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China Syllabus Study Notes

National Studies: China 1927-1949
The Nationalist Decade 1927-1937
Political, economic and social issues in the Chinese Republic in 1927
After 12 years of chaos under warlords, the people welcomed GMD and 3 principles of
Sun. However, there were a range of complicated and difficult issues that needed to be
Political Issues:
No central government
China’s elite in a political vacuum
Instability from remaining warlords and Communists
Warlords fought each other for dominance
Economic Issues:
Massive debt
Economic stagnation
Social Issues:
Country was wracked by social and economic injustice
Foreign control of infrastructure, foreigners occupied territory, foreign goods
flooded the Chinese market, foreign law took precedence over Chinese law and
foreigners controlled customs duty. This caused shame.
70% lived in dire poverty with crushing taxes imposed by warlords
Abolition of the Confucian examination system destroyed Confucian values
China was united in their demand for an end to the unequal treaties.
Hostility from Japan
The Northern Expedition and its impact
Outline of Northern Expedition
On 15 June 1926, Chiang was made Commander-in-Chief of Nationalist Army
He issued Northern expedition to overcome northern warlords and unite all of
China under the GMD
Phase One
Social mobilisation and genuinely revolutionary march stimulated mass
Began to alter long-standing relationships between workers and employers,
peasants, landlords, army, Chinese and foreigners (Sheridan)
Phase Two
Military mobilisation, more like war than revolutionary process
Unity achieved by force imposed by an agglomeration of warlords
The revolutionary thrust was weakened by the joining of the warlords, who had
different ideas and goals (Sheridan)
The impact of the purge of Communists in Shanghai
The Communist purge (1927) in Shanghai effectively divided China into two
irreconcilable camps. Purges were repeated in every city under Chiang’s control
like Nanjing, Hangzhou and Fuzhou.
Dissolution of CCP
Eliminated many of the most progressive activists and discouraged those
committed to action for national welfare.
Negative Impact of the Northern Expedition
Overall, the second phase of the Northern Expedition had more impact – it sowed
the seeds out of which the Nationalist regime would grow and become rank. By
absorbing the conservative and militarised warlords, these groups had a high level
of power and influence over the Nationalist regime, shaping it to their will and
personal advantage.
The warlords only paid lip service to the Government
Future government weakened by warlord involvement in ruling
Chiang blunted the sharp anti-imperialist policy that had characterized GMD since
1924 due to Russian influence as he rejected the Russians and the Communists,
and Chiang’s bourgeoisie supporters got along well with the foreigners.
Many of the warlords were under GMD and pledged to work for nationalist goals
and principle.
Imperialist powers also pledged to relinquish special privileges in power.
Achievements and limitations of the GMD Government
The Republican period was a period in which disorder and disintegration were at their
maximum. (Sheridan) China was so mired by domestic troubles and beset by foreign
invaders that some doubted that the nation had any future at all as an independent
political entity. GMD ideology did not present a persuasive or enlightening analysis of
China’s problems or a convincing method of solving them. The key factor explaining the
failure of the Nanjing government to effect rural reform was that the government was
essentially rural orientated, part of the bourgeoisie.
The GMD could never make up its mind whether its revolutionary past should impel it
forward to modernity, or its nationalist chauvinism carry it back to Chinese tradition
Social Problems
The biggest social problem: low average standard of life.
Did the GMD solve this problem?
No. Little was done to improve the quality of the peasant’s life. The peasant
majority suffered from harsh landlords, high rents, high taxes, high interests,
primitive methods of agriculture and low production. Tough the National
Economic Council was set up to develop industries and a law was passed to limit
farm rents to 37% of a peasant’s crop yield. But this action was limited because
too much of the government’s money was spent on the army or disappeared into
the pockets of corrupt officials. Few improvements reached the rural areas.
The industrial workers also had few rights, long hours and low pay. The peasantry
and the urban workers remained downtrodden and poverty-stricken.
Sun’s party had come to power with the support of the wealthy and the powerful –
bankers, businessmen, landlords, and local administrators. He could hardly afford
to offend these people by pushing through reforms which would weaken their
power and influence. So the expected social revolution which often follows a
political revolution did not come with Chiang’s government.
Lack of modern infrastructure
Did the GMD solve this problem?
To some extent - the new government devoted a great deal of energy to
developing the infrastructure to servicing a modern state. The railroads were
expanded, but this was mostly designed for military use. The China Aviation
corporation was established and post offices and telegraph lines were erected.
School enrolments rose from 13 million to 23 million The government made a
serious attempt at increasing agricultural productivity and sponsored research into
new varieties of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and new irrigation systems were
mostly in the field of communications. Railways were extended, roads built, and
in the provinces these changes, where the Communist war was not a complicating
factor, brought certain benefit.
However, these efforts were hampered by a lack of money as 87% of GMD
treasury was spent on the military, mostly in an effort to exterminate the CCP.
Imperialism from Westerners
Did the GMD solve these problems?
To some extent; the GMD abolished around half the foreign concessions and
regained control of customs and postal services. However, foreigners still
controlled a lot of trade and industries; major powers still had concessions. Chiang
was able to reclaim half of China’s foreign concessions, and by 1933 China had
control over her own customs duties. However, he was limited because he was
getting support and financial backing from the foreigners.
Imperialism from Japanese - Encroachment by the Japanese on Chinese territory
Did the GMD solve this problem?
The Nanjing government under Chiang did not attempt to resist the Japanese
encroachments by force, Chiang believed that national unity was a prerequisite to
effective resistance, and that national unity first required the destruction of the
Chinese communists.
The Japanese were already dominating the vast and rich area of Manchurian; they
were soon to annex it outright, or rather to cover such an annexation in the
discarded robes of the Manchu Dynasty. They then invaded Jehol province,
without any effective resistance by the Nanjing government. Later still they
virtually detached North China from the control of Nanjing, used the Settlement at
Shanghai as a base of attack, stationed ever-larger forces in Chinese cities such as
Tientsin and Tsing Tao, at last openly invading the whole country. Shanghai was
made into a base for Japanese aggression into the south. This was a greater loss of
territory and power, of prestige and resources, than the Empire had suffered in a
hundred years of decline. During this long and cumulative series of aggressions,
the Nationalists of Nanking yielded step by step, without resistance, without
listening to the clamour of the people, the indignation of the intellectuals, or the
appeals of those provinces which they abandoned.
Policy: ‘internal pacification before resistance to external attack’ ineffective
because there was no internal pacification and external attack became ever more
Social disunity
Did the GMD solve this problem?
No, it was unable to enthuse the population for the regime. Nobody paid much
heed to the Three Principles; in fact, Chiang had a strong Confucian strain. The
New Life Movement, a propagandist action to reassert Confucianism and
Chiang’s power, failed dismally. It tried to enthuse the nation behind its leader.
Economic Problems
Galloping inflation and inefficient money management
Did the GMD solve this problem?
No. Though the GMD did establish some banks, they did little stimulate the
economy overall – until the peasants, which composed 70% of the population,
broke out of economic stagnation, any changes would have little effect.
The government overtaxed the population and never learned to balance its budget.
It made up the shortfall by selling government bonds, which absorbed a great deal
of capital that might otherwise have gone into productive investment. The
government attempted to remedy this by printing more money, which led to
Political Problems
Ordinary people unable to self-determine their lives though democracy
Did the GMD Solve this problem?
No. Over time, Chiang was able to manipulate power and structure of GMD to
become the unchallenged leader of a one party state. The GMD took no realistic
measures to train people in self-government, which would have eliminated the
justification for its own monopoly for political power. There was intense political
repression on the part of the government. The chief goal of the government
seemed to be to hang onto power, and repression of the government was used to
achieve that goal. There were assassinations, illegal arrests, summary executions
and censorship.
The Press Law of 1930 allowed Chiang to ban 450 literary works and 700 other
publications. By 1934, thousands of university students had simply disappeared.
Chiang cultivated a highly organised and strongly ideological group who enforced
his power, called the Blue Shits, who liquidated those who opposed the state, the
party and Chiang himself. They were Chiang’s own police force and terrorist
Personal relationships determined most of what got done.
The Communists were undermining the authority of the GMD
Did the GMD solve this problem?
No. They were never able to crush the communists. The government launched a
series of extermination campaigns in 1930 to wipe out the Communists. However,
due to the success of the Long March and the Yanan Soviet, these attempts came
to nothing. Huge sums of money were wasted on vain attacks on the Communists.
Thus the communist resurrections both inhibited the government from resistance
to foreign aggression and from internal reform.
The Communist insurrection could have been contained, perhaps subdued, if the
government, in the rural areas which it fully controlled – the vast majority of
provinces – had put into effect a real policy of land reform. The reduction of rents,
remission and honest collection of taxes, measures to provide the peasant with
loans at moderate interest, some resettlement and some redistribution of the land,
all measures which elsewhere would have been the surest shield against
Communism, all these were possible, quite practical, but neglected (Sheridan).
Each of the provinces was independent, with old warlords still retaining much of
their power.
Did the GMD solve this problem?
Chiang’s power was frequently challenged, as some warlords still retained much
of their power. Probably the most important feature of the five-power government
was that it was virtually all on the national level, with little relevance or effective
authority at the local level. The National Government never developed a large
enough civil service to run the country. Chiang had to allow warlords and
governments a lot of control over local areas. Less than half the provinces had
established regular party committees.
The decline of the party’s organisation rendered it ineffective as a vehicle for
national political integration. The party was neither inspired nor dedicated
(Sheridan). The party purge at the time of the split with the Communists in 1927
had eliminated many of the most progressive activists and discouraged those
committed to action for national welfare. Chiang himself admitted (as quoted in
Sheridan) that it is ‘impossible to find a single party headquarters which
administers work for the welfare of the people’ and that the party was filled with
‘corruption, bribery and scrambling for power’. Fitzgerald notes that ‘the
frequent quarrelling between the leading members of the party, the arbitrary
arrests, exiles and executions of opponents of the Generalissimo, showed plainly
the real character of the regime.’
The thing ate out the heart of the Nationalist movement was the lack of any real satisfying
and inspiring ideology. The party’s policy of Nationalism was not enough, given the
continuous yielding to the Japanese. Democracy failed. People’s livelihood was
abandoned. To what extent, to what vision of the future, the GMD progressed, no one
really knew. The GMD was still to a large extent the prisoner of its own past. The attempt
to modernize China without interfering with the land system, the endeavour to fit some
rags of Confucian doctrine to a party dictatorship, to deny the practice of democracy yet
to continue preaching it, to proclaim and teach nationalism yet continue to yield to the
Japanese – this medley of contradictions could not form a coherent policy which would
earn support.
