Why Communist Party of China: Social Capital in the Whampoa Military Academy

Katrina Q. Wang, University of Wisconsin-Madison

What is the origin of the communist/socialist movement in China during the last century? The emergence of the Communist Party of China (CPC) took place within the backdrop of the May Fourth Movement era (1917-1921). Ultimately, the CPC overcame the ruling party Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party, and assumed control of the country in 1949, a position it continues to hold today. Traditional class analysis perceives the CPC as the representative of workers and farmers, while the KMT is seen as representing capitalists. However, summarizing the entirety of what transpired throughout the country using this broad perspective would be both unrealistic and oversimplified. During the KMT-CPC cooperation period (1923-1927), a specific group of military elites was selected from the Whampoa Military Academy (WMA), which was established in 1924. Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), who served as both the leader of the party-state and the principal of WMA, utilized the academy as a means to recruit loyalists from within the KMT. In this article, I aim to explore the following question: how and why did individuals nurtured within the ruling group choose to join the enemy group that eventually overthrew their former affiliation? More specifically, how did the WMA graduates, who were oriented towards Chiang Kai-shek, betray him and become loyal to the CPC? Based on an analysis of a dataset manually collected from the first WMA cohort, it can be inferred that multiple networks, including party patronage, have the potential to impact the movement and allegiance of individuals towards the ruling state power (Gould, 1991; 1996). Socioeconomic factors like education level, hometown, and original family background may also play a role in shaping later party membership.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 142. Political Economy in China