Blue Shirts Society
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The Blue Shirts Society, also known as the Society of Practice of the Three Principles of the People (Chinese: 三民主義力行社, commonly abbreviated as SPTPP), the Spirit Encouragement Society (勵志社, SES) and the China Reconstruction Society (中華復興社, CRS), was a secret fascist clique in the Kuomintang (KMT, or the Chinese Nationalist Party).
Although in its early stage the society's most important members came from the Whampoa Military Academy, and constituted elements of the KMT's Whampoa Clique, by the 1930s its influence extended into the military and political spheres, and had influence upon China's economy and society. The rise and fall of the Blue Shirt Society was rapid, but obscure, and was seldom mentioned again by either the KMT or the Communist Party of China after the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the following KMT domination on Taiwan.
The Blue Shirts origins can be traced to the Whampoa Clique of 1924 - professional military officers - many of whom had sworn personal loyalty to Chiang Kai-shek, as well to the ideals of Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People.
After the Northern Expedition of 1927, Chiang and the KMT seized most of China's territories. The government established was in a degree of social crisis: there were tensions as Japan's conquest of Manchuria; Chiang had also formally split the First United Front, the alliance between the KMT and the CCP (Communist Party of China), turning the two parties against each other. The CCP had bases in the cities and to a lesser degree in the countryside, posing a threat to Chiang's government. The KMT itself was not of one mind; divided into several cliques, there were power struggles between Chiang, Hu Hanmin and Wang Jingwei. China was still scourged by corruption, poverty, and infrequent civil war.
Being the foundation of Chiang's rule, some Whampoa graduates felt it time to take action. Consequently, in July 1931, Teng Jie (滕傑) and Xiao Zanyu (蕭贊育) were sent back to China to investigate the threat from Japan and any forthcoming war.
When Teng and Xiao returned to China, they were upset to find the KMT, in their eyes, "gravitating toward decadence". Teng designed a blueprint to reform the KMT, suggesting a single great and powerful leader could save China and the KMT. The leader could rule by all means, hopefully as a benevolent dictator. Chiang was a sound candidate, and over the following months Teng traveled around the capital of Nanjing seeking support from Whampoa fellows.
Teng was acquainted with Zeng Kuoqing (曾擴情), among the first graduates of Whampoa, and the man in charge of the Whampoa Alumni Association. Because the KMT banned organized political parties, Teng and Zeng searched for alumni in secret. Zeng used his influence and personal relations among Whampoa graduates to organize periodic meetings to discuss Teng's plan.
After several months the group included prominent Whampoa graduates, including He Zhonghan (賀衷寒), widely regarded as one of The Three Most Outstanding Whampoa graduates (the other two being CCP members Jiang Xianyun (蔣先雲) and Chen Geng (陳賡), the patriarch of the Sun Yat-sen Theory Research Group at that time); Hu Zongnan (胡宗南)，a rising young general in Chiang's National Revolutionary Army; Deng Wenyi (鄧文儀 )，another patriarch of the Sun Yat-sen Theory Research Group and a secretary to Chiang, and; Feng Ti (丰悌), the Commissar of the 1st Division of the KMT army.
In September 1931, in the third meeting of the group, an organization to reform the KMT and fight against Japan was decided. Under the direction of He Zhonghan, this group was named the Society of the Practice of Three Principles of People (三民主義力行社, SPTPP). Teng was elected General Secretary. The party also issued guidance on the establishment, discipline and organization of members, and confirmed its main mission as follows:
- 1. use secret measures to fight against the Japanese, the CCP, other KMT cliques, and ensure the Whampoa clique's domination of the KMT and China;
- 2. use the public image of the Whampoa Alumni Association to enroll new members and set up a formal, well-organized and highly disciplined group.
Funds were mainly raised by Deng, who ran the KMT's Party Book Shop, a publishing house for party-political propaganda. Furthermore, to avoid arrest under the KMT's political organization ban, members decided not to tell Chiang Kai-shek of their plan, even while regarding him as their spiritual mentor and leader.