The lack of vision meant that the GMD was susceptible to selfish ambitions, corruption
and nepotism. Not many of its members cared about the good of China. No one knew
what the ultimate shape of the government’s future. The short term prospect, the rewards
and spoils of office and the ambition of high command were eagerly sought and fiercely
Chiang never controlled China; he could not prevent the Japanese infiltration, he could
not crush the Communists, he could not discipline and keep loyal generals and ruled only
by playing one faction of the GMD against another.
The internal situation did not seriously deteriorate, but it did not improve. The external
situation changed for the worse. Instead of the limited encroachments of the western
powers, anxious for trade rights, but not at all anxious to take over the immense task of
governing China – in place of these gadflies, the GMD faced Japan, who did in fact
intend to conquer China and incorporate the while empire into her own. The GMD never
faced this danger or made a policy to meet and counter it.
Immanuel Hsu: ‘Beneath the veneer of progress lay serious and fundamental problems
of social and economic injustice and the chronic ill of deficit spending.’
The Rise of Mao Ze Dong
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology
CCP ideology was transformed from Marxism to Maoism as the CCP adapted
Communist ideas to suit the difficult situation in China, as well as the practical demands
of the time. Chinese Communist ideology became less urban-orientated and more ruralorientated.
Karl Marx, on whom Communism was based believed that change in the way a
society earns a living (the mode of production) fives rise to new classes which
struggle against the most powerful to gain power and a new organization of
For instance, the French revolution was the growth of middle class which
overthrew the ruling elites.
Due to the new class of city workers as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the
same thing will happen as the city workers will overthrow the bourgeoisie to
establish a dictatorship for the proletariat.
Change from Marxism to Chinese Communism
The influence of the Comintern gradually decreased. Li Lisan, the leader of the
Communist Party until 1930, supported a proletariat revolution. He was replaced
by Wang Ming, the head of the Russian Returned Students leadership.
A CCP strategy of armed uprisings in urban areas in the period after 1927 failed to
arouse the proletariat against the GMD and resulted in a further weakening of the
party. This suggested that a better strategy would be centred on the peasants.
Mao and others were experimenting with a new strategy of developing a rural
base, spreading propaganda amongst peasants, instituting land reform and creating
a guerrilla army
Lenin adopted Marxist ideology to suit China. Rather than the city workers
overthrowing the bourgeoisie, he advocated that the middle class, peasants and
city workers combine to overthrow the warlords. The Chinese Communists
gradually stressed the role of the peasants more and more, under Mao’s guidance,
which was effective as 70% of the population consisted of peasants.
Mao took strong measure to ensure the party stayed close the people and did not
develop an elite
Rise and consolidation of Maoism
Mao realised the revolutionary potential of the peasantry and advocated a rural strategy.
As the successes of the Jiangxi Soviet and the Communists under Mao rose, so did his
ideology (Maoism).
Characteristics of Maoism
Centralised organisational control and strong state power
Continual struggle and conflict against conformity
Creation of a classless society
The remoulding of ideological mistakes through self and group criticism
Creation of a welfare state to promote social order
Creation of economic stability
Belief in the superiority of the human spirit over machines
Value of self-reliance rather than dependence on the state
Superiority of rural values over urban values
Distrust of individualism and respect for the collective spirit
Guerrilla warfare
The Jiangxi Soviet
Mao’s guerrilla army concentrated in one area, which led to the formation of the Jiangxi
Soviet. The success of the Jiangxi Soviet contributed to the rise and consolidation of
Maoism. For some years the Chinese guerrilla Communists were fortunately for
themselves so cut off from all communication with the world that they could not receive
even censure from Moscow: they had to think for themselves. This allowed the
development of some key Communist ideas and strategies that contributed to the
Communist victory in the Civil War.
It was during his time at Jiangxi that Mao experimented and formulated some of his key
ideas. May and Zhu De, the leaders, instructed their army in guerrilla tactics and political
education. They saw that the combination of developing a unified and disciplined Red
Army with increased peasant cooperation was the key to political mobilisation. In Jiangxi,
between 1928 and 1934, he created a model of an agrarian revolution that was to win
China for the Communists.
The reasons for the communist success in Jiangxi Soviet were:
The popularity of land policies such as abolishing rents, reducing taxes and
establishing peasant cooperatives
Women’s policies such as outlawing foot-binding, prostitution, child slavery and
forced marriages
Banning of begging, gambling, opium smoking
Good relations were established with the people
Achievements of the Jiangxi Soviet
Mao and other leaders began to develop a winning formula for their Communist
revolution: political economic work with the peasants, and a Red Army skilled in
mobile warfare.
Mao had succeeded in forging links between his Red Army and the peasants so
that his ‘fish thrived in the peasant sea’ (Mao). They were determined to prove
themselves the friends of the peasants, and they revenged themselves upon the
peasants’ traditional enemies, such as landlords and GMD officials, who were
hunted and slain. This won them the support of the peasant population.
The peasants gave them information about the movement of the GMD, denied
such information to the latter, fed and carried for the CCP, vanished from the
The CCP were able to test their ideas and methods in the Jiangxi, which
established a protocol of how to spread communism throughout China
During 1931-1933, leadership was swapped from Mao to Zhou En Lai and the
Returned Russian Students. The CCP’s lack of success after this highlighted the
importance of Mao to the party, an important revelation that shaped the
development of Communism in China
Mao’s time at Jiangxi proved to him the importance of the peasant’s to the
The Communists led many insurrections in the cities, which failed due to the
apathy of the proletariat. In spite of official party statements, it became obvious
that the real power lay within the successful peasant bases in the south rather than
the cities.
