Monday, August 25, 2014

(1912-1949) The Chinese Revolution - World History

China from 1912 entered a phase of brutal internal anarchy. With no effective central government, warlords, Nationalists and Communists struggled for control while imperialist Japan occupied increasingly large areas of the north. Japan’s defeat in 1945 saw a further civil war from which the Communists emerged victorious in 1949.

THE FOUNDATION OF THE REPUBLIC in 1912 failed to produce a lasting solution to China’s problems. Within weeks Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who had been elected China’s provisional first president, was replaced by Yuan Shih-kai, the most powerful general of the imperial era. China’s continuing weakness was clear, the government had to borrow huge sums abroad to offset the lack of a modern revenue system; the satellite states of Tibet and Mongolia fell under British and Russian dominance respectively, and Japan expanded her influence on Chinese territory. At the outbreak of the First World War Japan seized the German-leased territory in Shantung and presented “Twenty-one Demands” which would have reduced China to a Japanese dependency. Though Yuan was able to resist most, he was forced to acknowledge Japanese dominance in Shantung, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.

After Yuan died in 1916 power passed increasingly into the hands of provincial generals. For the next decade, although the Peking government claimed to rule China, it was the puppet of one group of generals or another. Some of these warlords established stable and reforming regimes, as in Shansi, Kwangsi and Manchuria, other’s, as in Szechwan, presided over anarchy. In the 1920s warlord coalitions fought devastating campaigns against each other. Only the Treaty Ports under foreign protection, remained secure.

Nationalist reaction 

After the First World War there was an upsurge of revolutionary activity driven by widespread popular reaction against foreign interference and economic exploitation, as well as disgust at the terms of the Paris Peace Conference, which reinforced Japan’s position in Shantung. In 1919 the reaction erupted into the nationalist “May 4th Movement” in which a new generation of Western-oriented students and intellectuals, joined by urban workers, became a force in politics for the first time. The Movement even succeeded in preventing the government from signing the Treaty of Versailles. There followed the transformation in 1923 of Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary party into the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party. 

With Sun’s death in 1925, the Nationalists were headed by Chiang Kai-shek, who in 1926 led the “Northern Expedition” from the Nationalist base in Canton to eliminate the warlords and unify the nation. By 1928 Chiang’s armies had taken Peking. For much of this period the Nationalists operated in alliance with the Communist Party, which had been founded in 1920. The Communists showed themselves most effective at organizing support in the industrial cities until Chiang, in April 1927, decided he was strong enough to do without them, and they were ruthlessly purged. 

Although the Nationalists now dominated China, serious competitors for power remained. With warlords still flourishing, Chiang’s government had firm centralized control over only the rich provinces of the lower Yangtze There it modernized the administration and the army, built a road and railway system and established new industries. 

The Japanese, meanwhile, remained full of imperial ambition: in 1931 they occupied Manchuria, which they industrialized to great effect; in 1933 they occupied the neighbouring province of Jehol; and in 1935 they attempted, without success, to turn the whole of northern China into a puppet state. At the same time, the Communists were beginning to establish themselves effectively in the countryside. From 1929-34 they had made a great success of the Kiangsi Soviet at jui-chin, where they pioneered a revolution in Marxist theory, developing reform programmes as a peasant-based party rather than as one of the urban proletariat After the Nationalists forced them to leave the region in 1934, the Communists embarked on what they later saw as the achievement which estab-lished their national reputation, the “Long March” to Yenan in northern China. During the march, Mao Zedong, who had pioneered the peasant based theory, came to dominate the Party.

Japanese advance

From 1936 a three-cornered struggle for power developed between the Nationalists, the Communists and the Japanese. In that year Nationalists and Communists formed a united front against the Japanese, who responded by invading in force. By the end of 1938 the Japanese controlled most of north and central China, the main coastal ports and all the centres of modern industry. The Nationalists retreat to the far west of China provided the Communists with their opportunity. Using their reform policies they won support in the countryside of occupied China, and with this new peasant base they waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. By the end of the Second World War they controlled numerous “liberated” areas. 

After the Japanese surrender the Nationalists and Communists raced to take control of former Japanese-held territories with the Communists gaining control of much of the north of Manchuria. In 1946 civil war broke out, ending in a Communist victory after bitter fighting involving on occasions hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides. On 1 October 1949 the people’s Republic of China was founded. By May 1950, the Nationalist government had fled to Taiwan(Formosa).

Forty years of destruction

The civil war ended four of the most destructive decades of Chinese history. As well as hundreds of thousands were killed or maimed, it left industry in ruins, railways wrecked and business and finance destroyed by years of hyperinflation. But for the first time for over a century a strong regime controlled the Chinese mainland, with plans, already tested in limited areas, for the regeneration of the economy and the transformation of the country. 

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