Before long Kang Ze (康澤), who published the China Daily newspaper with the permission of Chiang, became the mouthpiece of the SPTPP.
In December 1931, under pressure both inside and outside the KMT, Chiang resigned. While in retirement at his hometown in Zhejiang, Chiang showed growing interest in Benito Mussolini's fascism. Deng subsequently let Chiang know of the existence of the SPTPP. Chiang summoned He, Teng and Kang to a meeting, where he announced his idea for a more formal and disciplined organization like those in Italy and Germany. Thus specific rules and articles to guide the party were drafted.
With support from Chiang, Teng designed a hierarchical organization style. At the top was Chiang, with the foundations made from the elite of Whampoa graduates. New members could only be accepted with two recommendations and approval from Chiang himself. Members were not allowed to resign unless the group faced dissolution. If there was any violation of discipline, members would receive severe punishment.
In 1932 Chiang regained the presidency after a power struggle between his opponents. Hoping to speed reform of the SPTPP, in a secret meeting in February Gui Yongqing (桂永清)， a member of the SPTPP, recommended Liu Jianqun (劉健羣) as a suitable candidate. Liu, He Yingqin's (何應欽) secretary, contributed much to the group.
Liu wrote a pamphlet called Some Opinions On The Reform of the KMT. In this, Liu proposed reform of the KMT be enforced via a group of elites established and organized along the lines of Mussolini's MVSN or Blackshirts. Members would wear blue shirts to pledge their allegiance. Accordingly, the leader should encourage by his sublime, superior spirit. Under the direction of the leader, all members would live simple and disciplined lives, and all cadres would be treated equally, with incomes and lives under strict supervision. Violation would be severely punished. In return, the people would entrust property and their families to the country and the supreme leader. Public responsibilities would depend on ability, from military service to absolute obedience of orders including surveillance of one's neighborhoods. Lives would be divided into stages, including a youth wing. Thus, China would be turned into a militarized society, with a three tier organization, highest to lowest: Supreme Leader - Blue Shirt Society - People.
Liu Jianqun ordered membership be kept a secret:
"With a view to attaining the object of immediately overthrowing the feudal influences, exterminating the Red Bandits, and dealing with foreign insult[s], members of the Blue Shirts Society should conduct in secret their activities in various provinces, xian, and cities, except for the central Guomindang headquarters and other political organs whose work must be executed in an official manner."
Chiang met with Liu and appreciated his theory, leading to the evolution of the SPTPP into the Blue Shirt Society (BSS). In March 1932, under cover of an existing club called the Spirit Encouragement Society (勵志社)，the SPTPP officially announced its establishment. Although Liu's proposal that members wear blue shirts and name their society after the blue shirts was not accepted, the SPTPP was privately known as the BSS from then on. In its formal opening ceremony, Teng was elected General Secretary, with He, Kang as Standing Secretariat. The BSS consisted of six divisions: Secretariat, Organization, Propaganda, Military, Special Agency and Logistics. The secret society reached its peak, with the BSS infiltrating the country's political system, military and even the everyday lives of people.
Rise and achievements
During the early to mid-1930s Chiang was busy carrying out his suppression of the CCP's Red Army in the countryside. With his permission, the BSS took over the defense of Nanking. Most of the prominent Whampoa graduates now got promotions as commanders and became BSS members. Besides increasing its influence in the army, the BSS infiltrated the police and security services in major cities, and recruited members in the KMT youth league. The BSS now had influence in China's military, labor unions, publishing houses and schools. A new structure of power had emerged, with the BSS at the core of the Whampoa Clique, coexisting and competing against the two better known cliques: the CC Clique, led by Chen Lifu (陳立夫) and Chen Guofu (陳果夫)，whose remit was dealing with party issues, and; the Politics Research Group (政學系) led by Yang Yongtai (楊永泰) and Zhang Qun (張群), whose remit was the day-to-day running of the KMT government.
