I have written a number of articles on China in my time but mostly, if not exclusively, ancient history. I wrote an essay for a university coursework in which I wrote a little about the Chinese civil war which took place 1927-1949 and I had just read it out of reminiscence recently and realised I really did not do it justice so I thought I would tackle this injustice with another, fuller, article on it, so let’s do this.
China and Taiwan, we all know that these two countries are just that, two separate countries with some similarities in their culture, but how many would believe me if I had said that Taiwan is actually a result of the Chinese Civil war? Taiwan is exactly the same as China, its origins and its history, by which I mean whatever happened in China in the past was also a part of Taiwan’s history to (not its history after separation or foundation). There are some, particularly the older generations in Taiwan that still claim to be China and Chinese, still there are arguments that Taiwan is the true China and of course there are arguments to the opposite, Taiwan is also known as the ‘Republic of China’ (ROC) whereas mainland China is known as ‘The People’s Republic of China’ (PCP), confusing, no? So how did this happen? How can they both be China, yet both be different countries? Interesting stuff.
In the early 20th century the old monarchical China had fallen with the end of the Qing Dynasty, the failing dynasty was already struggling to retain what little control it had left when the it was finally toppled by the Xinhai Revolution which led to the abdication of the emperor of Xuantong, Puyi. The fall of the dynasty left a vacuum which was quickly filled by the powerful and scattered warlords of China who owned their own private armies for 9 years this was the state of China and was known as the Warlord Era. Fighting against this new kind of China was an anti-monarchist party known as the Kuomintang led by Sun Yat-Sen. Sun Yat-Sen was was a very well educated individual as he was proficient in philosophy, calligraphy, a writer and a physician, he is also known as the founder of the Republic of China. Sun Yat-Sen was seeking aid from foreign powers to overthrow the powerful warlords but was ignored and after numerous attempts he then turned to his neighbors the Soviet Russians. There was a cost however, the Chinese would have to allow the establishment of a Communist Party in China, the Communist Party of China (PCP) if they were to support China, Sun Yat-Sen had very little choice and it was agreed. The Russian revolution that saw the founding of Communism was still very fresh in the minds of everyone, and to spread Communism the Soviets had to make allies in which they could increase the Communist political sphere of influence. In 1923 Sun Yat-Sen had signed a statement of cooperation with the Soviet representative Adolph Joffe in Shanghai that the Soviets would aid China in their unification war, this was a declaration with three parties involved the Comintern, KMT and CPC and soon after the CPC worked with the KMT in a unified front to end the reign of the Chinese Warlords. Things had started to look positive for the KMT, with their new allies they now had enough military power to go against the Warlords, but by the time the attack on the Warlords was completely ready Sun Yat-Sen had passed in 1925, with Sun’s death the delicate balance and administration of the KMT crumbled leading to the KMT splitting into right and a left-wing parties.
After the death of Sun Yat-Sen his old friend, trusted ally and previous lieutenant Chiang Kai-Shek was left to take control of the KMT. Chiang Kai-Shek was sent to Moscow in the beginning of the establishment of the joint effort of the Soviets and the KMT to study under the Soviets in which he studied the military and political aspects of the new allies.In th aftermath of Sun’s passing Chiang had called the KMT and CPC together for a meeting to officially follow through with Sun’s Northern Expedition in the first meeting the CPC voted against the expedition, once again in 1927 Chiang had gathered another meeting in which the CPC, again voted against the expedition, this move had established the lack of power of Chiang and the divide between the CPC and the KMT was firmly split. The split within the revolutionary army had seen the Left-wing KMT and CPC move their HQ to Guangzhou from Wuhan as the Communist influence was much stronger there, with Chiang and the Right-wing KMT’s success against the warlord of Tianjin established their HQ in Jiangxi, with this success Chiang had attempted to denounce the communists within the KMT claiming that they had betrayed Sun Yat-Sen’s three principles of the people since they took orders from the Soviet Union. Chiang, having established a stronger position in the KMT had called another meeting in which he labelled the Communist activities as detrimental to the Chinese economy and society, soon after the meeting Chiang purged the KMT of leftist influence with the arrest and execution of hundreds of CPC members, this further aggravated the divide and attitude of the split and overall attitude of those in Wuhan.
