How did the Chinese Communists win the Civil War?

Why did the Communists win the Civil War?

Following the Second World War the Communists in China, who had been fighting in coalition against the Japanese, held roughly 1/4 of Chinese land and 1/3 of the population. The Communists had a good relationship with the Soviet union and through this were able to secure the arms that had been confiscated from Japanese troops at the end of the war and aid from the Soviet Union. This was a reasonably strong position from which to re-open the Civil War.

This gave the communist forces a powerful military base from which to launch attacks. They were though heavily outnumbered and the Nationalist government received support from the US. How then, were the Communists able to seize control?

Chinese Civil War

Communist Policy was critical in gaining the support of the peasants. They promised Land Reforms that would give the peasants land. This was hugely popular amongst the impoverished peasant class in China and led to huge numbers of peasants volunteering for service during the Civil War: 5.4 million were mobilised for the Huaihai Campaign alone.

Tactically the Communists were very astute. In 1947 they were well aware that their main force was outnumbered and outgunned. Following the Long March, they adapted tactics and trained for a new method of fighting. They adopted a policy of not attacking the main Nationalist Forces and were willing to give up land in order to preserve the bulk of their fighting force. In doing so they could pick off weaker targets, cause logistical and supply problems for the Nationalists whilst continuing to build up their own support within the peasant classes. The Long March was partly responsible for this success. This was aided by the massive rise in unemployment in Nationalist controlled areas at this time.

In June of 1947 the communists launched a counter offensive against the Nationalist army. They successfully defeated the KMT New First Army. Now the communists had a large array of tanks and heavy artillery at their disposal. They put this to good use in 1948. They launched an attack south of the Great Wall that cut off Nationalist troops from their supply bases in Xi’an. They then secured the South East Central section of China, from where they were able to launch offensives against the remaining Nationalist armies. By the end of January 1949 most of China was in the hands of the Communists. Over a million men of the Nationalist army had been killed and the nationalist Capital city, Nangjin, was under threat. By April the Nationalist government had fled to Taiwan. The Communists had defeated them.

What were the main reasons for this victory?

  • Leadership. The Communists had a well thought out plan and knew how to gain the support of the people.
  • Tactics. The Nationalist tactics played into the hands of the Communists who were able to make the most of the position they found themselves in at the end of the Second World War.
  • Support from outside. The Nationalists received funding from America but didn’t put this to particularly good effect: much of the weaponary being captured by the Communists at a relatively early stage. The Communists received military aid and guidance from the Soviet Union which was measured, realistic and effective.
  • The People. In most parts of China the Communists were able to win the suport of the majority of the local population. This was a massive advantage when advancing into territories.


Source: Mao speech, August 1945

During the past eight years the people and army of our Liberated Areas, receiving no aid whatsoever from outside and relying solely on their own efforts, liberated vast territories and resisted and pinned down the bulk of the Japanese invading forces and practically all the puppet troops. Only by our determined resistance and heroic struggle were the 200 million people in the Great Rear Area [5] saved from being trampled underfoot by the Japanese aggressors and the regions inhabited by these 200 million people saved from Japanese occupation. Chiang Kai-shek hid on Mount Omei with guards in front of him — the guards were the Liberated Areas, the people and army of the Liberated Areas. In defending the 200 million people of the Great Rear Area, we protected this “generalissimo” as well and gave him both the time and the space to sit around waiting for victory with folded arms. Time — eight years one month. Space — an area inhabited by 200 million people. These conditions we provided for him. But for us, he could not have stood by looking on. Is the “generalissimo” grateful to us, then? No, not he! This fellow has never known what it is to be grateful. How did Chiang Kai-shek climb to power? By the Northern Expedition, [6] by the first period of co-operation between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party, [7] by the support given him by the people, who had not yet seen through him. Once in power, Chiang Kai-shek, far from being grateful to the people, knocked them down and plunged them into the bloodbath of ten years of civil war. You comrades are familiar with this segment of history. During the present War of Resistance the Chinese people again defended him. This war is now ending in victory and Japan is on the point of surrender, but he is not at all grateful to the people. On the contrary, thumbing through the records of 1927, he wants to act in the same old way.[8] He says there has never been any “civil war” in China, only “bandit suppression”. Whatever he likes to call it, the fact is he wants to start a civil war against the people, he wants to slaughter the people.

Source: Report made by Mao, 25th December, 1947

In seventeen months of fighting (from July 1946 to November 1947; December figures are not yet available), we killed, wounded and captured 1,690,000 of Chiang Kai-shek’s regular and irregular troops — 640,000 killed and wounded and 1,050,000 captured. Thus we were able to beat back Chiang Kai-shek’s offensive, preserve the main territories of the Liberated Areas and go over to the offensive. Speaking from the military aspect, we were able to do this because we employed the correct strategy. Our principles of operation are:

1. Attack dispersed, isolated enemy forces first; attack concentrated, strong enemy forces later.

2. Take small and medium cities and extensive rural areas first; take big cities later.

3. Make wiping out the enemy’s effective strength our main objective; do not make holding or seizing a city or place our main objective. Holding or seizing a city or place is the outcome of wiping out the enemy’s effective strength, and often a city or place can be held or seized for good only after it has changed hands a number of times.

4. In every battle, concentrate an absolutely superior force (two, three, four and sometimes even five or six times the enemy’s strength), encircle the enemy forces completely, strive to wipe them out thoroughly and do not let any escape from the net. In special circumstances, use the method of dealing crushing blows to the enemy, that is, concentrate all our strength to make a frontal attack and also to attack one or both of his flanks, with the aim of wiping out one part and routing another so that our army can swiftly move its troops to smash other enemy forces. Strive to avoid battles of attrition in which we lose more than we gain or only break even. In this way, although we are inferior as a whole (in terms of numbers), we are absolutely superior in every part and every specific campaign, and this ensures victory in the campaign. As time goes on, we shall become superior as a whole and eventually wipe out all the enemy.

5. Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning; make every effort to be well prepared for each battle, make every effort to ensure victory in the given set of conditions as between the enemy and ourselves.

6. Give full play to our style of fighting — courage in battle, no fear of sacrifice, no fear of fatigue, and continuous fighting (that is, fighting successive battles in a short time without rest).

7. Strive to wipe out the enemy through mobile warfare. At the same time, pay attention to the tactics of positional attack and capture enemy fortified points and cities.

8. With regard to attacking cities, resolutely seize all enemy fortified points and cities which are weakly defended. Seize at opportune moments all enemy fortified points and cities defended with moderate strength, provided circumstances permit. As for strongly defended enemy fortified points and cities, wait till conditions are ripe and then take them.

9. Replenish our strength with all the arms and most of the personnel captured from the enemy. Our army’s main sources of manpower and matériel are at the front.

10. Make good use of the intervals between campaigns to rest, train and consolidate our troops. Periods of rest, training and consolidation should in general not be very long, and the enemy should so far as possible be permitted no breathing space.


Mao Zedong: China 1930-1976

Global Security – The Chinese Civil war. Detailed page.

Suite 101 – article about the war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

Interactive Map – showing the way in which the Chinese Civil War developed.

US Military Academy – website dedicated to the campaigns of the Chinese Civil War

Experience Festival – a selection of links to articles about the Chinese Civil War.

News Player – a number of vidoes showing footage of eventas during the Chinese Civil War.

Wikipedia – article about the Chinese Civil War

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