World History 2 241 - 14.2.1 Chinese Revolution

Since the 1920s, two groups had contested for control of China: the Guomindang (GMD) or Nationalist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). During World War II, the GMD, led by Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) had attempted to fight the Japanese from their wartime capital in Chongqing, while the CCP led by Mao Zedong had watched from their base in Yan’an, a town in northern Shaanxi Province.1 With the exception of a brief period of truce between the two parties, the CCP and the GMD fought with one another as well.

After the surrender of Japan, the United States had attempted to broker a peace between the Guomindang and the CCP that it hoped would lead to a stable, unified China. Early efforts were successful, and an agreement was reached to create a constitutional government in China with parliamentary rule. Attempts by Chiang to enlarge the role of the GMD led the agreement to collapse, however, and both sides resumed battle. The Soviet Union covertly provided support for Mao and the CCP, and the United States assisted Chiang and the Nationalists.

At first the GMD seemed certain to win. Its forces greatly outnumbered the CCP’s, and it also had more money and controlled China’s major cities. By 1947, however, the tide had begun to turn. Despite its seeming advantages, the GMD was unpopular among much of the population. One reason was that after the war, the factories, homes, and businesses the Japanese had seized from Chinese owners came under the Nationalists’ control and remained there, alienating the urban middle class that had once supported them. In addition, the Nationalists refused to reopen many of these factories and businesses, worsening the postwar unemployment problem and driving urban workers, who already favored the communists, even further into the arms of the CCP. Ruinous hyperinflation, which the GMD was unable to control, added to the strains of urban life. Enlisted members of the Nationalist army were often underfed and scorned by their officers, and many ran away or defected to the CCP. In the countryside too, Chiang’s forces received little help from peasants, who remembered the onerous taxes the GMD had imposed on them during World War II.

In contrast, CCP forces had been winning over the ordinary Chinese person. They pursued a vigorous policy of land reform, lowering rents and taxes and encouraging landless peasants in the areas they controlled to deprive landlords and wealthy peasants of their property. In areas where most peasants already owned land and rents were low, the CCP helped create stability by pursuing the bandits who preyed on them. Furthermore, CCP forces were disciplined and were instructed not to abuse people. Even Chinese people who did not support them could not help but notice that they were better managers than the Nationalists.

In 1949, the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army decisively defeated the forces of the GMD, who retreated to the island of Taiwan. On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in a ceremony in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square (Figure 14.8). The United States refused to recognize the CCP’s government as legitimate and maintained that Nationalist-led Taiwan was the “real” China. Mao was undeterred. He pledged industrial development, universal education, equality between the sexes, land reforms for peasants, and civil liberties for all, including freedom of expression. Mao and the CCP moved quickly to enact their promises, beginning immediately on the task of giving peasants ownership of the land they worked.

A photograph shows men standing behind several standing microphones. The men are of Asian descent, wearing suits. Some have glasses on. They are standing listening to one man in the middle of the picture read from a white piece of paper into the microphones.
Figure 14.8 On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaims the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. October 1 is celebrated as National Day every year and begins a week-long holiday in China. (credit: “Chairman Mao proclaiming the founding of the PRC” by PD-China/China Internet Information Center/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Among the people most affected by the establishment of the PRC were the inhabitants of Tibet. Tibet had been claimed as Chinese territory by the Qing as well as earlier dynasties, but it had gained its independence with the fall of the Qing and the establishment of the Republic of China in January 1912. In 1949, the government of Tibet informed Mao that it had no intention of being made part of China again. Its attempts to negotiate independence failed, however, and in October 1950 the PRC invaded, swiftly overwhelming Tibet’s small, poorly trained army. In 1951, representatives of the PRC and the Tibetan government signed the Seventeen Point Agreement making the region once again part of China, an event described by the CCP as the “liberation of Tibet.” In 1959, the Dalai Lama, the ruler of Tibet and leader of Tibetan Buddhism, fled to India with other members of the Tibetan government, who maintained that the agreement with China had been made under duress. In 1965 Tibet became an Autonomous Region of China, which gave it a greater degree of self-government.

Along with making changes in China’s domestic policy, Mao also plotted a new course for China in foreign policy. In February 1950, the PRC and the Soviet Union signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. Under its terms, they were to combat any renewed Japanese aggression, work to advance their mutual interests, and refrain from entering into any alliances that were hostile to the other party. All this was part of China’s new “Lean to One Side” foreign policy position, in which the country would favor socialist nations and assist those seeking to free themselves from control by imperialist powers. China soon found its new commitments tested by the need to support a fellow communist nation and counter a threat to its own borders in Korea.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax