Following the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, two antipodal ideologies vied for control of China's military. The first, advanced by Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Kuomintang (KMT), maintained that the military was little more than an organ of the KMT party apparatus. As such, the Chinese army was a "party-army," beholden to the KMT's will, and subservient to KMT demands. Opposing the "party-army" ideology was a cadre of nationalistic, cosmopolitan Chinese officers, who sought to fashion the army into a professional, technically proficient, and independent institution, loyal not to any one party, but to the Chinese nation. The dynamic of this previously unexamined struggle is the subject of Eric Setzekorn
's erudite study, The Rise and Fall of an Officer Corps: The Republic of China Military, 1942-1955
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2018).
Between 1942 and 1955, Setzekorn argues, professionally-minded officers within the KMT leveraged their military partnership with the United States to build China's first truly national army. Exemplified by General Sun Li-jen, these officers promulgated and defined a professional identity and ethos, forged technological and intellectual bonds with the armed forces of the United States, and nurtured Chinese aspirations to great power status. The "party-army" concept reached its nadir during this period, but it was not forgotten. Defeat at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, combined with a substantive shift in Sino-American security arrangements, allowed "party-army" adherents to reassert control. From 1949 to 1954, Setzekorn observes, KMT leaders began the process of re-politicizing the army; a process that culminated with a purge of key professional officers in 1955.
Informed by a wealth of Chinese-language sources, military journals, and previously unavailable archival materials, Setzerkorn offers valuable insight into the cultural and professional development of China's officer corps in the Republican era. At the same time, Setzerkorn's work adds to our understanding of the United States's post-Second World War "army-building" program in east Asia. The Republic of China army, Setzerkorn argues, provided the blueprint for subsequent Cold War military partnerships with Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan.