The Chinese Revolution of 1949 (Part-4)

The Second Sino-Japanese War and The Yenan Period, 1937-1945

In September 1936, the Japanese government presented secret demands to the government of Chiang Kai-Shek. Disguised as proposals for a common war against the communists, their acceptance would have meant Japanese domination over China.

In December 1936, Chiang went north to coordinate a campaign against the Yenan communists with Marshal Zhang Xueliang. The Marshal, angered by the Japanese assassination of his warlord father had supported Chiang, but he became angry at the latter’s preference to fight the communists rather than the Japanese. Zhang was in touch with the communists and when Chiang began to move against him, he invited the KMT leader to a meeting and kidnapped him. At a meeting with communist leaders and Zhang, Chiang was persuaded to give up his anti-communist campaign and agree to wage a common fight against Japan. Chiang agreed, and flew back to his capital with Zhang. and proclaimed a common war against the Japanese.

On July 7, 1937, an accidental fire fight between Chinese and Japanese troops at Lukouchiao, near Beijing, gave Tokyo the long desired pretext for attacking China. Japanese armies seized Beijing and Tientsin; then they proceeded to occupy most of eastern China.

Japanese invasion of China had a dual effect on the country:

  1. it swept north-east China clear of the old authorities, whom the KMT had never been able to control effectively anyway; and
  2. it bogged down the Japanese in a large area of China which they could not control either.

This situation provided the ideal opportunity for guerilla war, or as the communists called it – “The People’s War of Resistance”.

KMT and the Communist Party of China joined in a United Front against Japan. After the entrance of the United States into the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two sides maintained the formal alliance, but fought each other on several occasions.

The communist guerrillas were able to establish links and contacts throughout northern China. These forces did so by harassing the Japanese, while at the same time fighting hard – not always successfully – to protect the peasants in the villages. KMT, after putting up a hard fight at the beginning, reduced its resistance to the minimum when the government settled in far away Chungking.

But this was only part of the CCP achievement. The other was its use of wartime resistance to effect a permanent penetration of the villages. Here the communists generally treated the peasants well by paying for what they needed, and also implemented popular social-economic policies. Of these, the most important were rent and interest controls and an end to abuses in tax collection, both very popular with the peasants. These measures were accompanied by education, i.e., teaching the peasants to read and write a basic form of Chinese. These policies, which followed precedents set in Jiangxi, gave the CCP a mass base, which no Chinese government had ever had, including the KMT.

By the end of the war, the results were dramatic. The CCP controlled 19 base areas with a population of about 100 million and had an army of about half a million. The Party itself had about 1 million members. Thus, the CCP was all set for a test of strength with the KMT. At the time, however, the KMT had such superiority in troops and weapons that the CCP doubted it could win.

American Policy

Whereas Communists fought the Japanese on its own, while Chiang waited for U.S. victory over Japan and used American aid mostly to build up his strength for the war he planned to wage against the communists for control of China. Chiang’s passive stance toward Japan was strongly criticized by the U.S. military adviser in Chungking, General Joseph W. Stilwell. His relations with Chiang soon developed into mutual hostility. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not believe it politically wise to abandon Chiang in favor of the more active communist army.

The President did, however, send Gen. Patrick Hurley to try and patch things up between Chiang and Mao. He also sanctioned the sending of a U.S. mission to Yenan. This was called “The U.S. Observer Mission.” In the U.S., it was informally known as “The Dixie Mission,” because it went into “rebel” territory. The mission was led by Colonel David Barrett and established itself in Yenan in July 1944, where it stayed until 1946. Its members were very favorably impressed by Mao and his movement. Indeed, if the war with Japan had not ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japanese troops had remained in mainland China, the United States might have given military aid to the communists because they represented a significant anti-Japanese fighting force there.

The Japanese surrender, forced by the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, caught everyone by surprise and created a conundrum for the American government. The problem was which Chinese forces were to take over Manchuria and north China, and how could a civil war be prevented?

President Harry S. Truman sent General George C. Marshall as special ambassador to China in December 1945, with the task of mediating an agreement between the communists and the KMT. However, the U.S. government was, at the same time, helping Chiang by airlifting his troops to north China. Officially this was done because the Japanese were ordered to surrender only to the KMT or to American troops, but it obviously favored Chiang.

The Civil War and Communist Victory, 1949

(a) China and the Second World War

When the war began, Chiang Kai-shek was in a dilemma: China had already been in a state of undeclared war with Japan since 1937, yet he had great admiration for Japan’s ally Germany, and for the German military tradition. It was only after the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1942-3 that he decided to commit China to the Allied side. However, relations between China and the USSR were strained because of Chiang’s campaigns against the communists, so that Stalin refused to take part in any meeting at which Chiang was present. As an encouragement, in January 1943 the USA, Britain and several other states renounced their territorial rights and concessions in China (though Britain insisted on keeping Hong Kong), and promised that Manchuria and Formosa would be returned to China after the war. The irony was that most of these territories were occupied by the Japanese at the time – unless Japan could be defeated, none of it would happen. Nevertheless the agreements were important because they showed that at last China was being treated as an equal among the great powers, and was promised a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.