August 1st 1927 saw a full revolt against Chiang and the KMT when armed peasants and Chinese workers rose against the KMT in Nanchang, this was an official organisation of a ‘Red Army’ in China which later became the People’s Liberation Army. The initial rebellion was a success but was short lived as the People’s army abandoned Nanchang which was quickly occupied by the government, many of the people’s army fled to the countryside. It was only a week later when the CPC, on August 7th confirmed the party’s intentions to take power by force, this was followed by Wang Jingwei’s anti-Communist Campaign. Wang Jingwei was an ally of Chiang and an established warlord in charge of Wuhan, this was, arguably an official declaration of war between the two parties, the CPC with the left-wing KMT allies and Chiang Kai-Shek’s right-wing KMT and warlord allies. The divide and official declaration saw the beginning of what had come to be known as the ’10 years Civil War’ in mainland China, the CPC had not only armed peasants but also a mixture of NRA (National Revolutionary Army) soldiers this made them a competent and effective enemy to the KMT and the official government forces and warlords. The CPC/NRA army effectively started expanding South of China taking several areas from the KMT and forming a level foundation in which to more openly confront the KMT, the KMT had most of its successes in the Northern parts of China and worked on suppressing any and all Communist activities, by September Wang Jingwei was forced out of Wuhan a right-wing stronghold. The battles between the KMT and CPC, politically as well as militarily continued until a third party power had set its sights on a golden opportunity to expand its Imperialistic ambitions starting with China, Japan had decided to invade China and done so with some success. The constant fighting between the CPC and KMT left the Southern parts of China vulnerable to invasion, with which the Japanese had exploited when they had invaded and taken Manchuria. The ‘Mukden Incident’ which led to the invasion was a scheme thought up by the Japanese military to blame the bombing of a Japanese railway (orchestrated by the Japanese government) on Chinese dissidents so that the Japanese were able to ‘justly’ invade China, this plot was later exposed by the ‘Lytton Report’ which inevitably led to the Japanese being cast out of the League of Nations and isolating them from diplomatic aid, which in turn left them to defend for themselves against the Chinese. This incident led to the forming of a second allied front between the CPC and KMT to expel the Japanese from China.
Within a year the Japanese military was weakened to the state it could no longer be a threat for China, after the Japanese weakening, the war between the KMT and CPC had resumed, the KMT had continued its campaign against the CPC, though not the first, a campaign in 1934 to encircle the power center of Communist China in Jiangxi was put in place by the KMT and had the most success. The plan was to systematically encircle Jiangxi and build fortified blockhouses and cut off all supplies to the Communists, the success was short lived as later in the same year the CPC had taken advantage of some of the gaps between the blockhouses, once the defensive line was penetrated and the CPC began escaping many of the KMT, many of which were warlord forces, these forces did not pursue the CPC with much fervor as to prevent loss of their own men. The escape became to be known as ‘The Long March’ a subject well documented and written about for the sake of this article I will provide just a brief overview of ‘The Long March’. The Long March was a strategic retreat led by Mao Zedong, the march which was actually numerous marches was roughly 12500KM and lasted just over a year at the end of which Mao was made the eminent leader of the Communist (Red) Army. The march was an extreme journey in which only 7000-8000 survived out of the 80000-90000 who had followed Mao and other leaders out of the encirclement. As the long march took place Chiang Kai Shek had been continuing the fight against the red army, who were still reasonably strong despite the inability of their leaders being effective. The KMT who now were no longer allied with the old warlords as they had proven to cowardly to fight the red army fully employed bandits to fight them and undermine the warlords in the process. This led to shaky alliances between the CPC and the warlords which eventually became strong, so strong that two of the warlords would partake in a CPC operation one of which was Chiang’s closest ally at the begining, Wang Jingwei. The operation was the Xi’an incident, Japan who had been mostly quelled in the earlier years were still a threat, this led to attempts of another united front which Chiang had refused and decided to focus on ending the Communist threat instead of the Japanese one, Chiang had decided in a first meeting, 22nd October 1936, that the Communists were the priority threat. Between the first and second meeting an agreement was made between the Warlord Wang Jingwei and the CPC that if Chiang would not focus on the Japanese threat he and his ally, another warlord, Yang Hucheng would turn against Chiang. The second meeting was held a little later, 4th December 1936, with him Chiang had many of the KMT leaders and again Chiang wanted to focus on the Communist threat, when this decision was made Jingwei and Hucheng had arrested Chiang and the other KMT leaders, soon after the second Sino-Japanese war began.
