Republican China (1912 to 1949)
In the decades prior to the 1911 Republican Revolution, vast segments of Chinese society had become convinced that the Qing government was incapable of carrying out the reforms necessary to protect China from foreign domination. The precipitating event of the 1911 Revolution was a mass protest against the nationalization of the railways in Sichuan Province. Among the principals who had an interest in this issue were wealthy investors, regional military commanders and a group of revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen.
Many Chinese regard Sun Yat-sen as the "Father of the Nation." A Western-trained intellectual, Sun was instrumental in forming an alliance of revolutionary organizations called the Tongmenghui. While Sun was the popular choice to become the first president of Republican China, he stepped aside in favor of Yuan Shikai, commander of the New Chinese Army. Since Sun had no army at his disposal, he realized that Yuan presented the best opportunity to force the Qing to abdicate the throne and avoid civil war. Yuan initially voiced support for a Tongmenghui agenda, but he soon betrayed their trust. Sun and a fellow revolutionary, Song Jiaoren, tried to respond to Yuan's treachery by forming a new political party called the Guomindang. While the Guomindang swept the national elections in 1913, Yuan had Song Jiaoren assassinated. He then ordered that the parliament dissolved, and Sun and his Guomindang supporters were forced to flee China. By 1914, Yuan had become a virtual dictator. In 1915, Yuan had the new puppet parliament vote for the creation of a monarchy, with Yuan as the new emperor. Upon receiving word of his attempted imperial restoration, rebellions broke out in several provinces; the country soon disintegrated into several warring factions. By the time Yuan Shikai died in June of 1916, a period of political fragmentation known as the Warlord Period had begun.
As dissention plagued China's domestic relations, an international crisis created further problems for the floundering republic. With the beginning of World War I in 1914, Japan entered the war on the side of the Allies. While Japanese troops saw virtually no action in Europe, they were active in staking claims to German territory in Asia. In 1914, Japan claimed authority over Shandong Province, and in 1915, it issued the Twenty-One Demands to the warlord government in Beijing. Acceptance of all of Japanese demands would have made China a virtual colony of Japan. While the warlord government denied some of these claims, they accepted Japanese authority over Shandong, southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. When the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I in 1919, word spread in China that the Beijing government had entered into secret agreements with Japan, agreeing to accept its authority over Shandong Province. On May 4, 1919, there was a massive student uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Upset with the capitulation of the Beijing government to Japanese power, the students rode the crest of a patriotic and intellectual wave that became known as the May Fourth Movement. Students who had been trained in the West returned to China to help fuel a movement of modernization and national self-renewal.
Benefiting from the national reaction to the Beijing warlords' apparent treachery, Sun Yat-sen allied himself with powerful warlords in south China and set about reconstructing his Guomindang Party. By 1921, Sun had become president of a rival government in the south. While Sun and his compatriots sought aid and diplomatic recognition from Western governments, most countries accepted the warlord government in Beijing as China's official government. Frustrated, Sun turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. In 1923, the Soviet Union began sending aid and political assistance to help Sun's Guomindang forces reunify China. The Soviets ordered the relatively small Chinese Communist Party to cooperate with Guomindang efforts to reunify China. For the next several years, the Guomintang and CCP would form a common front against Chinese warlord armies.
When Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became his successor. Chiang had been trained in the Soviet Union and was commander of the National Revolutionary Army. In 1925, Chiang undertook the Northern Expedition, a military campaign designed to defeat regional warlords and reunite China. By 1928, this effort had succeeded. Chiang and his forces had nominally reunited much of China; Chiang's Guomintang government received international recognition as the official government of China.
While China had achieved military reunification under Chiang's leadership, serious political divisions had arisen within the Guomindang-CCP alliance. While fissures began to appear during the Northern Expedition, open warfare broke out after Chiang's forces occupied Shanghai in 1927. Chiang set about killing thousands of Communists, widening a spit between left-wing and right-wing factions in the Guomindang. Communists and left-wing members of the Guomindang responded by setting up a rival government at Wuhan. By February of 1928, however, the government at Wuhan collapsed, and the depleted Communist forces were forced to set up their bases in areas along the border of Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces.
