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China's First Five-year Plan: Industrialization Under the Warlords as Reflected in the Policies of Yen Hsi-Shan in Shansi Province, 1930–1937

  • Donald G. Gillin


The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that under at least one of the so-called “warlords” or military rulers who governed China during the 1930's, there occurred political, social, and, above all, economic changes of the utmost importance. These changes took place in the northwestern province of Shansi, where, beginning in 1932, the warlord Yen Hsi-shan undertook to modernize the underdeveloped economy of his domain by carrying out a “provincial Ten-Year Plan of Economic Reconstruction,” or Shan-hsi sheng-cheng shih-nien chien-she chi-hua. I have chosen to call Yen's scheme for promoting economic growth in Shansi “China's First Five-Year Plan,” since in addition to being cut short by the Japanese occupation of Shansi only five years after its inception, it was inspired by the success of Russia's first five-year plan. Throughout the 1930's, Yen and his supporters repeatedly lavished praise on the Soviet Union for its spectacular accomplishments in the field of industrial development and advocated adopting Russian methods in order to achieve similar results in China. Notwithstanding his hatred of the Chinese Communists, who invaded Shansi in the winter of 1936, Yen continued to praise the Soviet economy throughout the 1930'5, holding it up as a model for China and for Shansi. “The Soviet Union accomplishes in one year what it takes other countries five years to achieve,” he remarked.



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1 For a description of Yen's régime in the 1920's and a discussion of its significance, see Gillin, Donald G., “Portrait of a Warlord: Yen Hsi-shan in Shansi Province, 1911–1930,” The Journal oj Asian Studies, May, 1960, pp. 289306. An analysis of Yen's policies with respect to education in Shansi before 1930 can be found in Gillin, Donald G., “Education and Militarism in Modern China: Yen Hsi-shan in Shansi Province, 1911—1930,” The Journal of Modern History, June, 1962, pp. 161167.

2 Hsi-shan, Yen, Yen Po-ch‘üan hsien-sheng yen-lün lei-pien (“The Collected Addresses of Mister Yen Po-ch‘ün” (Shanghai, 1939), hereafter referred to as Lectures, III Shang, 521 (September, 1936). Yen's admiration for the economic achievements of the Soviet Union dated as far back as 1931. Sec Lectures, I, 27 (March, 1931). As the years passed, his enthusiasm grew more intense. For example, in April, 1937, he delivered a speech in which he eulogized the results of Russia's second five-year plan and hailed in the most extravagant terms the goals of the third five-year plan. Appended to this speech is an elaborate chart contrasting the productivity of the Soviet economy in 1936 widi the output of China's economy as a whole and that of Shansi in particular. See Lectures, IV, 126–136 (April, 1937). The extent to which his high regard for the U.S.S.R. was shared by his followers can be seen on pages 4–6 of Li Ch‘ang-sheng, “Po-ch‘an te Chung-kuo ching-chi chih ch‘u-lu,” (“The Way Out for the Bankrupt Chinese Economy”) and page 23 of Tuan Liang-ch‘en, “I-nien-lai chih Shan-hsi ching-chi” (“The Economy of Shansi during the Past Year”), in the January 1, 1935, issue of Chien-cheng chou-k‘an or “Supervisorial Weekly,” hereafter referred to as CCCK, a magazine put out by an organization which Yen created in 1932 for the purpose of supervising the implementation of his ten-year plan of economic development.

3 Tuan Liang-ch‘en, pp. 8–12. Also see Shih-yeh pu, Kuo-chi mao-i chü (Industry Section, Board of International Trade), pub., Chung-kuo shih-yeh chih, Shan-hsi sheng (“The Chinese Industrial Gazetteer, Shansi Province”) (Shanghai, 1937), hereafter referred to as Industrial Gazetteer, pp. 82–86 hsin, 490-szu, and 548-szu, and Ch‘üan-kuo ching-chi wei-yüan-hui (“National Economic Committee”), pub., Shan-hsi k'ao-ch‘a pao-kao shu (“Report on an Investigation of Shansi”) (Shanghai, 1936), hereafter referred to as Shansi Report, p. 116.

4 Ch‘u Chih-sheng, “Shan-hsi te ching-chi hsien-chuang yü ching-chi t‘ung-chih,” (“Economic Controls and Present Economic Conditions in Shansi”), Kuo-wen chou-pao (“The Weekly Gazette”), hereafter referred to as KWCP, March 12, 1934, p. 1.

5 Tuan Liang-ch‘en, p. 23 and Chen Ming-t‘ing, “Lün wu-ch‘an cheng-ch‘üan” (“A Discussion of Product Certificates”), pp. 2–3, CCCK.

