Xian Incident leads to a united anti-Japanese front
After he signed the Tanggu Truce agreement, Chiang Kai-shek wrote “wo xin chang dan” in Chinese or “gashinshotan” in Japanese (perseverance for the sake of vengeance) in his diary. He was trying to avoid confronting Japan as much as possible and instead concentrated on search-and-destroy operations against the Chinese Communist Party. Concerning Chiang Kai-shek’s tactic of not resisting Japan, Xu Yong, professor at the Department of History at Peking University, said: “At first, Chiang Kai-shek was thinking that, through negotiations, Japanese troops would leave northeastern China after occupying the area for a certain period. Moreover, as China’s military power was not sufficient to confront Japan, he hoped that the matter would be solved through the intervention of the international community.”
However, the Japanese Army advanced into northern China. According to the chief of the World Military History Department at the Chinese Academy of Military Science, He Xincheng, the Japanese side mistakenly dismissed “Chiang Kai-shek as just another warlord.” Japan’s hard-line policy and military operations finally forced Chiang Kai-shek to move against Japan.
When did Chiang Kai-shek decide to confront Japan?
Professor Xu Yong said that Chiang Kai-shek did so around 1935. At the Fifth Party Convention of the Kuomintang in November 1935, Chiang Kai-shek said: “We shall not talk lightly about sacrifice until we are driven to the last brink.” By using the words, “the last brink,” Professor Xu said that Chiang Kai-shek expressed his belief that northern China is an important area for Chinese civilization of which China should not be deprived.
On December 9, 1935, students demonstrated vociferously in Beijing, shouting “Down with Japanese Imperialism” and “Halt the civil war, unite in fighting against Japan.” The anti-Japanese movement spread from city to city. The Communist Party also publicized the “8/1 Declaration” in a Chinese newspaper published in Paris on August 1, 1935, urging all Chinese people to fight against Japan to save China.
In December 1936, the Xian Incident occurred, prompting Chiang Kai-shek to confront Japan militarily.
The Northeastern Army, commanded by Chang Hsueh-liang (Zhang Xueliang) and the Northwestern Army, led by Yang Hu-cheng (Yang Hucheng) arrested Chiang Kai-shek, who came to Xian and demanded an end to the civil war to create a unified front against Japan. Chang did not trust Chiang Kai-shek, who put more effort into attacking the Communist Party than to resisting Japan. In mid-1936, the Communist Party’s policy changed drastically from “anti-Chiang Kai-shek and anti-Japan” to urging Chiang Kai-shek to confront Japan.
Chiang Kai-shek met Chang and Communist Party leader Zhou Enlai and accepted Chang’s demand to form a united front against Japan. About two weeks later, Chiang Kai-shek returned safely to Nanjing. The break-up of the Nationalist government was avoided and the Chinese people’s support for Chiang Kai-shek gained momentum. The Xian Incident was a high-water mark for China’s nationalism.
In contrast, Japan’s response was slow. As Bu Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out: “Japan regarded China’s Communist Party as just one of the powers in China. Japan dispatched [military] advisers to almost all warlords in China but no one was assigned to the Communist Party.” Wang Jianlang, vice director of the same institute, said: “Among the people also, a clear concept about sovereignty and independence had gradually become prevalent because of the National Revolution.”
Obsessed with traditional ways of Chinese thinking based on military cliques, no Japanese leaders in the central command of the Imperial Japanese Army and Japanese forces in China understood the mighty swell of Chinese nationalism.