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To What Extent Did The Japanese Invasion and World War II Hinder Or Facilitate the Communist Revolution of China?

Charlie Ma

The Japanese invasion and World War II dramatically changed the Communist revolution of China and the Nationalist revolution. Morale were hampered as entire cities and industries were either evacuated or destroyed. Spirits boosted after each victory whether large or small. Official policies were modified or abandoned. It strained resources for everyone, especially during harsh times like the great famine. Armies were strengthened, weakened, or destroyed. Japan brought the civil war to an international level, creating new opportunities. The attack which shocked China allowed the two Chinese parties to be viewed under a different light. Loyalties changed with public opinions. Political rivalry became viewed more as fratricide to the public, and decreasingly justifiable. The invasion tightened the boundaries of political warfare, and reduced open war between the Chinese Parties. Conditions forced governments to take drastic steps it would not otherwise consider. It allowed the country to view the fighting governments in a new light, shifting public opinion to favour the Chinese Communist Party.

The Nationalist government, or Guomindang, were put into an unfavourable position by the Japanese invasion. Before Japan attacked, the main concern amongst the Chinese was which party would dominate China. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria urged many people to forget about the political rivalry within China since having either Chinese party was better than a Japanese one. The Japanese were hated bitterly for their brutal treatment of the Chinese. Soldiers widely believed any conduct was acceptable against Chinese civilians, including rape, murder and pillaging which were common. The Rape of Nanking is one example of demoralization tactics Japan employed. "[Japanese] soldiers hacked, burned, bayoneted, raped and murdered until they had killed ... forty-two thousand civilians." Chinese were killed on sight or saved as target practice regardless of gender or age. The slaughter was barbaric. A deep hatred of the Japanese quickly grew.

The concept of Chinese attacking Chinese in a time of desperate war against a foreign power was viewed by most as illogical and detrimental to China as a whole. The Nationalists lost support for their policy of "First unify from within then resist enemy from without." It was viewed as fratricide, they were weakening China instead of strengthening it. People who thought the Nationalist movement was a triumph for the Chinese became more skeptical. The internal rivalry casted doubts about wether or not the Guomindang was fit to rule China. A notion which developed was that if they were more willing to kill Chinese instead of the real enemy, then maybe the Nationalist government was no better than the international puppet which they replaced. Chiang Kai-shek was so occupied with the extermination of Communists initially that he did not even attempt to stop the Japanese expansion. The withdrawal of Chinese troops in favour of the Japanese was even agreed to in the He-Umezu agreement. Five northern provinces were planned to become colonies of Japan, independent to China. Sixty generals with half a million troops defected to the Japanese. Most of the soldiers then joined the Communists.

Chiang’s unwillingness to fight the common enemy shifted public favour so greatly that soldiers who wanted to fight the Japanese enlisted with the Communists instead. Many people felt the Nationalists had betrayed their country. The policy of overthrowing the western oriented government with an independent Chinese one was what gain them support originally. When people started to doubt the Nationalist government’s intentions, the Guomindang was put into the same position as their predecessor. Taxation were sometimes as high as fifty percent. Peasants became increasingly hungry, miserable, and oppressed. The previous government was not defeated by advanced weaponry, skilled soldiers nor aid from foreign powers. The revolutionaries didn’t even have comparable weapons. Their only true weapons were support from the people, and dedication to their cause. Favouring to engage Communist forces over Japanese invaders caused the people to question their government. For a period, Chiang’s existence was associated with Japanese Imperialism. In some areas, people verbally attacked Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang as much as the Japanese.

People were so greatly opposed to Chiang’s policy of avoidance in fighting the Japanese that even Guomindang officers mutinied to change Chiang’s his mind, and cease the Communist extermination campaigns. This was especially true with the "Manchurian soldiers, who naturally wanted to recover their homeland from the Japanese. They felt they had no quarrel with the Communists". Shortly after Chiang arrived at Sian, he was captured by Chang Hsueh-liang's soldiers. Chiang was offered the choice of stopping the war against Communism or face execution (which was an empty threat since his death would be devastating to China). After much persuasion, Chiang agreed to reestablish a united front. Although Chiang Kai-shek later renounced all of his promises, with the exception of one, he did reduced the anti-Communism efforts. The definance from within his own military shows the magnitude of the discontent, and how close they were to overthrowing the government. They only let him continue because Chiang agreed to fight Japan.

The pause in Chiang Kai-shek's ongoing battle against Communism allowed military victory to slip through. The Chinese Red Army had been significantly weakened after the brutal Long March; it lost two-thirds of its men. Not only were the Communists vulnerable due to shortage of men, but also to shortages of almost everything else. They needed everything from rifles and ammunition to basic necessities like food and clothing. The partial withdraw of communist containment gave them many desperately needed opportunities.