6 Tuan Liang-ch‘en, p. 13.

7 Lectures, I, 392–3 (October, 1935) and Yuz, Fukadaō, Shina kyōsangun no gensei (“The Current Condition of the Chinese Communist Army”) (Tokyo, 1939), p. 372.

8 Lectures, VI, 124–127 (October, 1935).

9 Lectures, IV, 48–49 (October, 1932) and I, 221–222 (March, 1931). Also see the North China Herald, hereafter referred to as NCH, July 8, 1936, 80:2–3 and Shiryō-ka, Sōmu-bu, Minami Manshū kabushiki kai sha (“Research Section, General Affairs Department, South Manchurian Railroad Company”), pub., Hoku Shi jijō sōran (“General Survey of Conditions in North China”) (Hsinking, 1935), p. 244.

10 Li ch‘ang-sheng, “Pen hui kung-tso chih hui-ku yü ch‘an-wang” (“The Work of our Association in Retrospect and its Possibilities for the Future”), pp. 6–17, CCCK.

11 Industrial Gazetteer, p. 5—hsin and pp. 38–39—ping and Shansi Report, pp. 315—321.

12 Snow, Edgar, Red Star Over China (New York, 1944), p. 394.

13 Wang ch‘ien, Erh-shih-ch‘i nien Shan-hsi cheng-chih kai-k‘uang (“Twenty Seven Years of Government in Shansi”) (Unpublished manuscript in my possession), p. 20b. I have converted Wang's figures into American dollars at the rate of 3.84 Chinese dollars for one American dollar, which, according to Gamble, Sidney, North China Villages (Berkeley, 1963), p. x, was the average exchange rate between Chinese and American dollars for 1933. Although rumors circulated to the effect that the Japanese were putting up much of the capital for Yen's industries, I have been unable to find any evidence which supports these allegations. On the contrary, during the 1930's Yen's relations with the Japanese became increasingly acrimonious.

14 Tokuichi, Himeno, Hokushi no seijō (“Political Conditions in North China”) (Tokyo, 1936), p. 152. Also NCH, February 6, 1935, p. 211:2.

15 An excellent discussion of technical and vocational education in Shansi during the 1930's can be found in Ma Shao-po and Ts‘ao Tzu-chung, “I-nien-lai Shan-hsi chih chiao-yü” (“Education in Shansi during the Past Year”), CCCK.

16 Lectures, IX, 32–34 (August, 1936) and 39 (November, 1936).

17 Lectures, III Shang, 296–297, 303, 327, and 332 (April, October, and December, 1932, and May, 1933, respectively) and IX, 54 (January, 1936).

18 sheng cheng-fu, Shan-hsi (Provincial Government of Shansi), pub., Shan-hsi sheng t‘ung-chi nienchien (“Shansi Statistical Annual”) (Taiyuan, 1935), I, 34.

19 Lectures, III Hsia, 239 (June, 1937).

20 Fukada, pp. 338 and 356–358.

21 Industrial Gazetteer, p. 88-hsin.

22 ch‘i Tien-yü, “I-nien-lai Shan-hsi chih ts‘ai-cheng” (“Fiscal Administration in Shansi during the Past Year”), pp. 12–14, CCCK. According to a Japanese writer, the revenue yielded by taxes in Shansi increased enormously during the 1930's, largely because for the first time severe punishments were meted out to those who tried to evade taxes. See Hoku Shi jijō sōran, p. 242. Yen's own writings indicate clearly that most of those guilty of tax evasion came from the privileged classes. For example, see Lectures, III Shang, 475 and 515 (August and September, 1936) and IX, 8 and 16 (October, 1935).

23 Lieberman, Henry, “State Industries of Shansi Grow but Benefit to People is Delayed,” The New York Times, February 14, 1947, 14:3.

24 Wu Pao-san, “ch‘a-Sui-Chin lü-hsing kuan-kan” (“Impressions Gathered during a Trip through Chahar, Suiyuan, and Shansi”), Part II, Tu-li p‘ing-lün (“The Independent Commentator”), November 17. 1935. p. 20.

25 Lectures, IV, 80–81 (January, 1934) and Shansi Report, pp. 321–324. For information concerning Yen's credit cooperatives, see ch‘i T'ien-shou, “Lun nung-ts‘un hsin-yung ho-tso ch‘üan” (“Concerning the Use of Credit Cooperative Certificates in the Peasant Villages”) in CCCK.

26 Hsi-shan, Yen, “Wu-ch‘an cheng-ch‘üan yu an-lao fen-p‘ei” (“Product Certificates and Distribution According to Labor”) in Lectures, I, 1245 (March, 1931).

