How far did the Second World War weaken the Nationalist government and strengthen the Communists?

How far did the Second World War weaken the Nationalist government and strengthen the Communists?

During the Second World War the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists ceased and both sides fought against the Japanese.

At the end of the war the Communists had troops controlling approximately one quarter of mainland China. The Nationalists controlled the remainder of the country. The end of the war saw the Nationalists move troops towards the coast in order to ensure that they, not the Communists, received the surrender from the Japanese.

At the end of the war the Soviet Union passed captured Japanese weapons to the Communist Party. The Nationalists received funding from the USA.

Chinese soldiers take position on the Great Wall during the Sino-Japanese War (1937)

The war years provided the Communists with an opportunity to show the population that they practised what they preached. In the areas that they controlled they helped the peasants and had progressive, supportive policies and practices. This helped to engender the support of the population, which proved invaluable after the war.

The Second World War also allowed the Communists to recover from the relatively weak tactical position that they had been in prior to the Second World War.


The costs were great. At least 14 million Chinese were killed and some 80 million became refugees over the course of the war. The atrocities were many: the Rape of Nanking, in 1937, is the most notorious, but there were other, equally searing but less well-known, massacres: the bloody capture in 1938 of Xuzhou in the east, which threatened Chiang’s ability to control central China; the 1939 carpet bombing of Chongqing, the temporary capital, which killed more than 4,000 people in two days of air raids that a survivor described as “a sea of fire”; and the “three alls” campaign (“Burn all, loot all, kill all”) of 1941, which devastated the Communist-held areas in the north.

These strains placed immense pressure on what by then was a weak and isolated country. But some of the Chiang government’s policies made matters worse. A decision to seize the peasants’ grain to feed the army exacerbated the 1942 famine in Henan Province. “You could exchange a child for a few steamed rolls,” one government inspector recalled in his memoir. Such missteps made the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government seem corrupt and inefficient, and an embarrassing ally for the United States — even though the Nationalists did the vast majority of the fighting against Japan, far more than the Communists.

Source: Rana Mater, New York Times, October 2013. Retrieved 1st February 2018.


Mao Zedong: China 1930-1976

China Defensive – very detailed account of military operations in China during the Second World War.

WW2 Database – Description of China in WW2.

WW2 Info – short account of the impact of war on China.

HBC – detailed narrative of the Sino-Japanese conflict. – China after the Second World War.

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