on keeping the capital at Beijing and gained more power by getting the court to recognize him as the successor of the abdicating Emperor Puyi. Sun Yat-sen offered to let Yuan replace himself as president of the new republic as long as he accepted the republican constitution and parliament. Yuan Shikai was inaugurated as provisional president on March 10, 1912 and the Nanjing government was dissolved on April 1.

Yuan Shikai refused to pay Huang Xing’s 50,000 troops, and so they had to disband. After Yuan dismissed the governor-general of Zhili in June without his countersignature, Premier Tang Shaoyi resigned along with four Revolutionary Alliance cabinet ministers. The next premier, the diplomat Lu Zhengxiang, was so ineffective that he was impeached by the Parliament. Internal Affairs minister Zhao Bingjun became premier and made the cabinet compliant. Yuan claimed he had 800,000 men under arms in order to negotiate loans for demobilization. Yuan invited Sun Yat-sen to Beijing, and after many hours of meetings he appointed him director of railways on September 9; Huang Xing was put in charge of the Guangzhou-Hankou and Sichuan railways. Sun appointed his old friend Charlie Soong (Song Jiashu) treasurer and hired his oldest daughter Ailing as his English secretary. Hu Hanmin would not cooperate with Yuan, and with the activists Zhu Zhixin, Liao Zhongkai, and Chen Jionming he formed a revolutionary government in Guangdong. They applied Henry George’s theories to sell land, and many merchants and gentry fled to Hong Kong or Macao.

The Chinese Socialist Party had been founded by Jiang Kanghu with a small study group in Shanghai in November 1911, but after the revolution it grew rapidly to 400,000 members. At their second annual congress in October 1912 Sun Yat-sen spoke for twelve hours over three days. Anarchists interested in vegetarianism, chastity, and self-sacrifice opposed his efforts to politicize the party, and the split caused a rapid decline. Yuan Shikai banned the Socialist party in the summer of 1913.

The election laws had been promulgated in August. The new Chinese constitution called for a Senate and a House of Representatives, and elections were scheduled for December 1912. The Revolutionary Alliance led by Sun Yat-sen and Huang Xing absorbed four small parties and founded the National People’s Party (Guomindang). Song Jiaoren had drafted the new constitution, and he became the leader of the party and appealed to the gentry and merchants by moderating policies and deleting socialism and equality of the sexes. Liang Qichao became chairman of the small Democratic Party (Minzhudang), and after the election they merged with the Unification Party and the Republican Party to form the Progressive Party. About forty million men over 21 years of age with property worth $500 or who paid at least $2 in taxes with an elementary school certificate were eligible to vote. Suffragist Tang Junying led a demonstration at the National Council in Nanjing to demand equal rights for women and the vote, but they were evicted. The Guomindang was the most organized party, and they won 269 of the 596 seats in the House and 123 of the 274 Senate seats. While the Parliament was adjourned in January 1913, Yuan promulgated rules for provincial government that aroused protests. Guomindang leader Song Jiaoren began criticizing President Yuan Shikai publicly, demanding a party cabinet.

On March 20, 1913 Song Jiaoren was shot twice while boarding a train and died two days later. The evidence led to Premier Zhao and the cabinet. The assassin died mysteriously in prison, and Zhao refused to answer a subpoena, claiming illness. He was made governor-general of Zhili, but he died of poisoning on February 17, 1914. Others involved in the case were also killed, and no one was convicted. Vice President Li Yuanhong refused to join an anti-Yuan conspiracy. Before the Parliament convened in April, Yuan asked Americans to pray in their churches for China. The next month the United States became the first nation to grant Yuan’s government full diplomatic recognition. Yuan arranged a loan of £25 million from the Five-Power Banking Consortium on April 26 despite massive opposition by the Parliament. Sun Yat-sen and Huang Xing urged them to reject the loan, but acting Premier Duan Qirui surrounded the Parliament building with troops. This money helped Yuan defeat the impending revolution.

The Nationalist (Guomindang) party impeached the government in May. Sun Yat-sen decided that Yuan had to be replaced and tried to negotiate an alliance with Japan to support a second revolution. Yuan dismissed the governors of Jiangxi, Anhui, and Guangdong, and in early July they declared independence, followed by four more provinces within a month. Yuan sent 10,000 troops from Beijing to Hubei. Fighting began in Jiangxi on July 12, but the revolutionary commander Huang Xing abandoned Nanjing on July 29. Sun Yat-sen went to Japan on August 8, soon followed by Huang and other leaders. The Chinese navy in Shanghai with fresh funds sided with Beijing, and Yuan’s forces defeated the revolution by September. General Zhang Xun’s forces, who still had Manchu queues, took Nanjing on September 1 and spent two weeks pillaging, raping, and burning. The damage was estimated at about $20 million. British minister John Jordan supplied Yuan with loans and munitions, and he banned Sun and Huang Xing from Hong Kong. Yuan’s generals in the Yangzi Valley became warlords, and his imperial troops occupied provinces that had not even revolted. Tens of thousands of people who had participated in the uprising were punished, and thousands were executed for sedition. In Hunan under Tang Xiangming about 5,000 people were executed in 1914.

Customs dues were being collected by foreigners who were keeping them to pay the interest on China’s foreign debts, and so the Yuan government was running a deficit of 13 million yuan per month in 1913. Yuan spent money building and improving prisons and to make elementary education free and compulsory for boys. He objected to reducing the Confucian education and insisted that the entire book of Mencius be taught in elementary school. In 1912, the first year of the republic, the number of schools in China increased to 87,272 with 2,933,387 students including 141,430 girls. Yuan tried to suppress the opium trade and smoking, but opium dealers were protected in foreign areas.

The British backed Tibet, and on October 7, 1913 Yuan Shikai acknowledged Tibet’s autonomy. That day England recognized the Chinese republic. Japan and Russia also gained concessions before they extended diplomatic recognition. On October 6 Yuan’s soldiers and police compelled the new Parliament to vote three times until they had elected him president for a five-year term. He was inaugurated four days later. On October 31 the Parliament promulgated a constitution with a cabinet system to check the president’s powers, but four days later Yuan denounced the Guomindang as seditious, dissolved the party, and evicted their members from Parliament. After their affiliates were searched, 438 Guomindang party members were banned from Parliament. Sun Yat-sen fled once again to Japan in November. Yuan in December ordered that magistrates had to pass a qualifying examination on Chinese laws, treaties, customs, literature, and local administration.

Parliament did not have a quorum and was dissolved on January 4, 1914 as Yuan annulled the 1912 constitution. The next month he also ordered the provincial assemblies and local governments dissolved. About forty specialists on finance met and recommended a silver currency and minting a national dollar to replace foreign coins and the provincial “dragon dollars.” All of China was ordered to worship formally Heaven and Confucius. Yuan also called a national conference attended by 66 delegates, and on May 1 they replaced the provisional constitution with the Constitutional Compact that gave President Yuan extraordinary powers with ten-year terms that allowed re-election. The two years of press freedom that had allowed nearly five hundred newspapers to reach a circulation of 42 million ended when censorship was imposed with severe penalties. In the spring of 1914 Yuan promulgated regulations to give civil governors more authority in the provinces so that the military would be less likely to revolt. Yuan liked bureaucracy and instituted examinations that emphasized bureaucratic skills. He ordered prosecution of official corruption, revived the Censorate, and instituted a special court for judging official crimes.

On July 8, 1914 Sun Yat-sen formed the secret Revolutionary Party (Gemingdang). Those who joined before and during the revolution were to have more political privileges, and everyone had to sign and attach their fingerprints to an oath of loyalty to Sun. Only a few hundred activists in Japan joined the party. Chen Qimei emerged as a leader, and he was friends with the Shanghai businessman Li Houyi and the millionaire Zhang Jingjiang, who was connected to Du Yuesheng, leader of the Green Gang. Chen also brought the young Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), who was wanted for armed robbery and had assassinated Chen’s rival Tao Chengzhang in his hospital bed on February 15, 1912. Sun supported the bandit White Wolf (Bai Lang), who led rebel troops in southern Henan and Anhui before gaining a base in Shanxi; but White Wolf died in August, and hundreds of thousands of imperial troops were used to defeat them by late 1914.

Great Britain had large investments in China and increased them to $607 million by 1914. By then Germany, Russia, Japan, France, the United States, and others had a total of one billion dollars invested in China. They wanted to protect their assets and guarded the passage between Beijing and the sea. When the European war began in August 1914, loans became difficult; but Japan increased theirs. On August 15 Japan gave Germany one month to transfer the territory of Jiaozhou that it had leased from China in 1898. Japan sent troops to China on September 2, and they occupied Qingdao in Shandong on November 7.

In January 1915 Japan presented China with its Twenty-one Demands that included control of Shandong, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, the southeast coast, and the Yangzi Valley. They also wanted joint administration of the Han-Ye-Ping Coal and Iron Company, nonalienation of Chinese ports and islands to other powers, Japanese police and economic advisors in the north, and more commercial rights in Fujian province. Newspapers opposed the demands, and the public was aroused. Nineteen governors urged Yuan Shikai to refuse. Tens of thousands met in the International Settlement in Shanghai on March 18 and resolved to begin a boycott of Japan. One week later Yuan Shikai ordered the boycott abandoned, but the boycott spread. On May 7 Japan gave China an ultimatum to accept the territorial concessions but not the other demands. Yuan agreed two days later and signed the treaty on May 25 without consent of the Parliament, which had been dissolved. Many Chinese students left Japan, and merchants organized a boycott of Japanese products. Yuan ordered all the provincial governments to prohibit the boycott, and so the campaign changed to encouraging the use of native goods.

Sun Yat-sen became unpopular during this time because he was still trying to negotiate with Japan in order to overthrow Yuan. Sun fell in love with his secretary Song Ailing; but her Christian father, Charlie Soong, would not approve the marriage because Sun was already married. Her younger sister Song Qingling became Sun’s secretary, and they fell in love and eloped on October 25, 1915, causing a scandal among Christians because of bigamy and among Confucians for not having her father’s permission. Their marriage was happy, and Qingling became a respected figure, eventually being honored as the vice president of the People’s Republic of China until her death in 1980.