The Japanese reaction to these developments was to launch an offensive by troops moved from Manchuria. Striking southwards from the Yangtse Valley, they eventually reached the frontier with Indochina, cutting off the south-east coast from the interior. The Nationalist forces were disorganized and ineffective, and their sporadic attempts to repel the Japanese advance were swept aside. Fortunately for the Chinese, time was running out for the Japanese in other areas. In August 1945 the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and within a few days Japan surrendered. The Chinese contribution to the defeat of Japan had been to keep hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops bogged down in what was, for them, only a sideshow.

(b) Victory for the communists was still not inevitable

When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the KMT and the CCP became locked in the final struggle for power. Many observers, especially in the USA, hoped and expected that Chiang would be victorious. The Americans helped the KMT to take over all areas previously occupied by the Japanese, except Manchuria, which had been captured by the Russians a few days before the war ended. Here the Russians obstructed the KMT and allowed CCP guerrillas to move in. In fact the apparent strength of the KMT was deceptive: in 1948 the ever-growing communist armies were large enough to abandon their guerilla campaign and challenge Chiang’s armies directly. As soon as they came under direct pressure, the KMT armies began to disintegrate.

In January 1949 the communists took Beijing, and later in the year, Chiang and what remained of his forces fled to the island of Taiwan (Farmosa), leaving Mao Zedong in command of mainland China. In October 1949, standing at Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace) in Beijing, Mao proclaimed the new People’s Republic of China with himself as both Chairman of the CCP and president of the republic.

In December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan the temporary capital of the Republic, and continued to assert his government as the sole legitimate authority of all China, while the PRC government continued to call for the unification of all China. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 led the American government to place the Fleet in the Taiwan Straits, which kept each side from attacking the other.

(c) Reasons for the CCP triumph

The communists continued to win popular support by their restrained land policy, which varied according to the needs of particular areas: some or all of a landlord’s estate might be confiscated and redistributed among the peasants, or there might simply be rent restriction; communist armies were well disciplined and communist administration was honest and fair.

On the other hand the KMT administration was inefficient and corrupt, much of its American aid finding its way into the pockets of officials. Its policy of paying for the wars by printing extra money resulted in galloping inflation, which caused hardship for the masses and ruined many of the middle class. Its armies were poorly paid and were allowed to loot the countryside; subjected to communist propaganda, the troops gradually became disillusioned with Chiang and began to desert to the communists. Chiang fought the communists in his old way, i.e., by garrisoning fortified places. However, they were soon surrounded by Mao’s troops.

Even the mainstay of the KMT, the merchants and civil servants, had become alienated from Chiang because of the terrible inflation that followed the end of the war with Japan. They looked all the more hopefully to Mao, because he carefully avoided proclaiming any radical measures, such as the abolition of private property.

The KMT tried to terrorize the local populations into submission, but this only alienated more areas. Chiang also made some tactical blunders: like Hitler, he could not bear to order retreats and consequently his scattered armies were surrounded, and often, as happened at Beijing and Shanghai, surrendered without resistance, totally disillusioned.

Finally the CCP leaders, Mao Zedong and Zhou En-lai, were shrewd enough to take advantage of KMT weaknesses and were completely dedicated. The communist generals had prepared their armies carefully and were more competent tactically than their KMT counterparts.

Shock to USA:

  • The communist victory in China was a great shock to U.S. opinion. Wartime propaganda had portrayed Chiang Kai-shek as the heroic leader of China. At the same time, the imposition of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, the Greek civil war and the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949) marked the beginning of the Cold War. Therefore, it was natural for U.S. opinion to see the establishment of communism in China as directed from Moscow, and to seek an explanation for the defeat of America’s ally, Chiang, in some kind of communist “plot.”

Communists had almost no outside support:

The Chinese communists did not owe their victory to the Soviets. In fact, Stalin was so anxious to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. until he was ready for it, that at one point he had advised Mao to accept a demarcation line with the KMT on the Yangtze River, thus leaving south China to Chiang. Finally, he continued to recognize Chiang’s government as the government of China until Chiang fled to Taiwan.

Stalin’s careful policy was probably by the following factors:

  • Stalin wanted to consolidate the growing Soviet hold on Eastern Europe. Therefore, he had to avoid a confrontation with the United States until he felt he had a good chance of consolidating his gains. He risked a confrontation over Berlin in 1948-49 and lost his bid for Germany. He was not about to seek another confrontation over China, particularly since the U.S. had the monopoly over the atomic bomb until the Soviets successfully exploded theirs in 1949. But, even then, they had to wait a few years to produce a stockpile and to develop a delivery system.
  • Finally, Stalin probably did not trust Mao, who had developed his own brand of communism and his own power base without Soviet input and control. As with Tito in Yugoslavia, with whom he had split in 1948, this presaged tensions and an eventual split between the two communist regimes. But that was to happen many years later. Furthermore, he probably did not want a strong, united, China on the Russian border in Asia. China had lost much territory there to Imperial Russia and the Chinese communists kept these losses very much in mind.


Q. Why did Mao and the communists gain support?

1. The inefficiency and corruption of the KMT in government

The KMT had little to offer in the way of reform, spent too much time looking after the interests of industrialists, bankers and landowners, and made no effective attempts to organize mass support. This provided the main opportunity for Mao and the communists to win support.

2. There was little improvement in factory conditions

Poor industrial working conditions continued, in spite of laws designed to remove the worst abuses, such as child labour in textile mills. Often these laws were not applied: there was widespread bribery of inspectors and Chiang himself was not prepared to offend his industrial supporters.

3. There was no improvement in peasant poverty

In the early 1930s there was a series of droughts and bad harvests which caused widespread famine in rural areas. At the same time there was usually plenty of rice and wheat being hoarded in the cities by profiteering merchants. In addition there were high taxes and forced labour. In contrast, the land policy followed in areas controlled by the communists was much more attractive: at first in the south, they seized the estates of rich landlords and redistributed them among the peasants. After the temporary truce with the KMT during the war with Japan, the communists compromised, and confined themselves to a policy of restricting rents and making sure that even the poorest labourers got a small piece of land. This less drastic policy had the advantage of winning the support of the smaller landowners, as well as the peasants.

4. Chiang’s ‘New Life Movement’ was controversial

In the early 1930s Chiang began to advocate a return to the traditional values of Confucianism, the traditional Chinese religion. In 1934 he introduced the New Life Movement which, he claimed, was a unique secular, rational and modern Chinese version of Confucianism. It was meant to mobilize the population and to revive the country’s ‘innate morality’, thereby helping to create a healthy society and a strong and united country. However, in the words of historian Rana Mitter: ‘The movement was not ultimately successful, as its formal prescriptions, including not spitting in the street, and queuing up in an orderly fashion, came over as trivial in comparison with the much larger issues of national coherence which dogged twentieth-century China.’ Unfortunately many May the Fourth supporters and other modern progressive thinkers protested that this was another backward step designed to return China to its oppressive imperial past.

5. The KMT put up no effective resistance to the Japanese

This was the crucial factor in the communist success. The Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1931 and were obviously preparing to bring the neighbouring provinces of northern China under their control. Chiang seemed to think it was more important to destroy the communists than to resist the Japanese, and moved into south Shensi to attack Mao (1936). Here a remarkable incident took place: Chiang was taken prisoner by some of his own troops, mostly Manchurians, who were incensed at the Japanese invasion. They demanded that Chiang should turn against the Japanese, but at first he was unwilling. Only after the prominent communist Zhou En-lai came to see him at Sian did he agree to a fresh alliance with the CCP and a national front against the Japanese.

The new alliance brought great advantages for the communists: the KMT extermination campaigns ceased for the time being and consequently the CCP was secure in its Shensi base. When full-scale war broke out with Japan in 1937, the KMT forces were quickly defeated and most of eastern China was occupied by the Japanese as Chiang retreated westwards. This enabled the communists, undefeated in Shensi, to present themselves as patriotic nationalists, leading an effective guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in the north. This won them massive support among the peasants and middle classes, who were appalled at Japanese arrogance and brutality. Whereas in 1937 the CCP had 5 base areas controlling 12 million people, by 1945 this had grown to 19 base areas controlling 100 million people.

However, a recent biographer of Chiang Kai-shek, Jay Taylor, has suggested that he deserves more credit than the Americans and British have given him. For example, the American General Stilwell used to refer to him as ‘Peanut’, while the British Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke described him as ‘a cross between a pine-marten and a ferret’. Without trying to ignore Chiang’s brutality and his mistakes, Taylor argues that, given the enormity of the problems facing him, he governed the country with reasonable skill and certainly understood the challenges facing him far better than his American advisers did.

Q. What is the difference between chinese communism and soviet communism?

Early Ideological Differences:

  • The early Communist Party in China adhered closely to Russian political philosophy. However, Mao Zedong disagreed with the concept of a workers’ revolution in China. Reasoning that the majority of the Chinese population were peasants, Mao refocused the goal of Chinese communism toward the concept of a peasant revolution.
  • Despite this, the two nations still shared fairly similar values until the 1950s, when a major ideological rift developed. During this time, the Soviet Union advocated coexistence with capitalism. China, meanwhile, remained determined to pursue a policy of aggression, labelling the United States in particular as an imperialist enemy and declaring an intent to assist with revolutionary struggles of people oppressed by imperialism.


