"Conscripts and Citizens: The Political Project within Nationalist Military Service, 1928-45"

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Association for Asian Studies

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At the heart of CHIANG Kaishek's Nationalist regime lay military power; this paper examines the political hopes that the Nationalists pinned on military service as a lens on state-building and citizenship. In the wake of the Northern Expedition (1928), General HE Yingqin proposed compulsory military service for the new national government. Inspired by late nineteenthcentury intellectuals and European examples, HE and other leaders believed the draft could transform Chinese men into citizen-soldiers, with militarized bodies and politically engaged minds. Implementation was delayed, but such fantasies were bolstered by National Salvation advocates, who suggested conscription would inspire popular patriotism and loyalty. With Japan's invasion (1937), a hastily assembled draft system supplied the bodies for the Resistance War, but, as is well known, conscription was so corrupt and ill-managed that it alienated communities and became an emblem abroad and at home of the Nationalist state's shaky legitimacy. CHIANG Kaishek himself was so disappointed with conscription's failure to achieve its political aim as a training ground in citizenship that he ordered the arrest and eventual execution of CHENG Zerun, head of the draft administration until 1944. When Japan's Ichigo Offensive (1944) carved through Nationalist territory, CHIANG and his generals finally turned to voluntary service, launching a recruitment drive among educated youth to form the elite Intellectual Youth Army. Here, the political project of building politically active citizen-soldiers was realized, but only in a form that depended upon elitism and an self-ascripted identity unavailable to draftees.


Asian Studies


Copyright Kevin Landdeck

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