The focus of this investigation
will question “To what extent was the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil
War due to faulty decisions made by the Nationalist Kuomintang?” which will be
used to discuss the multiple different aspects as to the reasons why the
Chinese Nationalists lost. For this investigation, the years of 1927 to 1950
will be examined as they are the years that the war was fought. Interference
from other countries such as the Soviet Union and the United States who gave
support may have indeed played a part to the outcome of the Chinese Civil War,
however for the purpose of this investigation, only the decisions of the
Communists and Nationalists will be examined, in multiple crucial aspects such
as their military, economy, and policies. This will look through any political
and societal changes as well as how the ties between other countries alter.
This is an important topic to investigate because the war’s outcome can be
considered a pivotal changing point in Chinese history that greatly shaped the
nation’s functions. And so, Civil War in
China: The Political Struggle, 1945-1949 by Suzanne Pepper and China’s Civil War: A Social History,
1945-1949 by Diana Lary, will be used as resources of insight because both
thoroughly discuss multiple aspects of the war which will aid to my research.
The first source that will be
evaluated is Civil War in China: The
Political Struggle, 1945-1949, a book written by Suzanne Pepper and
published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1999. Pepper is a Hong Kong-based
American writer who particularly explores Chinese politics within the 20th
century, which proves valuable since the author has spent time with the
specified subject. Pepper’s research into the Chinese Civil War was due to the
observation that it created challenges for the U.S foreign policy. However,
within this source’s origin may lie bias towards the nationalist’s side due to
the author being an American which creates unsupportiveness towards the
The purpose of this book is to
analyze the reasoning as to how the Nationalists were defeated through
criticizing the nation’s politics during this time period and investigating
crucial choices. It provides aid through providing an understanding to politics
during this time, however the source does not recognize other aspects as
The second source that will be
used to aid this research is China’s
Civil War: A Social History, 1945-1949. This book was written by Diana Lary
and published by the Cambridge University Press in 2015. The author, a history
professor and sinologist, focuses her work centered on modern China and the
impact of warfare on Chinese society. This origin is valuable because Lary has
also spent years researching in the country therefore she is knowledgeable in
these topics. It is limited because the author focuses on the people more, and
does not investigate economic factors that were created.
The purpose of this to
investigate historical and societal contexts of the war, which identifies the
facets that led to Communist victory1.
This is valuable because the source explores other factors that played a role
besides politics, such as social, historical, and geographical matters. However
this is also a limitation as the discussion becomes too broad.
The Chinese Civil War, although
temporarily suspended for 8 years due to the interfering Second Sino-Japanese
War, lasted from 1927 to 19502.
The war was fought between the two political parties of the Chinese
nationalists, the Kuomintang (KMT), and the Communist Party of China (CCP) in
order to gain the power of reforming the nation’s politics3. At
the end of the prolonged war, the communist regime with Mao Zedong as their
leader emerged victorious whilst Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist party
withdrew to the island of Taiwan4.
This war can be considered as a pivotal event in the making of modern China as
it brought forth multiple changes to the nation’s functions and its surrounding
countries5 and created a lasting division in
china6. However, historians may argue the
extent of the Communist triumph, as some believe that it was not due to their
strength but rather due to multiple weak decisions made by the Nationalists.
This notion is due to the fact that the CCP appeared to have the disadvantage
at the offset, as they were outclassed in numbers, material, and territory7.
Through the analysis of some
historians, there appeared to be multiple undermining decisions made by the KMT
that led to their eventual defeat. One of such was their economic decisions.
Inflation had grown out of their control even with their newly implemented currency
called ‘law money’ under the Kuomintang rule7. The government’s military operations in the first
part of 1948 produced even larger budget deficits through the loss of tax
receipts, dislocation of transportation and productive facilities, and
increased military expenditures8.
Through these factors, by 1949, China’s monetary system collapsed which left
the government discredited by the nation and the Nationalists demoralized9.
