Theme 9. Soviet help to Xinjiang governor Sheng Shicai in the 1930s
Soviet policy towards Xinjiang in the 1930s. Soviet-Xinjiang economic and cultural relations. Coup díetat in the province. Revolt in Komul. Dungan invasion led by Ma Zhong-ying. White Russians, Soviet promotion of Sheng Shicai in the province. April Revolution in Xinjiang. She dubanís policy towards the Central Guomindang government and friendship with the Soviet Union. Anti-imperialist policy of Sheng Shicai: April Revolution and its slogans. Limitations of the British consulate activities in Kashgar. Britsih position towards Chinese Central Asia. Repressions and purges in the province. Intoduction of the Soviet model of national policy in Xinjiang. Xinjiang as a semi-colony of the USSR.
It was now time for Ma Zhongying to re-enter the struggle. During his period of convalescence in Gansu, he had amassed a large army through extensive conscription, 51 as well as being appointed as Commanding Officer of the 36th Division of the National Army of China by the GMD government in Nanjing. This "highly ambitious young warlord, who was to dream, in his wilder moments, of creating a Muslim empire which would include the whole of Soviet, as well as Chinese, Central Asia," began his march in May 1933. Kumul was easily taken, as well as other towns en route to the provincial capital. Sheng's forces were forced to retreat to Urumchi. Ground was alternatively gained and lost by both sides.
Throughout the whole conflict, it was uncertain which side had the backing of Nanjing, since both claimed allegiance to the GMD. Huang Mu-sung, a "Pacification Commissioner" from the Republican government soon arrived in Urumchi on an ostensible peace mission. Sheng suspected him of conspiring with some of his opponents to overthrow him. As a result, he executed three leaders of the provincial government, accusing them of plotting his overthrow with Huang. At the same time, Sheng also forced Huang to wire Nanjing with a recommendation that he be recognized as the official Tupan of Xinjiang.
Sheng's problems at this time were not all in the north, however. As Dungan armies marched on Urumchi from both sides, Ma Zhongying's forces having been joined by those of Chang P'ei-yüan, the military governor of Ili, potentially more significant events were taking place in southern Xinjiang. The Khotan Amirs were not content merely to control most of the south; their eventual goal was the establishment of an independent Muslim state. They had attempted to do so first in September 1933, after wooing Khoja Niyas Hajji, a leader in the Kumul uprising who had initially agreed to recognize Sheng's administration, with the offer of presidency of the "Republic of Eastern Turkestan." However, this republic was a state in name only and Khoja was reported to be negotiating with the Soviets, an unacceptable proposition for the Amirs, so in November of the same year they declared the establishment of the "Turkish-Islamic Republic of Eastern Turkestan" (TIRET). "The domestic policy of the TIRET was... directed towards the establishment of a radical Islamic system, based on the Shari'a [Islamic law] but encompassing certain educational, economic and social reforms, whilst its foreign policy was as staunchly anti-Soviet as it was anti-Tungan and anti-Han."
The government was led by the Amirs, with Khoja Niyas Hajji as titular President; the capital was at Kashgar. Their authority extended over the southern third of the province and they soon had all the trappings of a legitimate government, including a National Assembly, a legal system, a constitution, a flag, and a national currency. According to the British Consulate-General in Kashgar at the time, the TIRET had five basic policies:
To form an independent Muslim state.
To seek freedom from the 'Soviet stranglehold.'
To restore peace and put down lawlessness.
To encourage and restore trade.
To seek friendly relations with the British Government and to obtain its aid as far as possible.
However, this attempt to establish a lasting Islamic government in the area was to prove to be a failure. Neither Britain nor potential allies in the Muslim world, including Turkey and Afghanistan, were prepared to recognize or support the fledgling republic. Furthermore, "having adopted an uncompromisingly 'Turkic-Islamic' stance, it had deprived itself of effective allies whilst ensuring the enmity of the three most powerful forces in Sinkiang - the Tungans, the provincial authorities, and the Soviet Union."It was this last force, whose influence had been limited up to this time, which was now to step firmly into Xinjiang politics.
By the end of 1933, Sheng's position was extremely shaky. Chang P'ei-yüan and the Dungans were marching on him in the north, while the TIRET controlled the south. There was no aid forthcoming from the Nationalist government of China. Thus, "it was at this eleventh hour that the Soviet Union, which had become increasingly disturbed by the continuing turmoil in Sinkiang, finally determined, in response to an urgent appeal from Sheng Shih-ts'ai, to intervene directly in support of the provincial authorities at Urumchi." The Soviets were concerned about both threats to Sheng's administration. The TIRET, if allowed to survive, could provide a base of operations for pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic sentiments to spread into Soviet Central Asia. There were also reports of contacts between TIRET officials and representatives of Japan and Nazi Germany. At the same time, there were fears that Ma Zhongying, ardently anti-Soviet, could be used by the Japanese to set up a puppet regime in Xinjiang, as they had done with "Manchukuo."Any of these developments, especially in light of the growing menace that Japan and Germany presented to the USSR, would have posed a serious threat to the Soviets. Thus, an agreement between Sheng and Moscow would be beneficial to both.
The first delegation of Soviet officials arrived in December 1933. A purge of "anti-Soviet" officials in the provincial administration, including Pappengut, the White Russian general, began. Sheng announced his "Six Basic Policies": (1) anti-imperialism, (2) kinship to Sovietism, (3) racial or national equality, (4) "clean" government, (5) peace, and (6) reconstruction. In January 1934, Soviet troops crossed the border and attacked rebel positions in the Ili area. Chang P'ei-yüan's forces were defeated and the governor committed suicide. Despite valiant resistance, Ma Zhongying's troops were no match for the superior Soviet military machine, including aerial bombing, and were pushed back from Urumchi. In the south, Khoja Niyas Hajji was wooed away from the TIRET leadership by a Soviet offer of arms.
Having been unable to capture Urumchi, Ma Zhongying now turned south towards Kashgar. In February, "in a development which emphasised the deeply conflicting interests of Turkic-speaking and Chinese-speaking Muslims in southern Sinkiang, the capital of the secessionist TIRET was recaptured for Nanking not by the provincial forces of Sheng Shih-ts'ai, but by the Tungan forces of Ma Chung-ying." At the same time, Khoja Niyas Hajji was negotiating with the Soviets to dissolve the TIRET, in return for receiving the post of "Civil Governor for Life," under Sheng's administration. Fighting between the Dungans and the forces loyal to the Khotan Amirs continued for the next several months, and by July 1934, all the TIRET leaders had been either killed in battle or hanged or had fled to British India. Ma Zhongying, now firmly in control of Kashgar, denounced Sheng as a Soviet puppet and reaffirmed his allegiance to the GMD government.
However, Ma's bid for British support fell on deaf ears and, in a surprising move, he turned to the Soviets for aid. In a sequence of events which still remains a mystery, he crossed over the Soviet border in July and was never heard from again. It seems that he struck a deal with the Soviets and some reports indicate that he may even have been given a position in the Red Army. Certainly, his presence in the USSR was advantageous to the Soviets, for "with Ma Chung-ying safely removed from the political stage in Sinkiang and living in the Soviet Union as 'honoured guest', the Kremlin would retain a card which might be played to great effect against a possibly recalcitrant Sheng Shih-ts'ai, or indeed, should the necessity arise, against a hostile Nanking or an expansionist Japan."In the power vacuum created by the collapse of the TIRET and Ma's departure, provincial forces loyal to Sheng were able to recapture Kashgar a few weeks later. In September 1934, a truce was signed between the Dungan forces and the provincial authorities.
Following this truce, Ma Hu-shan, Ma Zhongying's brother-in-law, proceeded to set up what was called by one Western observer "Tunganistan," "a Tungan satrapy where Hui Muslims ruled as colonial masters over their Turkic-speaking Muslim subjects." 61 This state within a state, with its "capital" in Khotan, was avowedly loyal to Nanjing and was to remain in power until 1937. Neither staunchly Islamic, as the TIRET had been, nor pro-Soviet, as Sheng's government was, it was merely another manifestation of the rampant warlordism so prevalent in Republican China at the time. The regime was characterised by autocratic rule, Chinese colonialism, strong militarism, and excessive taxation. As a Western observer noted at the time, "The whole aim of the government is to provide the military with the necessary money and supplies, while the needs of the people are entirely disregarded."
Meanwhile, Ma Hu-shan regularly received telegrams, ostensibly from his brother-in-law in the USSR, promising the leader of Tunganistan that Ma Zhongying would soon return, thus stalling him in any move he might make against Sheng's forces. "Beneath this continuing Soviet deception lay a deeper stratum of diplomatic and military purpose, for by 1937, when Ma Hu-shan seems finally to have despaired of Ma Chung-ying's return to Sinkiang, Soviet control had been firmly established over Sheng Shih-ts'ai, whilst the military inactivity of the Tungan armies had undermined the very fabric of 'Tunganistan' from within." As early as 1935, there were Uighur uprisings and a Dungan mutiny in "Tunganistan," evidence of the unstable nature of the warlord's domain.
