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The Chinese Civil War was fought between the Kuomintang-led government of the Republic of China and the forces of the Chinese Communist Party, with armed conflict continuing intermittently from 1 August 1927 until 7 December 1949, resulting in a Communist victory and subsequent control of mainland China.
|Chinese Civil War
|Part of the interwar period and the Cold War (from 1947)
Clockwise from top: Communist troops at the Battle of Siping; Hui soldiers of the NRA; Mao Zedong in the 1930s; Chiang Kai-shek inspecting soldiers; CCP general Su Yu inspecting the troops shortly before the Menglianggu campaign
|Commanders and leaders
|Director-General of the Kuomintang)
|Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party)
2 million (regular)
2.3 million (militia) (June 1946)
1.2 million (regular)
2.6 million (militia) (July 1945)
|Casualties and losses
1.5–1.7 million (1945–1949)
2.8+ million (1945–1949)
850,000 wounded (1945–1949)
|Chinese Civil War
|Kuomintang-Communist Civil War
The war is generally divided into two phases with an interlude: from August 1927 to 1937, the KMT–CCP Alliance collapsed during the Northern Expedition, and the Nationalists controlled most of China. From 1937 to 1945, hostilities were mostly put on hold as the Second United Front fought the Japanese invasion of China with eventual help from the Allies of World War II, although co-operation between the KMT and CCP during this time was minimal and armed clashes between the groups were common. Exacerbating the divisions within China further was the formation of a puppet government, sponsored by Japan and ostensibly led by Wang Jingwei, which was established to nominally govern the regions of China that came under Japanese occupation.
The Communists gained control of mainland China and proclaimed the People's Republic of China in 1949, forcing the leadership of the Republic of China to retreat to the island of Taiwan. Starting in the 1950s, a lasting political and military standoff between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has ensued, with the ROC in Taiwan and the PRC in mainland China both claiming to be the legitimate government of all China. After the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, both tacitly ceased to engage in open conflict in 1979; however, no armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed.
Following the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the 1911 Revolution, Sun Yat-sen assumed the presidency of the newly formed Republic of China, and was shortly thereafter succeeded by Yuan Shikai.[page needed] Yuan was frustrated in a short-lived attempt to restore monarchy in China, and China fell into power struggle after his death in 1916.
The Kuomintang (KMT), led by Sun Yat-sen, created a new government in Guangzhou to rival the warlords who ruled over large swathes of China and prevented the formation of a solid central government. After Sun's efforts to obtain aid from Western countries were ignored, he turned to the Soviet Union. In 1923, Sun and Soviet representative Adolph Joffe in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance to China's unification in the Sun–Joffe Manifesto, a declaration of cooperation among the Comintern, KMT, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin arrived in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of both the CCP and the KMT along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CCP, which was initially a study group, and the KMT jointly formed the First United Front.
In 1923, Sun sent Chiang Kai-shek, one of his lieutenants, for several months of military and political study in Moscow. Chiang then became the head of the Whampoa Military Academy that trained the next generation of military leaders. The Soviets provided the academy with teaching material, organization, and equipment, including munitions. They also provided education in many of the techniques for mass mobilization. With this aid, Sun raised a dedicated "army of the party", with which he hoped to defeat the warlords militarily. CCP members were also present in the academy, and many of them became instructors, including Zhou Enlai, who was made a political instructor.
Communist members were allowed to join the KMT on an individual basis. The CCP itself was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. As of 1923, the KMT had 50,000 members.
However, after Sun died in 1925, the KMT split into left- and right-wing movements. KMT members worried that the Soviets were trying to destroy the KMT from inside using the CCP. The CCP then began movements in opposition of the Northern Expedition, passing a resolution against it at a party meeting.
Then, in March 1927, the KMT held its second party meeting where the Soviets helped pass resolutions against the Expedition and curbing Chiang's power. Soon, the KMT would be clearly divided.
Throughout this time, the Soviet Union sent money and spies to support the CCP. Without their support, the communist party likely would have failed. This is evidenced by documents showing other communist parties in China at the time, one with as many as 10,000 members, which all failed without support from the Soviet Union.[additional citation(s) needed]
Shanghai Massacre and Northern Expedition
In early 1927, the KMT-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and the left wing of the KMT decided to move the seat of the KMT government from Guangzhou to Wuhan, where communist influence was strong. However, Chiang and Li Zongren, whose armies defeated the warlord Sun Chuanfang, moved eastward toward Jiangxi. The leftists rejected Chiang's demand to eliminate Communist influence within KMT, and Chiang denounced them for betraying Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People by taking orders from the Soviet Union. According to Mao Zedong, Chiang's tolerance of the CCP in the KMT camp decreased as his power increased.
