Political and economic chaos threatened the survival of China, Japan,
and many Pacific nations in the 1930s. This crisis was caused by the lingering
effects of worldwide depression, population explosions, and military aggression.
The biggest threat was a militaristic Japan that dreamed of controlling
all of China, indeed, all of Asia.
Please click on the underlined links below for further information and photographs.
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- "Manchuria Daily News Enthronement Supplement" 1934
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford, California
Propaganda (copy) - distributed by the Japanese after Rape of Nanking, 1938
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Yale Divinity School Library, New Haven, Connecticut
As Japan steadily claimed more land and cities in China, it left a
lasting legacy of cruelty and barbarism against the Chinese people. Then
on December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed U.S. naval and air bases in
Hawaii, and gambled that all of Asia would "kowtow" to the Japanese
emperor if the U.S. navy could be destroyed.
In the early 1930s, Japan established the "independent state"
of Manchoukuo within Manchuria, and placed former Qing emperor PuYi onto
its throne. Inner Mongolia was next. As the Japanese advance reached the
Great Wall of China, they were not opposed because Chiang Kai-shek had
pulled back his army in order to continue war against the Communists.
The Red Army guerillas, meanwhile, fought both the Nationalists and the
Japanese on two fronts.
The bombing of Shanghai officially started the Second Sino-Japanese War
in 1937. After almost obliterating Shanghai, Japanese troops committed
what was called "The Rape of Nanjing." For a period of two months,
the Japanese brutally murdered up to 250,000 Chinese civilians and raped
up to 80,000 women and girls.
After signing a military alliance with the Axis powers (Germany and Italy),
Japan threatened French, British, and U.S. interests throughout the Pacific.
Then, in a calculated move to become the only naval power in the Pacific,
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii - as
well as U.S. bases on Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines, and British
bases on Hong Kong and Malaya. American forces were severely crippled
by these attacks.
There was a clear disparity between Western and Chinese perceptions
of China's power elite. America praised "Free China" and viewed
Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalists as a major ally. But the Chinese
people were miserable and hated the Nationalists. What they saw was a
poorly run army, a muddling bureaucracy, and flagrant misuse of funds.
Before the end of WWII, public support in China had shifted dramatically
toward the Communists.
Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists troops were forced to retreat three times
by the Communist stronghold in Jiangxsi Province in the 1930s. Finally
the Nationalists drove the Communists into a year-long flight known as
"The Long March." Chased by Chiang's troops, almost 87,000 men,
women, and children began the march. After 6,000 miles across mountain
ranges, swampland and deserts, only 7,500 survived. One of the survivors
was Mao Zedong.
But the Communist movement was far from dead. In fact, countless Chinese
began to listen to the Communists' philosophy. In 1936 when they called
for a united front to fight the Japanese, Chiang refused. In response,
Nationalist army commanders mutinied, kidnapped Chiang, and forced him
to join with the Reds to declare war against the Japanese.
But the alliance was short-lived. By the time the U.S. became embroiled in WWII in 1942, the Nationalists had renewed their attacks on the Red Army. Reports circulated throughout China that army recruits were being driven at gunpoint toward the frontlines of battle against the Red Army. Feeling betrayed, Chinese loyalties turned back to the Communists who symbolized a patriotic front against China's true enemies: Japan and the United States of America.
Letter and Translation (copies)
- from Chiang Kai-shek to Harry Truman, 1946
At war's end, China's internal political
problems were compounded by the destruction of roads, railroads, and cities.
The Nationalists were mired in corruption and stubbornly refused to see
that the Chinese people were embracing the Communist leadership. In 1949
the Communist takeover of China also shocked the U.S., and helped to persuade
President Truman, and subsequent U.S. presidents, to lend aid to Asian
nations threatened by communism.
Another civil war arose as China struggled
with the destruction of war, labor unrest, and the starvation of its people.
President Truman sent General George C. Marshall to mediate peace between
the Nationalists and the Communists, but Marshall's efforts were undercut
by Chiang's refusal to give up any part of his government. The people
also witnessed mass shootings of demonstrators by his Nationalist army,
and feared his use of gangs to carry out intimidation and beatings.
The Communists, on the other hand, had
seized Japanese arms and munitions. They now controlled a powerful army,
plus the rich industry and farmland of northern and central China. The
Red Army introduced land reform by confiscating property from the landlords
and re-distributing it among the peasants. Thousands of prosperous farmers
were beaten, arrested, or even killed by the local peasantry. Mao Zedong
viewed these assaults as "a tool" to involve all villagers in
acts of mob violence, physically and emotionally committing them to revolutionary
In January 1949, a victorious Mao and his Red Army entered Beijing on American tanks captured from the Nationalists. By April, Chiang Kai-shek and hundreds of thousands of supporters fled to the island of Taiwan. On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally established. Mao Zedong was pronounced President of the Republic as well as Chairman of the Communist Party.
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