Nanjing decade

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Chart of Chinese progress from a US wartime pamphlet
The Bund in Shanghai in the 1930s

The Nanjing decade (also Nanking decade, Chinese: 南京十年; pinyin: Nánjīng shí nián, or the Golden decade, Chinese: 黃金十年; pinyin: Huángjīn shí nián) is an informal name for the decade from 1927 (or 1928) to 1937 in the Republic of China. It began when Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek took Nanjing from Zhili clique warlord Sun Chuanfang halfway through the Northern Expedition in 1927. Chiang declared it to be the national capital despite the existence of a left-wing Nationalist government in Wuhan. The Wuhan faction gave in and the Northern Expedition continued until the Beiyang government in Beijing was overthrown in 1928. The decade ended with the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the retreat of the Nationalist government to Wuhan. GDP growth averaged 3.9 per cent a year from 1929 to 1941 and per capita GDP about 1.8 per cent.[1] Historians view the decade as a period of Chinese conservatism.[2][3][4]

Nanjing was of symbolic and strategic importance. The Ming dynasty had made Nanjing a capital, the republic had been established there in 1912, and Sun Yat-sen's provisional government had been there. Sun's body was brought and placed in a grand mausoleum to cement Chiang's legitimacy. Chiang was born in nearby Chekiang and the general area had strong popular support for him.

The Nanjing decade was marked by both progress and frustration. The period was far more stable than the preceding Warlord Era. There was enough stability to allow economic growth and the start of ambitious government projects, some of which were taken up again by the new government of the People's Republic after 1949. Nationalist foreign service officers negotiated diplomatic recognition from Western governments and began to unravel the unequal treaties. Entrepreneurs, educators, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals were more free to create modern institutions than at any earlier time. However, the Nationalist government also suppressed dissent, corruption and nepotism were rampant and revolts broke out in several provinces; internal conflicts also perpetuated within the government. The Nationalists were never able to fully pacify the Chinese Communist Party, and struggled to address the widespread unrest and protests over their failure to check Japanese aggression.

The party-state[edit]

Zones of control during the "Nanjing Decade"

The organization and function of the KMT one-party state was derived from Sun's "Three Stages of Revolution" and his policy of Dang Guo. The first stage was military unification, which was carried out with the Northern Expedition. The second was "political tutelage" which was a provisional government led by the KMT to educate people about their political and civil rights, and the third stage was constitutional government. The KMT considered themselves to be at the second stage in 1928.

The KMT set up its five-branch government (based on the Three Principles of the People) using an organic law including Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Control Yuan and Examination Yuan. This government disavowed continuity with the defunct Beiyang government that enjoyed international recognition; however the state was still the same – the Republic of China. Nevertheless, many bureaucrats from the Beiyang government flooded into Nanjing to receive jobs.

Chiang was elected President of the National Government by the KMT central executive committee in October 1928. In the absence of a National Assembly, the KMT's party congress functioned in its place. Since party membership was a requirement for civil service positions, the KMT was full of careerists and opportunists.

The KMT was heavily factionalized into pro- and anti-Chiang groups. The largest faction in the party following reunification was the pro-Chiang Whampoa clique (a.k.a. the National Revolutionary Army First Army Group/Central Army), which made up slightly over half of the party membership. A Whampoa sub-faction was the infamous Blue Shirts Society. Next was the CC Clique, a pro-Chiang civilian group. A third group, the technocratic Political Study Clique, was more liberal than the other two pro-Chiang factions. They were formed by KMT members of the first National Assembly back in 1916. These three factions competed with each other for Chiang's favor.

Opposition to Chiang came from both the left and the right. The leftist opposition was led by Wang Jingwei and known as the Reorganizationists. The rightist opposition was led by Hu Hanmin. Hu never created or joined a faction but he was viewed as the spiritual leader by the Western Hills Group, led by Lin Sen. There were also individuals within the party who were not part of any faction, like Sun Fo. These anti-Chiang figures were outnumbered in the party but held great power by their seniority, unlike many pro-Chiang cadres that joined only during or after the Northern Expedition. Chiang cleverly played these factions off against one another. The party itself was reduced to a mere propaganda machine, while real power lay with Chiang and the National Revolutionary Army (NRA).

Intra-party struggles[edit]

In 1922, the KMT had formed the First United Front with the Communists to defeat the warlords and reunify China. In April 1927, however, Chiang split with the Communists and purged them from the Front against the wishes of the KMT leadership in Wuhan, setting up a rival KMT government in Nanjing. The split and the purge was detrimental to the KMT's Northern Expedition and allowed the Zhili-Fengtian coalition to launch a successful counterattack. The mostly leftist Wuhan faction soon purged the Communists as well and reunited with Chiang in Nanjing. The Northern Expedition restarted in February 1928 and successfully reunited China by the end of the year.

At the end of the Expedition, the NRA consisted of four army groups: Chiang's Whampoa clique, Feng Yuxiang's Guominjun, Yan Xishan's Shanxi clique, and Li Zongren's New Guangxi clique. Chiang did not have direct control of the other three so he considered them to be threats.

In February 1929, Li Zongren fired the pro-Chiang governor of Hunan but Chiang objected and the two clashed in March, leading to Li's defeat and (temporary) expulsion from the KMT by the third party congress. Feng Yuxiang rebelled on May 19 but was humiliated when half of his army defected through bribery. From October to February, fighting resumed with Wang Jingwei and Lin Sen joining the opposition. In May 1930, the Central Plains War erupted, pitting Chiang against the Beiping faction of Yan Xishan, Feng Yuxiang, Li Zongren, and Wang Jingwei. Though victorious, the conflict left Chiang's government bankrupt.

In 1931, Hu Hanmin attempted to block Chiang's provisional constitution and was put under house arrest. This caused another uprising by Chen Jitang, Li Zongren, Sun Fo and other anti-Chiang factions who converged on Guangzhou to set up a rival government. War was averted due to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria but it did cause Chiang to release Hu and resign as president and premier. Chiang's influence was restored when he was made chairman of the Military Affairs Commission at the start of the Battle of Shanghai (1932). Hu moved to Guangzhou and led an autonomous government in Liangguang.

In November 1933, the Fujian Rebellion erupted by dissident KMT elements. The rebellion was crushed in January.

During Chiang's second premiership, Hu Hanmin died on 12 May 1936 and left a power vacuum in the south. Chiang wanted to fill it with a loyalist that would end the south's autonomy. Chen Jitang and Li Zongren conspired to overthrow Chiang but were politically outmaneuvered by bribes and defections. Chen resigned and the plot fizzled. In December, Chiang was kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang and forced to ally with the Communists in the Second United Front to combat the Japanese occupation.

In addition, the Ma clique and the Xinjiang clique, both KMT affiliates, were contesting each other in the western fringes from 1931 until 1937 in the Xinjiang Wars when the Soviet Union's support helped the Xinjiang group to triumph. Xinjiang then became a Soviet protectorate and safe haven for Communists. The Ma clique also fought Sun Dianying in 1934.

Wang Jingwei's collaborationist government during the Second Sino-Japanese War can be seen[who?] as an extension of these party power struggles.

These civil wars extended Chiang's direct rule from four provinces to eleven just prior to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

Suppression of Communists and other parties[edit]

The Chinese Civil War which began with the purge of communists in 1927 would continue until the forming of the Second United Front in December 1936. During this period, the Nationalists tried destroying the Communists by using Encirclement Campaigns. The failure of early Communist strategy of urban warfare led to the rise of Mao Zedong who advocated guerrilla warfare. The Communists were much weaker in the urban areas due to secret police repression led by Dai Li. Many Communists and suspected or actual Communist sympathizers were imprisoned, including the wife and four year old daughter of Marshal Nie.[5]

Other parties that were heavily persecuted were the Young China Party and the "Third Party". They would remain banned until the Second Sino-Japanese War when they were allowed into the Second United Front as part of the China Democratic League.