Yuan made Confucianism China’s state religion and gradually tried to give himself imperial authority. On August 21, 1915 Yang Du and the Peace-Planning Society began a campaign to make Yuan emperor, and the famous translator Yan Fu was listed as one of the six directors without his permission. Liang Qichao published an article opposing a return to the monarchy, arguing against changing the basic form of the state and explaining that the republican revolution had destroyed respect for the monarchy. As the revolt against it developed, he also argued that Yuan was unsuitable. In November the National People’s Representative Assembly of 1,993 people voted unanimously to approve Yuan being emperor. In Shanghai on November 10 his commander was assassinated, and a warship was seized on December 5. Cai E escaped from detention on November 11 and organized the National Protection Army in Yunnan to defend the republic. Yuan accepted the petition to be emperor on December 12 and began planning for his inauguration on January 1, 1916 by ordering a 40,000-piece porcelain dinner set, a large jade seal, and two costly imperial robes.

Protests spread throughout China, and on December 23 the Yunnan military leader Cai E gave Yuan two days to cancel his monarchist plan. Two days later Yunnan declared independence, and 10,000 soldiers began marching. Guizhou declared independence on December 27, and Yuan postponed his enthronement. Cai E invaded Sichuan in January, and two leading generals declined to go after his National Protection Army. On March 7, 1916 Japan declared that Yuan should be removed. Guangxi declared independence that month, and another anti-monarchist army formed in Shandong. Sun Yat-sen raised more than 1,400,000 yen, and Cen Chunxuan collected another million. On March 20 Feng Guozhang and others demanded that Yuan cancel the monarchy, and he did so two days later. Nonetheless Guangdong and Zhejiang declared independence in April. Kang Youwei advised Yuan to resign and leave the country. Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Hunan announced their independence in May.  Yuan’s assassins killed Chen Qimei on May 18 while he was trying to organize an insurrection in Shanghai. Yuan Shikai became ill and died of uremia on June 6, 1916.

China under Warlords 1916-19

Vice President Li Yuanhong became president on June 7 and recalled the old Parliament of 1913, but some argued that the terms of these members had expired and debated which constitution should be effective. Li appointed Duan Qirui premier and Feng Guozhang vice president. Duan had opposed Yuan’s attempt to become emperor but backed the 1914 constitution and the senior commanders from the Beiyang army. In October 1916 the French annexed the Chinese quarter of Laoxikai in Tianjin; when this provoked mass meetings, a boycott, and a strike, the French withdrew.

In 1916 Chinese laborers were recruited in Shandong to help the war effort in Europe. Volunteers were given twenty Chinese dollars when they embarked, and their families in China were to receive ten dollars a month. After passing severe medical exams and being disinfected, they had dog tags riveted to their wrists. About 200,000 Chinese worked for the Allies in France, Flanders, and elsewhere, and nearly 2,000 died overseas. After the Germans sank a boat in the Mediterranean, killing 543, Chinese recruits were shipped east, crossed Canada in a train, and were convoyed across the Atlantic. They worked ten hours every day except for Chinese holidays and were not in combat. The YMCA helped them, and they sent 50,000 letters home each month.

The military governors (dujun) were called warlords by the  Europeans, and they held meetings at Xuzhou. At their third meeting in January 1917 they recommended dissolving Parliament. They also wanted to restore Confucianism as the state religion. Japan loaned Duan five million yen in January, and in March the Parliament broke diplomatic relations with Germany; but President Li Yuanhong opposed declaring war. The movement for neutrality was supported by chambers of commerce and Sun Yat-sen, who wrote to Lloyd George that the Chinese were not concerned with European quarrels. Duan persuaded Parliament to break off diplomatic relations with Germany in March. He declared war himself on May 14 and surrounded the Parliament with partisans demanding a war declaration. Li dismissed Duan on May 23, but nine provinces supported Duan by declaring independence. Anhui’s military governor Zhang Xun brought 5,000 soldiers to Beijing on June 7 to mediate and demanded the Parliament be dissolved. One week later Li complied.

In Shanghai the naval commander sent the fleet to Guangzhou (Canton) and declared independence on June 25, 1917. Sun Yat-sen had organized a government in Guangzhou with 130 members from the Parliament, and he got two million Chinese dollars from Germany to buy the army and navy. Yet the Guangzhou government declared war against Germany on September 13. Feng Guozhang urged Beijing to restore the 1912 constitution. General Zhang Xun led his army from the Yangzi provinces to Beijing and restored the 11-year-old Emperor Puyi on July 1. The monarchist Kang Youwei was invited to the court and drafted numerous reforms but was not given much access. Zhang replaced Cao Kun as governor-general of Zhili. Duan and Cao gathered their Beiyang forces and drove Zhang’s army out of Beijing on July 12. Puyi was deposed again, and President Li Yuanhong ordered that he receive a modern education from Western tutors. Li resigned on July 14, and Duan resumed his position as prime minister.

Feng Guozhang became acting president on August 1, 1917. A re-elected Parliament convened on August 12 and declared war on Germany and on Austria-Hungary two days later. This enabled Duan to negotiate another 145 million yen in loans. He sent troops to fight the revolutionaries in the south; but President Feng wanted to avoid a civil war, and the military campaign was sabotaged. After declaring war, China seized German property and ships and took over their concessions in Qingdao, Tianjin, and Hankou. The Allies demanded that these should remain international concessions, and Duan’s regime agreed. Western investors controlled the customs, salt tax, and the post office, and the revenues were used to make China’s debt payments first. Usually none of what was left went to dissenting southern governments. China’s annual debt payments were estimated at £10,800,000. Japan extended eight more loans to China in 1917 and eleven in 1918 in return for the Bank of Korea, Bank of Taiwan, and the Industrial Bank of Japan getting contracts for mines, forests, and railways in northeast China, the telegraph, and revenues from the Grand Canal and the stamp duty. In the next year Japan lent Duan 140 million yen ($70 million).

Sun Yat-sen returned to Guangzhou in July 1917, and 250 of the old members of parliament elected him grand marshal. However, Europeans cut off funds for his supporters. The revolutionary Tang Jiyao had opposed the monarchical movement in 1915 in Yunnan, and he wanted to control Guizhou and Sichuan. In 1917 he invaded the latter as far as Chengdu. Lu Rongting led the Guangxi militarists who also controlled Guangdong. Lu declared Guangxi-Guangdong independent in order to lift the bans on taxing opium and gambling. An international agreement made in 1911 to make growing and trading opium illegal after the end of 1917 was ignored in China, and many warlords made the opium business a major source of revenue, especially in Guangdong, Fujian, Henan, Anhui, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Sichuan. Customs seizures of foreign opium increased from 26,676 pounds in 1918 to 48,375 pounds in 1919 and 96,627 pounds in 1920.

In a treaty made on February 20, 1917 Russia recognized Japan’s 21 Demands, and Japan acknowledged Russia’s recent gains in Outer Mongolia. The next day Britain agreed to Japan’s claims in Shandong. Japan also made secret agreements with France and Italy that were not revealed until January 1919. On November 2, 1917 the United States signed the Lansing-Ishii Agreement recognizing Japan’s special position in China. When Duan called a new provisional parliament on November 10 instead of the old one, Sun Yat-sen organized a military government in Guangzhou and a Constitution Protection Movement. Feng Guozhang’s Zhili clique controlled northern and central China, and Duan resigned on November 22.

In February 1918 the general Feng Yuxiang sent a circular telegram from Henan with a peace proposal. Feng had become a Methodist in 1913, and his troops marched singing Christian hymns and patriotic songs. He believed in Confucian principles of moral politics and tried to rule his areas justly. About 1915 he wrote the short Book of the Spirit with admonitions and aphorisms on morality, patriotism, and military discipline, and in 1926 he added a chapter on revolution. Feng established a Military Training Corps at Changde in Hunan from 1915 to 1917, and he excelled in training troops. He described these years as his most enthusiastic Christian period. He encouraged his soldiers to pray and to attend Bible classes and religious services for which he employed Chinese preachers. He encouraged baptism, but it was not required and did not affect promotion. Feng did not allow his men to smoke opium or tobacco, drink alcohol, use obscene language, gamble, or visit brothels, which he closed. While governing Henan for half a year in 1922, Feng Yuxiang’s aims included aiding war victims, eliminating oppressive taxes, arresting corrupt officials, establishing factories to give work to the unemployed, repairing roads and irrigation, instituting free education, and prohibiting opium, gambling, prostitution, and foot-binding.

On March 7, 1918 Duan’s chief of staff, Xu Shuzheng, organized the powerful Anfu Club with support from Finance minister Cao Rulin, and they began bribing members of parliament. Duan gained control of the army and became premier again on March 23, forcing Feng Guozhang to retire. The new Soviet government revealed and renounced the secret agreements that Russia had made with Japan to take Manchuria and Mongolia from China. On March 25 Duan accepted the Sino-Japanese Military Mutual Assistance Conventions, which were kept secret until February 1919. On May 18, 1918 Eugene Chen published the editorial “Selling Out China” in the Beijing Gazette that exposed the negotiations and called Duan a traitor; Chen was imprisoned, and the newspaper was suppressed. At that time China had 330 newspapers.

On May 5, 1918 the three thousand Chinese students in Japan met and resolved to return to China. The next day Japanese police arrested 46 Chinese students. In Beijing more than two thousand college students protested the military conventions by going to the office of President Feng Guozhang on May 21. Student demonstrations also were organized in Tianjin, Shanghai, Fuzhou, and other cities. The Chinese government ordered the students to return to Japan, but many went to Shanghai where they founded the Save-the-Nation Daily. On June 30 they founded the Young China Association to rejuvenate the Chinese spirit, study “true theories,” expand education and commercial reforms, and overturn declining customs. When Premier Duan Qirui used all of the 120-million yen Nishihara loan for military and political expenses even though it was intended for industrial development, 2,000 students demonstrated outside the President’s residence.

Liang Qichao, who had been Yuan’s minister of Justice, became Finance minister in 1918, and his followers were called the Research clique. The Anfu clique was led by Duan and other Beiyang officers, and they conducted elections in two stages. After each provinces’ electors were chosen, they met in June and July to elect the Parliament. In the second stage especially the candidates bought the votes for the House for $150 to $500 and paid much more for the Senate. Out of 470 seats the Anfu Club controlled 342, the Communications clique between 50 and 80, and the Research clique about 20 seats. The Anfu caucus was run by those who organized it and controlled the money. Xu Shichang had been Yuan Shikai’s secretary, and he was a member of the Anfu clique. The dujun association recommended him, and the Parliament elected him president unanimously on September 4.

