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Centralization of Canton’s Power

By the time of the Northern Expedition, Chiang Kai-shek, its commander-in-chief, had gathered considerable power into his own hands—much more than Sun Yat-sen had ever been able to realize. This had been a result partly of the emergency nature of the war on which they were about to embark, partly due to the restructuring of the KMT, which Sun had begun, and partly because of Chiang’s vision of the role of a Chinese leader. Prior to his death early in 1925, Sun Yat-sen had concluded that the Anglo-American style of democracy could not be transplanted whole to the China of the 1920s and had collaborated with the Russian Marxists in concentrat­ing KMT powers, both political and military, for the duration of an indefi­nite phase of “party tutelage,” or democratic centralism. To pull China back together would demand tremendous power—in all the military and political shadings of its meaning. The creation of the Whampoa Academy and a Party Army were parts of this program. The Russian model, in whose image both the KMT and CCP were created, included Party control of the military through a network of Party Representatives in Political Depart­ments attached to all military units from army down to company size. Although Chiang disliked aspects of the Russian system he had observed in Moscow in 1923, in agreement with the Russian advisors he had stated that “if the army is not to become a warlord army it must first of all become the army of the Party.”1 Beginning with the establishment of Whampoa, the Party’s Central Executive Committee agreed that a Party Representative was to countersign all orders and regulations within military units.2

29Training in discipline was a means of reinforcing the centralization of authority. When the expedition did finally move north, the behavior of the NRA soldiers contrasted with the less-disciplined troops of the opponents. Belief in the cause of nationalism and hope for social betterment certainly strengthened discipline and morale. Discipline was further stiffened when Canton proclaimed the Joint Responsibility Law in January 1925. Under this law, a commanding officer and his unit’s Party Representative could be executed if they withdrew their unit from battle without an order to do so. If subordinates and their units deserted their commanding officer, the subordinates could be executed. The allied armies as well as the “pure” First Army came under this discipline and influence of the head of the NRA.

In 1925, the year preceding the Northern Expedition, the contenders for Party leadership worked to centralize KMT authority. If there was to be a military reunification of China, as a military man Chiang’s credentials were advantageous. Not only had Chiang been singled out by Sun to head the Whampoa system, but Chiang had been trained before the 1911 revolution at Tokyo’s Shikan Gakko (Army Officers’ Academy). By mid-1925, the victories in the Second Eastern Expedition throughout Kwangtung against the traitorous Ch’en Chiung-ming had given Chiang experience and yielded prestige for his cadets. Still threatened by the Yunnan and Kwangsi forces camped about Canton, the Party Headquarters had appointed Chiang as garrison commander of Canton on June 12, 1925. The next day Chiang’s troops and associated units had attacked and defeated their oppo­nents, who were then disarmed and incorporated into KMT units. When the Central Executive Committee did meet on June 15, it confirmed Chiang’s new post and mapped out a strategy for Party organization that would further increase Party power.

The CEC claimed itself to be the highest KMT organ and created at Canton the new National Government Committee and its National Re­volutionary Army, which involved rationalization of Party and military income and expenditures. The program and decisions fit the Marxist model of Party dictatorship.3 Approval must have been given for the Kwangtung-Hong Kong Strike, which began June 18, and for the demon­stration that resulted in the Shameen Incident on June 23. Both effectively attracted mass sympathy and support, which were vitally needed to invigo­rate the Party structure. Welcoming the tens of thousands of Cantonese strikers who returned to their Cantonese homes, the KMT and CCP integrated them into the KMT framework—in theory (in practice the CCP won control of them).

The formal institution of Canton’s National Government, which was to act as the more viable alternative to the Peking National Government, took place on July 1, 1925. Expanding from the Party Army, the Russian-style Political Departments with Party Representatives (commissars) were in­troduced into all the associated forces of the new military confederation, the National Revolutionary Army. This act more distinctly defined the chain of command within the Party’s military machine, an improvement 30over the KMT’s earlier amorphous nature. At this point it was still unclear just who would grasp the new reins of power.

