The Communists during the Second World War



Although the CCP had survived in the 1930s, it was nowhere near being in a position to take over the government of China.

The Second World War changed all that.  The GMD's conduct and failures, taken against the CCP's conduct and successes, changed the balance of power between the two parties so that - even though the USA supported the GMD - the Communists were able to seize power after 1945.


The following websites will help you complete the task:


Second World War:
• A simple summary

• The History Learning Site

• HA podcast on Chiang Kai-shek and the GMD


Why did China turn Communist in 1949?

a.  The GMD were hated

The GMD government was corrupt, cruel and repressive; not only the peasants, but many intellectuals and the middle classes, resented the government

b.  World War Two weakened the GMD

The defeats during World War Two reduced the morale and the reputation of the GMD government

c.  The Communists were popular

The communists promised the peasants land and tax reforms

d.  World War Two strengthened the CCP

By resisting the Japanese, the CCP won the support of the people, who saw them as the defenders of China

e.  The Civil War, 1946-50

The CCP won a four-year civil war and took power


How did World War II weaken the GMD?

a.  10 million Chinese casualties

The war wrecked China (60 million homeless); this made the GMD unpopular – in 1943, there was a peasant revolt against the Nationalist army in Gansu

b.  Taxation, conscription and scorched earth strategy

GMD tactics harmed the Chinese people more than the Japanese – against whom they fought less and less

c.  GMD corruption

GMD commanders complained that Chiang Kai-shek kept the money and the best supplies sent by the Americans

d.  Sichuan enclave

During the war, the GMD government was forced back into Sichuan – which gave the Communists the chance to spread their message all over the rest of the country

e.  Ichigo Campaign, 1944

50,000 Japanese troops easily defeated a GMD army of 400,000; the government was humiliated – the Americans tried (but failed) to force Chiang Kai-shek to resign


How did World War II strengthen the Communists?

a.  Second United Front

When Japan invaded in 1937, Chiang Kai-shek was a forced to stop his Extermination Campaign, and unite with the CCP – this enhanced the reputation of the CCP

b.  People’s Liberation Army

During the war, the PLA became hardened, disciplined soldiers

c.  Guerrilla 'War of Resistance'

During the war, the PLA perfected their guerrilla tactics

d.  Japanese reprisals against the GMD

Unable to attack the CCP guerrillas, the Japanese concentrated their reprisals against the GMD, which further demoralised and damaged the GMD army

e.  'Rectification of conduct'

Mao took advantage of the war to launch purges to remove his opponents and to establish his ideas over the CCP


Why did the peasants support the Communists?

a.  Land and tax reform

The CCP promised to destroy the power of rapacious landlords and give the peasants their land, and to tax the rich, not the peasants

b.  GMD corruption

GMD officials were corrupt, and made themselves wealthy by robbing the peasants; this made them hated

c.  Guerrilla War of Resistance

During the Sino-Japanese War, 1937-45, it was the CCP, not the GMD government, that did most of the resistance; this made the CCP popular

d.  'Rectification of conduct'

Mao took advantage of the war to launch purges to remove his opponents and to establish his ideas over the CCP

e.  Traditional obedience

Chinese culture taught people to obey their leaders and grant them automatic respect


The aftermath of the Second World War in China

a.  Ruins, refugees and disease

Perhaps 100million refugees, famines and disease, buildings and communications destroyed

b.  Economic collapse

The war had caused runaway inflation (the price index of the Chinese fabi, 100 in 1937, was 288million in 1948); people were reduced to barter

c.  Warlords

As government collapsed during the war, local warlords took control; there were peasant rebellions, and the pro-Soviet governor Sheng Shicai controlled Xinjiang

d.  Tension with the USA

The Americans favoured Chaing Kai-shek against the CCP, but they were fed up with GMD corruption and poor morale

e.  GMD corruption

In 1945 the Americans reinstated Chiang Kai-shek as ruler of China, but corrupt GMD officials made themselves wealthy by robbing the peasants, and the Secret police hunted down opponents of the government



Read the following passage, written by Mao soon after the Long March, and write answers to the questions which follow:

CCP General Pen Dehuai explains the Communists' tactics to American journalist Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, 1939
"Partisan warfare demands these fundamentals: fearlessness, swiftness, intelligent planning, mobility, secrecy, and suddenness and determination in action.
Finally, it is absolutely necessary for the partisans to win the support and participation of the peasant masses.  If there is no movement of the armed peasantry, in fact,there can be no partisan base, and the army cannot exist.  Only by implanting itself in the hearts of the people can partisan warfare bring revolutionary victory."

How is this source useful for an historian studying why the Communists defeated the GMD?

Describe the state of China at the end of the Second World War.

Explain how the Second World War strengthened the Communists and weakened the GMD