On 7 April, Chiang and several other KMT leaders held a meeting, during which they proposed that Communist activities were socially and economically disruptive and had to be undone for the Nationalist revolution to proceed. On 12 April, in Shanghai, many Communist members in the KMT were purged through hundreds of arrests and executions on the orders of General Bai Chongxi. The CCP referred to this as the 12 April Incident, the White Terror, or the Shanghai Massacre. This incident widened the rift between Chiang and Wang Jingwei, the leader of the left wing faction of the KMT who controlled the city of Wuhan.
Eventually, the left wing of the KMT also expelled CCP members from the Wuhan government, which in turn was toppled by Chiang Kai-shek. The KMT resumed its campaign against warlords and captured Beijing in June 1928. Soon, most of eastern China was under the control of the Nanjing central government, which received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The KMT government announced, in conformity with Sun Yat-sen, the formula for the three stages of revolution: military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy.
Communist insurgency (1927–1937)
On 1 August 1927, the Communist Party launched an uprising in Nanchang against the Nationalist government in Wuhan. This conflict led to the creation of the Red Army. On 4 August, the main forces of the Red Army left Nanchang and headed southwards for an assault on Guangdong. Nationalist forces quickly reoccupied Nanchang while the remaining members of the CCP in Nanchang went into hiding. A CCP meeting on 7 August confirmed the objective of the party was to seize the political power by force, but the CCP was quickly suppressed the next day by the Nationalist government in Wuhan, led by Wang Jingwei. On 14 August, Chiang Kai-shek announced his temporary retirement, as the Wuhan faction and Nanjing faction of the Kuomintang were allied once again with common goal of suppressing the CCP after the earlier split. Wang Jingwei took the leadership of KMT after Chiang. 
Attempts were later made by the CCP to take the cities of Changsha, Shantou and Guangzhou. The Red Army consisting of mutinous former National Revolutionary Army (NRA) soldiers as well as armed peasants established control over several areas in southern China. KMT forces continued to attempt to suppress the rebellions. Then, in September, Wang Jingwei was forced out of Wuhan. September also saw an unsuccessful armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, led by Mao Zedong. Borodin then returned to the Soviet Union in October via Mongolia. In November, Chiang Kai-shek went to Shanghai and invited Wang to join him. On 11 December, the CCP started the Guangzhou Uprising, establishing a soviet there the next day, but lost the city by 13 December to a counter-attack under the orders of General Zhang Fakui. On 16 December, Wang Jingwei fled to France. There were now three capitals in China: the internationally recognized republic capital in Beijing, the CCP and left-wing KMT at Wuhan and the right-wing KMT regime at Nanjing, which would remain the KMT capital for the next decade.
This marked the beginning of a ten-year armed struggle, known in mainland China as the "Ten-Year Civil War" (十年内战) which ended with the Xi'an Incident, when Chiang Kai-shek was forced to form the Second United Front against invading forces from the Empire of Japan. In 1930, the Central Plains War broke out as an internal conflict of the KMT; launched by Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan, and Wang Jingwei. The attention was turned to root out remaining pockets of CCP activity in a series of five encirclement campaigns. The first and second campaigns failed, and the third was aborted due to the Mukden Incident. The fourth campaign (1932–1933) achieved some early successes, but Chiang's armies were badly mauled when they tried to penetrate into the heart of Mao's Soviet Chinese Republic. During these campaigns, KMT columns struck swiftly into CCP areas, but were easily engulfed by the vast countryside and were not able to consolidate their foothold.
Finally, in late 1934, Chiang launched a fifth campaign that involved the systematic encirclement of the Jiangxi Soviet region with fortified blockhouses. The blockhouse strategy was devised and implemented in part by newly hired Nazi advisors. Unlike previous campaigns in which they penetrated deeply in a single strike, this time the KMT troops patiently built blockhouses, each separated by about eight kilometres (five miles), to surround the Communist areas and cut off their supplies and food sources.
In October 1934, the CCP took advantage of gaps in the ring of blockhouses (manned by the forces of a warlord ally of Chiang Kai-shek's, rather than regular KMT troops) and broke out of the encirclement. The warlord armies were reluctant to challenge Communist forces for fear of losing their own men and did not pursue the CCP with much fervor. In addition, the main KMT forces were preoccupied with annihilating Zhang Guotao's army, which was much larger than Mao's. The massive military retreat of Communist forces lasted a year and covered what Mao estimated as 12,500 km (25,000 Li); it became known as the Long March.
