Posts tagged ‘trains’

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Train No. K-904: a Spring Festival Carol

A China National Radio (中国广播网, CNR) story, but in JR‘s own words).

Main Link:

The train in question left from Xiamen (Fujian Province), with the destination of Taiyuan (Shanxi Province). And when a girl named Zhang Yaya (张娅娅), a Hubei Normal University student on her way home to Jincheng, southeastern Shanxi Province, suddenly didn’t find her suitcase anymore, a suitcase with a notebook and lots of relevant academic papers in it. A young man had left the train earlier and in a haste, other passengers said, and had apparently mistaken her suitcase for his own, as the two pieces of luggage looked very similar to each other. With help from other passengers, who had seen the young man leave the train, and a People’s Policeman’s cumbersome travels of four days and three nights through three provinces (Shanxi, Henan, and Hubei), the two suitcases were restored to their actual owners, who felt unspeakable relief (感叹“不可思议”), and felt the warmth of travelling home all the more (更是感受到了回家路上的温暖).

To address the reservations an insignificant minority of mean-hearted readers might have about this story, People’s Police inspector Li Hao (李浩) informs us that the young man’s suitcase contained some good stuff, too, and that if he had meant to steal Ms Zhang’s suitcase, he’d have placed an empty suitcase next to hers. The left suitcase’s contents also helped the police to find its owner, in Shiyan (十堰市), Hubei Province.

All the lucky travellers knew was that the policeman’s surname was Li, because he had only said that he was from the People’s Police, and that his family name was Li.

Fortunately, the press took care of the missing information, i. e. Mr. Li’s given name, Li Hao). Young people can be so careless these days (just JR’s personal opinion).



» Dragon (Zodiac), Wikipedia (as of Jan 19, 2012)
» Everything they possess, ChinaHush, Jan 12, 2012
» In Praise of the Times and the People, Nov 14, 2011


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Did Imported Components lead to Wenzhou Train Crash?

Chinese media speculated early on – before all unauthorized coverage  was banned by the propaganda department – that the  7.23 Wenzhou bullet train collision was possibly caused by the signal system. A Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article on Monday seems to point into the same direction, and says that China used foreign technology in its bullet-train signal systems which local engineers couldn’t fully understand, according to a review of corporate documents and interviews with more than a dozen rail executives inside and outside China.

However, the authors add that the precise cause of the crash remained uncertain, and that the signaling assembly hadn’t necessarily played a role.

Ask that Black Box behind me

"Ask that Black Box behind me" (click photo)

The WSJ authors mention both the Chinese supplier, and the inclusion of Hitachi technology which had been supplied as a “black box” by the Japanese company, for fear that it could be reverse-engineered in China otherwise. The Chinese manufacturer and the railway ministry reportedly didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Friday, August 5, 2011

People’s Daily: So Many Innocent People

In Western countries, journalists are sometimes confused about the role of their moral code when it collides with their duties. The contradictions have become even more apparent with the development of technology. The greedy Western media, whose social responsibility has gradually vanished thanks to the connivance of so-called freedom of information, is simply not superior at all given it has infringed on the privacy of so many innocent people.

Ding Gang, People’s Daily / Global Times, August 3, 2011



» Wenzhou Censorship, “a Wide-Spread Sense of Depression”, July 31, 2011


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hong Kong Journalists Association criticizes alleged Wenzhou Coverage Restrictions

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has urged mainland authorities to stop interfering in media coverage of last week’s fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou. Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said some mainland journalists have told her of directives issued to them by the government, restricting their reports to the accounts given by the state-run Xinhua news agency. Several newspapers on the mainland were also forced to pull planned lead stories about the tragedy. Ms Mak said China’s curb on press freedoms is not acceptable.

RTHK News, July 30, 2011

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has criticized the central propaganda department for issuing restrictions on coverage of the Wenzhou rear-end railway accident, and demanded the withdrawal [of the restrictions].

Before, widespread internet news had said that the central propaganda department had issued the third restriction since the accident occured, obliging more than 100 publications of Saturday (July 30) to withdraw or rivise their coverage overnight.


The HKJA said that according to its understanding, the central propaganda department had decreed that media in all regions, including their subsidiaries’ publications and websites, should rapidly lower the temperature (迅速降温) of their coverage concerning the accident.

BBC Chinese Website, July 30, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

“Unusual Criticism”, and People’s Daily’s Take on the Wenzhou Bullet Train Crash

People’s Daily Online (人民网), on Tuesday, published an article about the train crash on a viaduct near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on July 23, where a CRH2 bullet train (also referred to as D301 train) rear-ended a CRH1-046B (also referred to as D3115) train which had been halted there by loss of power, attributed to a lightning strike.

Main Link:
Links within the following blockquotes were inserted during translation, and aren’t part of the original.

39 people died, and about 200 got injured – rear-end collision! This happens more commonly in car-driving accidents, but it can even happen to technologically advanced trains. How exactly did the particularly serious accident happen? People sincerely hope that the causes of the accident can be identified soon, so that lessons can be learned.

Why did the train control system fail?

The train control system measures the speed, the train’s location between the points of departure and arrival, and automatically prevents rear-end collisions, and collisions. Why didn’t it perform its functions in this accident?

The article then explains in more detail how the train control system is expected to work, and continues:

But this advanced control system failed in this accident. “I’m puzzled about this rear-end accident!”, said 40-year-old D301 train passenger Li Yanting (李研婷)1). She and four others had gotten onto the train in Tianjin on July 23, at perhaps 8.10 h, to tour Yandangshan Mountain. It was rainy during the trip, the train went smoothly, but with a lot of stop and go (时常走走停停). The D301 train isn’t scheduled to stop at Yongjia Railway Station, but theirs stopped there anyway, for several minutes.

At about 20.24, having gotten the departure signal, the train moved on again, now at a clearly faster speed. At that moment, the D3115 train was travelling not far ahead, and its speed was clearly slower than the D301’s. The distance between them kept narrowing, but nobody – neither the passengers, nor the driver(s), and not even the background control and signal center – noticed that.

It had been reported that the control system’s failure, too, had been caused by a  lightning strike, writes People’s Daily. But if so, did that mean that every train would need to be stopped in case of a lightning storm?

The article then quotes ministry of railways spokesman Wang Yongping (王勇平) as saying that “under normal circumstances, this kind of rear-end shouldn’t happen, but it just did happen” (按照正常的情况,列车不应该发生这样的追尾,但它就是发生了……), and that the state council had arranged an accident investigation team which would conscientiously and meticulously investigate the causes of the accident, and that the ministry of railways would actively support the investigation (国务院已经组织事故调查组,将会认真地、严肃地、细致地把事故原因查清楚,铁道部会积极地配合事故调查).

Passengers are quoted as asking why train drivers wouldn’t communicate by phone, even if the signal system failed. When a train lost power, wouldn’t its driver send a dispatch to the coordination center? People were “full of doubts on these issues” (人们对这些问题充满了疑惑), writes People’s Daily. Two passengers remembered that the D3115 had left Yongjia station at a pace of some 20 km/h2), ten minutes prior to the D301 train at a pace of around 100 km/h. With correct coordination, and a departure-time difference of ten minutes between the two trains, the D301 should have had sufficient time to stop [before crashing into the D3115]. According to the reporter’s information, the ministry’s and local Shanghai coordination center were monitoring real-time, and should have issued emergency instructions from the first moment3).

The article points out that on July 25 at about 6 a.m., traffic had resumed with some seventy trains on that day. There had been public concerns about the resumption’s appropriateness, given that there was no finished report on the accident, writes People’s Daily.

The article avoids to refer to the two CRH trains as “Harmony” trains (和谐号). Referrals to that politically-charged term – harmony is a hallmark of party and state chairman Hu Jintao‘s political philosophy – don’t seem to be an absolute “No” on People’s Daily’s website, but only seem to occur on the forums.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reports that

[w]hile the Hexie name and CRH letters indicating the train was part of the high-speed railway system were visible at first, the loading shovels crushed the car to erase such labels.

The Asahi report also suggests that a hole had been digged to bury the front car of the bullet train that had rear-ended the other.

