Communist “Liberation”
The Fall of the Guomindang State
Mao proclaiming China's "liberation" at Tiananmen
Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon "versus"
Chinese Communist Party Icon
The GMD & the CCP
In the two months following Emperor Hirohito’s surrender declaration, Dakota transport planes of the U.S. Tenth Air Force airlifted over 110,000 of Chiang’s best American-trained troops to key cities. Japanese commanders were told not to surrender to the Communists, and in many cases they continued to clash with Communist forces until Guomindang officials arrived. ... As [the Guomindang] took back city after city from the Japanese, and seemed to have the goal of reconstructing a united China once more within their grasp, their carelessness, their inefficiency, and often their corruption whittled steadily away at their base of popular support. Many Chinese were outraged when puppet troops and politicians who had collaborated openly with the Japanese during the war were allowed to remain in their positions, just to prevent the Communists from expanding their territory. ... The Guomindang also mismanaged the difficult problem of stabilizing the currencies of China. ... By not acting decisively or promptly, the Guomindang allowed a chaotic situation to emerge in which exchanges varied wildly among cities. ... Food prices also began to rise uncontrollably, and no central authority had the power to hold them at a reasonable level. (SMC, 433-5)
Conference between Mao Zedong and Patrick Hurley in Yan'an (August 27, 1945)
In August 1945, Ambassador Hurley personally escorted Mao Zedong from Yan’an to Chongqing for negotiations with Chiang Kai-shek. ... Mao and Chiang announced that they agreed on the need for political democracy, a unified military force, and equal legal status for all political parties. A National Assembly or Peoples Congress should be convened promptly, to mark the end of the period of political tutelage that Sun Yat-sen had said would precede the transition to democracy. ... It was harder to reach a satisfactory compromise over local militias and the Communist-controlled border-area governments. The Communists, who had already captured Kalgan, the main railway junction of the far north, were content to state that they would pull their troops out of southern China. Chiang, on the other hand, was determined to reassert his control over the entire country, and in November he launched a fierce attack on the Communists, sending many of his best troops north through the Shanhaiguan pass into Manchuria. (SMC, 435)
Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek Toasting (with Ambassador Hurley)
[T]hirty-eight delegates assembled in Nanjing for a “political consultative conference” on January 11 [1946]. ... In ten days of discussion that were widely reported in the press and that led to an upsurge of hope for the future, the delegates seemed to reach agreement on all the most important points concerning constitutional government, unified military command, and a national assembly. ... Unfortunately, these good intentions came to nothing — indeed perhaps had always been unrealistic. Military clashes between Communists and Nationalists continued in many parts of China, and the Central Executive Committee of the Guomindang made crucial changes in the conference agreements. The committee limited the veto power of the Communists and the Democratic League in the projected State Council, reaffirmed presidential powers for Chiang Kai-shek rather than the genuine cabinet system called for in the new constitution, and reversed its stand on allowing more provincial autonomy. When the Communists and the Democratic League refused to cooperate further unless these changes were rescinded, the Guomindang went ahead without these groups and in late 1946 convened a national assembly and drafted a constitution, both without genuine democratic participation. The situation  was reminiscent of Yuan Shikais manipulation of the constitution and the assemblies in 1914 and 1915. (SMC, 436-7)
Chiang Kai-shek being inaugurated as the President of the Republic of China (May 20, 1948)
Who was to blame for the breakdown of these attempts to form a unity government?
Chinese Communist Party Icon
Agrarian Land Reform: struggle session against a landlord
The Struggle in the North
Hammer and Sickle (Communist Icon)In the year following the Japanese surrender the Communists intensified their land-reform program in the areas where they were strong. ... The Communists had moved on from the cautious united-front policies of rent reduction ... and were working to abolish tenancy and return the land to the peasants who tilled it. ... Violence was an integral part of this process, as old scores were settled with village thugs and personal enemies as well as with landlords. ... Accounts of village reform show how a whole community could be roused through mass meetings to attack its wealthier members, to kill the most hated, and then to redistribute all the confiscated property. ... The head of a recently formed Peasant Association in a Shanxi village described the interrogation in January 1946 of a local landlord, Sheng Jinghe, against whom over a hundred charges of brutal treatment of villagers and tenants had been registered with local CCP cadres:
When the final struggle began Jinghe was faced not only with those hundred accusations but with many many more. Old women who had never spoken in public before stood up to accuse him. Even Li Mao’s wife — a woman so pitiable she hardly dared look anyone in the face — shook her fist before his nose and cried out, “Once I went to glean wheat on your land. But you cursed me and drove me away. Why did you curse and beat me? And why did you seize the wheat I had gleaned?” Altogether over 180 opinions were raised. Jinghe had no answer to any of them. He stood there with his head bowed. We asked him whether the accusations were false or true. He said they were all true. When the committee of our Association met to figure up what he owed, it came to 400 bags of milled grain, not coarse millet.
       That evening all the people went to Jinghe
s courtyard to help take over his property. It was very cold that night so we built bonfires and the flames shot up toward the stars. It was very beautiful.
Dissatisfied with the amount of grain that they found, the villagers beat Sheng Jinghe repeatedly and heated an iron bar in the fire to torture him with. Terrified, he at last confessed where his money was buried. (SMC, 439-41)
Was land-reform necessary for the restoration of peace and stability in China?
Were the peasants justified to "struggle" against such landlords?
Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon
Map of China in 1946 showing Nationalist and Communist areas of control
Japanese investments in Manchuria in summer 1945 were estimated at 11 billion yen, and when the Soviet troops pulled out of Manchuria in 1946 much of this was seized by the Guomindang. ... As in Shanghai and elsewhere, the arriving Guomindang officials were ruthless and wasteful in their takeover of industrial plants. Private profiteering was common, along with the renting out — for private gain — of public properties.
Cartoon showing corrupt practices of the Guomindang
Local susceptibilities were irritated further by Chiang’s decision to ship the Young Marshal Zhang Xueliang off to detention in the safer fastness of Taiwan, instead of releasing him from his decade of house arrest as many of his former troops had hoped. One newspaper correspondent commented from Mukden in late 1946, “As for the common people, they feel on the one hand that all under heaven belongs to the southerners and on the other that life today is not as good as it was in Manchukuo times.”
Chinese Communist Party Icon
Map showing Communist controlled areas in 1945
Edict of Qin Ershi (representing Legalism) The Communists, still too weak to hold southern Manchurian cities against the numerically powerful and well-armed Guomindang forces, made their main urban base in Harbin ... [an] industrial and commercial city of around 800,000 people. ... The personnel to direct the expanding revolution were trained by veteran cadres in special institutes in the city, and all modern means of communication — newspapers, films, magazines, radio — spread the message of communism to the citizens. To ease the task of governing such a huge urban population, the CCP leaders divided the city into 6 districts, which were subdivided in turn into fifty-eight street governments, each with a population of around, 14,000 people. To cope with the large floating population in the city — laborers, hawkers, porters, droshky drivers — registration campaigns were conducted, bandits and destructive elements rounded up ... and 17,000 citizens organized into “night watchmen self-defense teams.” When these organizations still could not control crime, each lane and alley was charged with forming its own patrols; as with the old baojia national security system, any witness not reporting a crime would be treated as if he or she were the perpetrator of that crime. Travel was controlled by a rigidly supervised passport system. (SMC, 443-4)
Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon Flag of the United States
Chinese Communist Party Icon
Portrait of George Marshall in front of the U.S. Eagle
General Marshall
The Mediator’s View, 1947

[I]n June 1946, George Marshall managed to get the two sides to proclaim a cease-fire, this time in Manchuria, and to push for reopening the war-damaged railway lines vital for China’s economic health. (The CCP had cut some of the lines that were still intact after the war, because the Nationalists were using them for anti-Communist troop movements.) Even as the cease-fire was theoretically in effect, Nationalist troops were massing for a second assault on Manchuria, which commenced in July. The Communists, in the meantime, refused to give up their base areas in north China, reorganized their forces as the People’s Liberation Army, and shifted the focus of land reform from rent reduction and redistribution to outright confiscation and violent punishment of class enemies. (SMC, 437-8)
The greatest obstacle to peace [in China] has been the complete, almost overwhelming suspicion with which the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang regard each other.
       On the one hand, the leaders of the Government are strongly opposed to a communistic form of government. On the other, the Communists frankly state that they are Marxists and intend to work toward establishing a communistic form of government in China, though first advancing through the medium of a democratic form of government of the American or British type. ...
Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon
I think the most important factors involved in the recent breakdown of negotiations are these: On the side of the National government, which is in effect the Guomindang, there is a dominant group of reactionaries who have been opposed, in my opinion, to almost every effort I have made to influence the formation of a genuine coalition government. ... They were quite frank in publicly stating their belief that cooperation by the Chinese Communist Party in the government was inconceivable and that only a policy of force could definitely settle the issue. ...
Chinese Communist Party Icon
On the side of the Chinese Communist Party … it has appeared to me that there is a definite liberal group among the Communist ideology in the immediate future. The dyed-in-the-wool Communists do not hesitate at the most drastic measures to gain their end … without any immediate regard for the suffering of the people involved. They completely distrust the leaders of the Guomindang and appear convinced that every Government proposal is designed to crush the Chinese Communist Party. I must say that the quite evidently inspired mob actions of last February and March … gave the Communists good excuse for such suspicions. ...
The reactionaries in the Government have evidently counted on substantial American support regardless of their actions. The Communists by their unwillingness to compromise in the national interest are evidently counting on an economic collapse to bring about the fall of the Government, accelerated by extensive guerrilla action against the long lines of rail communicationsregardless of the cost of suffering to the Chinese people. The salvation of the situation, as I see it, would be the assumption of leadership by the liberals in the Government and in the minority parties. ... In fact, the National Assembly has adopted a democratic constitution which in all major respects is in accordance with the principles laid down by the all-party Political Consultative Conference of last January. It is unfortunate that the Communists did not see fit to participate in the Assembly since the constitution that has been adopted seems to include every major point that they wanted. (DC, 347-50)

