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Describe the Chinese Civil War, the rise of Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), and the triumph of the Communist Revolution in China in 1949.

Mao Zedong with workers, ca 1950
Mao Zedong with workers, ca 1950

Topics on this page


Sun Yat-Sen

  • Soong Ching-Ling (Madame Sun Yat-Sen)

Chinese Civil War

The rise of Mao Zedong

  • Jiang Qing (Madame Mao)

Communist Revolution of 1949


  • American Support for Taiwan
    • New Marriage Law (1950)

Focus Question: What conditions brought about the Chinese Civil War, the rise of Mao Tse-tung,and the triumph of the Communist Revolution in China?

MAP.jpgFor more background, see


The end of the Boxer Rebellion (see more at WHII.13) in China left the Qing dynasty weak and needing of reform.
  • The Qing was now struggling, losing its relevancy in a world to which its dated doctrines simply could not apply.
  • Not only had they failed to modernize, the Qing also suffered a humiliating defeat to Japan in the Sino-Japanese War.
  • This loss was ultimately devastating to the dynasty, and allowed for the emergence of revolutionary leaders including Sun Yat-sen.

Sun Yat-Sen
Sun Yat-Sen

Sun Yat-Sen

For more, see Sun-Yat Sen Museum, Hong Kong.

For a brief biography, see Father of Modern China from CNN.
primary_sources.PNGClick the read selections from Sun Yat-Sen's Fundamentals of National Reconstruction (1923).

Sun Yat-sen was also the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT), the Nationalist party of China who would make up one of the sides of the Chinese Civil War.
  • By 1911, his followers took over at the death of Empress Dowager Ci Xi.
  • However Sun Yat-sen was in the U.S., leaving the movement with no leader.
  • He would briefly take power after the Emperor's abdication in 1912, but realizing that many doubted him due to his westernization, he resigned, giving his power to a trusted associate, Yuan Shikai.

Collapse meant General Yuan Shikai became President. He formerly controlled the military and was now negotiating with members of Sun Yat-sen’s party. Simply no one could compete with Shikai’s control of the military.
  • Fear of total collapse was in the fear that the West would return.
  • Shikai’s enemies:
    • Reformers
    • Pushers of democracy
    • Democratic institutions & traditionalists
  • Sun Yat-sen eventually fled to Japan. By 1916, Shikai died and civil war erupted amongst competing warlords.

external image Soong_Ching-ling1.jpg
Multimedia.png Video on Sun Yat-Sen and his link to the United States, and his impact on modern China.

womens history.jpgBiography on Soong Ching-Ling (Madame Sun Yat-Sen), she ha many western characteristics which made her a more likable person in the eyes of Americas.

The Chinese Civil War can be divided into three parts: Pre-WWII, Second Sino-Japanese War, and Post-WWII

  • Sun Yat-sen's successful overthrow of the Qing Empress in 1911, allowed him to overturn thousands of years of dynastic rule in China.
    • As the Qing Empress fell, northern China errupted into several warlord states intent on establishing a new government.
  • Sun Yat-sen established the the Kuomingtang Party (KMT) as a means to combat the northern warlords.
    • Faced with the momentous task of both modernizing China and defeating northern rebels, Sun Yat-sen sought aid from foreign powers.
    • Sun Yat-sen first courted western powers, but was rejected. Thus, Sun Yat-sen sought aid from the Soviet Union.
  • The Soviet Union provided support, but an emerging Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also caught the attention of the Soviet Union. Thus, the Soviet Union supported both the CCP and the KMT.
    • Thanks to this duel-support, both the CCP and KMT were given military training by Soviet-instructed academies.
  • Red: CCP Blue: KMT
    Red: CCP Blue: KMT
    As the northern territories were conquered by a combined CCP and KMT effort, a split began to develop between the two parties.
    • Fighting began between the CCP and KMT on April 12, 1927. Thanks in part to Sun Yat-sen's son, Chaing Kai-shek, the CCP government was driven underground in the ensuing conflict.
    • Despite these victories, the KMT was only able to secure the central-eastern lands of China. (See Map) Most of China was ruled by warlords, the CCP, or else left largely ungoverned in a formal sense. The CCP relied on guerrilla tactics, while the KMT relied on defending urban centers.
  • In 1934, the CCP general Mao Zedong was able to flee an encircling siege of Jiangxi Province.
    • KMT forces were too occupied with other forces to pursue Mao's forces.
    • What followed was a period where Mao's forces would march along the countryside recruiting peasants called the “Long March”
  • The first part of the civil war between CCP, KMT, and warlords would last till 1937, when the Japanese invaded.

  • Japan's expanding, nationalist empire had already conquered several states before 1937. Using the turmoil to their advantage, Japan invaded Manchuria in 1937 to almost no resistance.
  • KMT forces, largely at the behest of Chaing Kai-sheck, were focused on driving out the CCP and warlords from the countryside, and did not feel they could oust the Japanese without first unifying the remainder of China.
  • The CCP attempted to declare a truce with Chaing Kaisheck on several occasions. After an event known as the “Xi'an Incident” - where CCP soldiers attempted to kidnap Chaing Kaisheck and force him to sign a treaty – both the CCP and KMT fought against the Japanese.
  • The CCP largely benefited from this treaty. As the KMT was forced to take back cities and defend non-occupied cities, the CCP could fight in the countryside and “liberate” peasants from the Japanese. As a result, the “active” CCP became increasingly popular among peasants compared to the “ineffective” KMT.
  • By the end of the war, the de-facto leaders of the KMT and CCP had been established: Chaing Kaisheck and Mao Zedong.
lessonplan.jpgprimary_sources.PNGLink to a lesson plan that analyzes woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese war.

  • The post-war period saw a return to fighting, and by 1946 the truce between the CCP and KMT had fallen apart.
  • The advantages afforded to the Communists in WWII shifted the favor of the struggle to the CCP.
  • On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong and the CCP army conquered Beijing. Here, Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China (PRC).
  • In the ensuing conflicts, Chang Kaisheck fled to Taiwan. By December of 1949, the KMT held only a handful of islands against the PRC.
  • Despite a total victory over land, the PRC's naval force was almost non-existent. As a result, Taiwan was never invaded.

The rise of Mao Tse-tung (Zedong) and the triumph of the Communist Revolution

Timeline of Mao Tse-tung up to the triumph of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.
Quill_and_ink.pngMao Zedong: Biographical and Political Profile from Asia for Educators, Columbia University

Mao emerged in China in the late 1920’s as a leader in establishing the Red Army.
  • Mao also was influential & powerful over the Communist Party, while directing the overall strategy during the Sino-Japanese War & the civil war.
  • By 1945, Mao became the Party Chair of the PRC. He relied greatly on the peasantry & guerrilla warfare, which were greatly responsible for the triumph.
  • In 1949, China saw its triumph in the Communist Revolution. Mao was responsible for many reforms such as land reform, collectivization of agriculture and the spread of medical services.

Read this primary source document with questions for teachers. The worksheet provides excerpts from Mao Zedong's speech. "The Dictatorship of the People's Democracy"
Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, US ambassador Patrick J. Hurley, 1945
Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, US ambassador Patrick J. Hurley, 1945

timeline2_rus.svg.pngRead this detailed timeline about the life of Mao Zedong.


The following link describes the life of Mao ZeDong in more detail: Life of Mao ZeDong

Historical magazine cover, Madame Mao
Historical magazine cover, Madame Mao

Jiang Qing (Madame Mao)

Jiang Quing and Mao Tse-Tung
Jiang Quing and Mao Tse-Tung

Female_Rose.pngJiang Qing, a former movie actress, married
Mao in 1938 and contributed to the cultural purges of the Chinese Revolution. She took her life in prison in 1991.

For more, see Madame Mao: Sharing Power with the Chairman from the International Museum of Women.

The History of the Communist Revolution of 1949

The Revolution began in the aftermath of World War II. Communist and Nationalist forces came together after the war to discuss the formation of a united government and military. However, things fell apart and China soon found itself immersed in a violent civil war (6).

The PRC groups lead by Mao ZeDong took a commanding lead by 1947 and even at that point the Nationalist forces lead by Chiang Kai-Shek began looking to Taiwan as a place to retreat. Even the financial aid of the Truman administration was not enough to hold back the communist forces from an eventual victory. On October 1st, 1949 Mao ZeDong declared the creation of the Peoples Republic of China (6).
Multimedia.pngView this crash course video for a fun and educational summary of China's communists, nationalists, and the Communist Revolution.


American Support for Taiwan

The United States continue to recognize the Nationalist government in Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government until the 1970s.

The United States supported the government in Taiwan as having China's seat in the UN. This created a culture of animosity between the US and the PCR government.

Conditions deteriorated in the Korean war when the two found themselves on opposite sides. For those decades little relations occurred between the two countries (6).

Freedom of marriage, happiness and good luck, 1953
Freedom of marriage, happiness and good luck, 1953

New Marriage Law (1950)

  • Gave equality to women under the law

New Marriage Law Posters

New Marriage Law from Historical Changes in Chinese Women


1) Sun Yat-sen." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 15 Feb. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9070339>.

2) http://www.chinavoc.com/history/qing.htm

3) Spielvogel, Jackson, J (2005). Glencoe World History. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

4) East Asian Curriculum Project & Project on Asia in the Curriculum at Columbia, (2006). Chinese Leaders. Retrieved March 11 2007, from Asia for Educators Web site: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/china/gov/mao_zedo.htm#Mao%20as%20the%20Leader%20of%20the%20Chinese%20Revolution

5) Muhlhahn, K. (2004)."Remembering a Bitter Past:" The Trauma of China's Labor Camps. 1949-1978. History & Memory. 16, 108-39.

6) http://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/ChineseRev