Within what the Russians called the KMT Left were those who sup­ported the ubiquitous Russians and their aid program and the associated KMT-CCP United Front and Hong Kong Strike organization: Liao Chung-k’ai, Wang Ching-wei, and Chiang Kai-shek, all of whom in turn were strengthened by the above elements and the Party Army.4 Finance Minister Liao, a strong promoter of the United Front and the Russian alliance, had cooperated in the appointment of CCP member Su Ch’ao-cheng to head the powerful Strike organization. Chiang held mili­tary status as superintendent of Whampoa and the garrison command and had the loyalty of the Whampoa cadets and graduates who went out to lead units in the NRA. They respected him as the Chinese had traditionally respected their teachers, or as disciples respect their masters. Wang Ching-wei thrived on his charisma, which during his stirring speeches kept audiences spellbound.

In that it reduced the number of potential leaders, the mysterious assassination of Liao Chung-k’ai on August 20, 1925, speeded the centrali­zation of power in the KMT hierarchy. The same day, a united meeting of the CEC, the National Government Committee, and the Military Council focused Party power in a triumvirate over political, military, and police affairs. The three-man committee included the leading contenders at Canton—Wang Ching-wei, Chiang Kai-shek, and Hsü Ch’ung-chih.5 At that point Hsü, who had commanded a force under Sun Yat-sen, retained the posts of Minister of War, head of the KMT’s Military Department, Military Councilman, Kwangtung Military Commissioner, and chairman of Kwangtung’s Provincial Affairs Committee.6

The centripetal pull gained momentum and on August 26 the KMT’s Military Council decided to support a reorganization of the Party’s military apparatus so that the Party’s Military Council would control the NRA. It was at that point in the centralization process that the five KMT-affiliated “armies” became integrated, theoretically, into one body, the NRA. How­ever, General Hsü Ch’ung-chih was neither featured in the leadership of the NRA nor was his own Kwangtung unit brought into it as a numbered army.

On September 18, 1925, Chiang secretly maneuvered loyal military units and strike pickets against Hsü’s force. Chiang accused Hsü of ma­nipulating the threat of Kwangtung warlord Ch’en Chiung-ming and of making deals involving truce arrangements. On September 19, Chiang wrote to Hsü recommending that Hsü take a trip out of Canton. Two days later, Hsü was still in Canton, and Chiang acted through the Party’s Political Council, which ordered Ch’en Ming-shu to put Hsü on a steamer to Shanghai.7 High-ranking contender Hu Han-min was next in line.

Hu, a party stalwart of long standing, was labeled a Rightist by the Russians, which generally meant that he was not cooperative to their “advice.” Hu and a clique of Kwangtung members of the KMT opposed the United Front and were the objects of Russian efforts first at isolation and then elimination. Rumors, so influential in Chinese politics, linked Hu 31Han-min to the August assassination of Liao Chung-k’ai. By September 1925 the resulting rancor was such that a consensus among the KMT hierarchy indicated Hu would best serve the KMT abroad—as an official emissary to Moscow where he would be safely under surveillance. Hu’s exile particularly profited those promoting the KMT-Russian alliance, who bade Hu farewell aboard a Russian steamer on September 23. The power of what Borodin labeled his KMT Left, composed of Chiang and Wang Ching-wei, thereupon expanded, unchecked by General Hsü and Hu Han-min.

In the fall of 1925, with this centralization of power, Kwangtung could be brought more under Party influence as the Revolutionary Base. During the last week in September, the Military Council ordered Chiang to rid Kwangtung, once and for all, of Ch’en Chiung-ming’s rival military power. As general commander of a Second Eastern Expedition, Chiang set forth with his troops on October 6,1925. He took Ch’en’s stronghold, the walled city of Huichou, by mid-October, and in early December he finally scat­tered the enemy into the ranges bordering Fukien and Kiangsi. Within the month, NRA elements had swept through Kwangtung to the west and south from Canton, securing the Revolutionary Base. As already noted, the Hong Kong-Kwangtung strikers and pickets contributed to and profited from this expansion of KMT power into Kwangtung.8 Chiang and the strike organization still enjoyed their symbiotic relationship.

The rise of the KMT influence in the province paralleled the ascension of Commander Chiang, who by December 18 had gained the approval of the National Government Committee to set up a branch of the Whampoa Academy at newly liberated Ch’aochou, the dominant city of eastern Kwangtung. Chiang achieved the appointment of an associate in the Whampoa hierarchy, acting First Army Commander Ho Ying-ch’in, as Branch Academy director at Ch’aochou. Having by that time sufficient influence, Chiang appointed associates he considered reliable—a group that came to be known as the Whampoa Clique.