Does General Marshall provide an objective summary?

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Who do you blame for the failure to form a democratic government:
the Nationalists, the Communists, or both?

Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon
The Collapse of the Nationalist Economy
On the surface the most urgent aspect of the crisis facing the Guomindang was the steady loss of territory in the north to the Communists, and the attendant erosion of the morale of the Nationalist armies. But equally important was the growth of inflation in China, which wrecked all attempts of Chiang Kai-shek and his advisers at reinstituting viable central control. ... The common Guomindang response to money shortages was to print more bank notes, which merely contributed to the inflationary spiral. Taking September 1945 as the base line, the table [on page 446] shows that wholesale prices in Shanghai had increased fivefold by February 1946, elevenfold by May, and thirtyfold by February 1947. ... In July 1948 Chiang Kai-shek met with T. V. Soong and his other senior advisers to discuss a bold plan to stem the chaotic financial slide. The decision was made to switch to a new currency, abandoning the old fabi yuan and inaugurating a gold yuan, at a conversion rate of 3 million fabi yuan to 1 new yuan. Several Guomindang advisers warned that the new currency probably could not hold firm unless the government drastically reduced its deficit spending, much of it the result of the huge military expenses to which Chiang was still committed. ...
1,000,000 Gold Yuan Note
To inspire confidence in the new notes, the government undertook not to print more than 2 billion of them. Wage and price increases were forbidden, along with strikes and demonstrations. And any gold and silver bullion, along with any foreign currency, held privately by Chinese citizens were to be turned in to the banks in exchange for the new currency, thus boosting the government’s reserves of specie and foreign exchange. Sales taxes on commodities were sharply increased in order to raise more revenue. ... But despite ... the strenuous attempts at enforcement, the gold-yuan plan failed. ... When [the government] imposed heavy new taxes on sales of certain consumer goods such as tobacco, shopkeepers simply closed their doors until they won permission to raise their prices by the same amount as the new taxes. News also spread rapidly that the note-printing program was accelerating, and promised soon to exceed the ceiling of 2 billion gold yuan pledged by the government. By October 1948, with shops emptied of goods, restaurants closing, and medical supplies unobtainable, the failure of the reforms was clear. ... The vaunted gold yuan began to follow in the steps of the old fabi currency. The Chinese republic had become, for all practical purposes, a barter economy. (SMC, 445-51)
Mao and Chiang Bobbleheads with Mao's flag high and Chiang's low

