Republic of China (1911-1949)
Major events and people:
Yatsen was declared president of the new Republic of China in 1911.
His leadership of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, lasted only 2
years. In 1913, he stepped down and retreated from the political spotlight
under pressure from the military leader Yuan Shikai.
death in 1916 plunged China into the warlord era, which was to
last until 1927. Sun Yatsen returned to politics during this time to form
a southern Kuomintang government, which exercised nominal control over
parts of the south in the 1920s.
Despite the infighting between
regional warlords, this was an era of intellectual development, especially
in the realm of political thought. Traditional Confucian ideology was
abandoned in favor of new liberal western strains of political thought.
Students, for the first time in China, began to play a part in the political
development of their country. However, infighting among the warlords created
a situation in which incursions by foreign powers, most notably the Japanese
could not be stemmed.
4, 1919, 3,000 students from Beijing University converged in Tiananmen
Square to protest the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty, which
ended World War II, did nothing to stem Japanese aggression in China or
to eliminate the unequal treaty system. The May Fourth Movement,
as the demonstration is now remembered, was taken up by students and sympathizers
all over the country.
climate of protest, change and intellectual development, some turned their
attention to Communism as a political ideology. In 1921, the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) was founded. The founders included, Chen Duxiu,
one of the student leaders of the May Fourth Movement, Mao Zedong, and
Zhou Enlai. The group received advice and guidance from Russia.
early 1920s, the greatest threat facing China, aside from internal fighting
among the warlords, was Japanese aggression. In order to have the strength
to rebuff a Japanese invasion, China had to be united in her desire to
stem the Japanese tide. To achieve this end, 2 ideologically different
parties, the newly founded CCP and the Kuomintang (KMT) joined forces.
They formed their First United Front with their forces making
up the National Revolutionary Army (NRA). The common goal uniting
these 2 forces was a sense of nationalism. However, Chiang Kaishek, a
violently anti-Communist military commander, succeeded Sun Yatsen in 1925
as head of the KMT. In 1926, the NRA launched the Northern Expedition
to subdue the remaining warlords. The campaign was a success. The
United Front was not, however, to last.
Towards the end of the expedition,
as Chiang's forces were poised to capture Shanghai, communist workers
who had been clandestinely organized by Party leaders seized the city,
effectively capturing it for Chiang. When Chiang's forces entered the
city his desire to rid his ranks of the Communists was made abundantly
clear. To the horror of the workers, they opened fire. Thousands were
massacred, purging the majority of the original communist party founders.
Thus the communist voice in the alliance was silenced and the façade
of the United Front crumbled. Chiang was declared head of the new national
government in 1928. His government was effectively a military dictatorship
with a small popular power base. Uninterested in reform or the extreme
poverty the majority of the population faced, Chiang's government represented
Shocked by Chiang's sudden
and treacherous purging of their ranks, Communist party members regrouped
in guerilla bases in the countryside. The principle communist base, commanded
by Mao, was in Jiangxi Province. Contrary to the Soviet precedent, Mao
believed that the key to Chinese style communism lay with the peasants,
not with the workers. Mao recruited cadres from the poverty stricken peasants
and workers to form his Red Army. The Red Army managed to rebuff
the constant attacks by Chiang's forces that were under orders to exterminate
Chiang organized what was to be his last extermination campaign against
the Red Army. He encircled their base in Jiangxi province with 500,000
troops, concrete and barbed wire. With no choice but to retreat in the
face of such vastly superior numbers and armaments, Mao organized the
retreat that has come to be known as the Long March. The yearlong 9500km
(5,890 mile) trek across some of China's most daunting mountain ranges
and grueling terrain, took the lives of some 60,000 through hunger, cold,
The Long March has assumed
something of mythic proportions in the Communist Party Ideology. By the
time the Communists reached their new base at Yenan in northern Shaanxi
province in 1935, Mao was the undisputed head of the Party. Dependency
on Russia had been severed. Until his death in 1976, Mao's closest comrades
and his most loyal followers were those who had withstood the trial of
the Long March.
The Long March also served
as a massive advertisement for the CCP. The Red Army "liberated"
the peasants along their route, instituting land reform and spreading
the message of communism. Unlike their KMT counterparts, who lived off
the land, the Red Army troops were forbidden to take anything from the
peasants without paying. This order was enforced. Not only did thousands
become aware of their existence when the Red Army marched through, but
the difficulties they faced along the way and the respect they showed
those they met, earned the CCP immense respect.
armies had been chasing after the Red Army, Japanese forces had invaded
Manchuria (1933) – Manchukuo under the Japanese. They installed
Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, as a figurehead. In
light of the imminent threat of a Japanese invasion, Mao wrote to Chiang
that he advocated an end to the civil war, in order to concentrate on
the common enemy. Chiang was convinced of the necessity of a Second
United Front only after being kidnapped by his General in Manchuria.
His General favored unification as the only way to get rid of the Japanese.
In the incident that became known as the Xian Incident, Chiang
was only released on the condition that he would support a unified stance
against the Japanese.
Despite a united front against
them, the Japanese, who invaded China proper in 1937, made huge inroads
into China. 95% of the population was under Japanese rule in little over
a year. Japanese occupation of China was brutal. The Rape of Nanjing
in which 20,000 women were raped and 330,000 civilians killed, is
the most vivid incident of this brutality.
During the Japanese occupation,
the Communists organized in the countryside, building a huge resistance
network. Communist forces continually harassed the Japanese army. Despite
the United Front, Chiang continued to favor hunting down and harassing
CCP forces to concentrating on driving out the Japanese. The CCP earned
great popular support for their aggressive stance against the Japanese.
The end of World War II in the Pacific heralded
the Japanese surrender in China in 1945. The end of the war with Japan
also signaled the end of the Second United Front. Despite attempts to
broker a peace agreement, full-scale civil war broke out between the CCP
and KMT in 1947. Although technologically inferior, the CCP managed to
win successive battles against the corrupt KMT. In 1948, Red Army forces
began their final assault on the KMT. In 1949, right before the liberation
of Shanghai by the Communists, Chiang, along with many KMT top leaders,
fled to Taiwan. On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the formation of the
People's Republic of China from the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing.