Confucian Fascism

Chiang Kai Shek’s ideology while in power between 1928-49 has been described as Confucian fascism, in that it borrowed Confucian ideals in order to create a controlled, conservative society ruled by fear. Although nominally Chiang’s ideology continued to be rooted in the Three People’s Principles (with Chiang using implementing these Principles as his rallying cry for the Northern Expedition), Chiang’s actions moved further and further away from Sun’s notions of Western democracy, national unity and reforms such as land equalization.

In March 1929 a Party Congress whose delegates were selected by Chiang himself decreed that the KMT should practice ‘political tutelage’ on behalf of the people until the end of 1935, meaning that no elections would be held. The regime also turned to fascist tactics, with Chiang declaring that ‘Fascism is now what China most needs’ in 1935. A secret police of sorts was established, whose 14,000 members swore an oath to advance Chiang’s supreme leadership by any means including violence. Between 1927 and 1937, 24,000 Communists and 155,000 left-wing sympathisers were arrested and ‘reformed’ (subjected to hard labour or torture).

Chiang’s government also attempted to repress criticism and revolutionary sentiment by placing strict controls on creative production. Between 1929 and 1935, 458 literary works were banned for slandering authorities, encouraging the class struggle or constituting ‘proletarian literature’. Intellectuals were further repelled by the introduction of Chiang’s ‘New Life Movement’ on 19 February 1934. This campaigned aimed to ‘create a citizenry that was self-aware, politically conscious, and committed to the nation’, attempting to instil social decency, right conduct and self-respect. Soong Meiling described it as ‘a direct attempt to complete with the Chinese platform of economic and social reform, substituting a retreat to Confucius for an advance to Marx.’ 96 rules that were to govern all conduct were introduced, based on Confucian values such as filial piety. Many of these were seen as arbitrary and beside the point in a time of national crisis, such as the ban on women walking male dogs in the streets or stipulation on the length of skirts. Resentment towards the Movement was deepened by the fact that many of the KMT’s officials glaringly ignored it, enjoying wine, women and gambling, and even Chiang’s wife smoking a pipe despite one of the rules prohibiting the act. This sentiment was echoed in the North China Daily News, which observed that ‘the New Life Movement would have its best chance of success if it could begin at home’.