A republic was formally established on 1 January 1912 following the Xinhai Revolution, which itself began with the Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, successfully overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and ending over two thousand years of imperial rule in China. From its founding until 1949 it was based on mainland China. Central authority waxed and waned in response to warlordism (1915–28), Japanese invasion (1937–45), and a full-scale civil war (1927–49), with central authority strongest during the Nanjing Decade (1927–37), when most of China came under the control of the Kuomintang (KMT) under an authoritarian one-party military dictatorship.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered control of Taiwan and its island groups to the Allies, and Taiwan was placed under the Republic of China's administrative control. The communist takeover of mainland China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 left the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) with control over only Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and other minor islands. With the 1949 loss of mainland China in the civil war, the ROC government retreated to Taiwan and the KMT declared Taipei the provisional capital. The Communist Party of China took over all of mainland China and founded the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing.
Yuan Shikai (left
) and Sun Yat-sen (right
) with flags representing the early republic.
In 1912, after over two thousand years of imperial rule, a republic was established to replace the monarchy. The Qing Dynasty that preceded the republic experienced a century of instability throughout the 19th century, suffered from both internal rebellion and foreign imperialism. The ongoing instability eventually led to the outburst of Boxer Rebellion in 1900, whose attacks on foreigners led to the invasion by the Eight Nation Alliance. China signed the Boxer Protocol and paid a large indemnity to the foreign powers: 450 million taels of fine silver (around $333 million or £67 million at the then current exchange rates). A program of institutional reform proved too little and too late. Only the lack of an alternative regime prolonged its existence until 1912.
The establishment of the Chinese Republic developed out of the Wuchang Uprising against the Qing government on 10 October 1911. That date is now celebrated annually as the ROC's national day, also known as the "Double Ten Day". On 29 December 1911, Sun Yat-Sen was elected president by the Nanjing assembly with representatives from seventeen provinces. On 1 January 1912, he was officially inaugurated and pledged "to overthrow the despotic government led by the Manchu, consolidate the Republic of China and plan for the welfare of the people".
Sun, however, lacked the necessary military strength to defeat the Qing government by force. As a compromise, the new republic negotiated with the commander of the Beiyang Army, Yuan Shikai, with the promise of presidency in the republic if he was to remove the Qing emperor force. Yuan agreed to the deal, and the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi, was forced to abdicate in 1912, and Yuan was officially elected president of the ROC in 1913. He ruled by military power and ignored the republican institutions established by his predecessor, threatening to execute Senate members who disagreed with his decisions. He soon dissolved the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, banned "secret organizations" (which implicitly included the KMT), and ignored the provisional constitution. An attempt at a democratic election in 1912 ended with the assassination of the elected candidate by a man recruited by Yuan. Ultimately, Yuan declared himself Emperor of China in 1915. The new ruler of China tried to increase centralization by abolishing the provincial system; however, this move angered the gentry along with the provincial governors, usually military men. Many provinces declared independence and became warlord states. Increasingly unpopular and deserted by his supporters, Yuan gave up being Emperor in 1916 and died of natural causes shortly after.
China declined into a period of warlordism. Sun, forced into exile, returned to Guangdong province in the south with the help of warlords in 1917 and 1922, and set up successive rival governments to the Beiyang government in Beijing; he re-established the KMT in October 1919. Sun's dream was to unify China by launching an expedition to the north. However, he lacked military support and funding to make it a reality.
Meanwhile, the Beiyang government struggled to hold on to power, and an open and wide-ranging debate evolved regarding how China should confront the West. In 1919, a student protest against the government's weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, considered unfair by Chinese intellectuals, led to the May Fourth movement. These demonstrations were aimed at spreading Western influence to replace Chinese culture. It is also in this intellectual climate that the influence of Marxism spread and became more popular. It eventually led to the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921.
With help from Germany
, Chinese industry and its military were improved just prior to the war against Imperial Japan.
After Sun's death in March 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became the leader of the KMT. In 1926, Chiang led the Northern Expedition through China with the intention of defeating the Beiyang warlords and unifying the country. Chiang received the help of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists; however, he soon dismissed his Soviet advisers. He was convinced, not without reason, that they wanted to get rid of the KMT (also known as the Chinese Nationalists) and take over control. Chiang decided to strike first and purged the Communists, killing thousands of them. At the same time, other violent conflicts were taking place in China; in the South, where the Communists had superior numbers, Nationalist supporters were being massacred. These events eventually led to the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists. Chiang Kai-shek pushed the Communists into the interior as he sought to destroy them, and established a government with Nanking as its capital in 1927. By 1928, Chiang's army overturned the Beiyang government and unified the entire nation, at least nominally, beginning the so-called Nanjing Decade.
