The Chinese Revolution of 1949 or Chinese Communist Revolution was the result of the long Chinese civil war, initiated in 1927, in which the nationalists of the Kuomintang, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and the communists of Mao Zedong’s CCP confronted each other, and which ended with the victory of the latter, They established the People’s Republic of China – proclaimed in Beijing on October 1, 1949 in the territory of the former Republic of China – while Chiang Kai-shek and his supporters took refuge on the island of Taiwan, where they continued with the regime of the Republic of China in Taiwan, known during the first two decades of the Cold War as “Nationalist China” as opposed to “Communist China”.
It began in 1946, after the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and was the second part of the Chinese civil war. It was the culmination of the Communist Party of China’s drive to power after its founding in 1921. In Chinese media, this period is known as the Liberation War (simplified Chinese traditional Chinese , pinyin: Jiěfàng Zhànzhēng).
On August 9, 1945, after the Americans recognized the importance of northeastern China for the Soviets, they declared an invasion of the region, which they seized from the Japanese in a few days. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to the Japanese surrender that same month, communists and nationalists rushed to take over the territories hitherto occupied by the Japanese armies. The Nationalist units counted on American collaboration to move from the southwest of the country, where their best units were concentrated, to the northwest, a move that was also imitated by the Communists, determined to concentrate their forces in the same region.
Representatives of the two sides in the Chinese civil war that began in 1927 – and which had been relatively suspended during the Japanese occupation (1937-1945) – held talks in the capital (then Chongqing) from August 28 to October 19 to put an end to the conflict, which did not come to fruition. The negotiations, which did not halt the race to occupy the territory, had been promoted by the American and Soviet governments, who wished to avoid the outbreak and resumption of war between the two sides or having to confront each other for control of China. The last act of the civil war then began. Nothing foretold that three and a half years later the victory would go to the communists, given that their army was much less numerous and less well armed, and that the prestige of the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, the embodiment of resistance against the Japanese invader, was at its zenith. To improve his position in the northeast, then dominated by the Soviets, Chiang signed with them on August 14 a treaty of friendship and alliance granting him sovereignty over the region in exchange for a series of industrial and transport concessions to the USSR. The moment of the transfer of territorial control, however, was to be determined by the Soviets, who, while allowing the deployment of Chinese communist units in the area.
The unbridled race to occupy the territories that had been held by the Japanese and to seize their weapons and equipment was won by the Nationalists because the Americans recognized Chiang Kai-shek as the only authority legitimized to receive the surrender of the Japanese forces, the fact that they were provided with the necessary aircraft to reach the key areas in the north and east from their bases in southwest China, more than 1000 kilometers away, and that some 50,000 US Marines landed in the provinces of Shandong and Hebei, occupying the ports and airfields on behalf of the Nationalists, including the Beijing airport. Thus only three months after the end of the war the entire coastal strip from Canton in the south to Peking in the north was in the hands of the Nationalists.
For their part, the communists, from their fiefdom in northeastern China, deployed in Manchuria, in the extreme north of the country, where the Japanese had surrendered to the Red Army of the Soviet Union, which had declared war on Japan on August 8, two days after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There, the Chinese communist army was strengthened thanks to the Japanese material that the Soviets gave it and to the recruitment of former soldiers of the Manchukuo army -the satellite state created by the Japanese after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931-, reaching 130,000 men, but still far from the Nationalist army. By mid-November, the communists had managed to concentrate some 130,000 soldiers in the region, by transferring units from Rehe, Hebei and Shandong and recruiting soldiers in the area, some from the former Manchukuo Army. Despite the August treaty, the Soviets refused to allow the Nationalist units to land in the ports of Lüshun and Dalian, and control of other minor ports (Andong, Yingkou and Huludao) had been handed over to the Chinese Communists. Therefore, the Americans had to be content with landing Chiang’s troops (the 13th and 52nd armies) at Qinhuangdao, south of the Great Wall of China. From there, the Nationalist units attacked the Communist units stationed at Shanhaiguan and penetrated into Manchuria. The command of the Nationalist armies in the northeast was held by General Du Yuming. At that time the Nationalists had a large numerical advantage over the Communists: they had almost five times more troops in the whole country, and almost six times more in the region of Shanhaiguan. Consequently, the Nationalists were able to seize this city on November 15 and then chase the enemy towards Jinzhou, which they evacuated on the 25th of the month.
