China before and now: Beginning and endings Part One

Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang (Kuomintang, KMT), as we earlier detailed in our case study about the modern re-invention of China today, is considered a prime representative of right-wing Nationalism. Whereby Chiang Kai-shek's 'Nationalist Party of China' during its party’s Fourth Plenum in January 1928 declared indeed that communism is an ‘erroneous' ideology, initially, the Guomindang had indeed both a right-wing 'and' a left-wing, and such luminaries of the Communist Party like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai once served in the Nationalist Party.

The first students from China had studied at the Lenin School and the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, and in 1925 candidates were recruited for a new Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow, established by the Russians to mirror Whampoa Military Academy. Some 340 students were chosen through a highly competitive process in Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, of whom around sixty were women. The first intake comprised nationalist and communist students in equal measure: the united front in microcosm. On arrival in Moscow, the students were given new clothes and, as in the case of Comintern agents, new work names. They lived in relatively comfortable seclusion in a former palace of an aristocrat near the Kremlin. The first rector of the university was the charismatic Karl Radek, who taught a formative course on the history of the Chinese revolutionary movement, as seen through Comintern eyes. The fifteen-year-old son of Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-Kuo, found himself in the same class as Deng Xiaoping, who had been sent to Moscow after his activism in Paris had finally exhausted the tolerance of the French authorities.

Ad yes, this is the same Deng Xiaoping who would re-introduce Nationalism.

Until then, Chinese nationalism had a moderate orientation; this changed following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown when history and memory were developed to become a new power. And it is here that Deng Xiaoping’s strategy was the redefinition of the “one-hundred-year history of humiliation” as a new source of legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Parties’ rule.

In fact, the Communist members were rising in the Guomindang hierarchy, and they were perceived as a threat to Chiang. He did not take action until he had his army mobilized for the Northern Expedition. This Northern Expedition's purpose was to defeat the many warlords operating in central and northern China. This purpose was being achieved as the army neared Shanghai in 1927. When Chiang's army came to Shanghai, where the Communist Party was powerful, Chiang decided to take care of the Communist threat to his control of the Nationalist Party.

There were additional factors that provoked the Chiang's actions. In March of 1926, Chiang had struck against Communists and a Soviet adviser he believed were plotting against him. This incident was supposedly forgiven on both sides, and the cooperation of Nationalist and Communist elements continued. In the Northern Expedition, one branch of the Nationalist Army captured the city of Wuhan. Communist Party members dominated the Guomindang government that emerged there. In Shanghai, there was an uprising that preceded the arrival of the Nationalist Army to the area. The local warlord put down the uprising, but the uprising demonstrated Communist influence in the labor unions. When the Nationalist troops entered Shanghai, the labor unions under the leadership of Zhou Enlai established a town council that pre-empted the creation of a local government by the Guomindang. A final incident led to the fear that the Communists within the Nationalist Army pursued their own agenda to Chiang's detriment. This incident was an attack on the British, American, and Japanese consulates by Nationalist troops when they entered Nanjing. Chiang believed the incident was Communist-inspired to provoke animosity by foreign powers toward the Guomindang.

The Communists were machine-gunned, and the labor unions broke up. The extermination program was a success in the Shanghai area, but the Communists in the south escaped the pogrom and formed South China's rural interior. Mao Zedong was the primary leader of this movement. 

Chiang was a committed autocrat and would not let any ideology get in the way of his personal rule. And as seen above, his son went to Moscow for an education. Stalin would not let the son return for many years, and Chiang's policies could have been influenced by Stalin holding the son hostage. Chiang's culture demanded that he have a male heir.

Stalin never gave up hope of including Chiang's Guomindang in the socialist fold until Mao's forces finally defeated Chiang's in 1949. During the civil war, Stalin told Mao not to go south of the Yangtse (Changjiang) River and let Chiang and the Guomindang survive in south China. Mao did not heed Stalin, and when Mao traveled to Moscow after the communist victory, Stalin kept him waiting for three days before he acknowledged Mao's presence.

Chiang and the Guomindang did survive by evacuating their forces to Taiwan. In Taiwan, the Guomindang slowly renounced its collectivist character, but the economic policy of the Guomindang in Taiwan clearly reflects its central planning, state-domination of the economy. Fortunately for Taiwan, the Guomindang government allowed the relatively free operation of small scale enterprises that brought about Taiwan's economic success.                        

Not to mention that returning the clock once again, President Xi Jinping promotes a new pan-Chinese identity.

