Chinese Civil War
|Chinese Civil War|
(Kuomintang-Communist Civil War)
Clockwise from the top: Communist troops at the Battle of Siping, Muslim soldiers of the NRA, Mao Zedong in the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek inspecting soldiers, CPC general Su Yu investigating the front field shortly before the Menglianggu Campaign
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|c. 1.5 million (1948–49)||c. 250,000 (1948–49)|
|Chinese Civil War|
|Literal meaning||Kuomintang-Communist Civil War|
|War of Liberation (mainland China)|
|Anti-Communist Counter-insurgency War (Taiwan)|
|Chinese People's Liberation War (mainland China)|
|Third Internal Revolutionary War (mainland China)|
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The Chinese Civil War was a civil war in China fought between forces loyal to the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China, and forces loyal to the Communist Party of China (CPC). The war began in August 1927, with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition, and essentially ended when major hostilities ceased in 1950. It can generally be divided into two stages; the first being from 1927 to 1937, and the second being from 1946 to 1950 with the Second Sino-Japanese War separating them. The war was a major turning point in modern Chinese history, with the CPC gaining control of almost the entire of Mainland China, establishing the People's Republic of China (PRC) to replace the KMT's Republic of China (ROC). It also caused a lasting political and military standoff between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, with the ROC in Taiwan and the PRC in mainland China both officially claiming to be the legitimate government of all of China.
The war represented an ideological split between the Communist CPC and the KMT's brand of Nationalism. It continued intermittently until late 1937, when the two parties came together to form the Second United Front to counter the Japanese threat and prevent the country from crumbling. China's full-scale civil war resumed in 1946, a year after the end of hostilities with Japan. Four years later came the cessation of major military hostilities, with the newly founded People's Republic of China controlling mainland China (including Hainan) and the Republic of China's jurisdiction being restricted to Taiwan, Penghu, Quemoy, Matsu and several outlying islands.
To this day no armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed, and there is debate about whether the Civil War has legally ended. Cross-strait relations have been hindered by military threats and political and economic pressure, particularly over Taiwan's political status, with both governments officially adhering to a "One-China policy." The PRC still actively claims Taiwan as part of its territory and continues to threaten the ROC with a military invasion if the ROC officially declares independence by changing its name to and gaining international recognition as the "Republic of Taiwan". The ROC mutually claims mainland China, and they both continue the fight over diplomatic recognition. Today the war as such occurs on the political and economic fronts in the form of cross-Strait relations without actual military action; however, the two separate de facto states have close economic ties.
Reasons for the Communist victory
Historian Odd Arne Westad says the Communists won the Civil War because they made fewer military mistakes than Chiang Kai-shek and also because in his search for a powerful centralized government, Chiang antagonized too many interest groups in China. Furthermore, his party was weakened in the war against the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Communists targeted different groups, such as peasants, and brought them to its corner.
Strong initial US support diminished with the failure of the Marshall Mission, and then stopped completely mainly because of KMT corruption (such as the notorious Yangtze Development Corporation controlled by H.H. Kung and T.V. Soong's family) and KMT's military setback in Northeast China.
Communist land reform policy promised poor peasants farmland from their landlords, ensuring popular support for the PLA.
After the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, Soviet forces turned over their captured Japanese weapons to the CPC and allowed it to take control of territory in Manchuria. Many believe that the US and the United Kingdom allowed the Soviet Union to do so because they wanted to influence the outcome of the Chinese Civil War (especially in the decisive battles in Northeast China) at the expense of the Republic of China government by the result of the Yalta Conference until the start of the Cold War across the Taiwan Strait. (See United Nations General Assembly Resolution 505.)
The main advantage of the Chinese Communist Party was the “extraordinary cohesion” within the top level of its leadership. These skills were not only secured from defections that came about during difficult times but also coupled with “communications and top level debates over tactics”. A big addition to this was the charismatic style of leadership of Mao Zedong which created a “unity of purpose” and a “unity of command” which the KMT lacked majorly. Apart from that the CCP had mastered the manipulation of local politics to their benefit, this was also derived from their propaganda skills that had also been decentralised successfully. By “portraying their opponents as enemies of all groups of Chinese” and itself as “defenders of the nation” and people (given the backdrop of the war with Japan)
In the Chinese Civil War after 1945, the economy in the ROC areas collapsed because of hyperinflation and the failure of price controls by the ROC government and financial reforms; the Gold Yuan devaluated sharply in late 1948 and resulted in the ROC government losing the support of the cities' middle classes. In the meantime, the Communists continued their relentless land reform (land redistribution) programs to win the support of the population in the countryside.
The Qing Dynasty, the last of the ruling Chinese dynasties, collapsed in 1911 and finally fell in 1912 with the abdication of the last emperor, Puyi. China fell into what became known as the warlord era, when control of much of the country was divided among a group of powerful independent warlords, military leaders with their own private armies. The anti-monarchist and national unificationist Kuomintang party and its leader Sun Yat-sen sought the help of foreign powers to defeat these warlords, who had seized control of much of Northern China.
Sun Yat-sen's efforts to obtain aid from the Western countries were ignored, however, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union. For political expediency the Soviet leadership initiated a dual policy of support for both Sun and the newly established Communist Party of China, which would eventually found the People's Republic of China. Thus the struggle for power in China began between the KMT and the CPC.
In 1923, a joint statement by Sun and Soviet representative Adolph Joffe in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's unification. The Sun-Joffe Manifesto was a declaration of cooperation among the Comintern, KMT and the Communist Party of China. Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin arrived in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the KMT along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CPC joined the KMT to form the First United Front.
In 1923, Sun Yat-sen sent Chiang Kai-shek, one of his lieutenants from his Tongmeng Hui days, for several months of military and political study in Moscow. By 1924 Chiang became the head of the Whampoa Military Academy, and rose to prominence as Sun's successor as head of the KMT.
The Soviets provided the academy with much educational material, organization and equipment, including munitions. They also provided education in many of the techniques for mass mobilization. With this aid, Sun Yat-sen was able to raise a dedicated "army of the party," with which he hoped to defeat the warlords militarily. CPC members were also present in the academy, and many of them became instructors, including Zhou Enlai, who was made a political instructor.
Communist members were allowed to join the KMT on an individual basis. The CPC itself was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The KMT in 1923 had 50,000 members.
However, after Sun died, the KMT split into left- and right-wing movements. KMT members worried that the Soviets were trying to destroy the KMT from inside using the CPC. The CPC then began movements in opposition of the Northern Expedition, passing a resolution against it at a party meeting.
Then, in March 1927, the KMT held its second party meeting where the Soviets helped pass resolutions against the Expedition and curbing Chiang's power. Soon, the KMT would be clearly divided.
Northern Expedition and KMT-CPC split
In early 1927, the KMT-CPC rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CPC and the left wing of the KMT had decided to move the seat of the KMT government from Guangzhou to Wuhan, where communist influence was strong. However, Chiang and Li Zongren, whose armies defeated warlord Sun Chuanfang, moved eastward toward Jiangxi. The leftists rejected Chiang's demand to eliminate Communist influence within KMT and Chiang denounced them for betraying Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People by taking orders from the Soviet Union. According to Mao Zedong, Chiang's tolerance of the CPC in the KMT camp decreased as his power increased.
On April 7, Chiang and several other KMT leaders held a meeting, during which they proposed that Communist activities were socially and economically disruptive and had to be undone for the national revolution to proceed. On April 12, in Shanghai, the KMT was purged of leftists with the arrest and execution of hundreds of CPC members on the orders of General Bai Chongxi. The CPC referred to this as the April 12 Incident or Shanghai Massacre. This incident widened the rift between Chiang and Wang Jingwei, another warlord who controlled the city of Wuhan.
Eventually, the left wing of the KMT also expelled CPC members from the Wuhan government, which in turn was toppled by Chiang Kai-shek. The KMT resumed its campaign against warlords and captured Beijing in June 1928. Soon,most of eastern China was under the control of the Nanjing central government, which received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The KMT government announced, in conformity with Sun Yat-sen, the formula for the three stages of revolution: military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy.
Communist insurgency (1927–1937)
During the 1920s CPC activists retreated underground or to the countryside, where they fomented an armed rebellion. The revolt of the CPC against the Nationalist government began on 1 August 1927 in Nanchang, Jiangxi. The Nanchang Uprising saw the formation of a Communist rebel army, the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, which would later become the People's Liberation Army. On August 4, Red Army forces gave up Nanchang and went southwards in an attack on Guangdong. Government forces quickly reoccupied Nanchang while other rebels escaped into the countryside. A CPC meeting on August 7 confirmed the party's intention to take power by force, followed by a violent anti-Communist campaign by Wang Jingwei's government in Wuhan starting on August 8. On August 14, Chiang Kai-shek fled Nanjing. Attempts were later made by the CPC to take the cities of Changsha, Shantou and Guangzhou. The Red Army consisting of mutinous former National Revolutionary Army (NRA) soldiers as well as armed peasants established control over several areas in southern China. KMT forces continued to attempt to suppress the rebellions. Then, in September, Wang Jingwei was forced out of Wuhan. September also saw an unsuccessful armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, led by Mao Zedong. Borodin then returned to the USSR in October via Mongolia. In November, Chiang Kai-shek went to Shanghai and invited Wang to join him. On December 11, the CPC started the Guangzhou Uprising, establishing a soviet there the next day, but lost the city by December 13 to a counter-attack under the orders of General Zhang Fakui. On December 16, Wang Jingwei fled to France. There were now three capitals in China: the internationally recognized republic capital in Beijing, the CPC and left-wing KMT at Wuhan and the right-wing KMT regime at Nanjing, which would remain the KMT capital for the next decade.
This marked the beginning of a ten-year armed struggle, known in mainland China as the "Ten-Year Civil War" (十年内战) which ended with the Xi'an Incident when Chiang Kai-shek was forced to form the Second United Front against invading forces from Japan. In 1930 the Central Plains War broke out as an internal conflict of the KMT. It was launched by Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan and Wang Jingwei. The attention was turned to root out remaining pockets of Communist activity in a series of five encirclement campaigns. The first and second campaigns failed and the third was aborted due to the Mukden Incident. The fourth campaign (1932–1933) achieved some early successes, but Chiang’s armies were badly mauled when they tried to penetrate into the heart of Mao’s Soviet Chinese Republic. During these campaigns, KMT columns struck swiftly into Communist areas, but were easily engulfed by the vast countryside and were not able to consolidate their foothold.
Finally, in late 1934, Chiang launched a fifth campaign that involved the systematic encirclement of the Jiangxi Soviet region with fortified blockhouses. Unlike previous campaigns in which they penetrated deeply in a single strike, this time the KMT troops patiently built blockhouses, each separated by about five miles, to surround the Communist areas and cut off their supplies and food sources.
In October 1934 the CPC took advantage of gaps in the ring of blockhouses (manned by the forces of a warlord ally of Chiang Kai-shek's, rather than regular KMT troops) and broke out of the encirclement. The warlord armies were reluctant to challenge Communist forces for fear of losing their own men and did not pursue the CPC with much fervor. In addition, the main KMT forces were preoccupied with annihilating Zhang Guotao's army, which was much larger than Mao's. The massive military retreat of Communist forces lasted a year and covered what Mao estimated as 12,500 km (25,000 Li); it became known as the Long March. The Long March was a military retreat taken on by the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong to evade the pursuit or attack of the Kuomintang army. It consisted of a series of marches, during which numerous Communist armies in the south escaped to the north and west. Over the course of the march from Jiangxi the First Front Army, led by an inexperienced military commission, was on the brink of annihilation by Chiang Kai Shek's troops as their stronghold was in Jiangxi. The Communists, under the command of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, "escaped in a circling retreat to the west and north, which reportedly traversed over 9,000 kilometers over 370 days". The route passed through some of the most difficult terrain of western China by traveling west, and then northwards towards Shaanxi. "In November 1935, shortly after settling in northern Shaanxi, Mao officially took over Zhou Enlai's leading position in the Red Army. Following a major reshuffling of official roles, Mao became the chairman of the Military Commission, with Zhou and Deng Xiaoping as vice-chairmen." This marked Mao's position as the pre-eminent leader of the Party, with Zhou in second position to him.
The march ended when the CPC reached the interior of Shaanxi. Zhang Guotao's army, which took a different route through northwest China, was largely destroyed by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Muslim allies, the Ma clique. Along the way, the Communist army confiscated property and weapons from local warlords and landlords, while recruiting peasants and the poor, solidifying its appeal to the masses. Of the 90,000–100,000 people who began the Long March from the Soviet Chinese Republic, only around 7,000–8,000 made it to Shaanxi. The remnants of Zhang's forces eventually joined Mao in Shaanxi, but with his army destroyed, Zhang, even as a founding member of the CPC, was never able to challenge Mao's authority. Essentially, the great retreat made Mao the undisputed leader of the Communist Party of China.
The Kuomintang used Khampa troops—who were former bandits—to battle the Communist Red Army as it advanced and to undermine local warlords who often refused to fight Communist forces to conserve their own strength. The KMT enlisted 300 "Khampa bandits" into its Consolatory Commission military in Sichuan, where they were part of the effort of the central government to penetrate and destabilize local Han warlords such as Liu Wenhui. The government was seeking to exert full control over frontier areas against the warlords. Liu had refused to battle the Communists in order to conserve his army. The Consolatory Commission forces were used to battle the Red Army, but they were defeated when their religious leader was captured by the Communists.
In 1936, Zhou Enlai and Wang Jingwei grew closer, with Wang even suggesting that he join the CPC. However, this was turned down by the Comintern in the USSR. Later on, Zhou persuaded Wang and Yang Hucheng, another warlord, to instigate the Xi'an Incident. Chiang was placed under house arrest and forced to stop his attacks on the Red Army, instead focusing on the Japanese threat.
The situation in China in 1929: After the Northern Expedition, the KMT had direct control over east and central China, while the rest of China proper as well as Manchuria was under the control of warlords loyal to the Nationalist government.
Route(s) taken by Communist forces during the Long March.
A Communist leader addressing survivors of the Long March.
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
During Japan's invasion and occupation of Manchuria Chiang Kai-shek, who saw the CPC as a greater threat, refused to ally with them to fight against the Imperial Japanese Army. Chiang preferred to unite China by eliminating the warlords and CPC forces first. He believed that he was still too weak to launch an offensive to chase out Japan and that China needed time for a military build-up. Only after unification would it be possible for the KMT to mobilize a war against Japan. So he would rather ignore the discontent and anger among Chinese people at his policy of compromise with the Japanese, and ordered KMT generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng to carry out suppression of the CPC; however, their provincial forces suffered significant casualties in battles with the Red Army.ref
On December 12, 1936, the disgruntled Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng conspired to kidnap Chiang and force him into a truce with the CPC. The incident became known as the Xi'an Incident. Both parties suspended fighting to form a Second United Front to focus their energies and fighting against the Japanese. In 1937 Japan launched its full-scale invasion of China and its well-equipped troops overran KMT defenders in northern and coastal China.
The alliance of CPC and KMT was in name only. Unlike the KMT troops, CPC shunned conventional warfare and instead engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. The level of actual cooperation and coordination between the CPC and KMT during World War II was at best minimal. In the midst of the Second United Front, the CPC and the KMT were still vying for territorial advantage in "Free China" (i.e., areas not occupied by the Japanese or ruled by Japanese puppet governments such as Manchukuo and the Reorganized National Government of China).
The situation came to a head in late 1940 and early 1941 when clashes between Communist and KMT forces intensified. In December 1940 Chiang demanded that the CPC’s New Fourth Army evacuate Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces due to its provocation and harassment of KMT forces in this area. Under intense pressure, the New Fourth Army commanders complied. In 1941 they were ambushed by KMT forces during their evacuation, which led to several thousand deaths. It also ended the Second United Front, which had been formed earlier to fight the Japanese.
Despite the intensified clashes between the CPC and KMT, countries such as the US and the Soviet Union attempted to prevent a disastrous civil war. After the New Fourth Army incident, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent special envoy Lauchlin Currie to talk with Chiang Kai-shek and KMT party leaders to express their concern regarding the hostility between the two parties, with Currie stating that the only ones to benefit from a civil war would be the Japanese. In 1941 the Soviet Union, with its closer alliance to the CPC, also sent an imperative telegram to Mao warning that the civil war would also make the situation easier for the Japanese military. Due to the international community's efforts, there was a temporary and superficial peace. In 1943 Chiang attacked the CPC with the propaganda piece China's Destiny, which questioned the CPC's power after the war, while the CPC strongly opposed Chiang's leadership and referred to his regime as fascist in an attempt to generate a negative public image. Both leaders knew that a deadly battle had begun between themselves.
