When was China’s Civil War? Some say from 1945 to 1949; others add the years 1927 to 1937 and still others claim it continued intermittently throughout World War II because most posit the war was between two Leninist-modeled parties, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
I propose a different perspective.
China’s Civil War began in 1911 and, except for an occasional peaceful hiatus, has continued in a variety of forms, with a variety of participants, up to the present.
A rose by any other name is still a rose; so, too, a civil war. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language provides a suitable definition of “civil war” as a “war between factions or regions of the same country.”
From the Wuchang coup in 1911 onwards, different factions, groups, warlords and regions have vied with each other to control and “liberate” China.
Liberate China from what? The Manchus conquered China in 1644 and then went on to conquer Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang and the western half of the island of Taiwan.
In the Wuchang uprising, to be free from the Manchus, 15 provinces seceded and the war between China’s factions or regions began. The 15 provinces had to contend with Yuan Shih-kai (袁世凱), who controlled the formidable Beiyang Army and had the support of the northern provinces.
Yuan fought not for the emperor — he would force him to abdicate in February 1912 — nor for the developing republic.
He became, in effect, a warlord: “a military commander exercising civil power in a region, whether in nominal allegiance to the national government or in defiance of it.”
Yuan forced a compromise. Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) stepped down as president and Yuan became provisional president of the short-lived, new republic. Elections were held and the Nationalists won a majority of the parliamentary seats, but a key leader, Sung Chiao-jen (宋教仁), was assassinated in 1913. After having himself named president by parliament in 1914, Yuan disbanded it.
Sun fled to Japan and called for a second revolution to continue the civil war, but the rebellious Nationalist provinces were put down.
Yuan had not finished. In 1915, he named himself emperor. This cost him the loyalty of his closest supporters, inflaming conflict between Yuan and dissenting factions and regions of the country.
Yuan died in 1916, but the civil war continued into what is called the warlord era as a semi-official government in Beijing — recognized by the US and others — carried out diplomatic functions.
Sun returned from Japan in 1917. He allied himself with warlords in the south and set up a rival military government in Guangzhou in 1921. The civil war continued.
After Sun’s death in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and the southern warlords began the Northern Expedition to eliminate the northern warlords, disbanding the Beijing government in 1927. Chiang also sought to eliminate the CCP, which had been established in 1921. A massacre in Shanghai was the result, followed by Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Long March and the Xian Incident in which Chiang was abducted by one of his own officers. By the time of the Sino-Japanese war, China’s civil war had narrowed down to two surviving factions, the Nationalists and the Communists.
What about Taiwan throughout this period?
The island that the Qing had partially ruled from 1683 and which became a province in 1885 quickly exited the stage in 1895 when the Qing ceded it to Japan as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
This was long before 1912 and China’s Civil War, and Japan would be the first nation to control the entire island of Taiwan.
World War II ended in 1945, but it would be seven more years before the San Francisco Peace Treaty was ratified.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Civil War supposedly ended in 1949 with the KMT retreating into exile. Here the murkiness begins.
China did not want to revert to the borders of the Ming empire; instead, it wanted to possess and control kingdoms that the Manchus conquered. It wanted Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang.
Taiwan was not considered to be part of China at this time because it was part of Japan. And, as things played out, Mongolia had support from Russia and was able to maintain its independence.
Tibet was not as lucky. Britain sought to divide Tibet between itself and China to preempt Russian influence in that area. Xinjiang, for its part, had no support from any neighbors.
After Japan’s surrender, US forces landed on Taiwan in September 1945. They liberated and transported Allied prisoners of war that had been in Japanese camps around the island. These forces later ferried soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek’s army to Taiwan as a caretaker force.
Taiwan thus has always been outside China’s Civil War, and when the San Francisco Peace Treaty stated that Japan would surrender the islands of Penghu and Taiwan, it never stated to whom.
This is why the US considers Taiwan’s status to be undetermined.
The Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC), which came into effect in 1947, claimed that Taiwan was a part of the ROC.
Yet the San Francisco Peace Treaty did not grant Taiwan to the ROC in 1952.
The same Constitution also claimed Mongolia and Tibet as part of the ROC, but Russia called Taipei’s bluff when it supported Mongolia’s entry into the UN as an independent nation. The ROC backed away from vetoing the application.
Taiwan indirectly participated in China’s Civil War in that the KMT stripped it of all food and materials that could support its losing civil war campaign in China.
Likewise, many Taiwanese were conscripted and forced to fight on the KMT’s side in that war — but that was all.
Taiwan has always been separate: before, during and after China’s Civil War.
Isn’t it time, then, to give up the canard that Taiwan and China split after the Civil War in 1949?
Taiwan is Taiwan; China is China.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
Taiwan is not an orphan nation in need of someone to adopt it. Taiwan is not a foundling nation wandering the streets of the world looking for a home. It is not even a poor waif of a nation unable to take care of itself in that same big, bad world. Finally, Taiwan is certainly not terra nullius, a nationless land that is open and waiting to be explored and possessed by those who dare. Taiwan is a mid-sized, democratic nation that by GDP, profitability, location and even microchip production punches far above its weight in its region and in international commerce.
When analyzing Taiwan-China tensions, most people assume that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) consists of rational actors. Embedded within this belief are three further suppositions: First, Beijing would only launch an attack on Taiwan if it were in China’s national interest; second, it would only attack if the odds were overwhelmingly in its favor; and third, Chinese decisionmakers interpret information objectively and through the same lens as other actors. These assumptions have underpinned recent analyses — including by Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) — concluding that there is no
Do you remember where you were last year at this time? Do you remember what it was like? Here in the leafy suburbs of Washington, D.C., we were in lock-down mode. The streets were bleak and empty. Schools, offices, malls, theaters, churches … all were closed. The essentials were in short supply. Grocery stores rationed the good stuff. Signs read: “One jumbo pack of toilet paper, two cartoons of eggs per family please!” Some days those signs mocked us from barren shelves. It was a lonely and anti-social time. Families and friends had to weigh the rewards of gathering together to celebrate Christmas
While Taiwan still has a long way to go regarding cultural sensitivity and respecting differences, an incident last week involving discrimination against Aborigines was malicious and should not be condoned. It is even sadder to see that the offenders are students at Fu Jen Catholic University (FJU), one of the top private schools in the nation, and that not only did their hateful words not receive any mainstream media coverage, but most of them remain unapologetic. Aboriginal members of the Fu Jen Lumah Association were practicing singing outside due to a lack of space. Their late-night practice bothered some students in