They developed a soft-footed approach, such as being nicer to the wealthier
The Communists, while still in Jiangxi, issued an empty and propagandist
declaration of war upon Japan. Empty, because the Communists were nowhere
near the Japanese. Propagandist, because they wanted to come forward as the
champions of the patriotic movement. This worked reasonably well, increasing the
favour of the Communists in the eyes of almost all Chinese classes, including the
The Communists abandoned their extreme anti-warlord approach, instead
attempting to unite all classes against the Japanese: ‘Chinese do not fight
Mao’s major problems between 1928 and 1931
Struggle for survival in a harsh environment
Constant threat from GMD armies
Criticized by CCP for his flexible approach towards party dogma
How did Mao win the support of the peasants?
He refined a method of land management that benefitted the peasantry
He attacked age-old abuses, such as foot binding
Peasants were allowed to cooperate with the marketing of farm produce
How did Mao develop an effective, highly disciplined army?
He promoted the ‘unity of officers and soldiers’ He promoted political education
He promoted literacy among the soldiers
The troops were encouraged to help the peasants with harvesting and irrigating
He had in instinctive knowledge of how to motivate men
Encirclement campaigns
Chiang attempted to eliminate the Jiangxi Soviet with five encirclement
campaigns between 1930 and 1934. Mao’s guerrilla fighters successfully used the
tactic of luring the enemy deep into Communist territory before attacking and
picking of the enemy one by one.
The Long March and its political and social consequences
Summary of the Long March
Long March was necessary because of the success of the 5th encirclement campaign by
the GMD. In preparation for the Fifth Encirclement Campaign, the GMD troops built
7000 concrete blockhouses linked by barbed wire fences around the Jiangxi Soviet. Their
intention was to starve the Communists of all supplies and slowly reduce the area they
controlled. The Communists, under the detrimental advice of new Comintern agent, Otto
Bruan, decided to fight a series of conventional battles. Mao was expelled from the
Central Committee for opposing this. Eventually, the Communist forces had to break out
of the GMD stranglehold – the Long March.
The Long March began in October 1934 and was completed by December 1935. Of the
100 000 who began the journey, only 8000 completed it. The marchers took just a year
and covered 9600 kilometres; they crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers. They
passed through 12 different provinces, occupied 62 cities and broke through enveloping
armies of 10 different provincial warlords and eluded, defeated or outmanoeuvred.
Some important elements of the Long March
They crossed a huge area of central China
They endured conditions of incredible hardship
They achieved some amazing feats
They encountered great problems finding food
Political and Social Consequences
The Long March allowed the CCP to survive and continue their revolutionary work; its
success meant that China’s history for the next decade and a half would be dominated
with the political tension between the Nationalists and the Communists, which existed
even during the Sino-Japanese war.
Achievements of the Long March
It helped to perfect the guerrilla tactics of the Communists and the disciplined
resolve of the troops. Guerrilla warfare is effectively summed up in Mao’s
catchphrase: ‘The enemy advances we retreat; the enemy halts, we harass; the
enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue’. The communist forces
came into contact with peasants in remote areas and their behaviour was thought
as favourable compared to the GMD
The delegates at the Zunyi Conference of January 1035 had decided that Mao’s
guerrilla tactics and his desire to march North to defeat Japan should be endorsed.
During the Long March, especially as a consequence of the Zunyi Conference,
Mao was able to ascend the hierarchy to become leader of the Communist Party.
He forced the abandonment of Russian influenced policies in favour of his peasant
based socialism.
The seeds of communism were sown in the minds of the 200 million Chinese in
the provinces they passed through. They often left cadres to further the education
of the peasants
Despite enormous Red Army loose, it created an invincible mythology which was
to have enormous propaganda potential once Mao reached Yanan
The Long March located the CCP in the northern area of China from where they
could oppose the steady encroachment of Japanese forces into China. foo
Resistance to Japan
Military, social and economic impact of Japanese Invasions from 1931
The Japanese offensive produced the most effective national unity that China had known
in a generation, at least temporarily (Sheridan). Neither party publicly repudiated the
United Front until the end of the wear in 1945, but actual cooperation between them was
minimal and short-lived. By the end of 1938, the Japanese had stopped their advance.
They then controlled most of northern China and the eastern coastal regions extending
inland as far as Hankow in the centre of Eastern China.
To administer this enormous area, the Japanese developed puppet Chinese governments.
They then conducted limited troop operations, bombed Chungking and other cities and
waited for the Chinese Government to collapse. The Japanese made all the mistakes
which the most fervent Chinese patriot could have hoped for. They advanced far into the
interior, only holding key cities and lines of communication. Though they sought to
destroy the field armies, they neglected the beginnings of guerrilla resistance. They
allowed their army to treat the Chinese brutally. They alienated all foreign sympathy by
open disregard of their rights of foreign nations and ill-treatment of their nationals. They
could not have adopted policies more calculated to rouse the Chinese people to enduring
The objective of the Chinese behind Japanese lines was not to seize railroads or cities,
which they obviously could not hold against Japanese power, but to compel the Japanese
to spend more and more energy and treasure to defend their holding, and simultaneously
to deprive the invaders as much as possible from profiting from their occupation. In
gaining these ends, the Communists were superbly successful.
Military Impacts
Brought temporary unity
Chiang’s government found it impossible to exercise effective command over the
Communist armies.
The two parties operated in different regions, followed different policies, and
generally functioned separately – particularly after troops of the two camps
clashed in early 1941.
Social Impacts
In their swift thrust into China, the Japanese conquered the cities and the chief
lines of communications between the cities. The conquest of the rural areas
between the cities and railroads was a much slower task because there were few
roads of facilities for Japan’s motorized army.
Japanese brutality virtually forced the peasantry to vigorous resistance. Villages
were razed, young men were selected form the population for public execution,
and women were maltreated. These campaigns subjected the peasants to such
indiscriminate terror that they had little choice by to resist; non-resistance in no
way assured security: “kill all, burn all, destroy all.” These policies transformed
patient farmers to determined resistance fighters.
The Government did not collapse but wartime conditions magnified some of its
weaknesses. (Sheridan)
Economic Impacts
The Japanese invasion had a significant impact on the economy of the Japanese
themselves as it drained unsustainable amounts of money and resources.
The eight years of warfare created conditions that undermined Chiang’s Nationalist
Government, exposing its weaknesses, and provided an opportunity for the re-emergence
of the communist party. The Nationalist government, form the end of 1939, never made
any further military effort to recover lost territory. It sat and waited for the world war to
determine the nature of the result. The Communists set about the infiltration and
organization of the so-called occupied areas, imbuing them with Communist ideology.
Differing aims and strategies of the GMD and CCP toward the Japanese
Invasion of China
The Xian Accident and the United Front
The Xian Accident of December 1936 led to the Second United Front. When
Chiang flew to Xian in Manchuria to order his commander, Zhang, to attack the
Communists, Zhang mutinied and held his leader captive. He was then forced to
negotiate with the Communists, and eventually agreed upon a Second United
The Xian incident contributed to the long term success of the Communists, though
it had the appearance of a short term concession.
Under the conditions of the Second United Front, the Communists agreed to
abolish its independent state, suspend its land distribution and confiscation and
abolish the name of the Red Army and conceded to the power of the GMD.
Though these appeared to be big concessions, there were more often nominal than
real. In fact, the power was with the Communists: it was Chiang who had yielded,
and the Communists who forced him to overthrow the policy he had followed for
ten years, and adopt that which the Communists had made their own.
By these actions, the Communists henceforward had the fascination of the
educated class. It appeared they sacrificed their own interests for the good of
China. This appearance was valuable and won them wide support. The reward in
public esteem was significant the CCP was credited for ending the civil war and
compelling the government to resist Japan. Hitherto, the CCP lacked the support
of the great mass of the educated class. Now they won back all and more.
The Nationalists
Aims and Strategies
Chiang chose to trade space for time. His strategy was to retreat deep into China’s
vast hinterland, yielding territory to Japan. The invaders would soon reach the
limit of their absorptive and administrative capacities; they did not have the men
or resources to maintain form control of a huge occupied territory or to keep their
lines of communication secure.
Given the disparate regional character of the armed forces, and their inferiority to
the Japanese in technology and heavy armaments, the Chinese Government armies
could not effectively employ positional warfare to resist the modern armies of
While the Japanese struggled with those problems, the Chinese would have time
to build up their strength and await the international assistance that Chiang
expected would eventually come. After 1941, the Chungking government
increasingly counted on the US to defeat Japan, and, in anticipation of a future
war with the Communists, sought to conserve its own best forces.
The effect of these aims and strategies
The government was mostly on the defensive with the Japanese, and this passivity
corroded morale in the government armies. This made it easier for them to be
defeated, later in the Civil war. They did, however, keep the Japanese tied down.
In short, from 1938 to 1945, the GMD government as in western China,
substantially cut off from the rest of the country and the rest of the world,
dominated by its most reactionary elements and plagued by galloping inflation.
Chungking in the Sichuan of the Western part of China became the capital city.
They came to depend heavily on the landlords of interior China – particularly in
Sichuan – a notoriously conservative group. This dependence, and the fact that the
government felt threatened in warlord territory, strengthened the reactionary
elements in the government, lessening its chance to gain popular support.
The government failed to develop revenues sufficient to meet wartime needs, and
therefore had no other recourse than inflation as a means of paying for the war.
The inflation impoverished the middle class and encouraged corruption and
speculation of all sorts.
The GMT government had, in many instances, fled from occupied areas, leaving a
government vacuum.
Why did the GMD Decline so Drastically during the Years?
The Army
The Generals
The army was disunited – many owed loyalty not to Chiang, but to their warlords.
Since their power depended on the strength of their army, the former warlords
were reluctant to risk combat with the Japanese.
Between 1941 and 1943, 69 generals to 500 000 soldiers across to the Japanese.
The Officers
Poor calibre with little training
General Wedemeyer (US commander), the officers were ‘incapable, inept,
untrained, petty and altogether inefficient’.
They brutally treated their own men
Corruption, such as stealing military supplies for personal use
The Enlisted Men
Treated poorly
Richer men bought their way out of conscription
Insufficient weaponry
Many conscripts died before they even reached their units
Moral was low and desertion was very high
The Peasants
Had to bear the conscription burden as well as the increased taxes of the
Nationalist Government
The peasants had to personally deliver their grain to collection centres, which
could take up to four days travelling. This new procedure increased the peasants’
tax rate and brought them into closed contact with brutal officialdom, and
heightened their resentment of the government.
