The main reason why the Communists came to power in China was because of the failing policies and actions used by Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalists) of which the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) took advantage. However in addition to that, there were also significant factors such as the poor conditions during the beginning of the twentieth century in the Republic of China and the Japanese War (1937 1945), that led to the insufficiency and weakness of the GMD (Chinese Democratic Party) during the Civil War. Their leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, lost the support of the majority, mainly peasants and intellectuals, to the CCP, which contributed to their success in war. In addition to GMDs actions, Mao Zedong, the communist leader was able to take over and declare the Peoples Republic of China.
Early twentieth century
Failing of Qing Dynasty
The unhappiness in China laid in its problems, which arose during the early twentieth century. Until the early twentieth century, Chinas rule was based on dynasties, which followed Confucian theories. The Chinese thought of their nation as the center of the world, disclaiming any interest in the west. Already during the nineteenth century, China had been weakened through foreign trade, war and influence.
As the situation started to go worse, the people wanted to alter the situation and showed resistance to the foreigners in the Boxers Rebellion. This Rebellion and its aftermath prompted some reforms in China, however, it was too little, too late. The Qing dynasty was seen to be failing the people of China. In 1908, the Dowager Empress, CiXi, died and her three year-old grand nephew, PuYi, was proclaimed emperor. The discontent even grew further, and several groups, such as the Tongmengui organized to overthrow the Qing.
The Republic of China
Sun Yatsen (a member of Tongmenghui) was announced the provincial president of the Republic of China on January 1, 1912. Still. he was forced to resign from his post because of Yuan Shikai, who organized the abdication of the Qing emperor in return for his own appointment as president. At that time, a new revolutionary party Guomindang was formed. This party believed in parliamentary democracy and the principle of electing the officials. Yuan disagreed with GMDs ideas and outlawed it in 1913. One year later WWI broke out in Europe and Japan took advantage of the outbreak.
By 1915, Japan invaded Quindao and confronted Yaun Shikai with a list of twenty-one demands. These demands were not only exceptionally harmful to the economy but they were also seen as extreme humiliations to the Chinese people. Meanwhile, the central government came under the rule of Gen. Yuan Shikai, who died in June 1916 before he could consolidate his power as Emperor. After Yuan Shikai death, Sun Yatsen took over the nation. He promoted modernization and the revolt against obedience.
When the WWI ended the Chinese assumed their allies would reward them. In 1919, when at Versailles the allies decided not to reward China, the people were outraged. Due to rejection of the reward, they developed a New Culture movement, which was pro democracy and education, but rejected Confucianism and the old ways. Furthermore, they declined the democratic systems of Great Britain and France(1).
Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
A rebellion, called May 4th Movement took place, demanding a more Socialist system. At this stage, the Soviet regimes and their withdrawal from the war started to appear to the Chinese. Two years after the Treaty of Versailles, in 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was set up in Benijing and Paris, with leaders Mao Zedong and Chou Enlan(2).
In sum, the Chinese had lived in insecure conditions, of which some are due to major problems and disruptions after European penetration in early nineteenth century. Therefore, the people were looking for a government, which would bring solutions and put a final end to their struggle. The mistakes of Kuomingtangs policies and action caused for the Communists to come to power, they gained peasants sympathy and put them into an even more positive view of themselves to the people. At the beginning the GMD sought to bring about a democratic revolution.
Their socialist leader, Sun Yatsen, therefore introduced three principles, Nationalism, Democracy and Peoples livelihood. His idea of Nationalism consisted of a strong central government, which would have had to be able to force out foreign influence and restore independence of China.
Democracy was Suns attempt to secure liberty and equality, in a country, which previously had a long history of imperial dynastic rule. In addition to this he demanded a fair distribution of wealth such as land and reflection of peoples livelihood. It became obvious that there was no harmony in the Chinese society. Mainly the warlords and foreigners increasingly contributed to the division of the country. In addition, the privileged classes established an opposition.