A united front meant Communists would be relatively free to move around and re-establish lost contacts. When the containment loosened, Communists scattered or hid across the country were allowed to surface and regroup. It was also a chance to spread their influence and recruit new patriots. The Communists were viewed as the only power who were willing to fight the Japanese. "The Nanking government never gave up its aim of preserving its forces while destroying those of its political opponents" Conscription gave the Communists a superb opportunity for spreading Communism. The war offered the Communists a rare chance to expand their propaganda to almost everyone. Providing a Communist atmosphere gave ample opportunity to convert non-communists. The Guomindang could not ban Communist recruitment without upsetting the war effort in the eyes of the public.

The war not only helped to strengthen the CCP, but also to weaken The Nationalist Army. The delicate situations caused by World War II meant troops for fighting Communism had to be deployed against the Japanese. When Chiang became the Supreme Allied Commander of the China theater, he became responsible for the defence of Indochina, Thailand, and Burma. This meant spreading his lines even thinner. Supporting the army was already problematic: there were insufficient food, and shortage of supplies. To make matters more difficult, troops now had to supplied outside of China too. This weakened the army overall. Not only were the soldiers away from their homeland, but they also had to fight a significantly superior foe.

War with Japan weakened both the quantity and quality of the Nationalist army. Before Japan joined the Axis powers, Guomindang had a promising relationship with Nazi Germany. They were both anti-Communist. She shared military knowledge with the Chinese. Before Japan joined the Axis, German military advisors helped to train Chinese soldiers, predominantly from the Guomindang. They offered strategic advice to the armies and opened Western style warfare to China. When they officially became enemies, German aid was replaced by minimal aid from the Americans initially. Only after a couple of years was China granted the status equal of the great allies and supplies were increased. The CCP however was not treated the same. Chiang prevented the Communists from receiving foreign aid. This wasa great benefit to the Guomindang since both armies were poorly equipped to start.

Although American aid to the Guomindang enhanced their anti-communism fighting abilities, it came with a heavy price. By nineteen ninety-four, Japan realized she could not defeat the United States to win the war. General Tojo reasoned that if he could move west to capture Chongqing and force Chiang to surrender, the Allies would question the need to continue the war. This would allow Japan to negotiate for peace. It is said that an animal is most dangerous when cornered. Japan’s only chance of saving her empire rested on the defeat of the Guomindang. This allowed the Communists to consolidate their position while the Nationalists had to handle all of Japan’s military might. This came at a crucial time, near the conclusion of World War II when the Chinese parties were preparing to concentrate on warring for control of China. This was a great advantage to the Chinese Red Army when the civil war officially continued.

The Communists did not have to deal with the Japanese as much as the Guomindang. Though small scale attrition warfare was common amongst the Communists, the Red Army contributed only one major offensive. The Chinese Red Army did not engage the Japanese under conditions where it could suffer catastrophic defeats. Most of the Red Army elite were reserved for after World War II much like Chiang’s Armies. Only Chiang was criticized for it because he was the official government, and because his full time soldiers are more noticeable than guerilla malitias. Both the public in China and the international audience had an unfair expectation on the Guomindang to sacrifice the Nationalist armies to the Japanese. The double standard made the CCP appear more appealing and patriotic, biting into the glory of the Guomindang. This was disadvantageous to the Guomindang after the war when people preferred to enlist with Communists instead. Not only did the Guomindang have less troops than otherwise, but the situation also added to the negative image resulted from heavy wartime demands.

Though the Communists had no obligation to defend foreign targets such as the Burma road, they did offer to defend China against Japan. They received aid from the Nationalists in terms of supplies in exchange for allowing Chiang to command their army against Japan. In the southern Anhui incident, Chiang ordered the Chinese Red Army into a mountainous region where they were ambushed by Nationalist troops. This ended any confidence between the two fractions, as well as killing any hope of reconciliation. This event depicted Chiang as cold, vicious, devious and scheming, as though he was an enemy to China as well. The incident resulted in heavy casualties, but it strengthened their motivation. People who viewed Chiang as the hero of China started to question his intentions even more. People who were unsure saw him as despicable.

The effects of the Japanese invasion extended beyond just partial unification of China. It strained resources everywhere, especially for the Guomindang. Most of its resources came from industries and other urban commerce through capitalism. A large portion of the revenue came from urban cities. Due to the shortage of men, the Japanese only wanted to hold the costal areas. The Communists were unaffected since they concentrated in Northern China, mainly in Yanan. The costal areas lost to Japan were where the Guomindang had the largest centers of influence. Moving from Nanjing to Chongqing cut the government from its roots. The revenues from the Maritime Customs Service, as well as the opium trade were knocked off. They also lost their echelon of modern-trained administrators. Due to attacks, industry was hampered. Industrial plants were dismantled and shipped to safe areas upriver. The relocation combined with damage suffered during air raids significantly reduced industrial output. The response to shortages from Guomindang was to print more money, which caused inflation to spiral even more wildly. The massive migration combined with the inflation and failure in the war led to further deterioration of morale. People who were used to a rich modern life had to revert to a simpler, less pleasing lifestyle.