According to Sun Yat-sen's theory, the KMT was to rebuild China in three phases: a phase of military rule through which the KMT would take over power and reunite China by force; a phase of political tutelage; and finally a constitutional democratic phase. In 1930, the Nationalists, having taken over power militarily and reunified China, started the second phase, promulgating a provisional constitution and beginning the period of so-called "tutelage". The KMT was criticized for instituting authoritarianism, but claimed it was attempting to establish a modern democratic society. Among other things, it created at that time the Academia Sinica, the Central Bank of China, and other agencies. In 1932, China sent a team for the first time to the Olympic Games. Laws were passed and campaigns mounted to promote the rights of women. The ease and speed of communication also allowed a focus on social problems, including those of the villages. The Rural Reconstruction Movement was one of many which took advantage of the new freedom to raise social consciousness.
Historians such as Edmund Fung argue that establishing a democracy in China at that time was not possible. The nation was at war and divided between Communists and Nationalists. Corruption within the government and lack of direction also prevented any significant reform from taking place. Chiang realized the lack of real work being done within his administration and told the State Council: "Our organization becomes worse and worse... many staff members just sit at their desks and gaze into space, others read newspapers and still others sleep." The Nationalist government wrote a draft of the constitution on 5 May 1936.
During this time a series of massive wars took place in western China, including the Kumul Rebellion, the Sino-Tibetan War and the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang. Although the central government was nominally in control of the entire country during this period, large areas of China remained under the semi-autonomous rule of local warlords, provincial military leaders or warlord coalitions. Nationalist rule was strongest in the eastern regions around the capital Nanjing, but regional militarists such as Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan retained considerable local authority. The Central Plains War in 1930, the Japanese aggression in 1931 and the Red Army's Long March in 1934 led to more power for the central government, but there continued to be foot-dragging and even outright defiance, as in the Fujian Rebellion of 1933–34.
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
Few Chinese had any illusions about Japanese desires on China. Hungry for raw materials and pressed by a growing population, Japan initiated the seizure of Manchuria in September 1931 and established ex-Qing emperor Puyi as head of the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932. The loss of Manchuria, and its vast potential for industrial development and war industries, was a blow to the Kuomintang economy. The League of Nations, established at the end of World War I, was unable to act in the face of the Japanese defiance.
The Japanese began to push from south of the Great Wall into northern China and the coastal provinces. Chinese fury against Japan was predictable, but anger was also directed against Chiang and the Nanking government, which at the time was more preoccupied with anti-Communist extermination campaigns than with resisting the Japanese invaders. The importance of "internal unity before external danger" was forcefully brought home in December 1936, when Chiang Kai-shek, in an event now known as the Xi'an Incident, was kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang and forced to ally with the Communists against the Japanese in the Second Kuomintang-CCP United Front against Japan.
The Chinese resistance stiffened after 7 July 1937, when a clash occurred between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beiping (Later Peking and Beijing) near the Marco Polo Bridge. This skirmish led to open, though undeclared, warfare between China and Japan. Shanghai fell after a three-month battle during which Japan suffered extensive casualties, both in its army and navy. The capital of Nanking fell in December 1937. It was followed by an orgy of mass murders and rapes known as the Nanking Massacre. The national capital was briefly at Wuhan, then removed in an epic retreat to Chongqing, the seat of government until 1945. In 1940 the collaborationist Wang Jingwei regime was set up with its capital in Nanking, proclaiming itself the legitimate "Republic of China" in opposition to Chiang Kai-shek's government, though its claims were significantly hampered due to its nature as a Japanese puppet state controlling limited amounts of territory, along with its subsequent defeat at the end of the war.
The United Front between the Kuomintang and CCP took place with salutary effects for the beleaguered CCP, despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions and the rich Yangtze River Valley in central China. After 1940 conflicts between the Kuomintang and Communists became more frequent in the areas not under Japanese control. The entrance of the United States into the Pacific War after 1941 changed the nature of their relationship. The Communists expanded their influence wherever opportunities presented themselves through mass organizations, administrative reforms and the land- and tax-reform measures favoring the peasants and the spread of their organizational network, while the Kuomintang attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence. Meanwhile, northern China was infiltrated politically by Japanese politicians in Manchukuo using facilities such as Wei Huang Gong.
