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Overview of Chinese history 1911 - 1949

Created by Sal Khan.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Brian R
    Is the KMT still in Taiwan? Is this the reason for the Nixon doctrine on Taiwan?
    (36 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user 福龍丸
      The Kuomintang or Guomindang (國民黨) ("Nationalist Party") not only still exists as a Taiwanese political party, but Taiwan's president as of today, Ma Ying-jeou or Ma Yingjiu (馬英九), is the chairman of the party, making KMT Taiwan's ruling party.

      I'm not sure what you mean by the KMT being still in Taiwan being "the reason for the Nixon Doctrine on Taiwan". The Nixon Doctrine (also known as the Guam Doctrine) called for fewer American troops in South-East Asia, and came before his government's recognition of the PRC as the only China (as opposed to the ROC on Taiwan), and his historical visit to PRC, which paved the way for US withdrawal from Taiwan. The withdrawal happened because the PRC (the largest, more powerful of the two Chinas) wished so, as it does not recognize the legitimacy of Taiwan's government. After the Sino-Soviet relations soured, the US preferred to ally with the most populous country in the world in expense of the Taiwanese government (the PRC would like to control the island of Taiwan from Beijing).

      If you're not satisfied with my answer, you can provide additional information and I'll try to change it accordingly.
      (52 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Reinhard Grünwald
    Yuan Shikai, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek: How are these guys judged from todays perspective in China ("officially" by the Chinese government, and by the majority of the Chinese people)?
    (24 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Vincent Ng
      I think Chiang is seen as controversial/slightly positive in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In the mainland he seems to be considered negative. Many people blame him for being very corrupt, using foreign aid money to fight Chinese instead of invading Japanese and using 'scorched earth' policies instead of head on confrontations with the Japanese army which resulted in the lack of protection of Chinese civilians/cities from war atrocities committed by the Japanese.
      Note that he actually studied in Japan and had quite a lot of personal connections with the Japanese military.

      Chiang had a famous quote: The Japanese are a disease of the skin while the communists are a disease of the heart. This can describe his overall perspective of his handling of the Sino-Japanese war. China was such a huge country he knew that Japan would never be able to control it even if they gained huge areas. Their supplies would be stretched thin and they wouldn't have enough people to govern or control China's huge population. He he would always put up initial resistance and once he felt this city would be lost he would pull his troops out and defend the next city, which would leave civilians in the path of onslaught. Chiang seemed to always want to keep his troops in reserve once the Japanese threat was removed so he could resume his real battle with the communists.
      (14 votes)
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user e.catherine.hill
    when will other Chinese history videos come out? This is a rich subject to dive into, I'm surprised to see only one video on modern Chinese history.
    (46 votes)
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  • ohnoes default style avatar for user leotrikim
    How come there are no warlords on the western side of China?
    (11 votes)
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  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Yellow Shiƒt»
    How did Yuan Shikai pass away?
    (5 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Ben McLanahan
    Is Taiwan part of China,or is it a independent state?
    (0 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Adelle
    Why did nobody want to make an alliance with Yuan Shikai?
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user V
    Why is China called Sino? (e.g. the Sino-Soviet split, the Sino-Japanese war)
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Reddy, Jaiden
    Do World War II or the Great Depression affect China?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jet Simon
      No both do affect China but I would say World War II affected China the most because the Chinese already had their own civil war (which was between the Communists and Nationalists) before World War II and even after ended. World War II indefinitely united the Chinese both Communists and Nationalists alike to fight against the Japanese Imperial Army. On the contrary, the Great Depression really never affected China like the US was devastated by this economic crash. Also after World War II, China had the same civil war between the Nationalists and Communists but eventually the communists would win and create the "China" that is now today. China had foreign imports that fell as a result of a student boycott, nevertheless the Chinese industry increased years after.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Kero Malak
    Is China fully communist today?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

