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Chinese Civil War


The Chinese Civil War was a conflict in China between the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party; KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). It began with the takeover of the KMT by the right-wing General Chiang Kai-shek and purges of leftist and Communist members in 1926 and ended in 1949 with an unofficial cessation of hostilities, with the Communists controlling mainland China and the Nationalists controlling Taiwan and several Fujianese islands.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Northern Expedition (1926 - 1928) and KMT split
3 Agrarian Revolution (1927 - 1937)
4 Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 - 1945)
5 Post-war power struggle (1945-1947)
6 Final stage of fighting (1946 - 1949)
7 People
8 Related articles


For many centuries preceding the early 1900s China had been ruled by emperors. Economic troubles led to dissatisfaction and the development of groups who wanted reforms and more developments on Western lines. Southern reformist provinces declared themselves to be independent of the emperor. The northern provinces were undecided and General Yuan Shikai controlled the Beiyang Army. Because of his powerful position Yuan Shikai was appointed prime minister of the imperial government and given authority to deal with the southern uprisings. He made an agreement with the reformers which had him becoming president and the child emperor abdicating. The Tongmenghui (subsequently Kuomintang) (anti-monarchist, reformers) party gained a majority in the national assembly elections of February, 1913. Later that year tensions between Yuan Shikai and the reformers rose, they attempted a second revolution against his rule, and he ordered the assembly dissolved and the suppression of the Tongmenghui party.

Yuan Shikai then reinstated the monarchy and declared himself to be the new emperor, during a period from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916. Widespread opposition led to him backing down and he died of kidney failure a few months later. The result was the era of the warlords, during which competing provincial groups and warlords fought for control. One of the strongest was the Kuomintang party and its President Sun Yat-sen, based in the southern province of Guangzhou, which sought to reunite China under a single government.

In his fight against warlordism in Northern China, Sun Yat-sen sought the help of foreign powers. His efforts to obtain aid from the Western democracies were ignored, however, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union. For political expediency, the Soviet leadership initiated a dual policy of support for both Sun and the newly established Communist Party of China. The Soviets hoped for consolidation but were prepared for either side to emerge victorious. In this way the struggle for power in China began between the Nationalists and the Communists.

In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers--the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin--began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the KMT along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CPC was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the KMT, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities, forming the First United Front between the two parties. The CPC was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The KMT in 1922 already had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek, one of Sun's lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. After Chiang's return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the KMT-CPC alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the KMT and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government.

Northern Expedition (1926 - 1928) and KMT split

Just months after Sun's death in 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition (北伐战争) against the northern warlords to unite China under KMT control.

By 1926, however, the KMT had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers, imposed restrictions on CPC members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent KMT leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CPC, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926.

In early 1927 the KMT-CPC rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CPC and the left wing of the KMT had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CPC apparatus. Chiang Kai-shek, with the aid of the Shanghai underworld, arguing that communist activities were socially and economically disruptive, turned on Communists and unionists in Shanghai, arresting and executing hundreds on April 12, 1927. The purge widened the rift between Chiang and Wang Ching-wei's Wuhan government (a contest won by Chiang Kai-shek) and destroyed the urban base of the CPC. Chiang, expelled from the KMT for his actions, formed a rival government in Nanjing. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Kuomintang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the next decade.

The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CPC to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong.

But in mid-1927 the CPC was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing KMT allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime.

The KMT resumed the campaign again warlords and captured Beijing in June 1928, after which most of eastern China was under Chiang's control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in conformity with Sun Yat-sen's formula for the three stages of revolution--military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy--China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark on the second, which would be under KMT direction.

Agrarian Revolution (1927 - 1937)

During the Agarian Revolution (土地革命战争), Communist Party activists retreated underground or to the countryside where they fomented a peasant rebellion (Nanchang Uprising on August 1, 1927) and established control over several areas in southern China. Attempts by the Nationalist armies to suppress the rebellion were unsuccessful but extremely damaging to the Communist forces.

After Chiang Kai-shek had foiled the coup to oust him launched by Feng Y-hsiang, Yen Hsi-shan, and Wang Ching-wei (1929-30), he immediately turned his attention to rooting out the remaining pockets of Communist activity. The first two campaigns failed and the third was aborted due to the Mukden Incident. The fourth campaign (1932-1933) achieved some early successes, but Chiangs armies were badly mauled when they tried to penetrate into the heart of Maos Soviet Chinese Republic. Finally in late 1933 Chiang launched a fifth campaign orchestrated by his German advisors that involved the systematic encirclement of the Jiangxi Soviet region with fortified blockhouses. By the fall of 1934, the Communists faced the possibility of total annihilation. It seemed that the time was now ripe to finish off the CPC, then turn against the remaining warlords, before finally retaking Manchuria from the Japanese.

