Revision Notes for Mao's China

The Early Years

China had a long history of national unity and since the mid-seventeenth century had been ruled by the Manchu or Ch’ing dynasty. However, during the 1840s, the country moved into a troubled period of foreign interference, civil war and disintegration, which lasted until the communist victory in 1949.
The last emperor was overthrown in 1911 and a republic was proclaimed. The period 1916 to 1928, known as the Warlord Era, was one of great chaos, as a number of generals seized control of different provinces. A party known as the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalists, was trying to govern China and control the generals, who were busy fighting each other. The KMT leaders were Dr Sun Yat-sen, and after his death in 1925, General Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in 1921, and at first it co-operated with the KMT in its struggle against the warlords. As the KMT gradually established control over more and more of China, it felt strong enough to do without the help of the communists, and it tried to destroy them. The communists, under their leader Mao Zedong, reacted vigorously, and after escaping from surrounding KMT forces, they embarked on the 6000-mile Long March (1934-5) to form a new power base in northern China.
Civil war dragged on, complicated by Japanese interference, which culminated in a full-scale invasion in 1937. When the Second World War ended in defeat for the Japanese and their withdrawal from China, the KMT and the CCP continued to fight each other for control of China. Chiang Kai-shek received help from the USA, but in 1949 it was Mao and the communists who finally triumphed. Chiang and his supporters fled to the island of Taiwan (Formosa). Mao Zedong quickly established control over the whole of China, and he remained leader until his death in 1976.
 China I- Introduction
The focus of this course so far has been the West. However, challenges launched from the non-Western world questioned the West’s political and moral leadership. We’ve already looked at Manchuria and Abyssinia, but to start the year we shall consider the case of China in some depth. China rebelled against the West both by asserting its national independence and by rejecting a liberal democratic system. As in Russia, the victory of communism over liberal democracy was the result of struggle, although in China, it took almost 40 years to come to a resolution.
Two main reasons to take this section seriously:
i) You will be asked for a number of questions to compare “two regions.”
ii) For HL, this will reinforce Soviet history. As the Chinese said, “The Soviet Union’s today is our tomorrow.” Or at least they used to…

Because the roots of Chinese nationalism today lie in its imperialist experience, we have to go back in time to set the scene:
i. China had been a strong unified state from the 13th through the 18th centuries and had considered itself the centre of the civilised world.
ii. Until the 19th century, Western incursions into China had been limited and on China’s own terms, partly because there was no market for Western goods in China.
iii. What changed this limited trade relationship was the discovery of a product the Chinese would buy: opium. After 1815, British and American companies began smuggling in opium.
iv. When the Chinese government tried to suppress the trade, the British asked their government to protect their rights to free trade, which led to the Opium War of 1842. The result was the first in a series of “unequal treaties” signed with industrial powers, including France in the 1880s and Japan in the 1890s.
v. The increasing role played by the foreign powers in Chinese affairs was demonstrated in the bloody Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s. None of you will have heard of it, but over twice as many died during it than during the Great War. It was led by Jesus’s younger brother (apparently).
vi. By 1900, China was divided up, through these treaties, into economic spheres of influence rather than formal colonies. The reason these spheres did not evolve into colonies was because the United States pushed what it called the Open Door policy to preserve its access to Chinese markets.

So, although there had been no formal takeover, imperialism had undermined traditional authority so badly that the empire collapsed in 1911.
1.  Firstly, it destroyed the Chinese sense of cultural superiority.
2. Secondly, it undermined the political order by interfering with national sovereignty.
C.      After China’s defeat to Japan in 1895, the Qing dynasty made a last effort to reform itself by partially adapting a Western model of state-building and modernisation. However, the Qing was unequipped to for this challenge. Its inability to remake itself as a modern nationalist regime was exemplified by the Boxer Rebellion and its repression by foreign troops. If you can, watch 55 Days at Peking.

ToK Question to Consider:
An admittedly minority of scholars has argued that Western imperialism was beneficial for colonial nations, in that it drew them into the international market and forced a degree of modernisation (Ferguson’s ANGLOBALISATION), but the majority emphasise the negative impact. Do you agree with the majority opinion?

The Chinese Revolution

Outline: This lesson picks up the story in 1911, following the two major strands of Chinese nationalism, the liberal nationalists of Sun Yat Sen and the communists, led by Mao Tse Tung. Students should ask the fundamental question of why the revolutionary, or communist, version of nationalism won out over liberal nationalism. I would suggest they argue that the Communist Party was able to offer (in theory, at least) more convincing solutions to China’s two major problems—imperialism and land hunger. Although the liberal nationalists had a strong anti-imperialist rhetoric, they had little to offer the large, illiterate, and landless peasant population. In contrast, Mao led his party into adopting a peasant-centred program based on land redistribution and demonstrated anti-imperialist credentials through a successful guerilla war against the Japanese during World War II.


