Succession of Sun Yat-sen
Competition with Wang Jingwei
Wang was a close associate of Sun Yat-sen for the last twenty years of Sun's life. After Sun's death Wang engaged in a political struggle with Chiang Kai-shek for control over the Kuomintang, but lost. Wang remained inside the Kuomintang, but continued to have disagreements with Chiang until Japan invaded China in 1937, after which he accepted an invitation from the Japanese Empire to form a Japanese-supported collaborationist government in Nanjing. Wang served as the head of state for this Japanese puppet government until he died, shortly before the end of World War II. His collaboration with the Japanese has often been considered treason against China. His name in both mainland China and Taiwan is now a term used to refer to traitors, similar to "Benedict Arnold" for Americans or "Quisling" for Norwegians.)Sun Yat-sen died on March 12, 1925, creating a power vacuum in the Kuomintang. A contest ensued between Chiang, who stood at the right wing of the KMT, and Sun Yat-sen's close comrade-in-arms Wang Jingwei, who leaned towards the left. Although Wang succeeded Sun as Chairman of the National Government, Chiang's relatively low position in the party's internal hierarchy was bolstered by his military backing and adept political maneuvering following the Zhongshan Warship Incident. On June 5, 1926, Chiang became Commander-in-Chief of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA), and on July 27 he launched a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition in order to defeat the warlords controlling northern China and to unify the country under the KMT.
The NRA branched into three divisions: to the west was Wang Jingwei, who led a column to take Wuhan; Bai Chongxi's column went east to take Shanghai; Chiang himself led in the middle route, planning to take Nanjing before pressing ahead to capture Beijing. However, in January 1927, Wang Jingwei and his KMT leftist allies took the city of Wuhan amid much popular mobilization and fanfare. Allied with a number of Chinese Communists and advised by Soviet agent Mikhail Borodin, Wang declared the National Government as having moved to Wuhan. Having taken Nanking in March (and briefly visited Shanghai, now under the control of his close ally Bai Chongxi), Chiang halted his campaign and prepared a violent break with Wang's leftist elements, which he believed threatened his control of the KMT.
Now with an established national government in Nanjing, and supported by conservative allies including Hu Hanmin, Chiang's expulsion of the Communists and their Soviet advisers led to the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. Wang Jingwei's National Government was weak militarily, and was soon ended by Chiang with the support of a local warlord (Li Zongren of Guangxi). Eventually, Wang and his leftist party surrendered to Chiang and joined him in Nanjing. In the Central Plains War, Beijing was taken on June, 1928, from an alliance of the warlords Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan. In December, the Manchurian warlord Zhang Xueliang pledged allegiance to Chiang's government, completing Chiang's nominal unification of China and ending the Warlord Era.
In 1927, when he was setting up the Nationalist government in Nanjing, he was preoccupied with "the elevation of our leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen to the rank of 'Father of our Chinese Republic'. Dr. Sun worked for 40 years to lead our people in the Nationalist cause, and we cannot allow any other personality to usurp this honored position". He asked Chen Guofu to purchase a photograph that had been taken in Japan around 1895 or 1898. It showed members of the Revive China Society with Yeung Kui-wan , pinyin Yáng Qúyún) as President, in the place of honour, and Sun, as secretary, on the back row, along with members of the Japanese Chapter of the Revive China Society. When told that it was not for sale, Chiang offered a million dollars to recover the photo and its negative. "The party must have this picture and the negative at any price. They must be destroyed as soon as possible. It would be embarrassing to have our Father of the Chinese Republic shown in a subordinate position". Chiang never obtained either the photo or its negative.
Chiang made great efforts to gain recognition as the official successor of Sun Yat-sen. In a pairing of great political significance, Chiang was Sun's brother-in-law: he had married Soong May-ling, the younger sister of Soong Ching-ling, Sun's widow, on December 1, 1927. Originally rebuffed by her in the early 1920s, Chiang managed to ingratiate himself to some degree with Soong May-ling's mother by first divorcing his wife and concubines and then promising to eventually convert to Christianity. On January 7, 1929, the Nationalist Information Bureau stated that Chiang was not a Christian After this, he was baptized in the Methodist church in 1929, a year after his marriage to Soong. Upon reaching Beijing, Chiang paid homage to Sun Yat-sen and had his body moved to the new capital of Nanjing to be enshrined in a grand mausoleum.
Rising powerIn the West and in the Soviet Union, Chiang Kai-shek was known as the "Red General". Movie theaters in the Soviet Union showed newsreels and clips of Chiang. At Moscow, Sun Yat-sen University portraits of Chiang were hung on the walls; and, in the Soviet May Day Parades that year, Chiang's portrait was to be carried along with the portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and other socialist leaders. The United States consulate and other Westerners in Shanghai were concerned about the approach of "Red General" Chiang as his army was seizing control of large areas of the country in the Northern Expedition. The Western powers backed the Zhili Clique, and were concerned about either the Soviet-backed Kuomintang or the Japanese-backed Fengtian Clique seizing control of China. The Japanese were also concerned that Chiang might defeat the Fengtian Clique.
On April 12, Chiang carried out a purge of thousands of suspected Communists and dissidents in Shanghai, and began large-scale massacres across the country collectively known as the "White Terror". Throughout April 1927, more than 12,000 people were killed in Shanghai. The killings drove most Communists from urban cities and into the rural countryside, where the KMT was less powerful. In the year after April 1927, over 300,000 people died across China in anti-Communist suppression campaigns executed by the KMT. More liberal estimates regarding the White Terror in China estimate it took millions of lives, most of them in the rural areas. Chiang allowed for the "escape" of Soviet agent and advisor Mikhail Borodin and Soviet military officer Vasily Blücher (Galens) to safety after the purge.
Having gained control of China, Chiang's party remained surrounded by "surrendered" warlords who remained relatively autonomous within their own regions. On October 10, 1928, Chiang was named director of the State Council, the equivalent to President of the country, in addition to his other titles. As with his predecessor Sun Yat-sen, the Western media dubbed him "Generalissimo".
According to Sun Yat-sen's plans, the Kuomintang (KMT) was to rebuild China in three steps: military rule, political tutelage, and constitutional rule. The ultimate goal of the KMT revolution was democracy, which was not considered to be feasible in China's fragmented state. Since the KMT had completed the first step of revolution through seizure of power in 1928, Chiang's rule thus began a period of what his party considered to be "political tutelage" in Sun Yat-sen's name. During this so-called Republican Era, many features of a modern, functional Chinese state emerged and developed.
The decade of 1928 to 1937 saw some aspects of foreign imperialism, concessions and privileges in China, moderated through diplomacy. The government acted to modernize the legal and penal systems, attempted to stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Not all of these projects were successfully completed. Efforts were made towards improving education standards; and, in an effort to unify Chinese society, the New Life Movement was launched to encourage Confucian moral values and personal discipline. Mandarin Chinese Guoyu ("Nation-Language"), was promoted as an standard tongue, and the establishment of communications facilities (including radio) were used to encourage a sense of Chinese nationalism in a way that was not possible when the nation lacked an effective central government.