In order to avoid a clash with the Soviet armies, the Nationalist units then halted their advance into southern Manchuria and reinforced their vulnerable positions. The Communists did the same, protected by the Soviets. The lull in fighting lasted until March 1946, when the Soviets withdrew from the region. Between November 1945 and October 1946, the Nationalists seized almost all of southern Manchuria. Thereafter, however, the Communists managed to halt the Nationalist advances in the north and, from the winter of 1946-1947, to seize the initiative.
In December 1945, following the resignation of the ambassador to China, the American president sent General George Marshall to the country with the mission of achieving a truce between the warring sides, forming a mixed army under state control and establishing a democratic coalition government. None of the three parties involved in the negotiations (Nationalists and Chinese and American Communists) trusted the others. Nevertheless, Marshall obtained some concessions from the belligerents: Chiang had to do so because he depended on American cooperation – criticized by the Communists – to dominate certain key positions (railroad lines, cities and ports, guarded by U.S. Marines), to transport soldiers on American ships and planes, and to obtain from Washington the arms and ammunition used by his units. The Communists, for their part, also gave in at the insistence of Stalin, who did not want American intervention in northern China, and because at the time they were the militarily inferior side. The deceptively conciliatory atmosphere allowed Marshall to impose a truce on January 10, 1946. The two sides had also agreed to a plan for the communist forces to be integrated into a new national army under Chiang and to form a consultative political assembly to deal with the future of the country. Satisfied with the situation, Marshall returned to the United States in March, where he requested further economic aid for the Chiang government. In his absence, the tension grew again.
Chiang had reserved the right to move troops through Manchuria, which had caused clashes in January and February 1946. In March, the Soviet withdrawal from the area began. The Soviets did not warn the Chinese government and helped the communists to seize some strategic positions. The Soviets handed over the cities to the Nationalists, by virtue of the pact signed with them on August 14 – “Stalin strove to keep all options open, in order to preserve the Soviet influence in China whoever the victor was”-, while they sent to the Soviet Union as military booty the machinery of the factories installed by the Japanese, as well as the gold they found in the Manchu banks. Faced with the growing tension, Chiang ordered Du to launch a major offensive to take Changchun and perhaps Harbin and annihilate Lin Biao’s forces. Mao, for his part, ordered Lin to hold Changchun in the hope that Marshall would impose an end to the fighting on Chiang and this would allow the Communists to strengthen their control of a vast swath of territory stretching from Yanan to the Soviet and Korean borders and including Inner Mongolia, Chahar and Rehe. To achieve this, Lin was to stop the Nationalists in the Siping sector, a small town by the railroad located one hundred and thirteen kilometers south of Changchun. Despite considering Mao’s strategy erroneous, Lin prepared to defend the square. The second battle of Siping ended with a serious communist defeat. After a month of resistance, the Nationalists conquered the town on May 18. Very weakened by the fighting and the subsequent desertions, Lin decided to abandon Changchun and take up positions around Harbin. Du Yuming was preparing to expel him from there when Chiang agreed to halt operations at the request of Marshall, who had returned to China on April 18. The new truce came into effect on June 7 and remained unstable until September.
While fighting ceased in almost all of Manchuria, the Nationalists tried to crush the enemy in other provinces. Although the fighting was harder than expected by the Nationalist high command, Chiang’s troops managed to drive the Communist troops out of several important positions in Anhui, Hubei, Jiangsu and Shandong during the summer. In the north, Du Yuming’s main task was to conquer Rehe Province, leaving aside enemy positions in Manchuria, concentrated mainly in the territory north of the Songhua River. By then the Marshall peace talks were bogged down and the Americans had lost all hope of reaching an agreement. To counter Soviet influence in the area, they continued, however, to collaborate with the Chiang government.
