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VIOLENCE, FEAR AND INSECURITY: THE MOOD OF REPUBLICAN CHINA by Diana Lary (This essay is baaed on a more extensive study of the debilitating effects of uncontrolled soldiers in Republican China, Warlord Soldiers, to be published shortly. I have also used material from interviews conducted in Shandong in April 1984, for a separate study of migration.) The belated recognition of the regional diversity of China, the emphasis on the study of local systems, has produced a new orthodoxy in the study of Republican China, which is that it is impossible to generalize from the study o~ one part of China to the whole country without "astonishing distortions."[!] This is an important corrective to the old, sweeping generalizations which prevailed before the advent of local studies, but it is not perfect. It carries the implicit danger of assuming that there were no phenomena which were standard across the country. It is very difficult now, for example, to talk about economic development, political activism, emiseration--without someone coming up with a contradictory example for some specific region. But there were constants, states of mind rather than processes, which held for all of China. One was fear--a pervasive fear on the part of civilians of the violence of the military. The corollary of fear was insecurity, a constant which left no part of China untouched. Fear and insecurity were not irrationhl states of mind. They were reasonable reactions to the actual incidence of violence, reactions which were continuous because the timing, nature, and level of violence was so unpredictable that there was little chance of reducing fear and insecurity by adjustment to a predictable situation. Wuming (Guangxi) is an example of the capriciousness of military affairs, and the consequent pain and insecurity inflicted on civilians. The town lies about thirty-five kilometers north of Nanning, cut off from the city and from the Yong River by a rugged range of hills. This isolation makes it a backwater, not poor because ita land is fertile, but a place of no importance. In the early years of the Republic, however, the sleepy town was dragged into prominence. Its native son, Lu Rongting, became governor of Guangxi; even though he had left Wuming at the age of fourteen as an orphaned beggar, he did not forget his hometown. He built himself an elegant villa outside the town, a retreat from his capital in Nanning. To get himself there, he had a road built through the range of hills, a major engineering feat, including a aeries of hairraising ascents and descents. A telephone line was installed. The local hot springs were dredged, and an idyllic bathing place created. The bed for a railway line was laid. Jobs were found for large 55 .i numbers or young men. glorious native son. The town basked in the munificence of its The balmy days did not last. In 1921, Lu's ambitious expansion into Guangdong ended in a ferocious and successful Cantonese retaliation. Vengeful Cantonese groups poured up the West River and took Nanning. In 1922, they made a special side-attack on Wuming, the favorite place of the hated Lu, and sacked the town.[2] Battered and bruised, the town sank back into its former obscurity. Wuming's only claim to fame became the source of its major disaster. Wuming's sad little story was of no significance except for its inhabitants; for them the significance was total. The story simply showed what happened to an unprotected place which drew the attention of unfriendly soldiers, whether because it was prosperous, or because it was a communications centre, or because it had a famous nati~e 8on, or because it became a battlefield. The penalty for being the focus of soldier attention, without one's own soldiers to defend oneself, was tq suffer attack, and to live in a state of chronic insecurity, of fear of marauding, unpredictable soldiers or bandits. (The people on the receiving end of armed violence made little distinction between the two.) The feared attacks might seldom come, or they might be so frequent that they become routine and banal. The 1936 gazetteer for Lingxian, Shandong, another place of little importance to anyone except its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 55-63
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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