The Blue Shirts Society, composed of the young graduates of Huangpu Military Academy, were the secret agents of Nationalist China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek during the 1930s. Modeled on the European fascist practices, the Blue Shirts pledged unquestioned loyalty to Chiang and engaged in subversive activities and mass socialization, which helped to consolidate Chiang’s authoritarian rule before the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945.
In 1928 Chiang Kai-shek declared that warlordism in China had been eliminated and that China was unified under the Guomindang (GMD, Chinese Nationalist Party) government led by Chiang Kai-shek, with the capital relocated from Beijing to Nanjing. However, this national unification was nominal as warlords remained the true rulers in their respective regions, and their allegiance to the GMD government was merely symbolic. Within the Chinese government Chiang faced challenges from different cliques, and he headed the Huangpu (Whampoa) clique. At large, the Chinese Communists were growing rapidly, competing against Chiang for national power. China therefore remained divided and weak, inviting foreign intrusion, especially by the Japanese, who established a stronghold in the northeast.
To save China a group of GMD members demanded reform of the GMD and society along European fascist lines. Members of this group, aged between twenty and thirty, some of whom had received overseas education, were graduates of Huangpu Military Academy. During their Huangpu years Chiang had been their principal. They therefore naturally looked upon Chiang as their leader simply because of that affiliation. The idea of reforming the GMD came to Chiang’s attention in autumn 1931 when Liu Jianqiong, a party member, approached Chiang and brought up the idea of forming an elitist special force to assist Chiang in factional struggles.
With Chiang’s consent, these Huangpu graduates founded the Blue Shirts Society (BSS) (Lanyishe) on 1 March 1932 in Nanjing. Its leader was He Zhonghan, and members included Liu and Dai Li; the latter was responsible for spying activities that earned him fame as “China’s Himmler.” Like its counterparts in Europe, the BSS pledged unquestioned loyalty to its leader (Chiang), promotion of militant nationalism, and fascistization of society, all deemed necessary to achieve national salvation.
The BSS was an elitist secret service organ, with its initial membership about twenty and no more than ten thousand when it was disbanded. To avoid a partisan outlook, members called themselves simply the “Blue Shirts,” identified by the color of their uniforms. To facilitate their secret activities, they operated behind the formal GMD structure. Yet, their influence was strongly felt in the police force and public security, the party, and the military. At the same time Chiang never publicly acknowledged the formal existence of the BSS.
A Secret Speech
In a secret speech attributed to Chiang Kai-Shek in 1932, the basis of the Blue Shirt Society is explained.
The foundation of this association has now been laid. People call us Blue Shirts or terrorists. That is nothing. The important problem to be solved is how to create a new revolutionary atmosphere so as to lead the revolutionary masses…. In China today definite action must be taken for temporary relief as well as for a fundamental cure. However, what we need now is a fundamental cure. Our present problem is not the Japanese. Our problem is not the invasion of our northeastern provinces and Rehe. If we can maintain the status quo, it will be enough for the present time. As a revolutionary government, the loss of a little territory does not mean much. The important problem is that of national existence. To save China from destruction we must revive our national spirit… Zhong [loyalty], xiaoshun [filial piety], dexing [virtue], ai [love], he [harmony], and ping [peace] should be our central guiding principles for the achievement of li [property], yi [righteousness], lian [purity], and chi [sense of shame], which comprise the national spirit of China. The success of the Japanese fascists and the Italian fascists is due to this. If we want our revolution [to be] a success, we must create a party dictatorship.
Source: Wakeman, F. E.. (2003). Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese secret service. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 66.
BSS activities included subversion in the government to get rid of rival cliques, extermination of the Chinese Communists, and convert actions in the northeast to expel Japanese invaders. To strengthen Chiang’s ruling position and cultivate his cult of personality, the BSS helped to instill rank-and-file military officers with fascist ideas and organized mass socialization programs launched by Chiang in the mid-1930s, such as the New Life Movement, the National Voluntary Labor Movement, and the National Military Education Movement. The BSS paid special attention to recruiting and organizing youths.
The BSS was dissolved in March 1938 because of the Second United Front, which required that Chiang put aside the campaign against the Chinese Communists and cooperate with them to fight the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945, known outside China as the Second Sino-Japanese War). Nevertheless, the BSS spirit and some of its members were shortly transferred to a new organization called the “Three People’s Principle Youth Corps,” founded in May the same year.
Chang, M. H. (1985). The Blue Shirts Society: Fascism and developmental nationalism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Eastman, L. E. (1974). The abortive revolution: China under Nationalist rule, 1927–1937. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hong, F. (2000). Blue Shirts, Nationalists and nationalism: Fascism in 1930s China. In J. A. Mangan (Ed.), Superman supreme: Fascist body as political icon: Global fascism (pp. 205–226). London: Frank Cass.
Wakeman, F. E., Jr. (2003). Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese secret service. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Source: Law, Yuk-fun (2009). Blue Shirts Society. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 183–184. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Blue Shirts Society (Lanyīshè 蓝衣社)|Lanyīshè 蓝衣社 (Blue Shirts Society)