Tuesday, Oct. 1 marked the 70th celebration of “National Day” in the People’s Republic of China, commemorating 70 years since the birth of the present-day’s most powerful socialist state.
Although there is infighting among Marxists whether it is truly “socialist,” we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for today. Instead, we’ll go through a brief history of China leading up to Oct. 1, 1949, to show how momentous the day is for both Communists and the Chinese people in general.
As far back as 2000 BCE, China was ruled by various imperial dynasties, ensuring that political power was kept in the hands of an educated elite over the heads of millions of Chinese peasants and commoners. In the 1800s, the Qing dynasty was the most recent imperial family, but the nature of its rule was unique due to the growth of the European powers during the Industrial Revolution.
Although it attempted to resist trade with the imperialist Western nations, the Qing dynasty was beaten into submission in the infamous Opium Wars, namely because they were caused by China attempting to end opium imports from the West that were creating a drug-based epidemic in the region.
After being forced into numerous exploitative trade pacts, the Qing dynasty became little more than a puppet for European powers to direct for their own economic interests. In response, several popular rebellions, including the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions, broke out against the Qing dynasty and its imperialist masters, but all were crushed brutally until the Revolution of 1911.
In the Chinese Revolution of 1911, the Qing dynasty was overthrown, and a provisional coalition government was created from the compromise of Yuan Shikai (a Qing military commander) and Sun Yat-sen (a Chinese political activist). From this compromise, the First Republic of China was created, ending thousands of years of dynastic rule and placing China on the path of democracy.
However, the victory was short lived. Soon, Yuan Shikai centralized power underneath himself due to his military influence before attempting to restore dynastic rule with himself as the emperor. Before he could consolidate power, he died of sickness in 1916, with the First Republic of China crumbling into a mashup of numerous armies and proclaimed states known as the Warlord Era.
Watching his dream of Chinese democracy fade into little more than a dream, Sun Yat-sen rose to the occasion and sought to reunify China through military action, forming his Nationalist political party (the Kuomintang) into a military government in 1919 to defeat the various warlords.
To aid the Kuomintang in its conquest of China (which began in southern China), Sun turned to the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Soviet Union (USSR), who were eager to provide assistance to his campaign so long as CPC members were allowed to join the ranks of the Kuomintang.
Sun accepted their conditions and proclaimed the First United Front in 1924 between the Nationalists and the Communists. Sadly, Sun died of cancer in 1925, never seeing the First United Front’s major campaign in 1926 against the northern provinces (the Northern Expedition) -- that would be led by his trusted successor, Chiang Kai-shek.
The Northern Expedition was, by all means, a success for the Kuomintang. Within a year, several provinces had been reclaimed from the warlords, as well as the major cities of Shanghai and Nanjing.
However, with tensions growing between the Nationalists and Communists as the CPC’s influence within the First United Front grew, Chiang began to suppress Communists and Communist sympathizers, hundreds in Shanghai being arrested and executed in the “Shanghai massacre.” This violent anti-Communist attack by the Kuomintang effectively ended the alliance and was the start of the Chinese Civil War, which would be waged for more than two decades.
In response, the CPC attempted to solidify a Communist government in Guangdong, but the Kuomintang was able to overthrow the fledgling state with its superior equipment and larger army.
Though Guangdong had been the center of CPC influence, the time had come to either leave or die, and the Communists chose to leave. Under the command of a military strategist named Mao Zedong, the CPC engaged in a massive retreat into western China known as the Long March, reportedly consisting of over 9,000 kilometers of movement in only 370 days.
By escaping the Nationalist forces consolidating power in eastern China, the Communists were capable of surviving despite the Kuomintang’s best efforts to eradicate them. In addition, Mao gained the respect of troops under his command for his prowess as a tactician during and after the Long March, and the CPC was now focusing on guerrilla warfare tactics because they lacked a large enough force to confront the Kuomintang head-on.
However, as the civil war grew more and more drawn out due to the CPC’s tactics, a storm was on the horizon. Japanese aggression, much like its European allies, had been growing throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1934, Manchuria was invaded and occupied by Imperial Japan, prompting alarm from the commanders of the Kuomintang.
However, Chiang believed that the Japanese would be impossible to defeat until China was unified and refused an alliance with the CPC until being forced into an alliance in December 1936 by two Kuomintang generals. Known as the Second United Front, the fragile truce was created just before the Japanese formally invaded China, starting the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Throughout the war, the CPC benefitted from its reliance on guerrilla tactics, dodging the heavy casualties that the Kuomintang encountered while gaining popular support from Chinese civilians under Japanese rule. Though hostilities persisted between the Communists and Nationalists within the Second United Front, Allied intervention for both forces maintained the temporary ceasefire in order to focus on defeating the invading Japanese.
By the end of the war, the USSR assisted in the liberation of Manchuria and threatened to invade mainland Japan if they didn’t surrender. Coupled with the development and detonation of the atomic bomb, Japan soon found itself defeated and surrendered its colonies. However, as soon as the Japanese threat was vanquished, the Second United Front crumbled, and the second phase of the civil war erupted.
With the CPC aided by the USSR and the Kuomintang aided by the US, the second phase of the war was a swift succession of campaigns against each side’s respective enemy. However, the popularity of the Communists with the Chinese population and the crippled state of the Kuomintang military, Mao and the CPC quickly began to gain ground against the Nationalist forces, capturing swaths of territory across the country.
Eventually, Chiang and his forces retreated to the island of Taiwan and isolated themselves from the mainland, consolidating their power and proclaiming the creation of the Republic of China. As for the Communists, Mao proclaimed the creation of the People’s Republic of China, ending the bloody civil war and beginning the next stage in the creation of a socialist state.
The triumph of socialism in any country is a victory for the working class worldwide! Let’s hope that National Day will be a celebration for decades to come. Happy Birthday, China!
Danny Isham is a freshman majoring in Political Science. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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