China & Contemporary Thresholds of Power. Part 1


China is the most important contemporary example that any successful process of construction of national power is the result of a convenient conjugation of an attitude of ideological insubordination with the dominant train of thought and of an effective state impulse.

After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, a new ruler came to power in the People’s Republic of China. A few years later, Deng Xiaoping would stand tall as its new conductor. [1] Though as much from the dogmatic Marxist left as from orthodox liberalism, the process started by Deng Xiaoping was considered as a “historic breakthrough”, and for China’s rulers this transformation initiated by him simply meant a “methodological change” in order to reach the same objective for which – in its great majority- those same rulers had accompanied Mao: the rebuilding of China’s national power. From 1978 on, Deng Xiaoping strived for the reconstruction of China’s national power –the same power that Mao had previously sought down the path of socialism- through the idea of Sun Yat-sen. [2] Deng Xiaoping thus took up once again, when he could have turned the balance of power in his favor, Sun Yat-sen’s idea, that had driven the first attempt at ideological insubordination of modern China.

It is important to redeem, on this point, the idea and action of the conductor of the first movement of ideological insubordination of contemporary China, an idea that was created at a historical moment – early 20th century - that was very peculiar for that country. This vast country found itself, at that time, in a pitiful situation of subordination under which –not being a formal colony of any of the dominant countries of the time - it was, as Sun Yat-sen himself held, a “hyper-colony”, meaning, an non formal colony of all the European powers, but also of Japan and even the Unites States.

Modern day forceful China, whose levels of growth surprise us daily and whose growing development and might would hinder any other observer from preaching that she is not an independent international interlocutor, a little more than one-hundred years ago it was a country plagued with the dominant powers, a cheap provider of raw materials, an a battlefield propitious to settle matter of world predominance between subordinating countries; in synthesis, an object as easily manipulated and shaped as the most set back subordinated countries in the world today.
It is indispensable to remember these references as a starting point for the current splendor of China, not only because many observers – seem to forget it but rather because China’s current growth and might are the fruits of an ironclad national will and a solid state impulse that allowed the oriental giant, in just a few years, to go from set back and absolute subordination to the position of independent international interlocutor that it now holds. The beginning of the process that lead subordinated China to reach contemporary threshold of power had as a starting point the ideological and founding insubordination of Sun Yat-sen. His ideas, later resumed by Deng Xiaoping and followed to the letter by his successors, made it possible for the miracle of China reaching its current threshold of power and autonomy possible, starting from levels of subordination and set back similar to or worse than that which the majority of the countries in Latin America show.

The Political Figure of Sun Yat-sen

Sun Yat-sen, who was born in 1866 in the midst of a family of modest peasants, received a “westernized” education in the Christian missionary schools of Canton, where he converted to Protestantism. The contacts he established from his conversion on made it possible for him to finish his high school in Honolulu and later to study medicine in Hong Kong.

In July of 1900 an army of forty-thousand men made up of soldiers from England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, the United States and Japan, crushed the Boxer Rebellion that had risen up against the foreign occupancy of China.[3] The Boxer Rebellion was born out of the secret society of Yi He Tuan, the “Society of Harmonious Fists”. They were baptized as the “boxers” due to their practicing of boxing and fighting, exercised as a means of stopping the foreign troops present in China. The Boxers were born in Shantung and spread rapidly, despite the repression ordered by the imperial government. Their support base was fundamentally peasant, which made the rebellion turn into a mass movement.

Foreign legations demanded a more energetic repression of the Manchu government, but it was not in condition to carry it out. Therefore, to completely crush the popular rebellion, the foreign powers decided to intervene on their own. Eight countries gathered an army of forty-thousand soldiers at the command of the German marshal Alfred Graf von Walsersee who crushed the Boxer Rebellion. One of Sun Yat-sen’s uncles died fighting the foreign powers.

After the defeat of the Boxers, Sun Yat-sen progressively became the key figure of the Chinese revolutionaries that tried to overthrow the Manchu monarchy, establish democracy and break the economic dependence of China with respects to foreign powers. In that historical moment, to Sun Yat-sen – as for the majority of the Chinese revolutionaries - the enormous problems of his nation found their main explanation in the Manchu conquest and not in Western aggression. To the reasoning of the revolutionaries, Western aggression would not have been possible if China would have been governed by the Chinese (the Ming dynasty fell in 1644, when the Manchurians took control of the Imperial City).