After 72,000 Japanese troops invaded Soviet Siberia in July, President Xu Shichang sent a Chinese army to help them. China’s warlord government accepted a 20-million-yen loan from Japan in September and granted them the right to build two railways in Shandong. Duan resigned on October 10, and Qian Nengxun was appointed acting premier. After the European war ended on November 11, the Chinese government proclaimed a three-day holiday; thousands paraded in Beijing. On November 16 a truce was ordered in the north-south civil war.

Lu Rongting and his Black Flags of Guangdong and Guangxi forced Sun Yat-sen to abandon his military government that month. Sun resigned and fled to Shanghai, where in August 1919 he founded the periodical Reconstruction (Jianshe) and renamed his party again the Chinese Nationalist Party in October. In 1919 a movement by the Cantonese elected Wu Tingfang governor, but the Guangxi clique cancelled the results. In Sichuan the Anfu leaders were overcome in 1918 by the warlord Xiong Kewu, who governed there for more than thirty years. Tan Yankai became governor of Hunan in 1911, and he fought the Anfu clique from 1916 to 1918; but in 1919 the Anfu warlord Zhang Jingyao regained Hunan.

Yuan Shikai had appointed Zhang Zuolin governor of Mukden. He managed to take over Heilongjiang in 1917 and Jilin in 1919, giving him control of three provinces in Manchuria. Zhang’s Fengtian clique supported the Anfu group and mortgaged the forests of Jilin for loans from Japan. The Anfu leaders Ni Sichong in Anhui and Wang Zhanyuan in Hubei were especially unpopular, and they were opposed by President Feng Guozhang’s Zhili clique that included generals Cao Kun and Wu Peifu in the Yangzi Valley.

The war years stimulated the Chinese to develop their own industries, and their exports increased greatly. By 1920 machines were producing more than three billion cigarettes that were marketed with modern advertising. The number of Chinese banks increased, though some warlords caused chaos by issuing so many paper notes. H. H. Kung (Kong Xiangxi) had married Charlie Soong’s daughter Song Ailing in 1914, and these two related families built up a financial empire. Money was appropriated for railways, but some of it was lost to corrupt warlords. Foreign investors still controlled 77% of the shipping, 45% of cotton spindles, and 78% of coal mining. Although China’s import surplus was low during the European war, it went from 16 million taels in 1919 to 220 million taels in 1920. More mills were added, and China’s flour exports were forty times higher in 1920 than they were in 1914. Peasant landowners were pushed off their lands, and rents rose. Warlords collected more taxes, and fewer landowners held more land.

May Fourth Movement of 1919

In 1912 the famous translator Yan Fu became the first chancellor of the modernized Beijing University, which was completely funded by the government. In December 1916 he was succeeded by the dean Cai Yuanpei, who had founded the Work and Study Movement in 1912. Sun Yat-sen had made Cai his minister of education in 1912, but he resigned after Yuan Shikai became president. By 1917 more than ten million Chinese had received modern educations. Cai emphasized research with scientific methods, a broader curriculum than was needed for government recruitment, and academic freedom. He co-founded the China Society for the Promotion of New Education in January 1919, and by then Beijing University had a faculty of 202 professors teaching 2,228 students.

Chen Duxiu left Japan in protest of the 21 Demands. In September 1915 he founded New Youth, and he became the dean of Beijing University in 1917. Chen recommended that the Chinese be independent, progressive, aggressive, cosmopolitan, utilitarian, and scientific. He criticized Confucianism for its superfluous ceremonies, meek compliance, making family more important than the individual, upholding inequality, subservient filial piety, and orthodoxy that discouraged free thinking. He favored Western innovations and praised Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy. Li Dazhao became head librarian at Beijing University in February 1918, and in June he published a favorable description of the Russian Revolution. A study group met in his office and became the Marxist Research Society. Cai Yuanpei formulated the slogan “Work is sacred,” and Li and Chen started the Weekly Critic in December to discuss national and world politics. In the first issue of New Tide on January 1, 1919 Luo Jialun opposed reform by violence and wrote,

We would rather worship
George Washington than Peter the Great,
Benjamin Franklin than Bismarck,
Karl Marx’s economics that Richelieu’s public finance,
and Thomas Edison’s inventions
than Alfred Krupp’s manufacture.1

Li Dazhao’s students began sending out lecturers to educate  people. Li emphasized that the society based on force should be replaced by one based on love. Chen was forced to resign as dean in March. New Youth came out with a special issue on Marxism on May 1, 1919 that included Li’s essay, “My Marxist Views.”

Hu Shi studied philosophy with John Dewey at Columbia University, where he earned his Ph.D. In February 1915 he wrote in his diary, “It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or to lack an army! It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums,  and art galleries.”2 In 1917 Cai Yuanpei appointed Hu a professor, and he became a leader in the movement to write in plain language (baihua) that Huang Yuanyong had proposed in 1915. Hu summarized the literary reforms in the following eight guidelines:

1. Write with substance.
2. Do not imitate the ancients.
3. Emphasize grammar.
4. Reject melancholy.
5. Eliminate old clichés.
6. Do not use allusions.
7. Do not use couplets and parallelisms.
8. Do not avoid popular expressions.3

In 1918 Hu summarized this literary revolution in the following four statements:

1. Speak only when you have something to say.
2. Speak what you want to say
  and say it in the way you want to say it.
3. Speak what is your own and not that of someone else.
4. Speak in the language of the time in which you live.4

This change from using classical Chinese (wenyan) has been compared to the Renaissance when Europeans began writing in their national languages rather than in Latin. In January 1918 New Youth began publishing all its articles in baihua, and the government adopted baihua in the schools in 1920. Hu published a study of the family in the famous novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. He published a complete translation of A Doll’s House in a special 1918 issue of New Youth on the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Hu Shi published his Outline of the History of Chinese Philosophy in February 1919. He also criticized Confucianism and exalted Western ideas such as democracy and science. Hu favored critical thinking and problem solving rather than the idle discussion of “-isms.” He wanted reforms to eliminate poverty, sickness, illiteracy, corruption, and disorder.

Many of the young radicals were anarchists. In 1913 Liu Sifu had founded the Consciousness Society in Guangzhou. They learned Esperanto and recommended abstaining from twelve things—meat, wine, tobacco, servants, marriage, surnames, official positions, rickshaws, running for parliament, political parties, military service, and religion. However, Liu died of tuberculosis in 1915, and his group dissolved.

On November 17, 1918 in Beijing 6,000 Chinese had celebrated the Western democracies’ victory over German militarism, and many hoped that Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of self-determination would prevail. China’s 62 delegates to the Versailles peace conference included officials from Beijing and from Sun Yat-sen’s government in Guangzhou. Their demands for China’s self-determination and the removal of foreign controls were backed by the press, chambers of commerce, and student associations. However, the peace conference focused only on issues related to the war, and the only Chinese issue was Shandong. The diplomat V. K.  Wellington Koo explained that Japan forced China to sign the treaty of 1914, that Shandong is holy land for China as the birthplace of Confucius and Mencius, and that China had a right to the restoration of Qingdao based on the principle in international law that treaties can be revised after the conditions on which they were based have changed. Koo pointed out that the loss of Qingdao would harm China economically because it was the best harbor they had. He argued that the Chinese Parliament had never ratified Japan’s 21 Demands and that when China entered the war in 1917, these and the treaties with Germany were made null and void. However, the Japanese pointed to the agreement Beijing made in 1918 with Japan, and on April 30, 1919 Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau decided to grant Shandong to Japan despite the latter’s promise to restore it to China. Beijing’s daily China Press published the report on May 1.

Several hundred students from thirteen colleges in the Beijing area met on May 4, 1919 and passed five resolutions to send telegrams protesting the Shandong settlement of the Versailles treaty, to awaken the Chinese people to their desperate plight, to hold a mass meeting in Beijing, to form a Beijing student union, and to demonstrate against the Versailles treaty that afternoon. Some anarchists planned to burn Cao Rulin’s house, but they kept their plans secret from the others. At least three thousand students gathered in Tiananmen Square and marched toward the foreign legations to present petitions on the Paris treaty. Signs protested foreign interference and condemned Chinese traitors. The British, French, and Italian ministers were absent, and letters were left. At the home of the foreign minister Cao Rulin five students broke in by a window and opened the front door. Students poured in and beat up the politician Zhang Zongxiang, who had agreed to give up the rights in Shandong to the Japanese. Cao had escaped with a servant, but they set his house on fire. Most of the police had been neutral, but now they arrested 32 demonstrators. Orders came from above, and a fight between police and demonstrators resulted in one student dying. Martial law was declared in the area.

The student union formed on May 5 in Beijing included middle-school and high-school students as well as those from colleges and universities. China’s President Xu Shichang issued two orders to discipline the students in the next three days. Cai Yuanpei was pressured to resign on May 8. Minister of Education Fu Zengxiang left office on May 12, and two days later the Government ordered force used against the students. In the next five days student demonstrations occurred in major cities, and student unions were formed. Beijing students from all eighteen colleges and universities went on strike on May 19 and presented six demands to the President. In the next three weeks demonstrations erupted in more than two hundred cities. Students disobeyed an order to return to classes on May 25, and on June 1 President Xu declared martial law in Beijing. When middle schools and above began a strike on June 1 in Wuhan, the Hubei governor Wang Jianyuan sent troops to guard the schools; about a hundred students lecturing in the streets were wounded and arrested. In June student delegates from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Tianjin, and Japan met in Shanghai and formed the Student Union of the Republic of China.

On June 2 in Beijing seven students were arrested. On the next day more than nine hundred students went out in groups of fifty to lecture in the streets, and by the end of June 4 about 1,150 students had been arrested. Education minister Yuan Xitao resigned after twenty days in office. On the next day more than a thousand students from girls schools marched to the President’s palace to demand free speech and the release of the imprisoned students. That day a commercial strike began in Shanghai to support the 13,000 students on strike, and within a week it grew to at least 60,000 workers in forty factories. The acting minister of Education was replaced, and learning of the Shanghai strike, he withdrew the troops and police from the school buildings.

Hu Renyuan was appointed temporary chancellor of Beijing University. When 1,473 merchants, workers, students, journalists, and others in the Federation of All Organizations of China met in the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce on June 6, they requested the Beijing government annul the unjust treaties and punish the authorities responsible. They noted that the strikes were most peaceful and asked friendly countries to uphold justice and give them spiritual support. That day merchants closed their shops in Nanjing. About 2,400 students on strike were attacked by troops, and in the next three days strikes by merchants spread along the Yangzi River. Four officials tried to persuade the students to leave the Beijing jail on June 7; they refused but marched out in triumph the next day.