For those of you who are just starting to learn about the history of China in the first half of the 20th century, it can be a little bit confusing. So the goal of this video is really to give you an overview, to give you a scaffold, of the history of the first half of the 20th century in China. So as we go into the early 1900s, you have the end of imperial dynastic rule in China. This is a big deal. China has been ruled by various dynasties for multiple thousands of years. But as you get into the 1900s, the dynastic rule, in particular the Qing Dynasty, was getting weaker and weaker. It had suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the first Sino-Japanese War at the end of the 1800s. There was growing discontent amongst the opposition that the dynasty, that the emperors, were not modernizing China enough. Remember, this is the early 1900s. The rest of the world was becoming a very, very modern place. China in the 1800s had suffered at the hands of Western powers who were essentially exerting their own imperial influence in China. Many people felt that this was because China was not as modernized economically, politically, technologically as it needed to be. And so you fast-forward to 1911. You have what is known as the Wuchang Uprising, which led to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. By 1912, a Republic of China was established in Nanjing. So Nanjing right over here was where it was established. Beijing was, of course, the seat of dynastic rule in China. And the first provisional president of the Republic of China was Dr. Sun Yat-sen, right over here. And he actually did not directly participate in this final uprising that finally led to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. He was actually in Denver at the time, Denver, Colorado. But he was a leading or one of the leading figures in the run up to this uprising, one of the leading figures who was providing opposition and had tried multiple times to overthrow the dynasty. Now along with Sun Yat-sen, he was essentially in cahoots with Yuan Shikai, who was a general in the old dynasty. And he has his own fascinating history. And Sun Yat-sen struck a deal with Yuan Shikai, who was very politically ambitious. Yuan Shikai said, hey, if I can get the emperor Puyi, who was the last emperor of China, if I can get him to officially abdicate, I want to become the president. So Sun Yat-sen agrees to this. So Yuan Shikai becomes the president of the Republic of China. But that wasn't enough for him. He declares himself emperor in 1915, which you could imagine did not make many people happy because they were tired of having emperors. And by 1916, he abdicates and he passes away, actually. And this actually begins a period of extremely fragmented rule for China. Even under imperial rule, the Chinese military was not one consolidated body. The military was controlled by various warlords in various regions that all had allegiance to the emperor. Once you have Yuan Shikai abdicating and then dying in 1916, and even prior to that, when he declared himself emperor, people did not want to pledge allegiance to Yuan Shikai. And so you had what is known as the beginning of the Warlord Era in China. And this is a fragmented period where you did not have any centralized leadership. This map over here shows kind of the rough picture of what the Warlord Era looked like. Each of these regions were controlled by a different warlord who was in charge of a different military. When this was going on during the Warlord Era, especially as we go back to the early '20s, in 1921 in particular, Sun Yat-sen hasn't given up. He goes to the south in Guangzhou and sets up, essentially, a revolutionary government, essentially a desire from there to try to consolidate power in China again and reestablish the Republic of China. So he goes there. But unfortunately he passes away in 1925 from cancer. And the hands or the power of the movement that he started, which is now being referred to as the Kuomintang-- Let me write that down. Essentially, the power there passes on to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. And Chiang Kai-shek, the reason why we say the power essentially goes to him is because he was in control of the major part of the military forces of the Kuomintang. And this is essentially the very nascent early stages of what would essentially be the Chinese Civil War because in the period from 1921 until Sun Yat-sen's death, you actually had a lot of collaboration between the Chinese nationalists, the Kuomintang, and the Soviet Union, and the Chinese Communist Party. They were trying to collaborate in order to think about how China would unify. But then once Sun Yat-sen dies and the power of the Kuomintang essentially goes into the hands of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, he starts to consolidate power. And right from the get-go, he doesn't antagonize the communists. But by 1927, he's starting to consolidate, he's starting to merge these various factions in the rest of China. So he's able to consolidate power. But he also starts to go after the communists. So Chiang Kai-shek, by '27, also starts to go after the communists. And the communists are saying, hey, we are the ones that really represent the spirit of what Sun Yat-sen represented, while the Kuomintang under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek said, no, no, no. We represent what Sun Yat-sen represented when he first established the Republic of China. And so in 1927, you have the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. This is when the Kuomintang, as part of its efforts to consolidate power, not only tries to consolidate power of the warlords, but also goes after the Communist Party. Now while all of this is happening, as we get into the early 1930s, Japan once again is trying to exert its imperial, its military, might on the Chinese mainland. They had already captured Formosa, which is now known as Taiwan, and Korea during the first Sino-Japanese War at the end of the 1800s. And then in 1931, the Japanese start to encroach on Manchuria. And this would essentially become a multi-year occupation and infiltration of Japan into China. And this continues all the way until 1937, when it becomes an official all-out war between the Japanese and the Chinese. And I have a map here that shows kind of the maximum Japanese control over this period. And so in east Asia between the Chinese and the Japanese, World War II was really just part of the Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese had already encroached on the mainland of China well before World War II had officially begun. Now while all this is happening, Japan is encroaching into Manchuria, in 1934, you have to remember, the Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party under Chiang Kai-shek is going after the communists. And in 1934, he almost has them, or he does. The communists are nearly defeated. They're surrounded by the Nationalist Party. And this becomes what is a fairly famous event in Chinese history, the famous Long March, where the Chinese Communist Party, their military, is marched through extremely tough terrain all the way to the northwest of China. So this right over here is a map of the Long March. The Chinese Communist Party seemed to be on the ropes here in 1934. And it was during this Long March that Mao Zedong really started to exert and show leadership. The leadership during this Long March, during this retreat to the northwest of China, is really what allowed Mao Zedong to eventually take control of the Chinese Communist Party. Now as we fast forward, we know that the Sino-Japanese War-- you could view this as one theater, eventually, of World War II-- eventually the US goes in on the side of the Allies against Japan after Pearl Harbor. And then in 1945, you have the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic weapons, which essentially ends the Pacific theater. It's defeat for Japan, and Japan has lost World War II. And at this point, full-scale civil war between the two parties break out again. The Civil War started in 1927, and then it kept continuing. But then once there was a common enemy in Japan that was clearly aggressively trying to take over more and more of China's people, resources, exert its imperial influence, then you had the two parties kind of go into a low-grade war and say, hey, we need to fight these Japanese. But once World War II ended in 1945, once the Japanese were defeated, then you had full-scale civil war break out again between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang. And this is probably one of the biggest comebacks in history. This was the Chinese Communist Party that in 1934 and 1935 looked like they were on the ropes. They were forced into, essentially, retreat. They were able to come back. And in 1949-- and there's a lot of theories as to why they were able to pull this off. That they were able to get much more of the support from the rural population. They were more savvy about getting support generally than the Kuomintang. But we could talk about that in a future video. But by 1949, they were able to defeat Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, force the Kuomintang to retreat to Taiwan, establish government in Taiwan. And ever since then, you had the establishment by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 of the People's Republic of China.