This economic situation continued to deteriorated and eventually led to the
growth of protests against food shortages and the corrupt price fixing8, with these aspects in mind it can cause the Chinese
public to lose support for their victory. From the mismanagement of the
economy, consequences such as an increased militaristic government and the public
being politically alienated10. This aspect implied that the KMT
could have struggled with holding their economic power in China as they did not
show strong leadership that would be able to sustain. It would also show that
the Nationalists would have failed to strongly implement Sun Yat-Sen’s idea of
the Principle of the People9 which consisted of nationalism, democracy, and socialism11.
Not only was the economy an issue
for the Nationalist party, they also faced more growing hardships after
returning to war when the eight-year Second Sino-Japanese War had ceased. In
order to take advantage of China’s instability during this time, Japan decided
to occupy the nation in 1937 which caused the civil war to be put on hiatus6. This war had exhausted the KMT government
militarily, financially, and spiritually12.
Japan’s invasion of eastern China after 1937 drained Chiang and the Kuomintang
continued to remain stable due to their guerrilla tactics costing fewer
It is seen that the repercussions faced after the war had not only brought the
KMT morale down, but it would continue to haunt them through the duration of
the civil war which can be linked to their descent of power in the war. Resisting
Japanese forces damaged the Nationalist army more than the Communists, which allowed
for an advantage to be created6. While the Nationalists were growing vulnerable
after the Sino-Japanese War, the Communists were able to gain the stronghold14.
Still, the nationalist party
seemed to have started off relatively strong before the civil war’s hiatus. The
first Nationalist offensive was successful and Chiang believed that his troops
had sufficient military superiority against the Communists to win the campaign15.
This aspect changed, however, when the KMT went on the defensive in Manchuria.
During this time, the Communists were able to improve and expand their army.
They began to dig more trenches and dugouts in order to avoid open field operations,
but this created a mass amount of defensive attitude within the army5. It can be examined that when the Nationalists
switched to the defending side, their advantage and combative superiority over
the Communists began to deteriorate which continued their downfall in the war.
However, some historians argue
that rather than the decisions of the Nationalists being at fault, the
Communist victory was actually due to the advantages they gained throughout the
course of the war. One of these defining aspects were that that they gained
support from the Chinese peasants and attaining more political power5. By March 1945, the communists had liberated 678
out of 914 country towns and implemented their policies such as land reform,
setting up village schools and soviets, reducing taxes and abolishing debt16.
The communists never formally announced that the war was the cause of the
change in their land policy, however, in 1946, they argued that only land
reform could mobilize the peasants and gain their support9. James Sheridan, a historian,
writes that the reason behind the enthusiasm of Chinese peasants was achieved
‘by meeting the local, immediate needs of the peasants through reformist and
radical social policies and by providing leadership for the defense of peasant
communities against the Japanese. In this fashion the communists won peasant
confidence and in the process began the transformation – the modernization – of
During the last months of the war, the locals were also captured by the
discipline of the Communist soldiers and their way of demonstrating exemplary
behavior18. Through evaluating this aspect, it
can be seen that the gain of support from the Chinese peasants towards the
Communists was a great advantage, as the public was now endorsing the new
political, social, economic, and military and were filled with more purpose and
spirit. This mobilization from the people to the CCP caused the power of the
KMT towards the people to disintegrate and added on to their chance of defeat.
As Odd Arne Westad, a historian
specializing in East Asian history, writes that “the military history of the
ware is not a unilinear story,… but a much more complex and uncertain tale in
which the outcome was not given until very late”19, it
can be perceived that the civil war entails many different changes and
perspectives throughout its duration. However, through the multiple aspects
investigated as to the reasons behind the defeat of the Nationalist Kuomintang,
it can be concluded that the civil war ended with a Chinese Communist victory
due to the weakness and faulty decision making from the KMT. This notion is
strongly suggested because they lacked effective leadership and lost morale
after the war’s hiatus. The KMT were also not able to capture the support of
the people, as they recognized corruption, inefficiency and an autocratic
government through the war’s duration7. Equally enough however, the evidence may also
provide another argument that states that the Communist victory was due to the
party’s effective sense of gaining support and power over time from Mao’s
military and political success. This may be believed because the CCP was able
to gain strength in their fight.