In October, the Communists decided to make a massive military retreat into the interior of Shaanxi to escape the ensuing KMT forces. It was under this yearlong, 8000 km retreat that Mao Zedong emerged as the top Communist leader. Along the way, the Communist Army confiscated property and weapons from local warlords and landlords, while recruiting peasants and the poor, solidifying its appeal to the masses.

Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 - 1945)

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) (抗日战争), Chiang Kai-Shek, who saw the Communists as a greater threat, refused to ally with the Communists to fight against Japanese. On December 12, 1936, Kuomintang Generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang Kai-Shek and forced him to a truce with the Communists. The incident became known as the Xian Incident (西安事变). Both parties agreed to suspend fighting and form a Second United Front to focus their energies against the Japanese.

However, the alliance was in name only. The level of actual cooperation and coordination between the CPC and KMT during the Second World War was minimal. In the midst of the Second United Front, the Communists and the Kuomintang were still vying for territorial advantage in "Free China" (i.e. those areas not occupied by the Japanese or ruled by puppet governments). The situation came to a head in late 1940 and early 1941 when there were major clashes between the Red Army and KMT forces. In December 1940, Chiang Kai-shek demanded that the CPCs New Fourth Army evacuate Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces. Under intense pressure, the New Fourth Army commanders complied, but they were ambushed by Nationalist troops and soundly defeated in January 1941. This clash, which would be known as the New Fourth Army Incident, weakened the CPC position in Central China and effectively ended any substantive cooperation between the Nationalists and the Communists and both sides concentrated on jockeying for position in the inevitable Civil War.

Post-war power struggle (1945-1947)

Under the terms of the Japanese surrender, Japanese troops were ordered to surrender to KMT troops and not the Communists.

With the sudden end of WWII in East Asia, Soviet forces flooded into the Manchurian Provinces to seize Japanese positions and to take the surrender of the 700,000 Japanese troops still stationed in the region. Later in the year Chiang Kai-shek came to the painful realization that he lacked the resources to prevent a CPC takeover of Manchuria following the scheduled Soviet departure, he therefore made a deal with the Russians to delay their withdrawal until he had moved enough of his best-trained men and modern materiel into the region. The Soviets spent the extra time systematically dismantling the entire Manchurian industrial plant and shipping it back to their war-ravaged motherland.

General George Marshall arrived in China with the hope of brokering a cease-fire between the KMT and the CPC, and of building a coalition government that would include all of the contending political/military groups in China. Unfortunately for Marshall, neither the Communists (represented by Zhou Enlai) nor Chiang Kai-sheks representatives were willing to compromise on certain fundamental issues or relinquish the territories they had seized in the wake of the Japanese surrender. The truce fell apart in the spring of 1946, and although negotiations continued, Marshall was recalled in January 1947.

Final stage of fighting (1946 - 1949)

With the breakdown of peace talks, an all out war resumed. To the Communists, this stage was called the War of Liberation (解放战争). While the Soviet Union provided aid to the Communists, the United States assisted the Nationalists with supplies and generous loans.

Belatedly, the Nationalist government sought to enlist popular support through internal reforms. The effort was in vain, however, because of the rampant corruption in government and the accompanying political and economic chaos. By late 1948 the Nationalist position was bleak. The demoralized and undisciplined Nationalist troops proved no match for the communist Red Army. The Communists were well established in the north and northeast. Although the Nationalists had an advantage in numbers of men and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population than their adversaries, and enjoyed considerable international support, they were exhausted by the long war with Japan and the attendant internal responsibilities.

After numerous operational set-backs in Manchuria, especially in attempting to take the major cities, the Communists were ultimately able to seize the region and then focus on the war south of the Great Wall. In January 1949 Beiping was taken by the Communists without a fight, and its name changed back to Beijing. Between April and November, major cities passed from KMT to Communist control with minimal resistance. In most cases the surrounding countryside and small towns had come under Communist influence long before the cities. And yet, even though the balance of power was shifting toward the CPC, there were still numerous opportunities for a negotiated settlement. Joseph Stalin attempted to restrain Mao on several occasions while he gauged American responses to developments in China. After the Huai-hai Campaign, it seemed that the Communists were going to pause on the northern bank of the Yangtze River. Only when it became clear that American and British support for negotiations was lacking, did Stalin give Mao the go-ahead to cross the river.

Ultimately, the Communist Party was victorious. On October 1, 1949 Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek and a few hundred thousand Nationalist troops and 2 million refugees, predominantly from the government and business community, fled from the mainland to the island of Taiwan, there remained only isolated pockets of resistance. In December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of the Republic of China and continued to assert his government as the sole legitimate authority in China.



Communist Party


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