On June 10 the hated Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang, and Lu Zongyu were allowed to resign. Chen Duxiu distributed pamphlets demanding the resignation of the Anfu government, disbanding the Beijing police, and free speech; he was arrested the next day and detained for three months. On June 12 the Government released the other students, dismissed the three hated officials, and announced they would not sign the Treaty of Versailles. That day the merchants’ and workers’ strikes ended. Premier Qian resigned on June 13. Chinese students surrounded the quarters of the Chinese delegates in Paris with a continuous vigil, and so none of them went to the treaty-signing ceremony on June 28. Although China rejected the peace treaty with Germany, they signed one with Austria-Hungary; thus China became a member of the League of Nations.

On July 22 the Student Union of China declared the student strikes over. On July 25 Leo Karakhan as the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs signed a manifesto that renounced all the factories that Russians had built or owned in China and all the extraterritorial rights of Russians in China. Chancellor Hu Renyuan was removed on July 30, and Cai Yuanpei resumed his position at Beijing University on September 20. Leaders founded the review Young China, and many other journals and clubs formed such as Emancipation and Reconstruction in Shanghai and the Xiang River Review in Changsha by the Hunan Students’ Association. Tracts, banners, and pamphlets of the movement were written in the vernacular baihua.

The “Manifesto of New Youth Magazine” was written by Chen Duxiu and approved by other editors in December. They opposed warlords and plutocrats and wanted to get rid of antiquated ideas. They aimed for a new era that is “honest, progressive, positive, free, equal, creative, beautiful, kind, peaceful, full of universal love and mutual assistance, and pleasant labor.”5 They advocated women’s rights, and the first females were admitted into Beijing University in 1920. The Women’s Association of Hunan was founded in February 1921 to work for equal rights in property inheritance, voting, office-holding, education, work, and choice in marriage.

Mao Zedong had founded the New People’s Study Society in Hunan in April 1918, and they formed a Communist cell. In December 1919 the Society for the Study of Socialism began in Beijing and other cities. Socialist clubs grew, and new journals were published. The Beijing Society for the Study of Marxist Theory began in March 1920. Chen Duxiu founded a Marxist Study Society in May and a Socialist Youth Corps in August. Nineteen issues of Labor World were published in Shanghai during the second half of 1920. The Trade Union Secretariat established its headquarters in Shanghai.

In the summer of 1920 Hu Shi published a series of articles in the Weekly Critic on “Problems and –isms.” He observed that the slaves of Confucius and Zhu Xi were being replaced by the slaves of Marx and Kropotkin. He questioned whether Marxism and anarchism which claimed to have “fundamental solutions” could solve specific problems. Hu suggested they educate the masses, emancipate women, and reform schools. Hu Shi joined with others and Li Dazhao in August and published the “Manifesto of the Struggle for Freedom” in which they asked for an end to police oppression, regulations limiting publications, and the emergency enactments of 1912 and 1914. They demanded freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association as well as privacy, writ of habeas corpus, and non-partisan supervision of elections.

Liang Qichao had attended the Paris peace conference, and he wrote “Reflections on a European Journey” criticizing Western civilization for its materialism, subjugation of nature through science and technology, and Darwinian conflicts between individuals, classes, and nations. He began to see that Eastern ways may be an antidote to the European trends that led to the massive violence of the World War. Liang wrote about an inner realm that he found in the works of the Neo-Confucians Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming and the Mahayana Buddhists. A New Culture movement developed that also valued vernacular fiction as high literature. Liang wrote that the four emotional powers of fiction are to incense, immerse, prick, and uplift. Liang’s friend Zhang Junmai studied German philosophy and compared Kant’s epistemology and ethics to the practical idealism of Wang Yangming. He argued that science could not completely explain human experience because people are subjective, intuitive, and have free will. Wang Yangming had found that intuitive moral insight was learned from individual action in the world.

China's Struggle for Power 1920-24

Droughts in 1919 and 1920 devastated Zhili, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, and Shaanxi. In the 1920-21 famine at least a half million people died, and about twenty million peasant homes were destitute. The peasants suffered exploitation by the warlords and the gentry. Prices increased as one yuan (silver dollar) was worth 138 coppers in 1919; but by 1925 the yuan was valued at 217 coppers in Shanghai and 285 coppers in Beijing. A National Bankers’ Association was formed in 1920 to regulate currency reform. They refused to buy any more government bonds until the old ones were readjusted. The 27 foreign banks with branches in China had three or four times as much capital as about 120 Chinese banks. In 1921 the Chinese government put its customs surplus into the Consolidated Internal Loan Service that was administered by Francis Aglen, the inspector-general of customs.

Qu Qiubai was in Li Dazhao’s study group and went to Moscow in 1920 for Beijing’s Morning News. Despite the poverty he reported on the positive spirit of the revolution, and he was most impressed by the Soviet commissar of education, Anatoly Lunacharsky. Qu later became chairman of the social sciences department at Beijing University. Lenin sent the Third Communist International (Comintern) agents Grigori Voitinsky and Yang Mingzhai to China. They met Li Dazhao in Beijing in January 1920 and Chen Duxiu in Shanghai in May. A meeting of socialists, anarchists, progressives, and Guomindang members elected Chen secretary of a provisional central committee. They used a Sino-Russian news agency and a foreign-language school to recruit Communists. In April 1921 a Chinese Comintern office was opened in Irkutsk, and Li Dazhao sent some associates there.

In May 1921 the Chinese government signed a treaty with the Weimar Republic in which Germany renounced “all its special rights, interests and privileges” in China and canceled its Boxer indemnity. China signed similar treaties with Hungary and Turkey. That year the Soviet diplomat I. Yurin persuaded the Beijing government to give the Boxer indemnity funds to him instead of to the Czarist ambassador. China had about 1,500,000 soldiers. Japanese exports to China went down from 656 million yen in 1919 to 424 million yen in 1921.

In July 1921 Mao Zedong was Hunan’s delegate to the first plenary meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shanghai which met secretly in a closed girls’ school in the French concession. Zhou Enlai had been arrested for a raid in early 1919, and he led the May 4th protestors from Tianjin before going to France the next year. His future wife Deng Yingchao had helped to form the Association of Patriotic Women Comrades in Tianjin. Young Deng Xiaoping was known in Paris for distributing mimeographed papers. Xiang Jingyu was a friend of Mao, and she married another Hunanese worker in France, where she worked for women’s rights and socialism.  When she returned to China, she was appointed director of a new women’s department; she organized women who worked in silk and cigarette factories in Shanghai. Mao, Liu Shaoqi, and Li Lisan organized  miners in the Anyuan collieries, workers on the Guangzhou-Hankou railroad, and construction guilds and rickshaw pullers in Changsha. In September 1921 radical Chinese students occupied university buildings in Lyons, and 103 were arrested and deported.

In January 1922 about forty Chinese delegates joined others from Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Java, and India to attend the Far Eastern Workers’ Congress in Petrograd. Qu Qiubai served as an interpreter for Grigory Zinoviev, who urged them to cooperate with the nationalist bourgeoisie to expel foreign imperialists at this stage of the revolution. The CCP grew slowly and had about two hundred members in 1922. In July at Shanghai the second congress of the CCP passed a resolution that explained that the world’s economic order had been destroyed by the imperialist war of 1914-18 and that the capitalists were planning to exploit the raw materials and the working class in their colonies. They noted that China had been suffering from the violence of warlords for the past eleven years and that Wu Peifu was intending to use military means to unify China. They set as their goals to overthrow the feudal warlords and stop civil wars, free China from imperialist oppression, unify China in a federal system while recognizing the autonomy of Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang, and protect all freedoms of workers, peasants, women, and children. The Russian agent called Maring urged the CCP to ally itself with the Guomindang to fight the warlords in a democratic revolution.

At the third congress at Guangzhou in June 1923 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) added many more goals such as abolishing all the unequal treaties; banishing warlords and confiscating their property for the public good; nationalizing railroads, banks, mines, and large industries; electing all public officials; abolishing the secret police and laws that oppressed unions; enforcing sexual equality before the law; unifying and standardizing the monetary system while excluding all foreign currencies; taxing incomes and inheritance while abolishing commercial surcharges; providing free and compulsory education separate from religion; abolishing corporal and capital punishment while reforming litigation laws; replacing mercenary military recruitment with universal conscription; providing housing subsidies for the poor and controlling rent; imposing price ceilings on necessities; helping peasants with rent reductions, improved irrigation, government loans, and price supports for staple crops; and helping workers with labor rights, the eight-hour day, equal pay for women, sanitation regulations and workers’ hospitals with compulsory insurance, and relief for the unemployed.

John Dewey came to China with his wife on May 1, 1919 and taught there for more than two years. Hu Shi often interpreted his lectures. Bertrand Russell also traveled widely in China from October 1920 to July 1921; he emphasized peace and the positive value of Confucianism and Daoism that he found more useful than Western imperialism and militarism. China had a Russell Study Society and a Russell Monthly. Russell was accompanied by his lover Dora Black, who lectured at women’s schools and to anarchists. In 1923 Rabindranath Tagore gave a series of lectures and emphasized nonviolence, but he was criticized by Communists for India’s acceptance of colonialism. Carsun Zhang spread the philosophy of Bergson; Wang Guowei promoted Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; and Li Shizeng emphasized Kropotkin’s mutual assistance as a better means of evolution than Darwinian struggle.

Liang Shuming was brought up as a Buddhist but gained a Western education. In 1917 he became the first Buddhist to teach at Beijing University; but after his father committed suicide in despair at China’s situation in 1918, he returned to Neo-Confucianism. In 1921 Liang published his famous Eastern and Western Cultures and Their Philosophies. He described India as obsessed with religion and spiritual development to the exclusion of everything else and suggested that that attitude should be rejected. Liang Shuming believed that China needed reform and should adopt Western institutions critically so as to renew its own harmonious culture. Hu Shi noted that Easterners are generally satisfied with their simple life and so often do not seek to improve their material world.

