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Tales of Macao
(1840-1949)

(7) The Policy of First Internal Pacification, Then External Resistance and the December 9th Movement

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Japan’s successful invasion of Northeast and North China was not only attributed to its long-premeditated plan and strong military strength, but also related to the Nationalist Government’s Non-Resistance Policy or its choice of waiting for mediation by other powers. The root cause of “non-resistance” came from the idea in the policy of “first internal pacification, then external resistance”. As early as 23 July 1931, on the eve of the September 18th Incident, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) accented in his A Letter to All Compatriots of the Whole Nation on First Internal Pacification, Then External Resistance in July 1931 to “first annihilate the bandits, then the Japanese; first internal pacification, then external resistance. After internal stability is secured when the Communists are eradicated, then we can start our resistance towards Japanese invasion.” At that time, “internal pacification” mainly referred to the suppression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨). As the Government of the Kuomintang of China (KMT, 中國國民黨) was busy encircling and exterminating the CCP’s rural base areas from south to north, it continuously maintained an attitude of compromise, tolerance or concession towards Japanese aggression.

However, the KMT’s choice of putting the suppression of the Communists before resisting Japanese aggression upset the whole nation who called for an end to the civil war and the launch of united resistance against Japan. One of the campaigns that best represented this strong feeling was the December 9th Movement. The Japanese invasion of North China aroused indignation nationwide. On 9 December 1935, under the planning and leadership of the CCP, thousands of college and secondary school students in Beiping (北平) staged anti-Japanese patriotic demonstrations to express their opposition against the North China Autonomy Movement and to defend the territorial integrity of China. Despite obstruction, suppression, and arrests by the military police, the students persisted in their struggle. For example, on 12 December, students in Beiping held their fifth demonstration, chanting slogans like “Assisting in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Suiyuan (綏遠)”; and on 16 December, more than 10,000 students and civilians in Beiping went out to demonstrate once again. Afterwards, students from North China formed publicity groups to reach out to the people in the south to promote the ideas of resisting Japan and saving China, which led to further demonstrations in Hangzhou (杭州), Guangzhou (廣州), Wuhan (武漢), Nanjing (南京), Shanghai (上海), and other cities. The country’s anti-Japanese public opinions and sentiments climaxed when the “Seven Gentlemen” including Shen Junru (沈鈞儒) who advocated resistance against Japanese aggression were arrested in November 1936.

Since the foundation of the Republic of China, the Nationalist Government repeatedly mentioned the idea of “first internal pacification, then external resistance”. Was Chiang Kai-shek the first person to advocate this strategy?

See answer below.

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A precept written by Chiang Kai-shek on 4 March 1932, saying “We must suppress domestic insurgency before resisting outside invasion”.

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Since its establishment, the Nanjing (南京) Nationalist Government faced challenges from new warlords and the CCP internally, and Japanese aggression externally. Chiang Kai-shek insisted that the Government should stabilise the domestic situation first by force and in particular eliminate the Communists before resisting Japan. Prior to domestic stability, the Government should swallow its pride and to compromise to avoid war with Japan. This policy was called “first internal pacification, then external resistance”. As Japan’s invasion of China intensified, the Chinese people’s opposition to this policy grew.

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With the fall of Northeast China after the September 18th Incident, the whole nation’s anti-Japanese sentiments were fuelled. In December 1932, students in Shanghai (上海), Nanjing, and Qingdao (青島) held anti-Japanese petitions and demonstrations. Chiang Kai-shek (the man in black shirt) had to meet them at the auditorium of the Central Military Academy.

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On 9 December 1935, the CCP organised thousands of students in Beiping to initiate anti-Japanese patriotic demonstrations and chant slogans like “Ending the Civil War and Launching United Resistance Against Japan”. This campaign was known as the December 9th Movement.

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During the December 9th Movement, students were suppressed by the military police.

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Instead of yielding to the pressure of the Government, the students who participated in the December 9th Movement tried to expand it. The photo shows a student publicity group promoting the idea of resisting Japanese aggression to the public.

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Local students petitioning the Nationalist Government after the December 9th Movement spread to Nanjing, the capital of the Republican Government.

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Local students petitioning the competent authority after the December 9th Movement spread to Shanghai, China’s largest industrial and commercial city.

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                Local students launching demonstrations after the December 9th Movement spread to Wuhan (武漢), a large city in Central China.