Warlord conflicts during the Nanjing decade[edit]

Conflicts with Japan and Soviet Union[edit]


China's first government sponsored social engineering program began in 1934 with the New Life Movement.[6] In addition, non-governmental reforms, such as the Rural Reconstruction Movement made substantial progress in addressing the problems of the countryside. Many social activists who participated in this movement were graduated as professors of the United States. They made tangible but limited progress in modernizing the tax, infrastructural, economic, cultural, and educational equipment and mechanisms of rural regions until the cancellation of government coordination and subsidies in the mid-to-late 1930s due to rampant wars and the lack of resources. The rural reconstructive activists advocated a “third way” between the communist violent land reform and the reformism of the Nationalist Government based on the respect of human rights and individual liberties for educational doctrine.[7][8]

Economic improvements and social reforms were mixed. The Kuomintang supported women’s rights and education, the abolition of polygamy, and foot binding. The government of the Republic of China under Chiang’s leadership also enacted a women’s quota in the parliament with reserved seats for women. During the Nanjing Decade, average Chinese citizens received the education they’d never had the chance to get in the dynasties that increased the literacy rate across China. The education also promotes the ideals of Tridemism of democracy, republicanism, science, constitutionalism, and Chinese Nationalism based on the Political Tutelage of the Kuomintang.[9][10][11][12][13] However, Periodic famines continued under Nationalist rule: in Northern China from 1928 to 1930, in Sichuan from 1936 to 1937, and in Henan from 1942 to 1943. In total, these famines cost at least 11.7 million lives by some estimates.[14][15][16][17] GDP growth averaged 3.9 per cent a year from 1929 to 1941 and per capita GDP about 1.8 per cent.[1] Among other institutions, the Nationalist Government founded the Academia Sinica and the Central Bank of China. In 1932, China sent a team for the first time to the Olympic Games.[citation needed]

Economic developments[edit]

GDP of the Republic of China in Billions of 1933 Yuan[18]
Sector Liu and Yeh Ou Pao-san
Agriculture 18.76 12.59
Factories 0.64 0.38
Handicrafts 2.04 1.36
Mining 0.21 0.24
Utilities 0.13 0.15
Construction 0.34 0.22
Modern transportation

and communications (old-fashioned)



Trade 2.71 2.54


0.82 0.64
Financial 0.21 0.20
Personal services 0.34 0.31
Residential rents 1.03 0.93
Depreciation adjustments 1.02 1.45
Total 29.88 21.77

The figures provided by Liu and Yeh are deemed to be more reliable.[18]

Modern Industrial figures 1933[19]

(millions of 1933 Yuan)





Manchuria Total Workers

Chinese owned (1000s)


Foreign owned (1000s)


Manchuria (1000s)

Producer goods
Lumber 4.4 5.6 11.6 21.6 1.2 1.5 2.3 5.0
Machinery (incl. transport) 55.4 9.9 27.2 92.5 45.7 5.2 14.4 65.3
Ferrous metals

metal products

29.4 1.4 18.1 48.9 15.5 0.4 11.8 27.7
electrical appliances 1.3 0.8 N/A 2.1 0.7 0.3 N/A 1.0
Stone, clay and glass