With Chiang's government entrenched in Nanjing, the Guomindang set about trying to establish a Chinese state along the "Three Stages of Revolution" established by Sun Yat-sen. These stages, military rule, political tutelage, followed by establishing a full-fledged democracy, became a source of contention even among Guomindang members. While some thought that a democracy should be established immediately, Chiang and his allies seized the concept of "political tutelage" to establish what amounted to a dictatorship over China. In addition to dissention among the ranks of the Guomindang, regional warlords also challenged the legitimacy of the regime.
Adding to the internal confusion in China during this period was the external threat posed by Japanese territorial ambitions in China. In 1931, Japanese forces occupied Manchuria and set up a puppet state called Manchukuo. The loss of Manchuria's rich natural resource base dealt a blow to China's plans to modernize its economy. Chiang Kai-shek, however, was more concerned by the growth of Communist power in Jiangxi Province. While in Jiangxi Province, Mao Zedong had had great success mobilizing support for the CCP. Despite the fact that Japan was threatening China's sovereignty, Chiang focused the Guomindang Army's efforts on exterminating the internal threat posed by the CCP. By 1934, the pressure on the CCP was so great that 100,000 communist leaders and soldiers were forced to embark on a 6000 mile forced journey to remote Shaanxi Province; this legendary journey is known as the Long March. Only about 8000 of the original 100,000 communists who fled Jiangxi survived the Long March.
Forces within Chiang's Guomindang Army soon grew resentful of the efforts being made to hunt down Mao's Communists while the "Japanese wolf" was at China's door. In 1936, a group of Guomindang soldiers in Xian Province held Chiang Kai-shek hostage until he agreed to end the campaign against the CCP and form an anti-Japanese coalition. While tension between the CCP and Guomindang forces remained common, a United Front against the Japanese did officially exist between 1937 and 1941.
In July of 1937, the Japanese precipitated an incident near Beijing and began moving troops into northern China. This incident, called the Marco Polo Bridge Indicent, marks the official beginning of the Anti-Japanese War. By the end of July, Japanese forces controlled the cities of Beijing and Tianjin. The Japanese then turned their eyes south and east. By the end of 1937, the Japanese controlled the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing. Forced to flee Nanjing, the Guomindang's capital city, the government was moved to Chongqing. The Japanese occupation of Nanjing also marks one of the darkest chapters in the history of warfare. After taking control of Nanjing, Japanese troops indiscriminately raped and killed innocent civilians; it is estimated that over 100,000 Chinese civilians died in the brutal incident that has become known as "The Rape of Nanjing."
With the Guomindang government based in Chongqing and the Communist leadership in Yan'an (Shaanxi Province), their forces combined to fight the Japanese Army to a standstill in central China. While Guomindang forces used primarily conventional military tactics, the Communists were especially adept at using guerrilla warfare. The United Front between the Guomindang and the CCP broke down in 1941. Despite this split, the military efforts of both forces were critical in tying down Japanese resources on the Chinese mainland. The United States supplied the Guomintang with vital military and financial assistance to keep the war effort in China alive. They also attempted to mediate a truce between the rival Guomintang Army and Communist People's Liberation Army, but were ultimately unsuccessful.
By the time the war ended, the Communists had greatly increased their strength; CCP party members numbered 1.2 million, and their successful political and military campaigns helped them gain support among peasants in wide areas of China. For the Guomintang's part, the situation in postwar China was critical. While the Chiang and the Guomintang emerged from World War II with international recognition, the country itself was in disarray. China's social and economic situation had been severely affected by years of disruption caused by war. In addition, accusations of Guomintang corruption led to the erosion of popular support for Chiang's regime. While World War II was at an end, the Chinese Civil War intensified. In January of 1949, Communist forces occupied Beijing. Throughout that year, CCP forces occupied most of China's major cities. In October of 1949, Mao declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek and a few hundred thousand of his closest Guomindang supporters were forced to flee to the island of Taiwan. From 1949 until today, China remained divided into the communist, mainland People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China that the Guomindang established on Taiwan.
1. Chiang Kai-shek
2. Sun Yat-sen