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              Local students launching demonstrations after the December 9th Movement spread to Guangzhou (廣州), a large city in South China.

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The public opinions on resisting Japanese aggression climaxed when the Seven Gentlemen were arrested in 1936. This is a group photo of the Seven Gentlemen from the National Salvation Association before leaving prison on 31 July 1937. From the left: Wang Zaoshi (王造時), Shi Liang (史良), Zhang Naiqi (章乃器), Shen Junru, Sha Qianli (沙千里), Li Gongpu (李公樸), and Zou Taofen (鄒韜奮).

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On 31 May 1936, the National Salvation Association was established in Shanghai to advocate resisting Japan and saving China. On 23 November 1936, the seven leaders of the Association - Wang Zaoshi, Shi Liang, Zhang Naiqi, Shen Junru, Sha Qianli, Li Gongpu, and Zou Taofen, known as the “Seven Gentlemen” - were arrested by the competent authority. After the July 7th Incident, the Seven Gentlemen were released from prison when China embarked on the Total War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The December 9th Movement and the Seven Gentlemen Incident put the Nationalist Government’s policy of “first internal pacification, then external resistance” under greater pressure.

Since the foundation of the Republic of China, the Nationalist Government repeatedly mentioned the idea of “first internal pacification, then external resistance”. Was Chiang Kai-shek the first person to advocate this strategy?

After the Northern Expedition (北伐), the Nationalist Government insisted on the policy of “first internal pacification, then external resistance” facing the challenges from the CCP and emerging local warlords. On 23 July 1931, Chiang Kai-shek issued A Letter to All Compatriots of the Whole Nation on First Internal Pacification, Then External Resistance in July 1931 to rally the whole country to “first internal pacification, then external resistance”. On 30 November of the same year, while appointing Gu Weijun (顧維鈞) as acting foreign minister, Chiang said in his precept, “Before expelling foreign invaders, we must first suppress domestic rebellions, and only by national unification can we resist outside invasion.” On 14 December 1932, in his speech Clarifying Internal Affairs and Rectifying Bureaucratic Disciplines, Chiang said, “If internal stability cannot be achieved, we will fail to resist outside invasion, and we may even offer an opening for foreign invasion.” In July 1934, he stressed in his speech Resisting Foreign Insult and Rejuvenating the Nation to the officers training corps in Lushan (廬山) that “Suppressing domestic insurgency is the only prerequisite and necessary preparation for resisting foreign invasion. The only way to resist foreign invasion, save the country and revive the nation at the moment is to seek peace, stability, unification and concentration at home first.” Nevertheless, the phrase “first internal pacification, then external resistance” was not invented by Chiang, but had its own far-reaching historical origins.

Throughout Chinese history, when faced with internal and external difficulties and major ruling crises, rulers in different dynasties often prioritised domestic stability to cope with the crises and maintain their rule. During the Eastern Zhou dynasty (東周), Guan Zhong (管仲) proposed the slogan “Revering the Emperor and Expelling the Barbarians” for Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公), the first hegemon of the Spring and Autumn Period. It meant Duke Huan of Qi should revere the King of Zhou to settle down internal disputes before driving off external barbarians. During the reign of Emperor Jing (景帝) of the Western Han dynasty (西漢), Chao Cuo (晁錯) strongly advocated the reduction of the feudatories, arguing that “internal stability should be secured before expelling the barbarians”. In the early Northern Song dynasty (北宋), Zhao Pu (趙普) made it clear in a memorial to Emperor Taizong of Song (宋太宗), “When the Central State is at peace, the barbarians will voluntarily surrender themselves to us. Therefore, if we want to expel outside invaders, we must first realise internal stability.” In the Southern Song dynasty (南宋), Yue Fei (岳飛) also wrote in a memorial to Emperor Gaozong of Song (宋高宗) that “If the internal enemies cannot be eradicated, how can we repel the outside invaders?” In the 6th year of the Hongwu (洪武) reign in the Ming dynasty (明朝), Emperor Taizu (太祖) guided the Ministry of War officials, “Those who want to expel the outside invaders must first secure internal stability, and those who want to train their troops must first safeguard their people.” In a memorial, the Ming official Yu Qian (于謙) stated that “Strengthening the army should be based on having sufficient food, and realising internal stability should be put before expelling the outside invaders.” All these exemplify the strategy of “first internal pacification, then external resistance” is not uncommon in Chinese history.

Sources of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe.

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