Political History of China (8): Republic of China

Updated:Sun, Dec 16, 2012 03:45 AM    Related:China political history

China political history

Map of administrative divisions of the Republic of China in 1928. ROC inherited all territories of preceding Qing Dynasty.

The Republic of China (中华民国, shortly ROC) was founded in 1912 and its government was located on mainland China until 1949, when it lost the Chinese Civil War and withdrew to Taiwan. ROC was preceded by the Qing Dynasty and followed by the People's Republic of China. Its first president is Sun Yat-sen.



The Revolution of 1911

In the industrial city of Wuhan, a soldiers' group with only a loose connection to Sun's alliance rose in rebellion in the early morning of Oct. 10, 1911 (since celebrated as Double Ten, the tenth day of the tenth month). The Manchu governor and his commander fled, and a Chinese commander, Li Yuanhong 黎元洪, was pressured into taking over the leadership. By early December all of the central, southern, and northwestern provinces had declared independence. Sun Yat-sen(孙中山, 孙逸仙), who was in the United States during the revolution, returned and was chosen head of the provisional government of the Republic of China in Nanjing.

The Manchu court quickly summoned Yuan Shikai 袁世凯, the former commander of the reformed Northern Army. Personally ambitious and politically shrewd, Yuan carried out negotiations with both the Manchu court and the revolutionaries. Yuan was able to persuade the Manchus to abdicate peacefully in return for the safety of the imperial family. On Feb. 12, 1912, the regent of the 6-year-old emperor formally announced the abdication. The Manchu rule in China ended after 267 years, and with it the 2,000-year-old imperial system.


Early in March 1912, Sun Yat-sen resigned from the presidency and, as promised, Yuan Shikai was elected his successor at Nanjing. Inaugurated in March 1912 in Beijing, the base of his power, Yuan established a republican system of government with a premier, a cabinet, a draft constitution, and a plan for parliamentary elections early in 1913. The Kuomintang (国民党, KMT, National People's party), the successor to Sun Yat-sen's organization, was formed in order to prepare for the election.

Despite his earlier pledges to support the republic, Yuan schemed to assassinate his opponents and weaken the constitution and the parliament. By the end of 1914 he had made himself president for life and even planned to establish an imperial dynasty with himself as the first emperor. His dream was thwarted by the serious crisis of the Twenty-one Demands for special privileges presented by the Japanese in January 1915 and by vociferous opposition from many sectors of Chinese society. He died in June 1916 a broken man. After Yuan's death, a number of his proteges took positions of power in the Beijing government or ruled as warlords in outlying regions. In August 1917 the Beijing government joined the Allies and declared war on Germany. At the peace conference in Versailles, France, the Chinese demand to end foreign concessions in China was ignored.

Sun-yat Sen (1866-1925)

Known as the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen worked to achieve his lofty goals for modern China. These included the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, the unification of China, and the establishment of a republic.

Sun Yat-sen was born on Nov. 12, 1866, in Guangdong Province and attended several schools, including one in Honolulu, Hawaii, before transferring to a college of medicine in Hong Kong. Graduating in 1892, Sun almost immediately abandoned medicine for politics. His role in an unsuccessful uprising in Canton in 1895 prompted Sun to begin an exile that lasted for 16 years. Sun used this time to travel widely in Japan, Europe, and the United States, enlisting sympathy and raising money for his republican cause. Sun returned to China in 1911 after a successful rebellion in Wuhan inspired uprisings in other provinces. As leader of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist party, Sun was elected provisional president of the newly declared republic but was forced to resign in 1912.

In 1913 his disagreements with government policies led Sun to organize a second revolution. Failing to regain power, Sun left once again for Japan, where he organized a separate government. Sun returned to China and attempted to set up a new government in 1917 and 1921 before successfully installing himself as generalissimo of a new regime in 1923.

