The Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War was one of the most decisive outcomes in Chinese history. China as we know it today would certainly be a different place if the Nationalists had won; there would be different political policies, more social freedoms, and perhaps we would have more cultural connections with China in general. Perhaps one would wonder why the Communist Party instead of a free democracy rules China, and why, even with the support from the American government, the Republic of China could not defeat the Communists. I contend that the Communists gained an advantage over the Nationalists because of events related to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The circumstances created by Second Sino-Japanese War helped the Communist Party to rest and prepare their troops, gave them possession of Manchuria, and helped them gain favor in the eyes of the people. These key advantages for the Communists were indispensable in helping them win the Chinese Civil War.
In order to better understand the Communists’ advantages in the war; I would first like to explain the history and background leading up to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars over fought. Over 8 million people died in total, making in the third biggest war in history by sheer number of casualties. The part of the war that I am discussing deals with events after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and during the conflict between the Communist party and the Nationalist Party, or Republic of China. The Civil War between them started on April 12, 1927; Chiang Kai-shek decided that the Communist Party and leftists were a disruption to the government and should be done away with, in what was known as the Shanghai massacre. Many Communists were killed, and the most faithful in the party fled to western China, in what is known as the long march. Fighting continued until the Japanese invaded China in1937, during which both sides aligned forces to fight the Japanese. When World War 2 ended in 1945, the Japanese surrendered. In Manchuria, the Japanese handed their weapons and supplies over to the Soviets. The Communists would later take advantage of these circumstances.
The Japanese surrender of Manchuria was critical to the Communist victory. Originally, the Communists fought alongside the Kuomintang against the Japanese during World War 2. However, after the Japanese surrender, the Communists entered Manchuria through the northeast with only a few men. The Kuomintang forces themselves were not able to go in immediately because of the Soviet forces occupying the territory. But the Communists won the favor of the Soviets, who then essentially handed Manchuria over to them. “Having the political sympathy of the occupying Soviet forces…and the protection of a ‘truce,’ the Communists were able to build up a tremendous stock of arms upon which Mao could found his plan to conquer China,” (Liu 253). The land, weapons, and support of local people that the Communists gained from Manchuria would give them an advantage that would propel them to ultimate victory. The Communists’ takeover of Manchuria was perhaps one of the most decisive actions that they performed in the Chinese Civil War. Before their capture of Manchuria, the Communists seemed to be in a losing struggle against the ROC. However, after the capture of this land, the Communists’ power continually increased. As one historian put it, “Of all decisions of the postwar period, none seem to be of greater historical significance than the National Governments resolve to reoccupy Manchuria,” (Liu 255). This proved to be the turning point in the war; the stockpile of weapons, men and land that the Communists gained in Manchuria gave them an advantage that would lead them to ultimate victory.
Because of the help from the Soviets in giving the Communists Japanese weapons and facilities, the Communist armies were greatly strengthened. They were also able to rest and prepare their troops for the coming war. The Soviets helped the Communists in this way because of their common political ideas, which were closely aligned with Soviet communism. At the same time, the Soviets also prevented the Kuomintang forces from entering into Manchuria. “Soviet sympathy for the Chinese Reds prompted them to deny the Nationalists the use of port facilities…giving the Communists time to organize in the area, to consolidate their local control, and to equip a military force with former Japanese weapons,” (Liu 255). The Soviets provided the Communists precious time to organize their forces and prepare for the coming war. During this time, the Communist troops received some training, and the Communists had time to recruit and send out propaganda among the local people. With a safe haven within Manchuria, the Communists were able to launch a well-organized counter attack that would prove detrimental to the Kuomintang.
The Communists gained favor in the eyes of the local people while occupying Manchuria, which proved to be crucial in defeating the Kuomintang. The Communists propaganda strategies were much more effective than the Nationalists. The local Chinese people had just spent years fighting off their Japanese enemies and were sick and tired of war. “The Communists saw the necessity of winning whatever support could be achieved and they expended more energy on the effort than did the Nationalists,” (Liu 249). The Communists spread the idea that Chinese shouldn’t be warring with other Chinese; this notion proved to be a major cause for Nationalist propaganda to not resonate in hearts of the people. The local people, especially in Manchuria, after fighting a long bloody war with the Japanese, whom they despised, wanted a peaceful China. Fighting other Chinese seemed naturally wrong to them, since they had spent so much time defeating a common foe. Because of the fatigue of Sino-Japanese War, the Communists gained many faithful followers.