Police officials would not confirm that the train car had been buried. But a number of railway sources said it was only natural to bury anything that could not be removed from the accident site,

writes Asahi Shimbun.
Jinghua Shibao (Beijing Times), a paper affiliated with People’s Daily, had published an editorial on July 24 (prior to the above one by People’s Daily itself) which amounted to unusual criticism of the government.



1) D301 would be the CRH2 train that rear-ended the halted CRH1-046B (or D3115 ) train.
2)This seems to refer to two passengers, each of who were on the D3115 and the D301 train respectively.
3) “from the first moment would be my translation of 在第一时间.



» 铁道部发言人称2岁半女孩获救是生命奇迹, (video), July 24, 2011
» Phrasebook: xiāng tí bìng lùn, July 11, 2011
» Scientific Development and Contradictions, July 3, 2011
» Imperialism Thwarted on all Fronts, October 27, 2010


» Interrogating the Party, The Economist, July 25, 2011


Monday, July 11, 2011

Phrasebook: xiāng tí bìng lùn

1. China Daily Translation

The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway and Japan’s Shinkansen line cannot be mentioned in the same breath, as many of the technological indicators used by China’s high-speed railways are far better than those used in Japan’s Shinkansen.

Wang Yongping (王勇平), Chinese ministry of railways spokesman, in a Xinhua interview (quoted by China Daily and Xinhua‘s English website), reacting to Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. threatening to take action if China files for patents on high-speed trains made using Japanese technologies.

Translator's Choice

Translator's Choice

2. JR’s Translation (Xinhua-based)

What would spell “pirating” Japan’s Shinkansen? This is somewhat showy. One can say that you can’t put the Shinkansen and the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train on a par*). No matter if speed or the degree of convenience is the issue, no matter if the technology above or underneath the rails is the issue, all the differences are big.

*) Both Baidu‘s dictionary and the Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary, by A. P. Cowie, Zhu Yuan et al, Beijing 1986, 1997, leave the English choice for xiāng tí bìng lùn (相提并论) to the translator: “to mention (or be mentioned) in the same breath”, and “to put (or place) on a par”. Google Translate suggests “not on comparable levels”.

In the Shinkansen context, I find “on a par” somewhat less offensive than “in the same breath”.


China masters German Train Technology, Deutsche Welle, April 28, 2006


Xinhua introduces Wang Yongping as the ministry of railways’ deputy director of the political department, and director of the propaganda (or publicity) department, as well as a ministry spokesman.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Press Review: Scientific Development and Contradictions within Society

Huanqiu Shibao/Enorth — the following are excerpts (partly translations) of two articles, published on Sunday. The first one by Xinhua, and republished by Enorth (Tianjin); the second by Huanqiu Shibao, on the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train.  Huanqiu extensively quotes from foreign media. I have not seen or listened to the original foreign reviews, and therefore can’t tell if they were quoted literally – except this one, by the Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Foster.


The CCP’s General Office (中共中央办公厅) issued a notice requiring all departments and units to conscientiously study and implement the spirit of Comrade Hu Jintao’s important speech at the celebrations of the ninetieth anniversary of the CCP’s foundation (中共中央办公厅7月1日发出通知,要求各地区各部门各单位认真学习贯彻胡锦涛同志在庆祝中国共产党成立90周年大会上的重要讲话精神).

Hu’s speech, according to this article by Xinhua, (via Enorth) reiterated much of what Wu Bangguo, the National People’s Congress’ standing committee’s chairman and party secretary, stated on March 10 (see second part of this post). Classics such as 实事求是 (seeking truth in the facts) weren’t mentioned in my excerpt translation of Wu’s speech, but were still part of his speech (see original, page 2). However, the article doesn’t mention the worker-peasant alliance (as Wu did).

The notice (or circular) also calls on the departments and units to link theory and practice, thus implementing the development of society in accordance with the 12th five-year plan. The departments and units were told to thoroughly implement the concept of scientific development (深入贯彻落实科学发展观).

But not only the party’s general office, but foreigners, too, feel that they have a lot to learn, according to Huanqiu Shibao‘s review of the foreign press.