For their part, the Communists took advantage of the summer to adopt a new strategy, abandoning the static defense of positions, assuming the strengthening of their influence in the countryside through the elimination of banditry and the implementation of agrarian reforms, and shifting to guerrilla harassment of enemy units. Since June, Lin Biao had assumed political as well as military power in the area.
In the meantime, four talks between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, sponsored by the United States, took place in Chongqing, the headquarters of the Kuomintang Nationalist government, during which Mao declared his willingness to participate in a “democratic coalition government”. But the talks ended on October 11, 1945, without reaching concrete agreements. Two and a half months later, General George C. Marshall traveled to China on behalf of President Harry Truman to force the formation of a Nationalist-Communist coalition government, initially obtaining the declaration of a truce and the formation in Chongquing of a tripartite body made up of himself, the Communist Zhou Enlai, representing Mao, and a Nationalist general, representing Chiang Kai-shek. But Marshall’s mission ended in total failure due to the lack of trust between the two Chinese sides and in January 1947 he returned to the United States -where he was soon appointed Secretary of State, launching the plan for the recovery of Europe that bears his name-. The Communists, for their part, denounced the American “double game”, given that during all that time the United States had continued to provide arms, munitions and equipment to the Nationalist government. …
According to the French sinologist Lucien Bianco, the resumption of the civil war was inevitable, once the common Japanese enemy had disappeared from the scene, due to “the absolute opposition between two national political forces with antithetical programs and irreconcilable ambitions: one hopes to conquer power, the other wants to keep it. One is determined to promote a social revolution in the countryside, the other wants to prevent it.”
The Nationalist Offensive and its Weaknesses (July, 1946-June, 1947)
In July 1946 the communists announced the formation of the People’s Liberation Army and on November 19 Zhou Enlai left the tripartite committee of Chongqing sponsored by Marshall and returned to Yan’an, in the northeast of the country, the capital of communist-controlled China. Negotiations broke down and the Nationalists launched an offensive on Manchuria and northern China, occupying 165 cities during the second half of 1946. By October, the Nationalist victories in China south of the Great Wall, in Rehe and Chahar prepared Chiang to resume operations in the northeast. The first step was to eliminate the few remaining enemy positions in southern Manchuria. The new offensive began on October 9 and allowed the Nationalists to seize Andong (October 25) and Tonghua, which the Communists abandoned. The onslaught, however, was the last government advance, since a series of strategic, logistical, diplomatic and political factors prevented the realization of new conquests. Politically, the summer of 1946 was a period of worsening relations between the Chinese and American governments, and between the latter and the Chinese population. Disillusioned with the attitude of the Chinese government, Marshall ordered in July the cessation of the sale of arms and supplies to China, a measure that was applied for ten months. Despite this, the fighting continued; the threat of the American general to resign from his post as mediator did not stop the fighting either. On October 10, the government troops took Kalgan, thus cutting off the communication between Yanan and Manchuria. At that time, the Nationalists reached the moment of greatest numerical superiority over the Communists in northeastern China: they had five hundred and eighty thousand soldiers against the enemy’s three hundred and sixty thousand. Confident in the strength of his position, on November 8 Chiang ordered a halt to the advances in Manchuria and proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire for the 12th. On the 16th the National Assembly was to meet in session, in which the Communists had decided not to participate; on the 19th Zhou Enlai, the party’s representative in Nanjing, left without leaving any substitute to deal with the Government. On the same day, the 16th, General Marshall confessed to President Truman that he believed he had failed in his mission. Despite the absence of the Communists, the assembly approved a Constitution on December 25, which the Americans interpreted as a certain advance towards the establishment of a democratic system in China. On January 8, 1947, Marshall left China, theoretically to inform Truman of the situation, but, in practice, because his mission had ended; his departure satisfied both the Communists and the Nationalists, ready to end the conflict by force of arms.