Sun increasingly relied on aid from the Soviet Union, and in 1924 he reorganized the Kuomintang on the model of the Soviet Communist party. Sun also founded the Whampoa Military Academy and appointed Chiang Kai-shek as its president. Sun summarized his policies in the Three Principles of the People--nationalism, democracy, and socialism. He died of cancer in Peking on March 12, 1925. Sun's tomb in Nanking is now a national shrine.

The May Fourth Movement

After World War I The Chinese felt betrayed. Anger and frustration erupted in demonstrations on May 4, 1919, in Beijing. Joined by workers and merchants, the movement spread to major cities. The Chinese representative at Versailles refused to endorse the peace treaty, but its provisions remained unchanged. Disillusioned with the West, many Chinese looked elsewhere for help.

The May Fourth Movement, which grew out of the student uprising, attacked Confucianism, initiated a vernacular style of writing, and promoted science. Scholars of international stature, such as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, were invited to lecture. Numerous magazines were published to stimulate new thoughts. Toward the end of the movement's existence, a split occurred among its leaders. Some, like Ch'en Tu-hsiu (Chen Duxiu, 陈独秀) and Li Ta-chao (Li Dazhao, 李大钊), were beginning to be influenced by the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, which contrasted sharply with the failure of the 1911 Revolution in China to change the social order and improve conditions. By 1920, people associated with the Comintern (Communist International) were disseminating literature in China and helping to start Communist groups, including one led by Mao Zedong (毛泽东). A meeting at Shanghai in 1921 was actually the first party congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC or Chinese Communist Party: CCP).

The CCP was so small that the Soviet Union looked elsewhere for a viable political ally. A Comintern agent, Adolph Joffe, was sent to China to approach Sun Yat-sen, who had failed to obtain assistance from Great Britain or the United States. The period of Sino-Soviet collaboration began with the Sun-Joffe Declaration of Jan. 26, 1923. The KMT was recognized by the Soviet Union, and the Communists were admitted as members. With Soviet aid, the KMT army was built up. A young officer, Chiang Kai-shek, was sent to Moscow for training. Upon returning, he was put in charge of the Whampoa Military Academy, established to train soldiers to fight the warlords, who controlled much of China. Zhou Enlai (also Chou En-lai) of the CCP was deputy director of the academy's political department.

Sun Yat-sen, whose power base was in the south, had planned to send an expedition against the northern warlords, but he died before it could get under way. Chiang Kai-shek (蒋介石), who succeeded him in the KMT leadership, began the northern expedition in July 1926. The Nationalist army met little resistance and by April 1927 had reached the lower Yangtze. Meanwhile, Chiang, claiming to be a sincere follower of Sun Yat-sen, had broken with the left-wing elements of the KMT. After the Nationalist forces had taken Shanghai, a Communist-led general strike was suppressed with bloodshed. Following suppressions in other cities, Chiang set up his own government at Nanjing on April 18, 1927. He professed friendship with the Soviet Union, but by July 1927 he was expelling Communists from the KMT. Some left-wingers left for the Soviet Union.

The northern expedition was resumed, and in 1928 Chiang took Peking. China was formally unified. Nationalist China was recognized by the Western powers and supported by loans from foreign banks.

The Nationalist Eera (1928-1937)

The Nationalist period began with high hopes and much promise. More could have been accomplished had it not been for the problems of Comintern corruption and Japanese aggression. In his efforts to combat them both, Chiang neglected the land reform needed to improve the lives of the peasants. Driven from the cities, the Communists concentrated on organizing the peasants in the countryside. On Nov. 1, 1931, they proclaimed the establishment of the Chinese Soviet Republic in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, with Mao Zedong as chairman. Here the first units of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army were formed. While conducting guerrilla warfare in these regions, the soldiers carried out an agrarian revolution that was based on Mao's premise that the best way to win the conflict was to isolate the cities by gaining control of the countryside and the food supply.