27 For example, see Levenson, Joseph, Liang ch‘i-ch‘ao and the Mind of Modern China (Cambridge, 1953). pp. 198204, as well as my own article in The Journal of Asian Studies, May, 1960, p. 291.

28 Lectures, III Shang, 367 and 623 (July, 1935, and April, 1937).

29 Shan-hsi sheng t‘ ung-chi nien-chien, I, 35.

30 Lectures, I, 113 (March, 1931).

31 Lectures, IV, 41 and 50–53 (March, 1932, and April, 1933).

32 Lectures, III Shang, 335–343 (May, 1933).

33 Shan-hsi sheng t‘ung-chi nien-chien, I, 8–11.

34 Reiji, Hirano, Chūkyō ryoshū ki (“I was a Prisoner of the Chinese Communists”) (Tokyo, 1957), p. 68. Liang Hua-chih's fate illustrates vividly the kaleidoscopic changes which frequently took place in the thinking of individual Chinese between 1937 and 1949. He ended his life as chief of Yen Hsi-shan's secret police and died by his own hand after burning alive Communist soldiers captured by Yen's troops during the struggle for Taiyuan in 1949.

35 For example, see Shun Wu, “In-nicn-lai Shan-hsi chih chien-she (“Economic Reconstruction in Shansi during the Past Year”) and Ying ch‘iu, “I-nien-lai chih ta-shih shu-p‘ing” (“An Account of the Important Events of the Past Year”) in CCCK.

36 For example, see Shun Wu, pp. 1–2 and Ying ch‘iu, pp. 17–21.

37 Shansi Report, p. 37, and Hoku Shi jijō sōran.

38 The Tientsin l-shih-pao, April 21, 1932, as quoted in Hatano Ken'ichi, comp., Gendai Shina no kiroku (“Modern China Archives”), April, 1932, pp. 289–290. For reports by independent observers who supported Yen's charges against the Central Government, see Shansi Report, pp. 44–48 and 241—242, and Seiichi, Kojima, Hoku Shi keizai tokuhon (“An Economic Primer of North China”) (Tokyo, 1937), I, 41.

39 Rikurō, Takagi, Hoku Shi keizai annai (“An Economic Guide to North China”) (Tokyo, 1937), pp. 69 and 71.

40 NCH, October 10, 1934, 52:1 and November 6, 1935, 230:5. Also see Wu Pao-san, p. 19 and Hanson, Haldore E., “Toy Railway Thrives in Shansi,” The China Weekly Review, February 22, 1936, pp. 421 and 432.

41 Shansi Report, pp. 23–25, 80–95, and 106–118. Also see NCH, November 29, 1933, 331:2, Wang ch‘ien, p. 20a, and Anonymous, “Hsi-pei yü-ts'ai lien-kang chi-ch‘i ch‘ang” (“The Northwestern Yü Ts‘ai Steel and Machine Plant”), Chung-hua shih-yeh yüeh-k‘an (“The Chinese Industrial Monthly”), September 1, 1935, pp. 119123.

42 Hui-tzu, Hsieh, Chin-jih chih hua-pei (“North China Today”) (Nanking, 1939), p. 28. Also see Shansi Report, pp. 70–78 and Naikaku sōn daijin kambō chōsashitsu (“Cabinet Research Office”), comp., Chūhyō tekkōgyō chōsa hōkpkusho (“Survey Report on the Steel Industry of Communist China”) (Tokyo, 1956), pp. 405408.

43 Shansi Report, pp. 24–25 and 100–130, and Hoku Shi jijō sōran, pp. 228–229 and 238.

44 Shansi Report, pp. 64–65, 81, 109, 112–115, and 134–136.

45 Shansi Report, pp. 22–23. Also see ch‘iang, Chang, “Shan-hsi chi-hsing” (“Account of a Trip through Shansi”), KWCP, March 29, 1937, p. 24, and Fang-t‘ung, ch‘en, “T‘ai-yüan luen-ying” (“Fleeting Impressions of Taiyuan”), KWCP, December 7, 1936, p. 28.

46 Tuan Liang-ch‘en, pp. 13–14.

47 For a vivid description of life at the Hu Yen School, see articles by Lien-ch‘eng, Chao and Poying, Liu in Hsin nung-ts‘un (“New Village”), May 15, 1936, pp. 178198 and 1–66 respectively.

48 For a complete exposition of Yen's land reform scheme, see “T‘u-ti ts‘un-kung yu wen-t‘i” (“Questions Having to do with the Villagization of Land”) in Lectures, I, 385–465 (September-December, 1935).

