Mao Zedong & Chiang Kai-shek Lead a Civil War in China

In 1921, a group met in Shanghai to organize the Chinese Communist Party. Mao Zedong, an assistant librarian at Beijing University, was among its founders. Later he would become China’s greatest revolutionary leader.

Mao Zedong had already begun to develop his own brand of communism. Lenin had based his Marxist revolution on his organization in Russia’s cities. Mao envisioned a different setting. He believed he could bring revolution to a rural country where the peasants could be the true revolutionaries

After Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek headed the Kuomintang. He was the son of a middle-class merchant and most of his followers were bankers and businesspeople. Like Chiang, they feared the Communists’ goal of creating a socialist economy modeled after the Soviet Union’s. Chiang had promised democracy and political rights to all Chinese. Yet his government became steadily less democratic and more corrupt.

Most peasants believed that Chiang was doing little to improve their lives. As a result, many peasants threw their support to the Chinese Communist Party. To enlist the support of the peasants, Mao divided land that the Communists won among the local farmers.

By 1930, Nationalists and Communists in China were fighting a bloody civil war. Mao and other Communist leaders established themselves in the hills of south-central China. Mao referred to this tactic of taking his revolution to the countryside as “swimming in the peasant sea.” He recruited the peasants to join his Red Army. He then trained them in guerrilla warfare. Nationalists attacked the Communists repeatedly but failed to drive them out.

In 1933, Chiang Kai-shek gathered an army of at least 700,000 men and surrounded the Communists’ mountain stronghold. Outnumbered, the Communist Party leaders realized that they faced defeat. In a daring move, 100,000 Communist forces fled.

In 1933, Chiang Kai-shek gathered an army of at least 700,000 men and surrounded the Communists’ mountain stronghold. Outnumbered, the Communist Party leaders realized that they faced defeat. In a daring move, 100,000 Communist forces fled.

They began a hazardous, 6,000-mile-long journey called the Long March. Between 1934 and 1935, the Communists kept only a step ahead of Jiang’s forces. Thousands died from hunger, cold, exposure, and battle wounds.

Finally, after a little more than a year, Mao and the seven or eight thousand Communist survivors settled in caves in northwestern China. There they gained new followers. Meanwhile, as civil war between Nationalists and Communists raged, Japan invaded China.

In 1931, as Chinese fought Chinese, the Japanese watched the power struggles with rising interest. Japanese forces took advantage of China’s weakening situation. They invaded Manchuria, an industrialized province in the northeast part of China.

In 1937, the Japanese launched an all-out invasion of China. Massive bombings of villages and cities killed thousands of Chinese. The destruction of farms caused many more to die of starvation. By 1938, Japan held control of a large part of China.

The Japanese threat forced an uneasy truce between Chiang’s and Mao’s forces. The civil war gradually ground to a halt as Nationalists and Communists temporarily united to fight the Japanese. The National Assembly further agreed to promote changes outlined in Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People”—nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood.

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