The first communist counterattacks in Manchuria, which took place in November 1946, hardly changed the situation. Lib Biao feared that the enemy would take advantage of the solidification of the rivers to cross them and attack Harbin, a possibility that seemed imminent between 9 and 12 December. The main position north of the Songhua depended paradoxically on the few territories still under communist control near the Korean territory that could prevent with their harassment the concentration of Du Yuming in the north. In spite of their reduced extension and population (scarcely twenty-three thousand inhabitants, badly disposed towards the communists), these pockets harbored two thirds of the soldiers in Manchuria and the best armament that Lin Biao’s forces counted on. After ruling out a retreat to the north, the Communist units in southern Manchuria prepared to defend their reduced positions; between December 1946 and April 1947 they repelled four enemy assaults (in the so-called Three Expeditions and Four Defenses campaign). While one of the communist groups defended itself against the Nationalist attacks, the other crossed the lines and harassed the enemy rearguard by means of guerrilla raids, in very difficult conditions due to the harsh Manchu winter. The raids on the Nationalist rearguard achieved their objective, in spite of various setbacks and climatic obstacles. The second Nationalist assault, also unsuccessful, was fought between January 30 and February 8, 1947. The third onslaught, undertaken by five Nationalist divisions, began on February 13 and ended on March 12, with another defeat. In the fourth and final one, Du Yuming employed seven divisions; the Communists, instead of waiting for the attack, took the initiative, annihilating one of the enemy regiments by an unexpected flank movement on April 3. As a result of this defeat, the Nationalist command abandoned the operation. While the fighting was going on in the south of the region, Lin Biao’s forces in the north also harassed the enemy, in the so-called Three Expeditions, to prevent them from concentrating their forces to eliminate the Communist forces in the south. The first consisted of an attack south of the Songhua between January 5 and 17, which succeeded in attracting enemy forces to the north while inflicting some casualties. In the second, two main battles were fought against two towns in the plain, between the Songhua and Changchun: Chengzijie (favorable to the communists) and Dehui (larger and in which Lin’s forces were defeated). The third, a series of coups again south of the Songhue followed by a retreat north of the river, took place in the second week of March. By April, Lin had succeeded in halting government advances in Manchuria, although Chiang’s armies continued to harass the Communists in other regions. Chiang’s attempts to annihilate the enemy in a series of decisive battles had failed.
On March 14, the assault on Mao Zedong’s base in Yan’an began. Mao, who did not attach great importance to the city, abandoned it and allowed the enemy to take it five days later, a victory which he used in his propaganda. The rapid advance of the Nationalist forces is largely explained by the fact that the Communists shunned major clashes for the time being and abandoned the cities, preferring to fortify themselves in rural areas – the same strategy they had followed during their struggle against the Japanese occupiers. Adopting a defensive attitude in Manchuria, where the elimination efforts had failed but hoped to contain enemy advances, Chiang tried to crush the Communists further south, in Shandong province.
While Chiang was preparing to concentrate his efforts in Shandong, the communist commanders decided to disrupt the government plans through new offensives in Manchuria. Lin undertook an offensive in two phases: in the first one, which lasted from March 13 to June 3, his units were dedicated to attack the Nationalists’ weak points, eliminate isolated units and conquer small cities. The dispersion of the Nationalists benefited the Communists, who attacked in several points of the region. As a consequence of the success of this first phase, Lin undertook the second: the assault on the enemy forces of Sun Liren, whose headquarters were in Siping. This was a key position linking Changchun and Shenyang, although it had only about a hundred thousand inhabitants (a small city for the Chinese scale). The battle for the city, which was fought in June, was hard fought and the communist advance was slow and very costly. On July 1, and before the arrival of relief to the defenders, the communists retreated, although by then they had expelled most of the square, which had been almost razed by the fighting. The Communists had failed in their first assault on a large and well-defended city, and resumed the tactic of indirect harassment and annihilation of enemy units in transit from one position to another. Despite the defeat, the Communists had obtained certain advantages from the clash: they had forced the enemy to concentrate their forces and to evacuate Rehe and eastern Liaoning and had inflicted important losses, which the Nationalists had difficulties in recovering.
