Sino-Japanese War Model Essay

2015 (a)What did the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Government each hope to gain by their temporary alliance during the Second United Front (1937–1945), and to what extent did they both achieve their aims?

Essay plan

Overall Argument: The CCP gained far greater benefit from the Second United Front in comparison to the Nationalists enabling them to grow enough in size to effectively challenge the Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War.


-Respite from Nationalist attacks and chance to exponentially grow in size from isolated Yan’an base

-time to develop ideological program aimed at rural peasantry in Yan’an

-win hearts and minds of Chinese people


-Popularity boost for Chiang, foreign support, undisputed mandate to lead China, could control Communist troops.

-Could concentrate on defeating common enemy of Japan who threatened Chinese sovereignty.

-However Nationalist Party huge death toll during Second United Front- they did most of the fighting.

This essay argues that the CCP gained much more from the Second United Front than the Nationalist Party in terms of growth and popularity. Indeed, the victory in the Sino-Japanese War was very much contingent upon the US entry into the conflict following Pearl Harbour rather than the product of cooperation between two deeply divided parties.

In the wake of the Xi’an incident, the Second United Front certainly benefitted the Nationalists in terms of Chiang Kai-Shek’s mandate to lead. He also received vital weaponry provided by the CCP’s ally Stalin. Notwithstanding, the Nationalists bore the vast majority of armed combat with the Japanese. Moreover, mistrust was rife between the CCP and GMD, so military gains due to their cooperation were limited. Consequently, the Communists, from their isolated Northern base of Yan’an, grew exponentially in size, and by 1945 the CCP had an army of 1 million men. This meant they were in a position to rival the Nationalist Party during the Chinese Civil War.

After suffering great losses during the Long March, the Second United Front gave the CCP valuable time to develop an ideological program that would appeal to the masses. For example, the idea of a peasant-led revolution was refined in Yan’an and the importance of the ‘mass line’ was also widely taught during the Second United Front. Mao viewed the masses as the defining force in driving forward historical progress, something that would help him greatly during the Chinese Civil War. Faith of the masses in the Communists during the Second United Front was compounded by the fact that Chiang Kai-shek took the highly controversial decision to flood the banks of the Yellow River killing hundreds of thousands of people. As such, it was perceived that the Communists cared more about ordinary people compared to the Nationalists. Indeed, CCP membership grew from 40,000 in 1937 to 800,000 in 1940, a dramatic increase. Whilst the Nationalist Party were busy fighting the Japanese, the Communists were winning the hearts and minds of the Chinese people, hence the Second United Front clearly benefitted the Communists in this sense.

During the Second United Front, due to mistrust of the Nationalist Party, the CCP were rarely involved in armed conflict. By the end of the Second United Front, Mao was the undisputed and unchallenged leader of the CCP, which now ruled an area of over 100 million people and boasted an army of 1 million men.  The Communists war-time strategy was simply to protect their own land in the North. After the Hundred Regiments Offensive in 1940, the Communists refrained from engaging in further offensive attacks.  Therefore, the Second United Front enabled the Communists to engage in minimal armed conflict whilst having valuable time to grow their army.

Despite the multiple gains made by the Communists, there were also benefits on the Nationalist side.  After the Xi’an incident and kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek, orchestrated by two of his own party members, there was a public outpouring of support for Chiang. The fact that he had agreed to a united front with the Communists meant that he had an undisputed mandate to lead China. He received foreign support from the US and Russia during the Sino-Japanese War and could concentrate all his efforts on attacking the Japanese rather than the Communists (although some attacks still did occur).

Notwithstanding, it was undoubtedly the Nationalists who contributed more to the war effort than the Communists. Chiang Kai-shek retreated from Nanjing to Wuhan before Chongqing eventually became the wartime capital. If there had been more cooperation between the two parties perhaps the death toll of the Sino-Japanese War would have been far less (14 million in total). The Japanese concentrated most of their efforts on attacking the Nationalists rather than the Communists with incessant air-raids on Chongqing, suffering over 11,500 blasts in total. The Nationalists also had to use up a lot of resources to help support millions of refugees. Indeed, over 1 million refugees resided in Chongqing by the end of the Sino-Japanese War. As such, it could be argued that the Xi’an incident forced Chiang Kai-shek into a war that he wanted to postpone, and a war that he would bear the burden of much more than the Communists.

 In conclusion, the Xi’an incident caused the creation of the Second United Front against Japan. The CCP clearly gained more than the Nationalists in terms of military growth, public support and policy-making whilst the Nationalists bore the brunt of fighting the Japanese. Moreover, the Yellow River dam break sowed the seeds of mistrust amongst the population who viewed the CCP as sympathetic towards their needs, something the party turned to their favour during the Chinese Civil War widely implementing programs of land reform in areas under their control to appeal to the oppressed peasantry. As Rana Mitter notes, ‘In the end, Chiang won the war but lost the country.’