Liu's pamphlet was accepted as the guideline of the BSS, and part of it was revised into the Regulation of Life Discipline. In accordance with this, BSS members would be paid low wages, with part being donated to the BSS. Gambling and opium were banned. Anti-corruption laws and laws prohibiting BSS members from having mistresses were to be strictly abided by. The practice of BSS members became quite distinct from the majority of KMT bureaucrats.
In June 1932, an anti-graft campaign was launched under the direction of BSS member, Deng Wenyi. A special force, mostly comprising BSS members, cracked down on corrupt police officers in Wuhan. After several arrests and executions, the police force was considered improved. Deng then waged war against organized crimes, prostitution, opium and gambling. After 3 months, Deng had won Chiang's praise. Chiang wanted this effort to be promoted around the country, and so launched a campaign to purify the capital. The results were less successful and derided as a failure.
Meanwhile, the BSS was playing an active role in suppressing the CCP. Zeng Kuoqing, using his status in the Whampoa Alumni Association, wrote a letter to Xu Jishen (許繼慎), commander of Zhang Guotao's 4th Red Army and a Whampoa graduate, asking Xu to defect to the KMT. Xu did not reply, but when his superiors discovered the letter, suspicions were raised and the CCP decided to carry out a purge. Thousands of commanders and soldiers were tortured and executed, weakening the CCP's resistance. In light of this, in October 1932, Hu Zongnan led his army (mainly commanded by BSS officers) in a cruel and decisive battle against Xu Xiangqian in Hekou Anhui. In contrast to other KMT armies, the army had high-morale, was composed of hand-picked men, and equipped with the best weaponry. With strong support from other armies also led by BSS members such as Yu Jishi (俞濟時) and Huang Jie (黃杰), Xu's CCP army was routed. After suffering some 10,000 casualties, Zhang and Xu retreated. Hu and his troop chased, and when Zhang and his army reached Sichuan to set up another base, Hu remained in Gansu nearby. Hu, with his chosen men and strong army, became known as the King of Northwestern China.
Coinciding With the BSS's ever-increasing power and influence, disagreements within the BSS leadership mounted. Chiang, who regarded the BSS as a tool, would not allow them more power and influence. Teng could not accept this and conflicts between him and Chiang were frequent. In 1933, Chiang chose He Zhonghan to succeed Teng as General Secretary of the BSS.
As a more ambitious and skilled politician than Teng, He Zhonghan won a power struggle against his BSS rival Liu Jianqun. Subsequently, He decided to set up a propaganda network run by Kang Ze. This special agency under the direction of Dai Li, and his deputy Zheng Jiemin (鄭介民), evolved into a network infiltrating every corner of China. The BSS's influence grew into Northern China, which was under direct threat of invasion by Japan. In 1933 the Japanese army invaded Rehe, and KMT armies fought against them along the Great Wall. The BSS now changed from an elite secret society into an anti-Japanese mass movement. Liu was sent to the BSS's Northern China Division, which was called the China Reconstruction Society (中華復興社，CRS). Most members were university lecturers and student groups, and in the summer of that year the CRS had divisions in 24 provinces of China with more than 40,000 members. With the CRS controlling the political training system of the KMT, new recruits were always available. With thousands of members, political instructors and front organizations, the BSS had a kingdom under the direction of He.
Besides setting up the CRS, the BSS also played a part in the Second Stage Revolution. Using influence in Northern and Southwestern China to persuade local warlords to pledge allegiance to Chiang, a reform of the KMT armies was carried out. An air force and armored corps was set up, alongside wars against corruption, opium and poverty. Reconstruction of rural areas was undertaken, with roads built and bank loans provided to peasants. The most significant part of this movement was Kang Ze's New Jiangxi Style and Special Detachment (別動隊，NJSSD).
