20080218-Agnes Smedley asu.edu archives field hospital.jpg
Communist Field hospital
China at the time that the Chinese Communist Party was shaped was a brutal, hierarchical society where men could kill their wives with impunity and ruthless landlords could seize grain and leave farmers to starve. “When I was little, people ate the husks [of rice] and wild greens,” one survivor of the era told The Guardian. Revolutionary movements that preceded the Communist Party were made up of mainly of former students at Beijing University, a center of political and intellectual dissent after the Qing collapse. Mao Zedong and Chang Kuo-tao, another pioneering member of China’s Communist movement, were old University of Beijing school chums. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2009]

In 1927, after having formed an alliance with them, Chiang Kai-shek and Kuomintang turned on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and executed many of its leaders.The remnants fled into the mountains of Jianxi Province. In 1934, driven out of their mountain bases, the CCP's forces embarked on a “Long March” across some of China's most forbidding terrain to the northwestern province of Shaanxi, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan’an. Before and during the “Long March,” the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). [Source: Eleanor Stanford, Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The Communist Party's struggle for power took almost 30 years to achieve. Urged on by the Communist International and Russian Communists who had come to China in 1920 after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party was created from several Chinese Marxist groups.

Websites: Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters ; Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Early 20th Century China : John Fairbank Memorial Chinese History Virtual Library cnd.org/fairbank offers links to sites related to modern Chinese history (Qing, Republic, PRC) and has good pictures; Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia

Early Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Union

Li Dazhou meeting Soviet agent Voitrngsky

Dr. Eno wrote: “When the Chinese Communist Party (or CCP) was established in Beijing in 1921, the Party was devoted to the principles of Marxist-Leninism. Party doctrine held that China, long subject to imperialist coercion, had actually already been through its bourgeois revolution in 1911, and that what was needed now was to build a strong Party to educate China’s tiny proletariat. If this were done, China could look forward to a rapid communist revolution because, as Lenin had made clear, its imperialist history made its proletariat innately radical and a vanguard Party could immeasurably accelerate the spread of revolutionary proletarian consciousness. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The founders of the CCP looked to Moscow for guidance, as did all other communist movements worldwide. During its early years, it received assistance from Moscow’s organ of world revolution: the Communist International, or “Comintern.” The Comintern sent advisors to China to help the Party. On issues of particular importance, first Lenin and then his successor Josef Stalin shaped the directives that were sent to the CCP leadership. Communism was a stridently anti-nationalistic ideology. It believed that humanity was shared by similar classes, not those of similar ethnic backgrounds. The CCP leaders assumed that their proletarian advisors in the Comintern cared deeply about their Chinese comrades. They followed orders. /+/

“But Stalin’s warm support of the Chinese communists should not be misunderstood as altruistic. Stalin was not a cuddly man (his name, Stalin, means “Man-of-Steel” – it was his own invention: he was born Josef Dzhugashvili); he used the CCP entirely to forward Soviet foreign policy aims in China. He clearly believed that no proletarian revolution was possible in China, and so he hoped to manipulate the CCP to improve his standing with the Nationalist government which, during the 1920s, was finally capturing effective power in China." /+/

Kuomintang-Communist Alliance

Kuomintang emblem

The Communist Party’s main rival and enemy in its early years was the Kuomintang, founded by Song Jiaoren (1882-1913), one of Sun's associates. The party, the Kuomintang (Guomindang or KMT — the National People's Party, frequently referred to as the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui.

Politically weakened and disunified China opened the way for two opposing political parties — the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kaishek — each with a different vision of a modern, united nation to unify China. The two tried to join forces, with Chiang as the head of the National Revolutionary Army, but that union was short lived and dissension led to a civil war. Eleanor Stanford wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: In the 1920s, Chinese Republican leader Sun Yat-sen established a revolutionary base in south China and set out to unite the fragmented nation. With Soviet assistance, he organized the Kuomintang (KMT or “Chinese Nationalist People's Party”), and entered into an alliance with the fledgling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After Sun's death in 1925, one of his proteges, Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of the KMT and succeeded in bringing most of south and central China under its rule. In 1927, Chiang turned on the CCP and executed many of its leaders.The remnants fled into the mountains of eastern China. In 1934, driven out of their mountain bases, the CCP's forces embarked on a “Long March” across some of China's most desolate terrain to the northwestern province of Shaanxi, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan’an. [Source: Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009, Gale, 2008; Eleanor Stanford, Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

