Central Themes and Key Points
China in Revolution, 1912-1949
  • In the context of a) the political chaos that follows the fall of the centralized dynastic power of the Qing in the Republican Revolution in 1911 and b) the growing nationalism that crystallizes as the May 4th Movement after the 1919 Versailles Peace settlement — two political parties work and compete to reunify China and to modernize it to face the challenge of imperialist encroachment by the West and Japan. These are the Nationalist Party (Guomindang or Kuomintang) and the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Inadequate political control over the Japanese military, economic strains, and the worldwide Depression of the 1930s set the stage for the rise of the military in Japan and the pursuit of Japanese imperialist interests in Asia. Japan feels excluded by the West in the division of spoils in China. Japan pursues its own dominance of China by occupying Manchuria in 1931 and invading China in 1937 and remaining there until its defeat at the conclusion of WW II in 1945.
  • In China, the army of the Nationalist Party, led by Chiang Kai-shek (political heir of Sun Yat-sen), marches north in 1926 on the "Northern Expedition" from its base in southern China to establish a new government at Nanking in 1927 and to reunify part of China. This is sometimes called the Nationalist Revolution. The Nationalist government remained in power in Nanking until 1937 (1927-37 is known as the "Nanking Decade") when it is forced by the Japanese invasion to move inland and ultimately establish its wartime capital in Chungking (Chongqing) in 1938, where it remains until 1945. Japan captures the capital city of Nanking in 1937 in a brutal battle and subsequent reign of terror known as the "Rape of Nanking."
  • Members of the Chinese Communist Party, pursued by the Nationalists in the 1930s, march from southern China to a remote region, Yenan, in northern China where they refine strategies for rural mobilization and revolution. This "Long March" takes place from 1934-1935.
  • When the Japanese attack the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the United States enters World War II and goes to war with Japan; the war ends when the U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) in Japan in 1945 and Japan surrenders unconditionally to the Allied forces. Japan's first attempt to enter the modern international system ends in failure.
  • During the course of the war Japan conquers other Asian nations, pursuing its own imperialist objectives and challenging Western powers for economic and military dominance in Asia. Hostility and unsettled issues resulting from the Japanese occupation remain in Japan's relations with Korea, China, and the countries of SE Asia.
  • When WW II ends in 1945 with Japan's defeat in China, the Nationalists and the Communist forces fight a civil war for control of China. The Communists are victorious in 1949 and the Nationalists leave the mainland of China and establish a rival government on the island of Taiwan. (The rival governments continue to exist today as the People's Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan.)
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