In 1911, the first revolution of the 20th century easily toppled the emperor, who resigned in February of 1912. The problem was that getting rid of the old regime was much easier than establishing a legitimate new authority.
1. Soon after abdication, the country was plunged into more than a decade of political disorder, in which local warlords fought among one another and the central government barely existed.
2. The two political forces that emerged out of this vacuum were the liberal nationalists and the communists.
3. The next year began another set of civil wars between communists and nationalists that were not resolved until 1949.

The nationalist alternative took shape during the first phase of the revolution in 1911 and was based on a Western liberal model.
1. Its leader was Sun Yat Sen, who absorbed Western political ideas through his education in Hawaii and British Hong Kong. When he died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek, a military officer, took his place.
2. At the same time, like many colonialist intellectuals, Sun Yat Sen developed a fervent anti-Western nationalism. In his own account, it was the unequal treaty with France in the 1880s that was the turning point for him.
3. His movement, the Guomindang (G.M.D.), was based on his three “principles of the people”:
(1) democracy, (2) nationalism, and (3) economic independence.

Although the movement was strongly nationalist, it also tended to reject Chinese tradition as a basis for national identity, because Chinese tradition, embodied in the emperor, had been humiliated by the West.
1. This paradox created a complex nationalism that was both anti-Western and aping of Western values at the same time.
2. This nationalist profile would occur elsewhere in the colonial world and distinguished Third World nationalism from European nationalism, which looked to a shared past to justify their nations.
3. For ex-colonial nations, their shared past was a colonial one, in which traditional authorities had been defeated and de-legitimized by Western powers.
4. Thus, the future nation required a new social order, a revolution not only against the foreign powers but against its own past.

Who joined the G.M.D.?
1. Sun Yat Sen was the prototypical nationalist, a member of the radicalized intelligentsia, often educated
abroad and living in coastal cities open to external influences.
2. Other than this small group, there was not a large constituency for the “three principles.” The business middle class was largely foreign and the traditional elites were landowners tied to a traditional agrarian economy. As in Russia, the vast majority of the population was made up of poor peasants who were illiterate, isolated, and with no tradition of political participation.
4. For these peasants, the major problem was the unequal rural land distribution and the great power of the big landowners. While the nationalists offered democracy and national independence, the peasants wanted land.
5. With no land reform program, the nationalists basically ignored one of China’s two major problems.

In contrast, the communists shared the nationalists’ anti-Western nationalism but put land reform at the centre of their program. Instead of aping Western liberalism, they aped Western communism, which created a nationalism that was revolutionary both in its desire to destroy the Chinese past and in its pursuit of social and economic revolution.
1. Because this communist program did not take shape immediately, we need to explain its evolution.
2. There was no separate communist movement until after the First World War.
3. The turning point came with news of the terms of the Paris peace treaty, which treated China like a colony, not an independent country.
4. Three days after the news hit, a massive anti-imperialist demonstration took place, known as the May 4th Movement.
5. One of the participants was a 26-year-old student with no political experience, whose name was Mao Tse Tung.
6. The “betrayal” of Western liberal democracies helped turn him and others against liberalism and the G.M.D.; by 1921, Mao helped to found the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.).

In this first phase, the C.C.P. had more weaknesses than strengths.
1. Its main strength was theoretical, because Marxist theory was able to link and explain China’s two problems of imperialism and rural poverty; that is, Lenin had formulated a theory that linked colonial poverty with capitalist exploitation.
2. Its main weakness was, as in Russia, the small size of the industrial working class, which was supposed to be the vanguard of the socialist revolution.
3. Although Lenin had accepted the involvement of peasants, the Russian Revolution was still led by workers in the major cities, with peasants playing a supporting role.
4. In the early 1920s, the C.C.P. was working with this same model, organizing students and workers in the cities.
5. But after a series of revolutionary uprisings in 1925–1926 staged by the C.C.P., the nationalists launched a war against it, crushing the small and isolated urban party.

II. After 1927, the C.C.P. was forced to adopt a new strategy that focused on the peasants if it wanted to survive. One of the foremost supporters of this new strategy was the director of the peasant department of the Party after 1926, Mao Tse Tung.

Thus, in the years after 1927, the Party worked to establish rural strongholds based on a radical land redistribution program and local self-government institutions that brought peasants into politics for the first time. By the early 1930s, the C.C.P. had established a dozen “Peoples’ Republics” in remote rural areas. These rural experiments gave the communists a significant popular following but still wouldn’t have been enough to take power.