After Sun Yatsens death in 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek (also a GMD member) took over GMD leadership, confronting his problems in a more aggressive way than Sun Yatsen did. General Chiang Kai-Shek mainly concentrated on the military unification and reforms were regarded of a minor importance. Already, in 1927 he dictated a massacre in the city of Shanghai where 6000 communists were ruthlessly killed. Due to this, the left wing GMD members split. Chiang organized his own nationalist government at Nanjing, in 1928. He was unable to unify China because of his desire to alienate the CCP and the peasants. Democracy, which he never reached, was no issue for Chiang, due to lack of basics in such a political leadership. He never gave the people a right to demand their will. He also failed in preventing China from Japanese invasion.(3)
During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 1945, within 3 months Shanghai and Nanijing had fallen, showing GMDs useless leadership skills and lack of tactics and efficient battle experience, against Japanese harsh, better equipped and organized attacks. The retreat of GMDs local officials to Chiongqing exposed large areas of China to CCPs influence. Chiang believed that Chinas unity could only be achieved by force of arms and overthrowing of those, who resisted nationalist government, including the communists, warlords, and finally the Japanese.
To make up their economic losses and to lessen the inflation, the Guamindang introduced a system of taxes and credit in the countryside. These were extremely unfair and they contributed to the increase of discontent among the people. Within the GMD government there was no interest in a social revolution and the reforms that were made by them, had little effect outside large towns or on the welfare of the majority of the population.
Thus, initial support for GMD was alienated as the Chinese still looked for a solution not only to their social, political and economic problems but also to their protection against the Japanese invaders. After WWI, the Chinese economy began to experience a crisis. The wartime demand for Chinese products, currency manipulations as well as the worlds depression in the 1930s, all that contributed to the unbearable situation.(4)
GMDs unsuccessful attempts to save China
In 1921, a few young radicals, including Mao Zedong, held the first congress of the CCP. Three years after their first congress, the Chinese Communists were advised to enter into a cooperative relationship with the GMD, by Michael Bordin – a Russian political advisor, who helped in the building up of Sun Yatsens party. By 1924, the CCP and GMD united in order to defeat the warlords, which were still partially ruling Chinese provinces. But after Suns death, Chiang Kai-Shek took over (1925) and he was regarded as a super warlord.
This coalition lasted until Chiang Kai-Sheks leadership year (1927). By expelling the communists from the government and organizing the anti CCP, Shanghai massacre, Chiang destroyed the CCP-GMD alliance, declaring a rival government at Nanjing. Therefore the communists were forced to set up their Red base areas, from where they could promote their influences into China (5).
In contrast to the conservative GMD, the Communist Party grew rapidly, pushing policies such as land reform and labor unions. These differences made Chiang execute thousands of CCP and union members. Those, who were lucky enough to escape this bloody purge either took the hills or went underground in the cities. They began to abandon their urban preoccupations, because it was in the cities, where Chiang had the greatest power. The communists therefore realized that their opportunity lay in the suffering countryside and the peasantry.
Raise of Communist support in China
By 1930, Mao together with other communist rebels established a rural base area in southeastern province Jiangxi. For success among the peasants they began to work out more reasonable land policies, military tactics involving the local peasants and other doctrines.
In October 1934 about 100,000 communists began the Long March, which covered over 6 thousand miles. This gave the communists an important strategic advantage, because although it was in effect a tactical defeat militarilythis came with beneficial psychological and organizational effects that included positive involvement of peasants along the route of the march. The CCP proclaimed that they were marching to fight Japan, at a time when people all over China became increasingly disturbed by Japanese incursions in the north.
Therefore, the Second World War was a useful opportunity, where they showed their efficient guerilla warfare under Maos firm leadership. More and more peasants became actively resistant, because of the Japanese violence. As a result of the weakness or absence of local notables, the communists were able to place themselves at the head of this movement of popular patriotic resistance to the foreign invaders. The CCP also included the status of women into their policies. As Mao said, Women hold up half the sky.(6) With these reforms the communists were able to free women from their husbands and other men, in the same way they freed the peasants form the landlords and the moneylenders.