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The Kuomintang (National People's Party) was established in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen and Song Jiaoren. When the party was suppressed in 1913 Sun Yat-sen and his military commander, Chiang Kai-Shek, escaped to Japan.

With the help of advisers from the Soviet Union the Kuomintang gradually increased its power in China. In 1924 it adopted the "Three Principles of the People" (nationalism, democracy and social reform).

Sun Yat-sen died on 12th March 1925. After a struggle with Wang Ching-Wei, Chiang Kai-Shek eventually emerged as the leader of the Kuomintang. He now carried out a purge that eliminated the communists from the organization. In 1928 the reformed Koumintang captured Beijing and was able to establish a government in Nanjing.

When the Japanese Army invaded the heartland of China in 1937, Chiang was forced to move his capital from Nanking to Chungking. He lost control of the coastal regions and most of the major cities to Japan. In an effort to beat the Japanese he agreed to collaborate with Mao Zedong and his communist army.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Chiang and his government received considerable financial support from the United States. General Joseph Stilwell, head of American Army Forces in China, Burma and India (CBI), disagreed with this policy, arguing that Chiang Kai-Shek was an inept leader and was ignorant of the fundamentals of modern warfare. Stilwell was accused of being pro-communist and in October 1944 Stilwell was recalled to the United States and was replaced by General Albert Wedemeyer.

During the Second World War the communist forces were well led by Zhu De and Lin Biao. As soon as the Japanese surrendered, the communists began a war against the Nationalists. The communists gradually gained control of the country and on 1st October, 1949, Mao announced the establishment of People's Republic of China. Chiang Kai-Shek and the remnants of his armed forces fled to Formosa (Taiwan).

In February 1923, Sun Yat-sen returned to Guangzhou where he immediately set up a headquarters of a new revolutionary government. Soviet Russia sent Michael Borodin (1884-1951) and some military advisers to help him, and a provisional central committee of the Kuomintang which included a number of Communists was organized.

The Chinese Communist Party held its Third National Congress in Guangzhou in June 1923, and the question of forming a revolutionary united front with the Kuomintang was discussed. The congress affirmed Sun Yat-sen's contribution to the Chinese revolution and resolved to help him in reorganizing the Kuomintang and establishing cooperation between the two parties.

The gap between Sun Yat-sen and the West continued to widen. When he threatened in December to seize the customs revenues in the port of Guangzhou, the powers staged a naval demonstration to preserve the status quo. Thwarted, Sun angrily stated, "We no longer look to the Western powers.

Our faces are turned toward Russia."

In January 1924, Sun Yat-sen called the First National Congress of the reorganized Kuomintang in Guangzhou. Among the Communists who attended were Li Dazhao, Mao Zedong and Qu Qiubai (Chu Chiu-pai, 1899-1935). The congress adopted the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal policy advanced by the Communists, agreed to absorb individual Communists and Socialist Youth League members into the Kuomintang, and decided to reorganize the Kuomintang into a revolutionary alliance of workers, peasants, the petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie. In this way, new blood was infused into the ranks of the Kuomintang and Sun Yat-sen became the leader of a revitalized revolutionary movement.

In 1923, the Chinese Communist Party decided to establish a revolutionary united front. It helped Sun Yat-sen reorganize the Kuomintang (the old Tong Meng Hui was reorganized into the Kuomintang after the Revolution of 1911). With the formation of the Kuomintang-Communist united front, the Chinese Communist Party mobilized the masses on a broad scale, and the revolutionary situation developed vigorously. It continued to rise after the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925. Organized and energized by the Party, the revolutionary forces swept away the reactionary forces in Guangdong, and in 1926 the Northern Expeditionary War began. Supported by the masses, the revolutionary army defeated the counter-revolutionary armies of the Northern warlords and occupied central and south China. The worker-peasant movement grew rapidly throughout the country.

Seeing that the warlord regime they supported was tottering in the sweep of the revolutionary tide, the imperialist forces hastily looked for new agents and finally picked Chiang Kai-shek who had worked his way into the position of Commander-in-Chief of the National Revolutionary Army". In April 1927, at a crucial moment in the forward advance of the Northern Expeditionary War, Chiang staged, with the active support of the big bourgeoisie and landlord class, a counter-revolutionary coup d'etat against the Chinese Communist Party and the revolutionary people.

In June 1923 Mao Zedong attended the Third National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which adopted the policy of cooperation with the Kuomintang, then led by Dr Sun Yat-sen, for the purpose of forming a national anti-imperialist and anti-feudal united front to include all democratic classes. The congress also decided that all members of the Communist Party were to join the Kuomintang as individuals. Elected a member of the Central Executive Committee by the congress, Mao Zedong began to play a role in the work of the central leadership. After the Kuomintang-Communist cooperation was brought about, he was elected an alternate member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang at its First and Second National Congresses, held in January 1924 and January 1926.

For 40 years I have devoted myself to the cause of the people's revolution with but one end in view: the elevation of China to a position of freedom and equality among the nations. My experience during these 40 years has convinced me that to attain this goal we must bring about an awakening of our own people and ally ourselves in common struggle with those people of the world who treat us as equals.

I leave behind me a party which, as has always been my wish, will be bound up with you in the historic work of the final liberation of China and other exploited nations from the imperialist order. By the will of fate, I must leave my work unfinished and hand it over to those who, remaining true to the principles and teachings of the party, will show themselves to be my true followers.

Taking leave of you, dear comrades, I want to express the hope that the day will come when the U.S.S.R. will welcome a friend and ally in a mighty, free China, and that in the great struggle for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the world, both these allies will go forward to victory hand in hand.

In April the counter-revolutionary movement had begun in Nanjing and Shanghai, and a general massacre of organized workers had taken place under Chiang Kai-shek. The same measures were carried out in Guangzhou. On May 21 the Xu Kexiang Uprising occurred in Hunan. Scores of peasants and workers were killed by the reactionaries. Shortly afterward the 'Left' Kuomintang at Wuhan annulled its agreement with the Communists and 'expelled' them from the Kuomintang and from a Government which quickly ceased to exist.

Many Communist leaders were now ordered by the Party to leave the country, go to Russia or Shanghai or places of safety. I was ordered to go to Sichuan. I persuaded Chen Duxiu to send me to Hunan instead, as secretary of the Provincial Committee, but after ten days he ordered me hastily to return, accusing me of organizing an uprising against Tang Shengzhi, then in command at Wuhan. The affairs of the Party were now in a chaotic state. Nearly everyone was opposed to. Chen Duxiu's leadership and his opportunist line. The collapse of the entente at Wuhan soon afterward brought about his downfall.

After setting up his military headquarters at Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province, Chiang Kai-shek considered himself strong enough to defy the authority of the revolutionary Nationalist government at Wuhan, which was then dominated by Kuomintang left-wingers (including Mme. Sun Yat-sen) and Communists. In January 1927, he demanded that the government be moved from Wuhan to Nanchang, where he was in complete control. In reply, the central committee of the Kuomintang at Wuhan took away his leading positions in the party, government and army in an attempt to prevent him from seizing all power.

Bankers from Shanghai, politicians representing various warlord governments and the agents of foreign imperialists all converged on Nanchang to offer Chiang their help. In secret talks he was promised a loan of 60,000,000 Chinese dollars if he would break with the Communists and the Soviet Union and suppress the peasants and workers. Chiang quickly agreed.

In the early hours of April 12, 1927, thousands of thugs from the underworld Green Gang came out of the International Settlement disguised as workers to attack the workers' armed militia. Pretending to oppose "internal dissension among the workers", Chiang Kai-shek ordered his troops to disarm the workers and occupy the headquarters of the General Trade Union, where a spurious union composed of underworld figures was immediately set up. Next day the Shanghai workers called a mass rally and demanded the return of their weapons. Unaware that Chiang Kai-shek had turned against the revolution, they went to the General Headquarters of the Northern Expeditionary Army to present their petition, only to be mowed down by machine-gun fire. The blood of hundreds of workers stained the rain-washed streets of Shanghai red.

The Guomindang

The Guomindang (Wade-Giles: Kuomintang), or Chinese Nationalist Party, was China’s largest revolutionary and republican party until the late 1930s. Its primary mission was to unify China under a republican government.


Formed by Sun Yixian and his followers in 1912, the Guomindang became the largest party in both houses of the National Assembly, China’s newly formed legislature. When autocratic president Yuan Shikai rendered the assembly powerless and dissolved it, he also declared the Guomindang an illegal organisation.

Forced into exile, the Guomindang and its leaders launched a 15-year struggle to reunify China and restore a truly republican government. The Guomindang developed its own military arm, the National Revolutionary Army, which finally achieved reunification in 1927-28.

Led by Jiang Jieshi, the Guomindang was able to form a national government and rule China – or most of it – until the Japanese occupation in the late 1930s.


The origins of the Guomindang can be found in nationalist political clubs, literary societies and reform groups active in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Inside China, these groups were small, secretive and did little other than talk. Outside China, they were populated by Chinese students and expatriates and more visible.

Two important seedling groups were Sun Yixian’s Xingzhonghui (Revive China Society), which called for the expulsion of foreigners and the formation of a unified Chinese government, and the Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance), which promoted the overthrow of the Manchus and the introduction of land reform.

These groups fuelled political radicalism and nationalism in China, ideas that contributed to the Xinhai or 1911 Revolution that eventually toppled the Qing dynasty. Though the Guomindang was not yet formed, many of its future members participated in the December 1911 congress in Nanjing, where Sun Yixian was elected president of a new Chinese republic.


The Guomindang was formally constituted in Beijing in late August 1912, with the amalgamation of the Tongmenghui and five other nationalist groups. It was intended to be a parliamentary political party, to participate in the newly created National Assembly.

Its main architect was Song Jiaoren, who became the Guomindang’s first president, while Sun Yixian remained the party’s figurehead and ideological mentor.

The Guomindang stood candidates in elections for the new republic’s National Assembly, held in December 1912 and January 1913. By modern standards, these elections were far from democratic. Voting was restricted to males over the age of 21 who could demonstrate either ownership of property or the completion of rudimentary education.

Only around six per cent of all Chinese were eligible for voter registration. Low voter turnouts in some areas further reduced participation. Members of the assembly were not directly elected but were instead chosen by nominated electors, a process marred by bribery and corruption.

National Assembly

The Guomindang won the lion’s share of the assembly, ending up with around 45 per cent of seats in both houses (269 of 596 seats in the House of Representatives, and 123 of 274 seats in the Senate).

Before long, the National Assembly found itself powerless, unable to assert any authority or check the presidential power of Yuan Shikai. Democratic governments, representative assemblies and political parties were all new concepts to the Chinese – and they were neither trusted or respected.

The National Assembly was also shifted from Nanjing to Beijing, away from the Guomindang’s supporter base in the south to the Yuan Shikai-dominated north. Much of the Assembly’s first term was spent quibbling and bickering over how to curtail the powers of the president.

In March 1913, Song Jiaoren, by then the party’s parliamentary leader and an outspoken critic of Yuan Shikai, was gunned down in a Shanghai railway station. The murder was almost certainly ordered by Shikai’s supporters, if not the president himself.

‘Second Revolution’

With Shikai on the road to dictatorship, the Guomindang organised and instigated an armed uprising that was later dubbed the Second Revolution.

In July 1913, Guomindang politicians in four central and southern provinces (Anhui, Jiangsu, Hunan and Guangdong) declared their independence from Beijing. Shikai responded swiftly and brutally, sending his armies south to capture Nanjing. Sun Yixian was forced to flee to Japan, as military forces loyal to the Guomindang were decimated or dispersed.

In the last weeks of 1913, Shikai ordered Guomindang members to be expelled from all government positions. Shortly after, he announced the indefinite dissolution of the National Assembly.

Revolutionary movement

From this point, the Guomindang transitioned into a revolutionary movement. Sun Yixian spent the next three years in Japan, attempting to mould the Guomindang into a tighter and more disciplined organisation. His first attempts were largely unsuccessful and few believed the Guomindang was capable of standing against Yuan Shikai or powerful warlords.

Sun returned to southern China in 1917, shortly after Shikai’s death, where he continued the struggle to revive and hold together the crumbling Guomindang.

By 1923, Sun had successfully transformed the Guomindang from a suit-and-tie parliamentary party into a militant revolutionary group. Party structure became less democratic and more hierarchical and disciplined. It also became more authoritarian, as evidenced by the formation of a powerful executive committee and the elevation of Sun Yixian to ‘grand marshal’.

Sun Yixian’s leadership

Now directing the party rather than representing its members, Sun began forging links with individuals and groups who could help him reunify China and re-establish republican government.

With the support of southern warlords, Sun and the Guomindang were able to form a military republic in Guangdong province, with its capital in Guangzhou, not far from Hong Kong and Macau.

Sun also reached out for support from Russian and Chinese communists. A small group of advisors from the Soviet Union, led by Mikhail Borodin, arrived in Guangzhou in early 1923. They furnished Guomindang leaders with advice on party discipline, military training and tactics.

The Soviets urged the Guomindang to form a working alliance with the fledgeling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), then based in Shanghai. Sun Yixian agreed and facilitated an alliance between the Guomindang and the CCP, later known as the First United Front.

The Huangpu academy

As might be expected, one of the Guomindang’s highest priorities was the formation of a military wing strong enough to suppress warlordism. In June 1924, the Guomindang, with the support of Chinese and Russian communists, opened the Huangpu Military Academy in Guangzhou.

Huangpu (Wade-Giles: Whampoa) was a modern training facility, modelled on similar institutions in Soviet Russia. It was designed for building a revolutionary army ‘from scratch’. Infantry soldiers were inducted and trained at Huangpu, however, its main focus was on preparing officers.

Dozens of Huangpu graduates would become notable commanders in both the National Revolutionary Army (the Guomindang’s military arm) and the communist Red Army. Training and lessons at Huangpu were delivered by Chinese revolutionaries and Soviet military advisors sent by the Comintern.

Huangpu’s first commandant was Sun’s young military protege, Jiang Jieshi, while future Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Zhou Enlai was in charge of the academy’s political department.

By the summer of 1925, there were enough Huangpu graduates for the Guomindang to assemble a new army. In August the nationalists amalgamated this army with four other provincial armies loyal to the Guomindang. This combined force was dubbed the National Revolutionary Army and placed under the command of Jiang Jieshi.

After Sun Yixian

Another issue facing the Guomindang in 1925 was the leadership of the party after Sun Yixian. Sun was diagnosed with liver cancer the previous year. After months of deteriorating health, he died in March 1925.

For years, Sun’s leadership and stature had been instrumental in holding the Guomindang together. The Guomindang was a highly factionalised party, containing a diversity of political viewpoints – from communists to liberals, from militarists to neo-fascists.

Sun’s premature death at age 58 left the party without a unifying figurehead or obvious successor. For the next two years, the Guomindang endured a power struggle between three potential leaders: the left-wing Wang Jingwei, the conservative Hu Hanmin and the militaristic Jiang Jieshi.

The question of who would lead the Guomindang remained unsettled until its military campaign to reunify China in the late 1920s.

A historian’s view:
“Its 1924 reorganisation was the party’s most vigorous effort to establish a framework for policy-making and administration. Before then, party policies had been determined largely by Sun Yixian, with occasional consultations with his chief lieutenants. The legitimacy of Sun’s authority was based on his charisma, a situation that runs counter to all institutional routines… Evidence suggests that Sun’s personal wishes continued to guide the party even after its reorganisation. [He] disregarded the clear powers granted to the Central Executive and ‘used it only as a minor administrative device’. Thus Sun left a damaging legacy to the party when he died suddenly in 1925.”
Hung-mao Tien

1. The Guomindang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, was formed in 1912, as an amalgamation of the Tongmenghui and other nationalist groups.

2. The Guomindang began at first as a parliamentary party, successfully contesting elections in 1912-13 and providing scores of deputies to the newly formed National Assembly.

3. After Yuan Shikai’s power grab in 1913-16, Sun Yixian transformed the Guomindang into a militarised revolutionary party based in Guangzhou.

4. In the 1920s Sun sought advice and support from Moscow and southern warlords negotiated an alliance with China’s communists constructed the Huangpu Academy and formed the National Revolutionary Army.

5. The death of Sun Yixian in March 1925 left the Guomindang leaderless, split into factions and at risk of a divisive power struggle between Wang Jingwei and Jiang Jieshi.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Early Life and Career

Born in the coastal province of Chekiang on October 31, 1887, Chiang ran away from home after his father died and joined the provincial army. He received formal military training at the Paoting Military Academy in northern China, and later in Japan. When uprisings against the ruling Qing (Manchu) dynasty broke out in China in 1911, Chiang returned home and joined the struggle, which ended in the overthrow of the Manchus and the formation of a Chinese republic. In 1918, he joined the Nationalist Party (known as the Kuomintang, or KMT), founded by Sun Yat-sen.

Did you know? Chiang Kai-shek&aposs second wife, Soong Mei-ling, became a significant political figure in her own right. In addition to her address of Congress in 1943, the Wellesley-educated "Madame Chiang" wrote many articles on China for the American press.

With Sun’s support, Chiang founded a military academy at Whampoa, near Canton, in 1924. He began to build up the Nationalist army, based on methods Chiang observed during a visit to the Soviet Union. During this same time, Chinese Communists were admitted into the KMT after Sun’s death in 1925, they began to clash with more conservative party elements. As Sun’s successor, Chiang led a successful military campaign against local warlords in northern China and consolidated control within his own party by expelling the Communists in a brutal coup in 1927. In 1928, he formed a new central government out of Nanking, with himself as head of state.

The New Culture Movement (Xin wenhua yundong) was a movement in China in the 1910s and 1920s that criticized classical Chinese ideas and promoted a new Chinese culture based upon western ideals like democracy and science.

You can define New Culture by its buzzwords: transparency, curiosity, compassion, freedom and love, intimacy, personal growth, equality, sustainability, open sexuality, and the power of community. On one hand, this is all fantastically true. New Culture really IS about the honest pursuit of love and freedom.

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photo of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China and the Kuomintang nationalist party

On January 1st 1912, Dr. Sun Yat-sen was inaugurated as the first president of the Republic of China, just as it had been widely expected due to his leading position in the fight against the Qing government. However, under Yuan Shikai's deal with the Qing government, Dr. Sun Yat-sen had to agree to resign from his position as president after the abdication of the Qing emperor, in order to let Yuan Shikai become the next president.

This came to happen soon after on the 12th of February 1912. Dr. Sun Yat-sen resigned as president of the republic, in order to let Yuan Shikai take his place as a supposedly provisional president until a proper constitution and institutional structure for a new permanent system of governance were all put in place. The election of a provisional national assembly was scheduled for the autumn of 1912.

That legislative body was then supposed to draft a new constitution for the republic. Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Kuomintang national people's party, that had become the political successor of his earlier Revolutionary League, was the clear winner of this election. Dr. Sun Yat-sen himself had decided not to take a seat in the provisional assembly, presumably because he aspired to become the president again and wanted to keep himself available for that post.

photo of Song Jiaoren

However, Yuan Shikai was not really willing to give up his position as president either. Yuan Shikai is suspected of having orchestrated the assassination of Song Jiaoren (1882 - 1913), the leader of the Kuomintang nationalist party in the provisional assembly, just when Song was about to board a train in Shanghai, that would have brought him to Beijing in order to take his seat in the assembly there.

That assassination didn't stop the assembly from beginning its deliberations about the future of the republic though. After Yuan Shikai had coerced the assembly into electing him as president (for a 5-year term) in late 1913, he expelled all Kuomintang delegates from further participation in it.

Yuan Shikai in uniform

A rump legislature, that was filled with his supporters and that didn't include any Kuomintang delegates, continued to meet after that. It eventually approved a constitution that named Yuan Shikai as president for life!

In late 1915, Yuan Shikai even tried to establish a new imperial dynasty with himself as the Great Emperor of China! He had ceremonial robes made for himself that had characterized the outfit of emperors, assembled a group of officials that were supposed to constitute his Confucian imperial cabinet and even performed the sacrificial rites according to the ancient customs at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, the traditional place for Chinese emperors to pray to heaven for a good harvest!

The Temple of Heaven is now one of Beijing's most popular tourist attractions, an absolute must when visiting Beijing.

Temple of Heaven

Beijing's Temple of Heaven is located at Tiantan Park. At the temple, the Ming and Qing emperors annually performed the heaven worship ceremony.

Yuan Shikai's attempt to establish himself as the new emperor strained the support of even his loyal followers beyond the breaking point and he had to flee from the capital a short time afterwards. In early June 1916, Yuan Shikai died from kidney failure.

Despite Yuan Shikai's hubristic ambitions, he turned out to be the last strong charismatic leader that somehow held China together. That became evident during the next decade, when China's former unity fell apart and various warlords ruled the different areas of China like their own personal domains. These warlords had been either former generals or otherwise high ranking officers in the imperial Qing army, political heavyweights during the early years of the republic or simply opportunists, who grabbed power for themselves in this period without strong central leadership.

Unbelievably, there was no effective central government in China between the years 1916 - 1926/1927, even though some short-lived governments claimed to be the legitimate governments of China from their capitals of Beijing or Nanjing. These governments had no control over most of China, where various ruthless warlords in ever - shifting alliances fought amongst themselves and caused great hardship and intolerable suffering for vast numbers of ordinary Chinese people.

Meanwhile, foreign nations continued to increase their power and influence over China. Particularly Japan became more ambitious in its efforts to control Manchuria in the Northeast of China. China as a whole had never been weaker and more divided in its history, but this ultimate period of chaos and humiliation turned out to be the breeding ground for new ideas, that would transform China even more radically soon afterwards.

Map of Manchuria (Click on the image to see it larger)

In the aftermath of the breakdown of the Qing dynasty, as in any period when what was certain and right before was suddenly gone, many Chinese (not only the educated elite) embarked upon a truth-seeking journey to fill the spiritual and ideological void, that the complete breakdown of the old dynastic system had created in their minds. After the collapse of the old imperial order, many Chinese not only rejected the old political institutions, ideology and culture, but many traditional forms of behaviour and further aspects of traditional Chinese culture as well. Nearly everything that was old was suddenly seen as problematic, holding China back from the necessary modernization and reform efforts.

This critique of traditional culture and ideas went into full bloom during the years when China was fragmented into the domains of various warlords. During these years of hardship and suffering for many Chinese, many new ideas about China's future germinated and began to find a following. This period in the mid to late 1910's is now known as the New Culture Movement. Its primary aim was to create a new cultural system for China, while breaking with the old culture.

Chinese women demonstrating on the street during the times of the New Culture Movement

One of the pillars of old Chinese culture had been the use of a classical literary form of the Chinese language among the educated elite circles of society. This sophisticated form of Chinese was preserved in the around 2.000-year-old writings of Confucius, Mencius and other sages. Over the preceding centuries, the traditional attachment to this old form of Chinese among elite circles of society had led to an increasing alienation from the common speech of the ordinary Chinese people.

Educated Chinese that supported the New Culture Movement began to advocate for the use of baihua (baihua = colloquial language). The written vernacular Chinese had until then only been used in works of fiction. It was henceforth used more and more in articles and essays about politics, history, literature and art, where the use of classical Chinese had previously dominated. Whereas some individuals of the educated class continued to use classical Chinese, that was more and more seen as old-fashioned, the use of baihua came to be seen as a sign for an individual's progressiveness and openness to modern ideas.

leaders of the New Culture Movement and May 4th Movement: Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun (from left to right)

Not only the use of classical Chinese, but also the values and ideas of Confucianism came to be seen as an obstacle on the path to China's modernization. The Confucian emphasis of hierarchical relationships (between ruler and subject, husband and wife etc.) began to be seen as oppressive and the - according to Confucius - reciprocal nature of these relationships (i.e. if the ruler wasn't a just ruler, he didn't have to be obeyed any longer) had been mostly forgotten. Confucianism came to be seen as a facilitating ideology in the oppression of certain groups within society (i.e. women, peasants, workers etc.), whereas it raised the societal value of other more privileged groups (like men, the educated elite etc.).

John Dewey (University of Chicago, 1902) photo of George Bernard Shaw

Bertrand Russell in 1916

New ideas that were more egalitarian in nature and more suitable for China in the 20th century were sought and popular circulating journals (especially the journal New Youth) became the platform, where a wide range of new ideas were debated. Many of these newly circulating ideas were inspired or directly drawn from the work of certain Western thinkers. Some of these popular Western thinkers like John Dewey, George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell travelled through China on speaking tours in the late 1910's and/or early 1920's.

Other more controversial new ideas also emerged, particularly those of anarchism, which was an important political movement in the West in the early 20th century (often connected to trade union movements). In the 1910's, anarchists began to build worker organizations, that created favourable conditions for the later socialist transformation. Anarchist ideas also came to China through the actions of Chinese students oversees, many of whom sent journals and pamphlets back home from their place of study like Japan or Paris (where these ideas were popular at that time). It was probably the anarchists who first brought the ideas of socialism, feminism and egalitarianism to China. Later on, special groups that were specifically devoted to those ideas began to emerge as well.

the "father of modern China" Dr. Sun Yat-sen (middle row, 3rd from left) with Chinese students in Brussels, 1905

The First World War, that plunged Europe into chaos from 1914 - 1918, turned out to benefit China economically. Certain Chinese industries that competed on a global scale (particularly the textile industry) benefited from the reduced competition during these times and expanded their worldwide market share. Most of their European competitors were either closed or had their production efforts diverted towards wartime needs during this time. What's more, hundreds of thousands of mostly young Chinese found work in factories in Europe (particularly in France) during this time, replacing the locals who had gone to war.