In 1934, the nationalists again defeated the communists, pushing them out of their stronghold and sending them on a retreating expedition that became known as the “Long March.”
After a year’s journey, in which 100,000 dwindled to 8,000, the communists settled in the northwest province of Yanan, apparently back to square one in organizational terms.

III. What shifted the balance of power once again was the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.
Although both communists and nationalists had strong anti-imperialist rhetoric, the C.C.P. organised more successful resistance against the Japanese and, thus, proved its anti-imperialist credentials.
The C.C.P. successfully employed guerilla tactics, while the nationalist regular armies were no match for the Japanese. The C.C.P.’s resistance inspired a new wave of recruits, so that by the end of the war, the Red Army had ballooned to 1 million men.
 By the end of the war, then, the C.C.P. had demonstrated that it had a plan to solve both of the country’s major problems, while the G.M.D. had lost much of its prestige. The victory of the C.C.P. in 1949 provided a powerful new model of revolutionary anti-imperialism, inspired by Western communism but adapted for use by poor agrarian countries, such as Cuba, Angola, or Vietnam.

Sun Yat-Sen, “Fundamentals of National Reconstruction.”
Jonathan Spence, Mao Zedong: A Penguin Life.
Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, chapters 12–18, pp. 265–488.
Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, part 4, “Genesis of a Communist.”

Questions to Consider:
1. Knowing what we do about how repressive communist regimes turned out to be, what is the value of looking
back and trying to understand why communism seemed like an attractive option to many people?
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of a nationalism formed in opposition to imperialism, as opposed to claiming to build on a shared past?


            10 October                    Double Tenth
Uprising at Wuchang –ends the Qing Dynasty

            Sun Yat-sen becomes President of the Republic of China

Three Principles of the People
-Nationalism (rid china of Western invaders)
-Livelihood and the People’s Welfare, Socialism (government control of capital)
-Representative Government, Democracy (Chinese collectivism)

            14 February
            Yuan Shikai becomes President because Sun was not able to win the support of the military. He began to campaign against the KMT using bribes and double agents. When this caused Sun Yat-sen to escape to Japan, Yuan completed his government take-over. Yuan's subsequent reorganisation of the provincial governments after his victory set the precedent for warlords by designating an army to each provincial governor.

    Yuan agrees to most of Japan's 21 Demands, and protests are made against his leadership. He takes out massive loans to support his government.
    He becomes self-proclaimed "Emperor", thus losing of his power base, as the military felt he would be less dependent on them after his assumption of the monarchy.

1919               May 4th Movement
    Violent protest in reaction to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. China had entered the war in 1917, anticipating the recovery of the province of Shangdon that Germany had controlled. However, the land went to the Japanese, who had entered the war in 1914. May 4th started the movement towards a new culture, and a mass rejection of all foreigners, giving a more directed purpose to the revolutionaries. Mao participated by starting a newspaper The Xiang River Review, notable for his avocation of anarchy and denunciation of violent revolution: "we will not pursue that ineffectual 'revolution of blood.'"

            Idea for CCP
            Started in Moscow, under the hidden, but active involvement of the Comintern until 1949.

            April                         CCP formed
            Votinsky goes to China to set up the CCP
            Mao becomes the local CCP Party boss in Hunan
            Mao is dropped from the 2nd Congress, but he is kept on in the party because of his excellent military skills.

         Under encouragement from the Comintern and the CCP, Mao became a member of the KMT.  Members of the CCP were instructed by the Comintern to work with the KMT to bring China under a single nationalist government - First United Front.
            Sun Yat-sen dies of cancer. Chiang Kai-shek emerges as leader of the KMT.

            Northern Expedition
         Under the leadership of Chiang, United Front forces overthrow many provincial warlords. Unites more than half of China under KMT.

            Chiang Kai-shek marries the sister of Sun's wife. (He now appears to be the 'true heir' of Yat-sen although Sun Yat-sen's widow sides with the CCP. Also, Chiang's wife was educated in America –this will put the KMT in good favour with the US)
            Right-wing elements of the KMT led by Chiang conspire with provincial warlord allies to purge left-wing leaders. End of the First United Front and the beginning of a bitter rivalry between the CCP and the KMT.  
         Hedged in by enemy forces in the mountains, Mao is largely cut off from CCP and Comintern. In the mountains, Mao experiments with collective agriculture and builds a peasant army trained in guerilla tactics.  

            Mao joins other CCP leaders to establish the Jiangxi Soviet. 

         The KMT launch the White Terror.

         Japanese invasion of Manchuria 

The Rise of Mao

1934                  Long March to Yan'an
Jiangxi Soviet is abandoned. Although Mao was not one of the initial organizers of the march, he takes command of the Communist forces after the first three months and set the army’s destination for a distant communist base in Shaanxi province (North-Central China).  Sustaining heavy losses from disease, famine, and enemy attack, Mao leads Red Army through six thousand miles of rivers, swamps, forests, and mountains to reach its new base in the city of Yan’an.
            This shows the success of Mao's guerrilla tactics and elevates him to a high position in the CCP.

