Sample History Research Paper on Communist Defeat of Nationalists in China

Communist Defeat of Nationalists in China

In the first half of the 20th century, China was fighting for its sovereignty, wadding off attacks from a Japanese invasion, and participating in the Second World War. At the home front, trouble was brewing between Mao Zedong’s Communist Party and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), which had ruled China with an iron fist for more than 20 years.[1] Despite their advantage in numbers, KMT suffered a resounding defeat in 1949, forcing its members to flee mainland China for Taiwan Island.[2] Chiang’s KMT had its flaws, but among the reasons that made it lose to the Communists included its failure to reform, political oppression, corruption, and international isolation.

After attaining power, Kuomintang had failed in its promise to reform China. Founded in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, the first elected President of the Republic of China, KMT promised to revolutionize China both economically and politically.[3] Yuan Shikai, however, overthrew Sun’s government in 1916, and with the collapse of the central government and rise of regional military tyrants, thrust China in disarray.

With the sole purpose of unifying China, Chiang rose to power in 1925 as the leader of Kuomintang. Through the Northern Expedition that ended in 1927, Chiang was able to unify China with the government’s seat in Nanjing. Additionally, Chiang had promised social and economic reforms, which he began after the military triumph over the warlords. Chiang’s government, however, lost its momentum, denigrating on its reformist promises and, instead, maintaining a hold on power, quashed any radical forces such as the Communists.[4] Fighting dissenting voices diverted the public attention from tax revenues to the war, rather than on the promise of economic and political reconstruction.[5] Thus, the government additionally fell out of favor with the citizenry, which weakened its position, and hence its defeat by the Communists.

At its founding by Sun Yat-sen, Kuomintang espoused the principles of democracy and a vision of politically and socially free people. Trouble in China following Sun Yat-sen ouster and Chiang’s rise to power after the Northern Expedition stalled the realization of Sun Yat-sen’s dream of a democratic China.[6] Chiang essentially established a dictatorship in China, which was a move that went against the promises he had made to the Chinese people when he had risen to power. He passed the Organic Law in 1928, which accorded the National Government sweeping powers to declare or end wars, restore civil rights, and grant amnesties.[7] With these powers, Chiang outlawed all opposition parties.

Although Chiang’s outlaw of opposition left some grounds for the opposition to thrive (albeit with little freedom), the regime’s treatment of its own people was a precursor to its fall.[8] Chiang’s dictatorship that thrived on nepotism, incompetence, favoritism, and cronyism, as well as its employment of thuggish and vicious methods, estranged huge segments of the society. Most of the people alienated by Chiang’s regime languished in poverty, were peasants, and had no wealth to their names. The alienation of sections of society gave fertile ground for Communist propaganda.[9] By relating to the peasants, talking of the oppression perpetrated by Chiang’s government, and suffering the same economic alienation, the Communists found kinship among the peasants. The alienation was, therefore, a tipping point for Chiang and KMT. Moreover, assassinations, arbitrary arrests, persecution of politicians and intellectuals, and censorship became increasingly common, which turned people against Chiang’s government.[10]

Corruption, as another factor for the Nationalists’ defeat, was especially visible among the regime’s officials. Nationalist officials, poor at the beginning, became very rich a few years after the establishment of the autocratic rule.[11] A large number of the officials had built beautiful residences, reveled in the modernized city of Shanghai, even as chauffeurs dropped their children to school in limousines.[12] Their lifestyle was in stark contrast with the oppressive, poverty-stricken, and miserable life of the bulk of the Chinese population at the time. Worse still for corruption within the Nationalists’ ranks was the fact that Chiang, their leader, was well aware of the situation. Despite his knowledge, he did little to assuage the growing discontent of the citizenry.[13] The conclusion to his inaction on the corrupt actions of his officials led to thoughts that he was either complicit and, therefore, unwilling to solve the problem.