He astutely sensed the importance of centralizing education under Party leadership, especially military education. To the school ties that cemented Chinese elites was added obedience to military discipline. In December 1925, Chiang argued persuasively for the consolidation of the various academies run by KMT-affiliated armies. He reasoned with the Military Council that “the organizations educating the military should try to unify…. Their waste and ineffectiveness from duplicating the same work is laughable. If all the cliques are at odds this makes it even worse. If we want to unify the administration of the military then we must first plan to unify military education.”9

Chiang’s proposal passed shortly after when the Second National Con­gress of the KMT met in January 1926 in Canton—convened once the Second Eastern Expedition had consolidated the Revolutionary Base. The KMT changed the official name of Whampoa Academy to the Central Military and Political Academy and designated the other military academies as preparatory branches under its aegis.10 The National Con­gress thus was one in which the KMT Left and its Communist patrons 32clearly dominated. Of 250 delegates to the Congress, 100 had “dual mem­bership” (CCP-KMT) and of the powerful nine-member CEC Standing Committee, three were Communists.11 The CCP role in the KMT had obviously expanded since the union with Sun in 1923. The Congress elected the symbol of the KMT Left, Wang Ching-wei, as Party chairman. At this time the leading KMT military leader, Chiang, spoke to the assem­bly of the world revolution against imperialism. Easing the way for the centralization of power was the absence of the opponents of the KMT alliance with the Russians and CCP. These Rightists (sometimes called the Western Hills faction) had quit the Canton regime earlier. They took their name from a meeting they held together in November over Sun Yat-sen’s coffin near Peking’s Western Hills, at which time they claimed among their numbers eleven CEC members, which sufficed as a quorum.

In early 1926, there had emerged from this turbid political arena at Canton a shaky balance of power that included Wang Ching-wei, Chiang Kai-shek, and the CCP members in high posts in the KMT. Wang had benefited when the military and mass organizations had ousted several other contenders. With Russian patronage, Chiang had managed to rise as the leading military figure and had profited from the support of the CCP-led strike organization in the Eastern Expeditions. Borodin and Stalin in Moscow could analyze their strategy as having borne fruit as the numbers of Hong Kong-Kwangtung strikers and organized peasants under CCP influence swelled and CCP membership jumped from 1,000 to 10,000 between May and September of 1925. CCP members held high posts in the KMT hierarchy. Thus, the dominant factions at Canton were the KMT Left, the CCP, and a military bloc around Chiang.

Among those high-ranking CCP members in the KMT was T’an P’ing-shan, who headed the Organization Department—a strategic post that oversaw the creation and leadership of mass organizations. CEC stand­ing committeeman Lin Tsu-han led the Peasants’ Department and Mao Tse-tung ran the Political Department de facto. Other CCP members were in the military system as concurrent Party Representatives and heads of the NRA’s Political Departments.12 In this manner Chou En-lai dominated the political work in the First Army, Li Fu-chün in the Second Army, and Lin Tsu-han in the Sixth Army.13

At the Congress, as delegate from Whampoa and the NRA, Chiang acted as the leading military spokesman. On January 6, 1926, he presented a military report to the Congress calling for raising the “livelihood” of officers and soldiers—a proposal that certainly enhanced his image among the military. Elected to the CEC and chosen as one of its powerful nine-man Standing Committee, Chiang’s status was obvious.14 He enjoyed sufficient influence so that when he brought up the need to plan for a Northern Expedition, chairman Wang Ching-wei felt constrained to concur, but the aura of unity was quite evanescent. The controversies over the expedition and the Hong Kong Strike so strained the fragile coalition that the KMT was forced toward further centralization.

The Russians, and therefore the CCP, feared that the Northern Expedi­tion would not serve their goal of social revolution if it were led by the KMT 33military. On the other hand, with CCP membership booming and mass organizing expanding phenomenally in Kwangtung, the province could become a Communist base with a bit more patience, if the expedition were called off. However, Borodin avoided openly antagonizing Chiang and the KMT armies by opposing the campaign.15 On January 27, Leftist Wang Ching-wei opened the official excoriation of Wu P’ei-fu, the first warlord opponent astride the route north.16

