Chinese Communist Revolution, Causes, Stages, Consequences, Leaders

We explain what the Chinese Communist Revolution was, its causes, stages and consequences. In addition, its main leaders.

What was the Chinese Communist Revolution?

It is known as the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Chinese Communist Revolution at the end of the Chinese Civil War . This conflict, initiated in 1927, confronted the Chinese nationalists of the Kuomintang or KMT, guided by the very general Chiang Kai-shek, with supporters of the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong.

It is considered that the revolution began in 1946 , after the end of World War II and the Japanese invasion of China, which is why the two sides, the nationalist and the communist, had been forced to agree a truce and form a front common against the invading army. But achieved that purpose, the tensions between the two revived.

The negotiations, which tried to prevent the civil war from resuming, failed. After several years of struggle, the communist forces took control of the country, exiling the nationalists to the island of Taiwan. On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed , whose existence and socialist regime of government endure to this day.

Stages of the Chinese Communist Revolution

The Chinese Communist Revolution can be segmented into the following chronological stages:

  • The end of the peace negotiations in 1946 . At this stage the Chinese Civil War resumes despite the efforts of the United States and the Soviet Union to mediate between the parties and achieve a mixed government that prevented them from having to face each other, since the Soviets had openly supported the Chinese revolutionaries The bipolar winds of the Cold War could already be breathed in the region, as both the US and the USSR disputed the area of ​​Chinese influence.
  • The nationalist offensive (1946-1947) . The first movement after the breakdown of the negotiations was of the nationalists, who invaded Manchuria and northern China, seizing 165 cities , despite US protests that even suspended the sale of weapons to the Chinese government for 10 months. At the end of the same year, the Chinese National Assembly proclaimed a democratic Constitution, without any representation of the communists participating in it. The military superiority of the nationalists lasted until April 1947, when attempts to crush the adversary failed and their offensive finally stopped.
  • The communist counterattack (1947-1948) . In mid-1947 there was a turn in the fate of the war , and the first effective counterattacks of the Mao Zedong Red Army take place, which reconquer cities and sink the morale of their enemy, unleashing defections and massive defections.
  • The decisive communist victories (1948-1949) . The rush of the communist army reverses the course of the war and they recover Manchuria, causing their adversaries almost half a million military casualties, and taking place towards the end of 1948 with the whole northwest of the country. Weakening their ability to strengthen their positions and with morale for the ground, the nationalists suffered a series of particularly significant defeats, such as the battle of Huai-Huai, Liao-Shen and especially the battle of Xuzhou. Towards the end of 1948 the situation openly favored the communists and the nationalist general Chiang Kai-shek requested to resume negotiations, requesting the support of the great European powers, the USSR and the US. All refused his call.
  • The final offensive (1949) . After taking Beijing, imperial capital of China, the communists already had the dish served. After a brief and fruitless period of negotiations with the nationalists, they entered in April in Nanjing, the former capital of the Chinese Republic, and took full control of the country. On October 1 they proclaimed the new communist republic and their enemies took refuge on the island of Taiwan, waiting for years for a communist attack.

Causes of the Chinese Communist Revolution

Chinese Communist Revolution Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong guided the Chinese communists with the support of the Soviet Union.

The causes of the Chinese Communist Revolution must be sought in the complex network of relationships that have been since the fall of the Ching dynasty in the early twentieth century.

The country was divided between the Republican supporters of a democratic and capitalist China, with strong European influences and that dragged the colonialist relationship that China had lived for centuries; and the followers of Mao Zedong’s Soviet communism , which aspired to vindicate the Chinese peasantry and abolish class society .

Seen this way, the Chinese Civil War itself led to the Communist Revolution , especially when the world powers of the twentieth century began to intrude, wanting to guarantee an ally in China: we refer to the USSR and the United States, who openly or concealedly favored diplomatically, economically and militarily to their favorite sides.

Therefore, the worsening of relations between the Chinese Republic and the United States was a significant factor in tilting the military balance towards the communists.

If we add to this the Soviet support and delivery to the communists of the weapons seized in Manchuria from the Japanese army during World War II, we will understand that there was a great international responsibility in the communist victory that ensued in 1949.

Consequences of the Communist Revolution

The communist victory in the Chinese conflict had the consequence of eradicating the existing Republic and forcing its representatives into exile. For their part, Mao’s troops seized political power and announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

This new state was of communist and authoritarian affiliation, where Mao acted as a political and spiritual leader. With, in addition, the Chinese Civil War was put to an end and the foundations were laid for the coming Chinese Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong himself.

Importance of the Chinese Communist Revolution

The Chinese Revolution of 1949 is the explanation of why China is the only great communist power of the late twentieth century, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was also a unique historical event that marked the fate of international politics for decades coming.

As communist China became more and more influential internationally, it became a separate model from the one prevailing in the Soviet Union. Thereafter it was called “Maoism” and was replicated in other neighboring nations such as Cambodia, with catastrophic results.

The causes of the communist victory

Mao and Stalin together in Moscow

Among the causes of the final victory of the communists, the military stood out, pointing out the weaknesses of the nationalist army in the face of the communist PLA force: «continuity of command ( Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, Lin Biao, Chen Yi, Liu Bocheng)… Simple and daring strategy at the same time, which seeks the annihilation of the enemy forces and not the defense or the taking of cities or territories.

Extreme mobility, or rather, perpetual availability (everything is moved — except for the unfortunate civilians — in a hurry and the empty place and illusory success are left to the enemy), which contrasts with the relative immobility of the nationalist garrisons.