In 1945, the Republic of China emerged from the war nominally a great military power but actually a nation economically prostrate and on the verge of all-out civil war. The economy deteriorated, sapped by the military demands of foreign war and internal strife, by spiraling inflation and by Nationalist profiteering, speculation and hoarding. Starvation came in the wake of the war, and millions were rendered homeless by floods and the unsettled conditions in many parts of the country. The situation was further complicated by an Allied agreement at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that brought Soviet troops into Manchuria to hasten the termination of war against Japan. Although the Chinese had not been present at Yalta, they had been consulted and had agreed to have the Soviets enter the war in the belief that the Soviet Union would deal only with the Kuomintang government.
After the end of the war in August 1945, the Nationalist Government moved back to Nanjing. With American help, Nationalist troops moved to take the Japanese surrender in North China. The Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, dismantled and removed more than half the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese. The Soviet presence in northeast China enabled the Communists to move in long enough to arm themselves with the equipment surrendered by the withdrawing Japanese army. The problems of rehabilitating the formerly Japanese-occupied areas and of reconstructing the nation from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering.
Post-World War II
During World War II, the United States has become increasingly involved in Chinese affairs. As an ally, it embarked in late 1941 on a program of massive military and financial aid to the hard-pressed Nationalist Government. In January 1943, both the United States and the United Kingdom led the way in revising their unequal treaties with China from the past. Within a few months a new agreement was signed between the United States and the Republic of China for the stationing of American troops in China for the common war effort against Japan. In December 1943 the Chinese Exclusion Acts of the 1880s and subsequent laws enacted by the United States Congress to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States were repealed.
The wartime policy of the United States was initially to help China become a strong ally and a stabilizing force in postwar East Asia. As the conflict between the Kuomintang and the Communists intensified, however, the United States sought unsuccessfully to reconcile the rival forces for a more effective anti-Japanese war effort. Following the Surrender of Japan, the administration of Taiwan was handed over from Japan to the Republic of China on 25 October 1945. Toward the end of the war, United States Marines were used to hold Beiping (Beijing) and Tianjin against a possible Soviet incursion, and logistic support was given to Kuomintang forces in north and northeast China. To further this end, on 30 September 1945 the 1st Marine Division arrived in China, charged with security in the areas of the Shandong Peninsula and the eastern Hebei Province. During the war, China was one of the Big Four Allies of World War II and later became the Four Policemen, which was a precursor to the United Nations Security Council.
Through the mediating influence of the United States a military truce was arranged in January 1946, but battles between the Kuomintang and Communists soon resumed. Public opinion of the administrative incompetence of the Nationalist government was escalated and incited by the Communists in the nationwide student protest against mishandling of the Shen Chong rape case in early 1947 and another national protest against monetary reforms later that year. Realizing that no American efforts short of large-scale armed intervention could stop the coming war, the United States withdrew the American mission, headed by Gen. George C. Marshall, in early 1947. The Chinese Civil War became more widespread; battles raged not only for territories but also for the allegiance of cross-sections of the population. The United States aided the Nationalists with massive economic loans and weapons but no combat support.
Belatedly, the Republic of China government sought to enlist popular support through internal reforms. The effort was in vain, however, because of rampant government corruption and the accompanying political and economic chaos. By late 1948 the Kuomintang position was bleak. The demoralized and undisciplined National Revolutionary Army proved to be no match for the motivated and disciplined Communist People's Liberation Army, earlier known as the Red Army. The Communists were well established in the north and northeast. Although the Kuomintang had an advantage in numbers of men and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population than their adversaries and enjoyed considerable international support, they were exhausted by the long war with Japan and in-fighting among various generals. They were also losing the propaganda war to the Communists, with a population weary of Kuomintang corruption and yearning for peace.
In January 1949, Beiping was taken by the Communists without a fight, and its name changed back to Beijing. Following the capture of Nanjing on 23 April, major cities passed from Kuomintang to Communist control with minimal resistance through November. In most cases the surrounding countryside and small towns had come under Communist influence long before the cities. Finally, on 1 October 1949, Communists led by Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China. During those periods, Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law in May 1949 whilst a few hundred thousand Nationalist troops and two million refugees, predominantly from the government and business community, fled from mainland China to Taiwan; there remained in China itself only isolated pockets of resistance. On 7 December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of the Republic of China.
During the civil war both the Nationalists and Communists carried out mass atrocities with millions of non-combatants killed by both sides during the civil war. Benjamin Valentino has estimated atrocities in the Chinese Civil War resulted in the death of between 1.8 million and 3.5 million people between 1927 and 1949. Atrocities include deaths from forced conscription and massacres.