Hu Shi wanted to “reorganize the national heritage” by applying the methods of science to evaluate with historical criticism religion and other traditions. In 1922 he helped found the journal Endeavor that was dedicated to political action. He criticized the dogmatic assumptions of both Sun Yat-sen and the Marxists. Gu Jiegang studied the customs, folklore, and folksongs of the people with scientific methods, and he founded the journals Folksong Weekly and Folklore. Zhang Junmai (Carsun Chang) was influenced by spiritual philosophy, Wang Yangming, and Henri Bergson. He argued that science has its limits and does not account for subjectivity, intuition, synthesis, free will, and personal unity. Later Zhang tried to develop a liberal mean between the extremes of the Nationalists and Communists by founding a socialist party that emphasized human rights, free expression, and the constitutional separation of powers. They influenced intellectuals but did not have a large popular following. Wu Chihui argued for science and denied the spiritual elements and soul. Hu Shi saw the limits of a materialistic philosophy and offered a synthesis that accepted science and a philosophy of life. Hu suggested that beyond the small self of the individual is the large self of society that does not die. He believed that living for the sake of the species and posterity is a higher religion than the selfish pursuit of a future life in Heaven or the Pure Land.

Chinese workers suffered from low wages, long hours, few if any vacations, and miserable housing conditions. Wages were often docked, and kickbacks were demanded. Children worked in bad conditions up to thirteen hours a day. In 1918 twenty-five major strikes took place, and in 1919 Shanghai cotton mills had to increase wages by 12% or more. In January 1922 Guomindang activists instigated a strike in Hong Kong and Guangzhou involving 40,000 sailors and dock-workers that affected more than 150 ships. Others joined the strike in March, and with more than 120,000 on strike the owners granted wage increases of 15% to 30% with benefits and recognition of the union. In May the Communists Li Lisan and Liu Shaoqi began organizing workers’ clubs among Anyuan coal miners and Daye steel workers, but the strike by 50,000 coal miners in Tangshan failed in October. That August the first major strike by women occurred in the silk-spinning mills of Pudong outside Shanghai. That summer the Trade Union Secretariat appealed unsuccessfully to the new government of President Li Yuanhong to pass labor laws including the eight-hour day. There had been 50 major strikes in 1921, but in 1922 there were 91.

In 1920 and 1921 the Guomindang promoted a federalist movement by trying to get Hunan, Hubei, and Shaanxi to become independent. In the summer of 1920 Liu Xiang and Xiong Kewu drove Tang Jiyao’s Yunnan troops out of Sichuan and declared independence, and the next year Liu ousted Xiong. Tan Yankai tried to make Hunan independent in 1920, but he was pushed out by the warlord Zhao Hengti, who proclaimed Hunan independent and even promulgated a constitution in January 1922. However, as Mao Zedong pointed out, he used force to suppress students and workers. In the spring of 1921 federalists in Hubei overthrew the Anfu governor Wang Zhanyuan, but the Zhili clique in Beijing sent General Wu Peifu to crush the federalist effort in 1921. Wu received massive arms shipments from the United States and loans from British banks. Zhejiang’s governor Lu Yongxiang proclaimed independence in September 1921 but still ruled autocratically. Yu Youren led an independence movement in Shaanxi in the summer of 1921 and set up a Citizens’ Assembly. In October some Chinese bankers in Shanghai issued a manifesto calling for international cooperation, an end to extraterritoriality, and Chinese control over their own railways.

In November 1921 the United States invited diplomats from Japan, China, and six European powers to meet in Washington, and they agreed to limit their navies according to a formula that made Japan strongest in the Pacific. The Chinese delegation proposed nine points—honoring China’s political independence, no treaties among other countries that affected China, respecting Chinese neutrality in future wars, removing all limitations on China’s political freedom and jurisdiction, reviewing foreign rights, immunities, and concessions in China, and limiting  China’s commitments. France and Britain offered to relinquish leased territories, but Japan refused to do so. Several of China’s points were granted in the Nine-Power Treaty signed on February 6, 1922. That month world public opinion persuaded Japan to sell most of its properties in Shandong back to China. In 1923 the powers agreed to close their post offices except in leased territories, and China’s import tariffs could be raised to 5%.

In April 1922 Zhang Zuolin attacked the Zhili clique near Beijing, but Feng Yuxiang’s forces drove them back to Manchuria. The Luoyang faction led by Wu Peifu tried to unify China by having Xu Shichang yield the presidency to Li Yuanhong. Wu asked Sun Yat-sen to resign too, but he refused. The new Finance minister Luo Wengan reduced the government debt by £200 million by renegotiating the Austrian loans while obtaining £80,000 for ready use. When he was charged with corruption, President Li had him arrested on November 18. The cabinet resigned although Luo was exonerated eighteen months later. Wu extorted 300,000 yuan from the Hankou Chamber of Commerce and another 100,000 from the bankers. Feng got little support from Wu and was reported to have accepted a large bribe from Japan.

On February 2, 1923 the Communists combined sixteen workers’ clubs into a union that went on strike and shut down the Beijing-Hankou railway. On February 7 General Wu Peifu ordered his men to attack the strikers, killing 35 workers and wounding many more. That day the union leader Lin Xiangqian was arrested in Wuhan. When he refused to order his members to go back to work, he was beheaded. The railway men went back to work on February 9, and the year 1923 had only 48 major strikes.

In May 1923 a thousand bandits attacked the Tianjin-Pukou luxury train at Lincheng, killed some Chinese, and kidnapped more than a hundred others, including sixteen foreigners. The diplomats in Beijing demanded better supervision but came up with a plan to exploit more money from the railway. Chinese public opinion was outraged, and the foreigners withdrew their plan to take over the railway. The Chinese government compensated the victims, and the bandits were allowed to join the army.

When President Li Yuanhong’s government could no longer pay wages, Cao Kun arrested his minister of Finances. Four cabinet members loyal to Cao resigned on June 6, 1923 causing the rest of the cabinet to resign also. The garrison troops protested for back-pay; police went on strike; and organized demonstrations surrounded the palace. President Li fled the capital on June 13 and was detained on a train by Cao’s general Yangcun until he submitted his resignation. The Parliament moved to Shanghai; but the Dianzinbaoding faction bribed members of Parliament with $5,000 each to return to Beijing and elect Cao Kun president. Li fled to Japan. Cao was inaugurated on October 10 as a new constitution was promulgated. Cao had spent $13,560,000 to become president, and the foreign diplomats immediately recognized his government. In May 1924 Beijing recognized Soviet control over Outer Mongolia and the East China Railway through Manchuria, and Russia renounced extraterritoriality, its concessions in Tianjin and Hankou, and its Boxer indemnities. The Anfu party still controlled Zhejiang.

On September 3, 1924 Zhili forces from Jiangsu and Fujian invaded Zhejiang and Shanghai. Two weeks later Zhang Zuolin’s Fengtian forces invaded from Manchuria, joining the war on the side of Zhejiang. Two days later the Anfu forces abandoned Zhejiang and retreated to the perimeter of Shanghai. The Fengtian army broke through the Zhili lines on October 7, and five days later the Anfu army abandoned Shanghai. After heavy fighting, Wu Peifu stabilized the Zhili front, and on October 23 Feng Yuxiang led his army into Beijing. Wu Peifu’s Zhili army had 170,000 men and probably could have defeated the Fengtian forces, but Feng Yuxiang betrayed Wu and changed sides in Beijing. Feng reorganized the cabinet by deposing President Cao Kun on November 2. The next day Wu Peifu boarded ships at Tanggu with his portion of the remaining Zhili forces to retreat to the Yangzi Valley. Feng negotiated with Zhang Zuolin of the Fengtian clique and with the Anhui clique to form the National People’s army, and on November 24 they brought back Duan Qirui to run the government as “provisional chief executive.” Zhang Zuolin signed a treaty with Moscow in November. Feng had invited Sun Yat-sen to come to Beijing, and he arrived at Tianjin on December 4; but nine days later Duan Qirui dissolved the parliament and abolished the constitutions.

Sun Yat-sen and Guomindang 1920-24

Sun Yat-sen reorganized the Chinese Nationalist party on October 10, 1919 without distinctions between members or a personal oath of loyalty. On November 9, 1920 they resolved to implement his Three People’s Principles and a constitution with the five branches. Sun in the first part of his Plan for National Reconstruction emphasized the psychological reconstruction of moving from thought to action. He reversed a truism and argued that it is easy to act but hard to know.

The second part on material reconstruction was also published separately as The International Development of China. Sun attributed China’s poverty to lack of development, crude methods of production, and wasted labor. He called for foreign capital and equipment with their scientific and technological expertise. With China’s abundant natural resources and cheap labor he predicted that China would become “an unlimited market for the whole world” and an essential part of international trade. He suggested that capitalism could create socialism in China and thus was one of the first to recommend a mixed economy. He believed that industries could provide for the needs of every individual and family. Sun proposed that an international organization could coordinate the aid that China needed for its development in order to avoid “commercial warfare.” Sun’s ideas to open China to the West, use foreign technological and financial experts, develop coastal outlets, allow a public sector to co-exist with private enterprise, and value social stability foreshadowed the Four Modernizations later implemented by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.

The anarchist general Chen Jiongming regained Guangzhou, and he called Sun Yat-sen back in October 1920. They set up a republican government in April 1921, and 225 members of the old Parliament under the 1912 constitution elected Sun president. He accepted the autonomy of the provincial government with Chen Jiongming as governor and commander of the Cantonese army. Chen promulgated a provincial constitution and limited military expenditures to 30% of the budget while reserving 20% for education. Chen Duxiu was appointed education commissioner. Chen Jiongming’s anarchist friends led the trade unions. Sun got his son Sun Fo reinstated as mayor of Guangzhou.

After refusing Wu Peifu’s request to resign, Sun Yat-sen tried to dismiss Chen Jiongming, but he was popular from his victories in Guangxi. When Sun ordered General Ye Ju to withdraw from Guangzhou within ten days and threatened him, Ye Ju had Sun’s presidential palace shelled on June 16, 1922. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) was a field officer for General Chen Jiongming, but he helped Sun escape. Sun tried to negotiate from a gunboat, but he had lost popularity because of his refusal to resign. A British gunboat enabled him to reach Hong Kong, and then he went to Shanghai.

Sun Yat-sen had met the Comintern agent Hans Maring (Hendricus Sneevliet) in 1921, and in the fall of 1922 Communists were allowed to join the Guomindang. The Comintern sent Adolf Joffe to China, and the New Tide Society and thirteen other organizations welcomed him to Beijing in August 1922. Joffe agreed that conditions in China were not right for Soviet Communism, but he offered Russian support. Sun hoped that when the Communists understood the beauty of Chinese civilization, especially its ethics, that they would adopt the principles of the Guomindang. Because Soviet Russia had renounced the privileges that Czarist Russia had in China and was showing sympathy for their cause, Sun believed they should accept their friendship. Through correspondence he agreed to an alliance with the Soviets and to admit Communists into the Guomindang. On September 4 a Nationalist conference at Shanghai approved this, and Hu Hanmin drafted a manifesto that was proclaimed on January 1, 1923. On January 12 the Comintern ordered Chinese Communists to join the Nationalist party and work with them for Sun’s bourgeois revolution, and the Sun-Joffe Declaration was signed on January 26. On that day Sun Yat-sen also sent a circular telegram to the leading militarists with a plan for peaceful unification calling for a voluntary demobilization of troops under the good offices of a “friendly power” such as the United States.

Sun Yat-sen hired troops for Ch$400,000, and they drove Chen Jiongming out of Guangzhou in January 1923. Sun returned in triumph on February 21 to establish a military government again. Most of the old parliamentarians went back to Beijing, where they were offered $5,000 each to vote as requested. The diplomatic corps in Beijing refused to give Sun the surplus customs revenues as they did to the militarists in the north. Sun’s requests for loans from Hong Kong merchants, the Guangzhou Chamber of Commerce, and British businessmen were rejected. However, his son Sun Fo returned as mayor of Guangzhou and got military financing from the city. The mercenaries that Sun Yat-sen had hired from Yunnan, Guangxi, and other places financially exploited the city and the region.

In March 1923 the Comintern in Moscow decided to send advisors to Sun Yat-sen and authorized two million Chinese dollars for him. He began collecting the local salt revenues in May and took in nearly $3 million by December; the foreign powers only protested that the debts were not being paid. Sun wrote to the diplomatic corps in September and October complaining that the arrears due the Guangdong government from customs were Ch$12,600,000, but instead they were being used by the Beijing government to make war on the South. The Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin (Gruzenberg), who spoke English, reached Guangzhou on October 6 and advised Sun to implement an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, and to confiscate land to distribute it to peasants, but Sun declined to alienate his supporters and never agreed to confiscate land. Yet Borodin became his most influential advisor. On October 25 Sun appointed a Provisional Central Executive Committee of nine and included a Communist. Chen Jiongming had been besieging Sun’s army at Huizhou since August, and Borodin in November urged the Guomindang to mobilize the masses against them by declaring the confiscation and redistribution of land. Sun was not available to approve the Committee’s resolution, but he was grateful that Chen’s forces retreated. Sun announced in December that he would seize the maritime customs revenues in Guangzhou, but threatening foreign gunboats caused him to change his mind.

The first Guomindang national congress in January 1924 was attended by 165 delegates, and they recessed for three days to mourn the death of Lenin. The party had registered 23,360 members in China and had about 4,600 abroad. They elected Li Dazhao, Sun Yat-sen, Hu Hanmin, Wang Jingwei, and Lin Shen to the presidium, and they dedicated themselves to defeating imperialism and the warlords by following Sun’s three people’s principles of independence, democracy, and socialism and the five-power constitution. The delegates approved participation by the Communists without giving up their party affiliation, but the right wing still made up two-thirds of party officials.

Sun Yat-sen sent Jiang Jieshi to Moscow for three months. He came back impressed by the discipline and efficiency of the Communist Party and recommended it as a model for the Guomindang; but he also was convinced that the Soviet Union wanted to take over large provinces from China. Sun Yat-sen appointed Jiang head of the new military academy on the island of Huangpu (Whampoa) in May 1924. The Guangzhou government provided Ch$186,000, and the Soviets contributed Ch$2,700,000 and 8,000 guns. Borodin got the Communist Zhou Enlai named as director of the political department, and the Soviet general Vassili Blücher (known as Galen) was the military advisor. Cadets were required to have a middle-school diploma, and that excluded most workers and peasants. Most cadets did not like Communism and became loyal to Jiang. The Guomindang also set up a Farmers’ Bureau with Peng Pai as secretary and the Farmers’ Movement Training Institute where Mao Zedong taught. After an attempted assassination of the visiting Governor-General Merlin of French Indochina in the Shamian concession of Guangzhou, the British and French imposed stricter security measures. All the Chinese workers in Shamian went on strike on July 15, and they were supported by 26 unions. Sun mediated for a month, and the French and British lifted the new security measures.

From January to August 1924 Sun Yat-sen gave a series of sixteen lectures at Guangzhou University that were revised and published as The Three Principles of the People. The first principle minzuzhuyi means literally “the doctrine of the people’s lineage” and implies the Chinese race and culture as well as nationalism and independence. This was the main principle that mobilized the anti-Manchu feeling for the Chinese revolution of 1911. Sun had proclaimed the equality of the five races in 1912, but he noted that only about ten million of the four hundred million people in China were not Han Chinese. Sun praised the Confucian virtues of Chinese culture and their high moral standards that enabled them to assimilate other ethnic groups. Whereas European society was based on the individual, Chinese society was based on the family. In his second lecture on nationalism Sun described the political and economic oppression of China by imperialist nations. Although China was not completely colonized politically, economically it was colonized and exploited by several powers. Dismantling the “unequal treaties” was one of the most important goals for independence.

Sun’s second principle minquan means “the rights of the people” and has been interpreted as democracy. Sun recognized that the masses are sovereign, and their rights are election, recall, initiative, and referendum; but he believed that governmental power should be exercised by those with vision. His five branches of government included the traditional executive, legislative, and judicial plus the Chinese civil service examinations and the censorate, which included the power to impeach. Sun still held to his theory of three stages of a successful revolution, especially because of the failure in 1912. He believed that to stabilize the revolution the government may impose martial law for a time to suppress counter-revolutionary forces. In the second tutelary phase a period of education allows the local governments to learn and practice democracy. When the provincial districts have become autonomous, then the constitution may be promulgated and a national parliament may be elected.

Sun Yat-sen’s third principle minshengzhuyi means “the people’s livelihood” and was interpreted by Sun himself as socialism or communism but not Marxism. Sun believed that the problem of subsistence motivates people to cooperate for social progress and that class conflict is an aberration. He pointed to the recent progress in Europe and America as the result of a rising general level of education, nationalizing the means of communication, higher taxes on income, and other reforms which enabled production to increase and distribution to be improved for both employers and workers. Thus Sun emphasized Confucian harmony rather than material conflicts. He noted that Karl Marx’s predictions of longer working hours, reduced wages for workers, and higher prices for manufactured goods had been wrong. Sun suggested that when the people in the state share everything, the Confucian commonwealth may be attained. When everyone works for the common good, then universal love reigns.

Sun realized that China was poor and that its inequality was not between the rich and the poor but was differences among the poor. The Nationalist party aimed to equalize land rights and restrict capital. He still agreed with Henry George that the land should be given to its cultivators and that unearned wealth should be taxed and redistributed. Sun aimed to equalize landownership and regulate capital. The government would tax land according to its estimated value, which was set by the owner; but the government could buy the land for that estimated amount. Thus the owners had to set the value between countervailing deterrents. Sun prophetically realized that technological improvements such as mechanization, fertilizers, electrification, and crop rotation would increase production so much that wealth could be redistributed. Sun was influenced by Maurice William’s Social Interpretation of History and proposed nationalizing the means of transportation and communication, higher taxes on income and inheritances, and collectivizing the distribution networks. Sun recommended that the state promote industry and the use of machinery while coexisting with private enterprise. He wanted the government to develop communication, railroads, waterways, and mines on a large scale. He emphasized the immediate need to abolish the unequal treaties and take back the customs from foreign control so that China could end imperialistic exploitation and participate fairly in international trade.

The private Merchant Corps army of volunteers in Guangzhou had risen from 13,000 in 1923 to more than 50,000 by the summer of 1924. On August 9 Sun Yat-sen ordered their weapons from the Norwegian cargo ship Hav seized and guarded in the Huangpu Academy. Later he offered to release them for a price. On October 10 Guomindang demonstrators interrupted the delivery, and the Merchant Volunteer Corps fired on them. The merchants called for a general strike to overthrow Sun’s government and bring back Chen Jiongming. Five days later the first Huangpu class of 800 defeated the Merchant Corps and burned and looted the Xiguan business quarter. This destruction made Sun unpopular with that class in Guangzhou and Shanghai, and in November he left to attend the national reconstruction conference called by Feng Yuxiang in Beijing.

Sun hoped to bring about a revolution from the top and published his Manifesto on Going North on November 10. He wanted to end the unequal treaties and distribute power between the capital and the provinces with national unity. He called for a national convention of delegates from various associations that included entrepreneurs, merchants, educators, students, workers’ unions, peasants, and even militarists. Sun’s 58th birthday was celebrated on November 12 in Guangzhou by 20,000 people with a parade. The next day he and his wife Qingling, accompanied by Wang Jingwei, Eugene Chen, and Borodin, left for Hong Kong. They spent five days in Shanghai and a week in Japan, where he gave a speech in Kobe on November 28 proposing Asian solidarity against Western imperialism.

Sun reached Tianjin on December 4, and from then on his illness forced him to stay in bed. Duan Qirui criticized Sun’s idealism and confirmed the foreign treaties in order to get their recognition of his government. Sun was welcomed in the capital on December 31 by more than 100,000 people and was hospitalized at the Beijing Union Medical College, where he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Wang Jingwei helped Sun write his “Political Testament” that became a charter for the Nationalist party. He died on March 12, 1925 and was succeeded by Liao Zhongkai and Wang Jingwei on the left and Hu Hanmin on the right. Sun’s family wanted a Christian funeral; but others wanted a political demonstration, and so two separate ceremonies were held on March 19. Many have called Sun Yat-sen the father of modern China.

May 30th Movement of 1925-26

Zhang Zuolin was the warlord who controlled Manchuria, and in the fall of 1924 he sent troops south to challenge his rival Wu Peifu in Beijing. They took over the Tianjin-Pukou railway and invaded the Yangzi Valley. In the spring of 1925 the Zhili army of Jiangsu defeated the Anfu faction in Zhejiang, and the warlord Sun Chuanfang took over the five provinces of the lower Yangzi. In 1925 the Russians provided Feng Yuxiang with weapons, money, and advisers, but he tried to prevent the political indoctrination of his troops. After his war against Zhang Zuolin went badly in late 1925 and ended, Feng resigned in early 1926 and went to the Soviet Union for five months.

