"Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world" ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

I ended up reading my brother's IB history resource on 20th century Chinese history on one Sunday morning, titled "China: From Empire to People's Republic 1900-49" by Michael Lynch.

Considering everything that has happened in Hong Kong and also globally this year, I thought it would be interesting to have a better understanding as how China and the CCP came to be.

The book does a great job at highlighting political, military, economic and social catalysts and drivers in Chinese history. It starts with the end of the Qing (Manchurian) dynasty, moving through Sun Yat-sen's  vision of a republic, the rise of the GMD (Guomindang), the Japanese Occupation, and finally the Chinese civil war between the GMD and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).

One of the greatest takeaways from reviewing China's rich and complex history was the general theme of organizational fragility. By fragility, I am referring to the phenomenon of governments collapsing on themselves due to lack of morale, disloyalty, lack of a cohesive vision, lack of understanding of the needs of the typical Chinese person, etc.

From my synthesis, there were two forms of fragility in China. The first was fragility within specific parties. The GMD, for instance, faced severe disloyalty and had a number of soldiers and officers "switch sides", providing information to the CCP and thus compromising the tactics and strategic objectives of the Chiang Kaishek's GMD. The second was the country-wide lack of cohesion, which was obvious due to the large number of different parties and organizations that aimed to achieve very different visions of the future of China. This weakness was capitalized by foreign powers that submitted the Chinese to providing unequal treaties, concessions, forced trade, and large loans, profiting off the continuing internal conflicts.

The fragility of organizational systems in China at a macroscopic scale can be attributed to the general size of the country and its population. Without the strategies and technologies in place to effectively govern all of it, power was distributed. This was seen clearly in the early days of building the republic after the Qing abdication in 1912, where a political vacuum post-Yuan Shikai's death in 1916 created pockets of power created regional factions controlled by provincial warlords. With their own provincial militias, they warded off GMD and CCP enemies.

In fact, it is surprising how important military might was back then. Through all attempts at reunification and the development of a centralized government, military intelligence and power was of incredible importance. The inability for Sun Yat-sen's initial Alliance League to gain a stronger foothold in negotiations with Yuan Shikai at the time of his presidency were predominantly due to his wider military presence and relationships with Northern and Central provinces, in contrast to the GMD's weaker military power and control in Southern provinces.

There were many times that these different 'governments' actually further stifle cohesion and cause further systematic failure. For example, instead of appreciating the power that local authorities and municipal governments had with their respective regions, particularly in terms of facilitating a sense of trust and authority with the populace in those areas, the GMD instead coerced large swathes of these regions into obedience. Such examples are just a few takeaways that describe the fragile systems in place, which is why the CCP's eventual ability to outmaneuver this issue is intriguing, something the GMD was unable to do.

I have a few questions to further thought surrounding this theme:

  • What holds our institutions in place?
  • Are our organizations stable?
  • Why are we obedient to the rule of law?
  • What causes revolutions and a change in perception?