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Transformative or abortive? : a "de-voluntaristic" analysis of the Nationalist Revolution in modern Chinese history Lanyan, Chen


Interpretations of the Nationalist Revolution in modern Chinese history, especially the so-called “Nanjing decade” (1927-1937) are dominated by theoretical notions which see the state as autonomous in its relationship to society. This autonomous state model, the dissertation argues, finds its roots in the voluntaristic ideas of Talcott Parsons. Arguments based on Parsons’s ideas view the Nationalist Revolution as abortive. The dissertation rejects these views and develops an alternative perspective based on the construction of a quasi-market model of social relations. The theoretical underpinnings, in contrast to Parsons’s ideas, are termed “de-voluntaristic.” These arguments suggest that individuals participate in, and have influence on, the operation of the state. The application of a quasi-market model suggests that there was a major transformation in Chinese society during the Nationalist period. The dissertation argues that the Nationalist Government after 1927 did not continue to achieve the initial objectives of the Nationalist Revolution which, it is suggested, aimed to build a quasi-market society. The revolution, however, was not abortive. It transformed the political system. In the Imperial tradition of government, local elites protected local communities against state encroachment through their involvement in property management. After 1927, the Nanjing Government adopted a “free market” approach to political affairs, and centralized the use of military and legal power to protect property against labour and the peasants. Peasant demands for rights to the land they tilled, a key element in Sun Yat-sen’s programme for the revolution, questioned the brokerage market economy, in which local elites acted as the intermediaries of contractual partners. Workers, in the context of industrialization, and with support from Communist organizers, attempted to improve working conditions. Peasants and workers contested the power of active elites that grew in the new political order established by. the Nationalist Government. The Nationalist State abandoned the traditional role of the Chinese state to protect the well-being of society. Deeply influenced by new elites, it protected capital accumulation and safeguarded the sanctity of contracts. The Nationalist Revolution ultimately failed as it was unable to resist the invasions of the Japanese, or the alternative social formulations of the Communist movement.

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