COMMUNISTS DEFEAT THE KUOMINTANG AND DRIVE CHIANG KAI-SHEK TO TAIWAN

KUOMINTANG DURING WORLD WAR II

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Communist troops
Chiang Kai-shek's army offered no resistance against the Japanese after Japan entered Manchuria in 1931. Out of disgrace he resigned as head of the nation but continued on as head of the army. In 1933, he made peace with Japan and attempted to unify China.

In a tactic intended to halt the southward movement of Japanese soldiers from Manchuria before World War II, Chiang Kai-shek ordered his soldiers to breach the levees of the Yellow River and purposely divert its flow. At least 200,000, maybe millions, died, millions more were made homeless and the Japanese advanced anyway.

When Japan invaded the coast of Japan in 1937, China was not able to drive the Japanese out but they were able to keep most of the Chinese interior out of Japanese hands. In 1942, Chiang was named the Allied commander in China.

The American General Joseph Stillwell, commander of the Allied forces in the China-Burma-India theater, was particularly unimpressed with Chiang Kai-shek. He referred to Chinese general as a "Peanut" and called him "an unbalanced man with little education...arbitrary and stubborn." In regard to the corrupt and inefficient Kuomintang army he wrote: "The crux of it, they just don't want to get ready to fight...the Chinese government was a structure based on fear and favor." He also compared the fascist ideals of the Nationalist party with those of the Nazi party in Germany.

Chiang Kai-shek's military effort against Japan, as weak it was, won him support from the United States, Britain and even the Soviet Union. Western money and aid didn't seem to make the Kuomintang stronger it just seemed t make them more corrupt and out of touch with Chinese peasantry. A Kuomintang alliance with wealthy landlords didn't win them any support among the peasantry either. There was mass starvation in the 1940s as corrupt Kuomintang officials siphoned off foreign aid.

Communists During World War II


Bloody Revolution 2
During the war Mao described his efforts as "70 percent self-expansion, 20 percent temporization and 10 percent fighting the Japanese.”

Gen. Stillwell had a higher opinion of the Communists than the Nationalists. "Somehow," General Stillwell wrote, "we must get arms to the Communists, who will fight." The Communists were recruited directly by American forces during a mission to Mao's guerilla base in Yenan on July 23, 1944. A museum devoted to General Stillwell in Chongqing has a picture of an American pilot rescued by the Communists posing next to Mao Zedong.

Communist efforts won the support of the Chinese peasantry, which made up 90 percent of the population of China. By the end of the war, the Communists had recruited nearly a million troops and emerged as a much more powerful force than they were before the war.

Uneasy Kuomintang- Communists Alliance During World War II

The collaboration between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party took place with salutary effects for the beleaguered CCP. The distrust between the two parties, however, was scarcely veiled. The uneasy alliance began to break down after late 1938, despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions, and the rich Chang Jiang Valley in central China. After 1940, conflicts between the Nationalists and Communists became more frequent in the areas not under Japanese control. The Communists expanded their influence wherever opportunities presented themselves through mass organizations, administrative reforms, and the land- and tax-reform measures favoring the peasants--while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence. [Ibid]

“In 1945 China emerged from the war nominally a great military power but actually a nation economically prostrate and on the verge of all-out civil war. The economy deteriorated, sapped by the military demands of foreign war and internal strife, by spiraling inflation, and by Nationalist profiteering, speculation, and hoarding. Starvation came in the wake of the war, and millions were rendered homeless by floods and the unsettled conditions in many parts of the country. [Ibid]

“The situation was further complicated by an Allied agreement at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that brought Soviet troops into Manchuria to hasten the termination of war against Japan. Although the Chinese had not been present at Yalta, they had been consulted; they had agreed to have the Soviets enter the war in the belief that the Soviet Union would deal only with the Nationalist government. After the war, the Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement's allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, dismantled and removed more than half the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese. The Soviet presence in northeast China enabled the Communists to move in long enough to arm themselves with the equipment surrendered by the withdrawing Japanese army. The problems of rehabilitating the formerly Japanese-occupied areas and of reconstructing the nation from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering, to say the least. [Ibid]

