USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Conclusion to China Between Qing Collapse and WWII

In1937, the Japanese invaded China and routed the Guomindang from the eastern provinces. China was again deeply divided, this time three ways (at least). The Japanese controlled the wealthier and resource-rich north and east. The communists were increasing their influence in central and western China, as well as in the countryside. The Guomindang were caught between these two forces, refusing all the while to concede anything in order to make an alliance with the communists, which might have better enabled them to challenge Japanese power.

Japan’s technological and military sophistication simply overwhelmed Chinese forces, and had it not been for the entry of the United States into the war in 1941 there would have been little chance to mount an effective challenge. In all likelihood, the decades of turmoil before 1937 would have continued for many years into the future. As it was, turmoil did continue throughout the war and then afterwards during the resumed civil war between the Guomindang and the CCP. By 1945, however, the equation had changed fundamentally in Mao’s favor. Chiang had lost his base of power in the east. He had no legitimacy with the peasantry in the countryside. He had alienated the urban intellectual class.

The communists, in the meantime, proved much more effective in organizing guerilla resistance to the Japanese and in maintaining and building their organization throughout the war years. Economic crisis at the conclusion of the war further propelled the communists’ growth. It was clear that the nationalists had missed their moment in the early 1930s to build an effective state structure and thereby to win the loyalties of the masses. Japanese invasion destroyed the alternative to this: Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian and fascistic state. As is true with most cases of authoritarianism, the Guomindang could not overcome military failure. The nationalists’ failure to either develop a strong authoritarianism or to win the loyalties of the people through effective government and mass participation set the stage for their ultimate failure, the loss of the civil war to the communists in 1948 and 1949. By 1950, China was a communist nation. The architect of the peasant soviet, Mao Zedong, was in charge.

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