During the period after the Second Sino-Japanese War, economic downturn also turned the many people in the Chinese populous against the KMT. A lot of money and supplies had been spent during the wars, which influenced the economic downturn. As much as economic downturn helped the Communists, it hurt The Nationalists just as much. This widespread economic breakdown and depression weakened the ability for the ROC to rule and control China. One historian paints the economic scene thus, “Equally or more important was Chiang’s failure to run the country effectively…city dwellers sometimes needed wheelbarrows full of nearly worthless currency to buy rice” (Wasserstrom 53). This kind of economic instability would surely cause alarm to the citizens of China. The economy was a mess, and the people wanted a change. They believed Chiang Kai-shek and the ROC were handling things wrong, and they felt that Mao and the Communists could do a better job. Also, the people, including those in the Nationalist Party, became discouraged. Because of this snowball event rising from a bad economy, the Communists gained favor and give hope to the people.
The Communists did not only just gain favor in the eyes of peasant class, but also many from the wealthy classes as well. After the Second Sino-Japanese War, many wealthy and influential Chinese switched to support the Communists. “The main immediate benefit of the Second United Front was the adherence of many patriotic urban intellectuals to the Communist cause,” (Dreyer 249). These people from the wealthier classes helped to organize and support the Communist effort. During the Second-Sino Japanese War, the Communists made many military victories, which helped them to gain the reputation of a patriotic and loyal band, and thus they won the hearts of Chinese people. Overall, the Communists were more controlled and obedient that the Kuomintang as well. Even though their army was made mostly of unlearned peasants, they were unified and more controllable than the well trained Kuomintang. “The main elements of People’s War continued to be a politically motivated and organized peasantry,” (Dreyer 350). The peasants came together to form a very advanced and tactical military that was able to overthrow the Kuomintang. The combined effort from all classes of society helped to build the Communist Party into an unstoppable force.
The Communists also gained favor with members within the Kuomintang, which proved detrimental to the KMT. Thus during the second part of the Chinese Civil War, the Communists defeated their opponents by breaking down the Nationalist Party from the inside out. There were a number of dissenters from the KMT that fled to the Communists. For instance, the Communists planned to kidnap Chiang Kai-shek with help from people inside the party. “Someone had asked the general himself in person whether he was going back to Whampoa…the person involved was none other than Chen Pih-chun, wife of Ching Wei, chairman of the council of National Government” (Kwei vii). These kinds of political scandals and intrigue crippled the KMT. People in the party were softening toward the Communists. The members of the KMT were also sick of fighting. After the Japanese war, the generals were more interested in dividing the spoils. “The much needed unity of command waned, and there was an increasing reluctance in the various commanders to render that unswerving loyalty which the leaders could no longer compel” (Liu 244). People within the KMT army began to be disloyal and hard to control. Many of them just wanted to celebrate the recent victory over the Japanese. The KMT had spent much time and numerous resources in repelling the Japanese, and continuing on fighting the Communists would mean they had to start borrowing money from their allies, which they did. The notion of continuing on the fighting by making war with Communists was not well received by many soldiers. The turmoil within the KMT ended up helping the Communists tremendously.
During the Second Sino-Japanese war, the Communist troops perfected their guerilla warfare tactics, which proved powerfully effective against the Japanese and the Kuomintang. During the war, the Communists often relied on guerilla warfare, as they were vastly outnumbered when compared to Kuomintang troops. “The Communists, for their part, were so delighted, even surprised at their victory and the label of invincibility…that they continued to rely on guerilla tactics that paid off so remarkably in the 1940’s,” (Wilson 184). They were extremely good at hitting the Kuomintang when they were vulnerable, as well as letting less crucial ground to the Kuomintang. But failure in this aspect can also be blamed on the Kuomintang at this time for not using proper strategy and leadership against the Communists. The Kuomintang also did not do their part to sway the people in their favor; the Communist Guerrilla tactics relied heavily on the support of local people to hide them, and to provide new recruits for their army. Because of the Red Army’s success and courage in fighting the Japanese, they gained much support from the people. However, the lack of the peoples’ support in the favor of the ROC would ultimately prove detrimental. “Using guerilla warfare centered on the ideas of nationalism and people’s support to defeat another far superior army, rendering useless its more numerous troops, technologically superior weapons and indefinitely richer supplies,” (Wilson 186). Even though the Communists were outnumbered, their guerilla tactics and support from the general populous helped them overcome a more powerful foe. The Communists guerilla tactics and the Nationalists’ lack of proper counter strategy proved indispensable in the Communist victory.