Members of the Chinese Labour Corps entertain British troops and Chinese workers at an open-air theatre at Etaples in 1918. The British and Chinese audience members appear to be separated by a fence.

While working in these European factories, they not only experienced better working conditions than back home, but also benefited from access to better education, the assistance of trade unions etc. Modern ideas such as democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity were embraced by many of them (not only intellectuals but even ordinary workers) and shared with their friends and family members back home in letters. The monetary remittances that these workers sent to their families provided a further boost for the Chinese economy at that time.

the list of the Twenty-One Demands

With the European powers occupied in the First World War, Japan tried to seize the opportunity in 1915 to extend its domination over China by delivering a list of demands (the Twenty-One Demands) to the Chinese government of president Yuan Shikai. The essence of the Twenty-One Demands was that Japan wanted to assume a special role among all the foreign powers in China, that would have given it a dominating position over parts of the economy (Japan wanted special economic concessions) and public life (for example Japan wanted to have the right to place Japanese officials as de facto overseers in Chinese government offices). The Twenty-One Demands were of course rejected by the Chinese government.

section of William Orpen's painting "The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles 1919" showing a view of the interior of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, with the heads of state sitting and standing before a long table. (Click on the image to see it larger)
Front Row: Dr Johannes Bell (Germany) signing with Herr Hermann Muller leaning over him. Middle row (seated, left to right): General Tasker H Bliss, Col E M House, Mr Henry White, Mr Robert Lansing, President Woodrow Wilson (United States) M Georges Clemenceau (France) Mr D Lloyd George, Mr A Bonar Law, Mr Arthur J Balfour, Viscount Milner, Mr G N Barnes (Great Britain) The Marquis Saionzi (Japan). Back row (left to right): M Eleutherios Venizelos (Greece) Dr Affonso Costa (Portugal) Lord Riddell (British Press) Sir George E Foster (Canada) M Nikola Pachitch (Serbia) M Stephen Pichon (France) Col Sir Maurice Hankey, Mr Edwin S Montagu (Great Britain) the Maharajah of Bikaner (India) Signor Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy) M Paul Hymans (Belgium) General Louis Botha (South Africa) Mr W M Hughes (Australia)

However, a few years later after the end of the First World War, Japan was awarded the former German concessions on Chinese soil in the Treaty of Versailles (signed on the 28th of June 1919) as an act of gratitude for the Japanese support in the war against Germany. China had also contributed in the war against Germany and was indignant that these former parts of its territory were not returned to its control. Even though the Chinese government never accepted the terms of the Versailles treaty, it was imposed anyway by the Western powers, even without an official signature from the Chinese delegates.

Student Demonstrations on June 4th and 5th 1919 in Beijing which started the May 4th Movement

News of these events reached Beijing by telegram from Paris on the night of May 3rd 1919. On the following day, May 4th 1919, thousands of students gathered at noon in front of Tiananmen Gate, where they protested in what came to be known as the May 4th demonstration against the perceived unfairness of the Versailles treaty.

Tiananmen Gate

Beijing's Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) is where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on the 1st of October 1949.

Cao Rulin (1877 - 1966), the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Beiyang Government and an important member of the pro-Japanese movement in the early 20th century

The protesters saw the disregard for Chinese interests in the treaty stipulations as a betrayal of China and they were disappointed with their own government (and especially foreign ministry), which they perceived as too weak to stand up to the Western powers. That demonstration marked the beginning of the May 4th Movement. The demonstration proceeded with the students marching eastward towards the diplomatic quarter of Beijing (where the foreign nations had their diplomatic missions). When the police blocked the access roads to the diplomatic quarter, the students turned north through a maze of narrow alleyways, that led them to the residence of the Chinese foreign minister Cao Rulin. After forcing their entry inside, the students proceeded to beat up the one man they encountered before burning the compound to the ground. The foreign minister managed to flee from the approaching rioters through a back door, disguised in the dress of a female servant! When the police arrived at the scene, they confronted the students and forcefully broke up the riot and demonstration. Many students were violently beaten and several arrested.

photo showing the arrested students being taken to jail, 1919

During the following days of heated political discussion, officials from the government and Beijing university got involved, arguing on behalf of the students and demanding that the Versailles treaty won't be ratified by China. The arrested students were released, but the May 4th Movement nevertheless began to spread to other Chinese cities and even beyond the ranks of students. The movement's popularity within the population increased substantially within a short time. Especially its call for a boycott of Japanese goods was hugely popular and many Chinese merchants joined the movement (perhaps also for the opportunist reason of hoping to increase their profits through the sale of their Chinese goods).

Tsinghua University students in Beijing burn Japanese goods in 1919

The May 4th movement continued its course for another 2 years or so, during which it sort of merged with the New Culture Movement. Its significance is related to the huge loss of faith in Western ideas among many young educated Chinese in its aftermath. Especially this new generation of Chinese had until then seen the West as a sort of role model, that needed to be emulated on China's path to modernity. Western political systems and ideas like that of a democratic republic had been widely discussed in these circles and were seen by many as a viable alternative for China's future. The unfair imperialist doctrine that became apparent in the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles exposed the rhetoric of Western powers during the First World War (during which more self-determination for colonial peoples had been promised repeatedly) as blatant lies.

Western pragmatism, that was characterized by each Western country caring first and foremost about its own interests, had led to yet another humiliation of China and a loss of face of the West. Suddenly, even more radical ideas for China's future, that were inspired by the ideas of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, began to look a lot more appealing in the eyes of progressive Chinese.

A poster of the Russian Civil War (1918 - 1922) with the slogan: "Long Live World October [revolution]! Workers conquered power in Russia. Workers will conquer power in the entire world."

Substantive reports about the start of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia on the 7th of November 1917 had reached China only by the spring of 1918. Some educated Chinese had followed these emerging information closely, because they saw parallels between Russia's and China's situation. Both countries had been ruled by absolute monarchs (the emperor in China and the tsar in Russia), controlled a huge territory and were mostly agrarian-based with a large and mostly poor peasantry and beginning industrialization efforts in some cities. The ideas of the Bolshevik Revolution like Marxism, Leninism and Communism were well-received among some progressive Chinese, who saw them as political alternatives for the future of China. The idea of a Chinese communist party, that could lead China into a socialist future, began to emerge and was realized soon after.

Li Dazhao, Chinese agent of the Communist International in 1930

Over a period of several years, Marxist study groups sprung up in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. After having grown in size from very modest beginnings, they began to reach out to workers organizations and form loose networks with socialist groups in other parts of the country. After 1920, these Marxist study groups began to receive organisational help and advice from both Soviet agents (that the Russian communists had sent to assist in the process of revolutionary organisation) and advisors from the Communist International (an international communist organization). This assistance was crucial in the preparation of establishing a national communist organisation/party in China.

Before the Communist Party of China (CPC) was even founded, these advisors helped to suggest the terms of the party program and the organisational format for the new party. The international advisors assisted with the organisation of the First National Congress, that took place in July of 1921 in Shanghai and later on a tour boat on Jiaxing's South Lake. The Communist Party of China (CPC) kicked off its development as a serious political institution (it had been founded as a kind of Marxist study group on July 1st) during these days.

Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai

Only about a dozen party delegates had made their way to Shanghai to attend the congress. Many others had been unable to travel there. Whereas some of the first delegates never attained a position of prominence within the CPC during its later ascent to power, one of those founding members later became the CPC's famous chairman - Mao Zedong (1893 - 1976). Mao had become involved with a Marxist study group while working in a minor position at the Beijing University Library.

The site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai is now a museum that history buffs shouldn't miss when visiting that metropolis.

1st National Congress Site

The historic Shikumen building in Shanghai where the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place on the 23rd of July 1921 is now a museum.

photo of the young Mao Zedong in 1927

Interestingly, agents from the Communist International had not only helped with the founding of the CPC, but had helped Dr. Sun Yat-sen's nationalist Kuomintang party as well. The advice of these foreign experts had led to an effective reorganization of the Kuomintang party. Though personally opposed to the ideas of communism, Dr. Sun Yat-sen was nevertheless open to useful cooperation. Since he was not a great organizer himself, he had welcomed the advice of the agents of the Communist International, which had led to a reorganization of his nationalist party after the model of the Russian Bolshevik party. This successful reorganization of the Kuomintang had substantially increased internal discipline, cohesion and made the nationalist party much more effective in its operation.

Furthermore, the advisors of the Communist International had recommended the formation of a United Front between the CPC and the Kuomintang. Unlike in the situation of a merger, both parties continued to exist as separate entities after the First United Front was put together. It allowed members of the CPC to join the Kuomintang as well (to be therefore members of both parties at the same time) and even to serve as officials within its ranks.

1940 photo of Chiang Kai-shek in full military uniform

Mao Zedong was one of the many Chinese communists, who subsequently joined the Kuomintang. He even became the leader of the Kuomintang's peasant bureau, which wasn't a prestigious position since the industrial proletariat was the more coveted target group of both parties at that time. Both parties ultimately benefited from their collaboration under the First United Front. The diligent work of the communists in many sectors benefited the Kuomintang and the collaboration helped the CPC to slowly gain a larger following (its membership numbers lagged far behind those of the Kuomintang at that time).

After Dr. Sun Yat-sen's death in 1925, the nationalist Kuomintang party needed more then a year to find a new strong leader. One military man, whom Dr. Sun Yat-sen had earlier sent to Russia for a few months in order to study the Bolshevik Revolution there, began to rise to political prominence in the times that followed the death of the "father of modern China". Even though Chiang Kai-shek (1888 - 1975) had been impressed by the might of the Red Army and the organisational skills and techniques of the Russian communists, he was nevertheless strongly opposed to their political program.

Chiang Kai-shek at Dr. Sun Yat-sen's funeral in 1925

After his return to China in 1924, Chiang Kai-shek had become the commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy outside Canton (Guangzhou). The network of personal connections within the nationalist military, that Chiang developed during this time, contributed to him being named commander of the nationalist army in 1926. And so, more then one year after Dr. Sun Yat-sen's death, Chiang Kai-shek had become the new political leader of the Kuomintang while simultaneously keeping his position as military commander of the party-affiliated National Revolutionary Army (NRA).

Chiang Kai-shek (2nd from left) at the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924 with Dr. Sun Yat-sen (in white at the center)

In 1926, after having sufficiently consolidated his power base within the nationalist party and army, Chiang Kai-shek launched an effort to reunify China, that came to be known as the Northern Expedition. With most of China in the hands of warlords, the nationalists only controlled their base area of Guangdong province in the south of China at that time. From there, the nationalist army under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership followed almost the same route as the Taiping Movement during the previous century, up through Hunan province in central China to the Yangtze River Valley before turning eastwards to Nanjing.

Within just a few months, the Northern Expedition was successful in bringing most of southern China under military control of the nationalist forces. That was achieved through a combination of tactics. Most of the battles that the nationalist army fought ended in victory and resulted in the incorporation of the defeated warlord armies into the nationalist forces. Sometimes, Chiang Kai-shek also gained the loyalty of local warlords through political negotiations. A few times, he resorted to outright bribery to gain their allegiance. By the spring of 1927, the entire territory south of the Yangtze River was in the hands of the nationalist army.

The National Revolutionary Army enters Wuhan in 1927 during the Northern Expedition

By April 1927, the nationalist army stood outside the city of Shanghai. Shanghai was already China's most industrialized city back then. Many thousands of workers worked in the factories there. Most workers were organized in trade unions. Some of these unions stood under the dominion of the Communist Party of China, others merely maintained links with the communists. The First United Front between the nationalists and the communists, that Dr. Sun Yat-sen had put in place, had been reluctantly maintained by Chiang Kai-shek until then. Despite his strong opposition to communism, Chiang Kai-shek didn't want to jeopardise his position as the political heir of the "father of modern China". When his nationalist army stood outside Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek saw an opportunity to eliminate the communists as a political rival once and for all.

Kuomintang and communist organizers within the city (many of which were embedded within the unions) had devised a plan for an uprising within Shanghai. The uprising was supposed to start once the nationalist army approached the city. The communists had to seize control of the city then, sparing the nationalist army from the difficult task of having to fight their way in. The communists' 3rd attempt to launch a large-scale uprising in late March 1927 was initially successful, taking the power back from the local warlord leader and opening the way for Chiang Kai-shek's army to enter the city.

Worried about the growing power of the CPC within the city in the days after the uprising, Chiang Kai-shek initiated a purge of communists from within the ranks of the Kuomintang. Members of the Shanghai underworld (the Green Gang) assisted Chiang to carry out this bloody purge. Striking workers and communist organizers were violently attacked and many of them died or were injured while fighting in the streets. Hundreds more were subsequently arrested, imprisoned and some of them executed. This bloody purge of the communists in Shanghai destroyed them as a significant political movement in that city. It also marked the end of the First United Front between the CPC and the Kuomintang.

Communists being rounded up during the days of the purge in Shanghai

The organisational base of the CPC within the urban proletariat was subsequently destroyed in other ports and industrial centers as well. The former alliance between communists and nationalists was only maintained in the central Chinese city of Wuhan for a while longer until the end of summer 1927. There, a left wing group within the nationalist party continued to collaborate with the communists until Chiang Kai-shek convinced them to reunite with the Kuomintang's right wing. After these events, Chiang Kai-shek had become the undisputed leader of the Kuomintang nationalist party.

Meanwhile, the Chinese communists found themselves in an extremely difficult situation. Marxism emphasized the primary role of the urban proletariat on the way to building a socialist society. The CPC had therefore concentrated its efforts on the organization of urban workers. That organisational structure had been destroyed. Mao Zedong began to play a more significant role within the CPC during that time. His vision of organising the Chinese peasantry, that he had begun to develop as the leader of the peasant bureau of the nationalists, slowly began to gain a following over the course of several years until it eventually became the party's new dominant orientation. Mao Zedong had observed the power of budding peasant movements in the countryside (including his home province of Hunan) and saw their immense potential. He now wanted to turn them into a revolutionary force under the leadership of the CPC.

Mao Zedong addresses some of his followers at an unknown location

Before the CPC's reorientation towards leading the peasantry (after the destruction of its urban organisational structure) was completed, the remaining urban party leadership urged communists in various parts of the country to launch uprisings. This "greater revolution" within the cities had disastrous results. Even Mao Zedong himself led a peasant army to capture the central Chinese city of Changsha. Mao's army never established full control of the city before they were forced to retreat by the better armed and organized nationalist army. After this defeat, Mao Zedong retreated with his remaining troops to the mountains of southern Jiangxi province.

the Chinese communist leaders Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai (from left) that were both involved in the leadership of the Jiangxi Soviet, photo taken at a later time in 1939 photo of the Chinese Red Army leader Zhu De in the 1930's. He was the principal founder of China's People's Liberation Army on 1 August 1927.

There, he collaborated with local communists and the leaders of other abortive uprisings to create a new model for the Chinese communist movement. In the early 1930's, Mao Zedong, his political ally Zhou Enlai (1898 - 1976) and the communist military leader Zhu De (1886 - 1976) tested many of their communist theories (land reform, reforming the Chinese family system etc.) practically in the Jiangxi Soviet. This rural communist base in southern Jiangxi, that was populated with several million peasants, became a testing ground for communist ideas. Many of those were later implemented on a national level after the CPC had risen to power.

the 2nd meeting of the Chinese communist delegates at the Jiangxi Soviet in 1934

Chiang Kai-shek completed to pursue his goal of reunifying China after 1927. In 1928, his forces defeated or formed alliances with the remaining warlords in the north of China. Conflict with the former warlords flared up once more in 1930 when the Central Plains War pitted Chiang Kai-shek's forces against those of three of his former warlord allies. Even though Chiang Kai-shek's side triumphed in this war, it was a very costly victory, both financially and concerning the number of human casualties.

the warlords Feng Yuxiang (left) and Yan Xishan (right) with Chiang Kai-shek (middle) during a Kuomintang conference before the outbreak of the Central Plains War

With the warlords removed as a threat to China's unity, the Japanese started to become troublesome, however. Japanese military units were based in Shandong province in order to protect Japanese-owned railway lines and their economic concession of Qingdao. Military confrontations between the Japanese military units and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist army broke out in Shandong province during the 2nd part of the Northern Expedition in 1928. The tensions between China and Japan became more and more apparent by the end of the 1920's and the beginning of the 1930's. Chiang Kai-shek, however, saw the Chinese communists as the greater threat, (in-)famously calling the Japanese a disease of the skin but the communists a disease of the guts."

Instead of dealing decisively with the Japanese threat, he subsequently concentrated his efforts on the fight against the communists. The Jiangxi Soviet was not the only area where local communist forces had established their control. Chiang Kai-shek's military began to launch a series of encirclement campaigns in the 1930's. These military blockade tactics had the nationalist military surround the Jiangxi Soviet, before trying to move ever closer to its center. At first, the communists were able to fight back and even drive off the nationalist soldiers. After the nationalists began to receive military advice and assistance from the German Nazis in the mid-1930's (that assistance was suspended later when Germany allied itself with Japan), it became harder and harder for the communists to protect their area.

soldiers of the Chinese Red Army during the time of their resistance against Chiang Kai-shek's first encirclement campaign of the Jiangxi Soviet

By October of 1934, it had become clear that the Jiangxi Soviet wouldn't be able to resist these encirclement campaigns much longer. To escape the mounting pressure, the communist leaders decided to try to break out of the encirclement in order to march to another communist base in the Northwest of China, that was centered around the city of Yan'an in Shaanxi province. In mid-October 1934, 115.000 individuals broke out of the encirclement and began the Long March towards Yan'an. A small contingent of fighters was left behind in the center of their longtime base. Their last stand was intended to keep the nationalist forces occupied from pursuit.

photo showing Mao Zedong riding his white horse during the Long March, 1934-1935

Nevertheless, the communist long marchers were constantly harassed by pursuing nationalist forces during the course of the next year. The long marchers finally reached their new base at Yan'an by the end of 1935. However, only 15.000 individuals had successfully completed the arduous trip of several thousand kilometres (that had first led south and west, before turning north in a wide arc) across several provinces and through swamps, deep river gorges and across mountain ranges. The heroism and indomitable spirit of these long marchers is still celebrated in China today! Mao Zedong had been named chairman of the communist party early on during the Long March, a position he continued to hold until his death in 1976.

Mao Zedong at work in his Yan'an office in 1938

At their new Yan'an base, the communist party continued to experiment with new policies and organisational methods. In December of 1936, an event occurred that gave the Chinese communists (that were firmly established at their Yan'an base then) an opportunity to join a Second United Front with the nationalists, this time with the focus of resisting the Japanese invasion. This event came to be known as the Xi'an Incident.

Yan'an Revolutionary Sites

Featured are the Pagoda Hill, Revolutionary Memorial Hall, Wangjiaping Former Revolutionary Headquarters and the Yangjialing, Zaoyuan & Fenghuang Mountain Revolutionary Sites.

Xi'an is located in the southern part of Shaanxi province, which in 1936 was under the military control of Zhang Xueliang (1898 - 2001), a warlord who had pledged allegiance to Chiang Kai-shek. Zhang Xueliang's father Zhang Zuolin had been the warlord of Manchuria (from 1916 to 1928) until the Japanese assassinated him in 1928.

photo of the warlord Zhang Xueliang the warlord Zhang Zuolin

Understandably, Zhang Xueliang wanted the nationalists to take a stronger stand against Japanese aggression and was particularly frustrated with Chiang Kai-shek's apparent unwillingness to do so. Perhaps out of that frustration, Zhang Xueliang had Chiang Kai-shek placed under house arrest, when the latter came to visit him in Xi'an. Zhang Xueliang then invited the communists to send representatives from their Yan'an base to Xi'an in order to negotiate the terms of a Second United Front.

The kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek actually happened at the Huaqing Hot Springs about 25 km east of Xi'an.

Huaqing Hot Springs

The Huaqing Hot Springs (a.k.a. Huaqing Pool or Huaqing Palace) are located 30 km east of Xi'an. The site's history reaches back to the time of the Tang dynasty.

Zhou Enlai represented the communists in the successful negotiation of that agreement, before Chiang Kai-shek was released again and allowed to return to the capital of Nanjing. Perhaps out of vengefulness, Chiang Kai-shek turned the tables upon his return to Nanjing by having Zhang Xueliang placed under house arrest. The nationalists even went so far as to take him along to Taiwan, when they fled from the Chinese mainland in 1948/1949!

photo showing Chinese soldiers trying to defend Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing from Japanese invading troops in 1937

Japan had invaded and occupied Manchuria in the Northeast of China in 1931 and later founded the supposedly independent state of Manchukuo with the last emperor Puyi as its puppet ruler. The Japanese invasion of China was triggered by the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which took place on the 7-9th of July 1937 southwest of Beijing. The Japanese provocation of that incident led to the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). The Japanese troops subsequently invaded China from two sides, southwards from their Northern puppet state of Manzhougou to Beijing and along the railway lines towards China's center as well as westwards from Shanghai. The 2nd Shanghai front started in autumn of 1937, when Japanese troops that were based there started to attack the western part of the city. Their original plan to quickly move west along the course of the Yangtze River in Blitzkrieg fashion was rendered impossible by the fierce resistance of the Chinese.

wedding photo showing Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty and emperor of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo with his Japanese wife Lady Hiro Saga, 1937

The Jiangnan region had resisted invading armies heroically before in Chinese history (i.e. during the Manchu conquest) and so it was only in December of 1937, that the Japanese troops reached Nanjing. After having quelled the fierce resistance of that city, the Japanese troops unleashed a campaign of terror upon its civilian population (the Chinese nationalist army forces had already largely withdrawn by then). During this "Rape of Nanking", unimaginable cruelties were committed by the Japanese occupation troops. More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed (often cruelly massacred) and the rape of Chinese women was commonplace. This terrible event in Chinese history is still a sore point in the relationship between China and Japan today.

When visiting the city of Nanjing, the Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre is the place to go to learn more about this terrible event.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial

This Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders commemorates the terrible events that occurred in December 1937 and January 1938.

Chiang Kai-shek greeted by a crowd in Chongqing, ca. 1939

The two advancing armies of the Japanese invaders eventually reached their central Chinese target city of Wuhan, but needed 4 months to take that city (on October 27th 1938). The Chinese nationalist government, that had withdrawn from Nanjing to Wuhan earlier, was thereby forced to retreat further through the Yangtze River Gorges to the city of Chongqing. There, the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek established their permanent wartime headquarter, while maintaining a secondary center of operations at the city of Kunming (Yunnan province) in China's southern border regions.

After the Japanese occupation of Northern and Central China was completed, the further advancement of their troops slowed down considerably. Japanese troops never managed to gain full control of southern China, where nationalist troops continued to operate out of several pockets of resistance. Despite continuing acts of cruelty from the side of the Japanese occupiers, the Chinese civilian population also contributed greatly to the stiffening resistance against Japanese aggression.

From their Yan'an base in northern Shaanxi, the Chinese communists maintained a guerilla warfare campaign all over North China against the Japanese aggressors. Sudden ambushes and acts of sabotage (many carried out at night), like the blowing up of bridges and railway lines, tied down the Japanese troops within their occupied areas. The Japanese army effectively only controlled the cities and areas near the railway lines. The war continued in this way for several years and the Japanese were unable to invade major additional parts of China.

Joseph Stilwell (right) with Chiang Kai-shek and his wife

By 1944, major American victories in the Pacific signalled a turning of the tides and the inevitable defeat of Japan. In anticipation of an eventual defeat of the Japanese by the Americans, Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist forces began to limit their war efforts to the static strategy of preventing Japan from gaining more territory, without launching any major counteroffensives. A large part of the American weapon and ammunition deliveries was stored away for an eventual confrontation with the Chinese communists, that Chiang Kai-shek expected to break out after the defeat of the Japanese. That frustrated China's Western allies and especially the American military advisor Joseph Stilwell (1883 - 1946). The mounting tensions between Stilwell and Chiang Kai-shek led to Stilwell's recall by the American government.

The Chinese communists anticipated a revolutionary confrontation with the nationalists as well once the war had ended. Already then, the communists and the Red Army enjoyed widespread support among the civilian population (particularly in Northern China), thanks to their more active resistance against the Japanese aggressors along with modest programs of social reform. The communists' propaganda apparatus presented Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist party as incompetent, unpatriotic and corrupt protectors of the imperialist interests of Western nations in China. Even though nominally still united under the Second United Front, tensions between the two parties intensified considerably during the course of the war.

After Japan's surrender in September 1945, negotiations about forming a coalition government took place between the two parties. American negotiators, that had been specifically sent to China for that purpose, participated in these negotiations. Meanwhile, both parties continued their preparations for the eventual outbreak of hostilities. The Russians provided military aid to the Chinese communist forces, while simultaneously stripping bare industrial factories in the Northeast of China (as war reparations). The Soviet army had occupied these parts of China near the end of the war. Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists received confiscated Japanese arms from the United States. While both sides continued to strengthen their positions militarily in this way, the coalition negotiations dragged on until eventually breaking down by the end of 1946.

photo showing marines of the Soviet fleet hoisting the banner in Port Arthur (now the Lushun district of the Chinese city of Dalian in China's Northeast) during the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on the 1st of October 1945

Fighting then quickly broke out between the communist and nationalist forces. The nationalists achieved a meaningless victory near the beginning of the Chinese Civil War by driving the communists out of their Northwestern base area at Yan'an. By that time, the communists' position was already much stronger in Manchuria and the North China Plain. These areas quickly fell under their control after the outbreak of the civil war. With the north of China in the hands of the communists, China's south and southwest initially remained nationalist and the stage was set for a long confrontation.