In the south in February 1925 armies led by Jiang Jieshi’s Huangpu officers with Soviet guns won several battles over the warlord Chen Jiongming, taking Shantou in March. In May at the Second National Workers Congress in Guangzhou 281 delegates represented 166 unions with 540,000 members, and they set up the General Labor Union. After defeating two more warlords, Jiang’s troops occupied Guangzhou in June, capturing 17,000 prisoners and 16,000 guns.

On May 15, 1925 Japanese guards at a Shanghai textile mill shot eight Chinese labor representatives who were negotiating with management, killing one. One week later Chinese students and workers held a memorial service and verbally attacked the Japanese owner. On May 30 three thousands workers and students from eight colleges assembled outside a police station in the Shanghai International Settlement to demand the release of six Chinese students who had been arrested by the British for protesting imperialism and militarism. The British inspector Everson ordered the Chinese and Sikh constables to fire, and they killed eleven and wounded twenty. This “May 30th atrocity” provoked demonstrations in about thirty cities, and 160,000 people in Shanghai went on a general strike. The General Union negotiated an agreement with Japan in August and the British in September. The May 30th Movement stimulated thousands of Chinese to join the Nationalists (Guomindang) or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which increased in membership from 1,000 in 1925 to 30,000 in 1926. That year Guomindang membership increased to 150,000.

On June 10-11 in Hankou the British and Japanese militia killed fourteen Chinese and wounded one hundred. The Nationalist armies that were fighting in eastern Guangdong returned to Guangzhou and had to fight for six days to regain the city. On June 14 the Guomindang Political Council met with Borodin advising, and they organized the government with nine ministries and reformed the military as the National Revolutionary Army. Labor leaders went to Hong Kong and persuaded the unions to begin a strike and boycott on June 21. In Guangzhou a rally on June 23 faced Shamian Island, from where British and French troops shot at the protestors, killing 52 and wounding 117. Some Chinese fired back and killed one European. The strike in Hong Kong was supported by a massive boycott of British goods, and both lasted sixteen months. Finally after the British threatened military action in September 1926, Guomindang’s foreign minister Eugene Chen promised to end the boycott in October and levy extra taxes to pay off the strikers. In December 1925 the British police inspector and his lieutenant were fired, and the Municipal Council paid a $75,000 indemnity to the deceased and wounded. The Chinese in Shanghai protested against taxation without representation, and in 1926 the foreigners allowed three Chinese to be elected to the Municipal Council.

A Nationalist government was established in Guangzhou on July 1, 1925 with Wang Jingwei as president. They pacified the opposition in Guangdong and Guangxi by February 1926. Sun Yat-sen’s friend Liao Zhongkai became governor of Guangdong and was in charge of Guomindang’s workers department, and he organized massive strikes and boycotts in the early summer. While going to attend a Guomindang Executive Committee meeting on August 20, 1925 he was assassinated by several gunmen. Jiang Jieshi and Wang Jingwei led the committee that investigated and arrested many suspects, executing a few. Jiang and Borodin sent suspected Hu Hanmin to Russia. The National Revolutionary Army won three campaigns in eastern Guangdong, and three generals from Guangxi brought that province into alliance with Guangzhou. Guangdong was a rich province and raised $1,200,000 per month from gambling taxes even after what officials took in graft. A Political Training Department began functioning in October to instruct officers and troops. The daily Political Work was edited by a Communist and distributed 18,000 copies in the army.

In the summer of 1925 Dai Jitao published two books on Sun Yat-sen’s philosophy that argued against having Communists in the Guomindang.  Fifteen members of the Executive Committee met on November 23, 1925 by Sun Yat-sen’s tomb at Western Hills near Beijing. They supported Hu Hanmin and resolved to drive the Communists out of the Guomindang. On the Communist side Chen Duxiu noted that in the Guomindang the rightists only talked about the three people’s principles while the leftists acted to attain them.

At the second Guomindang congress held in Guangzhou in January 1926 a majority of the 278 delegates were Communists while only 45 were on the right. Peng Pai had been organizing social services for peasant associations since 1921 and had 100,000 members by 1923. Mao Zedong was director of the Guomindang’s Peasant Movement Training Institute in Guangzhou and was organizing in Hunan around Changsha. Guangzhou was considered so “Red” that many businessmen moved to Shanghai or Beijing. The successful banker T. V. Soong (Song Ziwen), Sun Yat-sen’s brother-in-law, had become Guomindang’s Finance minister in 1925, and he was raising more than 3.6 million yuan per month. Borodin agreed to limit the Communists to one-third of the committees. The cadets at Huangpu had formed the Society for the Study of Sun Yat-senism. They were anti-Communist and set up their own party headquarters in Shanghai.

In early 1926 Zhang Zuolin made an alliance with Wu Peifu and gained control of southern Hebei and Hubei. Writer Lu Xun was teaching in Beijing on March 18 when some of his students were among the 47 shot and killed while demonstrating against politicians who had given in to foreign demands based on the unequal treaties. Lu Xun and his wife fled south to Guangzhou. Feng Yuxiang helped Duan Qirui’s government survive, but Zhang Zuolin ousted Duan in April. Zhang’s army combined with those of Wu Peifu and Sun Chuanfang numbered more than 600,000. Feng Yuxiang and Zhang Zuolin fought a costly war in 1926 that lasted eight months. From the middle of 1926 to the middle of 1927 a regency cabinet was set up; but it had little power, and so government had no funds and no direction. Zhang Zuolin proclaimed himself grand marshal on June 17, 1927 and organized a military government. As the Guomindang armies advanced north, so many would defect to the south that Wu Peifu and Sun Chuanfang lost their power in 1927. Zhang Zuolin still controlled Beijing, and his vassal Zhang Zongchang ruled Shandong.

On March 20, 1926 the gunboat Zhongshan commanded by a Communist appeared off Huangpu, and Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), fearing they would abduct him, had the Zhongshan commander arrested. Jiang declared martial law in Guangzhou, disarmed workers’ pickets, and arrested more than thirty Russian advisors. Communist newspapers were shut down. Borodin returned to Guangzhou from Comintern meetings in Beijing. In April he agreed with Jiang that no CCP members would head Guomindang bureaus, and he gave the Executive Committee a list of CCP members. On May 9 Wang Jingwei left for France. On May 15 the Central Executive Committee limited Communists to no more than a third of committee memberships and made other restrictions. The CCP Executive Committee rejected these, but Soviet premier Joseph Stalin ordered them to stay in the Guomindang. By the time of its congress in May the General Labor Union had grown to 1,241,000 members.

Huangpu had graduated 7,795 officers, and Jiang Jieshi had 85,000 men in his National Revolutionary Army. Guangxi added another 30,000 troops and had 6,000 cadets in other military schools. Jiang became commander of the National Revolutionary Army in June, and using all these forces, he began the northern expedition on July 1 to eliminate Wu Peifu and achieve national unification. The Guomindang force occupied Changsha on July 11, and in August they chased the retreating Hunan army along the Miluo River and threatened the tri-city area of Wuhan. General Wu Peifu arrived and had eight of his commanders beheaded. The Hanyang commander went over to the Nationalists, who gained its huge arsenal. When Hankou submitted, Jiang promised to protect all its foreigners. While they besieged Wuchang, the Jiangxi warlord had Communists and radicals rounded up and beheaded based on their short Russian hair-styles. Civilians were starving, and the Wuchang commander opened the gates on October 10. Nationalists entered the city while others attacked Jiangxi. By November the National Revolutionary Army had suffered 15,000 casualties while taking Jiujiang and Nanchang. Fujian’s navy changed sides, and its capital Fuzhou fell in December. The Nationalists had conquered Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, and Fujian while Guangxi and Guizhou had negotiated agreements. The National Revolutionary Army was trained not to loot nor press workers into service.

Lu Xun's Stories

Zhou Zhangshou (Lu Xun) was born as the oldest son in a gentry family in 1881 in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, where he was well educated. In 1893 his grandfather Zhou Fuqing was caught attempting to bribe the chief examiner with 10,000 taels and was imprisoned until the general amnesty of 1901. His father Zhou Boyi was barred from the exams, became depressed, drank, became ill, took opium, and died in 1896, leaving Zhangshou head of the family. He had studied the classics, history, and philosophy in a private school under the outstanding teacher Shou Jingwu. Zhangshou attended the Jiangnan Naval Academy and in 1898 he did well on the civil service examination. His uncle persuaded him to change his name to Zhou Shuren because soldiers were not respected. In 1901 he read Yan Fu’s translation of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics, and he was influenced by its social Darwinism. Then Shuren read Lin Shu’s translations of La dame aux camelias by Dumas and other fiction by Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, Rider Haggard, and Arthur Conan Doyle. He was especially impressed by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Shuren graduated from the School of Mines and Railroads in 1902 and went to Japan for more study on a Qing-government scholarship. He cut off his queue in 1903 and translated two science-fiction novels by Jules Verne into Chinese.

After pawning clothing and jewelry to buy rare herbs for his ill father, Zhou Shuren had decided that Chinese doctors were quacks. He had learned that Japanese modernization had begun with its study of Western medicine, and so in 1904 he went to medical school in Sendai, Japan. In his second year a teacher showed slides of Japanese military victories over Russia as the Japanese students shouted “Banzai!” One slide showed a Chinese spy about to be beheaded, and Shuren was struck by the passive attitude of the Chinese bystanders in the picture. He thought how the Chinese needed spiritual transformation more than physical medicine, and two months later in March 1906 he withdrew from medical school to become a writer and to promote a literary movement. He returned to Shaoxing, and in July he was married to Zhu An, who had been chosen for him by his mother. She had her tiny feet bound, was illiterate, and unattractive. Shuren may not have consummated the marriage, but he continued to support her financially for the rest of his life. Apparently Zhu An spent her time serving Shuren’s mother, and he considered her his mother’s wife.

In 1907 Shuren, his brother Zhou Zuoren, and Qian Xuantong with others organized the Society for the Promotion of National Learning, and they persuaded the revolutionary Zhang Taiyan to be director and lecture on literature. For a short time while their money lasted, Shuren, Zuoren, and Xu Shoushang published a magazine called New Life, and in the essay “On Breaking Through the Voices of Evil” Zhou Shuren accused hypocritical scholars of blaming China’s problems on the common people. He especially admired Nikolai Gogol for awakening the Russians to the suffering of their people. In his essay “The Erratic Development of Culture,” Shuren suggested that China’s isolation was the cause of its weaknesses and strengths. In 1909 the Zhou brothers published two volumes of Stories from Abroad translated from Russian and from other countries, but they sold only a few copies in Tokyo and Shanghai.

