Theses Doctoral

China's Forgotten Revolution: Radical Conservatism in Action, 1927-1949

Tsui, Brian Kai Hin

This dissertation examines Republican China's state-led revolution under the Guomindang. Since the anti-Communist purge in 1927, the party-state had strived to re-energize mass activism and dissolve proletarian political subjectivity with a rightwing program that stressed interclass and national unity. Under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership, the Guomindang put an end to the ideological ambiguity of Sun Yat-sen's national revolution, broke ties the party forged with the Communist International in 1923, and launched an all-round assault on the fledging Chinese Communist Party. Refusing to challenge unequal power relationships domestically and abroad, Guomindang leaders promised to bring China and Asia back to their cultural essence and towards a superior ethical order. Despite its conservative socio-economic agenda, the party retained a radical organizational mode it derived from revolutionary socialism that prized Leninist vanguardism, reliance on mass involvement and cultural transformation.

The Chinese nation-state under Guomindang rule experienced a conservative revolution and partook in a global fascist current that swept across Asia, Europe and Latin America during the second quarter of the twentieth century. The distinctiveness of China's conservative revolution is demonstrated in this dissertation through a multilayered study of its ideological formulations, mass mobilization programs, and ability to garner support from outside the Guomindang domestically and abroad. Senior party ideologues among radical conservatives, who produced tracts attacking the Guomindang's Communist allies in the mid-1920s, provided theoretical justifications for the April 1927 purge and heralded the party-state's drastic shift to the right. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Guomindang state deployed the scouting and wartime spiritual mobilization movements to re-channel mass activism towards strengthening the nation's organic unity and consolidating defense against Japanese invasion. Potentially subversive popular demands were diffused through a new focus on refining and rationalizing consumption habits, time management and other social mores. Instead of political participation, popular will found expression in public rituals, physical recreation and cultural entertainments.

Conservative revolutionaries were adept in building elite support. The state's goal of disciplining everyday life converged with liberal intellectual fear over a social order collapsing under mob rule. While uncomfortable with some authoritarian behaviors on the Guomindang's part, prominent liberals such as Zhu Guangqian shared the state's priority of reining in an intransigent mass society. Internationally, China's repudiation of Soviet-supported anti-imperialist activities led the Guomindang to appeal to cultural affinities in the overtures it extended to the Indian independence movement. The regime's celebration of Eastern spiritual superiority proved attractive to Pan-Asianists like Rabindranath Tagore and informed exchanges between the Guomindang and Indian National Congress at the height of the Second World War. In highlighting the ascendency of radical conservatism in China and its transnational circulation across Asia, this dissertation sheds light on the distinct qualities, often downplayed in the historical literature, of the Guomindang's revolutionary enterprise vis-à-vis the radical left.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Lean, Eugenia Y.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 15, 2013