SECTION C: REFLECTION
Through this investigation, I was
able to explore the analytic methods historians use fundamentally in order to
make a concluding conjecture through creating an inquiry, using multiple tools
such as historical books and journals, and examining the gathered evidence to
form a final result. I was able to find sources that had one aspect that
another one lacked, an example would be examining my two evaluated sources.
While Pepper focuses on choices that led to the Nationalist defeat and examines
the war on a more political standpoint, Lary’s writings explore the aspects of
Communist victory that Pepper missed such as social, historical, and
However, like a historian would,
I had to decipher why one source’s information was more reliable or
‘acceptable’ than the other’s based on the evidence backing it up. An
exploration on a variety of sources as well as an examination of where each
source came from and determine whether or not the author had credibility based
on their background and studies, and decipher the amount of acceptable bias and
fact within. While obtaining the sources on the Chinese Civil War, I had to
compare the information gathered from one source to another multiple times in
order to explore the perspectives and insight since the sources could have
explored either the CCP or KMT viewpoints. However, like a historian would, I
had to analyze on the reasoning behind why one facet was more impactful than
the others based on the amount of evidence to help construct the argument.
Deciding on the evidence that
would be prevalent in answering my question came to me as a challenge as well,
as there was a variety of different aspects I could have investigated in order
to enhance my understanding of the topic. Some of the valuable sources I used
gave me perspectives to consider that I would have never brought into account
beforehand. Therefore narrowing down on what to look for proved difficult as I
was able to find resources that explained both of the CCP and KMT sides of the
war in a broad manner. Within these different aspects and perspectives
witnessed, there becomes a realization that in history, there is no single
answer to a question and therefore it is more challenging to end with a final
conclusion to an investigation. This provided me an understanding to the
importance of searching every side of an argument to shape a final conclusion.
1 Ghasem Torabi. China’s Civil War. A Social History,
1945-1949, Europe-Asia Studies. 2016
Ken. “The Cold War for Kids: Chinese Civil War .” Ducksters.
Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI), Oct. 2017.
3 Christman, Maximilian. The Fuel Behind the Chinese Civil War.
Washington State University. 2014. history.libraries.wsu.edu/fall2014/2014/09/07/the-chinese-civil-war/
4 Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt. The military history of the Chinese Civil
War. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd; New impression edition. 1969.
5 Zhan, Jun. Ending the Chinese
Civil War: Power, Commerce and Conciliation between Beijing and Taipei. St.
Martin’s Press. New York, 1993.
6 Lary, Diana. China’s Civil War: A
Social History, 1945-1949. Cambridge University Press. 2015
7 Chassin, Lionel Max. The Communist Conquest of China: A History
of the Civil War, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press. 1965
8 Twitchett, Denis C. Rawski,
Evelyn S. China.
9 Lynch, Micheal. The Chinese Civil
War 1945–49 (Osprey Essential Histories #61). Osprey Publishing. 2010.
10 Pepper, Suzanne. Civil War
in China: The Political Struggle, 1945-1949. Rowman & Littlefield. 1999
11 Yixian, Sun. Fundamentals of
National Reconstruction. 1923
Hsu, Immanuel. The Rise of
Modern China, 1995. Oxford University Press
13 Waldron, Arthur. Chinese Civil War.” The Reader’s
Companion to Military History. Ed. Cowley Robert, and Parker Geoffrey.
Houghton Mifflin, 1st edition. Credo Reference. 1996. Academic OneFile,
Accessed 8 July 2017.
14 Cairns, Rebecca. “The Second
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15 Meyer-Fong, Tobie. What Remains:
Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China. Stanford: Stanford
University Press. 2013
War Case Study 2: The Chinese Civil War (1927–37 and 1946–49). Pearson Textbook.
17 Sheridan, James E. China in Disintegration: The Republican
Era in Chinese History, 1912-1949. Transformation of Modern China Series.
Free Press. 1977
18 Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Touchstone; Reprint
edition. 1991. Harper Collins. alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/jung-chang-ccp-public-support-1986/
19 Odd Arne, Westad. Decisive
Encounters: the Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950. Stanford University Press. 2003