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China - The Fourth Revolution - 1920

The first Chinese revolution in 1911 thrust the Manchu dynasty from the throne. The second revolution frustrated Yuan Shi Kai's aspirations to be emperor, and the third defeated in 1917 of the abortive attempt to put the Manchu boy emperor back into power. And within the a few weeks of September 1920 a fourth upheaval took place. It may not be dignified by the name of the fourth revolution, for the head of the state has not been changed by it. But as a manifestation of the forces that shape Chinese political events, for evil and for good, perhaps this last disturbance surpasses the previous two "revolutions" in significance. This accounting of revolutionss discounts the Revolution of late 1915 through mid-1916, in which the efforts of Yuan Shih-k'ai to become emperor were frustrated.

Chinese politics in detail are highly complicated, a mess of personalities and factions whose oscillations no one can follow who does not know a multitude of personal, family and provincial histories. But occasionally something happens which simplifies the tangle. Definite outlines frame themselves out of the swirling criss-cross of strife, intrigue and ambition. So, at present, the complete collapse of the Anfu clique which owned the central government for two years marks the end of that union of internal militarism and Japanese foreign influence which was, for China, the most marked fruit of the war.

When China entered the war in 1917 a "War Participation" army was formed. It never participated; probably it was never meant to. But its formation threw power wholly into the hands of the military clique, as against the civilian constitutionalists. And in return for concessions, secret agreements relating to Manchuria, Shantung, new railways, etc., Japan supplied money, munitions, instructors for the army and a benevolent supervision of foreign and domestic politics. The war came to an unexpected and untimely end, but by this time the offspring of the marriage of the militarism of Yuan Shi Kai and Japanese money and influence was a lusty youth. Bolshevism was induced to take the place of Germany as a menace requiring the keeping up of the army, and loans and teachers. Mongolia was persuaded to cut her strenuous ties with Russia, to renounce her independence and come again under Chinese sovereignty.

The army and its Japanese support and instruction was, accordingly, continued. In place of the "War Participation" army appeared the "Frontier Defense" army. Marshal Tuan, the head of the military party, remained the nominal political power behind the presidential chair, and General Hsu (commonly known as little Hsu, in distinction from old Hsu, the president) was the energetic manager of the Mongolian adventure which, by a happy coincidence, required a bank, land development companies and railway schemes, as well as an army. About this military centre as a nucleus gathered the vultures who fed on the carrion. This flock took the name of the Anfu Club. It did not control the entire cabinet, but to it belonged the Minister of Justice, who manipulated the police and the courts, persecuted the students, suppressed liberal journals and imprisoned inconvenient critics. And the Club owned the ministers of finance and communications, the two cabinet places that dispense revenues, give out jobs and make loans. It also regulated the distribution of intelligence by mail and telegraph.

The reign of corruption and despotic inefficiency, tempered only by the student revolt, set in. In two years the Anfu Club got away with two hundred millions of public funds directly, to say nothing of what was wasted by incompetency and upon the army. The Allies had set out to get China into the war. They succeeded in getting Japan into control of Peking and getting China, politically speaking, into a seemingly hopeless state of corruption and confusion.

The militaristic or Pei-Yang party was, however, divided into two factions, each called after a province. The Anwhei party gathered about little Hsu and was almost identical with the Anfus. The Chili faction had been obliged, so far as Peking was concerned, to content itself with such leavings as the Anfu Club tossed to it. Apparently it was hopelessly weaker than its rival, although Tuan, who was personally honest and above financial scandal, was supported by both factions and was the head of both. About three months ago there were a few signs that, while the Anfu Club had been entrenching itself in Peking, the rival faction had been quietly establishing itself in the provinces. A league of Eight Tuchuns (military governors of the provinces) came to the assistance of the president against some unusually strong pressure from the Anfu Club. In spite of the fact that the military governor of the three Manchurian provinces, Chang Tso Lin, popularly known as the Emperor of Manchuria, lined up with this league, practically nobody expected anything except some manoeevering to get a larger share of the spoils.

But late in June 1920 the president invited Chang Tso Lin to Peking. The latter saw Tuan, told him that he was surrounded by evil advisers, demanded that he cut loose from little Hsu and the Anfu Club, and declared open war upon little Hsu- the two had long and notoriously been bitter enemies. Even then people had great difficulty in believing that anything would happen except another Chinese compromise. The president was known to be sympathetic upon the whole with the Chili faction, but the president, if not a typical Chinese, is at least typical of a certain kind of Chinese mandarin, non-resistant, compromising, conciliating, procrastinating, covering up, evading issues, face-saving.

But finally something happened. A mandate was issued dismissing little Hsu from office, military and civil, dissolving the frontier defense corps as such, and bringing it under the control of the Ministry of War (usually armies in China belong to some general or Tuchun, not to the country). For almost forty-eight hours it was thought that Tuan had consented to sacrifice little Hsu and that the latter would submit at least temporarily. Then with equally sensational abruptness Tuan brought pressure to bear on the president. The latter was appointed head of a national defense army, and rewards were issued for the heads of the chiefs of the Chili faction, nothing, however, being said about Chang Tso Lin, who had meanwhile returned to Mukden and who still professed allegiance to Tuan. Troops were mobilized; there was a rush of officials and of the wealthy to the concessions of Tientsin and to the hotels of the legation quarter.

This sketch is not meant as history, but simply as an indication of the forces at work. Hence it is enough to say that two weeks after Tuan and little Hsu had intimidated the president and proclaimed themselves the saviors of the Republic, they were in hiding, their enemies of the Chili party were in complete control of Peking, and rewards from fifty thousand dollars down were offered for the arrest of little Hsu, the exministers of justice, finance and communications, and other leaders of the Anfu Club. The political turnover was as complete as it was sensational. The seemingly impregnable masters of China were impotent fugitives. The carefully built up Anfu Club, with its military, financial and foreign support, had crumbled and fallen. No country at any time has ever seen a political upheaval more sudden and more thoroughgoing. It was not so much a defeat as a dissolution like that of death, a total disappearance, an evaporation.

Corruption had worked inward, as it has a way of doing. Japanese-bought munitions would not explode; quartermasters vanished with the funds with which stores were to be bought; troops went without anything to eat for two or three days; large numbers, including the larger part of one division, went over to the enemy en masse; those who did not desert had no heart for fighting and ran away or surrendered on the slightest provocation, saying they were willing to fight for their country but saw no reason why they should fight for a faction, especially a faction that had been selling the country to a foreign nation.

It is hardly logical to take the easy collapse of the Japanese-supported Anfu party as a proof of the weakness of Japan, but prestige is always a matter of feeling rather than of logic. Many who were intimidated to the point of hypnotism by the idea of the irresistible power of Japan were now freely laughing at the inefficiency of Japanese leadership.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:16 ZULU