44.5 1.6 9.7 55.8 34.7 1.1 8.9 44.7
Chemicals 58.5 10.0 19.1 87.6 5.6 2.4 4.2 12.2
Textiles 15.3 N/A 1.6 16.9 4.3 N/A 0.4 4.7
Leather 37.0 8.1 1.0 46.1 4.5 0.9 0.7 6.1
Paper and Printing 72.0 10.7 3.4 86.1 42.0 3.6 0.8 46.4
Metal coins 41.0 N/A N/A 41.0 0.2 N/A N/A 0.2
Total 358.8 48.1 91.7 498.5 154.4 15.4 43.5 213.3
Consumer goods
Wood products 1.2 0.5 0.9 2.6 0.5 0.2 0.8 1.5
Metal products 12.6 1.4 1.6 15.6 4.4 0.5 0.7 5.6
electrical appliances 11.9 7.2 0.1 19.2 5.9 3.7 <100 8.6
Pottery 1.3 0.2 0.7 2.2 1.3 N/A 1.9 3.2
Chemicals 65.3 17.2 4.4 86.9 38.4 7.3 4.9 50.6
Textiles 605.4 257.8 70.6 933.8 380.1 104.7 38.8 523.6
Clothing and attire 101.1 4.6 3.4 109.1 101.7 2.0 3.5 107.2
Leather and rubber 36.2 2.2 N/A 38.4 15.1 0.7 N/A 15.8
Food products 436.3 39.1 158.7 634.1 51.2 8.6 21.6 81.4
Tobacco and Alcohol 124.9 117.3 36.0 278.2 20.3 19.0 8.4 47.7
Paper 2.9 0.5 7.9 11.3 1.8 0.2 4.7 6.7
Miscellaneous 13.5 1.3 0.7 15.5 8.1 1.8 0.7 10.6
Total 1,412.6 449.3 285.0 2,146.9 628.8 147.7 86.0 862.5
Grand Total 1,771.4 497.4 376.7 2,645.4 783.2 163.1 129.5 1,075.8

Output of Plant products (1,000,000s of catties[20]*
Crop 1914-1919




Rice 147,610 139,110
Wheat 39,570 46,200
Corn 14,680 20,440
Potatoes 7,060 15,280


23,750 24,680
Millet 22,180 27,680
Barley 18,090 19,440
Other Grain 10,370 10,940
Total Grain 283,300 319,960
Soybean 10,970 16,800
Peanuts 4,540 5,250
Rapeseed 3,800 5,080
Sesame 670 1,810
Cotton 1,606 1,888
Fibres 1,410 1,350
Tobacco 1,590 1,830
Sugarcane 18,720 18,720
Tea 445 399
Silk 406 420


44,157 53,547
Grand Total 327,457 373,207

*A catty being equivalent to roughly 600 grams

Receipts and Expenditure of the Nanjing Government (millions of Yuan)
Sector 1928-29 1933-34 1936-37
Receipts* 434 836 1168
Customs Duty 179 352 379
Salt Duty 30 177 197
Commodity taxes 33 118 173
Other** 92 42 121
Borrowing 100 147 298
Expenditures* 434 836 1168
Party 4 6 7
Civil* 28 160 160
Military 210 373 521
Loan and indemnity


160 244 302
Other 32 53 178

*the cost of collecting taxes is deducted for all years excluding 1928-29

** mostly consisting of stamp tax, provincial remittances, government business profits and miscellaneous sources

Fiscal measures[edit]

The Nationalist Government in Nanjing following the northern expedition had achieved nominal unification of China and sort to establish its control over China's revenue. Tariff autonomy was regained by 1930 this led to higher duties which saw a rapid increase in the revenue of the central government the collection of tariffs was also changed from silver to gold this was due to the falling price of silver following the Great Depression. The Salt tax which previously was seized by local and provincial officials was brought back into Nationalist control whilst transfers to the provinces still did occur the Nationalist government obtained a larger share of the revenue. The Likin a tax that heavily targeted internal trade and was abused in its collection was mostly abolished.[21]

However, the Nationalist government mainly drew its revenue from the modern sectors of the economy and the collection of taxes from agriculture was not controlled by Nanjing given that agriculture comprised a large section of the economy this severely limited the ability of the Nationalist government to raise revenue effectively leading to large amounts of borrowing and the issuing of bonds to pay for its expenditures. The land tax remained in the hands of the provinces who did not reform or improve its collection.[22] The surrender of the land tax to the provinces in 1928 surrendered some 65% of the GDP to the authority of the provinces to collect taxes from this was made for political reasons mainly to achieve national unity by allowing the provinces to maintain a source of income who.[23]

Government debt grew by a considerable amount during this period due to the rising military expenditures as Chiang sought to modernise the Chinese military as the Chinese government floated over 1.6 Billion Yuan worth of bonds on the Chinese market leading to a total bond debt of 2 billion Yuan by 1936. The Shanghai and wider Chinese bond market worked well with the Nationalist government providing significant cash flow to the government.[24]


