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History of the PRC – Part Eight Posted by on Dec 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

When we last left off, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the KMT, was preparing his soldiers for the Northern Expedition (北伐). Only July 9, 1926, he delivered a speech to over 100,000 soldiers of the National Revolution Army. The aim of the Expedition was to unify China under the KMT and disspose of warlord leadership. As such, there were three primary targets: Zhang Zuolin in Manchuria, Wu Peifu in the Central Plain region, and Sun Chuanfang on the east coast. With support from the Soviets, the NRA army was well organized and well prepared… much more so than their warlord adversaries. Sun and his army also gained support from the everyday people who had been persecuted heavily under warlord regimes.

Working alongside members of the CPC (Communist Party of China) and with Soviet aid, the NRA took down Sun and Wu within just six months. In that short time, the size of their army also more than doubled, with about 250,000 members. Central and east China had been won for the NRA, and Zhang was the last target on their list. While the Chiang and his KMT had managed to work alongside the CPC so far, their working relationship would soon come to a halt…

In January of 1927, the NRA captured Wuhan. Wang Jingwei, working with KMT left-wingers, Chinese Communists, and Soviet Agent Mikhail Borodin, transferred the Natinoalist Government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. When Chiang found out about a plot amongst this group to have him arrested, he decided to purge CCP members from the KMT. Shortly thereafter, in April, Chiang declared martial law in Shanghai, denounced the Wuhan Nationalist Government’s cooperation with CPC, and ordered all provinces under his control to purge CPC members from the KMT.

Then, on April 12, 1927, mass hysteria erupted in Shanghai. This event is known by many names in Chinese. The KMT refers to it as “The Purging of the Party” (清党 – qīng dǎng), while the CPC refers to it as the “April 12 Tragedy” (四一二慘案 – sì yī èr cǎ nàn). In the end, over a thousand Communists were arrested, some 300 were officially executed, and more than 5,000 went missing.

After the purge, many denounced Chiang as a traitor to his predecessor, Sun Yat-sen. A week later, Chiang would form a new Nationalist Government in Nanjing to rival Wang’s government in Wuhan. This started the Chinese Civil War (国共内战 – guó gòng nèi zhàn), which would last for many years.

This Nanjing Wuhan Split (宁汉分裂 – Níng hàn fēn liè) would not last long, though, as the Wuhan government soon also began to purge Communists when it found out about a secret order from Stalin to overthrow the KMT in Wuhan. Through the following months, many bloody battles were staged, with momentum going back and forth. In Hunan province, an insurrection called the Autumn Harvest Uprising (秋收起义 – qiū shōu qǐ yì) pitted a small army of peasants against the KMT. Led by then little known revolutionary figure Mao Zedong (毛泽东), this uprising proved unsuccessful, but this would not be the last the KMT would see of Mao…

For a brief period of time, Chiang even resigned in Nanjing and headed back to Shanghai. Eventually, the Wuhan government would merge with the Nanjing government, and Chiang would be reinstated to lead the offensive against Zhang and the Fengtian forces. This was more than just fighting within China, as the Soviets backed the KMT and the Japanese backed the Fengtian.

Having regained previously lost territory, the KMT forces headed to Beijing. Realizing he could not compete with the massive NRA, Zhang found it best to flee the capital. Disappointed at his inability to protect their interests, the Japanese were not too happy with Zhang. On June 3, 1928, Zhang left Beijing by train, bound for Shenyang. Traveling along a railway heavily protected by his own troops, Zhang must have felt rather safe. However, there was one location that the train would pass by that was not under his control. An officer for the Japanese Kwantung Army planted a bomb at this bridge, and as soon as Zhang’s train passed through, the bomb exploded. Known as the Huanggutun Incident (皇姑屯事件 – Huáng gū tún shì jiàn), this led to the immediate death of several of Zhang’s officials. While Zhang was not killed in the initial blast, he would die a few hours later in his home in Shenyang.

The idea here for the Japanese was to create an incident where they would be able to take control over Manchuria by replacing Zhang with their own hand-picked leader, Yang Yuting. However, things did not go as planned, and Zhang’s son, Zhang Xueliang (张学良), would take over. The KMT would take over Beijing and rename it Beiping (北平 – Běi píng), or Northern Peace, and they officially moved the capital to Nanjing. Chiang had succeeded in his mission to unite all of China under the KMT, and he would be the internationally recognized leader of the country, but how long would this last??

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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