Chiang’s refusal to completely eradicate and expel the Japanese forces in China allowed Japan to gain even greater strength, this combined with Japan’s new allies, Germany provided further morale and strength to the Japanese military, after the truth of Japanese strength was revealed Chiang and the KMT had allied with the CPC to expel the Japanese once and for all. The strength of the two parties was more than enough to fight the Japanese on a more even playing field as neither party had the strength do so alone but the alliance was very much in name only, the deep rooted disdain for each other was powerful and did not allow, in any way an actual front. The CPC used to being lightly armed had adopted Guerilla tactics for their war whilst the KMT (the established governmental army) fought in the traditional sense, army against army, the successes of the CPC earned them a lot of support from the occupied areas of China which would later become a boon for them. The fact that the CPC was garnering more praise and support was only a facet of their later successes, the fact that the KMT was still attacking Communist armies as well as the Japanese army did not help their ‘joint’ efforts against the common enemy of both. In early 1940 the clashes between the KMT and CPC reached the peak, in a demand from Chiang, that the CPC armies of Anhui and Jiangsu provinces be withdrawn, the CPC was reluctant at first but eventually complied, during their withdrawal they were then ambushed by the KMT forces which led to a large number of deaths (approx. 7000) this act not only ended the second united front but also intensified the fighting between the KMT and the CPC. The situation in China became so bad that the US President, Roosevelt sent an envoy to China and convinced the KMT that the Civil war only benefitted the Japanese and the same was done by the Russians who also sent an envoy to tell Mao how the Japanese are the only beneficiaries of the Chinese Civil War. There was another shaky peace between the two forces which lasted for the remainder of the war but a major offensive by Japanese forces in 1944 saw the KMT forces severely weakened largely due to the traditional methods used by the KMT, whereas the guerilla tactics used by the CPC cost them fewer losses, by the end of 1944 the red army measured at 1.3 million strong, the strongest it had ever been again this was to do with the lack of losses and the successes they had in earlier operations against the Japanese. The end of World War Two saw a brief peace in China as both parties agreed to focus on rebuilding, even though there were still battles between the KMT and the CPC after Japan’s surrender, it was a peace that barely lasted a year before war broke between the two again.
The end of the war led to Japan’s unconditional surrender to China in 1945, with their surrender the Americans had told the Japanese to surrender all arms to the KMT but Japan’s stronghold in Manchuria was still an issue, but having no ability to fight surrendered Manchuria to the Soviets. The Soviets would hand over the captured enemies weapons to their CPC allies who at this point had a quarter of China’s lands under their control and a third of the Chinese population’s support, this included many prosperous and strong areas. The aid of the Americans who had air lifted many of the KMT forces into liberated areas after the Japanese surrender had helped the KMT to occupy most of China. Chiang Kai Shek had tried to ask the Soviets to hand over Manchuria to the KMT as they were the official government but was refused, whilst at the same time as talks with the KMT the Soviets were giving weapons and supplies pillaged from the Japanese to the CPC, after numerous refusals by the Soviets to comply with the demands of Chiang, Chiang had launched a full scale war on the Communists. Chiang with his new allies the Americans, who were trying to curb Communist influence and strength put together 113 brigades equalling a massive 1.6 million soldiers. This was the final phase of the Chinese Civil War, the Communist forces were outmanned and outgunned upon the full declaration of war the CPC adopted a strong defensive stance against the KMT and their allies willing to sacrifice grounds to preserve manpower, this proved to be an effective strategy, with their guerilla tactics and better armaments from their trades with the Soviets they managed to wear down the KMT forces, the success was so great that they had wiped out over 1 million KMT troops in just a year whilst simultaneously increasing their own strength. The KMT’s greatest victory in which they had taken the CPC capital Yan’an was short lived, in 1947 the KMT had taken the CPC’s capital and almost immediately afterwards the Communists had launched a counteroffensive 3 months later and had taken Northeastern China from the KMT. The CPC was also victorious over the KMT’s ‘New 1st Army’ which was labelled the best KMT army, from which they gained numerous artillery and tanks from, this success gave the now much larger CPC newer, more modern weaponry. The new weapons and the immense numbers pushed the KMT out of China to the Island of Taiwan, though fierce resistance continued the loss of all main centers of power for the KMT left them with no choice but to retreat. The loss of Chengdu despite attempts to counter attack with guerilla warfare and aid from the Tibetans, Khampa bandits and Mongolians who were in a land dispute with the CPC on their borders proved fruitless. The CPC wanted to eradicate the KMT even in Taiwan but despite the US not wanting to get involved they had no choice and prevented the CPC from taking over. With the retreat of the KMT to Taiwan Mao Zedong in 1949 had officially proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and established the capital as Beiping now known as Beijing. Chiang refused to acknowledge the proclamation and had proclaimed that the KMT was still the official Chinese government and that Taiwan was the Republic Of China (ROC) with the capital set as Taipei.
There were still some pockets of resistance to the PRC but were easily rooted out, officially the civil war ended in 1949 with the two China’s being established, a Communist China known as mainland China and a Capitalist China now known as Taiwan. The truth of the matter is that a single country had been divided in two simply because of different political ideologies. Taiwan and China (ROC and PRC) have a shared history, that is not to say that they have not developed into their own countries separate from one another. The Chinese Civil War was arguably much larger than it is given credit for, the differing ideologies that led to a divide of a single country led to an established 2 different countries, politically but, not culturally.