Sunday, February 17, 2008

Arming the Chinese: The Western Armaments Trade in Warlord Chinese, 1920-1928

Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1982

The warlord era, 1916 to 1928, laid the foundation for processes that transformed China from a feudalistic to a revolutionary state. The extent of the warlords' power machinations conditioned the May 4th movement, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and the working class movement, and the beginning of the Goumindang years. Arming the Chinese is the first full length work to deal with the most fundamental problem facing all worlords - the acquisition of arms and the tooks of war necessary to maintain political and military power.

Chan sees the armaments issue as the essential link connecting international and military approaches to this period of Chinese history. Issues behind the warlord drive for national unification from 1917 to 1919 and the military state of Europe following the end of World War I provided the background.

The surplus of arms at the end of the war forced Western nations to seek new markets. They found willing buyers in South America, the Middle East, and warlord China. Free-booters, soldiers, mercenaries, entrepeneurs, diplomats and other government officials from Europe, Soviet Russia, and the United States participated in the armaments trade with warlords.

Because domestic sources could not meet the needs of the warlords, they became militarily dependent on the West not only as a source of weapons but also for the supply of machinery and equipment needed to upgrade the Chinese arsenal. The West also provided military experts and mercenaries, among them the White Russians.

Chan points out that despite the Arms embargo of 1919, Western arms were always available. Issues of morality, ethics, or ideologies played a minimal role. Perceiving the trade as straightforward business transactions, the armaments merchants regarded the political colour of a warlord as inconsquential. By exploring the ramifications of the warlords' dependence on the West, Chan shows that the question of warlords as "running dogs" of foreign powers can now be evaluated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the book, I'm at Cambridge and working on a thesis on the Arms Embargo, but looking at it from the perspective of Canton and Sun Yat-Sen instead. The FO Intelligence files in the PRO in London offer the best insight into the ability of warlords to arm themselves I think...