Chiang continued building authority after the Congress with his ap­pointment from the Military Council on February 1, 1926, as inspector general of the NRA charged with overseeing war preparations.17 In Feb­ruary, Wang apparently collaborated with Chiang to bring leaders of neighboring military regimes into the KMT sphere. Wang traveled to Wuchou, Kwangsi, to gather in the three generals there, while Chiang negotiated with agents of warlord Sun Ch’uan-fang, whose domain in­cluded Kiangsi and Fukien on Kwangtung’s border.18 Both Chiang and Sun were classmates from Tokyo’s Shikan Gakko and discussed the benefits of mutual nonaggression. On February 25, Canton again issued prop­aganda criticizing nearby Wu P’ei-fu and the discreetly distant Chang Tso-lin as “running dogs” of the imperialists, but carefully avoided provok­ing neighboring Sun Ch’uan-fang.19 The following day, mustering its mass organizations for a demonstration, Canton revealed popular support for an offensive against Wu and praised a potential ally in the north, Feng Yü-hsiang.20 Borodin at that moment had traveled north to rendezvous with Feng at Urga, Mongolia. There they discussed the cooperation of the forces of Canton with those of Feng—both subsidized by the USSR. Russian strategy desired their combination against the warlord col­laborators of imperialist Great Britain and Japan.21 Chang Kuo-t’ao, a leading Chinese Communist at that time, recalled that this Russian promo­tion of a combination between Feng Yü-hsiang and Canton was not handled tactfully, and that Chiang and the military at Canton were made to feel subordinate to Feng, who was closer to Peking and thus capable of rapidly changing the leadership of China in Russia’s favor. Advisor N. Kisanka (whose real name was Kuybyshev) allegedly proposed in February 1926 that Chiang collaborate with Feng by attacking Tientsin from the sea, and that after this was accomplished Chiang should help train Feng’s many troops.22

However consciously or subconsciously, Stalin’s faction in Moscow must have initially shied from promoting the reunion of the several parts of China into a strong whole. For Moscow, supporting tractable, dependent satellites was the safest course. Trotsky and his internationalists probably feared a China united under Chiang’s bourgeois NRA.23 Although the KMT did need unity and centralized power, Chiang in early 1926 already presented too many uncertainties to his Communist patrons to receive their approval to attempt the conquest of China. Ironically, outside obser­vers at that time labeled Chiang “the Red General.”


1. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 361.

2. Documents, p. 163.

3. Ta-shih chi, pp. 162, 177.

4. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 127; and Teng Chung-hsia.

5. Ta-shih chi, p. 182.304

6. Ibid., p. 179.

7. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 127; Ta-shih chi, p. 183; and Harley F. MacNair, China in Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931), p. 98. Hereafter cited as MacNair.

8. Ta-shih chi, pp. 184-193; and Teng Chung-hsia, pp. 133-134.

9. Huang-pu chien-chün san-shih-nien kai-shu [A summary of thirty years of creating the army at Whampoa], ed. by Kuomintang Party Historical Materials Compilation Committee (Taiwan: Huang-pu Publication Society, 1954), p. 13.

10. Ibid.

11. Chang Ch’i-yün, ed., Tang shih kai-yao [Outline of the party’s history] (Taipei: Central Committee on Culture Supply Association, 1953), vol. 2, p. 623. Hereafter cited as TSKY.

12. Ibid.

13. Ta-shih chi, pp. 198-199.

14. Ibid. Chang Kuo-t’ao recalls that Chiang at the Congress “… showed himself to be a man of extraordinary achievement…. attracted great attention…. exhibited the pose of an important military bulwark” (vol. 1, p. 479).

15. Wang Chien-min, Chung-kuo kung-ch’an-tang shih-kao [History of the Chinese Com­munist Party] (Taipei: by the author, 1965), vol. 1, p. 154. Hereafter cited as Wang Chien-min.

16. T’ang Leang-li, p. 240.

17. Ta-shih chi, p. 200.

18. Ibid.

19. T’ang Leang-li, p. 242.

20. SCMP (March 1, 1926), p. 8.

21. T’ang Leang-li, p. 242.

22. Chang-Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, pp. 496-497, which is corroborated by a report signed by Kisanka that was seized in the April 1927 raid on the Russian Embassy, U.S. National Archives, Military Records Div., file 2657-I-281(111), no. 7, and the U.S. military attaché’s intelligence report from May 2, 1925, MRD 2675-I-281(51).

23. Leon Trotsky, Problems of the Chinese Revolution, reprint (New York: Paragon, 1966), pp. 76-77.

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