Though the KMT lost the civil war with the Communist Party of China in 1949, the party took control of Taiwan and remained a major political party of the Republic of China-based in Taiwan. Founded in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, the KMT helped topple the Qing Emperor and promoted modernization along Western lines, so let's start with some of the details here:

China's land route was 3,920 miles on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Chita's branch, where the Chinese Eastern Railway dropped through Manchuria: the shortest way to Vladivostok and the Pacific. This thin strip of the track was the most contested ground of the Russian Civil War. It was a supply line for the White shadow government in Omsk, headed by the Tsar’s former war minister, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, fought over by partisans and controlled by the Czechoslovak Legion of ex-prisoners of war. In November 1919, Kolchak’s forces were dislodged from Omsk and slowly retreated along the line supported by the Japanese and US interventions in Siberia. Kolchak only reached Irkutsk on 15 January 1920 and perished at a Cheka firing squad in February after the city fell to the Red Army. The Far Eastern Republic, a nominally independent entity, arose in the power vacuum. Still, its control over the Transbaikal, Amur, and Maritime regions' vast territories was tenuous until the anti-Soviet forces of Ataman Semenov were defeated at Chita in November 1920. In mid-1921, Japanese forces were still encamped in Vladivostok, and in May 1921, a right-wing coup created a last White redoubt. Only with the Japanese withdrawal, the Far Eastern Republic’s capture of Vladivostok in October 1922, and its dissolution into the Soviet Union did the borders of the new regime stabilize.1

The eastern gateway to China was Harbin, which emerged at a strategic junction where the Chinese Eastern Railway branched south to Dalian's port on the Yellow Sea to connect in Shenyang to Tianjin and Beijing. In theory, the railway was a joint Russo-Chinese enterprise, but effectively it was a Russian corridor 1,700 miles long, amounting to 40 percent of all China’s railway tracks. It had served as a vital supply line during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 when Harbin was a rest and recreation place for Russian officers. In 1921, it was a company town of some 200,000 people with a unique pidgin-Russian as its lingua franca.2 No one heading to China could avoid it, and refugees' flood overwhelmed the Russian administration. Existing residents – including over 9,602 young Russians born in the city – became émigrés ‘by default,’ part of the growing ‘flotsam of the revolution.’ An influx of Chinese swelled Harbin’s population as it became the gateway to Manchuria's mines and frontier farming: it was fast becoming a Chinese town. Americans came to Harbin to sell their heavy agricultural machinery and saw it as a mirror of their own ‘Wild West.’ And so too did Japanese in greater numbers: laborers recruited from northern Kyushu, shopkeepers, and prostitutes.3 Most of the branch line south of Harbin was in Japanese hands, and there were periodic clashes with Chinese troops. The Chinese occupied Harbin in December 1917, but there were disputes over the residual international control over the Chinese Eastern Railway. By June 1920, Chinese troops finally oust Russian police and railway guards and deported 300 of them back to the Soviet Union.4 The issues of sovereignty in the region were entangled, emotive, and fought over every foot of ground. They culminated in mass protests in February 1922 at the ‘Thirty-Six Sheds,’ an area of cramped and squalid settlement for Chinese railway workers: a microcosm and metaphor for China’s impoverishment and desire for change.5

In this moraine of dislocation and asset-grabbing, the two great revolutionary forces in Asia reached one another. Ten years after the Wuchang uprising, the Chinese republic was more fragile than ever. The Beiyang government sat in Beijing and enjoyed recognizing the Western powers but limited authority within China itself. It suffered from a lack of revenue from the provinces. The government and the National Assembly's rump were hostages to the struggle for ascendency between the rival northern warlords. In July 1920, this erupted into war between the Zhili and Anhui cliques. Sun Yat-sen struggled to create a foothold for his revolutionary movement in the south, but he too was constrained to act in alliance with the regional warlords.6 

The Soviet Union launched one approach to China by open, legal means and another through the illegal underground. With the Beiyang government, formal diplomacy aimed to secure and fortify Russia’s geopolitical interests. The covert overtures were in the hands of the Comintern and directed at furthering the Asian revolution. They came to focus increasingly on Sun Yat-sen and the south. This pas de deux was often out of step. The first contact with Sun Yat-sen had been made in 1918 when he telegraphed Lenin from his exile in Shanghai to express the hope for a common struggle against the European empires that encircled them both. Lenin had no illusions about what he termed the ‘virginal naiveté’ of Sun Yat-sen’s expressed commitment to socialism, but he needed allies.7 Soviet Foreign Minister Georgy Chicherin responded with a vow to take on the ‘iron ring of bayonets by the imperialist governments that had severed contact.’ But it seems that this message did not reach the Sun.8 The British and Japanese reported a string of supposed envoys: refugees, renegades, or prisoners of war, most of whose credentials were uncertain. Sun’s main rival in the south, the reforming regional military leader Chen Jiongming, made the first move by dispatching a letter to Lenin through an ex-Tsarist officer turned freelance intelligencer Potapov, conveying his support for Bolshevism.9 Both sides had only the vaguest notion of what they were dealing with. 

In China, as elsewhere in Asia, more had been reported about the February Revolution of 1917 than the Bolshevik takeover. The Japanese incursion in the east overshadowed the internal affairs of the new regime in Moscow. The Soviets accused the western powers of blocking information, and Chinese intellectuals complained of a dearth of reading material. The Soviet capture of Irkutsk in eastern Siberia in 1918 had re-established direct telegraphic communication with China. It enabled the broadcast in March 1920 by the deputy commissar for foreign affairs, Lev Karakhan, that the Soviet Union ‘has given up all the conquests made by the government of [the] Tsars.’10 While the Soviet Union later backtracked from many of its pledges; the ‘Karakhan Manifesto’ was received in China with great excitement.11 Traffic resumed westwards as Japanese and Koreans traveled via Shanghai and Harbin for a Congress of the Toilers of the East, scheduled initially for Irkutsk in November as a belated follow-through to Baku. Due to the difficulty and spiraling costs of the journey, the meeting was moved to Moscow in the new year of 1922.12 Qu Qiubai had been part of Li Dazhao’s study circle in Beijing; he became one of the first Chinese journalists to travel to Soviet Russia and wrote two books and over sixty newspaper articles about conditions there. He soon found himself employed as a translator at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East; this marked his own initiation into Marxist-Leninist theory's higher realms. In 1921, the first three groups of students set out from Shanghai to study there.13 

The first official Soviet mission to China was launched by the Far Eastern Bureau of the Bolshevik party in Vladivostok. It was led by Grigory Voitinsky, a twenty-seven-year-old returned émigré who had worked as a printer and an accountant in the United States and Canada, where he was active in socialist circles. He had fought against the White armies in Siberia, was capture,d, and sent for hard labor in Sakhalin. On his release in 1920, he traveled by sea to Tianjin and Beijing, posing as a journalist, with his wife and two others, a Chinese interpreter. Through its Russian residents, particularly a sinologist, S. A. Polevoy, he met Li Dazhao, who had recently launched a campaign for students in the city's study circles to ‘learn’ Marxism. Karl Radek was later to remark caustically that ‘many of our comrades out there locked themselves up in their studies and studied Marx and Lenin as they had once studied Confucius.’14 Certainly,y the Bolshevik movement in Beijing, such as it was, had little to do with urban workers. But Li Dazhao gave Voitinsky a letter of introduction to his collaborator, Chen Duxiu, who was now in Shanghai, having fled Beijing in February 1920 after being jailed for distributing political leaflets. This was Chen’s first encounter with the visceral reality of modern capitalism. Here in China’s most proletarian city –were in 1921 alone forty-two new factories were to open – the focus of the activism was very different.15 

Through Chen Duxiu, Voitinsky soon gained an entrée into Shanghai's radical circles, exploiting his cover as a journalist to feed their hunger for information. Around October or November 1920, Chen arranged an audience for Voitinsky with Sun Yat-sen in the library of Sun’s house on rue Molière, a comfortable villa in the French Concession built by donations from Chinese who had made their money abroad. Sun, Voitinsky reported, was ‘well-built and erect, had soft manners and very distinct gesticulations. The modesty and the cleanliness of his attire at once attracted our attention.’ They discussed connecting the two revolutionary bridgeheads, and Sun suggested that the Soviets might place a powerful radio station in Vladivostok or Manchuria capable of reaching Canton.16 On 25 November, Sun left Shanghai and returned to the south, and it was here that he received his first letter from Lenin and responded via the Soviet trade mission in London. Sun’s overriding priority was to consolidate the republic in Canton and march out to take the north. But his position rested on a fragile alliance with Chen Jiongming, who had a more circumscribed vision of the south as an industrial ‘model province,’ as a prelude to a more gradual, peaceful reunification of China on a federal basis. In early 1921, Voitinskytraveledd with Chen Duxiu to Canton to try to get the measure of Chen Jiongming, whose past associations and support for the work-study movement had earned him the sobriquet ‘the anarchist warlord.’17 By the time he left China shortly afterward, Voitinsky had made Bolshevik Russia a firm presence in Chinese revolutionary circles. Still, it was unclear precisely how it mapped on to the fluid political landscape. 