The government forced the peasants to sell their grain at an unfair and low price
Massive amounts of peasants were conscripted to work on government projects
The Economy
The urban middle class, who had been the main supporters of the GMD, were
being impoverished by spirally inflation – the government had simply printed
more money to finance the war.
Political Repression
The conditions of the war naturally generated discontent and criticism of Chiang’s
government, to which he responded by becoming increasingly repressive.
The years of war had a most corrosive effect on the Nationalists: the army was
demoralized, the peasants overburdened and the middle class ruined by inflation.
The Communists
Aims and Strategies
A significant aim was to gain popular support while the GMD was tied down by
the Japanese. It was in the rural areas, beyond the Japanese, that the Communists
thrived. They organized local and regional enforcements that exercised political
authority, collected taxes, administer public services, and generally exercised all
the normal prerogatives of government, including defence. These were called antiJapanese bases.
The juxtaposition of Japanese conquests and Communist bases was comparable to
a checkerboard on which the Japanese controlled all the fid lines with cities and
the points of intersection and the Communist led resistance gradually expanded to
till all the squares between the lines. These anti-Japanese bases were united
through the CCP. (Sheridan)
The Communists saw the way to ultimate triumph through the disasters which war
must surely bring to China. They thought that they could afford to be the allies of
the GMD because that party would perish and the Communists would be their
heirs (Fitzgerald).
Effects of CCP’s aims and strategies
The Communists gained the enthusiastic support of the mas of the Chinse peasants
in North China. They achieved this backing by meeting the local, immediate needs
of the peasants through reformist and radical social policies and by providing
leadership for the defence of peasant communist ties against the Japanese.
Angry peasants formed resistance groups to defend their local communities and
the Communists provided the weapons, training, general assistance and leadership
they needed. The Communists also linked one local group to another through
party communications and organization into what gradually emerged as an antiJapanese-war base.
Units of the Red Army tried to fill the political vacuum and organized new of
governments and devised resistance measures.
The peasants intensified the anti-Japanese struggle, provided regional government
for peasants, and assumed the overall leadership in both government and
resistance operations.
The CCP brought many benefits to the peasantry.
Anti-Japanese activity was only part of the Communist’s appeal. The other side
was their social policy and program: land redistribution. The Communists
introduced a new tax system that favoured the poor, but that was by no means
confiscatory for the rich. They gave the peasants a voice and a part in the political
The social reforms of the Communists marked a radical change in rural China.
These changes signalled the beginning of a social revolution. Communist wartime
propaganda nurtured a national consciousness, and thus fostered national
The Communists tailored their policies to the areas they controlled. In areas
mobilized by Japanese brutality, anti-Japanese leadership was the chief
Communist attraction, though effective resistance necessitated the kind of
cooperation between government and people that social reforms could foster. In
other areas, social reforms were the major appeal, and were used to involve the
peasant in the anti-Japanese resistance movement. (Sheridan)
In short, in every way possible, the Communists attempted to help the mass of
poor peasants, to persuade and educate them, and in the process to gain their
Tapped into patriotic sentiment in the war with Japan.
The obvious success of the Communists in organizing guerrilla warfare and
resistance in the north and east contrasted with the failure of the GMD in the later
years to maintain the spirit of resistance of 1937 and 1938.
Communist agents infiltrated the country areas, won the confidence of the peasant
leaders and gradually established guerrilla bases.
During the eight years of war, the Red Army grew from 90 000 to 1 million with 2
million peasant militia. Of the 1500 engagements fought by the Japanese troops in
China, 75% were against Communist forces.
Why were Communists so successful?
The Army
The Generals
Mao was supported by talented generals who had shared the common hardships of
the Jiangxi Soviet and the Long March, like Pan Duhuai, Lin Biao and Zhu De.
The Officers
The officers were promoted by merit rather than political influence.
The Communist officers had the respect of their troops
They were young, energetic and devoted
They wore no badges of rank and shared the same food and living conditions as
their men
They imposed no brutal punishments yet there was superb discipline
The Enlisted Men
Morale was sustained by a busy but varied daily routine that aimed at producing
committed Communists as well as good soldiers.
Great emphasis was placed on political education and literacy
The Peasants
The Communists were able to win the peasants’ wholehearted support.
The Communists used the Japanese invasion to inspire nationalism. Their
association with this nationalism increased their popular support.
By stressing national salvation rather than social revolution in certain areas, the
Communists were often able to win the support of small landlords.
Political and economic Policies
Land Reform
Softened harsh land laws that alienated richer peasants
However, did proceed with land redistribution
At the conclusion of the war, the Western powers put the GMD, who they saw as the
legitimate party, in government. However, the Chinese saw the GMD as a corrupt
dictatorship. The Communists were the liberators of the Chinese of the north. To deny
them the cities they had so long encompassed would mean civil war, for they would never
accept this decision. The sense of public opinion was so against civil war and the
reoccupation of the North but the GMD so inevitable mean civil war that the force of
opinion swung over strongly to the communist side. Many who did not approve at all of
Communism felt that this time, the Communists were being provoked and attacked.
Most of the educated in China wanted a coalition government which would eliminate the
worst features of the GMD and restrain the most extreme manifestations of Communist
revolution. Communist China had arisen during the war and GMD China had withered in
that wintry climate. The Nationalist government degenerated into a brutal dictatorship and
its army decayed through inactivity. During the same time, the Communists prospered.
Role and impact of the leadership of Mao Zedong and Jiang Jieshi
Jiang Jieshi
Jiang’s refusal to cooperate with the Communists in a united front against the
Japanese caused criticism of the Nationalists and exacerbated their decline in
Once the Second United Front was formed, however, Jiang took an active role in
the war against Japan. Through the grim years of 1938, his leadership was
inspirational. At his bidding, entire factories were moved hundreds and sometimes
thousands of kilometres away from the Japanese threat. Universities were
relocated to free China.
Yet the withdrawal from China’s major cities – the power bases of the GMD –
subjected the Nationalist government to strains Chiang was unwilling or unable to
overcome, which led to increased political repression.
Chiang’s insecurity led to his under-use of his more able generals, such as Ba
Chungxi. Chiang feared that military success might encourage such men to
challenge him.
Mao Zedong
Maoism, especially guerrilla warfare, prospered and the Communist’s popularity
grew during the Sino-Japanese war.
Mao was able to fully command his generals.
Mao’s two guiding principles had significant impact. These were to concentrate
the Red Army against the Japanese and to rouse the masses to support the
Political Reform
Adding to Communist ideology, Mao appealed to the Three Principles of Sun.
In leading the fight against Japan, the party claimed it was carrying out Sun’s
principle of nationalism.
By its moderate land reform, the party was implement People’s Livelihood.
Mao proposed that Sun’s principle of democracy be realized by a democratic
government open to all classes that opposed imperialism. Mao ordered elections in
Communist base areas that allowed entry from everyone, including rich peasants
and landlords.
Imposed the Zhengfeng, or Rectification Movement, which was an educational
program of study-group discussion and self-criticism in which party members
were brainwashed with Maoism. This contributed significantly to the strength of
wartime Communism by increasing Mao’s prestige and by ensuring a strong
commitment to a cohesive set of goals and values.
Political and social significance of the Yanan period
Yanan was situated in the Shenshi province Yanan was seen by many Chinese as the
chief symbol of resistance to Japan. During the anti-Chinese war, CCP organizations and
territory expanded steadily and membership in the CCP mushroomed. (Sheridan) It was
seen was a beacon of patriotism and social justice.
The Triumph of the Chinese Communist Party
The Civil War and military success of the CCP
It is difficult in retrospect to see how the civil war could have been avoided.
(Sheridan) The Americans attempted to mediate between the CCP and the KMT but
failed dismally. The Americans continued to provide military aid to one party in the
negotiations, the GMD. They ordered the Japanese to surrender only to the Nationalists,
and militarily supported the Nationalists.
The GMD had full advantage at the beginning. Government troops outnumbered GMD
troops four or five to one, and they had much better weaponry. During the two years
following the cessation of negotiations, however, relative military strength had shifted in
favour of the Communists; communist ranks grew while GMD armies shrank, and the
Communist acquired mountains of weapons and material from their defeated enemies.
The erosion of government strength and the concurrent expansion of the Communists
began to depart from their reliance on highly mobile, limited engagements, and
increasingly they challenged government armies in positional battles. Sheridan points out
that the desire of many Americans to view the civil war purely in military terms seems to
derive partly from a post-1949 reluctance to acknowledge that Communists can have
genuine popular support.
The Course of the Civil War
Stage One
First year, 1946-1947, the Nationalists were successful on all fronts, even
capturing the Communist wartime capital, Yanan.
The lightly armed Communists were in full retreat before Chian’s vastly superior
The Nationalists captured much territory.
Mao reverted to guerrilla tactics.
Stage Two
Later years, from mid-1937 to 1948, the Communists launched an offensive that
brought striking success in Manchuria, Shandong and Central China.
Victory in Manchuria in 1947
By January 1948, the Communists had become strong enough to launch a fullscale positional warfare
Defeated the nationalists at the battle of Huaihai, which broke the Nationalists
Reasons for the Communist victory
The CCP were more successful in tailoring its policies to win civilian support,
particularly rural areas. In sum, Communist victory was built on the basis of political and
military organization of the anti-Japanese bases, and the legitimacy and moral authority
derived from honest government and effective action against eh invader. After 1945 that
legitimacy and authority continued because of the memory of the Communists’ wartime
achievements and because of their accelerating program of social revolution based on the
poor peasants.
Popular Support
Communist policies in the Sino-Japanese war showed the peasants that the
wartime Communist administration was the best government they had ever
The Communists continued the practices during the civil war that had earlier
elicited popular approval: soldiers did not abuse civilians; the paid for what they
used; troops helped the peasantry when the opportunity or need arose.
Wherever Communists acquired territorial power, they instituted honest
government and a series of political and economic reforms that benefited the
The Communists also won over the intellectuals when they resisted the Japanese.
The aid of the Americans to the KMT also smacked of imperialism, and the CCP
resistance to this gained the support of the intellectuals.
Marxist-Leninism also had its attractions for the Chinese intellectuals. Acceptance
of Communism seemed to imply that China was moving ahead in the march of
history, jumping ahead of all those nations that had for years arrogantly asserted
their own superiority and China’s backwardness.
The Communists also won over some of the merchants. Many in the middle class
were aware the Communists had demonstrated their capacity to maintain
economic stability and order on a regional level, and therefore might be expected
to do it on the national level.
Communist rule, then, seemed to promise something for everyone, the best of the
real available alternatives.
