China, along with most every country in history, has long had conflicts which caused new governments to take power. However, China’s civil war of the 1940’s was the first that caused a non-dynastic government to come to power in China. The Communist and Nationalist parties struggled over who would finally take control of the fledgling government. The Nationalist party represented more traditional Confucian values, as well as (oddly enough) democracy. In contrast, the Communists wished to dismantle the traditional social hierarchies and establish a socialist state. The Nationalist army was less trained for war than the Communists after they avoided battle in the recent Japan-China War. Perhaps the most important cause of this conflict, millions of peasants became disillusioned with the system that had caused their crushing poverty, and wanted the control of their own fates that Communists promised. They would not take control easily.
Fighting between the Communists and Nationalists had started years earlier, but was interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War. Both sides fought against the Japanese, but resumed civil war after Japan surrendered. However, Jieshi had a “policy of avoiding combat with Japan” (Jiang Jieshi). His troops fought very few battles in the Japanese war. Despite the Nationalist’s inaction, “Chiang Kai-Shek [Jieshi] had extensive support from the U.S.” (Green). The common Chinese peasants saw his policy as a weakness, leading the Communists to gain peasant support. Peasants also held a long tradition of contempt for foreigners, so the Nationalists receiving foreign aid didn’t help their case. Another consequence of this policy was that “his [Jiang’s] army became soft, and the Communist troops became battle-hardened” (Jiang Jieshi). The widespread disapproval of the Nationalist inaction became an argument which the Communists used to gain support with over time.
During the period surrounding the civil war, the political system of the newly founded (and Nationalist) Republic of China was weak. The Communists and Nationalists had fought for years before the civil war officially began over political power. Nationalists were officially in power, but warlords held the power over the peasantry, while Communists wanted to take over both systems. Both Nationalists and Communists wanted total control of China, and there was nothing to regulate the power struggle. Finally, the two parties met to negotiate. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Communist parties, and Nationalist parties, Mao Zedong and Jiang Jieshi respectively, were unable to agree to a compromise. When the two parties broke out into full on civil war after their earlier war, “the United States tried to broker a settlement.” (Jiang Jieshi). However, “Years of mistrust between the two sides thwarted efforts to form a coalition government.” (The Chinese Revolution). Both parties wanted to be in control of the government and fought for the leadership of the country.