This military retreat was undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, to evade the pursuit or attack of the Kuomintang army. It consisted of a series of marches, during which numerous Communist armies in the south escaped to the north and west. Over the course of the march from Jiangxi the First Front Army, led by an inexperienced military commission, was on the brink of annihilation by Chiang Kai-Shek's troops as their stronghold was in Jiangxi. The Communists, under the command of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, "escaped in a circling retreat to the west and north, which reportedly traversed over 9,000 kilometers over 370 days." The route passed through some of the most difficult terrain of western China by traveling west, and then northwards towards Shaanxi. "In November 1935, shortly after settling in northern Shaanxi, Mao officially took over Zhou Enlai's leading position in the Red Army. Following a major reshuffling of official roles, Mao became the chairman of the Military Commission, with Zhou and Deng Xiaoping as vice-chairmen." This marked Mao's position as the pre-eminent leader of the Party, with Zhou in second position to him.
The march ended when the CCP reached the interior of Shaanxi. Zhang Guotao's army (Red 4th Front Army), which took a different route through northwest China, was largely destroyed by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Muslim allies, the Ma clique. Along the way, the Communist army confiscated property and weapons from local warlords and landlords, while recruiting peasants and the poor, solidifying its appeal to the masses. Of the 90,000–100,000 people who began the Long March from the Soviet Chinese Republic, only around 7,000–8,000 made it to Shaanxi. The remnants of Zhang's forces eventually joined Mao in Shaanxi, but with his army destroyed, Zhang, even as a founding member of the CCP, was never able to challenge Mao's authority. Essentially, the great retreat made Mao the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Kuomintang used Khampa troops—who were former bandits—to battle the Communist Red Army as it advanced and to undermine local warlords who often refused to fight Communist forces to conserve their own strength. The KMT enlisted 300 "Khampa bandits" into its Consolatory Commission military in Sichuan, where they were part of the effort of the central government to penetrate and destabilize local Han warlords such as Liu Wenhui. The government was seeking to exert full control over frontier areas against the warlords. Liu had refused to battle the Communists in order to conserve his army. The Consolatory Commission forces were used to battle the Red Army, but they were defeated when their religious leader was captured by the Communists.
In 1936, Zhou Enlai and Zhang Xueliang grew closer, with Zhou even suggesting that he join the CCP. However, this was turned down by the Comintern in the USSR. Later on, Zhou persuaded Zhang and Yang Hucheng, another warlord, to instigate the Xi'an Incident. Chiang was placed under house arrest and forced to stop his attacks on the Red Army, instead focusing on the Japanese threat.
- The situation in China in 1929: After the Northern Expedition, the KMT had direct control over east and central China, while the rest of China proper as well as Manchuria was under the control of warlords loyal to the Nationalist government.
- Map showing the communist-controlled Soviet Zones of China during and after the encirclement campaigns
- Route(s) taken by Communist forces during the Long March
- A Communist leader addressing survivors of the Long March
- NRA soldiers marching
- NRA troops firing artillery at Communist forces
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
During Japan's invasion and occupation of Manchuria, Chiang Kai-shek saw the CCP as the greater threat. Chiang refused to ally with the CCP, preferring to unite China by eliminating the warlord and CCP forces first. He believed his forces were too weak to face the Japanese Imperial Army; only after unification could the KMT mobilize against Japan. He ignored the Chinese people's discontent and anger at the KMT policy of compromise with the Japanese, instead ordering KMT generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng to suppress the CCP. However, their provincial forces suffered significant casualties in battles with the Red Army.
On 12 December 1936, the disgruntled Zhang and Yang conspired to kidnap Chiang and force him into a truce with the CCP. The incident became known as the Xi'an Incident. Both parties suspended fighting to form a Second United Front to focus their energies and fight the Japanese. In 1937, Japan launched its full-scale invasion of China and its well-equipped troops overran KMT defenders in northern and coastal China.
The alliance of CCP and KMT was in name only. Unlike the KMT forces, CCP troops shunned conventional warfare and instead waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. The level of actual cooperation and coordination between the CCP and KMT during World War II was minimal. In the midst of the Second United Front, the CCP and the KMT were still vying for territorial advantage in "Free China" (i.e., areas not occupied by the Japanese or ruled by Japanese puppet governments such as Manchukuo and the Reorganized National Government of China).
The situation came to a head in late 1940 and early 1941 when clashes between Communist and KMT forces intensified. Chiang demanded in December 1940 that the CCP's New Fourth Army evacuate Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces, due to its provocation and harassment of KMT forces in this area. Under intense pressure, the New Fourth Army commanders complied. The following year they were ambushed by KMT forces during their evacuation, which led to several thousand deaths. It also ended the Second United Front, formed earlier to fight the Japanese.
