"First Internal Pacification, Then External Resistance": Chiang Kai-shek's Response to the Mukden Incident at Home and Abroad

Anatol Klass

Edited by: Sungmin An


This research paper compares and contrasts Chiang Kai-shek's national and international responses to the Mukden Incident of 1931. Chiang's nationalist government pursued a two-level strategic response to the bombings in Manchuria (the event that most historians recognize as the beginning of the Second World War in East Asia): appeasing Japan by avoiding direct conflict between Japanese and Chinese forces while demanding a decisive international response through the League of Nations. Both strategies would prove unsuccessful, with the policy of domestic appeasement leading to massive public discontent (intensely fueled by Communist Party subversion) and the pleas for international help falling on deaf ears. The failure to respond to the Mukden incident would be a decisive factor in destroying the legitimacy of Chiang's nationalist government and the international system as defined by the League of Nations. This paper uses a variety of primary and secondary materials to explain why Chiang's government favored this course of domestic inaction coupled with international diplomacy. It outlines how a combination of internal crises-monumental flooding, rebellion, and general weakness-left Chiang essentially unable to fight the Japanese in Manchuria. The paper also traces China's misplaced trust in the League of Nations, and the League's inherent inadequacies that left the international community helpless in the face of Japanese aggression. Ultimately, the paper positions Chiang's response to the Mukden Incident as an example of Chiang's general ruling policy: "First internal pacification, then external resistance."

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