In general, developments in the Second Sino-Japanese War were to the advantage of the CPC, as its guerilla war tactics had won them popular support within the Japanese-occupied areas, while the KMT's had to defend the country against the main Japanese campaigns to take over the country, since it was the legal Chinese government, and this proved costly to Chiang Kai-shek and his troops. In 1944 Japan launched its last major offensive, Operation Ichi-Go, against the KMT that resulted in the severe weakening of Chiang's forces. Also, the CPC suffered fewer losses through their guerilla tactics. By the end of the war, the Red Army had grown to more than 1.3 million members, with a separate militia of over 2.6 million members. About one hundred million people lived in CPC-controlled zones.
Immediate post-war clashes (1945–1946)
Under the terms of the Japanese unconditional surrender dictated by the United States, Japanese troops were ordered to surrender to KMT troops and not to the CPC, which was present in some of the occupied areas. In Manchuria, however, where the KMT had no forces, the Japanese surrendered to the Soviet Union. Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Japanese troops to remain at their post to receive the Kuomintang and not surrender their arms to the Communists.
The first post-war peace negotiation was attended by both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong in Chongqing from 28 August 1945 and concluded on 10 October 1945 with the signing of Double Tenth Agreement. Both sides stressed the importance of a peaceful reconstruction, but the conference did not produce any concrete result. Battles between the two sides continued even as peace negotiations were in progress, until the agreement was reached in January 1946. However, large campaigns and full-scale confrontations between the CPC and Chiang's troops were temporarily avoided.
In the last month of World War II in East Asia, Soviet forces launched the huge Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation to attack the Japanese 2 million strong Kwantung Army in Manchuria and along the Chinese-Mongolian border. This operation destroyed the fighting capability of Japan's Kwantung Army in just 3 weeks and left the USSR occupying all of Manchuria by the end of the war in a total power vacuum of local Chinese forces. Consequently, the 700,000 Japanese troops stationed in the region surrendered. Later in the year Chiang Kai-shek realized that he lacked the resources to prevent a CPC takeover of Manchuria following the scheduled Soviet departure. He therefore made a deal with the Russians to delay their withdrawal until he had moved enough of his best-trained men and modern material into the region; however, the Russians refused permission for the Nationalist troops to traverse its territory. KMT troops were then airlifted by the US to occupy key cities in North China, while the countryside was already dominated by the CPC. On November 15, 1945, an offensive began with the intent of preventing the CPC from strengthening its already strong base. The Soviets spent the extra time systematically dismantling the extensive Manchurian industrial base (worth up to $2 billion) and shipping it back to their war-ravaged country.
Yang Kuisong, a Chinese historian, said that in 1945–46, during the Soviet Red Army Manchurian campaign, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin commanded Marshal Rodion Malinovsky to give Mao Zedong most Imperial Japanese Army weapons that were captured.
Chiang Kai-shek's forces pushed as far as Chinchow by November 26, 1945, meeting with little resistance. This was followed by a Communist offensive on the Shantung Peninsula that was largely successful, as all of the peninsula, except what was controlled by the US, fell to the Communists. The truce fell apart in June 1946 when full-scale war between CPC and KMT forces broke out on June 26. China then entered a state of civil war that lasted more than three years.
Resumed fighting (1946–1950)
Background and disposition of forces
By the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the balance of power in China's civil war had shifted in favor of the Communists. Their main force grew to 1.2 million troops, with a militia of 2 million. Their "Liberated Zone" contained 19 base areas, including one-quarter of the country's territory and one-third of its population; this included many important towns and cities. Moreover, the Soviet Union turned over all of its captured Japanese weapons and a substantial amount of their own supplies to the Communists, who received Northeastern China from the Soviets as well.
In March 1946, despite repeated requests from Chiang, the Soviet Red Army under the command of Marshal Malinovsky continued to delay pulling out of Manchuria while Malinovsky secretly told the CPC forces to move in behind them, which led to full-scale war for the control of the Northeast. These favorable conditions also facilitated many changes inside the Communist leadership: the more hard-line faction finally gained the upper hand and defeated the opportunists. Prior to giving control to Communist leaders, on March 27 Soviet diplomats requested a joint venture of industrial development with the Nationalist Party in Manchuria.
