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The Presidency and Legacy of Yan Xishan (1930–1957)


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The forces of the anti-Chiang coalition sought to coordinate their efforts as much as possible, as shown by their capitalisation on their November 1930 victory in Gansu, which destroyed any chance of the Chiang loyalists winning.

After the Fengtian Clique turned against Chiang due to Zhang Xueliang being offered continued control of Manchuria, the Soviet Union dropped its nominal support for the KMT and returned to providing weapons and advisors to the Kuomintang leftists led by Wang Jingwei and the Yuxiang loyalists.

By 18 January 1930, warlord forces were at the outskirts of Nanjing, with their artillery, some of which produced at the Shanxi clique's Taiyuan factory, increasingly bombarding the city. As 60,000 NRA soldiers led by Han Fuqu faced 97,000 warlord ones, Chiang resigned and resumed life as a private citizen; Yan, Feng and Li arrived in the city the following day, and formed a triumvirate with Yan as President, Feng as Premier and Li as President of the Executive Yuan.
The reforms Yan Xishan, Feng Yuxiang and Wang Jingwei promised included land reform, state control of industry and finance, and the eradication of opium, reforms seen as communist by the right wing of the KMT and allied landlords.

Yan Xishan sought to create a rural militia of 1,000,000 men, ten times the one he had created in Shanxi, and insisted that the NRA perform work to improve China's infrastructure, while seeking to fight widespread female illiteracy by creating vocational schools in rural districts and sentencing criminals to "redemption through labour" in state-owned factories. Yan also threatened to sentence men who married women with bound feet and mothers who bound their daughters' feet to hard labor in state-run factories, discouraged the use of the traditional lunar calendar, and encouraged the development of local Boy Scout organizations, who played an important role in China's development.

Feng, the "Christian General" and a serial betrayer of allies, was initially powerful and retained control of the region between Yan's stronghold of Shanxi and Manchuria, and his troops were used to put down the Guangxi revolt. Wang was the manager of Yan's economic reforms, which later included elements of the New Deal. Like Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas, who also took power through extralegal means in 1930, Yan sought to industrialize China through state intervention and protectionism as well as the expansion of workers' rights.

The revolt was initially successful due to the combat experience of the Guangxi troops, but Yan and Feng soon mobilized their massive armies, which had better equipment and foreign support, and put down the revolt after six months (the Guangxi Army had little to no tanks, artillery and aircraft, while the NRA and satellite armies owned dozens of Renault FT tankettes).

There were local attempts at revolt by anti-communist landlords and opium dealers, but they were almost immediately crushed or did not leave the planning stage, allowing the NRA to focus on Guangxi.

Yan's reforms continued after his victory, which was also followed by growing ties with the Soviet Union (and later the United States) over Germany.
Given the instability in China and opposition of many military officers to Yan Xishan's socialist policies, Manchuria was fully occupied by the end of the year, within five months.

Many of these right-wingers, spiteful of the power the Wang Jingwei clique had over the government in Nanjing, openly collaborated with the Japanese, and later formed the basis for a collaborationist government.

Zhang Xueliang, who remained the autonomous ruler of Manchuria and was a Chinese nationalist unlike his opportunist father, actively tried to resist the invasion, but his Northeastern Army was no match for the Kwantung one, and suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese. It was also disorderly and incoherent, having 23 types of rifles in service.

Yan Xishan was unaware of the Japanese plans to invade Manchuria, and caught by surprise by them, but he decided to strongly resist, with him and Feng Yuxiang counting on Soviet aid (Stalin and the Comintern sidestepped the CPC, which did not seize power at that point). Japan's subsequent, rapid success in taking Manchuria in 1931 terrified Yan, who stated that a major objective of his Six-Year Plan was to strengthen China's defense against the Japanese.

In the early 1930s, he supported anti-Japanese riots, denounced the Japanese occupation of Manchuria as "barbarous" and "evil," considered sending troops to Manchuria (a plan that was not carried out), and arranged for the Chinese arsenal to arm partisans fighting the Japanese occupation in Manchuria, triggering a Japanese invasion after Italy successfully conquered Ethiopia and rendered the League of Nations useless.

Manchukuo was estabilished on 8 January 1932 (coinciding with the Chinese New Year), with the former Chinese emperor Puyi as executive president. It was preceded by the Northeast Supreme Administrative Council, which only existed for two weeks.

In April 1932, Yan signed a ceasefire with Japan, which was meant for China to prepare time to resist and neither side had an intention of respecting, especially the imperialist Japan, which sought to capture resources that would fuel its economy and military. For the next five years, there were border clashes that eventually escalated into a full-scale invasion by Japan.
Yan Xishan's land and industrial reforms had reduced support for the CPC among the masses, but it remained strong among intellectuals, and Yan continued to crack down on the party, which he feared.

Although Yan admired their philosophy and economic methods, he feared the threat posed by Communists almost as much as that of the Japanese, and took advantage of the ceasefire with Japan to crackdown on the CPC's strongholds starting in January 1935. This caused the Chinese Red Army led by Mao to flee to Yan'an, beginning the Long March.

The retreating Communists frequently faced attacks from the NRA forces, but managed to escape, helped by the suspension of Soviet aid due to Yan's crackdown, and the fact local KMT officials blocked many of the reforms (the same issue he had faced in Shanxi). The Communist forces were gradually weakened, and by the time they reached their destination, only 4,000 were left.

After the Japanese invasion, which unbeknownst to Yan had been prepared for four years and launched after Italy's victory against Abyssinia, the KMT and CPC formed an united front against Japanese imperialism.
Between 1931 and 1935 and from 1936 onwards, Yan Xishan had strengthened his army with Soviet equipment such as T-26 tanks and Poliparkov I-16 fighter planes.

He also sought to standardize small arms, making the Hanyang 88 rifle the standard-issue weapon of the NRA (he had expanded and nationalised industry from 1930 onwards), and bribed right-wing Kuomintang generals into falling in line. The Chinese government sought to actively support anti-imperialist guerrilas in Manchuria during the period, but by February 1937, they had mostly been crushed by the IJA and reduced to a few thousand militants.

Throughout the 1930s, Yan stationed as many as 44,000 troops near Beijing, since he was fearful of a Japanese invasion, and the divisions and battalions in this region were equipped with the most modern weapons in the NRA arsenal.

The NRA victory at Lugou Bridge boosted their morale, and Yan began a cult of personality in order to keep it at that level during the war. His speeches portrayed him as a Confucian sage who knew all truths about the world, and portraits of Yan were placed in all government buildings, as well as coins, postage stamps and paper notes. Critics accused him of seeking to create a Chinese version of State Shinto, but Yan was indeed popular during the war. However, the bridge was overrun after a Japanese offensive started in April, and by 1941, the IJA overran much of China, counting on right-wing Kuomintang collaborators.
Shortly after the success of the Long March, the Kuomintang government, which had focused on fighting the growing Japanese threat, asked the CPC for an united front against it, and negotiations began.

Yan agreed to cease all persecution of Communists and begin military cooperation between the Chinese Red Army and the NRA. Previously, the right wing of the KMT had been mostly purged except of military officers who were kept loyal by bribes and his stated commitment to anti-communism.

Yan's truce with the CPC led to a military riot in Chongqing, which was quickly crushed by Yan loyalists. In any case, his left-wing reforms such as land redistribution, the nationalisation of industry and finance, eradication of opium, and improvement of women's rights (while retaining conservative Confucianism) substantially weakened the CPC, although it returned after China was devastated by the war.
From August to September 1938, the Imperial Japanese Army captured the Shaanxi section of the Longhai railway, the major northwest traffic where the Soviet Union sent their military supplies to the National Revolutionary Army at the time.

Japanese machine gunners in China.

This prevented Yan Xishan from importing weapons and equipment needed to continue the fight, and allowed the Japanese army to mobilize into Shaanxi, allowing them to enter the Sichuan basis and siege the wartime capital of Chongqing (a critical battle for the NRA which eventually ended in a Chinese victory).

The Battle of Wuhan ended in a Japanese victory and the loss of Yan Xishan's best troops armed with state-of-the-art Soviet equipment. Yan refused to use a scorched earth strategy, instead focusing on encouraging guerrila resistance across Japanese-occupied territories, which was only partly successful due to their brutal military occupation. In February 1939, the KMT government decided to follow a policy of total war, closing industries not essential to the war effort and converting heavy industry to serve military needs, while ordering the execution of people proven to having collaborated with the Japanese. According to historians, this had little effect on the war, due to the relative smallness of Chinese heavy industry at the time.

Sheng Shicai remained a KMT-aligned warlord who crushed the Kumul Rebellion with Soviet and Chinese assistance, although he did not embrace Marxism and remained aligned with the central government, consolidating his control over the province until after WWII.
During December 1938, the IJA marched through rural Sichuan, eventually defeating the NRA infantry stationed there, and attacked Chongqing beginning in 9 January.

That day, Japanese aircraft began bombing the ROC's wartime capital, followed on 10 January by a full-scale assault meant to capture Chongqing and Yan Xishan and defeat China. Japan's intentions are disputed, with theories ranging from a puppet government led by Li Zongren to a peace treaty that assured Japanese economic interests.

Yan and his generals ordered the NRA troops to fiercely resist, an order followed by bloody house-to-house combat in many respects similar to Stalingrad. The battle lasted for two months, with the IJA failing to advance beyond the periphery of the city, and eventually retreating to Hunan.

With China being unable to import new equipment, the war became a stalemate until the United States entered it, causing Japan to begin peace negotiations, which collapsed when Yan proved unwilling to provide economic concessions. In late 1939 and early 1940, a major Chinese counteroffensive failed due to a lack of sufficiently modern weapons, but after Pearl Harbor, the tide turned against Japan, who had to fight in several fronts at once.
After the offensive, the war was a stalemate until at least 1943, when China launched a successful counteroffensive that captured the railroads they had lost earlier; Operation Ichigo was eventually a failure.

Yan Xishan's government never had good relations with Germany, instead getting support from the Soviet Union due to his left-wing administration and reforms. This later flipped during the Chinese Civil War, since Yan was a staunch anti-communist who let the Second United Front break down after Japan surrendered.

In 1940, Yan's government passed strict laws against corruption that sentenced corrupt officials at all levels to forced labour in state-owned factories, or capital punishment. This led to some corrupt officials turning against him or collaborating with the Japanese, but helped the Chinese economy and war effort, and contributed to the Nationalists winning the postwar civil war.
Between 1939 and 1943, the war was a stalemate, with little gains on both sides and an overall war of attrition.

Japan getting bogged down on China led to the Japanese government and military coming to the conclusion they needed to seize the European colonies in Southeast Asia in order to have raw materials needed to win the war, and Hawaii was bombed in December 1941 after the United States imposed a oil embargo that substantially helped China.

The Japanese were already aware of the Chinese ability to launch major offensives, and their intelligence noticed the NRA's preparations, leading to the IJA garrisoning 200,000 troops in northern China. However, China's massive population made the Chinese far outnumber them, and some forces had to be redirected from the Pacific.
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After Hideki Tojo was sacked as Prime Minister by Emperor Hirohito due to China's successful offensive, Japan went through 6 cabinets until the end of the war, leading to corruption and instability in the war effort.

In all fronts, the IJA responded to its increasing losses by applying the genocidal "three alls policy", killing civilians and POWs and burning and looting valuables, not to mention the rape and sexual enslavement of other civilians.

After October 1943, Japan was always in the defensive and seeking to defend the territory it still occupied, being unable to launch any major offensives. The following year, an Allied naval blockade intensified by the large-scale bombing of cities in the mainland starved Japan into eventually surrendering in 1945, leading to the independence of Korea under a Chinese protectorate (the pre-1880 status quo) and United States occupation of Japan.

The Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China was formed in 1940 as a merger of three collaborationist states, one of which was de facto independent, and led by Li Zongren, the leader of the right-wing faction of the Kuomintang, which was in many respects ideologically closer to Japanese statism than to the idiosyncratic and syncretic Yan Xishan Thought. However, it had very little power and was mostly meaningless until the war turned against Japan, and its de facto territory shrinked as China recovered territory under the competent leadership of Yan and his generals.
On 11 January 1945, Japan still controlled much of Burma, particularly rural areas, but had lost control of major urban centers such as Rangoon and Mandalay.

China's involvement in the Burma campaign was relatively limited, involving 20,000 soldiers who hailed from southern China and were accompanied by an air wing. They had little military impact, but helped distract IJA forces.

The Burmese collaborators stuck with Japan until the end, and kept fighting the British until Japan surrendered, with some continuing the fight afterwards, causing U Nu to lead Burma to independence, since the other leaders were discredited by collaboration. Subhas Chandra Bose was captured by the British and sentenced to 20 years in prison; he wrote his memoirs and was released in 1959, before dying in 1966.
While Yan Xishan Thought during his 27-year rule constituted a mix of utopian socialism and Confucian conservatism, he was still a staunch anti-communist, gradually drifting from Soviet to American influence during WWII.

Thus, historians believe the civil war immediately restarted when Japan surrendered to the United States, whereupon several Communist pockets resumed their insurgency against the "comprador bourgeois" KMT government.

The CPC was never able to get the upper hand at any point during the civil war, with their control being mostly restricted to parts of Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, and Shaanxi, the destination of the Long March. They also controlled many rural areas, where local authorities continuously resisted Yan's efforts at land reform; they were only achieved during the 1950s, which were a (shortlived) decade of prosperity for China.

Joseph Stalin and other Soviet leaders were furious at Yan for this foreign policy, and began to fully support the Communists during the civil war, providing them with advisors, weapons and aid through a supply route stretching from Xinjiang, by then a de facto Soviet protectorate. Inner Mongolia also obtained a Soviet and Mongolian-backed provisional government, but it was quickly crushed. By 1948 (when the civil war was at its height), the Communists were supported by the Soviet Union, and the Nationalists by the United States.

After 1948, the Nationalist government obtained the upper hand and began to push back, inflicting defeat after defeat on the Communists, whom were never extremely popular to begin with and, according to exposts, would have been defeated by the following year if it wasn't for Soviet backing. By March 1951, all the territory they controlled were small pockets, mostly outside of China proper, and the majority of Chinese were loyal followers of the aging Yan.

Li Zongren was captured in February 1945 and executed for treason after a show trial, destroying the right wing of the Kuomintang due to its collaboration with the Japanese, and allowing land reform to progress after the end of the civil war.
Small correction: Yan Xishan died in 1960, not 1957 as I thought, and thus the Second Chinese Civil War began in 1960 and lasted until 1966, when the Right-KMT won.

The Third Republic of China depended more on Yan's charismatic authority than on rational-legal authority. His left-wing successor sought to move China towards full Marxism, and thus faced resistance from much of the anti-communist military, leading to a civil war.
During the Golden Decade, China also invaded and annexed Tibet, ending the practices of serfdom and mutilation there, and joined the United States' Atoms for Peace program.

The Kuomintang administration modeled its foreign policy after the former imperial dynasties, as it sought to create a Chinese sphere of influence in East Asia covering countries such as Burma, Korea and Vietnam; the governments of these countries were aligned with China until changing their alignments during the Second Civil War.

After the United States occupation of Japan ended in 1950, China-Japan relations did not improve much due to China demanding that they pay reparations for war crimes, a demand that has never been met and was eventually dropped by a conservative Kuomintang administration. China and the USSR remained rivals even after Khrushchev took power, although Yan tool steps towards peaceful coexistence during his final years.

Since nuclear weapons have never been used in warfare, all major countries sought to have them. Stalin, who was aware of Project Manhattan via industrial espionage, gave the Soviet nuclear program absolute priority, leading to Britain and France developing nuclear weapons as a result, and China starting its nuclear program in 1955, with United States assistance; it was temporarily interrupted by the second civil war.

The First Six-Year Plan (1951–1957) focused on the areas of heavy industry, food security, transportation and electricity. The Kuomintang implemented high taxes on the wealthy and protectionist trade policies meant to turn China into a major economy, funding their industrialisation program by exporting grain to the United States and United Kingdom, and building dams, motorways, airports and coal-fired power plants across the Chinese countryside. This policy showed positive results, as the postwar economic boom seen in most of the world also happened in China, whose GDP grew at 4.3% per year in 1956 and a higher percentage during the next following years.

Instead of agricultural collectivization, the Kuomintang chose to encourage the formation of agricultural cooperatives, and to train farmers to operate them, while limiting the amount of land a person could own and banning foreigners from owning land. Studies show this policy had positive macroeconomic effects.

After 1951, crops such as opium were destroyed and replaced by ones such as rice, and rehabilitation centers were created to treat drug addiction. Yan reportedly considered the creation of a state monopoly on opium, similar to Sweden's state monopoly on alcohol, but chose to repress it instead. By 1960, one century and half of widespread drug dependency in China was over.

Yan Xishan's state funeral was one of the largest gatherings of people in history, and hundreds of people were trampled to death. He was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, a former member of the Communist Party of China who defeated to the Nationalists, and replaced utopian socialism with his moderate, pragmatic socialism with Chinese characteristics, while visiting Moscow and seeking better relations with the Soviets. This triggered a civil war from the Kuomintang moderates.
Yan Xishan, Juan Perón and Sukarno were the main organizers of the Conference.

Argentina and Bolivia were the only Latin American countries in attendance, likely because they had the most anti-Western governments.

Tao Zhiyue was one of the most important figures in the Chinese government during the Golden Decade, virtually running foreign policy for the seventy something Yan, and controlling much of the NRA, which remained the armed branch of the Kuomintang until after the right-wing victory in the civil war.

The conference was widely publicized in China and elsewhere as a sign of the country's impending return to major power status, with Western newspapers running headlines about it as late as one week after it ended. Due to his old age, Yan Xishan did not personally atrend the conference, instead sending Tao Zhiyue and Wang Kunlun, both of whom were important politicians in the Kuomintang government.
At the Constitutional Assembly, the KDP, CPK, Nationalist and Chondoist party formed a progressive bloc, while the KIP and National Youth League parties were the conservatives.

In spite of winning 9% of the vote, the far-right and arguably fascist National Youth League won 75 seats due to first past the post and substantial elite support for the party, especially among landowners who coerced their tenants into voting for its candidates.

The 1946 Constitution of Korea estabilished a presidential republic with checks and balances and the separation of powers, but there were significant loopholes, and Korea had weak constitutional conventions due to democracy being new in the country. This led to tensions that escalated into a civil war by 1955; the government eventually defeated the far-right rebels, who opposed Chinese influence and some progressive reforms enacted by the KDP, most notably land reform and cooperation with the Communists.

The first two presidents of Korea were:

1. Cho Man-sik (1946–1954)
2. Yi Yun-young (1954–1960)
TNO-style HUD for Yan Xishan's Nationalist China in 1936.

Yan Xishan Thought is considered to be a mixture of utopian socialism, anti-colonial nationalism and traditional Confucian paternalism. Unlike Marxism, it rejects the inevitability of class warfare, supporting morality and free will instead of economic determinism. Yan claimed to have created a "deeper and more humane" revolution than that of Russia, in spite of his initial friendship with the USSR.