Rejection of orderly battles and combat of attrition, where gains and losses are balanced: on the contrary, small enemy groups are surrounded and strongly attacked, an overwhelming local superiority offsetting the global numerical inferiority of the Red Army. Along with a thousand and one tactics and cunning of guerrilla warfare, the ability to move, when the opportunity presents itself, to conventional warfare, great battles and the siege of cities. Finally, morals and discipline that contrast with those of the “forces of order”: recruitment, a tragedy here, is an honor in the “liberated regions” [under communist control]. Morale reinforced by tactical successes: this multiplicity of skirmishes and small battles, this nameless war that baffles the nationalists increases the confidence of the Red Army soldiers, witnesses of this accumulation of small successes.

But the communist victory was also due to social and political causes. The EPL won the support of the popular classes, and particularly the poor peasantry, although it did not succeed from the first moment and never completely. In 1946 the Communists decided to replace the moderate reforms of the World War period (reduction of rents and interest rates) with a radical policy based on the principle of “land for those who work it.” The property and animals and agricultural instruments are then distributed among the tenant and poor peasants, amid a wave of violence and terror led by them of which the traditional rural elites are victims (in revenge, in the towns that are reoccupied by the nationalist army, the “white terror” is unleashed against communist activists and against the peasants who have benefited from the distribution of land). In 1948 this radical policy, branded as “left deviationism”, was halted in order to attract the support of the middle peasants who have also been victims of the “red terror”, since for the communist leadership the agrarian revolution is an instrument at the service of one end: to win the civil war. In any case, with this policy the PLA manages to recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers belonging to peasant families (in Manchuria alone, more than a million and a half men join the PLA). branded as “left deviationism” to attract the support of the middle peasants who have also been victims of the “red terror”, since for the communist leadership the agrarian revolution is an instrument at the service of one goal: to win the civil war. In any case, with this policy the PLA manages to recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers belonging to peasant families (in Manchuria alone, more than a million and a half men join the PLA). branded as “left deviationism” to attract the support of the middle peasants who have also been victims of the “red terror”, since for the communist leadership the agrarian revolution is an instrument at the service of one goal: to win the civil war. In any case, with this policy the PLA manages to recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers belonging to peasant families (in Manchuria alone, more than a million and a half men join the PLA).

Chiang Kai-shek with his son Chiang Ching-kuo in 1948.

Simultaneously, Chiang Kai-shek’s regime and his army are crumbling at an accelerating rate, so, as Lucien Bianco has pointed out, “Communist successes owe less to their power of attraction than to adverse failures.” One of the main reasons for the collapse, along with the corruption that corrodes the nationalist regime, is the hyperinflation caused by the continuous issuance of banknotes to defray military and state expenditures – the substitution of the fabi for the gold yuan decreed in August 1948 , when an American dollar was already exchanged for twelve million fabis, did not solve the problem—, since it causes the ruin above all of the middle classes of the cities, the social sector in which the regime relied, and among which are included the civil servants and the military whose salaries do not increase at the same the rate at which prices rise, which, on the other hand, intensifies corruption – and desertions from the military. Hyperinflation is so brutal that the value of the paper with which the banknotes are made exceeds its monetary value, which explains that a large paper mill in Guangdong province bought 800 boxes of two thousand yuan billsof gold to make virgin paper. In this way, the conviction is spreading that the Communists cannot be worse, even among the bourgeois media – “this cannot last any longer,” writes the author of a report written in December 1948. Communists “are expected with hope or fear, resignation or relief, but they are expected: at least the uncertainty ceases and the war ends, an end to the absurd daily torment!”

Alain Roux also explains the defeat of the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek not only for military reasons:

Chiang lost a conflict that he could not win. He had rejected since the 1930s the social and political reforms essential to modernize China. His regime, sapped by corruption and inflation, rested on a discredited and demoralized army. Finally, he had chosen Manchuria for the final test of strength, against the opinion of his American advisers, a region where the Communists could fully benefit from Soviet military aid, while this battlefield dangerously lengthened the nationalist lines of communication.

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Revolution

Chinese communist revolution protagonists chiang kai shek taiwan
Chiang Kai-shek ruled Taiwan until his death.

The main leaders of each faction during the Chinese Communist Revolution were:

  • Mao Zedong / Mao Tsé-Tung (1893-1976) . Chinese leader of the communist faction and top leader of the Chinese Communist Party after the People’s Republic was established in 1949. As a peasant family , he fought from a young age against the Japanese invaders and then against the nationalists, once convinced that only communism would save his country. He promulgated a version of Marxism- Leninism, adapted to the peculiarities of Chinese society , which resulted in a brutal authoritarianism and a closed-door development model, which played an important role in converting China into the power that is currently .
  • Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) . Military and political leader of the Chinese nationalists opposed to Mao Zedong, successor to Sun Yat-sen who was the founder of the Kuomintang party. After being defeated by the communists in the civil war, he took refuge in Taiwan and ruled until his death, waiting for the fall of communism and the opportunity to rebuild a republican China.
  • George Marshall (1880-1959) . American military who was Chief of the General Staff of the Army during World War II and author of the economic plan that bears his last name (the “Marshall Plan”) for the Reconstruction of 18 countries in Europe after the end of the war. This earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. He was the United States emissary in China to mediate between the confronted factions, but withdrew in 1947 when he realized that none of them appreciated his presence and preferred to end the conflict through weapons.

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