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Compare the Chinese leaders Sun, Chiang/Jiang, and Mao.

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These three pivotal leaders of modern China share some interesting similarities. They also have very important differences. Let's look at some of the similarities first.

During the Qing Dynasty, subversive speech was illegal in China. Consequently, the movements that these three men led started out as underground and secretive affairs.

Early on, they all led anti-imperial movements. During the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries, European powers had forced China to make embarrassing concessions that eroded its sovereignty. Mao, Chiang, and Sun all felt that China was honor-bound to reassert its sovereign rights.

All three of these men were anti-monarchy. While it was Sun Yat-sen who was most responsible for the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, the other two continued to lead China as a republic.

They all relied on their personal image to gain support. They fostered their own cults of personality and supported images of themselves throughout their nation to represent their power.

Now let's look at some differences.

Although they were strict Chinese nationalists, Chiang Kai-shek and Sun-Yatsen were amenable to certain western ideas and philosophies. Sun Yat-sen was even a baptized Christian. Mao, on the other hand, rejected most western cultural influences as anathema to China.

Sun and Chiang favored the creation of a new Chinese elite. Mao preferred to empower the peasantry and dismantle China's social strata.

Although Chiang had inherited Sun's nationalist movement, he was much more right-wing than his predecessor. While Sun had held some liberal ideas (though none were as extreme as Mao's communism), Chiang preferred a more paternalistic approach to governance.

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Sun Yat-sen is considered to be the founding father of the Republic of China (not to be confused with the People's Republic of China, fathered by Mao Zedong and currently the ruling government in China).  He was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT).  As leader of the KMT, he helped overthrow the declining Qing Dynasty.  Sun Yat-sen believed that the Qing dynasty was no longer able to rule China (which means that the Qing Dynasty had lost the mandate of heaven, the justification for ruling), and he took part in military takeover.  Once the Qing fell, the KMT would prepare China for democratic rule, and a constitutional democracy would be formed.  He said:

"Establish the Republic: Now our revolution is based on equality, in order to establish a republican government.  All our people are equal and all enjoy political rights...Equalize land ownership: The good fortune of civilization is to be shared equally by all the people of the nation... Its [the land's] present price shall be received by the owner, but all increases in value...after the revolution shall belong to the state, to be shared by all the people." 

-Sources of Chinese Tradition, W.T. de Bary et. al., eds., 1960.

Chiang Kai-shek took over from Sun Yat-sen upon his death in 1925.  Chiang Kai-shek differed from his predecessor in that he had to deal with the Communist Party, who once was an ally of the nationalists when trying to remove the imperials from China.  Now that Sun Yat-sen was dead, Chiang Kai-shek had to deal with the growing Communist Party.  While pretending to be their ally, Chiang Kai-Shek attacked the Communists in Shanghai, in an incident known as the Shanghai Massacre.  Remaining Communists, like Mao Zedong, worked to gain support from the lower, working classes while Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists ruled China.  Ultimately, because the Nationalists expended much of their power, forces and energy on fighting against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (and WWII), the Communists were able to rise up and defeat the Nationalists.

Mao Zedong began as a young Communist organizer who later ran the Communist Party.  After the communists were attacked in Shanghai, leaders like Mao Zedong garnered support from peasants in the Northern provinces in China.  Using guerrilla tactics, Mao's much smaller army was able to hold back Chiang's nationalist forces.  Mao's army eventually succumbed to Chiang's army, and went on the famous Long March north.  During the Long March, he become sole leader of the Communist Party and gained support from the peasants, who made up the majority of the population of China.  After the nationalists finished fighting the Japanese in 1945, when Japan finally surrendered after the American atomic bomb attacks and Russia's threat of invasion, the Communists seized upon this opportunity to attack an already weak KMT.  By 1949, the Communists had won, and Chiang Kai-shek and many remaining nationalists fled to Taiwan.


  • Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen were both nationalists
  • All three leaders led their respective parties
  • All three wanted power in the hands of the people
  • Both Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong had failing social policies - Chiang's land-reform program, and Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution


  • Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen wanted nationalism and a constitutional monarchy, Mao Zedong wanted communism
  • Mao Zedong used guerrilla tactics and strategy to take out their foes
  • Peasants were given more rights and responsibilities in Mao's government, whereas in nationalist China peasants were still poor and a majority illiterate
  • Chiang Kai-shek brought westernization to China, Mao Zedong
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