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Yellow River Flood in 1938

Kuomintang, the Chinese Communist Party and the United States

During World War II, the United States emerged as a major actor in Chinese affairs. As an ally it embarked in late 1941 on a program of massive military and financial aid to the hard-pressed Nationalist government. In January 1943 the United States and Britain led the way in revising their treaties with China, bringing to an end a century of unequal treaty relations. Within a few months, a new agreement was signed between the United States and China for the stationing of American troops in China for the common war effort against Japan. In December 1943 the Chinese exclusion acts of the 1880s and subsequent laws enacted by the United States Congress to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States were repealed. [Ibid]

“The wartime policy of the United States was initially to help China become a strong ally and a stabilizing force in postwar East Asia. As the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists intensified, however, the United States sought unsuccessfully to reconcile the rival forces for a more effective anti-Japanese war effort. Toward the end of the war, United States Marines were used to hold Beiping and Tianjin against a possible Soviet incursion, and logistic support was given to Nationalist forces in north and northeast China.

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End of World War II

At Yalta in February 1945, Stalin demanded that the Soviet Union be given Mongolia and Manchuria in return for cooperation with an Allied invasion of Japan. Stalin also signed a treaty with Chiang Kai-shek that gave Soviet support to the Kuomintang not the Communists.

The Japanese occupation of Cbina ended with Japan's total surrender after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

After the war in Europe was finished in May 1945, Soviet forces moved against the Japanese in Manchuria. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan two days after the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. In a massive offensive that began the next day on August 9, Soviet forces moved into Manchuria and occupied it and southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands.

Communist Revolution After World War II

At the end of World War II China was mess. The "united front" union of the Kuomintang and the Communists evaporated overnight and Kuomintang forces, the Red Army and the Russians positioned themselves to quickly claim territory occupied by the Japanese.

Even though Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Red Army to remain at its positions in central China the Communists began moving into Manchuria, picking up Japanese weapons (including tanks) as it went.

The Russians stripped the northern Chinese cities they occupied of their Japanese weapons and industrial machinery. When the Russians left in March 1946, they allowed the Chinese Communists to move into areas of Manchuria they occupied and claim these areas and weapons that the Russians possessed. This allowed the Chinese Communists to take over key industrial areas in the north and greatly improve their arsenal.

Zhu De was one of the greatest military leaders of communist forces in the 1940s. General Ye Jianying was a key figure during the civil war against the nationalists.

History of the People's Liberation Army (PLA)

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) traces its origins to the August 1, 1927, Nanchang Uprising in which Guomindang troops led by Chinese Communist Party leaders Zhu De and Zhou Enlai rebelled following the dissolution of the first Guomindang-Chinese Communist Party united front earlier that year. The survivors of that and other abortive communist insurrections, including the Autumn Harvest Uprising led by Mao Zedong, fled to the Jinggang Mountains along the border of Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. Joining forces under the leadership of Mao and Zhu, this collection of communists, bandits, Guomindang deserters, and impoverished peasants became the First Workers' and Peasants' Army, or Red Army--the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Using the guerrilla tactics that would later make Mao Zedong internationally famous as a military strategist, the Red Army survived several encirclement and suppression campaigns by superior Guomindang forces. But party internal politics forced the Red Army temporarily to abandon guerrilla warfare and resulted in the epic Long March of 1934-35. The Red Army's exploits during the Long March became legendary and remain a potent symbol of the spirit and prowess of the Red Army and its successor, the PLA. During that period, Mao's political power and his strategy of guerrilla warfare gained ascendancy in the party and the Red Army. [Ibid]

“In 1937 the Red Army joined in a second united front with the Guomindang against the invading Japanese army. Although nominally cooperating with the Guomindang, the Chinese Communist Party used the Red Army to expand its influence while leading the anti-Japanese resistance in north China. By the end of the war, the Red Army numbered approximately 1 million and was backed by a militia of 2 million. Although the Red Army fought several conventional battles against the Japanese (and Guomindang troops), guerrilla operations were the primary mode of warfare. [Ibid]

“In the civil war following Japan's defeat in World War II, the Red Army, newly renamed the People's Liberation Army, again used the principles of people's war in following a policy of strategic withdrawal, waging a war of attrition, and abandoning cities and communication lines to the well-armed, numerically superior Guomindang forces (see Return to Civil War , ch. 1). In 1947 the PLA launched a counteroffensive during a brief strategic stalemate. By the next summer, the PLA had entered the strategic offensive stage, using conventional warfare as the Guomindang forces went on the defensive and then collapsed rapidly on the mainland in 1949. By 1950 the PLA had seized Hainan Island and Tibet. [Ibid]

When the PLA became a national armed force in 1949, it was an unwieldy, 5-million-strong peasant army. In 1950 the PLA included 10,000 troops in the Air Force (founded in 1949) and 60,000 in the Navy (founded in 1950). China also claimed a militia of 5.5 million. At that time, demobilization of ill-trained or politically unreliable troops began, resulting in the reduction of military strength to 2.8 million in 1953. [Ibid]

Maoist Military Tactics

Mao's military thought grew out of the Red Army's experiences in the late 1930s and early 1940s and formed the basis for the "people's war" concept, which became the doctrine of the Red Army and the PLA. In developing his thought, Mao drew on the works of the Chinese military strategist Sun Zi (fourth century B.C.) and Soviet and other theorists, as well as on the lore of peasant uprisings, such as the stories found in the classical novel Shuihu Zhuan (Water Margin) and the stories of the Taiping Rebellion. [Ibid]

‘synthesizing these influences with lessons learned from the Red Army's successes and failures, Mao created a comprehensive politico-military doctrine for waging revolutionary warfare. People's war incorporated political, economic, and psychological measures with protracted military struggle against a superior foe. As a military doctrine, people's war emphasized the mobilization of the populace to support regular and guerrilla forces; the primacy of men over weapons, with superior motivation compensating for inferior technology; and the three progressive phases of protracted warfare- -strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, and strategic offensive. [Ibid]

“During the first stage, enemy forces were "lured in deep" into one's own territory to overextend, disperse, and isolate them. The Red Army established base areas from which to harass the enemy, but these bases and other territory could be abandoned to preserve Red Army forces. In the second phase, superior numbers and morale were applied to wear down the enemy in a war of attrition in which guerrilla operations predominated. During the final phase, Red Army forces made the transition to regular warfare as the enemy was reduced to parity and eventually defeated. [Ibid]

Kuomintang After World War II


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At the end of the World War II support for the Kuomintang was melting away. The Chiang Kai-shek government became ravaged by corruption and fiscal ineptitude, printing up money so quickly and aggressively the value of the yuan plummeted to several million to the dollar. While Kuomintang soldiers were reduced to begging because they had not been paid Chiang Kai-shek lived quite comfortably and members of his family and inner circle fought over money siphoned off from foreign aid, mostly from the United States.

More than $3 billion was appropriated by Washington to China during World War II. Most of the money was transmitted through accounts controlled by Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s brother, then the foreign minister of China. U.S. President Harry Truman later wrote: “They’re thieves, every damn one of them. They stole $750 million out of the billions we sent to Chiang. They stole it, and it’s invested in real estate down in Sao Paulo and some right here in New York.”

During the war American diplomats found military supplies sent by the United States to China being sold on the black market. During the famine in 1946, the Kuomintang took food donated from United Nations famine relief and sold on the black market.

Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party After World War II

Through the mediatory influence of the United States a military truce was arranged in January 1946, but battles between Nationalists and Communists soon resumed. Realizing that American efforts short of large-scale armed intervention could not stop the war, the United States withdrew the American mission, headed by General George C. Marshall, in early 1947. The civil war, in which the United States aided the Nationalists with massive economic loans but no military support, became more widespread. Battles raged not only for territories but also for the allegiance of cross sections of the population. [Source: The Library of Congress]

“Belatedly, the Nationalist government sought to enlist popular support through internal reforms. The effort was in vain, however, because of the rampant corruption in government and the accompanying political and economic chaos. By late 1948 the Nationalist position was bleak. The demoralized and undisciplined Nationalist troops proved no match for the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The Communists were well established in the north and northeast. Although the Nationalists had an advantage in numbers of men and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population than their adversaries, and enjoyed considerable international support, they were exhausted by the long war with Japan and the attendant internal responsibilities. [Ibid]

“In January 1949 Beiping was taken by the Communists without a fight, and its name changed back to Beijing. Between April and November, major cities passed from Kuomintang to Communist control with minimal resistance. In most cases the surrounding countryside and small towns had come under Communist influence long before the cities. After Chiang Kai-shek and a few hundred thousand Nationalist troops fled from the mainland to the island of Taiwan, there remained only isolated pockets of resistance. In December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of China. [Ibid]

Communist and Kuomintang Positioning and Morale After World War II

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At the end of the World War II the Kuomintang controlled most of southern China and the Communist controlled most of north and central China.

American planes and boats helped transport Kuomintang soldiers northward so that they could claim land occupied by the Japanese and keep it out of the hands of the Russians and Chinese Communists. As 53,000 American Marines were taking up positions around Beijing to protect the coal mines and railways there, a force of 100,000 Communist regulars along with a peasant army with hundreds of thousands of members and a million supporters began moving eastward.

Mao was much more effective at capturing the imagination of ordinary Chinese than Chiang Kai-shek. Within two years after World War II the Red Army grew from 100,000 regulars to a fighting force of 1½ million combat troops and four million supporters. The Kuomintang army at this time had three million troops and Soviet- and American-made weapons. By 1948 the Communist possessed just as many weapons and troops as the Nationalists.

Communist and Kuomintang Fighting After World War II

With the disappearance of the Japanese threat in 1945, Mao's Communists began fighting directly with the Chiang's Nationalists. In November 1945, the Red Army and the Kuomintang, supplied by the Americans with weapons, fought a major battle in Manchuria.

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After 1946, the Kuomintang controlled the important Chinese cities but the Communists held the countryside, where they enlarged their army with Manchurian troops, former Kuomintang soldiers and peasants attracted by promises of land-reform.

Three important battles lead by Lin Biao were fought in Manchuria and northern China in 1948 and 1949. In the first battle the Kuomintang lost 500,000 people and in the second the Communist took 327,000 prisoners. The third and decisive Communist victory near Tianjin in January 1949 coaxed 500,000 Kuomintang troops to switch sides and forced the Kuomintang army to retreat southward.

Samuel Hui wrote in the Want China Times, After World War II a Kuomintang soldier named Yao “was given a new task as Chiang prepared to resume his bitter fight against Mao's Communists now that the Japanese were out of the way. His unit was first incorporated into the 124th Division of the Kuomintang Army with a new mission to fight the Communists. However, officers who had collaborated with the Japanese were never fully trusted. To the surprise of Yao and the other officers, their unit was ordered to be disbanded by the first day of Chinese New Year in 1946. "I believe that enemy spies had infiltrated the Kuomintang government because we were all strongly anti-Communist," Yao said. "It was the biggest mistake of the central government not to mobilize us into the war against the People's Liberation Army, and this is truly the reason they lost mainland China."[Source: Samuel Hui, Want China Times, July 7, 2013 ||||]

