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10-08-2015, 17:16

The Chinese Civil War

As World War II came to an end in the Pacific, relations between the government of Chiang Kai-shek in China and its powerful U.S. ally had become frayed. Although Roosevelt had hoped that republican China would be the keystone of his plan for peace and stability in Asia after the war, U.S. officials eventually became disillusioned with the corruption of Chiang’s government and his unwillingness to risk his forces against the Japanese (he hoped to save them for use against the Communists after the war in the Pacific ended), and China became a backwater as the war came to a close. Nevertheless, U.S. military and economic aid to China had been substantial, and at war’s end, the Truman administration still hoped that it could rely on Chiang to support U.S. postwar goals in the region. While Chiang Kai-shek wrestled with Japanese aggression and problems of postwar reconstruction, the Communists were building up their liberated base in North China. An alliance with Chiang in December 1936 had relieved them from the threat of immediate attack from the south, although Chiang was chronically suspicious of the Communists and stationed troops near Xian to prevent them from infiltrating areas under his control. He had good reason to fear for the future. During the war, the Communists patiently penetrated Japanese lines and built up their strength in North China. To enlarge their political base, they carried out a “mass line” policy (from the masses to the masses), reducing land rents and confiscating the lands of wealthy landlords. By the end of World War II, according to Communist estimates, twenty to thirty million Chinese were living under their administration, and their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) included nearly one million troops. As the war came to an end, world attention began to focus on the prospects for renewed civil strife in China. Members of a U.S. liaison team stationed in Yan’an during the last months of the war were impressed by the performance of the Communists, and some recommended that the United States should support them or at least remain neutral in a possible conflict between Communists and Nationalists for control of China. The Truman administration, though skeptical of Chiang’s ability to forge a strong and prosperous country, was increasingly concerned over the spread of communism in Europe and tried to find a peaceful solution through the formation of a coalition government of all parties in China. The effort failed. By 1946, full-scale war between the Nationalist government, now reinstalled in Nanjing, and the Communists resumed. The Communists, having taken advantage of the Soviet occupation of Manchuria in the last days of the war, occupied rural areas in the region and laid siege to Nationalist garrisons hastily established there. Now Chiang Kai-shek’s errors came home to roost. In the countryside, millions of peasants, attracted to the Communists by promises of land and social justice, flocked to serve in the PLA. In the cities, middle-class Chinese, who were normally hostile to communism, were alienated by Chiang’s brutal suppression of all dissent and his government’s inability to slow the ruinous rate of inflation or solve the economic problems it caused. With morale dropping, Chiang’s troops began to defect to the Communists. Sometimes whole divisions, officers as well as ordinary soldiers, changed sides. By 1948, the PLA was advancing south out of Manchuria and had encircled Beijing. Communist troops took the old imperial capital, crossed the Yangtze the following spring, and occupied the commercial hub of Shanghai. During the next few months, Chiang’s government and two million of his followers fled to Taiwan, which the Japanese had returned to Chinese control after World War II. The Truman administration reacted to the spread of Communist power in China with acute discomfort. Washington had no desire to see a Communist government on the mainland, but it had little confidence in Chiang Kai-shek’s ability to realize Roosevelt’s dream of a strong, united, and prosperous China. In December 1946, President Truman’s emissary, General George C. Marshall, sought and received permission from the White House to abandon his mission, arguing that neither side was cooperating in the effort. During the next two years, the United States gave limited military support to the Nanjing regime but refused to commit U.S. power to guarantee its survival. The administration’s hands-off policy deeply angered many in Congress, who charged that the White House was “soft on communism” and declared further that Roosevelt had betrayed Chiang at Yalta by granting privileges in Manchuria to the Soviets. In their view, Soviet troops had hindered the dispatch of Chiang’s forces to the area and provided the PLA with weapons to use against their rivals. In later years, evidence accumulated that the Soviet Union had given little assistance to the CCP in its struggle against the Nanjing regime. In fact, Stalin periodically advised Mao against undertaking the effort. Although Communist forces undoubtedly received some assistance from Soviet occupation troops in Manchuria, the underlying reasons for their victory stemmed from conditions inside China, not from the intervention of outside powers. So indeed argued the Truman administration, when in 1949 it issued a white paper that placed most of the blame for the debacle at the feet of the Chiang Kai-shek regime (see the box on p. 146). Many Americans, however, did not agree. The Communist victory on the mainland of China injected Asia directly into American politics as an integral element of the ColdWar. During the spring of 1950, under pressure from Congress and public opinion to define U.S. interests in Asia, the Truman administration adopted a new national security policy that implied that the United States would take whatever steps were necessary to stem the further expansion of communism in the region.