By the late 19th century, the Chinese Empire was growing weak, and foreign nations were controlling its trade. In 1911 the last emperor, Puyi, was overthrown in a nationalist revolution. Many years of turmoil followed.

Table 57. CHINA 1912–1949

1912 Chinese republic founded
1919 Japan gains Shandong
1931 Japan occupies Manchuria
1934–1935 The Long March
1937–1945 Japan invades China
1949 Communist victory


Many forces fought to control China. First there were the nationalists, who founded a republic in 1912. Then there were the generals and regional warlords and, in 1921, the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, there was Japan, which gained Chinese territory in 1919.


After 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek became nationalist leader. Nationalists and communists became rivals but were forced into alliances as Japan overran China. Japan’s defeat in 1945 was followed by civil war. By 1949, the communists had defeated the nationalists.


The nationalists fled to Taiwan, and the communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed a people’s republic. Its successes in the 1950s included better education, literacy, and health. However, unrealistic agricultural and industrial reforms caused hardship, leading to political chaos during the CULTURAL REVOLUTION.


Economic failures caused dispute within the Chinese Communist Party. Fearing that the ideals of the revolution would be lost, Mao Zedong called for a “cultural revolution,” a change in public attitudes.


Students and young people took up Mao’s ideas with fervor. They declared themselves “Red Guards,” dedicated to never-ending revolution. They tore down temples, denounced their teachers, and rooted out “traitors.” The suffering was immense. By 1967, the regular army was clashing with the Red Guards, and Mao had little choice but to disband them in 1968.


When Mao died in 1976 there was a struggle for power. In the years that followed, China was still governed by the Communist Party, but it started to adopt some capitalist economic policies.

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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