Chinese Civil War

1927–1949 civil war in China

The Chinese Civil War was a civil war in China fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China (ROC) and forces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lasting intermittently between 1927 and 1949.

The war is generally divided into two phases with an interlude: from August 1927 to 1937, the KMT-CCP Alliance collapsed during the Northern Expedition, and the Nationalists controlled most of China. From 1937 to 1945, hostilities were put on hold, and the Second United Front fought the Japanese invasion of China with eventual help from the Allies of World War II. The civil war resumed with the Japanese defeat, and the CCP gained the upper hand in the final phase of the war from 1945 to 1949, generally referred to as the Chinese Communist Revolution.

The Communists gained control of mainland China and established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, forcing the leadership of the Republic of China to retreat to the island of Taiwan. Starting in the 1950s, a lasting political and military standoff between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has ensued, with the ROC in Taiwan and the PRC in mainland China both officially claiming to be the legitimate government of all China. After the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, both tacitly ceased fire in 1979, however, no armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed.

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National Revolutionary Army troops marching in the early 1930s
Flag of the Chinese Red Army
Flag of the National Revolutionary Army
ROC Air Force soldiers servicing warplan in the 1940s
M3A3 tank in service with the People's Liberation Army near the Yangtze River in 1949




  • At the end of World War II which brought about the defeat of the Nazi aggressors, our na­tion and our people achieved their long-cherished desire for liberty at home and equality in the com­munity of nations. Before long, however, the people on the Chi­nese mainland were robbed of their personal property, separated from their families and relatives, deprived of their cultural and historical heritage, and denied their human and individual dignity. They have been forced to serve as Communist tools of aggression for the enslavement of yet other peoples.


  • The Chinese Communist Party refers to its victory in 1949 as a ‘liberation’. The term brings to mind jubilant crowds taking to the streets to celebrate their newly won freedom, but in China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace, liberty and justice. It is first and foremost a history of calculated terror and systematic violence. The Second World War in China had been a bloody affair, but the civil war from 1945 to 1949 also claimed hundreds of thousands of civilian lives – not counting military casualties. As the communists tried to wrest the country from Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalists, they laid siege to one city after another, starving them into submission.
    • Frank Dikotter, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945–1957 (2013), p. 5



  • The revolutionary dimensions of Mao’s victory were not well understood at the time and are still contested. Neither a grievous political defeat for the United States nor a great triumph for the USSR, the establishment of communist rule in China exposed the limits of the Superpowers’ agility and skill. Locked in their rivalry over Europe in 1947–1948, both had failed to deal adroitly with the rapid deterioration of the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government and with the communists’ determination to prevail. In Washington, which was caught up in the close presidential campaign of 1948, the debate between the ardent proponents of military support for Chiang and the equally passionate decriers of his government’s corruption and ineptitude produced a $400 million aid appropriation but also a paralyzing fatalism over the US role in China’s future, particularly given the political impossibility of armed intervention. Similarly, in Moscow, the fears of US intervention and of a feisty Chinese Tito as well as the advantages of a weak and divided China that would preserve the Yalta gains had to be weighed against the ideological benefits of obtaining a huge Asian satellite. Stalin’s capricious gestures in 1948 were the result: a mediation offer that annoyed Washington and infuriated Mao and the delay in inviting the communist leader to Moscow, but also the intense communications between the two parties, the procommunist pronouncements later that year, and the stepped-up arms deliveries and diplomatic contacts in 1949.
    • Carole C. Fink, The Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 75


  • A second but simultaneous expansion of the Cold War occurred in East Asia, where on October 1, 1949—a week after Truman's announcement of the Soviet atomic bomb—a victorious Mao Zedong proclaimed the formation of the People's Republic of China. The celebration he staged in Beijing's Tiananmen Square marked the end of a civil war between the Chinese nationalists and the Chinese communists that had been going on for almost a quarter of a century. Mao's triumph surprised both Truman and Stalin: they had assumed that the nationalists, under their long-time leader Chiang Kai-shek, would continue to run China after World War II. Neither had anticipated the possibility that, within four years of Japan's surrender, the nationalists would be fleeing to the island of Taiwan, and the communists would be preparing to govern the most populous nation in the world.






  • The situation in China was full of explosives, the handling of which required delicacy. Shortly before the actual surrender the Japanese withdrew their forces to the Yangtze Valley and to North China, where the Chinese Communists demanded that they receive the Japanese surrender. General Okamura, commander of the North China Area Army, refused, but on 17 August let it be known that he would surrender to Chiang Kai-shek. Unfortunately, the Generalissimo and his Nationalist armies were far distant, in southwest China. A Japanese puppet Chinese government with its own "Peace Preservation Troops" further complicated matters. And although the United States was willing to assist the Nationalist government to reestablish control over Chinese territory, it was fearful of being involved in a civil war.
    • Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume XV: Supplement and General Index (1962), Boston: Little, Brown & Company, p. 4








  • Nevertheless, the Chinese Government and people are still laboring under the double and interrelated burden of civil war and a rapidly deteriorating economy. The strains placed upon the country by eight years of war, and the Japanese occupation and blockade have been increased by internal strife at the very time that reconstruction efforts should be under way. The wartime damage to transport and productive facilities has been greatly accentuated by the continued obstruction and destruction of vital communications by the Communist forces. The civil warfare has further impeded recovery by forcing upon the Government heavy expenditures which greatly exceed revenues. Continual issuances of currency to meet these expenditures have produced drastic inflation with its attendant disruption of normal commercial operations. Under these circumstances China's foreign exchange holdings have been so reduced that it will soon be impossible for China to meet the cost of essential imports. Without such imports, industrial activity would diminish and the rate of economic deterioration would be sharply increased.







  • 中国人民从中国解放区和国民党统治区,获得了明显的比较。
    • The Chinese people have come to see the sharp contrast between the Liberated Areas and the Kuomintang areas.
      Are not the facts clear enough? Here are two lines, the line of a people's war and the line of passive resistance, which is against a people's war; one leads to victory even in the difficult conditions in China's Liberated Areas with their total lack of outside aid, and the other leads to defeat even in the extremely favourable conditions in the Kuomintang areas with foreign aid available.
      The Kuomintang government attributes its failures to lack of arms.
      Yet one may ask, which of the two are short of arms, the Kuomintang troops or the troops of the Liberated Areas? Of all China's forces, those of the Liberated Areas lack arms most acutely, their only weapons being those they capture from the enemy or manufacture under the most adverse conditions.
      Is it not true that the forces directly under the Kuomintang central government are far better armed than the provincial troops? Yet in combat effectiveness most of the central forces are inferior to the provincial troops.
      The Kuomintang commands vast reserves of manpower, yet its wrong recruiting policy makes manpower replenishment very difficult. Though cut off from each other by the enemy and engaged in constant fighting, China's Liberated Areas are able to mobilize inexhaustible manpower because the militia and self-defence corps system, which is well-adapted to the needs of the people, is applied everywhere, and because misuse and waste of manpower are avoided.
      Although the Kuomintang controls vast areas abounding in grain and the people supply it with 70-100 million tan annually, its army is always short of food and its soldiers are emaciated because the greater part of the grain is embezzled by those through whose hands it passes. But although most of China's Liberated Areas, which are located in the enemy rear, have been devastated by the enemy's policy of "burn all, kill all, loot all", and although some regions like northern Shensi are very arid, we have successfully solved the grain problem through our own efforts by increasing agricultural production.
      The Kuomintang areas are facing a very grave economic crisis; most industries are bankrupt, and even such necessities as cloth have to be imported from the United States. But China's Liberated Areas are able to meet their own needs in cloth and other necessities through the development of industry.
      In the Kuomintang areas, the workers, peasants, shop assistants, government employees, intellectuals and cultural workers live in extreme misery. In the Liberated Areas all the people have food, clothing and work.
      It is characteristic of the Kuomintang areas that, exploiting the national crisis for profiteering purposes, officials have concurrently become traders and habitual grafters without any sense of shame or decency. It is characteristic of China's Liberated Areas that, setting an example of plain living and hard work, the cadres take part in production in addition to their regular duties; honesty is held in high esteem while graft is strictly prohibited.
      In the Kuomintang areas the people have no freedom at all. In China's Liberated Areas the people have full freedom.
      Who is to blame for all the anomalies which confront the Kuomintang rulers? Are others to blame, or they themselves? Are foreign countries to blame for not giving them enough aid, or are the Kuomintang government's dictatorial rule, corruption and incompetence to blame? Isn't the answer obvious?

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