1935              Zunyi Conference
            The first significant time when the pro-Bolshevik faction of the Party supports Mao (largely because they were disillusioned with the Comintern line after so many poor judgements of the military situation in China, such as those by Braun, who pushed for large-scale battles).
        Zhou Enlai starts backing Mao. Henceforth, Mao's military deviations from orders seem more legitimate. Mao is also put back in the Central Committee.
1936                  Xi'an Incident
         Chiang needs support of warlord Zhang Xueliang, but Zhang refuses because he wants to fight Japan, not the CCP (+He admired Mao's tactics). He kidnaps Chiang, who is released after two weeks when he agreed to ally with the Communists (Second United Front) against the Japanese.  Chiang's reluctance to fight the invaders was bad PR, so Zhang agrees to fly back to Nanjing as Chiang's prisoner to save the KMT leader some face. Instead of being released as planned, Zhang becomes one of the longest held political prisoners.

1937  Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
       Japanese capture the KMT capital city of Nanjing - “Rape of Nanjing.”
       Japanese forces were also pushing into the provinces surrounding Mao’s Shaanxi base, where they were met with effective resistance by CCP forces.
Mao receives title “Chairman” of the Communist Central Committee and becomes a Chairman of the Politburo, making him the unchallenged leader of the CCP.  

            Summer “Paper Tigers”
            Peace talks between the CCP and the KMT fall apart with the Americans supporting the KMT. To Mao, the "paper tigers;" or reactionaries, although they might look more powerful, were not to be feared because they only represent "reaction," where the Communists "represent progress."
             Later, this is the name that Mao gave to other countries that had more military strength than China, particularly in reference to the atomic bomb, to show that he was neither afraid nor impressed by shows of force.
1945           Chinese Civil War
         As the Japanese evacuate China, the conflict between the CCP and the KMT re-emerges.  Within a year, full-scale war erupts between the two parties.  

         The KMT was initially successful in the north -captures Yan’an base.  However, the CCP had already established a foothold in Manchuria, which their Russian allies had allowed them to occupy after the Sino-Japanese War.  The CCP use this base to begin an aggressive military campaign to drive the KMT armies south.

         Temporary constitution –'Organic Law'
                   -military rule with 6 military districts

         1 November            PRC Formed
         CCP forces h completely overwhelm KMT armies.  Chiang flees to Taiwan/Formosa, where he installs the remnants of his KMT administration, claiming to be the legitimate government of China.

         Campaign against Counterrevolutionaries
         -nearly 1 million former KMT members are killed
         Korean War (1950-53)
         At the prompting of Stalin, Kim Il Sung of North Korea launches an offensive on South Korea to unite the peninsula under communist rule. Although most of the troops fighting against the North Koreans are Americans, they are UN forces, so according to treaty wording, the USSR does not have to become involved. China becomes involved as US troops push past the Yalu River. The united communist forces execute a successful counterattack, forcing UN troops to retreat.  The war ends in 1953 with the Treaty of Panmunjom, which split the peninsula into the communist north and the capitalist south at the 38th parallel. 

Summary of CCP Strengths/KMT Weaknesses during the Chinese Civil War (1945-49)
KMT Weaknesses
CCP Strengths
KMT corruption- especially those people below Chiang. Officers were corrupt within the army, stealing etc.
Spent most time looking after interests of industrialists, bankers and landowners with no attempt to draw upon any mass support.
Peasants view the CCP as favourable (eliminates taxes for poorer peasants, set price controls, only upper 20% pay taxes)
Hyperinflation - price index in 1937 was 100, by 1946 it had risen to 378,217.
Discipline in Red Army was effective (soldiers educated and taught to be kind to civilians, compensate for peasants services, still encourage people lives to continue and city life when they took over towns)
Ruthless Political Terror (The White Terror- against Communists)
Red Army = People’s Liberation Army (good PR)
Destitution and Starvation (flawed tax system, no subsidisation, no help to peasants -treated them harshly (bad PR)
Taxation was kept low (not till 1946-1948 where Mao has harsh policy against rich landowner peasants, took all their land and made them own up to their torturous nature, then after 1948 CCP goes back into moderate policy) (Mao’s land policies are always more favourable to the MASSES)
The KMT army (Forced Conscription, Morale, desertions)
As recognised leader of China, Chiang has to fight the Japanese, but failed to do so.
Red Army’s Production Drive of 1941 : Mao solidly gets his supply lines going (Mao takes land, cultivates it, makes food in preparation for the upcoming war, devotes some of his troops to being farmers, much better at supplying his army then the KMT)