Titled “Foreign Media see Contemporary China from the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway [I’ll use the shorter translation bullet train further down – JR], and Say that China has Reason to be Proud” (外媒从京沪高铁看当代中国,  称中国有理由骄傲)*), Huanqiu writes:

The bullet train, the planning of which has been compared with America’s Apollo Moon mission, made its first routine trip yesterday afternoon. Reporters on board of the train which picked up to 300 kilometers per hour expressed their experience with a thumbs-up on souvenir photos. Two weeks earlier, they had still thrown questions at Ministry of Raiways officials which those found hard to counter. Just as the “Voice of America” reporter said, when you sit on this high-speed train “into the future”, you can fully feel that China is proud of it with good reason. (被比作美国“阿波罗”登月计划的京沪高铁昨天下午发出首趟运营列车。登上列车体验的记者们纷纷在300公里时速的显示屏前竖起大拇指拍照留念。两周前,他们还在新闻发布会上抛出令铁道部官员难以招架的质疑。正如“美国之音”记者所说,当你坐上这趟“面向未来”的高铁列车,就感觉到中国完全有理由为它骄傲。)

Of course, not every question about the operation of the railway line, high operation costs, or quality issues could yet be answered, but, Huanqiu quotes the Daily Telegraph, those who support the high-speed program were not in a minority, and do not doubt the country’s better future, as they saw miracles happen every day. While judgment differed within China’s debates themselves, the foreign media took a more positive view, writes Huanqiu, possibly drawing on their own Western countries’ experience with big rail and road projects.

The Irish Times’ correspondent is quoted with descriptions of the scenery outside the window, from the stylish white train, and his suggestion that after the display of national pride during the Olympic Games, the train was another epitome (缩影) of China’s development.

The Berliner Morgenpost is quoted as writing that while the latest Kung-fu movie by Jackie Chan was shown in the dining car, the train itself was actually Chinese kung-fu at work, overloading the Western eye with impressions. The Morgenpost is also quoted as drawing parallels between the train’s, and China’s economy’s performance.

And again the Daily Telegraph is quoted as commenting that on the day of the CCP’s ninetieth anniversary, the train certainly had an epochal meaning (具有划时代意义).

After these and other positive evaluations, the New York Times is quoted with – in turn – quoting Chinese media and citizens who were having doubts about the operational costs, ticket prices, quality issues or corruption cases, and even ridiculed the train.

Then the Wall Street Journal is quoted – the Apollo moon mission comparison (see above) apparently hails from them -, as also referring to the safety and costs issues. However, when reporters had set foot on the train, it was given the thumbs-up and were greatly surprised. A CNN reporter had said that on the bullet train, with twice the pace of America’s fastest counterpart, everything was very stable, and a Chinese friend had pointed at a coffee cup on the table, proudly pointing out that it didn’t wobble at all – 厉害吧 (lìhài ba)?

But the most flattering remark seems to come from from an American publication translated as  the “主考者” website, asking: “If China can do it, why can’t we?” While the American government had dedicated 800 million USD to high-speed train projects in its budget for 2012, China was planning to spend 40 billion during the coming five years.

And another American paper, translated as 邮政公报, is quoted as sighing (唏嘘) and asking:

Remember the great times of the 19th century rail construction across the continent? We used cheap Chinese labor to complete that project – will China need fourteen million unemployed Americans to build their railway? (美国《邮政公报》有些唏嘘地问道:还记得19世纪美国修建洲际铁路的好时候吗?我们甚至使用了廉价的中国劳工来完成该项工程,现在中国是否需要美国1400万失业者去帮助它建设高铁?)

America only did better, in terms of pace, when it cames of fast-food, a CNN article is quoted. KFC hamburgers were being served on the train.

Considerations by the Daily Telegraph that it may be Chinese companies who would repair the railroad from London to Leeds complete the description of international press reactions.

However, in its last paragraph, the article also quotes Jin Canrong (金灿荣) of the People’s University’s (or Renmin University’s) institute of international relations as saying that while innovation was currently highly appreciated in China, social criticism was much harsher. It was important to turn this criticism into a tool of supervision over the government’s work, but without criticizing merely for the sake of criticism itself (为骂而骂).

