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The Chinese Civil War - The Rise of Chinese Communism - Part. 2
You've already seen in my previous post, The Chinese Civil War - Beginnings - Part. 1, what happened and what were the factors that led to the outburst of the civil war in China. Now, I will continue my story with the next important period: the Warlord Period that happened immediately after 1916.
General Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor in 1916. This was the end point of the previous post. So, by doing this, it would take a bit before it dawned on him, he completely lost any support and so pissed off and died shortly after.
However, with him gone, everything fell apart. Yuan had been the only thing holding this nation together.
The Warlord Period
Regionalism peached so far, they stopped being regions, China breaking into small states and provinces controlled by warlords. They had their own taxes, laws and even currencies. Most importantly, they were constantly fighting each other. Sen returned to this chaos and began advocating for Chinese reunification. However, his powerful speeches fell on deaf ears.
Change could only begin to be ushered in when outrage sparked over the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Former German colonies in China were handed not to the Chinese, but the Japanese. Mass demonstrations broke out in Beijing as consequence, demanding the abolishment of warlords, the death of old and defunct tradition, the repulsion of an encroaching Japanese and the creation of a new, strong and unified China.
Sen and the Kuomintang looked to answer this call, beginning a self-proclaimed military government in 1921 to fight from. His founding principles and ambitious dreams for China inspired others, such as the Communist Party of China, who saw fit to join in an alliance with the Kuomintang in 1922.
First United Front
The two parties knew to create a unified China, the warlords would have to be forced to surrender their control. To cooperate, they formed a unified front. Sen would inconveniently die in 1925 and, as such an iconic figure, so much so being labeled as the father of the nation, his departure left a void. His young protégé, Chiang Kai-Shek, would force himself as heir, becoming generalissimo despite the protest of pretenders. Regardless, Chiang's main anxiety was the alliance of the CCP. The Communists would drive the peasants into revolutionary fervor off the back of the front's successes. That, in Chiang's eyes, threatened the structure of China.
By 1927, they had seized Hangzhou, Shanghai and Nanjing, Beijing soon to fall as well. The warlords not a threat, this alliance was no longer a convenience, but an obstacle.
Away with communists
China initiated the White Terror, which saw mass executions of communists in Shanghai and later, beyond. Thousands of communists, trade unionists and peasant leaders were massacred in the name of purification. After only a few months of this persecution, the CCP was facing destruction and its leadership at conflict with itself. Li Lisan, in concurrent with traditional communism, refused the idea that they retreat from the cities. Good as defeat, it was to him.
Mao Zedong was supportive of the idea they base themselves amongst the rural peasantry, away from Chiang's armies. As that, was how Chinese communism was to be.
Mao's plan of action was to be taken, despite Li being his superior. They would centralize themselves in the Jiangxi mountains, undertaking an insurgency against Chiang's far-larger forces.
In 1930, the Soviets took a larger interest in China's revolution. The Great Depression had broken out and communists world round saw it as the beginning of the world revolution. So, the Communist International or Comintern Organization, began to attempt to instruct the Chinese on how they could be the first successful step to this globalization of communism.
Li would listen to them and do as they said and when they told him to launch a counter-attack against the Kuomintang, he did, and failed horribly. His leadership tarnished and the Comintern refusing to take the blame, the organization had Li replaced by Chinese students from Moscow, called the 28 Bolsheviks.
Did these studies make them better-educated or just out of touch?
Chiang's government was characterized by social unease, because as he continued to pursue the communists, he hailed to implement Sen's reforms and allow the Japanese to annex Manchuria in 1931. Class tensions, bad morale and political dissatisfaction would reliably rise as the generalissimo continued to persevere.
The Kuomintang's army encircled the mountains, but Mao would develop his personal strain of guerilla warfare to combat them. As much as it did help, it couldn't last forever. In 1934, Chiang fielded his largest army yet to flush them out and a suicidal escape began to seem more desirable than waiting for an inevitable demise.
The Long March
A retreat was planned to resettle their forces in the North of China, in Shanxi. But it would take them on a trek of almost 10.000 kilometers to the most inhospitable areas of China and that is if they even managed to break the encirclement. The 28 Bolsheviks would lead them to do just that. But when they brought them to the Xiang River and lost 50% of their men to simply cross it, not many people showed any interest in what those students reckoned anymore.
Mao Zedong was elected to leadership in January 1935 and his direction saw them march the remaining kilometers, fighting 15 more battles and many more skirmishes, arriving in Shanxi in October, with 10% of their original rank surviving, but they survived.
This is how Mao managed to raise to power. Turbulent times indeed and maybe some of you already know what China under Mao meant for the Chinese and for the world. But I will cover this topic in the next and final post of this mini-series.