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

Introduction to China Between Qing Collapse and WWII

This chapter focuses on the history of China from the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911-1912 until the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which could also be considered the beginning of WWII in the Pacific. To understand the profundity of the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, which had ruled China for over 250 years, on the collective Chinese consciousness, try to imagine what would happen if the current constitutional government of the United States collapsed amid rebellions, foreign invasion and interference, followed by decades of bloody civil war throughout the country. Imagine that at the end of such a time, as a small ray of hope emerged that perhaps a stable (though deeply imperfect) government would unite the country again, the dominant military power in the region (in this case Japan) would unleash a reign of terror on the country that would both shake the will of the country and the collective morality of the world. Imagine at the end of the war against this aggressor that instead of peace, as came to Europe and other parts of the world after 1945, there was more war, this time the end of a protracted civil war between nationalists and communists, ending in the communists’ favor. And imagine that after all of this, this incredible turmoil and hardship, which struck deep down into the daily lives of the people in so many ways, imagine that you would be faced with yet another social upheaval, this time driven by the communist party in an attempt to refashion agrarian, urban, cultural, and political life in a Stalinist manner. Such a history is almost unfathomable, yet this is precisely the history of twentieth century China, the world’s most populace country.

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