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The Politics of opposition in Republican China : Chiang K’ai-Shek and the extraordinary conference of 1931 Jenks, Robert D.

Abstract

This study examines the Extraordinary Conference, a political opposition movement launched in 1931 to loosen Chiang K'ai-shek's grip on the central government and Kuomintang apparatus. An effort is made not only to reconstruct the background, course, and aftermath of the Extraordinary Conference itself, but to examine the motivations of the participants and to apply the perspectives thus acquired to an analysis of the nature of political opposition during the Republic up to the outbreak of war with Japan. Participants in movements of this type have often been severely castigated for the part they played in perpetuating the general turmoil and fragmentation of the early Republic. However, one of the conclusions of this study is that while such men must inevitably share some of the blame for the chaos that prevailed, it is impossible to assign responsibility for it to any particular person or group. The situation was much too complex for any such simplistic explanation. The leading players in the republican drama were all members of a transitional generation, struggling to create a new synthesis for China following a revolution that had overthrown the formal structure of a centuries-old political system. They were products of their times, torn between the new and the old and unable, as yet, to find a formula that would bring stability to China and restore the country to its former glory. As an examination of the Extraordinary Conference indicates, regionalism, factionalism, patronage, and various less than altruistic forms of self-interest influenced the behavior of political and military leaders to varying degrees, particularly at the local level. However, analysis of the Extraordinary Conference also supports the view that the most important factor governing the activities of these leaders, especially at the national level, was a sincere concern for the welfare of the country. A major problem was that the leader of each faction regarded himself as, and was acknowledged by his followers to be, the only person capable of bringing unity, stability, and progress to China. When such uncompromising self-images were combined with extremely weak political institutions and the overwhelming predominance of military might, the result was continuous turmoil and confusion. The predominance of violence, furthermore, conditioned the patterns of political opposition throughout the early Republic. Although the intellectual, commercial, and political elites each had their own peculiar weapons for political opposition, none of them possessed enough power to exert a decisive influence on the government. They could not be ignored, but the changes they wrought and the concessions they won in the political arena tended to be of minor significance. They simply did not have the resources at their disposal to compete against the raw coercive power wielded by those who controlled the government. Unarmed dissidents were often obliged to compromise their ideals and accept the dictates of a political world in which force reigned supreme. A formula for political opposition emerged which, in its simplest outlines, was to procure military support, establish a territorial base, and declare independence or found a rival "national" government to challenge the one then in operation. Opposition movements achieved a quasi-institutionalized status and might be described as primitive votes of no confidence through which the opposition hoped to replace, or at least reach a new accommodation with, the government in power. The Extraordinary Conference represented a high-water mark for large-scale political opposition movements during the Nanking decade. At its conclusion, the central government absorbed many of its critics and its remaining opponents found themselves scattered and unable to coalesce. The raw material for an opposition movement with any hope of success was no longer at hand, and the power of the central government expanded steadily until the outbreak of war with Japan.

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