Puppet or puppet master : the Shanghai Green Gang's involvement in Chinese politics, 1916-1927

Zhao, Han, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

The period of 1916 to 1927 in China's history is marked by drastic social, economic and political upheavals, the struggles of the various warlords, the birth of the Chinese Communist Party, the Guomindang's rise to power, and the bitter feud between the GMD and the CCP. For each of these dramas, Shanghai provided a stage, and in some cases the stage: because the city was China's dominant treaty port of that time, it boasted wealth, nurtured China's urban bourgeoisie as well as an emerging proletariat, and represented the most advanced intellectual trends. Political powers also vied for control over Shanghai for its strategic importance. It is during this period in Shanghai too that the Green Gang, especially the part of the Green Gang controlled by the three dahengs (bigwigs) ---Du Yuesheng, Huang Jinrong and Zhang Xiaolin---rose to prominence. These dahengs developed a monopoly over the opium trade, built their stature, by hook or by crook, in the financial and industrial arenas, controlled much of the Shanghai press, and held sway in labor movements. Indeed, the Green Gang became such a powerful and influential social entity that all of the major political players tried to, and some did, turn the Green Gang's influence to their advantage.

The Green Gang's involvement in Chinese politics from 1916 to 1927 was a complex phenomenon. Due to years of warlord fighting, state control of the society was at an all-time low. In the International and French Concessions of Shanghai, if the people saw any order, it was accompanied by a bitter feeling of constantly being bullied by western powers. The Chinese city of Shanghai went through a period of chaos during this period. It is against this background that the Green Gang expanded its organization, spread racketeering, and established itself as an immensely influential force, however informal and however underground. As the Green Gang emerged gradually above ground with the rise of Nationalist power, its prosperity reflected the Chinese people's age-old quest for peace and order after a long period of military. In this capacity, the Green Gang served to define the political and social arena when the warlords, the GMD, and the CCP reached the city and vied for control. Any discussion of the Green Gang without appreciation of this reality errs by regarding the secret society as merely a resource to take advantage of. Throughout its complicated interactions with the warlords, the CCP and the GMD, the Green Gang remained determiner of its own fate. It lent help to certain political forces only when it believed that it could benefit from the relationship, and when it drew reasonable conclusions of future prospects of a certain relationship, it acted accordingly, either turning against a partner or closely allying with another. In contrast to the gang's image as a puppet whose strings were pulled by the political masters, the Green Gang should indeed be viewed as a puppet master.

MA (Master of Arts)
China 1916-1927, Green Gang, economic, political and social change

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:41.

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