49 Lectures, I, 113 and 462 (March, 1931, and December, 1935).

50 Lectures, III Shang, 318 (December, 1932) and Chi Sheng, “T‘u-ti wen-t‘i chih shih te yen-chiu” (“An Historical Analysis of the Land Question”), Chin-Sui she-hui ching-chi t‘iao-ch‘a t‘ung-chi she nien-kan (“Annual of the Association for the Statistical Investigation of the Society and Economy of Shansi and Suiyuan”), December 1, 1935, pp. 32–34. A number of persons from outside Shansi who visited that province came away with the impression that Yen's land reform scheme was inspired by the Soviet collectives. For example, see Fukada, pp. 334–335 and Chung-kuo ti-cheng hsüeh-hui (“Chinese Land Policy Study Association”), pub., T‘u-ti ts‘un-yu wen-t‘i (“The All Land to the Villages Question”) (Nanking, 1935), pp. 27, 143, and 147. In response to a question asked by an American visitor, Yen said that the aim of his land reform program was identical with that of the Russians, namely the mechanization of agriculture. See Lectures, I, 356 (January, 1938). Significantly, one of his semi-official publications carried an article openly calling for the collectivization of agriculture. See Tuan Liang-ch‘en, p. 24. According to Fukada, p. 369, Yen stipulated that if a majority of the villagers agreed, all the land in the village was to be consolidated into a chi-t‘uan nung-ch‘ang, which I translate as “collective farm.” Another writer says the same thing but refers to the new farms as ho-kuo nung-ch‘ang or “cooperative farms.” See Hsüeh Mu-ch‘iao, ed., Chung-kuo nung-ts‘un wen-t‘i (“The Question of China's Peasant Villages”) (1936, place of publication unknown), p. 44. In his speeches Yen expressed the hope that frequendy several villages would agree to form one such “cooperative farm.” See Lectures, 1, 462 (December, 1935).

51 Chih-chin, Ch‘i, “T'u-ti ts‘un-yu hsia chih Chin-pei nung-ts‘un” (“Peasant Villages of Northern Shansi under [Yen's] ‘All Land to the Village Scheme’ “), KWCP, March 23, 1936, pp. 2324.

52 Although scholars have not investigated them, there exist many examples of industrial development under other warlords. On page 128 of his book, Nippon no tai Shina tōshi kenkyū (“A Study of Japanese Investments in China”) (Tokyo, 1939), Professor Higuchi Hiromu mentions an ambitious “three-year plan” undertaken in 1933 by the provincial government of Kwangtung, which resulted in the construction of 24 factories, including an arsenal, an iron foundry, and several chemical factories. The same warlord régime intended to build a sugar refinery, a distillery, a cement factory, and a plant for the manufacture of agricultural machinery. According to Higuchi, the provincial governments of Shantung, Hunan, Kwangsi, and Szechwan also were in the process of erecting modern industries. Significantly, Szechwan, as well as Shensi and Kansu, purchased many of die machines turned out by Yen's machine tool works. See Shansi Report, pp. 22—23 a nd 84—85 and Chung-hua yüeh-k‘an, September 1, 1935, p. 120. On pages 129–130 Higuchi describes Chiang Kai-shek's own “five-year plan,” which, according to Liu, F. F., A Military History of Modern China (Princeton, 1956), pp. 97101, Chiang initiated in 1935 with the aim of creating a complex of heavy industries capable of producing everything from chemicals to steel. As for the industries built under the Kwangsi warlords during the 1930's, they included a $CH560,000 sulphuric acid factory, a $CH470,000 distillery, and modern plants for the manufacture of leather, textiles, ceramics, sugar, and rubber products, including tires. See the section entitled “Industries and Commerce,” pp. 6–29 in Yen-yü, Lai, ed., Kuang-hsi i-lan (“Glimpses of Kwangsi”) (Nanning, 1935). Kwangsi's most spectacular accomplishment in the field of industrial development, however, was the so-called “Kwangsi Mechanical Works,” which made airplanes for the Kwangsi Army. See King, Lip (ch‘ang Li), China Will Conquer (Shanghai, 1939) pp. 167170. Lip was a returned student from the United States who worked as a mining engineer in Kwangsi during the 1930's.

53 For example, see Feuerwerker, Albert, China's Early Industrialization (Cambridge, 1958), pp. 96188 and 242–251. Yen's own parents were from the middle class and his training in the classics was superficial. As for other warlords, on page 164 of his book, The United States and China (Cambridge, 1958), John K. Fairbank says: “Of the ten or a dozen leading warlords of this period (1911–1949), one began life as a peddler, another as a fiddler, two rose from the rank of private, one had been a bandit, and another a coolie.”

China's First Five-year Plan: Industrialization Under the Warlords as Reflected in the Policies of Yen Hsi-Shan in Shansi Province, 1930–1937

  • Donald G. Gillin


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