1923 - The Role of the Merchants in the National Revolution
THE ROLE OF THE MERCHANTS IN THE NATIONAL REVOLUTION
July 11, 1923
[Extracted from the article 'the Peking coup d'etat and the Merchants', published in Hsiang-tao, nos. 31-2 (11 July, 1923).]
The present coup d'etat has roused the merchants, who have persistently ignored politics, and has led them suddenly to look up and pay attention to politics. This is most welcome news! .... The Shanghai Chamber of Commerce.... has published a declaration to the whole nation. The declaration says: 'We venture to proclaim with sincerity to the Chinese and the foreigners that from the fourteenth day of this month our people do not recognize any action of Ts'ao K'un and Kao Ling-wei, following their usurpation of political power... as qualified to represent the country….’
At the same time the Chamber of Commerce resolved not to recognize the national assembly, which 'cannot represent the people' s will', and resolved , moreover, to organize a democratic committee as the organ for dealing positively with the affairs of the nation. This action... may be regarded as the first gesture of the merchants to intervene in politics and as a manifestation of the fact that the merchants, who remained silent for three years, now speak in awesome tones .
The present political problem in China is none other than the problem of the national revolution [kuomin ko-ming]. To use the strength of the people to overthrow the militarists and foreign imperialism, with which the former are in collusion to accomplish their treasonable acts, is the historic mission of the Chinese people. This revolution is the task of the people as a whole. The merchants, workers, peasants, students, and teachers should all come forward to take on the responsibility for a portion of the revolutionary work; but because of historical necessity and current tendencies, the work for which the merchants should be responsible in the national revolution is both more urgent and more important than the work that the rest of the people should take upon themselves. We know that the politics of semicolonial China is characterized by the fact that the militarists and the foreign powers have banded together to impose a twofold oppression on the people of the whole country. The people of the whole country naturally suffer profoundly under this kind of twofold oppression. Nevertheless, the merchants are the ones who feel these sufferings most acutely and most urgently. Everybody knows that the likin and customs duties are matters of life and death for the merchants. The pressing demands for the merchants to 'abolish the likin and raise the tariffs' are the expression of their most immediate interest. But abolishing the likin and raising the tariffs is not something that can be easily done, because abolishing the likin hurts the interests of the militarists and raising the tariffs hurts the interest of foreign imperialism. If the likin were abolished completely the militarists would grow thinner day by day, and the merchants fatter. In that case, the merchants would need only to shout in order to overthrow the militarists. But the clever militarists definitely will not do such a foolish thing as to lift a stone in this way and crush their own feet. And if one were to increase considerably the tariffs on foreign goods or even go so far as to abolish the tariffs fixed by the treaties and replace them by protective tariffs freely set by the Chinese themselves, thus removing the fetters encumbering the Chinese merchants, the industry and commerce of the country would develop rapidly and foreign goods would no longer be able to gain a foothold in China. The cunning foreign imperialists are even less likely to do such a foolish thing.... The positions of the foreign powers and the militarists on the one hand and the merchants on the other are truly incompatible..
The merchants have hitherto 'loved peace' and have never imagined the political transformation necessitated a revolution which could not be accomplished by a few telegrams in favour of 'the reduction of the number of soldiers, the application of the constitution, and financial reforms'. Still less did they imagine that revolution necessitated their personal participation, and that only by calling for the organization of all the people and creating a mass movement could a revolutionary force be brought into existence. They even went so far as to think that political reform did not require a political party and to call the revolutionary efforts of the Kuomintang superfluous. It is impossible to compare these juvenile and timid attitudes with the present situation without being convulsed with laughter.... Judging from the actions of the Shanghai merchants in response to the coup d'etat, we know that they have already changed their attitudes, cast away their pacifism, adopted revolutionary methods, drummed up the courage to shoulder responsibility for the affairs of the nation,. and progressed rapidly .....
The Shanghai merchants have arisen and begun to act. We hope that the merchants outside of Shanghai will all rise up and act together. The present situation is extremely pressing, as though the fire were already singeing our eyebrows, and does not permit us to fall idly asleep once more. At present, we must unite the whole nation in order to carry out the revolution. Factionalism among the merchants cannot be tolerated. They must know that foreign powers and the militarists are the common enemies of all the merchants, as well as of the whole nation. Moreover, the advantages obtained after a successful revolution will be common advantages. It is essential to unite and struggle .so as to overthrow the common enemy and assure the common interest.... The broader the organization of merchants, the greater will be their influence, the greater will be their ability to lead the people of the whole country, and the more rapid the success of the revolution!
In conclusion, we have the following warnings for the merchants of the whole country: (1) The great cause of revolution is no easy matter, even less so in China, a country under the twofold pressure of the foreign powers and the militarists. The only solution is to call upon the merchants, the workers, the peasants, the students, and the teachers of the whole country, as well as all the others who constitute our nation and who suffer under a common oppression, and to establish a closely knit united front. It is only then that this revolution will succeed., .. We must no longer neglect the lesson to be learned from previous experience, when the Association of Merchants and Teachers refused participation of the workers. (2) Now that the merchants have already courageously taken the first step in the revolution, they must take the second step.... endeavour to move forward, and never stop until they have attained their goal. Above all, they must never stop on meeting a slight obstruction, or set out on the false path of making an agreement with the foreign powers and the militarists. Everyone must believe that the only way to save both himself and the nation is through the national revolution. Many revolutionary causes throughout history may serve as our reference and our guide. Circumstances call upon us to perform a historic task. We can no longer be negligent! To open a new era through revolutionary methods, and to build a new nation — such is the historic mission of the Chinese people. We must never forget it!