Revolution Deconstructed: Chiang Kai-shek and the Northern Expedition in the Japanese Press, 1926-28
The Northern Expedition (1926–1928) was a turning-point in the rise to power of the Nationalist Party in China, and instrumental in Chiang Kai-shek’s own meteoric rise from the position of military commander to top political leader. Scholars have examined the international consequences of this turning-point in Republican history from many angles. Most studies, however, have focussed on inter-state relations at the institutional level, leaving public opinion rather on the sidelines. In an attempt to fill this gap, this paper discusses Japanese press coverage of the Expedition, with a particular focus on the changing perception of Chiang’s role in the Nationalist Party. The analysis brings to light the articulate response of the press and of other national figures to the events in China. If on the one hand the Expedition gave cause for anxiety because of the threat it posed to Japanese interests, on the other, it raised the hope that a stable government would emerge after years of civil war. While some commentators expressed cautious optimism, however, other observers held strong reservations about Nationalist leadership. Furthermore, coverage of the Jinan Incident shows that even the advocates of a policy of conciliation could assume a hardline stance when the Japanese military took the initiative on the ground. These findings suggest that further research into the early years of the Nanjing government could help explain why public opinion shifted rapidly in favour of an aggressive policy in China after the Manchurian Incident in 1931.