Local councils could deal with local affairs (more control of rural areas, less centralisation)

Reforms of Shaanxi were modelled in areas reoccupied (education centres, distributing the land, and improving their lives, marital reforms)

Propaganda –exploits Chiang's failure to combat the Japanese

Mao's Domestic Policies

         June      Land Reform Law
    -begins moderately, then encouraged peasants to attend and organize “Speak Bitterness” sessions.  Around 2 million landlords killed.  Redistribution follows and establish mutual aid teams to share equipment and labour
-40% of China's arable land is redistributed to 60% of the population
-landlords who “confessed” their wrong-doings and gave over their land are saved, others are killed

      Marriage Reform Law
    -Ends arranged marriages and concubinage.  Women get equal divorce rights and equal property rights.
Campaigns to Eliminate Prostitution, Gambling, and Drug Addiction
    -  these problems had reached epidemic proportions in urban areas
    -serious offenders were executed
    -the KMT was so corrupt that it spawned a black market, these criminals had close ties to nationalists, tended to be capitalists.

         Three Antis (focused on government)
      Attempt to remove corruption, waste and bureaucracy; 10% of government officials fired, intimidation tactics, not many deaths

         Five Antis (focused on industry)
      Targets bribery, tax evasion, fraud, theft… mostly results in fines for businesses (75% of businesses  fined)

1953                  The First Five Year Plan (1953-57)
         -Centralized industrial production (results in too much specialisation)
         -Builds Anshan Steel Centre (like Soviet's Magnitogorsk, not good quality)
         -90% of government spending is in industry
         -Builds bridges across Yangxi to increase flow of goods from North to South
         (Financed by $300million loan from USSR in Sino-Soviet treaty. USSR gets to use Chinese resources and naval bases. +China must pay for upkeep of lots of advisers from the USSR)
         Effects on Industry
         -70% increase in light industry
         -15% increase in heavy industry each year
         Effects on Agriculture
         -Only 2% increase a year (slower than population growth)
         -Damages agriculture by setting a low price so it can be sold (way too much grain is exported) to finance industry
1954         Constitution
      -CCP is now the sole legal party
         -People’s National Congress set up (ostensibly ran from bottom up, but was really top-down)
  Single-Party dictatorship now entrenched, all government officials were party members (1954 - Mao has complete political control)
-secret police -Special Security Forces
-prison camps –Laogai

National Women’s Association and the Youth League

      Mao wants collectivisation
•   Controversy of whether to force Agricultural Producers Co-operatives.  Zhou Enlai and Lui Shaoqui felt there weren’t enough tractors and fertilizers, but the Central Committee backed Mao.  In 1958, mandatory collectivisation becomes mandatory.  Collectivisation was more gradual in China (Mao didn’t need violence forcing collectivisation like Stalin did).

Economic Reconstruction - National Capitalism
    •   Gradually build economy. No immediate class struggle in cities
    •   moved to full state ownership ( even by 1952, gross industrial and agricultural production had increased by 77%)
    •   Inflation is tackled by introducing the Yuan (eliminates the old currency, hurts the middle class with savings, but stops inflation) inflation falls to 15% per year, before that it was increasing at 1,000% a year

    •  80% illiterate in 1949, only 25% of kids attended school in 1949
    •  1956: primary attendance rate jumps to 56%
    •  Soviets help, some 600 teach at CHinese universities.  Students attend Soviet Universities too
    •Little impact on literacy shown... Still catering to small portion of the population (only top students)
    •  focused on expert education, trade schools

1956          Hundred Flowers Campaign
         -encourages Chinese to express their opinions about the government openly.  Many intellectuals and writers respond with critiques of party policy.  In a massive crackdown in 1957, those who had followed Mao’s encouragement to ”let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” are arrested and sent to Laogai. Mao used this campaign to expose 'enemies' within the Party.