According to the French sinologist Lucien Bianco, the Nationalist offensive from mid-1946 to mid-1947 accentuated Chang Kai-shek’s strategic error, which would be one of the key elements leading to his defeat.
The most serious strategic error, as we already know, consists in systematically occupying the largest possible extension of territories abandoned by the Japanese. To supply garrisons as far away as Changchun or Jilin with supplies from central China, it was essential to maintain and protect thousands of kilometers of railway lines. As the months and years went by, the Nationalist troops found themselves scattered a bit everywhere: along the communication routes or in the cities. They have lost the habit and the motives to fight: at best, they are preoccupied with maintaining their fortress or their shelter, where to stockpile provisions and ammunition and to save them in order to be ready to face the feared attack. At worst, which is not uncommon, it is called desertion. Not only desertions, but defections of entire units… that pass with weapons and baggage to the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army. The troops, who do not know why they fight, know at least that the soldiers of the enemy army are not mistreated …..
The Communist Counterattack (mid-1947-mid-1948)
From mid-1947, the Communist army under the command of Lin Biao launched several counter-offensives in Manchuria, immobilizing the Nationalist garrisons stationed in the cities of Changchun, Jilin and Shenyang, and disabling the railroad lines that communicated with them, which forced the Nationalist government to send reinforcements by means of a costly air bridge. At the same time they launched an offensive further south that allowed them to occupy a good part of the provinces of Hebei and Shanxi. On December 25, 1947, Mao presents a report to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party that exudes confidence in victory: “The revolutionary war of the Chinese people has reached a decisive moment… A decisive moment in history”. Four months later, the PLA recaptures Yan’an, and then occupies the two main cities of Henan – Luoyang and Kaifeng – and Jinan, the capital of Shandong.
As a consequence of the victorious communist counterattack, the combat morale of the nationalist forces sinks, which contrasts with the unperturbed optimism of their leaders. Proof of this is that the communists stop sending imprisoned Nationalist army soldiers to “re-education camps” because with a single session of political education they are ready to fight in the ranks of the PLA.
In March 1948, Lin Biao had managed to encircle the enemy at three points: I Army Corps, with six divisions and about one hundred thousand soldiers commanded by General Zheng Dongguo was encircled in Changchun; VI Army Corps, consisting of six armies and about one hundred and fifty thousand men commanded by General Fan Hanjie defended the key railway junction of Jinzhou and part of the Beiping-Shenyang railroad; Finally, in Shenyang were the VIII and IX Army Corps, composed of eight armies and some smaller units, with about three hundred thousand soldiers in total, commanded by General Wei Lihuang, who also held the supreme command of the northeastern front. …
Decisive communist victories (September, 1948-January, 1949)
In September 1948 Lin Biao launched in the northeast the biggest offensive ever deployed by the PLA and in less than two months he took over the whole of Manchuria -the Nationalist army lost almost half a million men, including the best divisions trained and armed by the Americans-. An American military advisor to the Nationalist army explained the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in this way.
Since my arrival, no battle has been lost due to lack of ammunition or equipment. In my opinion, all military disasters can be attributed to the world’s worst command and numerous other factors that sap morale and can lead to a total loss of the will to fight.
