The Republic of China

1911-1989

China was a world power until the 16th century when Europeans colonized the East. Chinese military forces were antiquated compared to the Europeans and so the country suffered a string of defeats. Sun Yat Sen blamed the Qing dynasty’s corrupt rulers for the defeats and began planning a democratic revolution. After nine failed revolutions, his organization overthrew China’s last emperor in 1911 and established The Republic of China.

This new government was a republic in name only. As military leader, Yuan Shikai held most of the power. When Sun’s political party, Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the Nationalist Party, tried to confine his power, Yuan outlawed them. In an attempt to reestablish a monarchy, he proclaimed himself emperor for life in 1914. Yet, because of a widespread rebellion, his plans were stopped. When Yuan died, the central government lost its authority and for decades, warlords controlled the country. Japan, which at the start of World War I seized Shandong Province, a German holding in China, also threatened the nation. China, however, declared war on Germany. When this was known to the public, a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement developed on May 4, 1919. It was the highest point of the imperialist and anti-feudal New Cultural Movement.

Although Yuan outlawed the KMT, Sun Yat Sen continued to build the revolutionary movement, establishing the organization’s base in Guangzhou. Meanwhile revolutions were also taking place elsewhere. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR or Soviet Union), unlike the other Western countries, offered to help the Chinese revolutionaries. After their success in the Russian revolution for Communism in 1917, the USSR helped the Chinese Communists establish the Chinese Communists Party (CCP) in 1921.

Sun died in 1925, but the KMT retained its power. In 1926, they launched a Northern Expedition to rid the area of warlords and to unify China under the KMT. The young general, Shang Kaishek, led this expedition. Communists aided Shang Kaishek’s army but their alliance was weak because of their different ideas; the KMT’s strength came from the rich, while the Communists believed in equal distribution of wealth. In 1927, the KMT massacred the Communists because they were afraid of their increasing power. This began a bloody clash, which led to a civil war.

From 1927 to 1937, the KMT was under Shang’s rules. His priority was not to improve the lives of the peasants, but to enhance China’s military. He believed that having a good military would help unify China, which at that time, was under the control of warlords, Communists, and the Japanese.

After being abolished by the KMT, the Chinese Communists, took control of several areas of the country. They established their base in Jiangxi Soviet and formed an army there. One of their top leaders was Mao Zedong. On four different occasions, Shang’s army tried to remove the Communist base but were unsuccessful on account of the Communist guerrilla attacks. In the fifth battle on October 1934, the KMT surrounded the base. Around 80,000 Communists broke out of their circle and started the Long March. For a year, the Communists fought with the KMT and by the time they found an area where they could re-establish their base, Yan’an, only 8,000 survived.

The KMT defeated the Communists but were still faced with the Japanese. Japan has returned Shandong to China but now had complete control over Manchuria. Shang Kaishek knew his armies were no match against the Japanese and so he did not challenge them. As Japan expanded the colonization of China, the Chinese wanted an end to the internal fighting between the Nationalists and the Communists so they could unite against the Japanese. Shang, however, refused to work with the Communists and it was only when one of his generals kidnapped him did he finally agree to work with them.

In July 1937, the Japanese tried to extend their territory in China but this time Shang resisted. Thus, the Second Sino-Japanese War began. Shang’s forces lost many major cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Nanjing. By 1938, Japan had control of the northeastern part of China. The KMT had moved to Chongqing but had an industry for manufacturing equipment for the war was not in existence. Even so, by this time, the United States had entered World War II and sent aid to China. With the U.S. joining the war, China left it them to defeat Japan. This was because the hostility, which had died down during their unification, rose again between the CCP and the KMT.

While fighting against the Japanese between 1933 and 1945, the Communists gained many territories, military forces, and party members; their membership grew from 300,000 members to 1.2 million members. Mao, who was at Yan’an, encouraged this by giving lectures at party schools. He glorified the peasants, so naturally they followed him. The KMT, however, did not emerge from the war favorably; inflation and official corruption caused a loss of morale and efficiency.

After Japan surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, civil war officially began again. The KMT and the Communists allied with the U.S. and the Soviet Union respectively. The U.S. continued to help the KMT until its collapse in the summer of 1949. The KMT government then fled to Taiwan and the Communists gained total power in China. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong, as Chairman of the CCP, established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing.