Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Democracy" in China, Part II

Today I'll be talking about Chiang Kai-shek (referred to as Jiang Jieshi from time to time by Beijing). While several American administrations and elements of the American public portrayed him as a Chinese George Washington, he was more like Benito Mussolini.

Chiang Kai-shek was born to a merchant family but like most people from his class studied in Japan, in his case at a military academy for two years. Upon his return to China (which was under the administration of Yuan Shikai), Chiang became involved with various crime organizations and eventually the Nationalist Party (led by Sun Yatsen).

Eventually Chiang would assume leadership of the Republic of China after the government moved to the south. His style of government really can be compared to fascism, as he utilized secret police and believed that the people and state should be of one mission. Far from promoting democracy, he hunted down political opponents (even the Chinese Communist Party prior to the Nationalist "defeat"in 1949).

Once in Taiwan, Chiang never released his grip. He imposed martial law on the island, which remained in place until the late 1980s when his son would lift it. One of my teachers remembers studying in Taiwan during the 1970s and clearly recalls the "political commissar" stationed in the dorm.

Tune in over the weekend for Mao's thoughts on democracy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Democracy" in China, Part I

Sorry about the downtime. A little after I posted last Tuesday, I spilled soda on my laptop and promptly ruined it. Fortunately I back everything up and am now up and running again.

So what do I mean by "democracy"? More or less the form of government in the United States, otherwise known as a constitutional republic. So let's be clear that when politicians and citizens call for "democracy" in the PRC, they are really talking about instituting a republican form of government.

The first modern appearance of republican government in China was the establishment of the Republic of China. It was established in Beijing on January 1, 1912 after the last emperor of China was forced out. The Republic of China still exists, although on the island of Taiwan since 1949. Unfortunately it got off to a bad start from which it never recovered, as a general named Yuan Shikai was its first president.

Yuan began his career by serving in the Qing imperial army and rose through the ranks. He was part of the clique that brought an end to period known as the 100 days of reform, during which Emperor Guangxu tried to usher in reforms to transform the Chinese empire into a constitutional monarchy (think Great Britain). Positive sign, right?

The Chinese can't be blamed. In fact, Yuan was THE muscle in China. He had the largest and most modern army in China at the time. So despite the fact that Sun Yatsen should have been president by all accounts, the person with the largest amount of force assumed the position.

My next post will discuss Chiang Kai-shek (or Jiang Jieshi in pinyin). While I recognize that this is skipping a few years, I'm sticking the milestones in China's experiments with less authoritarian forms of government. After that, I'll delve into what Mao Zedong's thoughts were on democracy. For a good review on this material, John Spence's book "The Search for Modern China" is an excellent resource.