By mid-September 1948, the communists had seized the disputed northwest of the country, which the two sides had been trying to dominate since the Japanese surrender in August 1945. The Liao-Shen campaign began on the 12th of that month and lasted until November 2 of that year, followed by the Huai-Hai campaign, from November 8 to January 10, 1949, also crucial according to some historians. This was followed by the Huai-Hai campaign, from November 8 to January 10, 1949, also crucial according to some historians. In the Liao-Shen campaign, Lin Biao tried to eliminate the enemy armies concentrated around Changchun, Shenyang and Jinzhou, which were isolated from each other. The name of the campaign is due to the fact that it was fought mainly in the western part of Liaoning province and around the capital of Shenyang: from Liaoning-Shenyang derives Liao-Shen. In this series of clashes, seven hundred thousand communist troops, supported by another three hundred and thirty thousand reserve soldiers and local fighters, faced about five hundred and fifty thousand enemies, divided among the three armies mentioned. The campaign had three phases: the first one consisted of the Communist pocketing and conquest of the railway center of Jinzhou, in western Liaoning, between September 12 and October 19, and of the city of Changchun, which had been under siege since May, on the same day in October. During the siege, it is estimated that one hundred thousand people died of starvation; the siege ended due to the change of sides of one of the two armies defending the square. During this first phase, Chiang-Kai-Shek had tried in vain to have the large forces stationed in Shenyang advance northward to help the encircled squares, but the general commanding the troops refused, convinced that if they did so they would be annihilated in the unfavorable terrain that stretched between Shenyangy Jinzhou. The second phase lasted from October 20 to 28, when Lin Biao unexpectedly attacked an enemy army corps in the western part of Liaoning, between Shenyang and Jinzhou, which Chiang Kai-shek hoped could recapture Jinzhou. The army corps was annihilated by Lin Biao’s forces. The third phase of the campaign, which lasted from October 28 to November 2, the Communists conquered Shenyang and the nearby port of Yingkou. The campaign eliminated some of the main Nationalist armies (casualties amounted to 472,000 soldiers) and secured Communist control of northeastern China, an area rich in natural resources, railroads, ports and industry. It also marked the moment when the Communists moved from guerrilla warfare to large, more classical military operations and attacks on major cities.
In November, the decisive battle of the war, the Waterloo of Chiang Kai-shek -and the biggest battle since the end of World War II- began. It was the Huai-hai campaign during which nearly half a million men -fifty-one divisions- were encircled around the city of Xuzhou (Jiangsu province), one hundred and fifty kilometers north of Nanjing, by the communist forces commanded by generals Chen Yi and Liu Bocheng, known as the one-eyed dragon. To break the encirclement Chang Kai-shek sent an army equipped with heavy equipment, but the Nationalists surrendered on January 10, 1949. Thus between September 1948 and January 1949 the Nationalist army lost about one million men, and from then on the superiority of the PLA was overwhelming, both in soldiers and material.
Chan Kai-shek then offered to open negotiations and asked for the mediation of Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France, but the four powers rejected the proposal. On January 14, the communists made known their conditions, among which the elimination of the “war criminal” Chang Kai-sheck was the most important. Seven days later he resigned and handed over his powers to the vice-president, General Li Zongren. The following day, January 22, the communist forces entered Peking, the former imperial capital. Tianjin also fell into their hands in the same operation, the so-called Ping-Jin campaign, which lasted from November 29, 1948 to January 31, 1949.
In February negotiations between Nationalists and Communists began in Beijing, while the PLA reached the Yangzi River. After two months of talks no agreement was reached, so the Communists made good their threat that after April 20 they would resume the offensive, and two days later they entered Nanjing, the former capital of the Republic of China. In May, Shanghai and other large cities and provincial capitals were occupied. Meanwhile, Chang Kai-shek prepared to flee with his forces to the island of Formosa, against the opinion of Li Zongren who proposed to resist in the southwestern provinces. On October 15, 1949 the PLA arrived in Canton, the most important city in the south. Two weeks earlier, on October 1, Mao Zedong had proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in Peking.
In December Chiang-Kai-Shek and the remnants of his armies took refuge in Taiwan, which they expected to be attacked by the Communists at any moment.
