The Political Networks and Thought of the Young Wu Tiecheng, 1909-1925


Tan Chee Seng

PhD defended at: 

National University of Singapore


This thesis focuses on the origins of the rise of Wu Tiecheng (1888-1953), one of the senior statesmen of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Republican China, from 1909 to 1925. During this foundation period, Wu had been involved in various crucial party and government affairs within and beyond China. However, existing literature presented Wu in a simple narrative style. What had been largely neglected was actually this foundation period which propelled him to become an influential and pragmatic politician in the later years. This thesis proposes to make several original contributions, particularly to modern Chinese biographical research as well as generally to modern Chinese history.

This study explores three unique themes which consistently surfaced during Wu’s early career since 1909. They are: guanxi and networks (both encapsulated as political networks); eloquence (including noticeable persuasion skills); and political thought. These three themes are used to frame the tenor of this research. They describe and construct an individual, thereby, making this modern Chinese figure’s partial academic biography beyond a simple narrative style. Wu was able to maneuver these three aspects in order to expand his power and influence. They were developed and served as his essential personal resources, not merely contributing to his progress in this foundation years, but also his gradual rise after 1925. In particular, the study on his political networks will demonstrate that most of the late Qing / early republican guanxi and factional politics, as contextualised by Andrew J. Nathan in his study on Peking politics between 1918-1923, could be evidenced through the activities of Wu between 1909-1925. Moreover, Wu’s political thought had proved that it could transcend narrow ideological struggles and conflict, elevating into populist impulse and notion, till it could function as a “tool” to assist his political networks and eloquence. Eventually, this study probes the interconnection of the three themes and how they had supported each other and linked together as a whole, thereby surpassing the previous literature and research on Wu or other biographical research of the same kind.

In probing into the above mentioned aspects, this study reveals that Wu’s little-known political thought and activities in 1919 was an especially important landmark year in his life. It witnessed a radical shift in Wu’s political thinking, as embodied in his lecture, speeches and activities, and which affirmed his claim that he was an anti-Communist advocate even though he was actually once influenced by Marxism. Above all, with the support of documents, especially at KMT Party Archives, which have yet to be utilised, this research provides an alternative academic reference. It supplements Wu Tiecheng Memoir that was previously presumed as the sole reference for Wu, thus subsequently enhancing academic clarity on the genuine Wu Tiecheng before 1925.