The connection between cherishing innovation on the one hand, and ever-more pointed contradictions within society (社会矛盾越来越尖锐) on the other, as drawn by Jin, may come across as rather strange in this context. But apparently, achievement is meant to be the glue that would keep the Chinese society together, contradictions notwithstanding. At the same time, the connection may also reflect an awareness that achievements alone won’t create the harmonious society aimed for by the CCP.

In a China Special in its June 25 edition, the Economist noted that**)

For all the chest-thumping, though, China’s leaders are more cautious than either their underlings or the state-controlled publishing industry. They avoid the term “China model” and do not publicly boast of a shengshi, even though they allow their media to talk of one. Indeed, they appear more nervous now than at any time for over a decade. They have massively increased spending on domestic security, which in this year’s budget has overtaken that on defence for the first time. The government has been reviving a Maoist system of neighbourhood surveillance by civilian volunteers. In the past few months the police have launched an all-out assault on civil society, arresting dozens of lawyers, NGO activists, bloggers and even artists. The Arab revolutions have spooked the leadership. From its perspective, the system looks vulnerable.

By Huanqiu standards, the bullet-train article doesn’t even come across as particularly chest-thumping.


*) Another sub-headline: 称中国有理由骄傲 问美国为何没做到 – [foreign correspondents] say that China has reason to be proud – ask why America didn’t manage [with similar success]
**) Economist, June 25, 2011, page 4 (Special)


Imperialism Thwarted, October 27, 2010
Lone Decisions, July 11, 2010


Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: How Chiang Kai-shek Blew It

OK – the real title is The Legacy of Sun Yatsen, and the author was Gustav Amann, a sometime confident of Sun Yatsen1). Amann, a German engineer, born in 1882, died in 1950 (or in the late 1940s, probably in China), worked for the Siemens AG, in Hankou from 1911 to 1919, and in Beijing and Shanghai afterwards2). Chinese sources refer to him as 古斯塔夫.阿曼. He was apparently part of non-governmental cooperation between Germany and China, and helped Sun hiring German military officers as advisers.

The Legacy of Sun Yatsen was initially published in German – Sun Yatsens Vermächtnis, Berlin, 1928 -, and in English soon after, in 1929, New York and Montreal.

"The Legacy of Sun Yatsen", Montreal, New York, 1929

"The Legacy of Sun Yatsen", Montreal, New York, 1929

The translator, Frederick Philip Grove, added a note of his own, ahead of the author’s preface, an introduction by Karl Haushofer, and a criticism by Engelbert Krebs.

I’m not sure how the book came to me – it has been here for many years. I started reading in September, some ten or fifteen pages at a time. At first, I expected some sort of an insider’s story – but Amann was up to something different, as the subtitle suggested anyway: a History of the Chinese Revolution.

Apparently, much of the story was news to the translator:

Without identifying himself with any views propounded in the present volume – partly because he disagrees, partly because he simply does not know – the translater advised publication of this work of a German because he found in it a picture of a great subversion in modern history which, to say the least, is striking and novel. It seemed to him that the book, quite apart from its historical value, presents a struggle for freedom which is symbolic of the Promethean nature of man. No desire for propaganda was among the motives which prompted his labour.

Amann’s account of the revolution starts with with a short review of China’s initial years of interaction with Europe, from 505 and 1270 – the Nestorians and Marco Polo, to the cession of Hong Kong and the years leading to the Xinhai Revolution. This then leads into a  long eulogy – sort of a post-funeral eulogy – on Sun Yatsen, which goes on for many pages. When reading, I seemed to understand the translator’s carefully stated distance to Amann’s case.

Sun Yatsen is a saint. Chiang Kai-shek is a bugger, but at least Amann doesn’t label him a reactionary as he does with many other players in the KMT’s big game during the 1920s.

That the Confucian spirit will live on in the customs and usage of the people is a certainty. That Confucian morals and ethics will prevail in conduct, we must heartily hope and wish. But that the spiritual revolt already embraces the Chinese people as a whole [and no difference need be made between Cantonese and the Chinese of the north], that is the very thing which gives it its irresistible power from which events shoot up in spite of all politics. That the nationalist movement started from Canton is mere chance. It is a national wave which might have started anywhere – wherever Sun Yatsen was at work.