Whereby the end of Europe's empires has so often been seen as a story of high politics and warfare, using the new technology of cheap printing presses, global travel, and the widespread use of French and English, young radicals from across Asia were able to communicate in ways simply not available before. These clandestine networks stretched to the heart of the imperial metropolises: to London, to Paris, and increasingly to Moscow. They created a secret global network that was for decades engaged in bitter fighting with imperial police forces. They gathered in the great hubs of empire - Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore, Penang, Batavia, Hanoi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong - and plotted with ceaseless ingenuity, both through persuasion and terrorism, the end of the colonial regimes. 

After its Second Congress in June 1920, the Comintern began to set up bureaux at key crossways of the global revolutionary underground. Henk Sneevliet was appointed to oversee the revolution in East Asia from Shanghai. His passage to China from Moscow was through Berlin to Venice, from where he had to run the gauntlet of British-held ports of the eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. He was intercepted as soon as he reached Vienna. He had stopped there to get a visa for China but was picked up by the Austrian police. The other visas inside his passport revealed his travel plans. The Austrians passed these on to the British authorities, who placed a watch on Sneevliet after joining a Lloyd Triestina steamship, the Acquila, at Venice and sailed to Colombo, Penang, and, finally, Singapore, on 21 May 1921, where he was forbidden to land. His cover story was that he was travelling to Japan as a journalist. This was blown, and the Dutch tried to block his entry into China. But although the major powers shared a degree of information, it was harder to persuade other governments to apprehend a person who had committed no crime on their territory. In Singapore, old comrades from Java joined Sneevliet’s ship to Shanghai: Asser Baars, expelled from the Indies and off to join an engineering venture in Siberia, and Darsono, the first of the Indonesians to make his way to Moscow by the overland route. 

In mid-1921, Shanghai was a vagrant city, a Nansen city, a modern Babylon. Around 5,000 Russians were living there, many of them stranded. The old Tsarist consulate on the waterfront opposite the Astor House Hotel was closed up; legal cases were left hanging in the air, valuables lodged in Chinese banks were sequestrated, and in 1921 Russian exiles were stripped of their citizenship, to become another people with no country. A good number of them drifted into an underworld of petty theft and trafficking. Les femmes Russes were a staple of salacious newspaper reports and moral panics. In fiction and popular lore, they were a new erotic type, charged with a frisson of danger from their reputation for availability to both western and Asian men. This flouted the deepest taboos of foreigners increasingly ill at ease with themselves and their fragile status in China. These women were deeply implicated in the Bolshevik and émigré plots, imagined and real, which fed westerners’ myths of them and the city.18 This mystique was further embellished with the revival of the foreign-language press. One of the city’s two Russian newspapers, Shankhaiskaia zhizn’, ‘Shanghai Life,’ was seen as a Bolshevik influence center. The Shanghai Gazette, established in 1918, was an English-language mouthpiece of Sun Yat-sen’s government, edited by the Trinidad-born Chinese and British national, Eugene Chen, who in 1922 became one of Sun’s closest supporters and his foreign minister. He promoted Sun’s anti-colonial foreign policies. The Shanghai Gazette’s most prominent staff writer, George Sokolsky, an American of Polish-Lithuanian extraction, who arrived from Russia in 1918, boasted recent conversations with Lenin and Trotsky's desire to spread Bolshevism in China. He soon became a confidant of Sun’s family. With its more protected position, the Chinese and the Western press were closely entangled in terms of personnel and finances and the acquisition of news and its translation.19 

The austere post-war years – the continuing currency controls, the stifling social climate – were a stimulus to escape, far abroad.20 With the revival of long-distance shipping, a fresh wave of politically minded tourists arrived to examine what one of the most illustrious among them, Bertrand Russell, in 1920–21 defined in his book The Problem of China. Russell’s observations and reflections on China left him perplexed – the country was in turmoil from warlords, strikes, and imperialist threats – yet he was drawn to its traditional culture. There were several more opportunistic adventurers. In 1919, the British followed a man called Goodman, one of many similar individuals, ‘giving conflicting accounts of himself and behaving most suspiciously’: At the British Consulate, he claimed to be an Egyptian and said he wished to return to Egypt. 

As the only papers he could produce were written apparently in Arabic on dirty leaves torn from a notebook, and bearing neither seal not stamp, he was refused assistance until he could obtain proper proof. He later discovered that he came from Tientsin [Tianjin]. He had represented himself as an American Presbyterian Missionary to the USA Consul, by whom he was rejected as an imposter. In Shanghai, he booked rooms in three different hotels and booked a passage to Hong Kong, saying he was a banker.

