Tag Archives: Chiang Kai-shek

On Fertile Soil

A Chinese man under Soviet influence is shown spreading seeds onto Chinese soil, symbolizing the fertility of Russian Bolshevism in China as a result of chaos, famine, and rebellion facilitating the process.

The political cartoon On Fertile Soil by John Knott illustrates the vulnerability of China to Russian Bolshevism as a result of continuous unrest, devastating famines, and frequent uprisings during the 1930s of the country. The cartoon published in the Dallas Morning News on May 5th, 1931 depicts “Chaos”, “Famine”, and “Rebellion” as China’s soil that helped plant the seeds of “Bolshevism”, hence the title On Fertile Soil. Additionally, the man holding the bowl of seeds and spreading them onto the soil represents a Chinese man that has been “Sovietized” by Russian influences (Dallas Morning News). According to the Dallas Morning News editorial accompanying the cartoon, China’s Fifth of May, the Chinese Nationalist Party sought to reorganize China’s government and stabilize the country before organized oppositions with relations to Soviet Russia are able to induce a period of “rebellion and discord” which, in combination with China’s famine and financial depression during the time, would allow Russian propaganda an advantage in reaching its goal of “Sovietizing” China. Furthermore, the Nanking Government in China acknowledged the presence of “major foreign powers”, such as Japan, Great Britain, and the United States, and their “extraterritorial privileges” as a potential threat to the nation (Dallas Morning News).  Japan aggression, especially in 1931, led to the Chinese seeking aid from the U.S. since Japan was a mutual enemy (Phillips). The U.S. supplied China the aid the nation needed; however, the U.S.’s first priority was defeating Germany and as the Nationalist Party became more concerned with “eradicating” the Chinese Communist Party that rose instead of “confronting the Japanese occupation”,  the U.S. assistance to the Nationalists would decrease and eventually die out when the Nationalists are defeated by the Communists (Phillips). President of the Nationalist Party, Chiang Kai-shek, strongly opposed communism and desired to force Soviets and other Communist troops out of China, which in turn led to the protracted conflicts between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik).

Unrest in China during this time resulted from the mixture of foreign invasion from Japan, political instability, and economical depression, along with the other two issues depicted in Knott’s cartoon, famine and rebellion. With the Nationalist Party weakness being the north, Japan was able to invade Manchuria without being contested, leading to the beginning of World War II in China in 1931 (Calkins). Due to Japan pushing to conquer Chinese territories, the people of China would have to deal with the immense pressure of war in China, resulting in more chaos in the country. As Herbert Gibbons stated in his editorial Unrest In China And Its Meaning For Other Nation, Bolshevist propagandists held the benefit of gaining the Chinese citizens’ trusts by acting as the cure for the “economic ills” and stability of China during its time of anarchy and discord. The Chinese man wearing the Soviet cap in Knott’s cartoon symbolizes this idea of Soviet influence and communism being dispersed in China, foreshadowing the creation of the Chinese Soviet Republic in late 1931. However, with President Chiang leading the Nationalist Party, communists were ”killed or driven to exile” to combat the “Moscow Propaganda”, but even then the idea of communism would still exist even after this forceful tactic in the form of the Chinese Communist Party (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik & Gibbons).

Famine was a major recurring theme in the nineteenth and twentieth century of China (Pong). The diseases that occurred around the date of publication of Knott’s cartoon were ones that were the result of natural disasters, such as the flooding of the Yangzi River in 1931, leading to an outbreak of diseases and the destruction of several fields and homes in China (Pong). As a result, the people of China had to deal with widespread epidemics and destitution from the lack of food and financial instability due to the loss of crops and property. Another cause of famine was population growth in China because population was seen as a “major burden” to “agricultural economy and the natural environment” when population “outstrips the ability of land to produce food” (Pong). The calamitous effects of famine led to fear and agitation in China, allowing Bolsheviks to take advantage of their adversity and plant their “seed” on China’s soil, as depicted in Knott’s cartoon.

Since China’s government has been unstable until 1949 when the People’s Republic of China formed from the Chinese Communist Party, there was a great deal of conflicts between the Nationalist Party and the Communist party beforehand. In fact, a Chinese Civil War erupted between the two parties from 1927 to 1949 and China’s government became “lost” in this era (Miller). The war began after Chiang of the Nationalist Party was “no longer willing to work with Communists because he did not trust the Soviet influence [the Communist Party] heeded”, leading to him severing the “informal alliance” with the Communist Party in 1925 (Miller). As a result, the Communists attempted to overthrow the Nationalist government, yet failed, which in turn led to the Nationalists counterattacking, causing the civil war and several conflicts thereon after (Miller). Since Soviet influence is still pouring into China during this time, more and more Chinese citizens would favor Bolshevism. As mentioned before, the Chinese Soviet Republic was formed in 1931, in the middle of this civil war. Along with leading the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong was the Central Executive Committee of this republic as well; however, he would soon have to abandon this republic as a result of its decline in 1934 (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik). He would continue leading the Communist Party, which would brutally defeat the Nationalist Party while they were cut off their food supply, leading to the Nationalists surrendering to the Communists, ending the war, and the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

As Mao Zedong led the Chinese Communist Party to victory in the civil war and established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, initiating the Chinese Communist Revolution and proving to be true that communist took over China after all (Calkins). Following this establishment, China and Russia signed a “treaty of friendship and alliance” and China would follow the “Soviet development model” for the next decade, developing the Sino-Soviet Alliance in the 1950s (Hyer).  Several Russian advisers were sent to China in order to train Chinese students and some students were also sent to study in the Soviet Union in order to spread Bolshevism (Hyer). However, China eventually grew resentment of “Soviet domination, ideological differences between the two countries, and boundary disputes” which resulted in the Sino-Soviet split in 1960, and a border war in 1969 (Hyer).  The Soviet Union indeed played a large role in spreading communism in China, but Mao Zedong eventually branched off of Bolshevism ideology and incorporated his own view of communism in China with the People’s Republic of China.

The political cartoon On Fertile Soil by John Knott in 1931 acted as a warning to China during its instability and vulnerability to Bolshevik influence. It foreshadowed that communism would come to rise and take over the Nationalist government due to the presence of Soviets in China, spreading their ideology while China was lost in the middle of chaos, famine, and rebellion. Soviet influence was deemed as successful as Mao Zedong sought to learn from the Soviet Union and dispersed communism in China. Even though the Sino-Soviet Alliance experienced a split in the 1960s, Knott was able to foreshadow the course of China and the presence of the Soviet Union in the country in the next 30 years with his political cartoon.

Calkins, Laura M. “Chinese Revolutions.” Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, edited by Thomas Benjamin, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 221-224. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

“China’s Fifth of May.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 5 May 1931, sec. 1: 16. Print.

“Famine Since 1800.” Encyclopedia of Modern China, edited by David Pong, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2009, pp. 14-19. Gale Virtual Reference Library. 

Gibbons, Herbert A. “UNREST IN CHINA AND ITS MEANING FOR OTHER NATIONS.” New York Times (1923-Current file)Jan 31, New York, N.Y., 1932.

Hyer, Eric. “China–Russia Relations.” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, edited by Karen Christensen and David Levinson, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002, pp. 15-21. Gale Virtual Reference Library. 

Knott, John. “On Fertile Soil.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 5 May 1931, sec. 1: 16. Print.

Miller, Esmorie. “Chinese Civil War (1927–1949).” Encyclopedia of Prisoners of War and Internment, edited by Jonathan F. Vance, 2nd ed., Grey House Publishing, 2006, pp. 74-77. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Phillips, Steven. “China–United States Relations.” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, edited by Karen Christensen and David Levinson, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002, pp. 23-28. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Susanne. “CCP-Controlled Areas.” Brill’s Encyclopedia of China, edited by Daniel Leese, Brill, 2009, pp. 92-94. Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section Four: China Vol. 20. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

The Waking Giant

The Waking Giant
A giant is lying in slumber, while a man, who is smaller in comparison, is standing in wait of battle. John Knott illustrated the lack of unification of China and the conquest by Japan during the Battle of Shanghai

The Waking Giant

John  F. Knott – February 10, 1932

The political cartoon The Waking Giant, created by John Knott and published in the Dallas Morning News on February 10, 1932, depicts a giant lying in slumber and a man, who is smaller in comparison, standing in wait of battle. The man wears a hat with the word “JAPAN” written across it. He is holding a sword upon which the words, “MOVE TO CUT UP CHINA” are written, symbolizing Japan’s efforts to break up China into sections of conquest (Knott). The cartoon conveys the lack of unification of China and imperial conquest by Japan during the Battle of Shanghai in 1932.