Zhou Shuren took a teaching job in Hangzhou and also served as interpreter for a Japanese botany teacher. When the dean Xu Shaoshang refused to kowtow to the new director, he, Shuren and the faculty resigned but were later reinstated. In 1910 Shuren became the dean and a teacher at Shaoxing High School. After the 1911 revolution he was appointed principal of a primary school. That winter he wrote in literary Chinese his first short story, “Remembrances of the Past,” about an incident in his childhood when his lessons were interrupted by local people discussing whether to flee from “hairy rebels.” In 1912 he took a position in the Ministry of Education under Cai Yuanpei. For several years Shuren occupied his spare time copying manuscripts so that he would not be suspected by Yuan Shikai’s agents.

The philologist Qian Xuantong suggested that Zhou Shuren write for New Youth in the common language (baihua). Shuren was reluctant to infect young people with his loneliness. He said it was like there is a closed iron room in which sleeping people were going to suffocate. He asked if he would be doing them a favor by awakening some of them; but Xian replied that those awakened might find a way out. Shuren began using the pen name Lu Xun when he published his next story, “The Diary of a Madman,” in New Youth in May 1918. Inspired by Gogol, this story has been called the first truly modern short story in Chinese literature. After an introduction in literary wenyan, the diary is written in baihua by a paranoid man who fears that almost everyone has become a cannibal. He imagines how they must feel ashamed before real human beings, as reptiles do before those who have evolved into primates. Some think that people always ate human flesh while others know it is wrong but do it anyway. The diarist urges them to change from the bottom of their hearts because in the future cannibals will not be allowed in the world anymore. His final plea is to “save the children.” This macabre story reflects the chaotic violence of the warlord era when Chinese lives were cheap.

Lu Xun’s next story “Kong Yiji” is about a scholar who fails to pass the exams and gradually falls to less ethical means of getting money for food and wine. Finally he is caught stealing by a Selectman who breaks his legs. Kong has to crawl with his hands and can no longer pay his debt. This story reflects on the decline of traditional scholarship that educated some only for the exam system. “Medicine” is another morbid story about a boy with tuberculosis who is given bread soaked in fresh blood from an execution to try to cure his disease. In the final scene his mother mourns at his grave and meets there the mother of a revolutionary martyr who finds a wreath of flowers has been laid. A wretched death in poverty and superstition is compared to the hope of a revolutionary sacrifice. In the autobiographical “Hometown” Lu meets a childhood friend and realizes they have become separated by a social hierarchy, and he questions whether his hope for the future is different than his friend’s idol-worship of a censer and candlestick he took.

In 1919 Lu Xun bought a large house in Beijing where he lived with his mother, wife, brothers Zuoren and Jianren, and their families. The next year he began lecturing on Chinese fiction at Beijing University, and this material was published in 1924 as A Concise History of Chinese Fiction. In 1920 he wrote “The Story of Hair.” Men who did not wear a queue during the Qing dynasty were considered revolutionaries, and women who bobbed their hair even in 1920 were treated as “loose women” and were expelled from school. In “A Passing Season” people in a rural town discuss changes when they hear a rumor that the Emperor is going to assume the throne.

Lu Xun’s most famous work is “The True Story of Ah Q,” which was first serialized as weekly humorous anecdotes in a Beijing newspaper in 1921. After a while Lu Xun got tired of writing them and completed the novella with a tragic ending. Ah Q is a homeless and illiterate man who does odd jobs to survive. Despite his low status he is arrogant and imagines the worst in people. He often suffers from bullies and also mistreats those weaker than himself. He foolishly offends a woman by pinching her and loses his work opportunities and even most of his clothes to survive. Later he arrives back in town with money he has taken from being a look-out for robbers, but he pretends to be a revolutionary to boost his ego and to protect himself. The revolutionaries will not let him participate in their plundering, but ironically he is later paraded as a criminal and executed for being part of their looting. The story portrays the desperate plight of many poor Chinese who try to justify their existence with rationalizations.

After clashing with his brother Zuoren over his Japanese wife in 1923, Lu moved out with his wife and mother. That year Lu Xun published his first collection of fourteen short stories. In his preface he commented that anyone who falls from affluence to poverty will see the true face of the world on the way down.

Lu Xun published his second collection of eleven stories in 1926. “New Year’s Sacrifice” was written in 1924. Sacrifices are made to the Kitchen God to solicit blessings for the family in the next year. The narrator meets Sister Xanglin, a widowed beggar who asks him if a soul exists after the body dies. When told probably, she asks if hell exists too. Lu makes the safe answer that he “can’t say for sure.” She dies the next day. After her husband died, she got a job as a servant and did good work until her mother-in-law dragged her off and forced her to marry again. During the wedding Xanglin tried to resist by cutting her head open; but she was forced into a locked room and gave in to her husband. He died, and their baby was taken and eaten by a wolf. Xanglin was expelled from the house and went back to her former employer; but they considered her so fallen that she was not allowed to help prepare for the sacrifices. She lost her job, became a beggar, and died, a victim of superstition. The narrator ironically concludes that the gods were honored by the sacrifices and would shower their blessings on the people.

“The Loner” is autobiographical, and Lu describes his friend, the bachelor Wei Lianshu, who wailed at his step-grandmother’s funeral. Wei is a teacher; but almost no one understands him, and he loses his job because of his critical journalism. He sells his books and furniture to survive. The narrator has lost his teaching job too and cannot help him. When Wei is about to die from tuberculosis, he takes a job as an aide to a warlord and suddenly adopts a bountiful life-style. When the narrator returns to the town, he learns that Wei has died. He walks away from the funeral and lets out a howl like a wounded animal. “Divorce” was written in November 1925 and describes how powerful men decide the fate of a woman who has complained that her husband is having an affair with a widow.

Between May 1924 and April 1926 Lu Xun wrote 23 prose poems that were collected together as Wild Grass or Weeds. These express Lu’s dark mood and pessimistic view of life. When he began writing these prose poems, Lu was influenced by Kuriyagawa Hakuson’s Symbols of Mental Anguish, which he was translating from Japanese. In May 1925 Lu was on a faculty committee in support of six student rebels who had been expelled from the university. The Minister of Education closed the school, and Lu was dismissed from the Ministry in August but was reinstated in January 1926. In a 1931 preface to Wild Grass Lu explained that when he wrote these, he could not write in plain language because of the oppressive warlord regime in Beijing. In that preface Lu described his motives for writing some of them.

“My Lost Love” was written to satirize the poems
about lost loves which were then the vogue;
“Revenge” was written out of revulsion
at the number of bystanders in society;
“Hope” out of astonishment at the passivity of young people.
“Such a Fighter” was my reaction to those
men of letters and scholars who abetted the warlords.
“The Blighted Leaf” was written for my friends
who wanted to preserve me.
After the Duan Qirui government
fired on unarmed demonstrators,
I wrote “Amid Pale Bloodstains,”
at a time when I had left home and gone into hiding.6

This last-mentioned prose poem is presented here as an outstanding example.

  At present the creator is still a weakling.
  In secret, he causes heaven and earth to change,
but dares not destroy this world.
In secret, he causes living creatures to die,
but dares not preserve their dead bodies.
In secret, he causes mankind to shed blood,
but dares not keep the bloodstains fresh forever.
In secret, he causes mankind to suffer pain,
but dares not let them remember it forever.
  He provides for his kind only, the weaklings among men;
using deserted ruins and lonely tombs
to set off rich mansions;
using time to dilute pain and bloodstains;
each day pouring out one cup
of slightly sweetened bitter wine—
not too little nor too much—to cause slight intoxication.
This he gives to mankind
so that those who drink it can weep and sing,
seem both sober and drunk, conscious and unconscious,
appear willing to live on and willing to die.
He must make all creatures willing to live on.
He has not the courage yet to destroy mankind.
  A few deserted ruins and a few lonely tombs
are scattered over the earth, reflected by pale bloodstains;
and there men taste their own vague pain and sorrow,
as well as that of others.
They will not spurn it, however,
thinking it better than nothing;
and they call themselves “victims of heaven”
to justify their tasting this pain and sorrow.
In apprehensive silence they await the coming of
new pain and sorrow, new suffering which appalls them,
which they none the less thirst to meet.
  All these are the loyal subjects of the creator.
This is what he wants them to be.
  A rebellious fighter has arisen from mankind, who,
standing erect, sees through all the deserted ruins
and lonely tombs of the past and the present.
He remembers all the intense and unending agony;
he faces squarely the whole welter of clotted blood;
he understands all that is dead and all that is living,
as well as all that is being born and all that is yet unborn.
He sees through the creator’s game.
And he will arise to resuscitate or else destroy mankind,
these loyal subjects of the creator.
  The creator, the weakling, hides himself in shame.
Then heaven and earth change color
in the eyes of the fighter.7

Finally in “The Awakening” in April 1926 Lu wrote about the students seeing planes on their bombing missions flying over Beijing during the fighting between the warlords of the Fengtian and Zhili cliques, which forced Lu to leave Beijing.

In 1925 the student Xu Guangping began writing to Lu, and they became lovers. He was especially radicalized in March 1926 when some of his students were killed by police for protesting in front of the Government House. His critical essays got him put on a list of fifty radicals, and he fled from Beijing with Xu. She took a teaching position in Guangzhou while Lu accepted Lin Yutang’s offer to teach literature at Xiamen (Amoy) University.

Lu Xun's Essays

Nationalist-Communist Civil War 1927-1937


1. Lo Chia-lun 336, “New Tide of the World Today,” p. 22 quoted in The May Fourth Movement by Chow Tse-tsung, p. 61.
2. Hu Shih 205, Diary, IX, 566 quoted in The May Fourth Movement by Chow Tse-tsung, p. 28.
3. “A Preliminary Discussion of Literary Form” by Hu Shih in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p. 820.
4. “Constructive Literary Revolution” by Hu Shih in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p. 825.
5. The May Fourth Movement by Chow Tse-tsung, p. 174.
6. Wild Grass by Lu Hsun, p. 1-2.
7. Ibid., p. 64-65.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

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Qing Decline 1799-1875
Qing Dynasty Fall 1875-1912
Republican China in Turmoil 1912-1926
Nationalist-Communist Civil War 1927-1937
China at War 1937-1949
Korea 1800-1949
Japan's Modernization 1800-1894
Imperial Japan 1894-1937
Japan's War and Defeat 1937-1949
Philippines to 1949
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