1926-1935: How did Chiang and the Kuomintang consolidate their power?

1926-28: The Northern Expedition

The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army against the Beiyang government and other regional warlords which took place from 9 July 1926 to 29 December 1928. It was when the Kuomintang marched from Guangdong/Guangzhou region Northwards.

The Northern expedition was led by a fragile coalition. It included KMT rightists, centrists led by Chiang, KMT leftists, and the CCP. They managed to hold together, laying the groundwork for the Northern expedition.

In 1926, there were three major coalitions of warlords across China (the forces of Wu Peifu, the Coalition of Sun Chuanfang and the most powerful coalition led by Zhang Zuolin) that held a conflict of interest with the KMT government in Guangzhou.

The purpose of the campaign was to reunify China, which had become fragmented in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1911 and further so after the death of Yuan Shikai.

Factors for the success of Northern Expedition

Chang marched Northwards to bring the warlords under his control.

He was successful because the expedition was well planned. During the leadership of Sun Yat Sen, a blueprint had already been developed with the assistance of Soviet military advisors. Chiang's army had received training from the USSR and Japan, so they were more organised than the disorganised warlord armies.

Furthermore, Chiang's Kuomintang had the support of ordinary Chinese who were tired of the violence and oppression under the rule of the warlords.

Purge of the Communists

By 1927, Chiang believed he needed to take drastic action to reduce the power of the Communist party.

  • One reason is because the Communists were influenced by a Marxist ideology and wanted a revolution against the Warlords, who supported Chiang.

  • Overall, the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communists had very differing views. For example, the Kuomintang based their ideas on Urban Workers, while the Communist's ideas were focused on Rural peasants.

  • Chiang Kai Shek was concerned that the Communists wanted China to be under Soviet control and around 1926, Chiang was becoming increasingly concerned of the power of the Communists in Guangzhou, believing they would kidnap him there.

By 1927, the Kuomintang had two separate governments, one led by Chiang Kai Shek in Nanchang, and the other led by Wang Jing Wei in Wuhan. The Wuhan government was dominated by Borodin (who represented the USSR communists in China) and the left-wing Kuomintang led by Wang Jingwei. Wang had been a close associate of Sun Yat Sen and was prepared to work closely with the Chinese Communist Party, unlike Chiang Kai Shek. Some saw Wang as a more natural leader.

1927: The Shanghai Massacre

On April 12th 1927, Chiang began with the Shanghai Massacre, in which 300 communists were killed, to purge all communists from the Kuomintang party. Communist cells were raided and communist labour unions were eliminated, while many suspects were shot down.

The purge spread to other areas, including Nanjing and Guangdong.

In response, the Wuhan Government dismissed Chiang as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army. Chiang ignored this and formed his own government in Nanjing.

As this purge against the communists went on, KMT forces were able to take Hankow, Shanghai and Nanking in 1927, with Peking soon to follow in 1928. At this time, the KMT became officially recognised as the legitimate government of China as Chiang moved the government to the Kuomintang stronghold of Nanking.

1931-1934: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Republic of China

Mao Ze Dong had held senior posts in the Kuomintang and the Communist party by 1927. During Chiang’s purification movement following the Shanghai Massacre, the Communists set their base in the mountainous Kiangsi Province. He had formed the Red Army by 1931 consisting of the Revolutionary Army of Peasants and Workers and forces of the Warlord—who turned communist, Zhu De.

Mao formed the Soviet Republic of China, becoming their chairman. Their popularity was increasing, especially among peasants and factory workers, which threatened the control of the Kuomintang.

Chiang operated five extermination campaigns against the communist party from 1930 to 1934. One of the most significant campaigns led to the Long March.

In the Kiangsi Province, the communists and soviets are surrounded by the Kuomintang, who, with 500,000 troops, are advancing, slowly building blockhouses, digging trenches and putting up barbed wires, restricting their access to food, fuel, ammunition and weapons.

Otto Braun, a German Communist and Comintern Agent, convinced the communists into abandoning Guerilla Warfare and expelling Mao Zedong from the Central Committee. With his new role in charge, he launched a number of pitched battles, which ultimately failed.

By the summer of 1934, the communists were surrounded by four lines of blockhouses and faced a severe food shortage and by October 1934, the communists had lost half of their territory and at least 60,000 troops.

1935: The Long March

On 16th October 1934, 87,000 communist soldiers began to retreat to Yan'an where the 2nd Red Army was based.

They took as much equipment & guns as possible and it took them 6 weeks to break out of the 4 rows of blockhouses.

At the end of November 1934, the Red Army reached the Xiang River and lost over half of their numbers fighting the Kuomintang.

In January 1935, at a meeting in Zunyi, Braun was blamed for the defeat at the Xiang River because:

  • The large quantity of equipment slowed them down

  • The retreat he planned was in a straight line, which helped the KMT to predict their route.

The leadership of the march was handed over to Mao and Zhu De. The new tactics consisted of changing routes and splitting up their forces.

The Red Army was trained in Guerrilla Warfare and had eight rules to follow:

  1. Speak politely

  2. Pay fairly for what you buy

  3. Return anything you borrow

  4. Pay for everything you damage

  5. Don't hit or swear at people

  6. Don’t damage crops

  7. Don’t take liberties with women

  8. Don’t ill-treat prisoners

In October 1935, after crossing 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges, walking an average of 24 miles a day with a total of 6,000 miles and fighting in dozens of battles, 20,000 communists out of an original 100,000 arrived at the Communist Base in Yan'an.

How important was the Long March?

After their long journey, 20,000 out of 100,000 arrived at the 2nd Red Army base in Yunnan. This is important as the survivors were seen as heroes. Additionally, they now had more support with the 2nd Army and had gained the support of the populations they had helped along the way.

The CCP had managed to survive by going to one of their remote bases, instead of being completely wiped out. Due to their survival, the CCP was able to secure their strength and position in China.

Many Chinese saw the CCP as heroes as they helped peasants along the Long March, thus garnering great support for the party, boosting their ideals and morale.