In 1933 during the 5th Suppression Campaign against the CCP, Chiang decided to set up a paramilitary force. Kang was appointed to lead the NJSSD, the only direct military group in the BSS. Soon the NJSSD had integrated of military, political, police, military police and secret police powers. At its peak it had 24,000 members and three divisions of regular troops. The NJSSD had peasants living near Soviet Jiangxi and Northern Anhui categorized and confined, where they had limited access to the outside world. A family hoping to prove itself non-CCP needed to have the guarantee of four other families, and promise not to collaborate with or provide support to the CCP. Violations would have the whole family executed, along with the families of the four guarantors. The NJSSD set up hundreds of concentration camps around Shangrao, Jiangxi, where they tortured and executed residents and CCP captives. Under this system, fewer and fewer peasants supported the CCP. Merchants who smuggled materiel to the CCP were also broken down, with peasants organized to build blockades against the Soviet Territory. With the shortage of supplies, accompanied by heavy attacks from the KMT, the CCP had to launch its now-famous Long March in order to retreat.
The NJSSD started the New Jiangxi Style plan in territories previously occupied by the Communists, providing compulsory education and free medical treatment to peasants. With a brutal but effective anti-corruption campaign, they provided loans, seeds and pesticides also. Nevertheless, the NJSSD engaged in fervent brutality, executions of perceived CCP sympathisers, and innocents. In one case, in Mount Dabie, previously the base of the 4th Red Army in Northern Anhui, more than half a million were massacred. At the same time, in accordance with NJSSD and New Jiangxi Style, Kang reached the peak of his career, and he raised enough finances to challenge He as leader of the BSS.
Xiao Zuolin (肖作霖), a BSS member early on, drafted a plan called the Whole New Culture Movement and proposed the establishment of an organization called the Chinese Culture Academy to increase the BSS's influence in culture. Xiao got Deng Wenyi's support and carried out his plan by taking over several newspapers and journals, and by enrolling its members in universities. Its scheme of forging a movement for a new culture was adopted by Chiang, and on 19 February 1934, he announced the New Life Movement at a meeting in Nanchang. The plan involved reconstructing the moral system of the Chinese and welcoming a renaissance and reconstruction of Chinese national pride.
In March, Chiang issued guidance, consisting of 95 rules of the New Life Movement, being a mixture of Chinese traditions and western standards. It was a vast propaganda movement, with war mobilization and military maneuvers on a scale that China had never experienced before. But because the plan was so ambitious and rigid, and because its policies created too much inconvenience in the everyday lives of the people, it fell into disfavor. Nearly three years later in 1936, Chiang had to accept that his favorite movement had failed. Deng, Kang and Jiang Xiaoxian (蔣孝先), Chiang's nephew and bodyguard, also BSS members were appointed General Secretariats of the New Life Movement, with supervision of public lifestyles enforced by BSS cadres. By controlling the mouthpieces of the KMT, the BSS openly expressed advocacy of fascism in its publications.
Unlike Teng, He was a professional politician, and never concealed his ambition for power. After fostering a Hunan Clique in the BSS, Chiang became concerned the BSS might threaten his governance. In 1934 he accused the BSS of corruption and malfunction, dismissing He as General Secretary. Liu Jianqun was appointed as successor. With NJSSD and the Southwestern Clique behind him, and the Zhejiang Clique led by Hu Zongnan and Dai Li opposing him, Liu Jianqun's BSS faced the same fragmented fate as the KMT it had helped get rid of.
With the New Culture Movement failed but still officially ongoing, the BSS spread its influence into the cultural centers of Shanghai and other major cities that used to be the CC Clique's power base.
In June 1934, the Nanchang Airport, built by donations from international Chinese, and designed to train the KMT air force, was burned down. The Aviation Commissioner, Xu Peigen (徐培根), who was also a BSS member, was the primary suspect. Deng was sent to investigate this case. He reached the conclusion that the fire was accidentally caused by a cigarette dropped by a soldier, but Chen Lifu and Yang Yongtai argued Xu masterminded the fire to eliminate evidence of corruption, and Deng had colluded to cover it up. Xu was kept in custody, Deng was sacked, and his titles were removed. The Chinese Culture Academy was banned. Dai Li was sent to take over Deng's investigation agency and quietly integrated it into his own special agency, which later evolved into the Military Statistical Bureau, the notorious secret police of the KMT. Dai no longer played any major part in the BSS now he had set up his own kingdom.
Taking advantage of this blow to the BSS's prestige, the Politics Research Clique consummated the Administrative Office System, adding new levels of administration between provinces and counties (the two tier system of provinces and counties had been used in China for more than a thousand years). With the appearance of new offices, the Politics Research Clique was able to control the county level. Many bureaucrats who used to be loyal to the CC Clique and the BSS defected to the suddenly more powerful Politics Research Clique. The Politics Research Clique took over the security forces, the police and the militia step by step. Liu, whose failures in the BSS were an embarrassment, was replaced by Feng Ti under the excuse that he had health problems. He was sent to Manchuria to work with Zeng Kuoqing.
In 1935, two editors of a pro-Japanese newspapers were assassinated in Manchuria. The Japanese thought these actions were taken by the BSS and argued it was a violation of the Tanggu Accord signed to keep the status quo between the Japanese and China. Yoshijirō Umezu (梅津美治郎), commander of the Japanese China Garrison Army and Kenji Doihara's (土肥原賢二) Japanese intelligence agency investigated and presented a memo to He Yingqing. Agreeing with the Japanese recommendations in this memo, all Chinese forces heavily influenced by the BSS (including military police, regular forces such as the 2nd Division and the 25th Division) should be evacuated from Beijing and out of Hebei province.
Taking over military training for the KMT, Feng Ti enrolled new members into the BSS. Hu Zongnan, Dai Li and other former BSS members also strengthened their grip on power by enrolling members into their own private armies. At the top were hundreds of Whampoa graduates, aided by some 30,000 mid- and low-level officers, university teachers and public servants. Below them were more than 200,000 members of the CRS. At the bottom were hundreds of thousands of boy scouts. With the organization undergoing such rapid expansion, corruption and inefficiency plagued the BSS across the country. Furthermore, in 1935, there was a serious security leak in its headquarters after the BSS tried to assassinate Wang Jingwei, Chiang's presidential rival. Under heavy pressure, Feng Ti was sacked. Liu Jianquan took over, to be replaced in turn by Zheng Jiemin.
In 1936 Deng Wenyi became General Secretary of the BSS, just in time for December's Xi'an Incident. Chiang was kidnapped and held by General Zhang Xueliang, who favored fighting the Japanese more than the CCP. There were disagreements between KMT leaders on whether to solve the kidnapping by peace talks or military action. In BSS meeting, He Zhonghan and Deng were determined to use force and called for the mobilization of BSS members around the country. 176 young generals issued a statement to denounce Zhang Xueliang and declare war on his army. Under He's direction, more than 2000 officers and BSS members held a meeting pledging their allegiance to Chiang and agreeing to mobilize against the Young Marshall. Gui Yongqing led an army of more than 12,000 men in armored vehicles across the Yangtze River towards where Chiang was being held, while a few bombers were launched by overzealous military and BSS officers. Chen and other KMT leaders refused to support this, however, and even He Yingqing, who was in charge of the KMT military, did not agree with the BSS's movement. No official support was given by the KMT.
Chiang's wife Soong Mei-ling came to Xian for peace talks. Due to the efforts of the CCP delegation, led by Zhou Enlai, who wanted to set up an alliance with the KMT against the Japanese, Chiang was released several weeks later. After his release, Chiang took revenge on the BSS's reckless action and lack of control. Deng was sacked, with all titles removed again, and he was replaced by Kang Ze. He Zhonghan was out of favor with Chiang and forced to travel around Europe in exile. In March 1937, Chiang issued his order that all BSS activities be temporarily suspended.