Although General Marshall stated that he knew of no evidence that the CPC was being supplied by the Soviet Union, the CPC was able to utilize a large number of weapons abandoned by the Japanese, including some tanks, but it was not until large numbers of well-trained KMT troops began surrendering and joining the Communist forces that the CPC was finally able to master the hardware. However, despite the disadvantage in military hardware, the CPC's ultimate trump card was its land reform policy. The CPC continued to make the irresistible promise in the countryside to the massive number of landless and starving peasants that by fighting for the CPC they would be given their own land once the victory was won.
This strategy enabled the CPC to access an almost unlimited supply of manpower for both combat and logistical purposes, despite suffering heavy casualties throughout many of the war's campaigns. For example, during the Huaihai Campaign alone the CPC was able to mobilize 5,430,000 peasants to fight against the KMT forces.
After the war with the Japanese ended, Chiang Kai-shek quickly moved KMT troops to newly liberated areas to prevent Communist forces from receiving the Japanese surrender. The US airlifted many KMT troops from central China to the Northeast (Manchuria). President Harry Truman was very clear about what he described as "using the Japanese to hold off the Communists". In his memoirs he writes:
It was perfectly clear to us that if we told the Japanese to lay down their arms immediately and march to the seaboard, the entire country would be taken over by the Communists. We therefore had to take the unusual step of using the enemy as a garrison until we could airlift Chinese National troops to South China and send Marines to guard the seaports.
Using the pretext of "receiving the Japanese surrender", business interests within the KMT government occupied most of the banks, factories and commercial properties, which had previously been seized by the Imperial Japanese Army. They also conscripted troops at a brutal pace from the civilian population and hoarded supplies, preparing for a resumption of war with the Communists. These hasty and harsh preparations caused great hardship for the residents of cities such as Shanghai, where the unemployment rate rose dramatically to 37.5%.
The US strongly supported the Kuomintang forces. Over 50,000 US Marines were sent to guard strategic sites, and 100,000 US troops were sent to Shandong. The US equipped and trained over 500,000 KMT troops, and transported KMT forces to occupy newly liberated zones as well as to contain Communist-controlled areas. American aid included substantial amounts of both new and surplus military supplies; additionally, loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars were made to the KMT. Within less than two years after the Sino-Japanese War, the KMT had received $4.43 billion from the US—most of which was military aid.
Outbreak of war
Situation in 1947
Situation in the fall of 1948
Situation in the winter of 1948 and 1949
Situation in April to October 1949
With the breakdown of talks, all-out war resumed. This stage is referred to in mainland China and Communist historiography as the "War of Liberation" (Chinese: 解放战争; pinyin: Jiěfàng Zhànzhēng). On 20 July 1946 Chiang Kai-shek launched a large-scale assault on Communist territory with 113 brigades (1.6 million troops). This marked the final phase of the Chinese Civil War.
Knowing their disadvantages in manpower and equipment, the CPC executed a "passive defense" strategy. It avoided the strong points of the KMT army and was prepared to abandon territory in order to preserve its forces. In most cases the surrounding countryside and small towns had come under Communist influence long before the cities. The CPC also attempted to wear out the KMT forces as much as possible. This tactic seemed to be successful; after a year, the power balance became more favorable to the CPC. They wiped out 1.12 million KMT troops, while their strength grew to about two million men.
In March 1947 the KMT achieved a symbolic victory by seizing the CPC capital of Yan'an. The Communists counterattacked soon afterwards; on 30 June 1947 CPC troops crossed the Yellow River and moved to the Dabie Mountains area, restored and developed the Central Plain. At the same time, Communist forces also began to counterattack in Northeastern China, North China and East China.
By late 1948, the CPC eventually captured the northern cities of Shenyang and Changchun and seized control of the Northeast after suffering numerous setbacks while trying to take the cities, with the decisive Liaoshen Campaign. The New 1st Army, regarded as the best KMT army, was forced to surrender after the CPC conducted a brutal six-month siege of Changchun that resulted in more than 150,000 civilian deaths from starvation.
The capture of large KMT units provided the CPC with the tanks, heavy artillery and other combined-arms assets needed to execute offensive operations south of the Great Wall. By April 1948 the city of Luoyang fell, cutting the KMT army off from Xi'an. Following a fierce battle, the CPC captured Jinan and Shandong province on September 24, 1948. The Huaihai Campaign of late 1948 and early 1949 secured east-central China for the CPC. The outcome of these encounters were decisive for the military outcome of the civil war.
The Pingjin Campaign resulted in the Communist conquest of northern China. It lasted 64 days, from November 21, 1948, to January 31, 1949. The PLA suffered heavy casualties while securing Zhangjiakou, Tianjin along with its port and garrison at Dagu and Beiping. The CPC brought 890,000 troops from the northeast to oppose some 600,000 KMT troops. There were 40,000 CPC casualties at Zhangjiakou alone. They in turn killed, wounded or captured some 520,000 KMT during the campaign.
After the decisive Liaoshen, Huaihai and Pingjin campaigns, the CPC wiped out 144 regular and 29 non-regular KMT divisions, including 1.54 million veteran KMT troops. This effectively smashed the backbone of the KMT army. On 21 April, Communist forces crossed the Yangtze River, and on 23 April they captured the KMT's capital, Nanjing. The KMT government retreated to Canton (Guangzhou) until October 15, Chongqing until November 25, and then Chengdu before retreating to Taiwan on December 10. By late 1949 the People's Liberation Army was pursuing remnants of KMT forces southwards in southern China, and only Tibet was left. In addition, the Ili Rebellion was a Soviet-backed revolt by the Second East Turkestan Republic against the KMT from 1944–49, as the Mongolians in the People's Republic were in a border dispute with the Republic of China. A Chinese Muslim Hui cavalry regiment, the 14th Tungan Cavalry, was sent by the Chinese government to attack Mongol and Soviet positions along the border during the Pei-ta-shan Incident.
The Kuomintang made several last-ditch attempts use Khampa troops against the Communists in southwest China. The Kuomintang formulated a plan in which three Khampa divisions would be assisted by the Panchen Lama to oppose the Communists. Kuomintang intelligence reported that some Tibetan tusi chiefs and the Khampa Su Yonghe controlled 80,000 troops in Sichuan, Qinghai and Tibet. They hoped to use them against the Communist army.
On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China with its capital at Beiping, which was renamed Beijing. Chiang Kai-shek and approximately two million Nationalist Chinese retreated from mainland China to the island of Taiwan in December after the loss of Sichuan. There remained only isolated pockets of resistance, notably in Sichuan (ending soon after the fall of Chengdu on December 10, 1949) and in the far south.
A PRC attempt to take the ROC-controlled island of Quemoy was thwarted in the Battle of Kuningtou, halting the PLA advance towards Taiwan. In December 1949, Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of the Republic of China and continued to assert his government as the sole legitimate authority in China.
The Communists' other amphibious operations of 1950 were more successful: they led to the Communist conquest of Hainan Island in April 1950, capture of Wanshan Islands off the Guangdong coast (May–August 1950) and of Zhoushan Island off Zhejiang (May 1950).
Most observers expected Chiang's government to eventually fall in response to a Communist invasion of Taiwan, and the US initially showed no interest in supporting Chiang's government in its final stand. Things changed radically with the onset of the Korean War in June 1950. At this point, allowing a total Communist victory over Chiang became politically impossible for the US, and President Harry S. Truman ordered the United States Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to prevent the ROC and PRC from attacking each other.
In June 1949 the ROC declared a "closure" of all mainland China ports and its navy attempted to intercept all foreign ships. The closure was from a point north of the mouth of Min River in Fujian to the mouth of the Liao River in Liaoning. Since mainland China's railroad network was underdeveloped, north-south trade depended heavily on sea lanes. ROC naval activity also caused severe hardship for mainland China fishermen.
After losing mainland China, a group of approximately 12,000 KMT soldiers escaped to Burma and continued launching guerrilla attacks into south China during the Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency in China (1950–1958) and Campaign at the China–Burma Border. Their leader, Gen. Li Mi, was paid a salary by the ROC government and given the nominal title of Governor of Yunnan. Initially, the US supported these remnants and the Central Intelligence Agency provided them with aid. After the Burmese government appealed to the United Nations in 1953, the US began pressuring the ROC to withdraw its loyalists. By the end of 1954 nearly 6,000 soldiers had left Burma and Li Mi declared his army disbanded. However, thousands remained, and the ROC continued to supply and command them, even secretly supplying reinforcements at times.