But that doesn’t make the Legacy a boring book. Amann was quite a narrator, and on some 300 pages only, he slowly rose the dramatic arc from 1925 to 1927, from Sun Yatsen’s death to a botched end to the first Northern Expedition.

In some ways, Amann takes the role of many-a present-day sinologist, even if in an intuitive, rather than in a “scientific” way. Several times, he criticizes the European and American press – both their press overseas and within China at the time. Right after the initial remarks by Haushofer and Krebs, in his first chapter, Amann writes, by way of introduction:

The daily press is almost the only source from which the public gathers information about events in China. The spasmodic turmoil and the difficulty of arriving at a survey of the happening are responsible for the temptation to concentrate attention on mere externals. Curiosity, eager for sensation, prefers to devote itself to symptoms rather than to trhe causes of the mighty convulsions of the East. In the work of reporting, that seriousness which is due to the tragedy inherent in any revolution is, I am sorry to say, often wanting. At best the turn of events is represented as political or economic. Who, today, has an inkling that here is a great, ancient culture, hit in the innermost substance of its life by the hard drills of a western-European civilisation, which, in spite of subverting innovations fights on in a desperate struggle to preserve that mode of life which was allotted to it by nature and hallowed by tradition?
The Germans like to call themselves a matter-of-fact nation. At a time when this word had not yet become so fashionable though it held perhaps more truth than it does today, the great economist Wilhelm Roscher wrote in his “National Economy”, published 1854:
“The life of a people, like any life, is an indivisible whole, the manifold manifestations of which are connected by an inner bond. Whoever, therefore, wants to understand one side of it must know all sides; and, above all, there are seven sides which must be considered in this connection: language, religion, science, art, law, politics, and economics.”
Wilhelm Roscher goes on to say:
“That even for the material interests the spirit of the people is the main thing, is proved by the example of the Chinese who have known printing, gunpowder, and compass for such a long time without, for all that, having acquired a clearly defined public opinion, a good army, and a respectable carrying trade.”
[…] It is true that even today China has no considerable carrying trade, no good army; but it has at last a public opinion.
What we understand of it is only the elemental way in which it finds utterance, not its contents. Perhaps this modest attempt to honour the theorem of Wilhelm Roscher will find enough readers who are interested in the reality of the public opinion of China. (p. 23 – 25)

With that, Amann enters his 505/1270 to 1927 Chinese history review.  At the point where he describes his perception of events in 1911 and 1912, one might understand why Amann’s book on Sun Yatsen was relevant at the time.

Amann had probably been in China since 1911, in Hankou, next to the site of the Xinhai revolution in Wuchang. Both Wuchang and Hankou are now part of the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province. And unlike many others there, Amann was most probably a curious foreign businessman.

The ways of popular politics are obscure; their course was lighted up for the foreigners by no star of insight. Even after February 12, 1912, the date of the public abdication of the Manchu Regent, the foreigners in China believed that the proclamation of a republic was the result of chance. To prove that, the English historian J. O. P. Bland filled many pages of his book on the revolution. The foreigners saw nothing but what they could attribute to their own influence on the Manchu government.

The more, Amann argues, they were caught by surprise when the development went beyond a foot-dragging preparation period for a constitutional monarchy, which would only have strengthened the very circles in which the foreigners pursued their trade. (pp 65, 66)

If you consider buying the Legacy yourself, it might be a good idea to stop reading this post here until you have read the book, because otherwise, this post may forestall too much of the enjoyment only the book itself can offer. It still seems to be widely available on the internet, in second-hand bookshops.

The foreign powers had no interest in doing anything that could help Sun Yatsen’s KMT to gain power or influence, writes Amann. All the same, the nationalists did consolidate their grip on the south – not least for the help in technical and organizational matters that came from Russia, i. e. the newly-established Soviet Union. Throughout the book, Amann highlights Mikhail Borodin‘s contributions to the KMT’s success and repeatedly points out that a revolution modelled after the Russian one hadn’t been Borodin’s goal – an issue on which Karl Haushofer and Engelbert Krebs, in their prefaces and criticisms to the book, disagree with Amann.

Another major player is T. V. Soong (宋子文), finance minister in the nationalist government, and Sun Yatsen’s brother in law. Amann quotes from a letter Soong wrote to a friend:

“I have taken over the office of finance minister. I don’t know yet what will have to be done; but there is nobody else among us who knows.” (p. 177)

Securing the KMT government’s revenues, from taxes to import duties, is described as a long struggle, with some success, but no completion, against the foreign powers. What is described as Soong’s complete achievement at the time is the introduction of an economy based on paper money, with an  adoption of creative methods to circumvent some of the Chinese habit of mere barter trade: all taxes were to be paid in Soong’s bank notes.

Reading the book, it leaves the impression on me that Amann himself, when describing the formation of a Chinese public opinion, refers to foreign violation as its ferments too frequently, occasionally lacking one or another star of insight himself. Class relations only count occasionally, even though – or because? – Amann himself would  probably share most of the views of Sun Yatsen’s family people in the KMT of  1927.

Consolidated at home in the south, the KMT began its first Northern Expedition. It was a fast and successful one, very much attributed to the Russian advisers by Amann, reaching and extending beyond the Yangzi River. But the rapid expansion wasn’t accompanied by political consolidation in the areas gained. First warlordist trends emerged in the regions “controlled” by the KMT.

This entire period from the occupation of the province of Hu-Nan by the nationalists stood in the sign of war and military leaders. The martial successes made the originally intended character of the campaign fade away. The defeat of potentates in the place of whose autocratic régime a popular government was to be established became more and more a campaign of conquest on the part of the armed power.

The KMT’s political arm opened its headquarters in Hankou. Chiang Kai-shek kept his HQ in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, by a beeline of some 200 kilometers southeast of Hankou.

Besides for militarist tendencies, Amann criticizes Chiang Kai-shek for being too close to the foreigners – and the share of the Chinese population whose business was closely connected with the foreigners. Besides, both Chiang himself and his generals had developed a dislike for the Russian advisers.

Amann must have felt much of the disappointment he describes as Borodin’s disappointment.

How the Chinese stand with regard to each other in this deep thing, what they themselves feel, is hard to say. Probably, what is treason to us, is to them only human nature. They escape it by never allowing themselves to be caught in unconditional devotion. Within the family, even with strangers, the Chinese are as a rule full of the frankest respect for friendship proved, or services of friendship received; they are touchingly loyal. Ingratitude arises from the system. The social structure of family ties withholds their innermost from flowing readily into the wider social connections. But is not in our own social, economic, and political system a service also priced most before it is rendered? Even in our world of politics, finance, and industry, there is a far way to the pure heights of gratitude for its own sake. (pp 268-269)

The new militarism was to blame for the opposition and resistance by the communists within the KMT, according to Amann, who makes a not merely ceremonial effort to characterize Chiang in the most favorable terms he can still possibly find:

In the sense, then, of the old, classical bureaucratic tradition, Chiang Kaishek’s attitude was irreproachable. But in his subjective choice of position he committed grave errors against Sun Yatsen’s cause. The collectivist system of government demanded of the nationalists first of all and under all circumstances, the preservation of an unbroken front towards the outer world. Chiang Kaishek, however, never redeemed his first step towards a separation, that step which held him in Nan-chang. Holding on to his old stubbornness, he refused to attend the convention of the central executive council at Hankau which was called, as an emergency measure to save, if possible, the régime at Hankau out of dissension, for the date of March 7, 1927. Twenty-six members of the council had appeared. Chiang Kaishek with his nearest followers stayed away. (p. 289)

As for the run-up what is now referred to as the Shanghai Massacre (not referred to as such by Amann), to both the foreigners and the rich Chinese merchants of Shanghai, the usurpation of a commanding position in the state by the proletariat remained hateful, and Chiang Kaishek was visibly and powerfully influenced by it in his resolutions (p. 285).

