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Did the National Revolution Succeed or Fail: A Point of Difference in Chinese and Western Perspectives on Republican Chinese History by John Fitzgerald "The Nationalist Revolution of the 1920's ... succeeded because of a remarkable mobilization of human energy and resources in th-.;' servi~ of patriotic and revolutionary goals" (Professor C. ~itrtin Wibur, The Nationalist Revolution : from Canton to Nanking, 1923-28, Cambridge University Press, 1985).[1] "Following Wang Jingwei•s break with the Communists ... the remarkable national revolution ended in defeat" (Professor Zhang Xianwen et al. ed., Zhonghua minguo shig;ang, Henan renmin chuban she, 1985, p. 320). 1. THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM Two important new works on Chinese Republican history appeared in 1985, one from Nanjing University, and the other, written by an American professor of history, from England. Professor Wilbur commences his book noting the success of the Nationalist revolution in the 1920s, and diverts all doubt about the achievements of the Nationalist Party to a detailed enquiry into the source of its inspiration and the course of its march to Nanjing. In contrast, Professor Zhang's Nanjing University team ends its section on the same period by noting the failure of the national revolution, the abandonment of Sun Vatsen •s Three Cardinal Policies, and the surrender to the. forces of imperialism, warlords, feudalism and capitalism . Two different books, two different conclusions: but does this mean there were two different revolutions, a national revolution and a Nationalist Party revolution? At the time, the participants believed there was just one revolution. Yet if there was only one national or Nationalist revolution in the 1920s, how can it both have succeeded and failed? The two books by Professor· Zhang and Professor Wilbur were published in 1985, but each conveys an alternative view dating back many decades. The recognition by Professor Zhang •s team of the failure of the national revolution is reflected in other histories published recently in China, and can be traced back at least to 15 Professor He Ganzhi 1 s History of the Modern Chinese Revolution, to Hua Gang 1 s History of the Great Chinese Revolution, 1925-1927 and further to Mao Zedong 1 s writings of 1928. [2] Similarly, Professor Wilbur 1 s acclamation of success has a long pedigree among Western histories of the Republic. The question of success or failure confronted the English-speaking world as early as 1930, when T1 ang Leang-li pleaded in his Inner History of the Chinese Revolution that "the recognition of the Nanking Government in 1928 by the Powers must not be taken to mean the recognition of the success of the National Revolution". But this plea has been largely ignored since the 1940s, and today the one is genera 11 y taken to mean the other.[3] This question of success or failure points to a basic contrast between the perspectives of Chinese and Western historians of the Republic. There are other points of difference, and of course important areas of agreement, but until we come to an understanding of whether the national revolution succeeded or failed with the founding of the Nanjing Government, there is little hope of our resolving other differences concerning this and later periods of Republican history. Indeed the assumption of success or failure of the national r~volution in 1927-28 does have considerable bearing on the construction of the history of the following decades: it shapes the plot, casts the historical characters in a variety of roles, and lends logical consistency to formal explanations of the "Nanking Decade" and the war against Japan. On the one hand, to declare the national revolution a success is to deny the Communist movement a nationalist rationale over the following decade, and so characterize it·as a divisive, social-revolutionary hindrance to the nationalist efforts of the Nanj ing Government. The history of the Nanking Decade is then emplotted as a conflict between social division and national unity, or between social and national revolution, interrupted only by the outbreak of war with Japan in 1937. To describe the national revolution as faltering in 1927, on the other hand, is to deny the Nationalists their major claim to historical legitimacy and prepare the...


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