What was the Chinese Communist Revolution?

Introduction

The Chinese Communist Revolution, known in the mainland China as the War of Liberation (simplified Chinese: 解放战争; traditional Chinese: 解放戰爭; pinyin: Jiěfàng Zhànzhēng), was the conflict, led by the Communist Party of China and Chairman Mao Zedong, that resulted in the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, on 01 October 1949.

The revolution began in 1946 after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 to 1945) and was the second part of the Chinese Civil War (1945 to 1949).

Background

Historians in China trace the origins of the 1949 Revolution to sharp inequalities in society and imperialist aggression. They charge that high rates of rent, usury and taxes concentrated wealth into the hands of a minority of village chiefs and landlords. One historian quotes the statistic that “Ten percent of the agricultural population of China possessed as much as two-thirds of the land”. These historians also argue that imperialist pressure by the Western powers and the Japanese and “Century of Humiliation” starting with the Opium Wars and including unequal treaties, the Boxer Rebellion led to a rise in nationalism, class consciousness and leftism.

After internal unrest and foreign pressure weakened the Qing state, a revolt among newly modernized army officers led to the Xinhai Revolution, which ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and established the Republic of China. Following the end of World War I and October Revolution in Russia, Chinese radical intellectuals founded the Chinese Communist Party and followers of Sun Yat-sen founded the Chinese Nationalist Party.

The French historian Lucien Bianco, however, is among those who question whether imperialism and “feudalism” explain the revolution. He points out that the Chinese Communist Party did not have great success until the Japanese invasion of China after 1937. Before the war, the peasantry was not ready for revolution; economic reasons were not enough to mobilise them. More important was nationalism: “It was the war that brought the Chinese peasantry and China to revolution; at the very least, it considerably accelerated the rise of the CCP to power.” The communist revolutionary movement had a doctrine, long-term objectives, and a clear political strategy that allowed it to adjust to changes in the situation. He adds that the most important aspect of the Chinese Communist movement is that it was armed.

Founding of the Communist Party of China

The Communist Party of China was founded in 1921, during the May Fourth Movement, which Mao Zedong referred to as the birth of communism in China.

After a period of slow growth and alliance with the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party), the alliance broke down and the Communists fell victim in 1927 to a purge carried out by the Kuomintang under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. After 1927, the Communists retreated to the countryside and built up local bases throughout the country and continued to hold them until the Long March. During the Japanese invasion and occupation, the Communists built more secret bases in the Japanese occupied zones and relied on them as headquarters.

Chinese Civil War (1945 to 1949)

Refer to Chinese Civil War (1927 to 1949).

The Nationalists had an advantage in both troops and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population, and enjoyed broad international support. The Communists were well established in the north and northwest. The best-trained Nationalist troops had been killed in early battles against the better equipped Japanese Army and in Burma, while the Communists had suffered less severe losses. The Soviet Union, though distrustful, provided aid to the Communists, and the United States assisted the Nationalists with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military supplies, as well as airlifting Nationalist troops from central China to Manchuria, an area Chiang Kai-shek saw as strategically vital to retake. Chiang determined to confront the PLA in Manchuria and committed his troops in one decisive battle, the Battle of Liaoshi, in the autumn of 1948. The strength of Nationalist troops in July 1946 was 4.3 million, of which 2.3 million were well-trained and ready for country-wide mobile combat. However, the battle resulted in a decisive Communist victory and the Nationalists were never able to recover from it.

Aftermath and Legacy

On 01 October 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong officially proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square. Chiang Kai-shek, 600,000 Nationalist troops and about two million Nationalist-sympathizer refugees retreated to the island of Taiwan. After that, resistance to the Communists on the mainland was substantial but scattered, such as in the far south. An attempt to take the Nationalist-controlled island of Kinmen was thwarted in the Battle of Kuningtou. In December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan the temporary capital of the Republic, and continued to assert his government as the sole legitimate authority of all China, while the PRC government continued to call for the unification of all China. The last direct fighting between Nationalist and Communist forces ended with the Communist capture of Hainan Island in May 1950, though shelling and guerrilla raids continued for several years. In June 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War led the American government to place the United States Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait to prevent either side from attacking the other.

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