In 1922 the Kuomintang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. Failing to get assistance from the Western countries, Sun made an alliance with the Communists and sought aid from the USSR. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers — the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin — began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the Kuomintang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

“The CCP was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the Kuomintang, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Kuomintang in 1922 already had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi in pinyin), one of Sun's lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. *

“After Chiang's return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa (Huangpu in pinyin) Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the Kuomintang-CCP alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the Kuomintang and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government. *

Kuomintang and Communists After Sun Yat-Sen’s Death

Letter from Sun Yat-sen to Li Dazhou

Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped to initiate was gaining momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. After Chiang’s victory in the north he reversed Sun's policy of cooperation with the Communists and executed many of their leaders. This marked the beginning of the long civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communists. Chiang established (1928) a government in Nanjing and obtained foreign recognition.[Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

By 1926, however, the Kuomintang had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers, imposed restrictions on CCP members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent Kuomintang leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CCP, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926. [Source: The Library of Congress]

“In early 1927 the Kuomintang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and the left wing of the Kuomintang had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CCP apparatus and established an anti-Communist government at Nanjing in April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Kuomintang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the next decade.

“The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CCP to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who would later become chairman of the CCP and head of state of the People's Republic of China. Mao was of peasant origins and was one of the founders of the CCP.

“But in mid-1927 the CCP was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing Kuomintang allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime. By 1928 all of China was at least nominally under Chiang's control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in conformity with Sun Yat-sen's formula for the three stages of revolution — military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy — China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark on the second, which would be under Kuomintang direction.

“The decade of 1928-37 was one of consolidation and accomplishment by the Kuomintang. Some of the harsh aspects of foreign concessions and privileges in China were moderated through diplomacy. The government acted energetically to modernize the legal and penal systems, stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Great strides also were made in education and, in an effort to help unify Chinese society, in a program to popularize the national language and overcome dialectal variations. The widespread establishment of communications facilities further encouraged a sense of unity and pride among the people.

“There were forces at work during this period of progress that would eventually undermine the Chiang Kai-shek government. The first was the gradual rise of the Communists.

Chiang Kai-shek Cracks Down on the Communists

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Communist purge in 1927
As the Kuomintang proceeded with the military campaign to unite China — the Northern Expedition — in 1927, Chiang Kai-shek split with the Communist Party and ordered the assassination of Communist Party members. In 1927, shortly after he took control of the Kuomintang, Chiang shocked his Soviet Union allies by purging all Communists from the Kuomintang. He ordered all the Russian advisors to return home, he said, because the Chinese Communists had allegedly plotted to seize the leadership of the Kuomintang.

In March 1927, Chiang Kai-shek organized a reign of terror in Shanghai against the Communists, who at that time were still allied with the Kuomintang. Financed and armed with modern rifles and armored cars provided by the International Settlement, rich Shanghai businessmen and Shanghai's most powerful gang leaders, thousands of Kuomintang thugs and hundreds of gangsters were ordered by Chiang to kill every Communist they could find. Anti-Communist warlord Zhang Zoulin ordered a raid of the Soviet embassy in Beijing, arresting and executing 30 Communist activists who sought refuge there including Li Dazhou, a founder of the Chinese Communist Party. It was one of the few times in history the sancutary status of an embassy was breached,

In what later became known as the Shanghai Coup, between 5,000 and 10,000 workers, Communists and left-wing Kuomintang members were massacred. Zhou Enlai barely escaped. Communist Party founder Li Dazhao was killed by slow strangulation. Attacks were then mounted by the Kuomintang against the Communist in Canton, Changsa and Nanjing. The martyred revolutionary hero Wang Xiaohe was killed. Newspaper photos of him minutes before he was executed, showed him with his head held high smiling. All this drove the main Communist Party leadership underground in Shanghai. Other Communists were forced to set up their operations in the countryside in places like the caves around Guilin and Vieng Xai.

Chinese Communists Flee to Jiangxi

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: The crackdown on the Communist Party in 1927 and the assassination of key members “drove Mao Zedong (1893-1976), a Communist Party member, into the remote rural area of Jiangxi Province, where he and his supporters established a based area and created an army to defend themselves. It was in the context of fighting with the numerically superior and better-equipped Kuomintang forces that Mao developed and applied his theories of guerrilla warfare. Mao and the Communists continued to employ guerrilla warfare in the struggle against the Japanese beginning in 1937.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

Chen Duxiu and a revolutionary pal

Dr. Robert Eno wrote of Indiana University wrote: “In 1927, as a result of Stalin’s loyal guidance, the CCP was all but exterminated by the Nationalists in a surprise coup. Those communist leaders who were not killed outright had to flee their base territories in China’s cities, where they had been trying to mobilize factory workers. The safe haven where the Chinese communist leaders fled in 1927 was the mountain fastnesses of the province of Jiangxi. One member of the leadership was already based in Jiangxi, having convinced the Party to allow him to go there to test out a new theory about how communism should be adapted to the Chinese case. That leader was Mao Zedong, and the theory he was testing eventually became the most basic distinctive feature of Chinese communism: the theory of the Revolutionary Peasantry. /+/

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “When Chiang Kai-shek separated from the KMT in 1927, the main body of the KMT remained in Wuhan as the legal government. But now, while Chiang Kai-shek executed all leftists, union leaders, and communists who fell into his hands, tensions in Wuhan increased between the Chinese Communist Party and the rest of the KMT. Finally, the KMT turned against the communists and reunited with Chiang Kai-shek. The remaining communists retreated to the Hunan-Jiangxi border area, the centre of Mao's activities; even the orthodox communist wing, which had condemned Mao, now had to come to him for protection from the KMT. A small communist state began to develop in Jiangxi, in spite of pressure and, later, attacks of the KMT against them. By 1934, this pressure became so strong that Jiangxi had to be abandoned, and in the epic "Long March" the rest of the communists and their army fought their way through all of western and north-western China into the sparsely inhabited, underdeveloped northern part of Shaanxi, where a new socialistic state was created with Yen-an as its capital. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“After the fall of the communist enclave in Jiangxi, the prospects for the Nationalist regime were bright; indeed, the unification of China was almost achieved. At this moment a new Japanese invasion threatened and demanded the full attention of the regime. Thus, in spite of talk about land reform and other reforms which might have led to a liberalization of the government, no attention was given to internal and social problems except to the suppression of communist thought. Although all leftist publications were prohibited, most historians and sociologists succeeded in writing Marxist books without using Marxist terminology, so that they escaped Chiang's censors. These publications contributed greatly to preparing China's intellectuals and youth for communism.

Tingzhou (near Longyan, 100 kilometers northwest of Xiamen) is where leaders of the Communist Party such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai took refuge during the early years of the civil war. It is regarded as a Red Tourism Sight.

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Mao and Zhang Guotao

Gutian Congress

Gutian (60 kilometers northwest of Fuzhou) is site of the Gutian Congress, where Mao Zedong stamped out "ultra-democracy" (voting among Red Army members). The resolution in the conference stipulated the basic principles for building the Party and the army. Gutian is regarded as a Red Tourism Sight.

The Gutian Congress was the 9th meeting of the Communist Party of China and the first after the Nanchang Uprising and subsequent southward flight of the insurrectionist troops. It was convened in December 1929, at the town of Gutian in Shanghang County in southwest Fujian Province. Most of the delegates to this congress were army men (the insurrectionists having been renamed the 4th Army of the Chinese Workers' & Peasants' Red Army). Mao Zedong, voted out six months earlier but moving from his success at the little-known Jiaoyang Congress (also in Shanghang), addressed the Zhu-Mao 4th Army as its Comintern-anointed political commissar and chaired the congress. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Gutian Congress Resolution , also titled On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party (henceforth Mistaken Ideas) was conceived at the Gutian Congress. One section included in the Little Red Book read: “ In the sphere of theory, destroy the roots of ultra-democracy. First, it should be pointed out that the danger of ultra-democracy lies in the fact that it damages or even completely wrecks the Party organisation and weakens or even completely undermines the Party's fighting capacity, rendering the Party incapable of fulfilling its fighting tasks and thereby causing the defeat of the revolution. Next it should be pointed out that the source of ultra-democracy consists in the petty bourgeoisie's individualistic aversion to discipline. When this characteristic is brought into the Party, it develops into ultra-democratic ideas politically and organisationally. These ideas are utterly incompatible with the fighting tasks of the proletariat.”

