Though the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) came to occupy different ends of the political spectrum, they both hailed from the same nationalist tradition. Under the Qing dynasty, China was subject to humiliating treatment at the hands of Western powers. Chinese nationalists responded to these humiliations by arguing that China was economically, politically, and militarily backward and needed to undergo radical change before it could stand up and finally assert itself against the West. Members of the KMT, no less than their Communist counterparts, were proud to call themselves revolutionaries.
Over time, however, the paths of the two parties began to diverge sharply. Under Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT began to break away from Western influence, a radical departure from the movement’s posture under Sun-Yat-sen. This meant that the KMT became more insular, more self-consciously right wing. The CPC, however, remained a recognizably left-wing party, which took considerable inspiration from the Soviet Union.
Even so, there were still some self-proclaimed Marxists within the KMT, although their interpretation of Marxist ideology was completely different from that of the CPC. And successive KMT party programs were packed with radical-sounding measures, such as the more equitable distribution of land. For good measure, the KMT often took firm measures against what they saw as profiteering merchants.
Yet despite such radical, even revolutionary rhetoric, the KMT primarily drew its support from the more privileged sections of Chinese society, in contrast to the CPC, which represented poor peasants and industrial workers. And the KMT’s promotion of traditional Chinese religious practices, such as Confucianism, further distinguished it from the Communists, who were thoroughgoing atheists determined to do away with the old traditions, seeing them as reactionary and counterrevolutionary.