“Because of their experience fighting Communist forces from behind enemy lines and their strong belief in traditional Chinese culture, guerilla units composed of local militias and the puppet army units were much more willing to fight Mao and the Communists than the regular Nationalist soldiers, who despite being more numerous were generally poorly equipped and were often conscripts. If the central government had been willing to mobilize former guerilla fighters in the Chinese Civil War, Yao said he and his comrades would have been able to win a people's war against the Communists since they too represented the proletariat and had the morale and belief that the regulars did not. ||||

Communists Take Over Beijing

Until the Communist takeover Beijing was known as Beiping (“Northern Peace”). The capital of China was in Nanjing (Nanking).

The Communists began their offensive to take Beijing in Tianjin in January 1949. They were prepared for a six-month siege to take Tianjin but captured te city on just 29 hours. The PLA spent Chinese New Year in Tianjin. By the time the Lantern Festival began 15 days later the Communists had taken up positions outside if Beijing.

The Communist took up positions around Beijing with 144 large artillery guns, which including 36 had been captured from the American-supported forces and 76 captured from the Japanese. Jia Ke, a soldier that took part in the takeover of Beijing, told the Times of London, “The local people were so terrified when they saw us arriving with our artillery that they fled into Beijing because they thought it would be safer. But after a month with no fighting many came back to check on their homes...When they saw the huge guns they decide to stay. They thought to themselves, “If there’s a battle, then we don’t want to be in the city on the other end of firing from such big guns. People had never seen such equipment and they were pretty impressed.”

The Kuomintang gave up Beijing for the most part without a fight. They abandoned the city after Kuomintang commander Fu Zuoyi worked out an agreement with the Communists, following weeks of negotiations that were helped along by the fact that Fu’s daughter was a member of the Communist Party and both sides wanted to save their skins and prevent historical Beijing from being destroyed in street-to-street battles to take the city.

Jia Ke told the Times of London, “You could say the surrender was almost an anti-climax, because I had been waiting outside Beijing for weeks before we finally entered...It was very strange. We basically simply changed over the security guards inside the city. The soldiers of the Nationalists sat on one side of the road and our PLA men sat opposite. And then they swapped places.”

The formal handover took place on February 3, 1949. Jia Ke said, “I remember that none of the city’s residents were interested in the Nationalists. Everyone crowded around our boys as they sat quietly on the ground. They wanted to get a good look at us. They were very curious. I felt very proud.”

Kuomintang Defeat at Nanjing

In April 1949, the Communists attacked the Kuomintang capital of Nanjing. Describing the scene there AP reporter Seymore Topping recalled in the New York Times, "Communists troops swarmed across the Yangtze...As looters ravaged the city and time bombs left behind by the Nationalist exploded at key installations, apprehensive diplomats huddled behind their barricades."

"At the airfield, frenzied Nationalist officials and the wealthy fought to get aboard the planes out...I watched in disbelief as a Nationalist general shouted orders to load his piano and other furniture aboard a military plane. Mayor Teng Chieh, trying to escape with a car loaded with 300 million yuan from the city's treasury, was beaten by his chauffeur and bodyguards, and his legs broken."

"Calm was not restored until Communist troops, welcomed by banner-waving university students, completed the takeover of the city...By noon, thousands of Communist troops in the yellow-brown uniforms and flat peaked caps sat in orderly lines along the sidewalks, listening to talks by political commissars and singing revolutionary songs."

right In poem describing an attack on Nanjing, Mao wrote:
Over Chungsan swept a storm, headlong
Our mighty army, a million strong, has crossed the
Great River.
The city, a tiger crouching, a dragon curling,
outshines its ancient glories;
In heroic triumph heaven and earth have been overturned.

Communists Enter Shanghai

As the Communists approached Shanghai inflation rose so high that traders at the Shanghai stock market left piles of near worthless currency on the floor because "there was too much to lock up."