This era in global history was littered with tension between colonizing nations. The French Empire, Spanish Empire, British Empire, and other western nations were colonizing large swaths of the world. Among the nations seeking to expand their territory was Japan. In the early 1930’s, Japan, a heavy industrialized nation, was in financial distress and looked towards neighboring China for the necessary natural resources to keep Japan’s national economy afloat (“Japan Invades Manchuria 1931”). The giant, which represents China in Knott’s political cartoon, is wearing traditional Chinese clothing, tangzhuang, while the Japanese soldier is in more modern military attire. The difference between traditional and modern clothing is used to emphasize China’s lack of technological and industrial progress compared to Japan and also to suggest that if engaged in war, China would face an unfavorable battle with Japan.

Perhaps the most critical question that comes to mind is: Why did Knott, or anyone in America in the early 1930s, care about what happened to China? During this era of colonization, America stood by the idea that every nation should cease to expand their territory any further. America also had a political and diplomatic investment in China through Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang Kai-shek was the nationalist political and military leader at the time. He had support from many American political leaders and citizens (Whitman). Chiang Kai-shek started to lead unification of politically disarrayed China and opposed the colonization of China by Japan  (“Chiang Kai-shek: Internal and External Conflict In China”).

Similar to the Japanese soldier ready to strike before the giant fully awoke from his slumber in Knott’s political cartoon, Japan needed to find an excuse to act against China and gain their natural resource-filled territories. Japan found its self-justification to take up arms when the Chinese military “violated” Japan’s established boundaries within which the Chinese military was allowed to operate in Shanghai. In response, Japan sent a naval fleet to Shanghai. On January 28, 1932, Japan started bombarding the city, and fighting between the Chinese and Japanese military ensued with no end in sight (Chen).

Also appearing in the Dallas Morning News along with Knott’s political cartoon was the editorial A Stubborn Defense, which conveyed how the Chinese military was desperately attempting to face off against a nation with greater military might. The article depicted China as a tenacious nation that was willing to defend what was rightfully theirs until the end. The article also stated that, even though military forces were continuing to advance in Manchuria, the Japanese public was not completely invested in the cause of war. The editorial argued that if such a tenacious defense continued, the situation might lead to withdrawal of armed forces due to disapproval on the part of the Japanese public (Dallas Morning News Section 2 Page 4).

The fighting did on stop, however, until almost three months later, when the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement was signed. In contrast to the hopes of the editorial, the result was not in China’s favor. Shanghai and the surrounding cities ended up under the control of Japan (Chen). The relationship between Japan and China after the battle remained tense and eventually gave away to the Second Sino-Japanese War. As for America, their political and diplomatic investment fell through when a civil war erupted in China between the nationalist party Kuo Min Tang and the Communist forces led by Mao Tse Tung. After the Communist Party took power, Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan (“Chiang Kai-shek: Internal and External Conflict In China”). America continued to support Chiang Kai-shek and also engraved its influence on defeated Japan after World War II (“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty”).

This historical incident holds relevance even today. Similar to the previous tensions surrounding Japan’s colonization of China, recently China has been in dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea. Juxtaposed to when America supported China under Chiang Kai-Shek, the U.S. now has a strong political and diplomatic investment in Japan. In keeping with formal U.S. treaty obligations negotiated after the Second World War, President Barack Obama has announced that America will support Japan with military power if tensions over the disputed islands were to turn violent (“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties”). The constant change is diplomatic alliances conveys the fact that, among other things, each nation is looking out for its own self-interest. This is neither a selfishly evil or a morally righteous act, but rather is something that everyone should be aware of as the world’s balance of power(s) continues to shift.

Works Cited

“A Stubborn Defense” Dallas Morning News 10 Feb. 1932: Section 2 Page 4. Print.

“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.” Asia for Educators. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Budge, Kent G. “Shanghai.” The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia:. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Chen, Peter. “First Battle of Shanghai.” WW2DB RSS. Lava Development, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“Chiang Kai-shek.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Japan Invades Manchuria 1931 – Inter-war Period: Causes of WWII.” Japan Invades Manchuria 1931 – Inter-war Period: Causes of WWII. Weebly.com, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Knott, John. “The Waking Giant” Dallas Morning News 10 Feb. 1932: Section 2 Page 4. Print.

“The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine.” The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine – 1921–1936 – Milestones – Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Whitman, Alden. “The Life of Chiang Kai-shek: A Leader Who Was Thrust Aside by Revolution.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 6 Apr. 1975. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.