He also applied to the USA Consul for a passport to Hong Kong, saying he was born in New York but has lost his papers. He is about 5 feet 10 inches in height, heavily built, very dark, looks like an Assyrian or Hindoo, and wears black clothing.21 

Such characters populated a new genre of romance cosmopolites, a model being Maurice Dekobra’s La Madone des Sleepings, or Madonna of the Sleeping Cars (1925), set in the world of the constantly mobile, and written in a polyglossic style with knowing sketches of the denizens of the revolutionary demi-monde.22 In Shanghai, the underworld lay in plain sight. A bonanza boosted the city’s black economy in the illicit arms trade as China became the destination of much of the surplus weaponry of the Great War. It was financed by the opium trade, control of which gave aspirants in the struggle for China a decisive strategic advantage. It corrupted the police and created a more or less open shadow government of urban gangs. In 1922, the French consul-general dismissed an entire police post for being on the take. The head of the Chinese detectives in the International Settlement led a double life as a gangland boss. In the five years after 1922, armed robberies rose from forty-seven to 1,458 in 1927. Police raids only had the effect of pushing rackets into a Chinese-administered city or a neighboring concession. Criminals no less than revolutionaries exploited the different police jurisdictions. To the police, the revolution was merely an extension of crime by other means.23 

Most of the city's new arrivals were Chinese, mainly from the northern provinces, which now accounted for around 90 percent of 3 million people. Of all the post-war Shanghai transformations, the most visible was its emergence as a city of petty urban dwellers, loose connections, united in their exposure to hybrid cosmopolitan tastes and new ways of speaking. These years saw the bloom of a modernity that had been seeded from the end of the nineteenth century; a form of modern life experienced in other Asian cities, in a more accelerated and intense form than that of any country in Europe, ‘more plastic,’ ‘more artful.’ But Shanghai’s burgeoning culture of capitalism, its consumerism, was on a scale seen in few other places.24 Here, in the vocabulary of Bolshevism, the historical destiny of the Asian bourgeoisie would be tested as nowhere else. So too, in this ‘hypo-’ or ‘hyper-colony,’ would be the authority of foreign imperialism, at the birth of its jazz age.

At the intersection of all this, and at the meeting point of Avenue Edward VII and Yu Ya Ching Road, in the French Concession's open atmosphere, stood the Great World (Da Shi Jie). Founded in 1917, it was an extravaganza of the city’s worldly dreaming, spread over four floors, topped by a four-story baroque-inspired tower. The entrance was a distorting hall of mirrors. The interior was a bricolage of peep shows, modern dramatic theatre, traditional storytellers in people’s home dialects, music hall, and roller skating, with free beer on Sundays. Film serials showed on cheap continuous screenings late into the night, in front of perambulating pleasure-seekers who ignored the regular movie theatres' seating conventions. There were Japanese acrobats and western dance bands. There was even an indoor zoo. In one sense, with its stalls and pavilions, curios and human curiosities, it was a pastiche reminiscent of the universal fairs and expositions: Paris of 1900 or Semarang of 1914 or the newly advertised Marseilles colonial exposition of 1922. In another, it represented the banal, everyday worldliness of the country of the lost. Here new and old residents, Chinese and foreigners, rubbed shoulders in intimate proximity seen in few other city spaces. Women were seen on stage, and – even more controversially – prostitutes left the old courtesan haunts to seek clients. For many foreign arrivals, the Great World was a fantasy of the exotic and its erotic possibilities. For locals, for whom the city had been a place of darkness, it was a blaze of artificial light, a conquest of the night. It was unpoliced and in the hands of the gangs, one of which ran a ‘Day and Night Bank’ next door. With its flexible hours, it was the bank of choice for the poor and the demi-monde. The Great World soon welcomed 20,000 visitors a day.25 

‘The time of the silver dollar,’ the fragile prosperity after the war, saw ‘World fever’ spread across maritime Asia. In Shanghai, there was also a ‘New World’ (Xin Shi Jie), established in 1915 at the center of a new entertainment district on Bubbling Well Road; there were ‘sky gardens’ – a journey by lifts to the roofs of department stores – and all this became part of the accelerated syndication of styles and attitudes to other cities of China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The ‘New World’ of Singapore opened in 1923 and was an open labyrinth of fantastical halls and pavilions, connected by alleyways of restaurants, hawkers, and sundry stalls. Here too were theatres, nightclubs, dances, and an open-air cinema. In a new flânerie, crowds could wander from each to each, and impresarios would attract their attention by entr’actes of boxing, magic, and other ‘special turns.’ In a colonial city, the effect of this was even more powerful. The Singapore ‘World’ was a playground for all ethnic communities and income groups, a place of high and vulgar culture, an escape for the poor. It was a fantasia for the invisible city, in a walled enclave within the colonial quarter but outside its order and exclusions. It soon became a site for political meetings.26 

