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The emergence of the state of Communist China in 1949 was one of the most significant events of the 20th century and the Communist Revolution which led to its emergence is hailed as one of the most successful popular uprisings in recent world history. The Revolution ended with the declaration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Mao on October 1, 1949. Sharma (1989) hails China’s 1949 revolution as one of the most authentic revolutions of the 20th century.
This thought is confirmed by Meisner (1999) who asserts that few events in world history have had as positive an impact on the lives of people than the Maoist victory of 1949. Considering this huge significance of the revolution, this paper will set out to discuss the reasons behind the success of the Communist Revolution in China.
Modern China traces its roots to the Manchu Revolution of 1911 which resulted in the fall of the rule of the Manchu dynasty. Following this, China became a republic and the leader of the revolution, Dr. Sun Yat Sen was appointed the president of China. Sun Yat’s party, the Kuomintang (KMT) formed the government which ruled over the next 2 decades. The Communist Party was established in China in 1921 with Mao Zedong as one of the founding members.
At the onset, the relationship between the KMT and the Communists was cordial and the two worked together towards building the new Chinese Republic. In the lifetime of Sun Yat, the communist part of China and the KMT party worked in harmony and presented a united front. This United front came to an end following the death of Sun Yat in 1925. He was succeeded by Chiang Kai Shek who viewed the Communists as a threat.
As a result of this perceived threat, Chiang Kai Shek’s regime threw the Communists out of the government and proceeded to imprison or exile the Communist leaders. The KMT party then banned the Communist Party from China and membership to it was criminalized. Following this dismissal from the KMT party which was beginning to become authoritarian, the Communist Party set out to regain power and restore China. The aim of the Party was to fight against the KMT so as to bring a communist Revolution in the Country.
Reasons for the Success of the Communists Party
The battle strategies employed by the communists also contributed to their success. When the communists under the leadership of Mao began to wage their campaigns against the KMT government forces, they were greatly disadvantaged. The KMT forces were larger and had better weapons and munitions (Raghunath, 1989).
The communists employed guerilla warfare in their war against the better organized Guomindang forces. Following the defeat of Mao’s small peasant army in Hunan during the Autumn Harvest Uprising, Mao retreated to the mountainous region of Jianxi where he recruited troops from the peasant ranks and developed guerrilla warfare tactics. This tactics were highly effective since they drew the enemy forces into hostile countryside where they were destroyed by the peasant forces.
The Communist Party set out to win the support of the peasants by promoting their interests and hence create a popular mass uprising. The rural poor were given land as a stake in the revolution which acted as an incentive for them to resist the Guomindang. Up until 1949, land in China was owned by landlords who let the rural peasants live on their land in exchange for their labor (Meisner, 1999). This old system was unfair since it allowed the oppressive landlord class to control the peasant.
The Chinese peasants had suffered from centuries of oppression by the landlords who owned most of the land in China. The peasants therefore offered their unyielding support to the communist party since the Communists promised to take land from the oppressive landlords and redistribute it to the peasant population. As such, despite the Guomindang forces far outnumbering Mao’s Communists and having better weapons, the Communists enjoyed wide and popular support among China’s overwhelmingly peasant population.
The revolution’s success was further aided by the presence of a great and inspirational leader, Mao Zedong. Mao was the mastermind behind the policy of the Communist party and came up with the philosophy that led to the communist victory. Contrary to orthodox Marxism views that stated that the middleclass workers were the basis of a revolution, Mao believed that it was the peasants who would form the main force in the Chinese Communism Revolution (Raghunath, 1989).
As a result of this, the real base from which the Communists run the revolution was rural North China. Mao was able to organize peasant unions which formed the backbone of the Revolution. Liu (1995) contends that the revolution was for the peasants a long-term struggle, rather than a simple function of socio-economic structure.
The progressive weakening of the Kuomintang (KMT) which was the Nationalist Government also contributed to the success of communism. The KMT had been in power for nearly 20 years and during this time, the government failed to give the people the prosperity that they desired. Draguhn and Goodman (2002) highlight the fact that the Guomindang establishment was corrupt on every level.
The bureaucracy was permeated with corruption with money and favors being exchanged by KMT officials. Bribes were commonplace and the press had regular reports of bribery to gain rights to property or position. This made the people regard KMT as a political system which only served the interests of the wealthy and powerful.
In the course of 1947, Chiang Kai-Shek was in deep political crisis and was having a hard time addressing the economic depression that the country faced (Raghunath, 1989). With high rates of inflation and rampant corruption, people were losing faith in the government and prepared for change.
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The enormous size of the Chinese territory also acted in favor of the Communist revolution. The Chinese government could not establish good control over its people since China is a very large country. Uprisings could therefore take place in some parts of the country and it would take time before the government forces arrived to extinguish them (Raghunath, 1989).
The Communists were also able to retreat into the more remote parts of the country to reorganize themselves after huge military loses in the hands of KMT. For example, by 1934, KMT forces had launched major expeditions against the communists and were almost successful in destroying them. However, the communist forces led by Mao made the famous Long March into the remote parts of North West China.
During WWII, parts of China were occupied by Japanese forces. This Japanese occupation of the North China plain contributed to the success of the Revolution. Liu (1995) documents that Japanese occupation of North China after 1937 left a huge political vacuum in the countryside. The Japanese forces could not with their limited forces govern the entire region effectively and they were forced to consolidate their power in large cities and strategic towns.
This left a large region of North china ungoverned and the Communists took this opportunity to established bases and expand their forces. Liu (1995) reveals that without a well-mobilized mass base, it would have been impossible for the Communists to sustain an arduous and protracted guerrilla war. Since the KMT forces were occupied fighting off the Japanese invaders, they did not bother the Communist forces which continued to grown in number as well as strength.
The final reason for the success of the Communists was as a result of huge rural support base as well as Russian support to their war efforts. In 1947, the Russians gave the Communist forces arms and ammunitions that the Japanese had surrendered following their defeat (Raghunath, 1989).
While the Communist forced was highly disciplined and enthusiastic, there was low moral and discontent among KMT officials. The Communists were able to overrun the whole of mainland China and the KMT leader, Chiang fled to the island of Taiwan along with what remained of his army.
This paper set out to give the reasons behind the success of the Communist Revolution of China in 1949. It began by giving a brief history of China and the situations which led to the call for a Revolution by the Communist Party. This paper has shown that the success of the revolution was as a result of the huge support from the peasants as well as good leadership from the communist leader, Mao. The inefficiencies and corruption of the KMT government also aided the Communist in their quest for a revolution.
Draguhn, W., & Goodman, S.G. (2002). China’s communist revolutions: fifty years of the People’s Republic of China. Boston: Routledge.
Liu, C. (1995). Peasants and Revolution in Rural China: Rural political change in the North China plain and the Yangzi delta, 1850-1949. Boston: Routledge.
Meisner, M. (1999). The significance of the Chinese Revolution in world history. Working Paper. Asia Research Center. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
Raghunath, R. (1989). Themes in World History. NY: FK Publications.
Sharma, R.K. (1989). China Revolution to Revolution. Delhi: Mittal Publications.