When the Liberation army arrived in Shanghai in their baggy green uniforms, one observer said, "They were extremely young and very polite, cooking rice in big pots." At the opulent Cathay hotel peasant soldiers, who had never been exposed to modern technology, washed rice in the toilets, played with the elevators and dumped fire wood and tied up their mules in the lobby.

After the Communists took over Shanghai, the cafes and dance halls were quickly closed down. People were afraid to wear jewelry and be fingered as bourgeois---although gold served as the underground currency. Beijing was spared because the general commanding the Nationalist troops surrendered to the Communists.

Chiang Kai-shek's Retreat

left In October 1949, after Mao proclaimed the birth of the People's Republic of China, the Nationalists were driven from Canton. In December a Communist victory in the Battle at Huaihai in Hunan forced the Nationalists flee to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek. hired coolies to help haul China's entire gold reserves and most of its valuable art to Taiwan (See Palace Museum, Art). The Kuomintang navy and air force and two million mainland soldiers and refugees also fled to Taiwan.

The U.S. supported Chiang's claim to rule all of China and Truman ordered a naval blockade of Taiwan to prevent an attack from the mainland Communist forces. Mao asked Stalin for 200 warplanes to support an invasion of Taiwan but the Soviet dictator refused to help his Communist ally.

No peace agreement or armistice was ever signed between the Communist Chinese government and the Kuomingtan government of Taiwan. In 1949, the defeated remnants of Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Kuomintang army still on the mainland retreated to the mountains along the Chinese-Burmese border and tried to organize attacks against the Red Army. To raise money the Kuomintang encouraged peasant farmers to raise opium, which the Chinese nationalist sold for huge profits. This was the beginning of the Golden Triangle opium and heroin trade.

In 1949, hundreds of thousands of defeated Kuomintang soldiers fled to Taiwan with their families and settled down in juan cuns, military dependents' villages. More than 1 million people resettled in juan cuns, with the oldest village still existing at the foot of Taiwan's Taipei 101 Tower. Houses were often poorly constructed in haste, with straw roofs and mud and bamboo walls. As time went by, many of the villages were demolished and replaced by high rises. To this day, approximately 200 villages remain from an original 800-odd settlements. [Source: Du Guodong, Global Times, February 21, 2010]

Establishment of the People's Republic of China

On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally established, with its national capital at Beijing. "The Chinese people have stood up!" declared Mao as he announced the creation of a "people's democratic dictatorship." The people were defined as a coalition of four social classes: the workers, the peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, and the national-capitalists. The four classes were to be led by the CCP, as the vanguard of the working class. At that time the CCP claimed a membership of 4.5 million, of which members of peasant origin accounted for nearly 90 percent. The party was under Mao's chairmanship, and the government was headed by Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) as premier of the State Administrative Council (the predecessor of the State Council). [Source: The Library of Congress]

“The Soviet Union recognized the People's Republic on October 2, 1949. Earlier in the year, Mao had proclaimed his policy of "leaning to one side" as a commitment to the socialist bloc. In February 1950, after months of hard bargaining, China and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance, valid until 1980. The pact also was intended to counter Japan or any power's joining Japan for the purpose of aggression. [Ibid]

“For the first time in decades a Chinese government was met with peace, instead of massive military opposition, within its territory. The new leadership was highly disciplined and, having a decade of wartime administrative experience to draw on, was able to embark on a program of national integration and reform. In the first year of Communist administration, moderate social and economic policies were implemented with skill and effectiveness. The leadership realized that the overwhelming and multitudinous task of economic reconstruction and achievement of political and social stability required the goodwill and cooperation of all classes of people. Results were impressive by any standard, and popular support was widespread. [Ibid]

Image Sources: 1) October 1, 1949, Ohio State University; 2) Communist troops, wikipedia; 4) Communist troops enter Shanghai, Britanica; others, Wiki Commons ; YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2013

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