Abstract

The process of state-building in the Chinese revolution was confounded, and remains obscured, by a contest between rival claimants to state power in the Nationalist and Communist parties. There is a natural temptation to trace conflict in the state-building process to ideological differences between the two parties, as they did themselves, and to overlook their similarities and downplay the potential for political conflict and social resistance inherent in state-building generally. This is the case with histories of the Nationalist Revolution of the 1920s, when the two parties came together briefly to fight for national unification and independence. Each party is assigned an irreconcilable difference of purpose, the Nationalists aiming for cohesive national revolution and the Communists for divisive social revolution, and their combined efforts are represented as the historical working through of this conflict of purpose (Rankin, Fairbank, and Feuerwerker 1986:10; Wilbur 1984). The clash of aims seems to be not far removed from a clash of ideologies, and the collapse of this First United Front is portrayed as the historical resolution to a philosophical contradiction. In the definitive words of C. Martin Wilbur, “The main weakness was disagreement among the leaders concerning the social goals of the national revolution,” traceable to “competing ideologies among intellectuals throughout China” (Wilbur 1968:223). Conflict between the parties and within society boils down, in the end, to an ideological dispute.

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