Chinese communist soldiers fighting in the Huaihai Campaign

In November of 1948, the Huaihai Campaign on the plains surrounding the Huai River (which is located between the Yellow River in the North and the Yangtze River in the south) became a crucial point in the war. The nationalist forces suffered a demoralizing defeat in that conventional tank battle and the communists began to see their ultimate victory on the horizon. Communist propaganda became more and more effective in presenting the communists as the patriotic wave of the future. The obvious misery, corruption and inflation that was apparent in the areas that the nationalists still controlled, eroded their support among their remaining sympathizers. Anticipating defeat after the Battle of the Huaihai, Chiang Kai-shek began to withdraw his remaining forces to the island of Taiwan.

Large areas in southern China were still under the control of nationalist forces at that time. Too far removed from the sea, evacuation to Taiwan was difficult if not impossible for some of them. A large contingent of nationalist forces in the Southwest of China escaped from the communists by crossing the border into Burma (where some of them and their descendants still live today).

Late in 1948, the indigenous Taiwanese population started an insurrection against the nationalist forces from the mainland, that had started to take over their island. Many of them, along with other groups that resisted the nationalists, were massacred by Chiang Kai-shek's forces. The state of martial law, that was imposed on the island in 1948, stayed in effect until 1987!

Chiang Kai-shek's evacuation efforts intensified in 1949, after the communist forces drove the nationalists farther south. Some nationalist forces found themselves isolated in various parts of China. Sometimes they were allowed to surrender to the communists, at other times completely wiped out. Chiang Kai-shek's last evacuations to Taiwan took place in December of 1949, with himself and his wife on the last boat.

photo showing the Chinese Red Army entering the Chinese city of Yinchuan in 1949

In April of 1949, Beijing surrendered to the communists, who had besieged the city since autumn of 1948. Careful negotiations had broken the impasse between the defending nationalists and besieging communists without a major battle, that might have caused substantial destruction of the city and its priceless cultural heritage sites. By the summer of 1949, the communist forces had advanced to every corner of China where nationalist forces still held out. Meanwhile, the communist leadership had begun to settle in Beijing, where they started preparations to establish their new government.

Chinese History Digest's summary of China's history continues with the story of the founding of the People's Republic of China in the next and last section.

In Remote Thai Villages, Legacy of China’s Lost Army Endures

BAN RAK THAI, Thailand — At night, traditional Chinese red lanterns illuminate the hotels, shop fronts and Yunnanese-style restaurants lining the main road in this highland village of just over 1,000 people. On one recent evening, as the mist rose off a nearby reservoir, the mellifluous voice of the popular Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng could be heard wafting out from one of the village’s several tea shops.

But this sleepy Chinese village is nestled in the lush backcountry of northwestern Thailand, one of several dozen such outposts, a quirk of the region’s tumultuous human and political history.

“I may have a Thai ID, but I’m Chinese,” said Liang Zhengde, 47, a manager for his family’s fruit farms. “My family is Chinese, and no matter where we go, we’re still Chinese.”

The Liangs, like some 200 other families here, are the veterans or descendants of what is known as China’s Lost Army, a unit of the Kuomintang’s Nationalist Army, which lost to the Red Army of Mao Zedong in 1949. As most Nationalist soldiers fled east to Taiwan in the face of Communist advances, the Kuomintang’s 93rd Division retreated west from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan into Myanmar, then known as Burma.

Mr. Liang’s father, Liang Zhongxia, 84, a former Kuomintang commander, is among the 93rd Division’s last surviving veterans.

History was not finished with these lost Chinese soldiers. Against the background of shifting Cold War dynamics, some of those who stayed in the region fought against the Burmese government and ethnic militias and, with the help of Taiwan and the United States, continued to stage forays into China.


In the 1960s and ’70s, Kuomintang veterans became players in the illicit drug trade that for decades roiled this area, part of the infamous Golden Triangle. They later struck a deal with the Thai government allowing them to stay in the northern Thai borderlands in exchange for help fighting the Thai Communists.

In the mid-1980s, with the Communist threat essentially extinguished, the Kuomintang soldiers agreed to put down their arms and take up farming. In exchange, the Thai government began to grant them and their families Thai citizenship.

Today, 64 of these so-called Kuomintang villages, including Ban Rak Thai — or Mae Aw, as locals call it — remain in northern Thailand, according to statistics published by the Taiwan government last year.

Assimilation is a work in progress. In Ban Rak Thai, many villagers still prefer to converse in Chinese, though many of the younger generation can speak at least a little Thai.

Traditional red banners printed with gold-lettered Chinese couplets glint in the sun in the doorways of many village homes, and beside them, in many cases, villagers have hung portraits of the Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The villages’ Chinese heritage has been played up in recent years as locals seek to cater to a small but growing number of tourists, mostly Thai, who come seeking cool weather, Chinese food and locally grown oolong tea.

Huang Jiada, who joined the Kuomintang during the Cold War after his family had fled to Myanmar, has been leading the effort to preserve Ban Rak Thai’s unique history.

On a recent crisp afternoon, Mr. Huang, 53, hopped on his motorbike and sped up a bumpy dirt path to the top of a hill. At the peak was a sparse, one-room museum that he built with funds from the Thai government to commemorate the Kuomintang Army.

Inside, recent photos of elderly veterans wearing oversize military fatigues were displayed alongside hand-drawn maps of battle routes and older photos that showed young, gun-wielding soldiers marching under the army’s red, white and blue flag.

Mr. Huang pointed to a portrait of a heavyset man wearing rumpled clothes and an orange beanie. “This is the man who conscripted me into the army in Myanmar when I was 11,” Mr. Huang said, speaking in southern-inflected Mandarin. “He couldn’t read or write, but he could certainly fight and kill.”

Mr. Huang was inspired to build the museum after seeing the impressive Kuomintang history museum in Santikhiri, in Chiang Rai Province, the country’s most prominent Kuomintang village.

“We can’t forget the history,” he said. “We can’t throw our forebears away. Regardless of what happens with China and Taiwan in the future, we are all Chinese people. We can’t forget our Chinese roots.”

It is a sentiment shared by much of the older generation in Ban Rak Thai, who still speak of the past in terms of the traditional minguo calendar, which takes 1912 — the year the Republic of China was founded — as year one.

But to focus exclusively on Ban Rak Thai’s “Chineseness,” said Carl Grundy-Warr, a specialist in Southeast Asia border politics at the National University of Singapore, is to overlook the complexity of the history and geopolitical landscape that has shaped the cultural identities of many of the residents in this village.

“The people in Mae Aw have intermingled and intermarried so much with so many different ethnic groups in the mountains of northeast Burma and northern Thailand that actually there is no one pure history there,” he said.

He described the cultural landscape that spreads across Yunnan, Myanmar, Laos and the Thai borderlands as a “gigantic kaleidoscope” of multiethnic interaction.

Still, for the former Kuomintang soldiers, the ties to China are powerful, despite the decades that have intervened.

Liang Zhongxia follows the news in mainland China and Taiwan every day. In 2013, his wife and son returned to Yunnan for the first time to sweep the family’s ancestral tombs. But Mr. Liang stayed behind.

After more than a half-century in exile, he was reluctant to go home.

“I don’t want to go back anymore,” he said.

Too much time had passed, he said, and he quoted a verse from an ancient Chinese poem: “My arms have outgrown my sleeves.”

Why Did Chiang Kai-shek Lose China? The Guomindang Regime And The Victory Of The Chinese Communist Party

Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong in 1945 (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Reports of lost battles swirl in like falling snow,” wrote Chiang Kai-shek at the end of 1948. “North China and the below-the-wall region are on the brink of collapse. I do not feel guilty. I tried my best” (quoted in: Jay Taylor, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, 2009, p. 397).

On October 15, when he learnt that the Communists had captured the city of Jinzhou, he still believed that victory was possible. “[T]he enemy is not strong, it should be easy to recover [Jinzhou],” he wrote in his diary (quoted in: Harold M. Tanner, Where Chiang Kai-Shek Lost China: The Liao-Shen Campaign, 1948, 2015, p. 251). He was gravely mistaken.

Communist general Lin Biao crushed Guomindang forces and captured his counterpart, Liao Yaoxiang, who was held as a prisoner of war for 12 years. By the end of October Jinzhou had been irreparably lost, the Sixtieth and New Seventh Armies in Changchun had rebelled and surrendered, and a total of thirty-two divisions had been annihilated in half a month. Chiang characterized the military debacle as “the greatest defeat and the greatest shame” of his life (ibid., p. 261).

Chiang Kai-shek had ruled China with an iron fist for twenty-one years. The disastrous Liaoshen campaign marked the end of his hopes to defeat Mao Zedong’s Communists. For two years he had been thinking about a tactical retreat. The fall of Manchuria convinced him that the only option for the survival of the government of the Republic of China (ROC) was to withdraw to Taiwan (Taylor 2009, p. 397).

By mid-January 1949 the air force and navy headquarters had been transferred to Taiwan. In the following months five-sixths of the thousands of remaining aircraft and the best equipment were moved to the island, too. The ports of southern China were crowded with government officials and civilians desperate to board any available vessel to follow the collapsing regime into its exile (ibid., p. 398).

One night in the middle of January Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek’s son, and a group of officials raided the Shanghai headquarters of the Bank of China, forcing its president, Yu Hongzhun, to open the vaults. The soldiers began loading trucks with gold bullion, silver coins and foreign currency, which were later shipped to Taiwan, as were thousands of artifacts Guomindang officials had removed from the Palace Museum in Beijing (then called Beiping, “Northern Peace”) (ibid., p. 399).

The Communists entered Beijing on January 31. They crossed the Yangtze River without opposition on 20 April, 1949, as Guomindang forces fled or defected. Nanjing, the capital of the Guomindang regime, fell three days later (Jonathan Fenby, Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China He Lost, Chapter 26). Shanghai was taken on May 26. On October 1, Mao Zedong, whose portrait now hung over the gate of the Forbidden City instead of Chiang’s, proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Communist troops enter Beijing, 31 January 1949 (uploaded by Aukingluntom at Chinese Wikipedia)

On 8 December, the Executive Yuan of the ROC voted to move the capital of the Republic of China from Nanjing to Taipei. On the 10th, Chiang Kai-shek boarded a plane headed for Taiwan. When he arrived, he went to a hotel with his son Chiang Ching-kuo. There he received the news that Yunnan Province had fallen. He sat silently for one hour, deep in thought (ibid.).

The most powerful man in China, who only a few years earlier had sat at the victors’ table alongside British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President F.D. Roosevelt, and who as late as 1946 enjoyed so much popular support that the majority of the citizens identified him and his Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) with the Chinese state itself (Taylor 2009, p. 367), had been defeated and humiliated. But how did he lose China to the Communists? Why did his regime collapse?

In this article we shall attempt to answer this question by examining six inherent weaknesses of the Guomindang state and how they were exploited by the Communists to overthrow it.

1) Inability To Reform 2) Corruption 3) Factionalism 4) Economic Backwardness 5) Political Oppression 6) International Isolation.

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1 – Inability To Reform

“The Chinese revolution has failed,” Chiang Kai-shek said in 1932. “My only desire today is to restore the revolutionary spirit that the Chinese Kuomintang [=Guomindang] had in 1924” (quoted in: Lloyd E. Eastman, The Abortive Revolution. China Under Nationalist Rule, 1927-1937, 1990, p. 1).

The Guomindang was founded on August 25th, 1912, by the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. He had been elected as first President of the Republic of China after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Sun’s vision was to modernize China both politically and economically. In his Three Principles of the Peoples, he sought to adapt to Chinese circumstances three major Western ideologies of his time: nationalism, democracy and socialism.

But China’s first democratically elected government was ousted by general Yuan Shikai in 1912, and after his death in 1916 the central government collapsed, leading to the emergence of regional military despots (the warlords).

When he became the leader of the Guomindang in 1925, Chiang launched the so-called Northern Expedition, a military campaign aimed at defeating the warlords and unifying China. The Expedition was completed in 1927, and a new central government was established in Nanjing.

The Guomindang had risen to power by promising sweeping social and economic reforms. Soon after its military triumph, however, the regime lost its momentum and institutional inertia set in. Despite some attempts at modernization, which we will discuss later, the regime became increasingly preoccupied with maintaining its hold on power, with preserving the status quo and fighting against the Communist movement.

In a report to the League of Nations Ludwik Rajchman, the director of the Health Organization and later founder of UNICEF, wrote that the Guomindang government “soon began to lose its original driving force eventually after two years of office, little remained of the early schemes of reconstruction the top-heavy machine of the Central Government was clogged by the defensive attitude of those holding doggedly on to official positions, and real incentive to reform and reconstruction passed more and more into the camp of Opposition” (quoted in: Eastman 1990, p. 2).