It is clear that a host of factors went into the Communist success: Communist
organizational abilities, the military talents of the Communist generals, the
attractions of Maoist ideology, the disastrous effect of inflation on the KMT and
its supporters, the assistance rendered by the Russians in aiding and arming of the
Communists in Manchuria, the political perspicacity of Mao and his associates,
the short-sightedness, arrogance, incompetence and dishonesty of so many KMT
But the central factor was unquestioningly the mobilization of vast numbers of
Chinese, primarily peasants, into new political, social, economic and military
organizations, infused with a new purpose and a new spirit. This mobilization
largely accounted for the Communist victory, buts its significance went beyond
that. It marked the beginning of the reintegration of China into a modern nation.
Military successes
Military strength in guerrilla tactics
Highly disciplined Red Army won civilian support tired of rape & plunder of
traditional armies
Communist leadership was excellent from the top to the bottom.
Zhu De and Mao carefully dealt with military realities and gave no weight to
considerations of prestige and face that often guided Chiang. Other commanders,
such as Lin Biao, Peng Duhuai and Liu Bocheng had all faced the hardships of the
Jiangxi Soviet and the Long March, so there was a strong sense of camaraderie.
Communist field commanders were selected on merit, and given wide latitude to
use their own judgement. They generally waged bold, aggressive and sometimes
brilliant campaigns. (Sheridan)
There was a continuity of command and a willingness to work for the common
The Communist commanders had more flexibility in the field
Mao developed a clear and practical long-range strategy that put into effect a fast,
mobile warfare aimed at the destruction of KMT armies rather than at the seizure
of territory.
Soldiers – High Morale
Communist soldiers were well cared for, well trained, thoroughly indoctrinated
about the need and purpose for struggle.
Caring officers shared the soldier’s food and living conditions
The intelligent Communist strategy of fighting only when success seemed assured
cultivated a feeling of victory among the Communist soldiers, and stimulated a
spirit of boldness and offense that contrasted vividly with the defensive spirit of
the government units.
Friendliness and support of the civilian population
There was a democratic movement within the army as soldiers were invited to
elect committees.
Intelligence and Civilian Support
Communist spies hampered the Nationalist Army and supplied vital information.
The support of the civilian population ensured constant flow of information about
nationalist troop movements.
Political Success
By their energetic conduct of the anti-Japanese war and by their land reform
policies, the Communists established their moral authority over the peasants of
North China.
The party encouraged the destruction of landlord power. The fundamental social
and political relationship of the Chinese villages was remoulded, and the peasants
began to exert control over their own lives.
Failure of the GMD
During the Sino-Japanese war, the GMD’s passivity towards the Japanese steadily
alienated the Chinse people. Corruption, political repression and inflation estranged the
intellectuals and the urban middle class. The GMD elite treated the peasants with
incredibly callousness.
Lack of popular Support
Not only did the KMT brutally treat the peasants, they alienated the intellectuals.
The KMT offered them little more than a return of a tradition that they had long
ago rejected as sterile and irrelevant to the modern world.
The most appealing aspects of the KMT – its supposed commitment to
constitutionalism, democracy and Westernization – were so flagrantly violated in
practice that they had little positive effect on intellectuals.
It was impossible to crush the Communists without the support of the common
Chiang: ‘most people in society attack the party unsparingly even viewing
party members as offenders against the state and nation.’
KMT generals were commonly chosen on grounds of political loyalty to Chiang,
and many who qualified on this basis demonstrated professional mediocrity or
outright incompetence. (Sheridan)
The generals were reluctant to cooperate with one another, and many of the
generals were corrupt.
Nationalist commanders were more concerned with their own personal interests
than the welfare of the army as a whole.
The jealousies that had split the Nationalists during the Sin-Japanese war
Chiang himself admitted that at all levels of command, most feign obedience
to their superior’s orders, sometimes not implementing them at all with the
result that he value of the order is completely lose.
Chiang gave no interest for following a strategic plan (Sheridan) but seemed
obsessed with the seizure and retention of cities, even where Communists had the
surrounding countryside.
Ineffective use of air force, which could have given the GMD an advantage
The GMD favoured defensive tactics, which did not work. The government
wanted to keep a tight leash on its troops so that they did not defect to the CCP out
fighting in the countryside.
Demoralized Soldiers
The GMD soldiers were treated with utter disregard for their health, their attitudes
and their lives. The soldiers were inadequately paid and fed; training was poor to
non-existent, discipline was bad; the rank and file did not know what they were
fighting form and thus saw no reason to fight.
Most of the soldiers were conscripted and therefore were heavily resentful about
fighting. Many recruits died before they reached training camp.
The soldier’s had low combat skills
Many soldiers defected to the Communist side.
Political Failure
During its seven years of retreat in south-west China, the Nationalist regime
became demoralized; inflation was rampant, corruption, rife
The party had become more dependent on its more conservative elements
Inflation was out of control
Urban discontent – angry workers combined with students and intellectuals to
protest against the GMD
The government continued to favour the landlords against the peasants.
There were sound military reasons for the Communist success and Nationalist failure, but
the fundamental reason was political. The Communists won the hearts and minds of
China’s people, infusing their armies with purpose and spirit, and presenting a vision of
the future that appeared even to the urban middle classes.
On the other hand, the Nationalist regime alienated all sections of Chinese society, even
their former supporters in the great urban centres, but their incompetence, corruption and