The Nationalist strongholds were conquered by the Japanese, leaving them with heavily dependant upon the rural areas. The dependency was viewed more as exploitation by the public. Officials "were buying up land from starving peasants for back taxes." A report to Time was quoted saying the "peasant loyalty had been hollowed to nothingness by the extortions of their governments." This loyalty would have been especially important when World War II ends. The peasants would often misguide the Guomindang armies with false directions, and lead them into traps to be ambushed by Communists.

The Guomindang was unquestionably corrupt. The unreasonable demands for support reflects this. Large quantities of aid disappeared in the hands of officials. Though no part of the corruption himself, Chiang allowed its existence. This can be sustained only when fighting against an inferior foe. This proved to be catastrophic when they fought against a great military power like the Japanese. A Chinese division officially consisted of ten thousand men, but often had only two thousand. The rest were imaginery name soldiers whose wages fell into the pockets of generals and officials.

War with the Japanese gave the Communists experience which could be later used against the Guomindang. Guerrilla warfare was the optimal fighting strategy against both the Japanese and Guomindang. Both the Guomindang and Japanese used western tactics and had superior weapons. A head on clash with either power would almost certainly lead to a harsh defeat. Fighting the Japanese was equivalent to training to combat the Guomindang. It not only gave them more experienced troops, but it also let them test new administration techniques which would be essential later when the Red Army grew to one million soldiers strong. A by-product of this was an enhanced reputation. Chiang Kai-shek was viewed as the father of China for defeating the warlords. The Japanese war gave Mao and the Communists a chance for equal glory. Chiang was not the only viable leader of China.

The Japanese invasion brought an unifying force, unfortunatly to the Guomindang. Communist extermination campigns made the Nationalists look more like traitors to their own country than a revolutionary and liberating government. Communists became paritally protected by cries fratricide. Discontent with the government rose each time Nationalist troops avoided engaging the Japanese. The Guomindang was increasingly viewed as impotent against the raiding Japanese. So discontent that the Nationalists had no choice but let the Communists thrive in the unaccessable regions in Yannan. The united front allowed the virtually beaten Communists to not only rebuild itself, but also to expand its influence and gain even more glory and power than the Guomindang. World War II not only gave the Chinese Red Army recognition, but also experience. It practiced tatics on the Japanese which could later be used against the Guomindang. The war also gave it a chance to test new administration techniques which were vital later on when controlling a vast army of millions. The war weakened the Nationalist armies, and the loyalties of the public. The war treated the CCP much better, winning them support and soldiers. The double standard created by high expectaions of the Guomindang put dominance of China within reach of the CCP. The war was not completly unfair to Chiang Kai-shek. He was able to recive aid on the pretence that it would be used for resisting the Japanese. The cost of the aid included defending foreign territory which spread Chiang’s defence thinner. The biggest determining factor in the war was the support of the people. Chiang’s policies on World War II made the Guomindang look not only feeble, but also dubious. Loyalty became resentment as the Guomindang’s demand for support surpassed the ability of the people to support the war. The Japanese invasion, and subsequently World War II created stressful conditions which pushed the Guomindang over the brink of collapse. If World War II did not interrupt the civil war, the CCP would have been crushed. Even Russians gave up hope of Mao succeeding. Chiang’s army found a way to defeat the Red Army, and was on its way to their home base before being forced to return to defend against Japan. Chiang not only had a superior army and greater numbers, but he also had a very successful propaganda campign against the communists. The Communists were so weak after the Long March that it would not have been able to put up any real defence. The only alternative would be to cross into Russia and continue their life there.


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2. Barbara W. Tuchman, Stilwell and the American Experience in China. (Toronto: CollierÄMacmillan, 1970), 178.

3. Orville Schell, Joseph Esherick. Modern China. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 93.

4. Edwin P. Hoyt, The Rise of the Chinese Republic: From the last Emperor to Deng Xiaoping. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 148.

5. Jules Archer, China in the 20th Century. (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 85.

6. Hyman Kublin, China. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), 186.

7. Percy Chen, China Called Me: My Life Inside the Chinese Revolution. (Toronto: Little, Brown & Company, 1979), 291.

8. Edwin P. Hoyt, The Rise of the Chinese Republic: From the last Emperor to Deng Xiaoping. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 179.

9. Robert Cecil, Hitler's Decision to Invade Russia. (Bristol: Bristol Typesetting, 1975), 99.

10. Arthur Cotterell, China: A History.(London: Random House, 1995), 284.

11. Edwin P. Hoyt, The Rise of the Chinese Republic: From the last Emperor to Deng Xiaoping. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 179.

12. John King Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800-1985.(New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 248.

13. Orville Schell, Joseph Esherick. Modern China. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 100.

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15. Jules Archer, China in the 20th Century. (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 84.

16. Edwin P. Hoyt, The Rise of the Chinese Republic: From the last Emperor to Deng Xiaoping. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 181.

17. Jean Chesneaux, Peasant Revolts in China.(London: Thames and Hudson, 1973),126.

18. Roy Thomas, China: The Awakening Giant. (Toronto: McGrawÄHill Ryerson, 1981), 86.


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