Hence, until 1911 the main objective of the revolutionaries simply consisted of overthrowing the usurping dynasty, a task for which they expected – without some naivety - to have the support of Western powers.[4]

The revolution against the Manchu monarchy broke out October 10th of 1911 and January 1st 1912 a constituent assembly gathered in Nanking proclaimed Sun Yat-sen the president of the newborn Republic of China.[5]

Nevertheless, the opportunistic and pro-monarchic general Yuan She-kai, through a skilled handshake, obtained the abdication of the Manchu emperor on February 12th of that same year, and thus became a true referee of the situation. Before the military superiority of Yuan She-kai, the assembly named him president in place of Sun Yat-sen, who abided by the assembly’s decision convinced that, with it, it would avoid civil war.[6]

It was after 1911 when Sun Yat-sen developed the collection of his conceptions, affirming his conviction that in order for there to be perspectives of a victorious revolution it would be necessary to approach as much the working classes, the peasants, as the national bourgeoisie. Sun Yat-sen founded in 1912 the Kuomintang –which means “national people’s party”- that aspired to organize, into one sole front, as much the small merchants and land owners as the intellectuals and peasants. A few years later it went into exile. China began a period of absolute anarchy, known as the “predominance of the war lords”.

In 1917 Sun Yat-sen returned to China and, despite the fact that he reorganized the Kuomintang as a front of classes with the objective of achieving national unification and independence, he received the support of the Soviet Revolution and established contacts with Lenin.[7] This alliance assured him, after a tortuous process, the help of the Soviet Union, desirous to counter the enormous influence that Western capitalistic powers exercised over China.[8]

Sun Yat-sen died on March 12th of 1925 and left the Kuomintang firmly organized as a poly-class political party, bragging an effective army and backed by the communists. Just one year after Chang Kai-shek, at the head of the Kuomintang, was able to “clean up” all of China south of the Yang-tse River of the “war lords”.

In those years, the political circumstances that China struggled through were observed from Latin America with great attention. This attention, of which we will only mention a few examples, clearly shows the similarity that the most renowned Latin American thinkers of that era perceived between the reality of far off China – in mid-struggle to free itself from the lassos of the hegemonic powers that bound in - and themselves. It is nothing audacious to state that in those days the capacity of autonomy and decision making that China possessed was just as precarious as that of Latin America. The following course of history will do nothing more than to demonstrate where the path of ideological insubordination leads and as where leads that of false “peripheral realism”. It will suffice to observe the absolutely peripheral situation in which the majority of our Latin American countries were left prostrate and the levels of power and autonomy that China gained.

To uphold this similarity we bring to collation some paragraphs of an article from February 1927, a short time before the fall of Shanghai, in which the great Peruvian thinker Jose Carlos Mariategui would write:

The Chinese people find themselves in one of the brashest days of their revolutionary saga. The government’s revolutionary army of Canton threatens Shanghai, or rather, the citadel of foreign imperialism and, in particular, British imperialism. Great Britain threatened to go to combat, organizing a military disembarking in Shanghai. […] And, pointing out the danger of a decisive victory on part of the Cantonese, denounced as Bolsheviks, it makes the effort to mobilize against China, revolutionary and nationalistic, all the great powers. […]

The danger, of course, does not exists for any other means other than for the imperialists to dispute or divvy up the economic dominion of China. The Canton government dos not lay claim to more than the sovereignty of the Chinese in their own country. […] The Chinese people fight simply for their independence (and against) […] the humiliating and vexatious treaties that they impose customs tariffs on China that are against its interest and that exempt the foreigners from the jurisdiction of its judges and laws. […] The Kuomingtang advocates and sustains the principles of Sun Yat-sen, absolute chieftain of China, in whom the most irresponsible slander could not uncover an agent of International Communism. (Quoted by Jose Carlos Mariategui, 1997: 134)

In this same way, a few days after the taking of Shanghai, another great thinker and politician of Latin America, the also Peruvian Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, states from his exile in England:

The triumph of the Cantonese troops, that Chang Kai-shek commands, over Shanghai, the richest and most important city in China, it implies that, without a doubt, one of the most important victorious steps towards unity has been taken by the great Asian republic under the flag of the Kuomintang. The complete dominance of the Kuomintang over china will imply victory of the anti-imperialistic nationalistic policy and will change the course of events, indefinitely. Great Britain has clearly seen the danger and has sent thousands of soldiers to wait, guns ready. […] In Russia, the Cantonese victory has been received as a national victory. […] It is extraordinary how the Chinese victory is shaking the conscience of the Asian peoples. (Haya de la Torre, 1985, 3: 101)

Days after publishing this article, from Lima and in total coincidence with the analysis of young Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the already mentioned Mariategui states:

The conquest of the millennial capital no longer finds unsurmountable obstacles. England, Japan, the United States, will not cease to conspire against the revolution, exploiting the ambition and the venality of the accessible military chiefs to their suggestions. The intention to tempt Chiang Kai-shek is already being warned. […] But it is not likely that Chiang Kai-shek fall into the net. One must give him the necessary height to appreciate the difference between the historic role of a liberator and that of a traitor to his people. (Quoted by Jose Carlos Mariategui, 1997: 138)
However, Jose Carlos Mariategui erred in his analysis and Chiang Kai-shek fell into the net. The process of founding insubordination initiated by Sun Yat-sen was then left truncated


1. During a brief period starting in 1976, Hua Guo Feng, as chosen successor to Mao, conducted the destiny of the People’s Republic of China. Nevertheless, the meeting the Party Central Committee that officially approved Hua’s position as successor to Mao, also approved “the return of Deng Xiaoping, who would become a member of the Politburo Permanent Committee, vice-president of the Party, vice-Prime Minister and Senior Chief of State of the ELP. […] Between 1978 and 1979, Hua Guo Feng’s position became more and more vulnerable. In 1979 his ambitious decennial plan was practically discarded. On the contrary, between 1978 and 1980, following the ideas of Deng Xiaoping, “the first steps to de-collectivize agriculture were taken and to introduce autonomy of management in public urban companies”. In the fifth session of the eleventh Central Party Committee, celebrated in February of 1980, Zhao Ziyan y Hu Yaobang, two key advocates of Deng Xiaoping, were chosen as members of the Politburo Permanent Committee. In August 1980, Hua renounces his charge as Prime Minister and is replaced Zhao Ziyang. Deng Xiaoping therefore becomes the new rudder for the People’s Republic of China (Bailey, 2002: 213-215).

2. For more on the reforms of Deng Xiaoping (1978-1988), see John Fairbank (1996).
3. For more on the Boxer Rebellion, see Jean Chesneaux (1970).
4. For more on Chinese nationalism as a movement aimed mainly at overthrowing the Manchu monarchy, see Marie-Claire Bergere (1994: 409)

5. For more on the relationship between the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and Sun yat-sen, see Eugene Anschel (1986), Harold Schiffrin (1968).

6. For more on the Chinese Revolution of 1911, see Marie-Claire Bergère (1968), Albert Maybon (1914).

7. In 1912 Lenin, in an article titled “Democracy and Populism in China”, analyzed the political figure of Sun Yat-sen. There he praised “the true democratic spirit” of Sun Yat-sen and his “warm sympathy for the masses”, but he observes that he is, at the same time, the bearer of naïve ambitions and small bourgeoisie. In another article, dated Abril 1913, under the title of “The struggles of the party in China”, Lenin analyzes the political party founded by Sun Yat-sen and he comes to the conclusion that the weakness of the Kuomintang is in its incapacity to attract the great mass of the Chinese people towards the revolutionary current and he criticizes the weakness of the Kuomingtang leaders, calling them “dreamers and indecisive”. Political avatars made Lenin not be able to later continue analyzing the future of the Chinese Revolution, which took him to state, in 1921, that “I know nothing of the insurgents and revolutionaries of southern China” commanded by Sun Yat-sen. For more, see Shao-ChuanLeng and Norman Palmer (1960: 53).

8. For more on the policy followed but the Soviet Union in China, see Allen Whiting (1954).


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To be continued...