Monday, May 22, 2006


The most dramatic change in the Chinese military was the establishment of the Whampoa Military Academy. Sun and Jiang both recognized the need for scientific and systematic approach to training officers. Sun may have been more interested in insuring that the most advanced military science and tactics were taught, while Jiang was perhaps more interested in insuring that officers had correct political thoughts. They established the academy to accomplish both their goals, and largely succeeded, at least initially. Mr Lawrence pointed out the role the Soviets had in establishing Whampoa, and Whampoa’s importance in fielding new weaponry for the prolonged period of warfare from 1911 to 1946. However, I would argue that Whampoa’s larger importance was in the shared experience and zeal it fostered in the officer corps. This esprit de corps among the young officers served the Nationalists well as they grew up to assume more senior leadership positions in the military of the Republic of China, and helped the ROC to hang on, even after retreat to Taiwan.

One thing that did not change was the basic organization of the Chinese military. Warlords raised armies, and controlled territory until they were defeated or bought off by other warlords. It was interesting to read the analysis of the warlords by Edward McCord on page 176 of the Graff text. McCord makes an elaborate argument that the warlords after the turn of the century did not have any direct linkage to the warlords to whom the Qing dynasty turned for defense from the Taipings. Then, one paragraph later, McCord points out that dynasties had made a calculated decision not to have a unified army to defend against any one commander becoming strong enough to challenge for the throne. McCord calls this policy “military fragmentation.” To my mind, McCord is shaving the point too thin by denying direct linkages between the warlords of the different eras. It seems significant however that 70 years apart, we have virtually identical military organizations arising from the Chinese body politic.

It seems McCord is also missing the larger picture as well. Throughout Chinese history, strongmen have arisen from somewhere in the provinces, and if they were able, challenged to be declared emperor in a bid to unify China. These men did not have royal lineage to give legitimacy to their claims; to paraphrase Mao, their political power and legitimacy came from the point of a spear, or the barrel of a gun. The chaos of the competing warlords was an expression of the egalitarianism at work in the Chinese dynastic succession. Any strongman, regardless of his background, with the wherewithal and good fortune could seize power. For lack of a better term, warlord-ism is the Chinese way.

Another change in the Chinese military was having Sun Yatsen as the philosophical voice and Jiang Jieshi as the front man for their attempts at reform. Sun had a western education, and could make his case for the superiority of his claim to power in English to the press and diplomats of the world. He had the ability to craft a simple yet still vague philosophy such that both the Chinese communists and the Republic of China claim him as a founding father. Sun also had the keen insight to turn to the western world for military training assistance and for arms. Sun also had an able subordinate in Jiang, who though may not have been the most tactically sound General, was on occasion, politically astute and was an excellent commandant of the Whampoa Academy mentioned earlier. Jiang also had a polished, Christian wife who sold the world on the idea that Jiang and the Nationalists were more than just regional army vying for power. Together, Sun and Jiang modernized their army, forced their opponents to do the same and were able to entrench their military vision so that it outlasted their own lives. These men brought major change in the Chinese military. However, if one strips away the philosophical pretense, one finds that Sun and Jiang WERE just warlords, albeit ones who had some western education, good American PR and, paradoxically, the good fortune to have truly despicable characters like the Chinese Communists as their enemy.

Of note, the Chinese way stands in contrast to the Japanese who were able through discipline and luck to restrict power at the highest levels to just a few families.