Asian History

Start Free Trial

Contrast the methods of the Chinese Nationalist government under Jiang and the Communists under Mao Zedong to rebuild China after war with Japan and analyze why the efforts of the former failed. Examine the efforts of the US and the USSR to create peace and stability in China and analyze why these efforts failed.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a complex and controversial subject, and I have to admit that an attempt at a definitive answer may simply ignite additional controversy. Though he was an ally of the United States, the unfortunate thing about Jiang is that his authority as leader of China was never fully recognized by his own people. Few Americans were aware of the ruthlessness with which he consolidated power in 1928 and defeated his rivals, both the warlords and the Communists. When war began with Japan, an uneasy alliance was made within China for the purpose of expelling the Japanese. But the moment peace was declared and Japan was defeated, the warlords immediately resumed their hostility toward Jiang and reinitiated the shooting war that had been suspended when the far greater problem of the Japanese invasion had to be dealt with. Needless to say, the Communists went on the offensive as well.

The Americans could not maintain a permanent military presence in China. Even during the war, it was clear that the alliance between the United States and Jiang's Kuomintang was not entirely comfortable, as one can see from reading Gen. Stilwell's journals. With World War II over, Jiang's position was vulnerable: he had inadequate popular support and could not overcome the opposition of both the warlords and the Communists.

Though some historians would claim that Mao was successful in unifying the country because he had genuine popular support, I would argue that the more significant reason for his victory was that the Communists were simply better organized and even more ruthless than anyone else. Those factors—organization and unrestricted cruelty—were what had similarly enabled the Bolshevik takeover of Russia thirty years earlier. Among mass murdering regimes, we know that, for instance, Hitler killed at least six million people, and Stalin killed at least twenty million. But the scale of killing in China under Mao was probably much greater, to the extent that no one even knows the actual number. Mao eliminated everyone in his way and revamped Chinese society in a decades-long process culminating in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, when the last vestiges of the old Chinese bourgeois society were destroyed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jiang, more often known as Chiang Kai Shek in the west, was more often described as a fascist, though his party was named Nationalist. Chiang had his own Blue Shirt Society, modeled on Mussolini's fascist Blackshirts, that dressed in blue, swore personal loyalty to Chiang, and were his enforcers in the dictatorship. The lowest estimates are that the Nationalists killed 6 million Chinese. The highest estimate is that they killed 18 million.

Chiang, in his efforts to defeat the Communists, ordered campaigns of mass repression that killed 300,000, man-made famines that killed up to 2.5 million in order to weaken areas of Communist sympathy, and a man-made flood that killed up to 900,000 in order to slow a Communist military advance.

The Nationalists were also notoriously corrupt and incompetent. American money sent to build airbases to fight the Japanese and then American gold given to fight the Communists was mostly embezzled. Chiang remained close friends with Japanese officers and even had Japanese staffing his military even while Japan invaded and conquered with great brutality.

By contrast, Mao's Communists took care to win over workers and peasants, with strict rules not to brutalize or steal from them. Communist repression killed easily as many as Chiang's, but it was almost all after they came to power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Japan surrendered in 1945, both the Nationalists and Communists sought to control China politically. Because attempts at negotiation and compromise failed, control of China was ultimately decided on the battlefield.

Prior to Japan's surrender, the Communists and Nationalists fought together against Japan in a United Front. Their cooperation, however, disintegrated as soon as Japan lost. The Communists had gained popularity during the war while the Nationalists were relatively ineffective and corrupt.

In December 1945, the United States sent George C. Marshall to China to mediate a peace settlement. But the Communists did not trust the pro-Nationalist U.S. and fighting broke out in many parts of China. After almost a year of trying, Marshall gave up and returned to the U.S.

By 1947, the Communists were winning. They enjoyed support in the countryside, and the Nationalists were on the defensive. The Nationalists' battlefield defeats were exacerbated by inflation and corruption in the areas under their control. The Communists' momentum was inexorable and they took almost all of China by 1949. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan and created a government on that island.

Why did the Communist win? First, they gained more popular support, especially among peasants. Second, they had better leadership. Mao Zedong, the Communist leader, was better than Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Nationalists.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team