1957                  Great Leap Forward (1957-62)
-Mao wants to equalize industry and agriculture, thus improving the 'socialist conscious.'
-Collectivisation: Individual farms –to Co-ops –to Communes (set up Mess Hall day cares so women could work too)
-Cut Defense spending as of '56 to finance Communes, which form militias
-Agricultural schools increase by 27 million at same time as 90 million are send to urban industry
-backyard steel furnaces to improve rural industry (also backyard Uranium mines)
-Economic planning goes to local CCP officials in February '57 (decentralisation)
1.) Overtake the UK in industrial production in 15 years and catch up to the US
2.)Egalitarian Communism (communes)
3.)Technology for increase in agriculture
4.)New Culture- celebrate communism and independence from Russia
-Damaged Industry –backyard furnaces produces worthless steel (Uranium more successful), but continued to have it be produced so as not to admit failure/damage morale.
-Gross National Income declines by 22% as of 1960
-Poor structure of Communes (Mao even said he didn't know how they were to work so he just said "collectivize and let it go from there) means that farms are less productive and there is not enough agricultural technology. Agriculture is too regionalised –not enough central direction
-Lysenkoism –Socialist farming techniques (close planting) that don't work damage harvests.
-Man-made famine –inflated figures claimed by villages meant that too large a % of grain went to the state. Poor weather in '59 and Mao's unwillingness to hear of the issue compound the problem.
-Lushan Conference: Peng Dehua and the USSR criticize the Great Leap Forward, which puts Mao on the defensive and makes him even more unwilling to change his policies. Start of Sino-Soviet split
   Abandonment and New Measures Afterwards
1959 –Mao steps down as Chairman
1962 –Liu Shikai, Deng Xiaoping are supposed to fix the problem, but their kind-of NEP capitalism period (giving farming incentives like rural markets and introduce differentiated payment for skilled/unskilled workers) upsets Mao.
1963- Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)– Mao's little Red Book is published
1966 –Gang of Four, Red Guards
         -focus on youth
         Mao's "Great Swim" –he steps back into power.
1969           Sino-Soviet Split
         The split is official as border clashes emerge.

   1972          Détente with the US
         Mao invites Nixon to come to the PRC
            6 September
             Mao dies at the age of 81


Background to the Revolution of 1911
In the early part of the nineteenth century China kept itself very much separate from the rest of the world; life went on quietly and peacefully with no great changes, as it had done since the Manchus took over in the 1640s. However, in the mid-nineteenth century China found itself faced by a number of crises. The prolonged period of relative peace had led to a rapid increase in the population – between 1741 and 1841 the population rose from 140 million to 410 million. This made it difficult to produce enough food for subsistence, forcing many peasants to turn to robbery and banditry as a means of survival. The ensuing chaos encouraged foreigners, especially Europeans, to force their way into China to take advantage of trading possibilities. The British were first on the scene, fighting and defeating the Chinese in the Opium Wars (1839-42). The first Opium War (1839–42) was fought between China and Britain, and the second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the Arrow War, was fought by Britain and France against China. In each case the foreign powers were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China. The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treaties and other inroads on Qing sovereignty that helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynasty in favour of republican China in the early 20th century.
In April 1858 allied troops in British warships reached Tianjin and forced the Chinese into negotiations. The treaties of Tianjin, signed in June 1858, provided residence in Beijing for foreign envoys, the opening of several new ports to Western trade and residence, the right of foreign travel in the interior of China, and freedom of movement for Christian missionaries. In further negotiations in Shanghai later in the year, the importation of opium was legalised.
Following defeat in the Second Opium War, the Qing tried to modernize by adopting certain Western technologies through the Self-Strengthening Movement from 1861.

Taiping Rebellion (1850-64)
Next came the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), which spread all over southern China. It was partly a Christian religious movement and partly a political reform movement, which aimed to set up a ‘Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’ (Taiping tianguo). The movement was eventually defeated, not by the Manchu government troops, which proved to be ineffective, but by newly-formed regional armies. The failure of the government forces was a serious blow to the authority of the Ch’ing dynasty. It left them dependent on regional armies that they did not control. This began the process in which provinces began to assert their independence from the central government in Beijing (Peking), culminating in the Warlord Era (1916-28).

First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)
It was conflict between Japan and China that marked the emergence of Japan as a major world power and demonstrated the weakness of the Chinese empire. The war grew out of conflict between the two countries for supremacy in Korea. Korea had long been China’s most important client state, but its strategic location opposite the Japanese islands and its natural resources of coal and iron attracted Japan’s interest. In 1875 Japan, which had begun to adopt Western technology, forced Korea to open itself to foreign, especially Japanese, trade and to declare itself independent from China in its foreign relations.  War was finally declared on August 1, 1894. Although foreign observers had predicted an easy victory for the more massive Chinese forces, the Japanese had done a more successful job of modernising, and they were better equipped and prepared. Japanese troops scored quick and overwhelming victories on both land and sea. By March 1895 the Japanese had successfully invaded Shandong province and Manchuria and had fortified posts that commanded the sea approaches to Beijing. The Chinese sued for peace.  In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the conflict, China recognised the independence of Korea and ceded Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria. China also agreed to pay a large indemnity and to give Japan trading privileges on Chinese territory. This treaty was later somewhat modified by Russian fears of Japanese expansion, and the combined intercession of Russia, France, and Germany forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula to China.  China’s defeat encouraged the Western powers to make further demands of the Chinese government. In China itself, the war triggered a reform movement that attempted to renovate the government; it also resulted in the beginnings of revolutionary activity against the Qing dynasty rulers of China.
Hundred Days’ Reform (1898)