It was in this context of a final loss of confidence in the economy and the political policies of the Guomindang that the Communists forged their conclusive military victory. ... [They] now controlled much of the north China countryside. Peasant guerrillas constantly disrupted Chiang’s supply lines, making relief of his beleaguered forces slow and dangerous. By May 1948 the situation of Chiang’s armies was becoming hopeless. Both Mukden and Changchun were surrounded by Communist troops and could be supplied only by Nationalist air-force planes. There were 200,000 well-trained Nationalist troops in Mukden supported by artillery and tanks, but their slow strangulation was assured if the airfields fell. Yet Chiang Kai-shek consistently refused the proposals of the American military advisers still with him that he pull those troops back south of the Great Wall to invigorate his defenses in north China.; he had invested too much of his waning prestige in the Manchurian campaign to back down now.
... A series of tactically brilliant campaigns conducted by Lin Biao in Manchuria during September and October led to the fall of Mukden and Changchun, and the destruction, surrender, or desertion of 400,000 of Chiang’s finest troops. Only 20,000 Nationalist troops escaped, evacuated by sea from south Manchuria. ... Zhu De, commander in chief of all the Communist armies, decided to commit 600,000 troops to the seizure of the railway junction of Xuzhou, opposing an equal number of Nationalist troops, who also had complete air superiority. In a sixty-five-day battle toward the end of 1948, the Communists showed a new mastery of massed artillery power and emerged victorious by completely outmaneuvering Chiang’s generals. The Nationalist commanders were plagued by the contradictory and impractical orders personally issued by Chiang Kai-shek, and by the massive desertion of their troops. In this complex and protracted campaign, the extraordinary Communist effort at mobilizing upward of 2 million peasants in four provinces to provide logistical support was directed by Deng Xiaoping, once the youngest of the work-study students in France, now a veteran party organizer of forty-five.
Map showing the changing ratio of Nationalist to Communist areas
In a third campaign, overlapping with these two, Lin Biao invested and captured Tianjin for the Communists in January 1949. Turning back west with the bulk of his forces and holding an overwhelming tactical advantage, he persuaded the Nationalist general commanding Peking to surrender. Communist troops entered the old imperial capital on January 31. North China was irrevocably lost to Chiang Kai-shek, who had resigned as president ten days earlier. (SMC, 451-5)
Chinese Communist Party Icon
Tiananmen with portrait of Mao, February 12, 1949
The conquest of so many large cities in north China confronted the CCP with new administrative and economic problems ... [but the CCP used their Harbin experience] to avoid the most serious administrative and financial mistakes that had been committed by the Guomindang in their return to east China in late 1945. The CCP insisted that the People’s Liberation Army maintain strict discipline in the cities it occupied, that ordinary Chinese businesses not be disrupted, and that urban property not be redistributed to benefit the poor. Factories were patrolled and machinery guarded to prevent looting. A new “people’s currency” — the renminbi — was introduced, with only a short term allowed in which to exchange gold yuan notes for the new ones. Thereafter trading in gold, silver, and foreign currency was to be explicitly forbidden.
People's Republic of China "renminbi" (people's money), 1949
CCP officials relocated Guomindang officers and soldiers to their homes, or incorporated them into the People’s Liberation Army following a period of political education. The labor organizations were prevented from disruptive strikes by a web of mediation rules, and urged to accept reasonable exploitation by capitalists in the transition period. Refugees were fed and sent home whenever possible. Schools and colleges were kept open. Stockpiles of food and oil were kept in government deposits in order to stabilize prices during periods of shortage. City dwellers were encouraged to save through development of “commodity savings deposit units,” cleverly designed to be safe from inflation. Depositors were promised that their savings would be computed in terms of prevailing food and fuel costs, and at the time of withdrawal would be adjusted to yield the same amount of food and fuel, plus all accrued interest. Not all these measures succeeded at once, but the sincerity of the attempts was praised by both foreign and Chinese observers, regardless of their political sympathies. (SMC, 455-6)
Guomindang (Nationalist Party) Icon
Poster showing a giant PLA soldier chasing Chiang Kai-shek and a generic American out of Taiwan with the caption "Liberate Taiwan, Complete the Unification"
The island of Taiwan, which had prospered economically as a colony under Japanese rule since 1895, was reclaimed by the Nationalist government late in 1945. In reasserting central government power, Guomindang behaved in a “carpetbagging” style similar to that followed in Shanghai and Manchuria. Often inefficient or corrupt, they failed to build up public support and managed to erode many of the more satisfactory aspects of Japanese economic development. ...
Photo of the initial riot in front of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau
Chinese characters for 2 and 28 (February 28, 1947)
Painting of Nationalist troops shooting Taiwanese dissidents
When Taiwanese anger broke out into antigovernment riots in February 1947, Nationalist troops fired into the crowd, killing many demonstrators. Over the following weeks, in a series of ruthless actions that recall Chiang Kai-shek’s Shanghai tactics of 1927, Chen Yi attempted to break the spirit of the Taiwanese by ordering the arrest and execution of thousands of Taiwan’s prominent intellectuals and citizen leaders.
Nationalist soldiers preparing for the retreat to Taiwan
With the Taiwanese opposition broken, Chiang recalled Chen Yi [the chief administrator of Taiwan province] and replaced him with more moderate administrators, who slowly built up the island as a viable base for future mass Chinese occupation. In the months before the fall of Peking, furthermore, thousands of crates of Qing-dynasty archives were shipped to Taiwan along with the finest pieces of art from the former imperial-palace collections, in a clever propagandistic move to make the Nationalists seem like the preservers of the Chinese national heritage. A force of 300,000 troops loyal to Chiang was based on the island by early 1949, backed by twenty-six gunboats and some planes. The scene was set for Chiang’s retreat to Taiwan, should he choose the option. (SMC, 456)
Chinese Communist Party Icon
Mao Zedong with Zhu De
PLA Proclamation
April 25, 1949
The Guomindang reactionaries have rejected the terms for peace and persist in their stand of waging a criminal war against the nation and the people. The people all over the country hope that the People’s Liberation Army will speedily wipe out the Guomindang reactionaries. ... We hereby proclaim the following eight-point covenant by which we, together with the whole people shall abide.