After the ROC complained to the United Nations against the Soviet Union for violating the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance to support the CPC, the UN General Assembly Resolution 505 was adopted on February 1, 1952, condemning the Soviet Union.
Though viewed as a military liability by the US, the ROC viewed its remaining islands in Fujian as vital for any future campaign to defeat the PRC and retake mainland China. On September 3, 1954, the First Taiwan Strait Crisis began when the PLA started shelling Quemoy and threatened to take the Dachen Islands in Zhejiang. On January 20, 1955, the PLA took nearby Yijiangshan Island, with the entire ROC garrison of 720 troops killed or wounded defending the island. On January 24 of the same year, the United States Congress passed the Formosa Resolution authorizing the President to defend the ROC's offshore islands. The First Taiwan Straits crisis ended in March 1955 when the PLA ceased its bombardment. The crisis was brought to a close during the Bandung conference.
The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis began on August 23, 1958 with air and naval engagements between PRC and ROC forces, leading to intense artillery bombardment of Quemoy (by the PRC) and Amoy (by the ROC), and ended on November of the same year. PLA patrol boats blockaded the islands from ROC supply ships. Though the US rejected Chiang Kai-shek's proposal to bomb mainland China artillery batteries, it quickly moved to supply fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles to the ROC. It also provided amphibious assault ships to land supplies, as a sunken ROC naval vessel was blocking the harbor. On September 7 the US escorted a convoy of ROC supply ships and the PRC refrained from firing.
By 1984 PRC and ROC had public contacts with each other and cross-straits trade and investment has been growing ever since. The war was officially declared over by the ROC in 1991. Despite the end of the hostilities, the two sides have never signed any agreement or treaty to officially end the war. According to Mao Zedong, there were three ways of “staving off imperialist intervention in the short term” during the continuation of the Chinese Revolution. The first was through a rapid completion of the military takeover of the country, and through showing determination and strength against “foreign attempts at challenging the new regime along its borders”. The second was by “formalising a comprehensive military alliance with the Soviet Union”, which would dedicate Soviet power to directly defending China against its enemies; this aspect became extensively significant given the backdrop of the start of the Cold War. And finally the regime had to “root out its domestic opponents : the heads of secret societies, religious sects, independent unions, or tribal and ethic organisations.” By destroying the basis of domestic reaction, Mao believed a safer world for the Chinese revolution to spread in would come into existence.
The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995–96 escalated tensions between both sides when the PRC tested a series of missiles not far from Taiwan, although, arguably, Beijing ran the test to shift the 1996 presidential election vote in favor of the KMT, already facing a challenge from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party which did not agree with the "One China Policy" shared by the CPC and KMT.
With the election in 2000 of Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian, a party other than the KMT gained the presidency for the first time in Taiwan. The new president did not share the Chinese nationalist ideology of the KMT and CPC. This led to tension between the two sides, although trade and other ties such as the 2005 Pan-Blue visit continued to increase.
Since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou (KMT) in 2008, significant warming of relations has resumed between Taipei and Beijing, with high-level exchanges between the semi-official diplomatic organizations of both states such as the Chen-Chiang summit series. Although the Taiwan straits remain a potential flash point, regular direct air links were established in 2009.
During the war both the Nationalists and Communists carried out mass atrocities, with millions of non-combatants deliberately killed by both sides. Benjamin Valentino has estimated atrocities in the Chinese Civil War resulted in the death of between 1.8 million and 3.5 million people between 1927 and 1949. Atrocities include deaths from forced conscription and massacres.
- The conflict did not have an official end date. However, historians generally agree that the war subsided after the fall of Hainan and Zhoushan archipelago in May 1950, the KMT's last major stronghold near the mainland.
- In mainland China today, the last three years of the war (1947–1949) are more commonly known as the War of Liberation, official full name being the Chinese People's Liberation War, or alternatively the Third Internal Revolutionary War. In Taiwan, the war was also known as the Counter-insurgency War against Communists before 1991 or commonly the Nationalist-Communist Civil War in both sides.
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