Hundred Days of Reform was an imperial attempt at renovating the Chinese state and social system. It occurred after the Chinese defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the ensuing rush for concessions in China on the part of Western imperialist powers.
In all, the emperor issued more than 40 edicts, which if enacted would have transformed every conceivable aspect of Chinese society. The old civil service examination system based on the Chinese Classics was ordered abolished, and a new system of national schools and colleges was established. Western industry, medicine, science, commerce, and patent systems were promoted and adopted. Government administration was revamped, the law code was changed, the military was reformed, and corruption was attacked.
The attack on corruption, the army, and the traditional educational system threatened the privileged classes of traditional Chinese society. Conservative forces rallied behind the empress dowager, Cixi; with the army on her side, she carried out a coup d’état and imprisoned the emperor in his palace. Kang and Qichao managed to escape to Japan, but six other young reformers were executed.
Although some moderate reform measures, such as the establishment of modern schools, were retained, the examination system was reestablished and most of the reform edicts, which had never been enacted anyway, were repealed. In the early 1900s, officials like Zhang Zhidong were allowed to carry out a full-scale reform effort, but it was a piecemeal, belated effort. The failure of the Hundred Days of Reform marked the last attempt at a radical revolution by the imperial regime in China.
Boxer Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion supported peasant uprising of 1900 that attempted to drive all foreigners from China. Their original aim was the destruction of the dynasty and also of the Westerners who had a privileged position in China.
In Beijing the Boxers burned churches and foreign residences and killed suspected Chinese Christians on sight. The empress dowager ordered that all foreigners be killed. The German minister was murdered, and the other foreign ministers and their families and staff, together with hundreds of Chinese Christians, were besieged in their legation quarters and in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Beijing.
An international force of some 19,000 troops was assembled, most of the soldiers coming from Japan and Russia but many also from Britain, the United States, France, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. On August 14, 1900, that force finally captured Beijing, relieving the foreigners and Christians besieged there. While foreign troops looted the capital, the empress dowager and her court fled westward to Xi’an in Shaanxi province, leaving behind a few imperial princes to conduct the negotiations. After extensive discussions, a protocol was finally signed in September 1901, ending the hostilities and providing for reparations to be made to the foreign powers.

More territory was lost to Japan as a result of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), and China was clearly in a sorry state.
In the early years of the twentieth century thousands of young Chinese travelled abroad and were educated there. They returned with radical, revolutionary ideas of overthrowing the Manchu dynasty and westernizing China. Some revolutionaries, like Dr Sun Yat-sen, wanted a democratic state modelled on the USA.

The 1911 Revolution

The Chinese Revolution, (1911–12) was a revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty Qing (or Manchu) dynasty in 1912, and established the Republic of China (ROC).  The government tried to respond to the new radical ideas by introducing reforms, promising democracy and setting up elected provincial assemblies. However, this only encouraged the provinces to distance themselves still further from the central government, which was now extremely unpopular. The turning point was the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911, (a mutiny broke out among the troops in Wuchang, which is regarded as the formal beginning of the revolution) and most provinces quickly declared themselves independent of Beijing.

The government, ruling on behalf of the child emperor Puyi, in desperation sought help from a retired general, Yuan Shikai, who had been commander of the Chinese Northern Army, and still had a lot of influence with the generals. He was made premier. However, the plan backfired: Yuan, who was still only in his early fifties, turned out to have ambitions of his own. He did a deal with the revolutionaries – they agreed to his becoming the first president of the Chinese republic in return for the abdication of Puyi and the end of the Manchu dynasty.
 With the support of the army, in December 1915 it was announced that it there was to be return to the monarchy in the person of Yuan itself, who would become emperor on 1 January 1916. This turned out to he a fatal mistake: most people saw the ending of then republic as a backward step, and his support dwindled rapidly. The army turned against him and forced him to abdicate. He died in October 1916.

The Warlord Era (1916-28)
The abdication and death of Yuan Shikai removed the last person who seemed capable of maintaining some sort of unity in China. The country now disintegrated into literally hundreds of states of varying sizes, each controlled by a warlord and his private army. As they fought each other, it was the ordinary Chinese peasants who suffered hardships. However two important positive developments took place during this period.
  • The May the Fourth Movement began on that date in 1919 with a huge student demonstration in Beijing, protesting against the Warlord and against traditional Chinese culture. The movement was also anti-Japanese; especially when the 1919 Versailles settlement officially recognised Japan’s right to take over Germany’s concession in Shantung province. Though Japan promised to return control of Shantung to China eventually—it did so in February 1922—the Chinese were deeply outraged by the Allied decision to favour Japan at Versailles. It was this humiliation at the hands of Japan that seemed to stir up the whole country to support the movement. Thousands of university students went on strike al the failure of the government to protest strongly enough at Versailles. Once again there was a boycott of Japanese goods. This was popular with Chinese industrialists who benefited from the boycott: they supported the students, many of whom have been jailed, while factory workers and railway workers went on strike in sympathy. It was a remarkable show of mass patriotism. The government finally had no choice but to give way: the students were released: the ministers, who had signed the Twenty-One Demands agreement in 1915 were sacked and the Chinese delegation at Versailles refused to sign the peace treaty.
  • The other problems addressed by May the Fourth Movement- the need to tame the warlords, and the desire to modernise Chinese culture – took longer to achieve. However, as the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party gradually grew stronger, they succeeded in bringing the warlords under control by 1928. Chinese culture was partly based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who died in 487 BCE. He had developed his philosophy during a period of anarchy in China and it was designed to solve the problems of how best to organize society so that all could live in peace. He stressed the necessity for loyalty in all relationships and for the strict upbringing of children. ‘Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, and a son a son.’ If people acted properly according to their place in society, then the moral integrity and social harmony of the nation would be restored.

The Kuomintang
The main hope for the survival of a united China lay with the Kuomintang, or National People’s Party, formed in 1912 by Or Sun Yat-sen. Between 1905 and 1912, Sun developed a political movement called the Revolutionary Alliance.
Sun Yat-sen had trained as a doctor in Hawaii and Hong Kong and lived abroad until the 1911 revolution. He was dismayed by the disintegration of China and wanted to create a modem, united, democratic state. Returning to China after the .revolution, he succeeded in setting up a government at Canton in southern China (1917). His ideas were influential but he had very little power outside the Canton area. The KMT was not a communist party, though it was prepared to co-operate with the communists, and developed its own party organization along communist lines, as well as building up its own army. Sun himself summarized his aims as the Three Principles:
  • nationalism – to rid China of foreign influence and build the country into a strong and united power, respected abroad.
  • democracy – China should not be ruled by warlords, but by the people themselves, after they had been educated to equip them for democratic self-government.
  • land reform – sometimes known as ‘the people’s livelihood’; this was vague – although Sun announced a long-term policy of economic development and redistribution of land to the peasants and was in favour of rent restraint, he was opposed to the confiscation of landlords’ property.
Sun gained enormous respect as an intellectual statesman and revolutionary leader, but when he died in 1925 little progress had been made towards achieving the three principles, mainly because he was not himself a general. Until the KMT armies were built up, he had to rely on alliances with sympathetic warlords, and he had difficulty exercising any authority outside the south.
Sun was a uniting figure in post-Imperial China, and remains unique among 20th-century Chinese politicians for being widely revered amongst the people from both sides Communist Chinese and Nationalist KMT (later ruled Taiwan).

Chiang Kai-shek
General Chiang Kai-shek became leader of the KMT after Sun’s death. He had received his military training in Japan before the First World War, and being a strong nationalist, joined the KMT. At this stage the new Russian Soviet government was providing help and guidance for the KMT in the hope that Nationalist China would be friendly towards Russia. In 1923 Chiang spent some time in Moscow studying the organization of the Communist Party and the Red Army. The following year he became head of the Whampoa Military Academy (near Canton), which was set up with the help of Russian cash, arms and advisers to train officers for the KMT army. However, in spite of his Russian contacts, Chiang was not a communist. In fact he was more right-wing than Sun Yat-sen and became increasingly anti-communist, his sympathies lying with businessmen and landowners. Soon after becoming party leader, he removed all left-wingers from leading positions in the Party, though for the time being he continued the KMT alliance with the communists.
In 1926 he set out on the Northern March to destroy the warlords of central and northern China. Starting from Canton, the KMT and the communists had captured Hankow, Shanghai and Nanking by 1927. The capital, Beijing, was taken in 1928. Much of Chiang’s success sprang from massive local support among the peasants, who were attracted by communist promises of land. The capture of Shanghai was helped by a rising of industrial workers organized by Zhou En-lai, a member of the KMT and also a communist.
During 1927 Chiang decided that the communists were becoming too powerful. In areas where communists were strong, landlords were being attacked and land seized; it was time to destroy an embarrassing ally. All communists were expelled from the KMT and a terrible ‘purification movement’ was launched in which thousands of communists, trade union and peasant leaders were massacred; some estimates put the total murdered as high as 250 000. The communists had been checked, the warlords were under control and Chiang was the military and political leader of China.
The Kuomintang government proved to be a great disappointment for the majority of the Chinese people. Chiang could claim to have achieved Sun’s first principle, nationalism, but relying as he did on the support of wealthy landowners, no moves were made towards democracy or land reform, though there was some limited progress with the building of more schools and roads.