Republic of China (1912–1949)

The Republic of China (Zhōnghuá Mínguó) was founded in 1912 and its government was located on mainland China until 1949. As an era of Chinese history, the republic was preceded by the qing dynasty and followed by the People's Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen served briefly as its first president. Sun's Kuomintang (KMT, or "Nationalist Party"), then led by Song Jiaoren, won a parliamentary election held in December 1912. However, army leaders of the Beiyang clique, led by President Yuan Shikai, retained control of the central government. After Yuan's death in 1916, various local military leaders, or warlords, asserted autonomy.

In 1925, the KMT established a rival government, referred to as Nationalist China, in the southern city of Canton, now Guangzhou. The economy of the North, overtaxed to support warlord adventurism, collapsed in 1927-1928. In 1928, Chiang Kai-shek, who became KMT leader after Sun's death, defeated the warlord armies in the Northern Expedition. Chiang's National Revolutionary Army was armed by the Soviet Union and was advised by Mikhail Borodin. The Beiyang army was backed by Japan. Once Chiang established a unified central government in Nanjing, he cut his ties with the communists and expelled them from the KMT.

There was industrialization and modernization, but also conflict between the Nationalist government in Nanjing, the Communist Party of China, remnant warlords, and Japan. Nation-building took a backseat to war with Japan in 1937 - 1945. Japan occupied coastal areas and cut off China's access to seaports, while the KMT retreated to Chongqing . The Burma Road, and later the Ledo Road, were built to allow U. S. "lend-lease" aid to reach the Chinese army. The Nationalists' Y Force drove back the Japanese in Yunnan during a May-June 1944 offensive, but otherwise military results were disappointing. After Japan surrendered, the Cold War between the U. S. and Soviet Union led to renewed fighting between the KMT and the communists.

In 1947, the Constitution of the Republic of China replaced the Organic Law of 1928 as the country's fundamental law. In 1949, the Communists established the People's Republic of China on the mainland, while the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan . Despite its reduced territory, the Nationalist government continued to be recognized as the government of China by non-Communist states.


A republic was formally established on 1 January 1912 on following the Hsin-Hai Revolution, which itself began with the Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, replacing the qing dynasty and ending over two thousand years of imperial rule in China. From its founding until 1949 it was based on mainland China. Central authority waxed and waned in response to warlordism (1915–28), Japanese invasion (1937–45), and the Chinese Civil War (1927–49), with central authority strongest during the Nanjing Decade (1927–37), when most of China came under the control of the Kuomintang (KMT) under an authoritarian single-party state. At the end of World War II in 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered control of Taiwan and its island groups to the Allied Forces, and Taiwan was placed under the Republic of China's administrative control.

The legitimacy of this transfer is disputed and is another aspect of the disputed political status of Taiwan .

The communist takeover of mainland China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and later Hainan , Tachen and other outlying islands in the early 1950s left the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) with control over only Taiwan , Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and other minor islands. With the 1949 loss of mainland China in the civil war, the ROC government fled to Taiwan and the KMT declared Taipei the provisional capital. The Communist Party of China took over all of mainland China and founded the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing , which claimed to be the successor of the Republic of China and the sole legitimate government of all of "China" - a claim also made by the Republic of China government which still rules from Taipei to this day.


In 1911, after over two thousand years of imperial rule, a republic was established in China and the monarchy overthrown by a group of revolutionaries. The qing dynasty, having just experienced a century of instability, suffered from both internal rebellion and foreign imperialism. The Neo-Confucian principles that had, at the time, sustained the dynastic system were now called into question. The dynasty's support of the Boxers, who claimed to have magical powers, against the world's major powers was its final mistake. The Qing forces were defeated and China was forced to give a huge indemnity to the foreign powers, an equivalent to £67 million to be paid over 39 years. Disconnected from the population and unable to face the challenges of modern China, the Qing government was in its final throes. Only the lack of an alternative regime prolonged its existence until 1912.

The establishment of Republican China developed out of the Wuchang Uprising against the Qing on 10 October 1911. That date is now celebrated annually as the ROC's National Day, also known as the "Double Ten Day". On 29 December 1911, Sun Yat-Sen was elected president by the Nanjing assembly representing seventeen provinces. On 1 January 1912, he was officially inaugurated and pledged "to overthrow the despotic Manchu government, consolidate the Republic of China and plan for the welfare of the people".

Sun, however, lacked the military support to overthrow the qing dynasty. Realizing this, he handed over the presidency to Yuan Shikai, the imperial general, who then forced the last emperor, Puyi, to abdicate. Yuan was officially elected president in 1913. He ruled by military power and ignored the republican institutions established by his predecessor, threatening to execute Senate members who disagreed with his decisions. He soon dissolved the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, banned "secret organizations" (which implicitly included the KMT), and ignored the provisional constitution. An attempt at a democratic election in 1911 ended up with the assassination of the elected candidate by a man recruited by Yuan. Ultimately, Yuan declared himself Emperor of China in 1915.

The new ruler of China tried to increase centralization by abolishing the provincial system; however, this move angered the gentry along with the provincial governors, usually military men. Many provinces declared independence and became warlord states. Increasingly unpopular and deserted by his supporters, Yuan gave up on being Emperor in 1916 and died of natural causes shortly after.

Devoid of a strong, unified government, China was thrust into another period of warlordism. Sun, forced into exile, returned to Guangdong province in the south with the help of warlords in 1917 and 1922, and set up successive rival governments to the Beiyang government in Beijing ; he re-established the KMT in October 1919. Sun's dream was to unify China by launching an expedition to the north. However, he lacked military support and funding to make it a reality.

Meanwhile, the Beiyang government struggled to hold on to power, and an open and wide-ranging debate evolved regarding how China should confront the West. In 1919, a student protest against the government's weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, considered unfair by Chinese intellectuals, led to the May Fourth movement. These demonstrations were aimed at spreading Western influence to replace Chinese culture. It is also in this intellectual climate that the influence of Marxism spread and became more popular. It eventually led to the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1920.

Nanking decade and Second Sino-Japanese war

After Sun's death in March 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became the leader of the KMT. In 1926, Chiang led the Northern Expedition through China with the intention of defeating the warlords and unifying the country. Chiang received the help of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists; however, he soon dismissed his Soviet advisors. He was convinced, not without reason, that they wanted to get rid of the KMT (also known as the Nationalists) and take over control. Chiang decided to strike first and purged the Communists, killing thousands of them. At the same time, other violent conflicts were taking place in China; in the South, where the Communists were in superior numbers, Nationalist supporters were being massacred.

These events eventually led to the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists. Chiang Kai-shek pushed the Communists into the interior as he sought to destroy them, and established a government with Nanking as its capital in 1927. By 1928, Chiang's army overturned the Beiyang government and unified the entire nation, at least nominally, beginning the so-called Nanjing Decade.

According to Sun Yat-sen's theory, the KMT was to rebuild China in three phases: a phase of military rule through which the KMT would take over power and reunite China by force; a phase of political tutelage; and finally a constitutional democratic phase. In 1930, the Nationalists, having taken over power militarily and reunified China, started the second phase, promulgating a provisional constitution and beginning the period of so-called "tutelage". The KMT was criticized as instituting totalitarianism, but claimed it was attempting to establish a modern democratic society. Among others, they created at that time the Academia Sinica, the Central Bank of China, and other agencies.

In 1932, China sent a team for the first time to the Olympic Games. Historians, such as Edmund Fung, argue that establishing a democracy in China at that time was not possible. The nation was at war and divided between Communists and Nationalists. Corruption within the government and lack of direction also prevented any significant reform from taking place. Chiang realized the lack of real work being done within his administration and told the State Council: "Our organization becomes worse and worse. . . many staff members just sit at their desks and gaze into space, others read newspapers and still others sleep. " The Nationalist government wrote a draft of the constitution in 5 May 1936.

The Nationalists faced a new challenge with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, with hostilities continuing through the Second Sino-Japanese War, part of World War II, from 1937 to 1945. The government of the Republic of China retreated from Nanking to Chongqing . In 1945, after the war of eight years, Japan surrendered and the Republic of China, under the name "China", became one of the founding members of the United Nations. The government returned to Nanking in 1946.

Post-World War II and Takeover of taiwan

After the defeat of Japan during World War II, Taiwan was surrendered to the Allies, with ROC troops accepting the surrender of the Japanese garrison. The government of the ROC proclaimed the "retrocession" of Taiwan to the Republic of China and established the provincial government at Taiwan . The military administration of the ROC extended over Taiwan , which led to widespread unrest and increasing tensions between Taiwanese and mainlanders. The shooting of a civilian on 28 February 1947 triggered island-wide unrest, which was suppressed with military force in what is now called the 228 Incident. Mainstream estimates of casualties range from 18,000 to 30,000, mainly Taiwanese elites. The 228 incident has had far-reaching effects on subsequent Taiwan history.

From 1945 to 1947, under United States mediation, especially through the Marshall Mission, the Nationalists and Communists agreed to start a series of peace talks aiming at establishing a coalition government. They however failed to reach an agreement and the civil war resumed. In the context of political and military animosity, the National Assembly was summoned by the Nationalists without the participation of the Communists and promulgated the Constitution of the Republic of China. The constitution was criticized by the Communists, and led to the final break between the two sides. The full scale civil war resumed from early 1947.

In 1948, the ROC administration imposed perpetual martial law. Meanwhile, the civil war was escalating from regional areas to the entire nation. Eventually, the Communist troops, supported by the Soviet Union, defeated the ROC army.

In October 1949, the Communists founded the People's Republic of China, which obtained control of mainland China

In December 1949, Chiang evacuated the government to Taiwan and made Taipei the temporary capital of the ROC (also called the "wartime capital" by Chiang Kai-shek). In his retreat, he also transferred China's gold reserves to Taiwan . Between one and two million refugees from mainland China followed him, adding to the earlier population of approximately six million.

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