Here the fate of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ was dramatized. The periodical press in Shanghai was dominated in the first two decades of the century by the sentimental fictions of the so-called ‘Mandarin Duck and Butterfly’ writers, so named for the motifs on their covers. Their stories' escapism seemed to signify a lack of social responsibility and promote indulgence in the pleasures of the world. This highly commercialized sphere had a total output of around 2,215 novels, 113 magazines, and forty-nine newspapers and tabloids. They were a principal target of the angry young writers of the May Fourth generation. Still, they also fostered among readers a sense of group solidarity and utopian and republican sentiments.27 The Shanghai ‘Worlds’ had their own tabloid dailies, popular with those living in the city and with students, which took up the patriotic calls of May Fourth – especially to mobilize for boycotts – if not with any consistency. Often the appeal to collective pleasure – what the screenwriter Zhou Shoujuan called a ‘nation of joy’ – was at odds with the radical intellectuals' ethical earnestness.28 The writer Lu Xun moved to Shanghai in 1927 and saw only a ‘scramble for money, openness of crime, waste of spirit, and rampage of carnality … Was this’, he asked, ‘the goal of mankind?’29 A similar repugnance at Shanghai society's self-seeking greed deepened Chen Duxiu’s conviction that only the proletariat had the organization and moral vision to ‘abolish the old and institute the new.’30 

This vision took form in other, more improvised cityscapes. A few streets away from the Great World, in the French Concession, its popular theatre and food stalls were re-enacted in the open air for even the poorest of the poor: a kaleidoscope of China on the move. Shanghai now had 800,000 urban workers, 250,000 of them in factories. Migrants brought their villages with them in native place associations and returned to their villages when they could. New communities formed alongside more rooted city-dwellers, distinguished by the subtleties of choosing to communicate in Shanghai dialect instead of vernacular Chinese. In the words of an early publication by migrants from Zhejiang, one began by thinking of what is most intimate: ‘you can call it starting with one corner. The process doesn’t end here, but [one is] limited by what one knows.’ But, in the aftermath of May Fourth, these small corners formed common fronts, and the likes of Mao Zedong saw in this a prototype for a great union of the popular masses’.31 These communities shared a distinctive urban form and worldview in the shape of the lilong or alleyway houses, tucked out of sight of the city's new commercial thoroughfares. The ubiquitous building style, the shikumen, or ‘gates wrapped in stone,’ were an amalgam of traditional Chinese house elements, impossible to build in the pressurized land market terraced housing industrial cities northern England. They formed a tight alleyways system, where people were thrown into ever-closer proximity by multiple, diminishing sub-lets, and on an increasing scale. Siwenli, built between 1914 and 1921, saw 664 units compressed into eight acres. The shikumen was the staple interior for the realist Shanghai cinema, especially the back bedrooms or the pavilion rooms, which fancifully evoked a tranquil garden but were usually twelve square yards off a landing, above a kitchen. This was the most transient space, popular with workers, students, artists, and intellectuals. The ‘pavilion room writers’ of Shanghai became a by-word for intellectual intensity, social commitment, and political frustration. When Lu Xun settled in Shanghai, in the Japanese-dominated enclave of Hongkou, he would call his three collections of essays of the period Qiejieting: a clever pun suggesting ‘a pavilion room from the semi-concession’.32 

The new politics inserted itself swiftly into these spaces. There were bookstores, places to tarry and talk, and printing presses among the shops and artisan workshops. They were a constant translation site, both on an everyday level of strangers negotiating with each other and in print. There were schools and colleges in these lilongs; even Shanghai University was housed in an alleyway house in the Zhabei district. Voitinsky’s wife was active in a ‘foreign-language school’ off avenue Joffre that prepared students for their trips abroad: this time to Moscow. Shanghai had been an early center of the Esperanto-speaking world. The inter-language was a medium in which anarchist literature was distributed from Shanghai by post to Southeast Asia's colonial cities. When the famous ‘blind Russian poet’ and anarchist Eroshenko arrived in Shanghai from Harbin, after his banishment from Japan, in September 1921, his lectures on Esperanto had a powerful impact. He secured a post at Beijing University and stayed in the family home of Lu Xun, who became his translator.33 the police of the foreign concessions couldn't monitor this fully; they launched raids and confiscated materials, but urban radicals cloaked themselves in the bustle and anonymity of the alleyways. A small group emerged, the nucleus of a ‘proletarian party,’ a self-conscious group of intellectuals, workers and teachers, journalists and translators, who spent more of their time trying to reach the real proletarians through a series of short-lived journals and by attempting to get involved in trade union organization and workers’ schools. They had mixed success in crossing the cultural gulf between them and fared better with the intellectuals and students. From the French Concession, Chen Duxiu launched a more theoretical Communist Party Monthly, which appeared for six issues from November 1920. Students’ unions began to adopt a ‘cell’-like structure and infiltrate existing organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA, which many activists in Asia – including Sun Yat-sen and Ghadar leaders – saw as a model for self-cultivation, civic education, and for operating across borders.34 Shanghai was still a base for Korean radicals and disaffected Indians. The movement still carried the air of the anarchist-inflected, non-doctrinaire Pentecostalism of the global underground before the war. But to the Comintern and its new converts, this now smacked of petty-bourgeois individualism.35 