Clarence E. Gauss, US Consul and later Ambassador to China, wrote in September 1934: “The revolutionary zealots now nestle in the comfort of public office and concern themselves less with the public responsibilities and the welfare and progress of their country and people, and more with their personal fortunes and jealousies” (ibid.).

The bureaucratic maladministration which the Guomindang inherited from the Qing Dynasty and the warlord era remained unchanged. The new state was slow and inefficient. Nepotism was rampant. Government offices were overstaffed with people who didn’t seem to have much work to do. According to Tianjin-based newspaper Ta Kung-Pao, the offices in the capital Nanjing made the impression of “gossip cafes” where idle bureaucrats spent their day “reading the papers, smoking and chatting away the time” (ibid., p. 9).

A contemporary observer recalled that a document arriving at a provincial government office was transmitted through thirty-seven steps. Replies could be received after half a year, and it wasn’t rare for documents to be simply lost in some bureaucrat’s desk drawer (ibid., p. 12).

Only a small number of civil servants were appointed through examinations, a method which Sun Yat-sen had advocated. Rather, getting a job in the administration in most cases depended on personal connections with influential people (ibid., pp. 10-11).

In 1944 Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times war correspondent in China, described the Guomindang government as a “moribund antidemocratic regime … that has become increasingly unpopular and distrusted in China, that maintains three secret police services and concentration camps for political prisoners, that stifles free speech, and resists democratic forces.” Atkinson noted that Chiang Kai-shek’s autocracy had “remained fundamentally unchanged over a long period of time” and had become “bureaucratic, inefficient, and corrupt” (quoted in: Gunther Stein, The Challenge of Red China, 1945, p. 377).

2 – Corruption

Corruption, defined as the “illegal appropriation of public resources for private purposes”, plagued the Guomindang regime from the very beginning (Eastman 1990, p. 14). Officials who before 1927 had been poor suddenly enriched themselves. They built beautiful residences in the capital, spent “long weekends” in the modern, Westernized city of Shanghai, and their children were driven to school in limousines (ibid., p. 16).

Corruption is very difficult to quantify. It is possible that contemporaries exaggerated its extent and pervasiveness. But it is a fact that most people perceived the government as corrupt. Many people thought that corruption was the regime’s greatest weakness and that it was one of the reasons for the success of Communism (ibid., p. 17).

During the Second World War Yan Xishan, the warlord of Shanxi, told German journalist Guenther Stein:

The reason why the Communists today have such powerful forces is that so many people are following them. And the reason why so many people are following them is that our administration, the administration of the National Government, is bad. We have to blame ourselves for the present situation with regard to the Communists (Stein 1945, p. 44).

Chiang Kai-shek himself acknowledged that his government was deeply corrupt. “[Officials] increase miscellaneous taxes without end, and corruption and extortion have become a common practice, causing the government to become rotten,” Chiang complained in 1933 (Eastman 1990, p. 17).

The self-deprecating statements by the Guomindang leader show that he was aware of the weakness of his regime. Yet while he understood the situation, he was either unwilling or unable to effectively solve the problem.

Government attempts to crack down on corruption were met with failure and public ridicule. One infamous example was the Control Yuan, an agency that was supposed to monitor the other branches of government. Between 1931 – the year it was founded – and 1937, the Control Yuan received complaints involving 69,500 officials. Of these only 1,800 persons were indicted. Moreover, because the Control Yuan could not itself mete out punishments but only refer the indictments to other agencies, the bureaucratic quagmire worked in favour of corrupt officials. Only 268 individuals were found guilty and 214 were punished (ibid., p. 18).

Another example of Chiang Kai-shek’s corruption was his reliance on criminal syndicates such as the Green Gang (read: The Green Gang, Chiang Kai-shek, and the Republic of China).

Portrait of Chiang Kai-shek in Tiananmen Square (Kuomintang Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

3 – Factionalism

Although Chiang Kai-shek ruled China as a dictator he was far less powerful than one might imagine, and he certainly did not create a totalitarian regime like Mao would do after 1949.

Chiang’s party, the Guomindang, was “a loosely knit organization with an exceedingly disparate membership” (Eastman 1990, p. 2). While the Communists had a radical agenda that did not allow for ideological compromise, the Guomindang was a “national party” in its broadest sense. It claimed to represent all groups of society and admitted to its ranks anyone who would support it, even individuals who opposed Chiang himself. As a result, the Guomindang was divided into various factions propagating different ideas and defending different interests.

It was said that Sun Yat-sen never turned down anybody who applied for party membership (ibid.). Some complained that the Guomindang was too concerned with quantity and neglected quality. From 1926 to 1929, the number of party members rose from 150,000 to 630,000. Little attention was paid to their honesty and political ideology. Many people simply joined because they thought this would open up new and promising career opportunities (ibid., p. 4).

The “revolutionary faction”, made up of individuals like Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin and Cai Yuanpei, believed that the Guomindang should vigorously implement Sun Yat-sen’s ideas. They were disillusioned with the slackening pace of reform, with the loss of revolutionary spirit and with Chiang Kai-shek’s obsession with fighting against the Communists. They criticized the party’s shift towards conservatism after 1927 and opposed Chiang (ibid., p. 2).

Another faction was composed of old-style militarists and bureaucrats. This was perhaps the most damaging group within the Guomindang (ibid., p. 5). During the Northern Expedition, Chiang Kai-shek had readily co-opted warlords and bureaucrats willing to switch sides and pledge allegiance to his government. Warlords were allowed to join the Guomindang and even to continue to command their own troops if they swore an oath of loyalty to the party (James E. Sheridan, China in Disintegration. The Republican Era in Chinese History, 1912-1949, 1977, p. 183).

The purpose of this strategy was to shorten the duration of the Northern Expedition and to consolidate power quickly. But the long-term price that Chiang’s regime had to pay was enormous.

On the one hand, the mindset, corruption and malpractices of the old warlord regimes and of the imperial mandarinate were simply taken over by the Guomindang state. That created institutional inertia, hindering the reform agenda.

On the other hand, warlordism was perpetuated, albeit in a different form. As a consequence, the Guomindang did not break with the ways of the past. Although unified in theory, in practice China was still divided among military leaders, each of whom had his own sphere of influence.

Chiang Kai-shek controlled the lower Yangtze Valley and Nanjing, Shanghai, the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangsu and Jiangxi.

Warlord Feng Yuxiang ruled over Gansu, Shaanxi, and in theory Shandong (but the Japanese dominated the province economically and politically).

Yan Xishan controlled the provinces of Shanxi, Suiyuan, and Hebei.

The “Guangxi clique” led by Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi controlled Guangxi and had influence over Guangdong and Hubei (see Sheridan 1977, pp. 183-184).

The rich and populous province of Guangdong was ruled by Chen Jitang.

Fujian Province was controlled by small warlords.

Sheng Shicai seized power in Xinjiang in 1933 and pursued a pro-Soviet policy. Perhaps thinking that the USSR would be defeated by Hitler and that Soviet economic help would stop, in 1940 Sheng switched allegiance to Chiang Kai-shek. When he realized that Germany was going to lose the war, he tried to ingratiate himself with Stalin again, but to no avail.

Ningxia, Xikang, Qinghai, Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chahar, too, were de facto independent from the central government in Nanjing (ibid., pp. 183-201).

Numerous wars and political intrigues characterized the Republic of China during the Guomindang era. For example, in 1930 Chiang Kai-shek was forced to defend his regime against Guomindang regional warlords in what is known as the Central Plains War.

The existence of rivalling centres of authority weakened the Chiang regime, contributing to the inefficiency of the administration. Between 1927 and 1937 there were at least 27 major revolts, such as the Fujian rebellion of 1933-34, and many more lesser uprisings (Eastman 1990, pp. 85-86).

In 1936 Chiang Kai-shek was even kidnapped and detained by Guomindang generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng in order to force him to accept an anti-Japanese coalition with the Communists (the so-called Xi’an Incident).

The Nanjing government was so incapable of controlling the whole country that in 1929 the treasury received no revenues from Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Henan, Shanxi, Suiyuan, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Manchuria (Sheridan 1977, p. 203).

It is evident that the “reunification of China” during the Northern Expedition was a myth. Although the Guomindang was now the supreme political party in the country, warlordism continued. Chiang Kai-shek was no Mao Zedong. He never succeeded in building a totalitarian state, at least not until he retreated to Taiwan in 1949 (see Taylor 2009, p. 411).

During the Second World War, German journalist Gunther Stein travelled to Shanxi Province and interviewed the local warlord, the aforementioned Yan Xishan.

This is how Stein described the encounter and the situation he found in the province:

One of the first things we were told was, “The Kuomintang [Guomindang] has no real authority here the party and its Youth Corps exist only nominally they are free to establish themselves anywhere in our areas but are given to understand that it is better for them not to do so.”

There were no Kuomintang party flags anywhere, none of the usual pictures of Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen and none of the official Kuomintang rites were observed at the public meetings we attended. Old Yen’s own picture in marshal’s uniform dominated the scene.

Yen Hsi-shan [Yan Xishan] has his own currency, discreetly called “co-operative certificates.” He raises heavy taxes according to his own ideas. The gendarmerie in his area is entirely his own, like his troops. His military and civilian officers are … appointed exclusively by himself.

“Have the Communists been expanding into Kuomintang regions recently?” I asked.

“It is true that they have slowed down in their expansion. And the demand of Chungking [the Guomindang war capital after the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese] that the Communists should withdraw from their present Border Region in North Shensi is unreasonable. But nobody is sure that the Communists have definitely abandoned their policy of force-for the future.

“Look at me,” he said. “Why does the Government allow me to do what I am doing ? Why does it let me and some other provincial leaders in China have a certain amount of force and power of our own? Why are none of the officers under me and none of my civilian officials sent by the Government in Chungking? Why can I collect my own taxes?

“And, why, in spite of that, do I get from Chungking regular monthly cash payments for the wages of my troops, special payment for their uniforms, and a large quantity of food as well as bullets–all of which the Communists don’t get?

“Why all this? Simply because the Government knows that I do not want to overthrow it by force although I am also critical of the Government and frequently send my criticisms to Chungking. This shows the Government that I want to help it improve but that I don’t want to overthrow it.”

(Stein 1945, pp. 42- 44)

4 – Economic Backwardness

In the mid-1930s China’s economy was still predominantly agrarian. Agriculture made up around 65% of gross national product (GNP), while industry accounted for just about 2.2% of GNP.

Some contemporaries viewed the Republic of China under Guomindang rule as a step forward towards modernization. In 1932 New Zealand economist J.G. Condliffe praised the role of the government in China’s economic development:

Whatever its failings, the present government has the great virtue of being the first in long centuries to have a constructive, progressive outlook. It is not content to govern and collect taxes but, within the limits of its powers, presses forward with economic reconstruction.

Canton under the revolutionary régime was the first city to feel the impact of these new influences. New broad streets were opened up, public works undertaken, universities established, banks promoted and government activities invigorated. In more recent times, since the government has been established at Nanking, such developments have been largely concentrated in Chekiang, which is to be the “model province.” Hangchow is an excellent advertisement for this policy, but the whole province has benefited ( J. B. Condliffe, China To-Day: Economic, 1932, p. 78).

The Guomindang government indeed achieved some successes. Among its accomplishments were the creation of a Chinese customs union (prior to that there were regional customs), the creation of a national currency and of standardized weights and measures. Between 1927 and 1937 industrial production grew by an average of 6% per year (Eastman 1990, p. 226-227).

However, if we compare the modernization achieved under Guomindang rule in Taiwan after 1949, and China’s economic miracle since the late 1970s, Chiang’s regime clearly failed to lift the country out of poverty and backwardness.

After 1949 the Guomindang government in Taiwan adopted a state-led developmentalist strategy aimed at rapidly modernizing the economy. But in the 1920s and 1930s, the party lacked the vision and the ability to draw up and implement plans for economic development.

The first major weakness of the Guomindang state with respect to economic policy was its overreliance on the military. Chiang Kai-shek was a soldier and he understood little about the economy. His style of governance revolved around military power and neo-Confucian ethics. His chief aim was to fight against his many adversaries – rivalling Guomindang factions and the Communists – and to reform the spirit of his people.

He also didn’t seem to grasp the importance of industry. In 1946 US Ambassador John Leighton Stuart and special envoy George Marshall warned Chiang that China was approaching economic disaster. Chiang dismissed those concerns, saying that China was an agrarian, subsistence society which could fight for years even if the urban economies appeared on the brink of collapse (Taylor 2009, pp. 363-364).

Chiang seemed to believe that the economy had two main purposes: providing sufficient food for the people and funding the military.

In the 1930s budget expenditure was approximately as follows:

60%-80%: military spending and reservicing of loans

7%-12%: administration of tax-collecting agencies

8%-13%: bureaucracy and productive undertakings (Eastman 1990, p. 221).

Although the Guomindang did not have a comprehensive developmentalist strategy, its founder Sun Yat-sen had envisioned a series of land reforms and investments in infrastructure that would modernize China. The most important point of his plan was the “equalization of landownership”. He believed that the government should purchase land and distribute it to those in need (Sun Yat-Sen, San Min Chu I: The Three Principles of the People, ed. L. T. Chen, trans. Frank W. Price, 1927, p. 431).

Sun’s second main proposal was to “quickly employ state power to promote industry, use machinery in production, and give employment to the workers of the whole nation” so that China would have a “great, new source of wealth” (ibid., p. 438).

However, after Sun died in 1925 and Chiang Kai-shek seized power, nothing came of the Guomindang’s reform manifesto.

Chiang was concerned with maintaining political stability and consensus. Sun Yat-sen himself had understood the difficulty of implementing his equalization of landownership scheme when he remarked: “As soon as the landowners hear us talking about the land question and equalization of landownership, they are naturally alarmed, just as capitalists are alarmed when they hear people talking about socialism and want to rise up and fight it” (ibid., p. 431).

But while Sun Yat-sen was a moderate reformer willing to challenge vested interests, Chiang Kai-shek was a conservative afraid to alienate wealthy landowners and bitterly opposed to social radicalism. During the civil war, when Guomindang troops recovered territories that had been held by Communists and where land had been expropriated and redistributed, they would confiscate it and restore it to the landlords. Chiang and his party feared social upheaval, viewing sweeping reforms as a step towards a Communist takeover (see Eastman 1990, p. 216).

Militarization, corruption and inefficiency characterized the Chinese economy during the Guomindang era, hampering modernization and development.

An iniquitous tax system, partly inherited from previous decades, unequal land distribution and high interest rates burdened especially the poor and favoured graft.

Income taxes were not high, averaging 10%. Land taxes, however, were levied on three levels: by the central, the provincial and the county government. The main land tax was calculated on the basis of outdated land assessments made during the Qing Dynasty, sometimes dating as far back as 1713 (ibid., pp. 195-196).

During the Northern Expedition the Guomindang authorized a temporary tax called the “Military Reorganization Surcharge”. After the war the surcharge was not repealed, but simply renamed to “Special Surcharge for Reconstruction”. Soon the party realized that surcharges were an easy method to squeeze the people. Surcharges proliferated.

Surcharges included the Surcharge for Self-government, for Education, for County Education, for Free Education, for Welfare Work, for Land Survey etc. Some of the most bizarre surcharges were the Surcharge for the Purchase of Airplanes by the Peasants and the Anti-Insect Surcharge (ibid., pp. 196-197).

The surcharges were so unpopular that the government abolished most of them and decreed that the revenue from the surcharges could not exceed the revenue of the main land tax.

In order to make up for the loss of revenue, local authorities introduced “special land assessments”. Land assessments could happen at any time, leaving peasants no time to plan how to pay. Moreover, officials would often assess land above its legal value, thus pocketing the difference (ibid., pp. 200-201). It was one of the major sources of graft in the period.

One of the most striking flaws of the tax system was the ease with which wealthy landlords could evade taxes, thus shifting tax burdens disproportionately to the poor. Landlords would have their names removed from the tax records register their land under different or fictitious names or simply bribe tax collectors. Tax evasion was endemic. For example, by 1932 the central government received only 52% of the assessed land tax of Zhejiang Province (ibid., p. 203).

Apart from income and land taxes, there were also a number of indirect taxes, including the salt tax, tobacco and wine taxes, consolidated taxes (taxes on manufacturing of items such as rolled tobacco, cotton yarn, flour, matches and cement), and the stamp tax (ibid., p. 205).

Peasants not only had to pay direct and indirect taxes, but also provide the army with free labour and recruits. Soldiers often simply confiscated peasants’ food and property. Many railroads were built by forced labour on land that was expropriated by the government without compensation (ibid., pp. 208-210).

The urban economy, the backbone of China’s fledgling industrial sector, was not treated much better. The government regarded the industrialists as a source of money for the military.

The relationship between the Guomindang and the business community was complex. In 1927 Shanghai capitalists donated 10 million yuan to help Chiang Kai-shek suppress the Communists. Such generosity had the adverse effect of awakening the Guomindang’s lust for money. Soon they asked Shanghai companies to subscribe a 30 million yuan loan. When the entrepreneurs refused, the Guomindang resorted to blackmail and extortion (ibid., pp. 228-229).

Government officials went to each business and assigned them a loan: 500,000 yuan to Nanyang Tobacco Company, 300,000 yuan to Sun Sun Department Store, 200,000 to Sincere Department Store and Wing On Department Store.

The son of a wealthy indigo merchant was arrested and charged with “counter-revolution”. He was freed only upon the payment of 500,000 yuan. The 3-year-old son of a manager of the Sincere Company was kidnapped and 500,000 yuan demanded for his release.

Some businesses, like the China Merchants Steamship Navigation Company, were bankrupted by the government’s greed (ibid., p. 229).

Aside from excessive military spending and corruption, the Guomindang failed to pursue policies that could develop Chinese manufacturing. For example, the government tariffs taxed both imports and exports, giving no advantage to Chinese producers. That differed markedly from the Guomindang’s developmentalist policies in Taiwan after 1949, when the party applied the tenets of the “infant industry” argument to economic policy (ibid. 236).

Another weakness of the economy was the banking system. Due to very high interest rates, entrepreneurs were hesitant to take loans, and banks preferred to lend money to the government, which allowed them to make a safe 12%-20% annual return (ibid., p. 237).

The Guomindang’s management of the economy shows one peculiar characteristic of the regime: it had no class basis and no real constituency except for the military and the bureaucracy that lived off government spending.

After the Second World War, the inability of the Guomindang to achieve economic recovery contributed to its demise. In 1946 the government tried to combat inflation by outlawing the selling of gold bullion and foreign currency. It put a ceiling to interest rates, froze wages, set prices for a number of essential goods such as wheat, rice and cooking oil, and supplied government workers in the cities with basic foodstuffs and cloth at fixed prices. These measures worked only for a short time.

Military spending was out of control, according to some sources as high as 90% of the budget. When Chiang demanded a pay rise for the troops, the chairman of the Supreme Economic Council, T.V. Soong, resigned (Taylor 2009, pp. 367-368).

As economic conditions in the cities worsened, labour unrest increased. Yet Communist attempts at recruiting members remained largely unsuccessful. Chiang pressured employers to raise wages, striving to show the working class that the Guomindang, not the Communists, were their true champion (ibid., p. 369).

The biggest problem was hyperinflation. A sack of rice cost 6.7 million yuan in June and 63 million yuan in August. That month the government issued a new currency, the gold yuan. All citizens had to turn over their gold and silver bullion as well as the old currency. The authorities pegged wages to the cost of living, once again froze prices, and rationed industrial material and consumer goods (ibid., p. 386). Nothing worked. By the end of the civil war the economy was on the brink of collapse.

5 – Political Oppression

When Sun Yat-sen founded the Guomindang, he believed that China should become democratic. In 1913 the party seized power not by force but through elections in which it won a majority of the seats. Those were the first elections ever held in China.

Sun Yat-sen was a reformer who had been inspired by the government of the United States. In The Three Principles of the People, he wrote:

China now is in a period of revolution. We are advocating a democratic form of government. Our ideas of democracy have come from the West … The people control the government through the suffrage, the recall, the initiative, and the referendum the government works for the people through its legislative, judicial, executive, civil examination, and censoring departments. With these nine powers in operation and preserving a balance, the problem of democracy will truly be solved and the government will have a definite course to follow (Sun 1927, pp. 333 355).

However, in 1913 Yuan Shikai staged a coup d’etat and outlawed the Guomindang. After Yuan’s death the country was dominated by rivalling warlords. Sun Yat-sen became convinced that China wasn’t ripe for democracy and that the Guomindang must build up an army, defeat the warlords and establish a temporary dictatorial rule in order to educate the people in how democracy functions.

Sun turned to Soviet Russia for help. He admired the strength and organization of the Russian Communist Party, which had overthrown a monarchical regime and established a new government.

With the assistance of Soviet experts, the Guomindang was reorganized according to Leninist principles. Although Sun rejected the radicalism of the Marxist doctrine, he now thought that dictatorial rule was necessary to prepare China for democracy.

In Outline of National Reconstruction (1924), Sun explained:

The reconstruction program will be divided into three periods: (1) the period of military dictatorship, (2) the period of political tutelage, and (3) the period of constitutional government …

During the period of military dictatorship, all political machinery will be placed under the direct control of the military government. The Government, in order to bring about national unification, will, on the one hand, overcome internal discord by military force, and on the other hand, endeavor to wake up the people through propaganda …

When a province has been completely brought within military control, the period of political tutelage begins and the period of military dictatorship ends …

When the majority of the provinces in the country have reached the period of constitutional government, that is, when these provinces have secured effective local self- government, a People’s Conference will be held to consider, promulgate, and adopt the constitution …

The promulgation of the national constitution will end the third period, that is, the period of constitutional government. A national general election will be held in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The People’s Government will be dissolved three months after the national election and its powers will be handed over to the government elected by the people themselves (quoted in: Leonard Shihlien Hsü, comp., Sun Yat-Sen, His Political and Social Ideals, 1933, pp. 85-89).

Sun Yat-sen was a democrat and the objective of the Guomindang was to implement democracy. In this respect, dictatorship was a means and not an end in itself. However, Sun’s belief in the ability of the Guomindang to successfully transition from dictatorship to democracy proved to be overly optimistic, if not naive.

When Chiang Kai-shek took over the party leadership and completed the Northern Expedition, very little was done to carry out Sun’s democratic vision. As a career soldier, Chiang was a militarist obsessed with power. He was afraid of loosening the grip of the party on society.

As a result, the period of political tutelage became a one-party dictatorship that lasted from 1927 to 1949 in mainland China and from 1945 to the late 1980s in Taiwan.

In 1928 the Guomindang government passed an Organic Law which provided that the National Government should exercise all the governing powers of the Republic of China, including the supreme command of all forces, the right to declare and end war, to grant amnesties, and to restore civic rights (Harley Farnsworth Macnair, China in Revolution: An Analysis of Politics and Militarism under the Republic, 1931, pp. 141-142). All opposition parties were outlawed. In 1931 the government adopted a Provisional Constitution that enshrined the concept of political tutelage into law.

The oppression of political rivals was not as absolute as it would be under Mao’s rule. But the thuggish and brutal methods of the regime alienated large sections of society and provided fuel for Communist propaganda.

Popular discontent grew as assassinations, arbitrary arrests and summary executions became increasingly frequent. In December 1934 Ta Kung-Pao wrote: “The youth suspect that the government is not good, and you then come with fetters and handcuffs, and prove that the government is no good” (see Eastman 1990, p. 24).

Leftist intellectuals and politicians were persecuted. Zhan Dabei, a left-leaning member of the Guomindang, was executed in 1927. Xiang Zhongfa, a Communist leader, was executed in 1931. On January 17, 1931, Hu Yepin, a leftist writer and the husband of female novelist Ding Ling, was arrested alongside other Communist activists by the British police and turned over to the Guomindang authorities. They were machine-gunned the following month. Author Mu Shiying was allegedly shot by Guomindang agents in Shanghai in 1949. These are just a few examples of the government’s repression of political rivals.

After the Second World War, the ways of the Guomindang regime remained unchanged. In 1947 Chiang cracked down on students who were staging anti-government protests. The government banned three newspapers and arbitrarily arrested students as “ringleaders” (Taylor 2009, p. 374). In Wuhan students stopped a police van carrying away five university professors. The police fired, killing three people through dormitory windows. Parents of students applied for writs of habeas corpus. Chiang backed down, releasing almost all students. Although the suppression of civil rights was much more severe in the Communist-controlled areas, cases of abuse of power by the Guomindang damaged its reputation and were propaganda victories for the Communists (ibid., p. 375).

Censorship also contributed to popular discontent. Censorship had begun during the anti-leftist purges of 1927, but it was only in December 1930 that the government adopted a Press Law which imposed systematic restrictions on free speech (Eastman 1990, p. 25).

Article 19 of the Press Law proscribed publications that attacked the Guomindang and its principles, harmed the interests of the nation, endangered public peace and order, or were prejudicial to good morals (ibid., p. 26).

Between 1929 and 1936, 458 literary works were banned, often because they advocated class struggle, slandered the authorities or were categorized as “proletarian literature”. Banned authors included Bertrand Russell, Gorkij and Upton Sinclair. During the first ten years of Guomindang rule, over 1,800 books and journals were prohibited (ibid.).

However, censorship wasn’t as pervasive or effective as it would later be under Communist rule. The reason lies in the fact that Chiang Kai-shek’s regime did not exercise control over the whole country. As we have seen, China was still largely divided into spheres of influence, and the ability of the Nanjing censorship to reach areas outside of Chiang’s direct control were very limited.

For instance, publications in Guangdong or northern China could criticize the Nanjing authorities with impunity, as long as they did not attack their own local warlords. Another obstacle to government censorship was the existence of foreign concessions, where Western and Japanese authorities decided what could or could not be published (ibid., p. 28).

6 – International Isolation

In July 1947 US President Truman sent General Albert Coady Wedemeyer, who had served as Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff commanding American forces during World War II, back to China to analyze the situation and submit proposals on how to deal with the regime. Wedemeyer travelled in the country for a month, interviewing officials and common citizens.

At the end of his trip, Wedemeyer addressed a meeting of the State Council attended by all Guomindang ministers, Chiang Kai-shek and US Ambassador Stuart. To the surprise of his hosts, Wedemeyer launched a scathing critique of the regime’s corruption and maladministration. He said that the Guomindang would not be able to defeat the Communists if it did not first improve China’s political and economic conditions.

Some Guomindang members were offended at the envoy’s bluntness. Others, however, cried because they knew he had told the truth. In his diary Chiang Kai-shek wrote that he deserved criticism, but he complained that the US had “no clear China policy” (Taylor 2009, p. 377).

Despite the internal weakness of Chiang’s regime, international isolation was a major factor in its downfall. While the Chinese Communists enjoyed the financial and military aid of the Soviet Union, and while they pursued a relentless anti-government propaganda that exploited social problems and political grievances, the Guomindang had in the United States not only a lukewarm, but also a critical ally, who lambasted the shortcomings and human rights violations of Chiang’s regime.

The main strategy of the United States in the immediate post-war period was to bring about a compromise between the Guomindang and the Communists. When these attempts failed, Washington’s position became ambiguous and indecisive.

On January 8, 1947, before leaving China to assume the office of Secretary of State, George Marshall asked Ambassador Stuart for his opinion on the future China policy of the US. Stuart said that there were three options: to give the Guomindang assistance on conditions that it reformed the government to remain passive to withdraw from China altogether. Stuart said that he preferred the first alternative. But he added that he would rather choose the third over the second.

Stuart feared that if the US did nothing, all sections of Chinese public opinion would turn against Washington: “The government leaders would charge us with desertion, the Communists with partisanship, and the intellectuals, speaking for the helpless masses, with imperialistic intrusion,” he said. Stuart called the Guomindang a “rotten government”, which the US could not just support if it did not reform itself (Tang Tsou, America’s Failure in China, 1941-50, 1963, p. 441).

In early 1947 the US started to partially withdraw from China, and in April 1948 it passed the China Aid Act which provided “a sum not to exceed $338 million” to the Guomindang regime. Secretary of State Dean Acheson later recalled that the US government chose not to provide unlimited aid at a time when such intervention would have been the last chance to significantly alter the outcome of the civil war (ibid., p. 443).

On January 1949, the Communists took Beiping (Beijing) and replaced Chiang’s portrait hanging over the gate of the Forbidden City with Mao Zedong’s. As Ambassador Stuart was telling Guomindang general Li Zongren that the US would not help the crumbling regime, trains loaded with Soviet military equipment regularly crossed the northern Chinese border into the Communist-controlled areas (Taylor 2009, p. 403).

The Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also launched a concerted propaganda and disinformation campaign aimed at swaying American and international public opinion. Moscow sought to cover up its close ties with the CCP. Communists were told to refer to the CCP as “a democratic party” of Chinese farmers and “agrarian reformers”, thus obfuscating their role in Stalin’s strategic plan of Soviet expansion.

Both Moscow and the CCP attacked the Guomindang in order to further tarnish its reputation as the legitimate government of China (Anthony Kubek, How the Far East Was Lost: American Policy and the Creation of Communist China, 1941-1949, 1963, p. 222).


The root causes of the Guomindang’s downfall are to be found in the structural deficiencies of the system of government it established in 1927 and which it was never able to correct. Although these flaws were not sufficient to bring about its collapse, the anti-Japanese war and the civil war against the Communists further weakened the credibility and reputation of the regime, depriving it of its last basis of popular support.

The Communists could point to the failures of the Guomindang regime during twenty years of one-party rule. Every flaw was magnified and exploited for the purposes of anti-government propaganda.

However, as Frank Dikotter explained in his book The Tragedy of Liberation, many Chinese would later come to realize that the Communists’ policies were far more oppressive and economically disastrous than those of the Guomindang regime.

Kuomintang - History

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was the founder of the Kuomintang, a revolutionary group in China that ousted the Manchu or Qing dynasty from China and set up the Chinese Republic.

Early Life

Sun was born into a peasant family in a village near the Canton (Guangdong) Province just after the Taiping uprising, which was a great civil war that sought to oust the Manchus and was, in the end, savagely put down by them. Sun grew up listening to the men around him who often spoke about their fight against the oppressive and corrupt Manchu dynasty. His worldview was widened when emigrant members of his family, including Sun Mei, his older brother, arranged for him to attend school in Honolulu and then in Hong Kong. These experiences spoke to Sun of the better life available in the West. He resolved to become a doctor and first studied at the Canton Medical College, which was run by Americans, and then at Hong Kong University. Both schools were filled with teachers and students passionately discussing the rising tide of European socialism and democracy.


Filled with this new way of thinking, Sun soon became a leader. The Chinese who lived overseas supported him and he used their money to travel to Japan, the United States, Canada and Europe and write to every country where other Chinese were studying. In this way, scores of graduate students that returned to China to start their professions or enter military or civil service were influenced by Sun’s ideas. He also became known among the powerful of many countries in the West. He did this for the better part of 20 years. This is how his revolutionary group, the Kuomintang, was born.

By 1911, the revolutionaries who had studied abroad were strong enough to attempt to overthrow the Manchus. Ironically, Sun was not in the country when the revolution happened, but was lecturing in Denver, Colorado. It was there that he heard that part of the Hankow Garrison had risen up against the Manchus. Sun was not the only one surprised by the uprising. The United States’ President Taft had just loaned the Manchu government a great deal of money with the belief that it was durable. The revolt began as a protest against this loan and those feelings spread throughout the country.

Another thing that helped Sun’s revolution was the fact that the new Manchu Emperor was a baby and the Dowager Empress, who would have been in ruthless control, was dead. The revolutionary army felt free to demand that the imperial family abdicate, which they did. Sun went to London to ask the British government not to interfere in the revolution and to prevent the Japanese from interfering. In another irony, the dynasty that had been nurtured for years by the West was now defeated by western ideals.

The reaction of the United States was mixed. She welcomed Sun as a democrat, but she had been supporting the dynasty and was also uneasy.

Sun rushed home to China and his followers proclaimed him President at Nanking. However, the revolution was fairly shallow. Besides men everywhere cutting off their queues, which had been imposed by the Manchus, nothing much changed in Chinese life. Sun’s power rested mostly in the southern and central provinces, while Peking (now Beijing) and the central government were controlled by Yuan Shih-k’ai, one of the Manchus’ generals. Yuan, a man who knew how to take advantage of situations he could not control, told Sun that he could keep his revolution if he, Yuan, became president. He still had his army and foreigners supporting him. Sun resigned his presidency and withdrew to Canton.

World War I

World War I broke out soon after this. The European powers were preoccupied and Yuan declared himself Emperor. Though the Chinese seemed indifferent to the revolution, they were not so indifferent as to want another dynasty so soon after the last one so they revolted. Yuan’s army was defeated, and he was soon dead. Though there was an attempt at imperial restoration in 1917 with Pu Yi, the child emperor, the Chinese rejected this as well.

Following World War I, China was essentially adrift. Each province seemed to be ruled by a warlord. China’s industrialists, who were suffering in the chaos, began to look more and more to Sun Yat Sen and his Kuomintang, who were still in Canton. Sun believed that the technically more advanced West could not only invest in China, but also help her set up a stable, democratic government. He believed that the situation would be beneficial to both China and the West. But, the United States and Britain did not trust him and rejected his offers.

The rejection of Sun by the United States and Britain caused Sun to turn to the newly born Soviet Union, who was willing to treat the Chinese as an equal. As the Soviets were just emerging from the Great War, they had no money but yet sent advisers to China. It was with Russia’s advice that the Kuomintang was changed into a coalition of like-minded revolutionaries who believed in freedom. The Chinese Communists were also admitted and political outreach was given to Chinese peasants.

Principles and Policies

Sun Yat Sen died in 1925. But before that, he left the Kuomintang the Three People’s Principles, a set of Three Great Policies and a Will. The Three Principles were national independence, democracy and improvement of the people’s livelihood. The Three Policies were anti-imperialism, cooperation with the Soviet Union, and encouragement of the workers’ and peasants movements. His will set up a plan for National Reconstruction which would set up a government that provided the four basic needs of the people of China for food, clothing, housing and transportation.

The First National Convention, held in 1924, had the Three People’s Principles and the Three Great Policies as its platform and provided terms of cooperation between the Communists and the Kuomintang.

Personal Life

Sun Yat Sen was baptized a Christian in Hong Kong. In October of 1915, he married Soong Ching-Ling, who was the daughter of Charles Soong, who himself was a minister in the Methodist denomination. The marriage made Sun the brother-in-law of his protégé, Chiang Kai-shek, who married Ching-Ling’s sister after Sun’s death.

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1 The Manchu Conquest Of The Ming Dynasty

The last Han Chinese dynasty of China was the Ming dynasty, which lasted from 1368 until 1644. The Ming are celebrated today not only because of their beautiful artwork, especially their use of porcelain, but also because they overthrew the yoke of the Mongol Yuan dynasty while also establishing protectorates in Vietnam and Myanmar.

The successor to the Ming, the Qing dynasty, would last for 276 years and would increase the imperial holdings of China to its largest extent. The Qing Empire conquered Tibet, Mongolia, and parts of Siberia.

Today, many Chinese celebrate the Qing for their expansion of Chinese territory. However, if these praises come from the Han Chinese, then they are tragically ironic. After all, under the Manchu Qing, Han Chinese people were officially second-class citizens and suffered one of history&rsquos worst conquests.

The Manchu people of Northern China, who are ethnically related to other Tungusic peoples like the Evenks of Siberia, the Orochs of Russia and Ukraine, and the Sibe of Xinjiang, were led in the 17th century by the Jurchen warlord Nurhaci. For 30 years, Ming China enjoyed relative peace because Nurhaci was too busy militarily uniting the five Jurchen tribes of Northern China. Once this was accomplished, Nurhaci established the Eight Banners, a patrilineal system for military and civilian governance.

In 1616, Nurhaci declared himself the khan of the reconstituted Jin dynasty (aka the Later Jin). To show his wealth and status, he created a dazzling palace at his capital in Mukden (today&rsquos Shenyang). Two years later, Nurhaci declared war on the Ming after commissioning a document entitled &ldquoSeven Great Vexations.&rdquo [10]

In it, Nurhaci blamed the Ming government for favoring the Yehe tribe, one of the northern tribes that Nurhaci had gone to war against. Until his death in 1626, Nurhaci went from victory to victory, defeating Ming armies, Mongol tribes, and Korea&rsquos Joseon dynasty.

Despite the formidable Jurchen/Manchu military, the Ming dynasty collapsed from within. Owing to financial instability and endless peasant rebellions, Han Chinese officials asked Nurhaci&rsquos successor, Hong Taiji, to name himself emperor. On April 24, 1644, Beijing was captured by a peasant army led by Li Zicheng, who in turn declared the formation of the Shun dynasty.

A little over a month later, at the Battle of Shanhai Pass, Wu Sangui of the Ming Army allied himself with the Manchus and opened the Great Wall of China at the Shanhai Pass to let Prince Dorgon&rsquos Manchu army enter the Central Plains. From this point until 1662, the Qing dynasty of the Manchus slowly defeated the Shun and Xi dynasty of the peasant leader Zhang Xianzhong. This war of conquest more than likely killed over 25 million people. The conquest exposed the Qing aptitude for cruelty, too.

Qing judges instituted a punishment known as &ldquodeath by a thousand cuts&rdquo (lingchi). Criminals sentenced to this punishment suffered innocuous cuts for hours before being strangled and decapitated. Although this punishment was rare, far more common was the queue haircut.

This haircut, which featured a completely shaven head except for a long pigtail, became a part of Han Chinese life when Qing Emperor Shunzi ordered all Han men to adopt it as a sign of submission. When Han Chinese men revolted against this order, the Qing instituted a policy of decapitation. Namely, if any man refused to wear the hairstyle, then he&rsquod lose his head.

The fear of the Qing and the Manchus was so great that, even as late as the 1920s, long after the overthrow of the last Qing emperor in 1911, many Han Chinese men still refused to cut their queues.

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