Among the causes of the final victory of the Communists, the military have been highlighted, pointing out the weaknesses of the Nationalist army against the strength of the Communist PLA: “continuity of command (Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, Lin Biao, Chen Yi, Liu Bocheng)… Strategy simple and bold at the same time, which seeks the annihilation of the enemy forces and not the defense or the seizure of cities or territories. Extreme mobility, or better, perpetual availability (everything is moved – except the unfortunate civilians – in a hurry and the enemy is left with an empty place and illusory success), which contrasts with the relative immobility of the nationalist garrisons. Rejection of orderly battles and battles of attrition, where losses and gains are balanced: on the contrary, small enemy groups are surrounded and attacked with force, an overwhelming local superiority compensating for the overall numerical inferiority of the Red Army. Along with a thousand and one tactics and cunning of guerrilla warfare, ability to move, when the opportunity arises, to conventional warfare, to big battles and to the siege of cities. Finally, morale and discipline that contrast with those of the “forces of order”: recruitment, a tragedy here, is an honor in the “liberated regions”. Morale reinforced by tactical successes: this multiplicity of skirmishes and small battles, this nameless war that baffles the nationalists increases the confidence of the soldiers of the Red Army, witnesses of this accumulation of small successes”.
But the communist victory was also due to social and political causes. The PLA won the support of the popular classes, and singularly of the poor peasantry, although it did not win it from the first moment and never completely. In 1946 the communists decided to replace the moderate reforms of the world war period (reduction of rents and interest rates) with a radical policy based on the principle of “land for those who work it”. The properties, animals and agricultural implements were then distributed among tenant and poor peasants, in the midst of a wave of violence and terror, of which the traditional rural elites were the victims (in retaliation, in the villages reoccupied by the Nationalist army, the “white terror” was unleashed against communist activists and against the peasants who had benefited from the distribution of land). In 1948 this radical policy, branded as “left deviationism”, was stopped in order to attract the support of the middle peasants who were also victims of the “red terror”, since for the communist leadership the agrarian revolution was an instrument at the service of an end: to win the civil war. In any case, with this policy the PLA manages to recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers belonging to peasant families (in Manchuria alone more than one and a half million men join the PLA).
Simultaneously, Chiang Kai-shek’s regime and his army are crumbling at an accelerating pace, so that, as Lucien Bianco has pointed out, “communist successes owe less to their power of attraction than to adverse failures”. One of the main reasons for the collapse, together with the corruption corroding the Nationalist regime, is the hyperinflation caused by the continuous issuance of banknotes to cover military and state expenditures – the replacement of the fabi by the gold yuan decreed in August 1948, when one US dollar was already being exchanged for twelve million fabis, did not solve the problem, since it caused the ruin above all of the middle classes in the cities, the social sector on which the regime relied, including civil servants and the military, whose salaries did not increase at the same rate as prices, which, on the other hand, intensified corruption -and desertions in the army-. Hyperinflation is so brutal that the value of the paper used to make banknotes exceeds their monetary value, which explains why a large paper mill in Guangdong province bought 800 boxes of two thousand yuan gold banknotes to make virgin paper. In this way, the conviction that the communists could not be worse was spreading, even among the bourgeois media – “this cannot last any longer”, writes the author of a report written in December 1948-. The communists “are awaited with hope or fear, resignation or relief, but they are awaited: at least let the uncertainty cease and let the war end, let the absurd daily torment be brought to an end!”
Alain Roux also explains the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists not only for military reasons.
Chiang lost a conflict he could not win. He had rejected since the 1930s the social and political reforms indispensable to modernize China. His regime, undermined by corruption and inflation, rested on a discredited and demoralized army. Finally, he had chosen Manchuria for the final test of strength, against the opinion of his American advisors, a region where the Communists could benefit fully from Soviet military aid, while this battleground dangerously lengthened the Nationalist lines of communication.