As clashes between the CCP and KMT intensified, countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to prevent a disastrous civil war. After the New Fourth Army incident, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent special envoy Lauchlin Currie to talk with Chiang Kai-shek and KMT party leaders to express their concern regarding the hostility between the two parties, with Currie stating that the only ones to benefit from a civil war would be the Japanese. The Soviet Union, allied more closely with the CCP, sent an imperative telegram to Mao in 1941, warning that civil war would also make the situation easier for the Japanese military. Due to the international community's efforts, there was a temporary and superficial peace. Chiang criticized the CCP in 1943 with the propaganda piece China's Destiny, which questioned the CCP's power after the war, while the CCP strongly opposed Chiang's leadership and referred to his regime as fascist in an attempt to generate a negative public image. Both leaders knew that a deadly battle had begun between themselves.
In general, developments in the Second Sino-Japanese War were to the advantage of the CCP, as its guerrilla war tactics had won them popular support within the Japanese-occupied areas. However, the KMT had to defend the country against the main Japanese campaigns, since it was the legal Chinese government, a factor which proved costly to Chiang Kai-shek and his troops. Japan launched its last major offensive against the KMT, Operation Ichi-Go, in 1944, which resulted in the severe weakening of Chiang's forces. The CCP also suffered fewer losses through its guerrilla tactics. By the end of the war, the Red Army had grown to more than 1.3 million members, with a separate militia of over 2.6 million. About one hundred million people lived in CCP-controlled zones.
- Japanese occupation (red) of eastern China near the end of the war, and Communist bases (striped)
Immediate post-war clashes (1945–1946)
Under the terms of the Japanese unconditional surrender dictated by the Allies, Japanese troops were to surrender to KMT troops but not to the CCP, which was present in some of the occupied areas. In Manchuria, however, where the KMT had no forces, the Japanese surrendered to the Soviet Union. Chiang Kai-shek reminded Japanese troops to remain at their posts to receive the KMT, but Communist forces soon began taking surrenders from the Japanese and fighting those who resisted. General Wedemeyer of the United States Army became alarmed at these developments and wanted seven American divisions to be sent to China, but General Marshall replied that it should not be given priority over Japan and Korea.
The first post-war peace negotiation, attended by both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, was in Chongqing from 28 August to 10 October 1945. Chiang entered the meeting at an advantage because he had recently signed a friendly treaty with the Soviet Union while the Communists were still forcing the Japanese to surrender in some places. Mao was accompanied by American ambassador Patrick J. Hurley, who was devoted to Chiang but also wanted to ensure Mao's safety in light of the past history between the two Chinese leaders. It concluded with the signing of the Double Tenth Agreement. Both sides stressed the importance of a peaceful reconstruction, but the conference did not produce any concrete results. Battles between the two sides continued even as peace negotiations were in progress, until the agreement was reached in January 1946. However, large campaigns and full-scale confrontations between the CCP and Chiang's troops were temporarily avoided.
In the last month of World War II in East Asia, Soviet forces launched the huge Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation against the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria and along the Chinese-Mongolian border. This operation destroyed the Kwantung Army in just three weeks and left the USSR occupying all of Manchuria by the end of the war in a total power vacuum of local Chinese forces. Consequently, the 700,000 Japanese troops stationed in the region surrendered. Later in the year Chiang Kai-shek realized that he lacked the resources to prevent a CCP takeover of Manchuria following the scheduled Soviet departure. He therefore made a deal with the Soviets to delay their withdrawal until he had moved enough of his best-trained men and modern materiel into the region. However, the Soviets refused permission for the Nationalist troops to traverse its territory and spent the extra time systematically dismantling the extensive Manchurian industrial base (worth up to $2 billion) and shipping it back to their war-ravaged country. KMT troops were then airlifted by the US to occupy key cities in North China, while the countryside was already dominated by the CCP. On 15 November 1945, the KMT began a campaign to prevent the CCP from strengthening its already strong base. At the same time, however, the return of the KMT also brought widespread graft and corruption, with an OSS officer remarking that the only winners were the Communists.
Chiang Kai-shek's forces pushed as far as Chinchow (Jinzhou) by 26 November 1945, meeting with little resistance. This was followed by a Communist offensive on the Shandong Peninsula that was largely successful, as all of the peninsula, except what was controlled by the US, fell to the Communists. The truce fell apart in June 1946 when full-scale war between CCP and KMT forces broke out on 26 June 1946. China then entered a state of civil war that lasted more than three years.
- Chinese Communist soldiers march north to occupy rural Manchuria, 1945.