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Chinese History - The Republic of China (1911-1949)

The Republic of China 中華民國 Zhonghua minguo (1912-1949) was the official designation of the state that succeeded the last imperial dynasty, the Qing 清 (1644-1911). The Republic was founded in the hope to establish a modern state able to shake off the image of a decadent and antediluvian form of government and to enter the sphere of the international community. Yet from the beginning the Republic was beset with internal struggles. President Yuan Shikai and others tried reviving the monarchy, while the "true" revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 孫中山), was only able to rule over his home province of Guangdong. In the north of China, several groups of warlords contested with each other for power.
While the European states and the USA were engaged in the catastrophy of the Great War (1914-1918), and then in the economic depression of the 1920s, Japan used this power vacuum to gain more and more control over Manchuria.
The political liberation of China from its past failed, but at least, the May Fourth Movement (Wusi yundong 五四運動) contributed to the creation of a modern form of literature, a critical stance towards the fossilized form of Confucianism (that was seen as the main cause for China'a backwardness), and a new national consciousness.
Sun Yat-sen set up his ideology of the "three principles of the people" (sanmin zhuyi 三民主義) that envisaged a "tutelage phase" before the introduction of democracy. Accordingly, his party, the Kuo-min-tang (Guomindang 國民黨) never considered democracy as a first option. After Sun's death, his political heir Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) 蔣介石 fulfilled Sun's dream of a reunited China, undertook the more or less successful Northern Campaign (beifa 北伐), forced the warlords into submission or alliance, and established the "Republican" one-party goverment in Nanjing. During the so-called Nanking decade (from 1927 to 1937) he refused any reforms and instead ruthlessly suppressed opposition, especially the Communist Party (Gongchandang 共產黨) that first agitated in Shanghai, and then in so-called soviets in the province of Jiangxi. The Communists survived several extinction campaigns and in 1936 escaped in the Long March (changzheng 長征) that ended in the "liberated zone" in Yan'an 延安, Shaanxi. During the Long March Mao Zedong 毛澤東 had taken over the position of chairman and from then on became the undisputed leader of the Communist Party.
In 1937 the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge 盧溝橋, whether provocated by the Japanese militarists or not, directly led to the second Sino-Japanese war (in China called Kang Ri zhanzheng 抗日戰爭 "war of resistance against Japan"). The Japanese occupied the easter coast and many cities along the main waterways. Atrocities took place in the capital Nanjing in December 1937. The Chiang Kai-shek regime withdrew to Chongqing 重慶 (at that time part of Sichuan province) from where it orchestrated the joint war of the National Army and Communist troops against the Japanese occupants. The Japanese founded the puppet state of Manchuguo in Manchuria and found a collaborator in Wang Jingwei 汪精衛, a former party collegue of Chiang Kai-shek.
In 1945 the Japanese surrendered. The American envoy General George Marshal was unable to reconcile Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists. A bloody civil war erupted in which first the National Army of the Kuo-min-tang prevailed, but from 1947 on the so-called Liberation Army of the Communist Party. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the so-called People's Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (since 1949). Chiang Kai-shek and many of the national elite fled to Taiwan, where the Republic lived on, in the earstwhile hope to reconquer the mainland.


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© 2000 ff · Ulrich Theobald · Mail