Mistaken Ideas also defined the Red Army as a "mass propaganda" (qunzhong xuanchuan) organ in addition to being a military fighting force. It entrenched the absolute leadership position of the Communist Party over the Red Army. The purpose of the Red Army, the resolution stated, "was chiefly for the service of political ends." The resolution further called for the criticism of what was seen as excessive democratic deliberation and discussion in the fighting force ("ultra-democracy"), preferring democratic centralism whereby the minority agreed to abide by the decisions of the majority, lower levels unquestioningly implemented decisions made by the leadership, and that mistaken ideas must be "corrected through ideological criticism.

Civil War, Kuomintang versus the Communists

Kuomintang allied Muslim army in 1940

With the 1927 split between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the CCP began to engage in armed struggle against the Chiang regime. The Red Army was established in 1927, and after a series of uprisings and internal political struggles, the CCP announced the establishment in 1931 of the Chinese Soviet Republic under the chairmanship of Mao in Jiangxi Province in south-central China. After a series of deadly annihilation campaigns by Chiang’s armies, the Red Army and the CCP apparatus broke out of Jiangxi and embarked on their epic 12,500-kilometer Long March of 1934-35 to a new stronghold in Shaanxi Province in the north. During the march, Mao consolidated his hold over the CCP when in 1935 he became chairman, a position he held until his death in 1976.

The Chinese Civil War persisted off and on from 1927 to 1950. The Communist Revolution is usually broken down into five periods: the establishment of the Communist Party (1919-21); the first civil war (1924-27), the second civil war (1927-37), the fight against Japan (1937-45) and the third civil war (1945-49).

Armed conflict between the Communist Red army and Kuomintang Party began in 1927 when rebel Kuomintang units led by Zhou Enlai staged revolts in several towns, and Mao Zedong led an army of peasants, rebel Kuomintang soldiers and miners in the "Autumn Harvest Uprisings" in Changsa. Mao led the same force through Hunan to the Jinggang mountains on border between Hunan and Jiangxi to begin a guerilla war against the Kuomintang.

In 1930 the fighting between the Kuomintang and the Red Army escalated to all out war. In the early stages of the conflict, the Nationalist forces held the upper hand. In the early 1930s the Red Army suffered some costly defeats when Communist leaders abandoned the guerilla tactics that served them well and decided to launch major offensives against towns and cities.

Zhangzhou's central urban area (now Xiangcheng District) was occupied in April and May 1932 by a column of Communist guerrillas under Mao Zedong. Due to the presence of Western gunboats in Xiamen Bay, arms shipments from the Soviet Union were unable to get up the Jiulong River to Mao's forces and on to the main Communist base area. According to some reports, Mao's forces took with them a substantial amount of loot from bourgeois residents when his column retreated from the city. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The hero of the revolutionary period, according to Yu Shicun, is the solitary Zhang Xueliang, the paragon of a Chinese traditional gentleman, who captured the generalissimo to force him into an alliance with the communists against the invading Japanese. Still, after achieving his political goal, Zhang surrendered himself to Chiang and spent the rest of his life practically under house arrest, deprived of the power and the political honors he should have merited. However, he did not suffer too much for it, and in fact, he lived to be 100 years old. [Source: Francesco Sisci, the Asia Editor of La Stampa, form the Asian Times]

Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “In the 1930s, the two sides came to blows, as Chiang launched a series of encirclement campaigns against the rural base areas where the Communists were steadily building a state-within-a-state. The last of these campaigns, in 1934, proved so successful that the Communists had to break through the Nationalist lines and flee to the Northwest. That flight, the celebrated Long March would not have been possible without chests full of those Mexican silver dollars supplied by Moscow and used to sustain the troops on their flight and bribe local militarists not to resist. When Mao’s army finally reached the small city of Baoan in the remote northwest, he told his followers that his goal was to expand their area of control until it joined up with the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic.” [Source:Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Soviet Influence on China in the Early 20th Century