With the Second Sino-Japanese War breaking out on 7 July 1937, Japanese troops seized vast areas of China. Before Nanjing fell, Kang led the retreat of the BSS from its headquarters. In 1938 the BSS held its first and last national congress in Wuhan. Here, members of the BSS and SPTPP were permitted to have their memberships automatically transferred to the KMT, members of the CRS could be transferred to the Youth League of Three Principles of the People (三民主義青年團, YLTPP). Most of the 500,000 members of the BSS and CRS refused to transfer to the KMT, instead choosing the YLTPP, which became the basis of a new force within the KMT. Hu Zongnan kept the position of Director of the YLTPP, while Kang acted as his agent. The biggest winner was Dai Li: his new spy agency, the Military Statistical Bureau was formed, and he transferred all the intelligence agents of the BSS, CRS and NJSSD into it, giving him one of the largest intelligence services in the world. He kept control over this secret empire until his death in an airplane crash in 1946.
The BSS had been officially dismissed, but Kang wished to keep it alive under the cover of the YLTPP. In the following 7 years he increased YLTPP membership from 400,000 to more than 1.5 million, and used NJSSD techniques to re-organize the YLTPP. The result was a group more efficient and disciplined than the KMT, which aroused Chiang's suspicion again. After returning from the Soviet Union, Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo sought to take over the YLTPP. Kang was reluctant and tried to resist these efforts, sealing his fate. In 1945 Kang was sent to Europe and Chiang Ching-kuo was given the YLTPP's seat. During the Chinese Civil War, members of the YLTPP suffered the same fate as the KMT. Only prominent YLTPP figures such as Kang survived CCP purges, as examples of clemency toward war criminals.
The following were some of the most prominent and earliest members of BSS.
Teng was later appointed as mayor of Nanjing. He went to Taiwan in 1945 with KMT troops and later retired from the position of chairman of Central Trust Bureau of the KMT. After years of retirement, he was appointed director of Labor Bureau. In 1949, when the KMT retreated to Taiwan, he was Minister of Communication and Policy Counsellor.
Liu's wife was an agent working for Kenji Doihara, bringing many confidential documents with her on defecting to the Japanese. After this, Liu himself was forced to become a fugitive to escape Dai Li's secret police. After becoming a monk and spending years in Guizhou, Chiang's men found him by chance. Chiang showed leniency by offering Liu a position as vice-speaker of the KMT Congress. When he went to Taiwan, Liu lived in poverty, and before his death in 1960s his last contribution was to provide valuable details for an article on the BSS written by an American professor.
Having risen and fallen several times, Deng showed little interest in politics after the Sino-Japanese War. He arrived in Taiwan in 1949 and retired as Director of the Political Work Bureau.
Feng Ti was appointed as commander of guard for Changsha, but was executed in 1938 after KMT forces engaged in a scorched earth policy to resist the invasion of Japanese army. The resultant fires killed thousands of civilians
Kang returned from Europe during the Chinese Civil War and was sent to the battlefront. Captured and made a POW, KMT propaganda depicted him as a martyr. In reality, Kang lived well in custody and defected to the CCP. In 1963 he was released in a CCP amnesty and died 4 years later.
Hu's troops were annihilated by CCP armies during the Civil War. When he left for Taiwan in 1949, he was impeached by 46 members of the KMT's Control Yuan for incompetence in military command. Although Hu was released with no charge, he was appointed a defense commander for a little island and never returned to central politics. After retiring, he died in 1962.
Zeng was captured and made a POW in the Civil War. Later released by the CCP, he died in 1983.
Gui was made commander of the KMT navy during the Civil War, then went to Taiwan. He died during his term as Chief of Staff of the KMT Army in 1954.
Dai Li became head of secret police and espionage of the KMT, and died in an air crash in 1946. His assistant, Zheng, succeeded Dai in running the KMT secret police. He died in 1959 in Taiwan.
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