In August 1934, Sheng issued his Eight-Point Declaration, a plan to reform the entire political and social structure of the province: (1) equality among races, (2) religious freedom, (3) rural relief, (4) financial reforms, (5) administrative reforms, (6) extension of education, (7) introduction of local self-government, and (8) judicial reforms. Certainly, some efforts were made to institute some of these reforms, moreso than under Sheng's predecessors. However, at the same time, "he created a 'family hierarchy' which was as corrupt as Chin Shu-jen's [and] to protect himself from his political opponents, he developed an elaborate network of secret police." More significantly, in the eyes of his critics, he came increasingly under the control of the Soviets. That control can be seen clearly in the seventh of the "nine chief duties" of the provincial government, also proclaimed in 1934:
To eradicate corruption.
To develop economy and culture.
To maintain peace by avoiding war.
To mobilise all manpower for the cultivation of land.
To facilitate communications.
To keep Sinkiang for ever a Chinese province.
To start the work of anti-imperialism and anti-Fascism, and to maintain a close Sino-Russian relationship.
To construct a "New Sinkiang."
To protect the positions and privileges of religious leaders.
Sheng justified his alliance with the Soviets by maintaining that Russia was "definitely not an aggressive country," was "ready to aid the weak races in the world," and was "non-aggressive towards Sinkiang," that China could "only be saved and liberated by perpetuating her intimate connection with Russia," that Xinjiang could "never afford to reconstruct itself without the help of Russia," that Xinjiang would "permanently remain a Chinese province if it succeeded in keeping the friendship of Russia," and that only the maintenance of a healthy relationsip with Russia would enable Xinjiang to "tread on the path of anti-imperialism" (Sheng saw Japan as the chief imperialist threat to Xinjiang).
The maintenance of "a close Sino-Russian relationship" was quickly put into effect, as Soviet economic and military aid, troops, and advisors poured into the province. Russians were soon involved in everything from oil drilling to education to military training. In the areas that Sheng controlled, mostly in the north, Russian became the main foreign language studied in school, many young people were sent to the USSR to study, atheistic propaganda became commonplace, mosques were converted into social clubs or theatres, and religious leaders were persecuted. A secret treaty is said to have been signed, guaranteeing that the Soviets would assist Xinjiang "politically, economically and by armed force... in case of some external attack upon the province." 68 In the words of a former Soviet advisor in Xinjiang, "According to Stalin's plan, Sinkiang was to become a sphere of exclusive Russian influence and to serve as a bulwark of our power in the east.... Sinkiang was soon a Soviet colony in all but name."
In the spring of 1937, rebellion again broke out in southern Xinjiang. A number of factors contributed to the outbreak. In an effort to appease the Turkic Muslims, Sheng had appointed a number of their non-secessionist leaders, including Khoja Niyas Hajji and Yulbars Khan, another leader of the Kumul uprising, to positions of influence in the provincial government, both in Urumchi and Kashgar. At the same time, educational reforms, which attacked basic Islamic principles, and the atheistic propaganda program, which was being extended into the south, were further alienating the local population from Sheng's administration. In Kashgar. Mahmud Shih-chang, a wealthy Muslim and one of Sheng's appointees, became the focal point for opposition to the government. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Muhammad Amin Bughra, the exiled leader of the TIRET, had approached the Japanese ambassador in 1935 with "a detailed plan proposing the establishment of an 'Eastern Turkestan Republic' under Japanese sponsorship, with munitions and finance to be supplied by Tokyo.... he suggested as the future leader of this proposed Central Asian 'Manchukuo' none other than Mahmud Shih-chang." However, this plan was aborted when Mahmud, fearful for his life, fled from Kashgar to India in April 1937.
Mahmud's flight sparked an uprising amongst his troops against provincial authorities. Those who were pro-Soviet in any way were executed and yet another independent Muslim administration was set up. As before, this revolt had a decidedly Islamic nature. At the same time, uprisings broke out amongst the Kirghiz near Kucha and once again in Kumul. In this context, Ma Hu-shan decided to make his move from Khotan and captured Kashgar from the rebels in June. However, the situation was not to last long. 5,000 Red Army troops, with airborne and armoured vehicle reinforcements, invited by Sheng to intervene, were already on their way to southern Xinjiang, along with Sheng's forces and mutinous Dungan troops. The Turkic rebels were defeated, Kashgar was retaken and Ma Hu-shan's administration collapsed. By October 1937, with the collapse of the Turkic rebellion and the Dungan "satrapy," Muslim control of the south once again came to an end. Shortly after, the rebellions in Kumul and amongst the Kirghiz were also put down, thus establishing Sheng, for the first time, as the actual ruler of the whole province.
"It soon became apparent, however, that the price of Sheng's supremacy was to be almost complete domination, both politically and economically, of Sinkiang by the Soviet Union." A permanent Red Army unit, the 8th Regiment, was established at Kumul, ostensibly to guard against a possible Japanese strike via Inner Mongolia. Besides accomplishing this purpose, this move also erected a barrier to further influence from the three other forces that could challenge the USSR's control of the province: the GMD government in Nanjing; the "Five Ma" warlord group that controlled the adjacent provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, and Ningxia;and the local Muslim population, which had shown such an inclination to rebellion.Soviet military presence in the province was increased as a result of the signing of the Sino-Soviet Non-Agression Pact in August 1937. This agreement guaranteed Soviet military assistance to the Nationalist government, in order to stem the tide of the Japanese invasion of northern China, and the obvious route for transporting arms and military vehicles from the USSR to China lay through Xinjiang. An airplane factory and flying school were soon established in the province.
However, Soviet influence was not only in the military realm. By this time, the economy was virtually completely under the monopoly of the Soviets as well. Besides oil, various other natural resources were being openly exploited by the USSR without the permission of the Nationalist government (which was hardly in a position to object, as it was undergoing the full brunt of the Japanese invasion in the east). The 1940 Tin Mines Agreement gave the Soviets "exclusive rights for the prospection, investigation and exploitation of tin and its ancillary minerals"in the province. The financial reimbursement that Xinjiang received for this exploitation was minimal. At the same time, steps were taken to negate the influence of any other foreign power in Xinjiang. The British authorities, who had long since been eclipsed by the Soviets in terms of influence in Xinjiang, were subjected to increased harassment.
In all of this, despite some limited protests, Sheng readily complied with Soviet dictates. As one authority notes, "the ruler of Sinkiang followed his natural inclination to flow with the tide; thus the chameleon warlord became 'Redder than Red'." A secret police force modelled after and controlled by the NKVD, called the Pao-an-tui (Security Preservation Corps) was created and, as a result, police terror and surveillance became widespread. When the Great Stalinist Purge swept the Soviet Union in 1937, the search for "Trotskyites" and "Fascists" spilled over into Xinjiang and many leaders, Turkic, Dungan, and Han Chinese, were eliminated. "In retrospect, it is clear that the only factor linking the ethnically and politically diverse 'Fascist-Trotskyite plotters' was their opposition... to the Soviet-sponsored status quo in Sinkiang and, more particularly, to Sheng Shih-ts'ai himself." Following the purge, Sheng visited Moscow in 1938 where he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). It is interesting to note that Stalin had previously vetoed an earlier request by Sheng to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), thus showing that the Soviet Union's concerns extended beyond merely ensuring that Xinjiang had a Communist government. Upon his return to Urumchi, Sheng proceeded to endorse every move that Stalin made as World War II unfolded. "By 1939... Sinkiang, though still nominally part of China, had become a virtual dependency of the Soviet Union, differing scarcely at all from the neighbouring Mongolian People's Republic."
The honeymoon was not to last long, however. Three events happened in 1941 which resulted in Sheng's loyalty shifting away from the Soviets and back to the GMD. In April, the Soviet Union signed a non-agression pact with Japan. In June, Hitler invaded the USSR. In December, the United States entered the war on the side of Nationalist China. The combined effect of these developments was to convince Sheng, staunchly anti-Japanese and ever the pragmatist, that the Soviets were no longer a desirable ally. For his part, Chiang Kai-shek, recognizing the inevitability of a conflict between the GMD and the CCP once the war was over, also saw the need to have Xinjiang firmly in his camp.
Talks between Sheng and the GMD began in March 1942. By October, the negotiations were complete.and Xinjiang was once again allied with Nationalist China. For his part, Sheng quickly carried out a purge of all pro-Soviet elements in the province. Among those arrested and executed was Mao Zemin, Mao Zedong's brother, who had been sent to Xinjiang along with a number of other CCP cadres to help Sheng. The Soviets were given three months to withdraw all their military and technical personnel. In June 1943, GMD troops began to enter Xinjiang. By October, the Soviets had completely withdrawn from the province. However, Sheng's shifting of allegiance was not over yet. In the wake of Japanese victories against the Nationalists in August 1944, he reinstated martial law and began arresting GMD officials and those sympathetic to the Nationalists in Xinjiang. Such actions could no longer be tolerated by the GMD and in September, Sheng was reassigned to a post in the Nationalist capital of Chongqing and flown out of Xinjiang.