The small group's principal theoreticians were Li Da and Li Hanjun, both students who returned from Japan, where they had acquired a deeper knowledge of Marxist theory than their peers. Japan, not Russia, remained the principal source of the socialist writings translated in newspaper supplements with notes to explain their sociological vocabulary. This reading matter increased with the revival of socialist politics in Japan in 1920, after the reaction following the 1910 Kotoku Incident, and was absorbed in circles close to Sun Yat-sen and the younger, more radical students. In August 1920, the first full Chinese translation of The Communist Manifesto appeared, with a provenance that stretched back to a Japanese edition of 1904. This was added material in English imported from the United States, which introduced Lenin and Trotsky's names and the writings to many Chinese readers.36 So armed, and through their own work as translators, Li Da and others began to attack anarchist influence, not least it's hostility to political discipline and the state. Both, Li Da argued, could be used to transform production and social conditions. His writings emphasized ‘true’ Marxism and the proletarian strategy as the sole path to understanding this. Li was a native of Hunan, and his views carried weight with Mao Zedong and his circle in Changsha.37

 

1. Laura Engelstein, Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 417–44. 

2. Mark Gamsa, ‘Harbin in Comparative Perspective’, Urban History, 37/1 (2010), pp. 136–49. 

3. Olga Bakich, ‘Russian Emigrés in Harbin’s Multinational Past: Censuses and Identity’, in Dan Ben-Canaan, Frank Grüner and Ines Prodöhl (eds), Entangled Histories: The Transcultural Past of Northeast China, London, Springer, 2014, pp. 83–100, at p. 88; Joshua A. Fogel, ‘The Japanese and the Jews: A Comparative Analysis of their Communities in Harbin, 1898–1930’, in Robert Bickers and Christian Henriot (eds), New Frontiers: Imperialism’s New Communities in East Asia, 1842–1953, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 88–108. 

4. Blaine R. Chiasson, Administering the Colonizer: Manchuria’s Russians under Chinese Rule, 1918–29, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2010, ch. 3, esp. p. 48. 

5. James Carter, ‘Struggle for the Soul of a City: Nationalism, Imperialism, and Racial Tension in 1920s Harbin’, Modern China, 27/1 (2001), pp. 91–116. 

6. For this see Arthur Waldron, ‘The Warlord: Twentieth-century Chinese Understandings of Violence, Militarism, and Imperialism’, American Historical Review, 96/4 (1991), pp. 1073–1100; Edward A. McCord, The Power of the Gun: The Emergence of Modern Chinese Warlordism, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993. 

7. Allen S. Whiting, Soviet Policies in China, 1917–1924, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1954, quotation at p. 22, pp. 110–11. 

8. Xenia Joukoff Eudin and Harold H. Fisher (eds), Soviet Russia and the West, 1920–1927: A Documentary Survey, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1957, p. 217. 

9. Yoshihiro Ishikawa, The Formation of the Chinese Communist Party, New York, Columbia University Press, 2013, pp. 90–91. For an exhaustive list of reported contacts see Liu Jianyi, ‘The Origins of the Chinese Communist Party and the Role Played by Soviet Russia and the Comintern’, PhD thesis, University of York, 2000, pp. 67–119. 

10. Li Yu-ning and Michael Gasster, ‘Ch’u Ch’iu-Pai’s Journey to Russia, 1920–1922’, Monumenta Serica, 29 (1970), pp. 537–56; Karakhan text as quoted in Robert T. Pollard, China’s Foreign Relations, 1917–1931, London, Macmillan, 1933, p. 126. 

11. Allen Suess (1926- ) Whiting, Soviet Policies in China 1917-1924, 1954,, pp. 29–33. 

12. George M. Beckmann and Genji Okubo, The Japanese Communist Party, 1922–1945, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1969, pp. 39–45. 

13. Elizabeth McGuire, Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution, New York, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 74–5; Stephen A. Smith, A Road Is Made: Communism in Shanghai, 1920–1927, London, Routledge, 2000, pp. 18–19. 

14. Whiting, Soviet Policies in China, p. 96. 

15. Jean Chesneaux, The Chinese Labor Movement, 1919–1927, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1968, p. 157. 

16. Xenia Joukoff Eudin, Harold H. Fisher, et al., Soviet Russia and the West, 1920–1927: A Documentary Survey (Hoover Institute Publications), 1972, p. 218. 

17. Leslie H. Dingyan Chen, Chen Jiongming and the Federalist Movement: Regional Leadership and Nation Building in Early Republican China, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1999, esp. pp. 97–109. 

18. For the legal situation see Pollard, China’s Foreign Relations, pp. 153–5. For an indispensable general survey see Marcia R. Ristaino, Port of Last Resort: The Diaspora Communities of Shanghai, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2001. 

19. Bryna Goodman, ‘Semi-Colonialism, Transnational Networks and News Flows in Early Republican Shanghai’, China Review, 4/1 (2004), pp. 55–88. For Sokolsky see The UK National Archive (TNA), FO 371/3816, ‘Secret Appendix to War Diary of the General Staff, Straits Settlements Command for September 1919: Suspected Persons’. 

20. Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979. 

21. TNA, FO 371/3816, ‘Secret Appendix to War Diary of the General Staff, Straits Settlements Command for September 1919: Suspected Persons’. 

22. Tom Genrich, Authentic Fictions: Cosmopolitan Writing of the Troisième République, 1908–1940, Oxford, Peter Lang, 2004, pp. 93–141. 

23. Brian G. Martin, The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919–1937, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 30–35; Frederic Wakeman, Policing Shanghai, 1927–1937, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 6–8. 

24. For example, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1999; Wen-Hsin Yeh, Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843–1949, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2007; Alexander Des Forges, Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2007. 

25. For the ‘Worlds’ see Zhen Zhang, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp. 58–64. For the world fair comparisons and much else besides see Meng Yue, Shanghai and the Edges of Empires, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2006, pp. 183–206; see also Andrew Field, Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919–1954, Hong Kong, Chinese University Press, 2010, passim. For the underside of this see Christian Henriot, Prostitution and Sexuality in Shanghai: A Social History, 1849–1949, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001. 

26. Wong Yunn Chii and Tan Kar Lin, ‘Emergence of a Cosmopolitan Space for Culture and Consumption: The New World Amusement Park – Singapore (1923–70) in the Interwar Years’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 5/2 (2004), pp. 279–304. For ‘World Fever’ see Zhang, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen, p. 58.

27. Perry Link, ‘Traditional-Style Popular Urban Fiction in the Teens and Twenties’, in Merle Goldman (ed.), Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1977, pp. 327–50, at p. 337. 

28. For this see Lam Nga Li, ‘New World, New World Daily and the Culture of Amusement in early Republican Shanghai’, PhD thesis, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 2015, quotation at p. 29.

29. Lu Hanchao, Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999, p. 10. 

30. Lee Feigon, Chen Duxiu, Founder of the Chinese Communist Party, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1983, pp. 157–60. 

31. Bryna Goodman, Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853–1937, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, esp. pp. 197, 258. 

32. Lu, Beyond the Neon Lights, p. 368, fn. 101. See also Chenlan Zhao, ‘From Shikumen to New-style: A Re-reading of Lilong Housing in Modern Shanghai’, in James Madge and Andrew Peckham (eds), Narrating Architecture: A Retrospective Anthology, London, Routledge, 2006, pp. 453–78. 

33. Mark Gamsa, The Chinese Translation of Russian Literature: Three Studies, Leiden, Brill, 2008, pp. 242–5. 

34. Hans J. van de Ven, From Friend to Comrade: The Founding of the Chinese Communist Party, 1920–1927, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992, pp. 59–64. For the ‘Y’, Charles A. Keller, ‘The Christian Student Movement, YMCAs, and Transnationalism in Republican China’, Journal of American-East Asian Relations 13 (2004), pp. 55–80. 

35. Smith, A Road Is Made, pp. 24–5. 

36. A principal argument of Ishikawa, The Formation of the Chinese Communist Party, pp. 7–8, 24–39 and passim. 

37. Nick Knight, Li Da and Marxist Philosophy in China, London, Routledge, 1996, ch. 3. 

 

For updates click homepage here

 

 

 

 

shopify analytics