The decade came to an end with the Second Sino-Japanese War. Being located near the coast, it was vulnerable so the capital was moved to Chongqing for the duration of the war. While the transfer of the capital marked its political end, the symbolic end[according to whom?] was the Nanjing Massacre (the Rape of Nanjing) when up to 300,000 inhabitants died during the Japanese occupation.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Maddison, A. (1998). Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run. Paris: OECD Development Centre.
  2. ^ Xu, Aymeric (2020). "Mapping Conservatism of the Republican Era: Genesis and Typologies". Journal of Chinese History 中國歷史學刊. 4 (1): 135–159. doi:10.1017/jch.2019.35. ISSN 2059-1632. S2CID 213926138.
  3. ^ Tsui, Brian (2018-04-19). China's Conservative Revolution: The Quest for a New Order, 1927–1949. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-16923-3.
  4. ^ Tsui, Brian Kai Hin (2013). China's Forgotten Revolution: Radical Conservatism in Action, 1927-1949 (Thesis). ProQuest 1271956595.
  5. ^ "中科院院士丁衡高与妻子聂力中将简介" [Introduction to the Chinese Academy of Sciences scholar Ding Henggao and his wife Middle General Nie Li]. Meili de Shenhua (in Chinese). 10 April 2008. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  6. ^ Lawrance, Alan (2004). China Since 1919: Revolution and Reform : a Sourcebook. Psychology Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-415-25142-6.
  7. ^[bare URL PDF]
  8. ^[bare URL PDF]
  9. ^ "禁纏足、興女學:南京國民政府在興女權上做出巨大努力 - 雪花新闻".
  10. ^ "Gender Quotas in Taiwan : Chang-Ling Huang (National Taiwan University)" (PDF). Retrieved 2022-07-23.
  11. ^ "从合礼到非法:纳妾制度在中国是如何被废除的?". 2020-06-29. Retrieved 2022-07-21.
  12. ^ "南京国民政府时期的教育". (in Chinese). 2012-09-12. Retrieved 2022-07-23.
  13. ^ "抗戰前推動「普及教育案」的背景與實際作為 - 大中華民國". Retrieved 2022-07-23.
  14. ^ Chen, Sherong (2002). 浅析1928-1930年西北大旱灾的特点及影响 [An Elementary Study about the Characteristics and the Effect of the Great Drought in Northwest China from 1928 to 1930]. Gùyuán Shīzhuān Xuébào 固原师专学报 [Journal of Guyuan Teachers College] (in Chinese). 23 (1). Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  15. ^ Li, Lillian M. (2007). Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market, and Environmental Decline, 1690s–1990s (PDF). Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 303–307. In Gansu the estimated mortality was 2.5 to 3 million [...] In Shaanxi, out of a population of 13 million, an estimated 3 million died of hunger or disease
  16. ^ Kelly, Luke. "Sichuan famine, 1936-37". Disaster History. Retrieved 2021-11-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Garnaut, Anthony (November 2013). "A Quantitative Description of the Henan Famine of 1942". Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press. 47 (6): 2034, 2044. doi:10.1017/S0026749X13000103. ISSN 1469-8099. S2CID 146274415. A detailed survey organized by the Nationalist government in 1943 of the impact of the famine came up with a toll of 1,484,983, broken down by county. The official population registers of Henan show a net decline in population from 1942 to 1943 of one million people, or 3 per cent of the population. If we assume that the natural rate of increase in the population before the famine was 2 per cent, [...] Comparison with the diminution in the size of age cohorts born during the famine years suggests that the official Nationalist figure includes population loss through excess mortality and declined fertility migration, which leaves a famine death toll of well under 1 million.
  18. ^ a b The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  19. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  20. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  22. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  24. ^ The Cambridge history of China. Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. 1978. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. OCLC 2424772.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Peter Zarrow. China in War and Revolution, 1895–1949. Includes Chapter 13: "The Nanjing decade, 1928–1937: The Guomindang era" (pp. 248–270). Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-36448-5.