A military man by temperament and training, Chiang sought to eliminate the Communists by force. He defined his anti-Communist drive as "internal pacification before resistance to external attack," and he gave it more importance than opposition to the increasingly aggressive Japanese. Chiang's fifth campaign, involving over half a million troops, almost annihilated the Communists. Faced with the dilemma of being totally destroyed in Jiangxi or attempting an almost impossible escape, the Communists decided to risk the escape. On Oct. 15, 1934, they broke through the tight KMT siege. Over 100,000 men and women set out on the Long March of about 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers) through China's most rugged terrain to find a new base in the northwest.

In the meantime, the Japanese had made steady inroads into China. The Mukden Incident of 1931, through which Mukden was occupied by the Japanese, was initiated by Japanese officers stationed along the South Manchurian Railway. This was followed by the occupation of Manchuria and the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo (Manzhouguo) in 1932. By the mid-1930s the Japanese had seized Inner Mongolia and parts of northeastern China and had created the North China Autonomous Region with no resistance from the Nationalists. Anti-Japanese sentiment mounted in China, but Chiang ignored it and in 1936 launched yet another extermination campaign against the Communists in Shaanxi. Chiang was forced to give up the anti-Communist drive when his troops mutinied and arrested him as he arrived in Xi'an in December 1936 to plan strategy. He was released after he agreed to form a united front with the CCP against the Japanese, who were making steady inroads into China.

Full-scale Second Sino-Japanese War

In China, World War II broke out on July 7, 1937, with a seemingly insignificant little battle between Chinese and Japanese troops near Peking, called the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (Lugouqiao Incident). Within a few days, the Japanese had occupied Peking, and the fighting spread rapidly. The war in China fell into three stages. The first (1937-1939) was characterized by the phenomenally rapid Japanese occupation of most of China's east coast, including such major cities as Shanghai, Nanjing, and Canton. The Nationalist government moved to the interior, ultimately to Chongqing in Sichuan, and the Japanese established puppet governments in Peking in 1937 and in Nanjing in 1940. The second stage (1939-1943) was a period of prolonged battle and waiting, as Chiang continued resisting the Japanese troupes from moving on and waited for help from the United States, which had declared war on Japan in 1941.

In the final stage (1944-1945), the United States provided massive assistance to Nationalist China, but the Chongqing government, weakened by inflation, impoverishment of the middle class, and low troop morale was unable to take full advantage of it. Feuds among the KMT generals and between Chiang and his United States military adviser, General Joseph Stilwell, further hampered the KMT.

When Japanese defeat became a certainty in the spring of 1945, the Communists seemed in a better position to take over from the Japanese garrisons than the KMT, which was far away in the rear of the formation. A United States airlift of KMT troops enabled them to occupy many cities, but the countryside stayed with the Communists.

After the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, the Allied war effort moved to the east. The Soviet Union joined the war against Japan at the end of July. On August 6 and 9 the United States dropped the world's first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement, entered Manchuria and engaged war against Japan on August 9, 1945. On Aug. 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered.

Chinese civil war and the retreat of Nationalist to Taiwan

After the end of the war in August 1945, the Nationalist Government moved back to Nanjing. With American help, Nationalist troops moved to take the Japanese surrender in North China. The Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, dismantled and removed more than half the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese. The Soviet presence in northeast China enabled the Communists to move in long enough to arm themselves with the equipment surrendered by the withdrawing Japanese army. The problems of rehabilitating the formerly Japanese-occupied areas and of reconstructing the nation from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering. At the end of August an agreement was reached in Chongqing between a CCP delegation and the KMT, but the truce was brief.

The short and decisive civil war that followed was resolved in two main places: Manchuria and the Huai River area. Despite a massive airlift of KMT forces by the United States, Manchuria was lost in October 1948 after 300,000 KMT forces surrendered to the CCP. By the end of 1948 the KMT had lost over half a million men. In April 1949 the Communists moved south of the Yangtze.

After the fall of Nanjing and Shanghai, KMT resistance evaporated. By the autumn, the Communists had taken all mainland territories except Tibet. Chiang Kai-shek and a number of his associates, refugees fled to the island of Taiwan, where they set up what they claimed was the rightful government of China.


Source:Paul Halsall/Brooklyn College/1996-99


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