  • The other great difference is cultural. The Soviets lauded the cultural greats of the Russian past, while Mao’s tendency was to displace the historical culture. He even outlawed traditional medicine for a while.


  • Mao’s programme envisages co-operation and coalition with progressive bourgeois parties. Thus communist regime in China doesn’t profess to be dictatorship of proletariat in true sense. Chinese Communists didn’t seek to liquidate the bourgeois and private Capitalist, though they placed increasing restrictions on private business, but tolerated private capital.
  • So Chinese Communism is modification of orthodox Marxism.

Other Differences:

  • Mao lived several years after the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China providing leadership and continuity. The same was not true in the case of USSR as Lenin has died soon and could not provide continuity of thee policy.
  • In the Soviet system, land was organized by collectivization. Stalin replaced the old system on private peasant farming with “collective farms” and “state farms”, where peasants would work for the greater good of the proletariat under strict party supervision. In China on the other had, they had a social obligation where there was a goal set by the government, and any surplus product that the farmers made, they were allowed to use as they wanted. This system gives farmers incentive to produce more than the set goal for their own personal gain.
  • In Russia there was forced urbanization when Stalin made people move to the cities. In China on the other hand, Mao’s support was rural based, and people were kept out of the cities.
  • The CPSU (Communist Party of Soviet Union) wanted to export world revolution and turn the world communist.  The CCP (Communist Party of China) didn’t care what other countries do.  This means that the CCP didn’t spend nearly as much money on the military as the CPSU did, and didn’t maintain large and expensive armies in other countries.
  • The CPSU was essential to the identity of the Soviet Union.  Without the CPSU, the Soviet Union could not exist, because without the CPSU, people became Russians and Ukaranians and Tajiks, and not Soviets.  China has a national identity that is independent of the Party, so it’s possible to imagine a non-communist or even anti-communist China.  Conversely, because China can exist without the CCP, it’s possible for the CCP to redefine itself radically without losing power. This makes a big difference because China can create a liberal free-speech special administrative region (Hong Kong).  The Soviet Union couldn’t create anything like HK.
  • The Constitution of the PRC states that secession is prohibited, whereas the Constitution of the Soviet Union gave republics a right to secede.  This was reflected in the structure of the parties.  The CCP is a highly centralized party, where as the CPSU was theoretically a federation of parties with the Republic parties being nominally independent. 


  • One of the largest differences between Soviet and Chinese Communism is that Chinese Communism lasted but Soviet Communism did not. After Mao’s death, China restructured its government, providing its citizens with greater freedoms and changing its economic policy to favor a market economy open to foreign trade instead of one that was centrally managed.
  • During the 1980s, the Soviet government remained unwilling to make reforms it viewed as capitalistic, and the resulting economic decline lead to the Soviet downfall. Since then, Russia has attempted to shift to a market-based economy with mixed results.
  • At the same time, China shifted to a system known as market socialism, which differed from the USSR in its reliance on a free market.

What are main reasons of successful Chinese Revolution of 1949?

  • Before the stir of Communist ideas the Nationalists were corrupt and disregarded the people’s needs. Chiang Kai-shek (the Nationalist leader) concentrated on rapid industrialisation to benefit the middle and upper classes, which enraged the majority of the Chinese working population. Also the starved peasants had to pay heavy taxes to pay for foreign debts, which didn’t help the working class at all.
  • The suffering of the common people and the successful establishment of Soviet Communism generated pro-Communist intellectuals, who saw the capitalist Kuomintang as greedy and selfish men leaving the common folks in starvation.
  • Communist used Long March as propaganda and won many Chinese heart.
  • The Kuomintang’s persecution of Communist intellectuals made certain of their enmity. Prominent groups of revolutionaries emerged from all parts of China, and eventually formed the Communist Party, the beginning of the Chinese Civil War.
  • Their bloody war was temporarily paused by the invasion of Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Under threat from a common foe the Communists and Nationalists formed an unwilling peace pact. However Chiang Kai-shek never intended to split his power to the Communists, which the Communists knew full well. After the end of the Second World War the Chinese Civil War quickly resumed.
  • Communist’s strong anti-Japanese stance and several victories over Japanese helped them to mobilise more civilian supports.
  • Communist Party won largely due to their land reforms, which gave the much needed lands to starved peasants. This act portrayed the Communists are the true guardians of the people in contrast to the corrupt Nationalists. Therefore civilian volunteers immediately forged the Communists into an overpowering force, which eventually defeated the Nationalists.
  • KMT had many army men who belonged to peasant family. This led to large scale defection to Communists.
  • (Add more points from chapter discussed above)


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