Ironically, reform paved the way for a more radical political transformation. As Qing rule was shown to be increasingly bankrupt, revolutionary and nationalistic uprisings gained widespread public support, even among the conservative scholar-gentry. Finally, revolution broke out at Wuchang in Central China on Oct. 10, 1911. On Jan. 1, 1912, Sun Yat-sen, a longtime activist, was elected provisional president of the Chinese Republic. On February 12 the last Qing emperor abdicated, ending not only the Qing empire but also more than 3,000 years of Chinese monarchy. Although Sun is regarded as the father of the Chinese Republic, he was succeeded just a few months later by Yuan Shikai (Yüan Shih-k'ai), a late-Qing military strongman who was widely believed to be the only statesman then powerful enough to combat not only lingering Manchu reactionism but also foreign aggression.
Yuan soon dissolved parliament and attempted to restore the monarchy. After Yuan's death in 1916 and until 1928, rival groups of militarists with the support of various Western nations contended for power. China had once more entered an age of domination by warlords. Although politically retrogressive, the period (1917–21) witnessed a revolution in Chinese thought and culture collectively known as the May Fourth movement. The result was an intensified nationalism and struggle against imperialism, an enhanced knowledge of Western liberal ideas, a spreading attack on the old Confucian hierarchical social order, and a literary renaissance that created a new vernacular writing style. The period also marked the introduction of Marxism into China and the convening of the first congress of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) in 1921, with Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) in attendance.
Russian Communists, however, decided to support the numerically superior and more influential Nationalist political party called the Kuomintang (KMT, or Guomindang), led by Sun Yat-sen, in ridding China of the warlord menace and paving the way for socialism. In 1923, Chinese Communists were ordered as individuals to join the KMT, and the next year the KMT began to be reorganized along Leninist lines. This alliance of convenience between Communists and Nationalists came to a bloody end in April 1927, when KMT troops ravaged the CCP organization and labor movement in Shanghai. The architect of the Shanghai massacre was Chiang Kai-shek, a military advisor of Sun. Trained in Japan and in Moscow, he took over the military command of the KMT after Sun's death in 1925. From July 1926, Chiang led the Northern Expedition to rid China of the warlords.
By the autumn of 1928, Chiang had succeeded in nominally reuniting China for the first time since 1916. But the KMT-controlled government at Nanjing, which survived from 1928 to 1937, suffered considerable handicaps. Menaced by local warlords and also by CCP soviets in various parts of China, the KMT was forced to devote almost half its budget to military expenditures. Like other Chinese regimes, the KMT government was beset by ineffectual administration, corruption, factionalism, and political repression. The KMT purge of Communists and radical leftists after 1928 deprived it of the personnel and ideas that might have enabled it to cope with increasing political and economic disintegration. Finally, Chiang Kai-shek was inflexible, lacked a comprehension of modern economic planning, and did not understand politics involving the broad masses. He was less concerned with the social and economic transformation of Chinese society than with the creation of a strong national state. Whatever hopes Chiang may have had of solving the many problems facing his regime were dashed by the full-scale Japanese invasion of China that began in July 1937.
World War II and Communist Victory
The war proved a boon for the CCP. As late as 1934–35, KMT pressure had forced the CCP to quit the Henan-Jiangxi (Honan-Kiangsi) region and embark upon the 8,000-km (5,000-mi) Long March to the northwestern frontier in Shaanxi. Of 80,000 who began the journey, only 20,000 reached their destination. It was during the Long March that Mao Zedong achieved unrivaled power in the Communist party. While the KMT bore the brunt of the frontline fighting against the Japanese, Mao seized upon nationalistic fervor and undertook various economic reform programs and popular mobilization in the less accessible border areas. By the end of the war in the Pacific (August 1945), the CCP was in control of a region in North China with a population of 100 million.
During the 1940s a Chinese form of Marxism-Leninism, or Maoism, built upon a peasant rather than a proletarian base, was successfully tested in action and became the new Communist orthodoxy in China. Although materially supported by the United States and at first far superior to the CCP in numbers, the KMT lacked an inspiring ideology or genuine economic reform program. Its leadership grew increasingly out of touch with the masses. Defensively entrenched in the cities, it suffered the debilitating effects of wartime inflation and corruption and was increasingly outmaneuvered by the CCP.
By mid-1948 the Communists equaled the Nationalists in numbers. Finally, Mao's armies crossed the Yangtze River in 1949 and overwhelmed the Nationalists. KMT military remnants and political leaders fled to Taiwan, which the Japanese had returned to China at the end of the war. There, the Nationalists continue to claim to be the legitimate government of all China and preside over an economic miracle that was nurtured by U.S. aid (1950–65), a successful land reform program, and sound economic planning.
But the history of post-1949 China is the history of the People's Republic, proclaimed by Mao Zedong on Oct. 1, 1949, at its capital, Beijing. This history has been marked by long periods of careful, practical development interspersed with shorter periods of intense ideological mobilization. The first years were ones of thoroughgoing social and economic reorganization on the Russian model, backed by Soviet support (see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). A nationwide land reform wiped out the landlord class and divided the land among the peasantry. Women were given full equality with men, and attacks were made on official corruption and bureaucratism. Efforts were begun to improve sanitation and to achieve universal literacy. Mobilization of the masses in these enterprises may have been facilitated by the patriotism generated by involvement in the Korean War (1950–53).
During the first Five-Year Plan (1953–57) agriculture was collectivized and industrial production expanded. But disappointing agricultural production led to the frenzied Great Leap Forward of 1958–60. This program sought to make use of China's rural manpower surplus to rapidly expand agricultural and small-scale industrial productivity but led instead to general economic dislocation and widespread famine. About the same time disagreement over the correct methods of achieving socialism led to the great Sino-Soviet split (see communism).
Growing tensions among party leaders and a feeling by Mao that the revolution was running out of steam led him to launch the Cultural Revolution of 1966–69, which was designed to replace the party-government–military-power elite with more revolutionary elements. As stability was restored after this second mass upheaval, China profited from a series of developments in foreign relations, including its admission to the United Nations and the expulsion (1971) from that body of the Nationalist regime on Taiwan.
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