Control Yuan, the government agency formed to counter corruption was incapable of any meaningful action. The purpose of the agency was to monitor other branches of government and refer indictments of corrupt government officials to other agencies that would then mete out punishment.[14] The bureaucratic nightmare between Control Yuan and agencies responsible for punishments worked to the advantage of the corrupt officials and exposed the agency to public ridicule. Thus, of the thousands of complaint logged against the officials, only a handful were indicted, and of the few indicted, few more were found guilty and punished for their misdemeanours. All these became fodder for the Communist Party, which continued to use Chiang’s government failures to not only recruit members to the Party but also turn them against the oppressive regime.

Despite the victorious emergence of NATO in the Second World War, wherein China was a member, Chiang grew out of favor with its close allies, which led to the international isolation of China. Chiang’s participation in the Second World War had endeared him to the United States. However, the United States became especially displeased with Chiang’s government and launched scathing critiques against his government. Concerned with the political and economic turmoil in China, the United States pointed out that the situation weakened Chiang’s position against the communists.

Having reformed and organized their party, the Communists enjoyed both moral and financial support from the Soviet Union.[15] On the other hand, Chiang had a non-committed and critical ally in the United States that not only bombarded the government over its human rights violations, lack of economic reforms, and political oppression but also provided little financial help. In the end, promising an aid package under the condition that Chiang’s government implement reforms, the United States withdrew from China.

 The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched attacks on mainland China taking Beijing from Chiang’s Nationalist Party. Seeing the escalating civil war, the United States abandoned its ally, indicating that it would not support a crumbling regime. CCP, with the help of the Soviet Union, acquired military equipment and used propaganda to turn people against nationalists. The propaganda not only swayed the international community against Chiang’s regime but also emboldened the people, who came out to fight for their freedom. By not keeping their promise for reforms, increasingly oppressing their citizens, corruption within the official rank, and international isolation, KMT stood no chance against the more united CCP. In the end, Chiang’s regime had to retreat to Taiwan Island forming the Republic of China.


Cucchisi, Jennifer, L. “The Causes and Effects of the Chinese Civil War.” Seton Hall University Dissertation and Theses 2361, (2002), pp. 1-77.

Hsü, Immanuel, C. China without Mao: The Search for a New Order. Oxford University Press, 1990

Joseph, William, A. Politics in China: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Kolata, Kathryn. The Long March. 1999

Murray, Brian. Stalin, the Cold War, and the Division of China: A Multi-Archival Mystery. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1995.

Saich, Tony. The Chinese Communist Party during the Era of the Comintern (1919-1943). International Institute of Social History, n.d. 

Spence, Jonathan. Mao Zedong: A Life. Penguin Books, 2006

Taylor, Jay. The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China. Belknap, 2009.

Eastman, Lloyd, E. The Abortive Revolution: China under Nationalist Rule, 1927-1937 (Harvard East Asian Series No. 78). Harvard University Press, 1974.

[1] Jay, Taylor, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, (Belknap, 2009), p. 397

[2] Jonathan, Spence, Mao Zedong: A Life, (Penguin Books, 2006), p. 120

[3] Lloyd, E, Eastman, The Abortive Revolution: China Under Nationalist Rule, 1927-1937 (Harvard East Asian Series No. 78), (Harvard University Press, 1974), p.1

[4] Jay, p. 397

[5] Jennifer, L Cucchisi, “The causes and effects of the Chinese Civil War,” Seton Hall University Dissertation and Theses 2361, (2002), p. 1

[6] Kathryn, Kolata, The Long March, (1999), p. 41

[7] Immanuel, C. Hsü, China without Mao: The Search for a New Order, (Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 260

[8] Ibid

[9] Brian Murray, Stalin, the Cold War, and the Division of China: A Multi-Archival Mystery, (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1995), p. 2

[10] Tony Saich, The Chinese Communist Party during the Era of the Comintern (1919-1943), (International Institute of Social History, n.d), p. 23

[11] Lloyd, p. 14

[12] William Joseph, A, Politics in China: An Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 632

[13] Ibid

[14] Lloyd, p. 18

[15] Brian, p. 2