Kuomintang army

Much of 20th century Chinese history can be seen as a contest for influence between Moscow and Tokyo, with each power seeking to advance its interests by money, influence, collaborators, and military power. The Japanese side of this story has been well known since the 1930s. Perhaps Taylor’s greatest contribution is to make clear how the Soviet effort decisively affected Chiang’s career (and Mao’s) at key points. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Chiang’s rise to power began as a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, who was supported by the Soviet Union. In 1923, Chiang had spent three months in the USSR consulting, seeking cooperation and addressing the executive committee of the Comintern. In June 1924, he stood beside Sun Yat-sen on the platform as the Whampoa Military Academy, of which he would become superintendent, was opened. It is here that the soon-to-be-victorious Nationalist army was trained. It was made possible by a Russian gift of 2.7 million yuan and a monthly stipend of 100,000 yuan. Weapons were provided too: On October 7, 1924 the first shipment of 8,000 Soviet rifles arrived, soon followed by another shipment of 15,000 rifles, along with machine guns and artillery pieces. After Sun’s death in 1925, Whampoa cadets and Soviet armaments were the core of Chiang’s successful campaign against the Beiyang regime in Peking that culminated at the end of the decade with the establishment of a new Republic of China (ROC) government in Nanking.”

Moscow, however, did not support Chiang alone. They also supported the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Stalin realized that it was too weak to take power at the time, or to serve as a credible military counterweight to Tokyo, which he feared. Initially the idea was to use the small Communist party to influence or even control the much larger Kuomintang, or to create a smaller Red China within the Republic.”

On June 2, 1933, the Comintern agent in Shanghai reported plans to purchase an airplane that could reach and resupply Communist base areas, to be flown by an American pilot. On November 2, Moscow instructed Shanghai to buy heavy airplanes, gasmasks and medicines and asked whether U.S. dollars or Mexican silver dollars were required for the purchase. On November 14, Shanghai reported 3 million Mexican silver dollars received and asked for an additional U.S. $250,000.”

Soviet money and weapons strengthened Mao’s Communists as they had Sun’s and Chiang’s Nationalists. In the 1930s, the two sides came to blows, as Chiang launched a series of encirclement campaigns against the rural base areas where the Communists were steadily building a state-within-a-state. The last of these campaigns, in 1934, proved so successful that the Communists had to break through the Nationalist lines and flee to the Northwest. That flight, the celebrated Long March would not have been possible without chests full of those Mexican silver dollars supplied by Moscow and used to sustain the troops on their flight and bribe local militarists not to resist. When Mao’s army finally reached the small city of Baoan in the remote northwest, he told his followers that his goal was to expand their area of control until it joined up with the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Mao and Stalin in 1949

Many Japanese wanted to invade the USSR, however, and Stalin understood that if he wanted to balance Japan he needed Chiang and his Nationalist army, which is why he intervened decisively when the Generalissimo was kidnapped at Xian in 1936, with Mao’s full knowledge and support, when Japan was already on the march in the North. Stalin knew that without Chiang, China would be leaderless against this threat and put his foot down. Mao complied instantly and Chiang was released. As full-scale war broke out in 1937, Stalin kept the Chinese army supplied by overland convoy through Sinkiang (Xinjiang). By the time of the Battle of Nanking, Soviet planes with Chinese markings and Russian pilots were engaging the Japanese. Without this support Chiang could never have survived; he came to power with Soviet support and the same support saw him through his most dangerous time. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

When war ended, Stalin’s calculations changed. The Japanese no longer threatened. Soviet armies had occupied Manchuria in the closing days. He intended to keep that rich and strategic northeast territory under his control, something Chiang would never accept. The Communists, by contrast, might play in China the same role they were playing in Eastern Europe, presiding over client states such as East Germany. So Russian railroads and aircraft helped bring Mao’s Communist armies to Manchuria to start building a Red China, while delaying and denying access to Chiang. Chiang scurried diplomatically, making concessions to Moscow in the hope of being allowed at least to partition Manchuria.

Thinking he had secured acquiescence, he made the worst miscalculation of his life and threw his best troops into a battle to drive the Communists out of Manchuria. Although this enjoyed substantial success initially, it was... doomed. Stalin would not permit it to succeed. Soviet material and logistic support came to the Communists in Manchuria by rail across the borders (all of which were in Communist hands), by air, even by rail from North Korea, with a full 1,000 railcars being devoted to the task.

Jay Taylor The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009)

Image Sources: 1st and 3rd images, photos by Agnes Smedly, University of Arizona ; Others Wiki Commons

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.

Last updated August 2021

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