Education About Asia: Online Archives

Contesting Twentieth-Century China: A Simulation

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In teaching this history for years, most recently in a course entitled, “China in War and Revolution, 1911–1949,” the central narrative has always been the Chinese revolution. There were many sub-plots of this story: Chinese intellectuals’ turn from liberalism to Marxism after the May Fourth Movement, the Communist-Nationalist United Front of the 1920s and its collapse after the death of Sun Yat-sen, the progress made under Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist rule during the Nanjing Decade (1927–1937), Mao Zedong’s new strategy of rural revolution,the explosive expansion of the Communist movement during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945), and the degree to which nationalism, class struggle, and party organization contributed to the Communists’ success. The Civil War of 1945–1949 settled China’s political future, though one could still debate whether this was a dramatic Communist sweep to power or simply a Nationalist collapse as a result of corruption, inflation, economic mismanagement, and disastrous military mistakes. Through all of this, one question remained paramount: how did the Communists win?