- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1962)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804700745
- ISBN-13: 978-0804700740
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945 1st Edition
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Johnson gives several reasons why it was the Communist Party that benefited from social mobilization. He contends that the Japanese overextend their forces- taking large swaths of land that they could not occupy effectively. This initial drive pushed out Nationalist troops and civilian authorities- leaving behind a power vacuum. Because the Communist guerilla forces were more mobile they were able to enter these chaotic regions and provide organization and guidance for the peasantry. Additionally, Johnson argues that the Japanese identified the Communists as the primary enemy while the Kuomintang was courted as potential friends. This strengthened Communist claims that the Kuomintang were "collaborators", and increased Communist Party legitimacy in the eyes of many peasants. Finally, Johnson sites the brutality of Japanese soldiers toward Chinese peasants as a crucial factor in social mobilization. The Japanese repeatedly launched "mopping up" campaigns intended to find and kill Communists, but because they had no means to definitively identify Communists they arbitrarily murdered countless peasants. Naturally, the Chinese peasants utilized the Communist Party for aid and organization, further legitimizing their claims to authority and power.
Chalmers Johnson does set up a plausible scenario. Unfortunately he does not provide adequate support for his claims- making his argument less compelling than it could be. Firstly, Johnson relies principally on Japanese intelligence as primary sources- a questionable decision. A more complete set of sources including those of Chinese origin (Communist and KMT) would make his theory more persuasive. Secondly, the Chinese peasants did experience chaos and violence at the hands of the Japanese, and naturally wanted to fight back, but Johnson does not adequately explain how anti-Japanese sentiment resulted in de facto Chinese nationalism- hatred for an invading power does not necessarily result in a "mass awakening". Even if we accept that anti-Japanese sentiment resulted in Chinese nationalism, his theory does not explain Party support following the war when the Japanese were no longer a threat. Johnson explains post-war support by citing the legitimacy that the Communist Party gained through equating themselves with the nation as the true defenders of China, but he does not really explain how this translated into concrete Party support. Johnson proposes a narrow theory that fails to account for the overwhelming and sustained support necessary to propel the Chinese Communist Party to power. By ignoring complex factors such as economic reforms, charismatic leadership, and effective propaganda- Johnson's theory falls short.
Johnson supports his theory with two main lines of evidence; first, he argues that the Japanese occupation was a major factor because prior to invasion (the Jiangxi Soviet of the 1920s and 30s), the Party's land reform policies and Marxist-Leninist ideology did not win enough support. Johnson explains that the Communist Party's anti-Japanese response was considered, in rural areas, to be more successful than the Kuomintang's activities. Consequently, when the Japanese were defeated, a large proportion of the rural population (particularly in former occupied areas where Japanese savagery was witnessed first-hand) supported overwhelmingly the CCP during the civil war. According to this view, the term Communist was perhaps synonymous with the word patriot; thus joining the Communists was viewed as patriotic resistance to the Japanese. Second, Johnston compared the CCP victory with another nationalist victory, in former Yugoslavia, in which the German invasion was crucial for Communist success (comparisons were made between the resistance party in that country and the strategy of the CCP).
However, Johnson's argument remains controversial, and the book must be read with this in mind. Scholars (particularly those on the left in the 1970s) have challenged several aspects of Johnson's theory and methodology, and limit the book's theoretical underpinning. In particular, it has been claimed that the book is a complete reinterpretation of events, and there is a lack of factual evidence (Johnson relies on evidence such as Japanese intelligence, rather than Chinese communist sources). Johnson has also been regarded as an "elitist" because the book lacks focus on the mass majority. For these reasons, his book is perhaps less persuasive now than it once was. Moreover, the book's sole focus on peasant nationalism seems unbalanced, and therefore not necessarily a general academic overview of the revolution. Nonetheless, a good read for those interested in the debate about the factors that fuelled the Chinese Revolution.