This point was the innermost causal motive of the quarrels which had driven Chiang Kaishek into the opposition. He was a soldier. Discipline and order were second nature to him; he hated the phenomena of high-handed action which, against the rigid ideas regarding property held by the upper strate of the population, were necessarily connected with the emancipation of peasants and workmen. […] To him, these disturbances were intentional anarchy; he held the communistic elements in the government responsible for them.

From such purely subjective suppositions Chiang Kaishek believed, no doubt in all honesty of conviction, that the right to strike and similar means of compulsion in the hand of proletarians must become fatal to empire and people. He believed that he was called upon, by means of power of his army, to return the carrying-out of reforms to the hands of government. He wished to help the common people. He wished to concede to it the consideration which it demanded, but not the power. Self-help of the people he condemned as a matter of principle; and at last he went so far as to suppress it by force of arms. He had, then, reached the point where the reactionary propertied classes wanted to see the nationalist government. (p. 287)

It’s strange to think that Amann was probably still in China when the KMT prepared its flight to Taiwan. As early as in 1927, he seemed to expect little from the KMT army, nor from its propagandistic clout, once the Russian advisers had left the ruined field of their efforts and returned to the Soviet Union.

Borodin, Amann wrote in his description of Soviet intentions in China as he saw them,

was, of course, a member of the communistic order of Russia. He belonged to the Trotzki group which is today known as the opposition of the Stalin government and represented, in Russia, the radical dictatorship of the proletariat. But to hurl communistic propaganda into the Chinese people was not Borodin’s task. Trotzki himself has, on several occasions, issued public declarations of the aims of Russia in China. Russia, he said, gave its help for the purpose of freeing the country from the capitalistic compulsion of the foreign powers; it did not aim at a dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat of China has no aims of its own. In the system of old China, its class had admission to the official careers; with this tradition the proletariat was satisfied; it had no desire to rule by dictatorship. The awakening of workmen and peasants to political life, by Sun Yatsen, had accordingly called forth, in labour unions and peasant associations, none but economic hopes. […] They had not risen to fight for power over the middle class and over the class of officialdom. In the Kuo-Mintang, too, and in the nationalist government, an overwhelming majority of members and leaders were totally averse to communism. They looked to the methods of Russia to help them lead the common people to salvation themselves. A dictatorship of the masses over their leadership they would not have tolerated; nor a communistic expropriation of private property. (p. 217-218)

Without Russian input from 1927, Chiang’s army was almost – allegedly – reduced back to the state of which Amann had given pretty unflattering descriptions earlier in his account.

Chiang Kaishek’s fighting forces reached at times beyond Hsu-Cheu, on the railway from Pu-Keu to Peking. But they could not force a decision against Sun Chuan-fang’s regiments which, reorganised in northern Kiang-Su, had reappeared, and against the Shan-Tung troops of Chang Chung Chang. Chiang Kaishek lacked that knowledge of a superior military and propagandist attack on strategic points of the front, by means of which the Russians had made him a present of lightning successes in battle. At last the Nanking army had even to fall back to the right bank of the Yang-Tze-Kiang, content with defending this side of the river. (p. 294)

Not quite so – and the looming Central Plains War wasn’t the end of the story either. But what a wonderful world this could be if Amann had been right with his defiant statement at the end of his account:

Militarism within the Kuo-Mintang will still be vanquished, whichever way it be; for the ideas of a liberation from autocracy, of a share in the determination of the conditions of its own life, of a deliverance from the power of the propertied classes over the living life of the common people, are working deeply in the masses.
All times have fought for freedom; every age for a freedom of its own; and the Chinese people will fight on for its special freedom.



1) Stefan Berleb, doctoral dissertation, Brisbane 2005, quoting Causey, Beverley: Germany’s Policy towards China, 1918 – 1941, Cambridge, Harvard University

2) Andreas Steen, Deutsch-chinesische Beziehungen, vom Kolonialismus zur “Gleichberechtigung”, Berlin 2006, page 587


Memorabilia found fake, China Post, December 4, 2010
Hsinhai – a Revolutionary Opera, November 12, 2010
Book Review: Gang then, Dynasty now, May 12, 2010

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