The defeats of the Nationalists propelled them into loss of morale and created many defectors, which helped in the Communists’ favor exponentially. After some initial losses in Manchuria, many KMT soldiers defected over to the Communists. The KMT was also forced to release many commanding officers, who defected to the Communists. “[The KMT] sent over to the Communist side many troops whom the government could ill afford to lose,” (Liu 256). The less-numerous Communist Red Army used superior army guerilla tactics against the Nationalists, pushing them further and further south, and decreasing the morale of their men. By this time, morale was at an all-time low, and it seemed too late to muster any kind of rally. The KMT strategy against the Communists was fundamentally flawed, but worsened by the fact that the men didn’t want to fight. “Morale dropped to a new low, and the entire disgruntled army seethed with rebellion…one which might have been inspired with that fierce dedication which arises of…lofty principles and personal interests, lost the will to fight,” (Liu 260). Even the cause of freedom and democracy couldn’t motivate the army enough to defeat the incoming Communists. The Communists won not only the physical battle, but they won the hearts of the people, and defeated the democratic principles that the people held onto.
The Communist victory in Manchuria led to the eventual defeat of the KMT. The success and momentum that the Communists gained led them to victory throughout the rest of the war. Chiang Kai-Shek resigned as president during the war; he retired, disgruntled at the many defeats he had faced. But he still retained some power, so the new president, president Li, at the time didn’t have power to do what was necessary. “Li had no unified control over Nationalist China. An able general, Li did not even control the larger portion of the army…What Li needed, the money, the troops, the naval and air support, unity, were all denied him,” (Liu 265). The power inside the Nationalist Government was not concentrated, so no major wartime decisions could be made. Because of this, during Li’s presidency confusion and defeat ensued. The Communists during this time obtained an undeniable upper-hand, which would never be quenched.
The Nationalists were eventually chased out of their capitol at Nanjing to various cities in southern China. Eventually, they were chased to Taipei, on the Island of Taiwan. Although the Communist Party wished to chase them further, the United States prevented them by stationing their Navy at the Formosa straight. Thus, the main part of the war essentially ended. The Communists declared their capitol at Beijing, while the Nationalists declared their capitol at Taipei. Thus China was split between two governments. Over the coming years, the fighting continued over the Formosa straight, but was essentially a stalemate. Now, the situation is complicated between Taiwan and China. Although fighting has stopped and trade has increased, Taiwan is not considered a separate country by many other nations.
There were many factors that led to the Communist victory, but most important was their gains during and after the Second Sino-Japanese War. During the war against the Japanese, they were able to gain the peoples’ favor by showing their valor and patriotism. After the war ended, they were able to take Manchuria, which gave them valuable assets. With control of Manchuria, they had time to train and prepare their armies for the coming war. Because of the recent war with the Japanese, the Chinese were tired of fighting and did not want to fight members of their own country. The following Communist military victories, combined with a morally drained KMT army, and also the peoples’ general distaste toward war crippled the Nationalists. The Communist victories had a snowball effect that grew their power over time. Without the ideal situation handed to them after the Second Sino-Japanese war, the Communists perhaps would never have won the Chinese Civil War.
Dreyer, Edward. China at War 1901-1949. New York: Longman Group Ltd., 1995. 249,350.
Kwei, Chung-Gi. The Kuomintang-Communist Struggle in China 1922-1949. The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1970. vii. Print.
Liu, F.F. A Military History of Modern China 1924-1929. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.
Pike, John, ed. "Chinese Civil War." GlobalSecurity.org. GlobalSecurity.org, 15 Jul 2011. Web.
Wasserstrom, Jeffery N. China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2013. eBook.
Wilson, Dick. China's Revolutionary War. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., 1991. 184-86.
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