1. Protect the lives and property of all the people ... irrespective of class, belief or occupation. ... Counter-revolutionaries who seize the opportunity to create disturbances, loot or sabotage shall be severely dealt with.

2. Protect the industrial, commercial, agricultural and livestock enterprises of the national bourgeoisie. All privately owned factories, shops, banks, warehouses, vessels, wharves, farms, livestock frames and other enterprises will without exception be protected against any encroachment. ...

3. Confiscate bureaucrat-capital. All factories, shops, banks, and warehouses, all vessels, wharves and railways, all postal, telegraph, electric light, telephone and water supply services, and all farms, livestock farms and other enterprises operated by the reactionary Guomindang government and the big bureaucrats shall be taken over by the People’s Government. In such enterprises the private shares held by national capitalists ... shall be recognized, after their ownership is verified. ...

4. Protect all public and private schools, hospitals, cultural and educational institutions, athletic fields and other public welfare establishments. ...

5. Except for the incorrigible war criminals and counter-revolutionaries who have committed the most heinous crimes, the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Government will not hold captive, arrest or subject to indignity any officials, whether high or low, in the Guomindang’s central, provincial, municipal and county governments ... so long as they do not offer armed resistance or plot sabotage. ... Punishment shall be meted out to those who seize the opportunity to engage in sabotage, theft or embezzlement, or abscond with public funds, assets or records, or refuse to give an accounting.

6. In order to ensure peace and security in both cities and rural areas and to maintain public order, all stragglers and disbanded soldiers are required to report and surrender to the People’s Liberation Army or the People’s Government in their localities. No action will be taken against those who voluntarily do so and hand over their arms. ...

7. The feudal system of landownership in the rural areas is irrational and should be abolished. To abolish it, however, preparations must be made and the necessary steps taken. Generally speaking, the reduction of rent and interest should come first and land distribution later; only after the People’s Liberation Army has arrived at a place and worked there for a considerable time will it be possible to speak of solving the land problem in earnest. ...

8. Protect the lives and property of foreign nationals. It is hoped that all foreign nations will follow their usual pursuits and observe order. All foreign nationals must abide by the orders and decrees of the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Government ... and must not engage in espionage, act against the cause of China’s national independence and the people’s liberation, or harbour Chinese war criminals, counter-revolutionaries or other law breakers. Otherwise, they shall be dealt with according to law by the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Government.

The People’s Liberation Army is highly disciplined; it is fair in buying and selling and is not allowed to take even a needle or a piece of thread from the people. It is hoped that the people throughout the country will live and work in peace and will not give credence to rumors or raise false alarms. This proclamation is hereby issued in all sincerity and earnestness.
Mao Zedong
Chairman of the Chinese People’s
Revolutionary Military Commission
Zhu De
Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese
People’s Liberation Army (
DC, 362-4)
Mao Zedong announcing the founding of the People’s Republic of China
October 1, 1949