Lecture Thirty-Four

War and Revolution

Scope: The Second United Front was not really effective, but it did last in some form throughout the war against Japan. Once Japan was defeated, though, civil war followed quickly. Despite massive aid from the United States, the Nationalists were defeated by the Chinese Red Army in 1949, and Chiang’s forces withdrew to the island of Taiwan. The Chinese Communists, under Mao’s leadership, set about creating a “New China” and launched a program of building socialism. Land reform, a new marriage law, and the nationalization of urban industry were the first steps. The Korean War threatened to disrupt this process, but China managed to prevent an American invasion and to pursue its new policies with aid from the Soviet Union in the 1950s.


I. In December 1936, the CCP and GMD formed a new United Front.

A. GMD General Zhang Xueliang “arrested” Chiang Kaishek and forced him to negotiate with the Communists.

1. The “Xian Incident,” named for the city near which it took place, reflected the frustration of many patriotic Chinese with Chiang’s refusal to fight the Japanese.

2. The CCP agreed to join in a new alliance to resist Japan’s aggression in northeast China.

3. Chiang accepted the agreement, but Zhang Xueliang was kept under arrest until the 1990s.

B. The Second United Front lasted through World War II, but was never fully effective.

1. Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China in July 1937.

2. The GMD was forced to retreat to Chongqing, in Sichuan, while Japan occupied much of northern and central China.

3. Japanese atrocities at Nanjing—what came to be known as the Rape of Nanjing— and elsewhere stiffened Chinese resistance.

4. The CCP led a guerrilla war against the Japanese from bases in Shaanxi.

II. By 1944, Japan’s defeat was seen as inevitable, and both the GMD and CCP began to prepare for the postwar period.

A. Chiang hoarded military supplies from the United States in preparation for attacking the CCP once the war with Japan was over.

1. Frustration with Chiang’s attitude led to clashes with his American military advisor, Joseph Stilwell.

2. Chiang knew that the Americans would defeat Japan and didn’t want to expend his forces fighting the occupation army.

B. The CCP saw the coming end of the war as the chance to extend the revolutionary struggle.

1. Communist activism against the Japanese had greatly expanded support for the revolution among the farmers of north China.

2. The CCP saw Chiang as hopelessly corrupt.

C. When Japan surrendered, there was a period of negotiation, but civil war broke out before long.

1. The United States sent negotiators to try to keep the peace in China, but by the middle of 1946, the confrontation between the CCP and the GMD was beyond control.

2. The United States aided Chiang’s forces and turned over supplies from the defeated Japanese to them.

3. The Russians gave the CCP some aid from their occupation of Manchuria.

4. Major fighting took place through 1948, and by early 1949, it was clear that the CCP would win.

III. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949.

A. The Nationalists withdrew to Taiwan.

1. The Battle of Huai-Hai in November 1948 signaled the end for Chiang’s army.

2. He ordered the withdrawal to Taiwan, after first carrying out a massacre of Taiwanese dissidents.

B. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the PRC in Beijing.

1. The new government set about stabilizing China, then launched a program of Socialist transformation.

2. The foundation of the program was land reform, in which the economic back of the old literati elite was finally broken.

3. The government also passed a new marriage law, which gave women freedom to marry whom they pleased and to own property.

4. Urban industry began to be nationalized, and the financial system was brought under government control.

C. An alliance with the Soviet Union brought material aid to China, but the Korean War threatened the new regime.

1. Mao signed a treaty of friendship with Moscow in 1950.

2. Soviet advisors came to China in great numbers to help with building projects and educational reform.

3. The civil war in Korea threatened to bring American troops into northeast China, but massive Chinese intervention saved the North Koreans and protected China’s frontier.

4. The stage was set for the pursuit of Mao’s image of a “New China”; we will examine the major steps in that process in the next lecture.

Essential Reading:

Jonathan Spence, Mao Zedong.

Supplemental Reading:

John Fitzgerald, Awakening China.

Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power.

Questions to Consider:

1. The Communist Party led the most active resistance to the Japanese occupation, and won widespread support among the peasantry of northern China. Was this a sufficient basis for carrying out its revolutionary program?

2. Chiang Kaishek relied on the United States to win the war with Japan. Did he then expect that the United States would intervene in China’s civil war?

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