Please see below for an explanatory list of the most significant people, organisations and concepts used in this website.


Chiang Kai-shek: Also known as Jiang Jieshi. Became leader of the Nationalists after the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925 and purged Communists from the party. Led China in the Sino-Japanese War but lost the Chinese Civil War to the Communists and exiled to Taiwan in 1949.

Edgar Snow: American journalist and first westerner to interview Mao.  He wrote a sympathetic portrayal of the Communist leader spending four months in Bao’an in 1936.

Josef Stalin: Leader of Soviet Union who had a turbulent relationship with Mao. Stalin advised Mao against seizing power after the Sino-Japanese War and didn’t believe in Mao’s idea of a peasant revolution. Coerced China into fighting the Korean War before his death in 1953.

Lin Biao:  Distinguished Communist general during the Chinese Civil War. Became defence minister of the People’s Republic of China, replacing Peng Dehuai who had criticised Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward. Lin promoted Mao’s cult of personality via publication of the Little Red Book. He was later suspected by Mao of attempting a coup against him and mysteriously died in an aeroplane crash in 1971.

Liu Shaoqi: Became state chairman following Mao’s resignation in 1959 due to mistakes of the Great Leap Forward.  Allowed elements of private business to re-energise the Chinese economy. Later denounced during the Cultural Revolution as a ‘rightist’ and died due to torture.

Mao Zedong: Founding member of the Chinese Communist Party who studied Marxism in Beijing whilst working in a library. Became leader of the self-governing Jiangxi Soviet and advocated for the ‘Sinification of Marxism’ which involved a peasant-led instead of urban revolution. Became the chairman of the People’s Republic of China after defeating Chiang Kai-shek in 1949.

Nikita Khrushchev: Successor to Stalin who denounced the former Russian Leader’s cult of personality, which was also perceived as an attack on Mao. Under Khrushchev, Sino-Soviet relations became strained leading to a split in 1958.

Peng Dehuai: Commander of the People’s Volunteer Army during the Korean War and later defence minister of the PRC until 1959 when he was purged after speaking out against Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Peng was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and died in prison.

Sun Yat-sen: Founder of revolutionary group the Tongmenghui which was instrumental in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. Later founded the Nationalist Party which was outlawed by President Yuan Shikai after their success in democratic elections. After exile in Japan, the Nationalist Party was re-established in Guangdong and allied with the Chinese Communist Party backed financially by the Soviet Union. Sun passed away in 1925 due to cancer.

Wang Jingwei: Initially a left-wing member of the Nationalist Party who lost out on leadership to Chiang Kai-shek. He then verged towards the right, becoming leader of a Japanese collaborationist government during the Sino-Japanese War. He died in 1944 due to a wound from an assassination attempt in 1939.

Yang Hucheng: Initiated the Xi’an incident and kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek with Zhang Xueliang, coercing the Nationalist Party leader to form a Second United Front with the Chinese Communist Party against Japan. Yang was executed by Chiang for his actions in 1949.

Yuan Shikai: Military general of the Qing dynasty who then formed an alliance with Sun Yat-sen during the Xinhai Revolution. Likely assassinated Nationalist Party member Song Jiaoren after his good election results. Proclaimed himself monarch in 1915 which sparked off regional separatism. Yuan died in 1916 leaving a power vacuum which led to the chaos of warlordism.

Zhang Xueliang: Also known as ‘the young marshal.’  Ruled over Manchuria after the assassination of his father by the Japanese in 1928 before aligning with the Nationalist Party. With Yang Hucheng, he kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek to force him into a united front with the Communists against Japan. Zhang was put under house arrest for decades on the mainland and later in Taiwan. He was freed after Chiang’s death in 1975.

Zhou Enlai: Negotiated for the Chinese Communist Party during the Xi’an Incident. Foreign minister of the PRC from 1948 to 1958 and later premier. Well known for his diplomatic skills. During the Cultural Revolution he attempted to curb the excesses of Red Guards and purging of party officials before passing away in 1976 months before Mao.


CCP: Widely used acronym for the Chinese Communist Party, founded in Shanghai’s French Concession in 1921 which won the Chinese Civil War over the Nationalist Party in 1949.

Commune: Also known as a People’s Commune. Collective work units in the Chinese countryside established in 1958 that controlled all aspects of everyday life such as food, education and work in an attempt to boost productivity.

Dixie Mission: US observation group sent to gather intelligence on the Communists in 1944. The group left with a favourable impression but upon their return to the US many were accused of being Communist sympathisers. The group mediated between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong after the Sino-Japanese War but failed to prevent the outbreak of Civil War.

GMD: Short for Guomindang, also known as the Nationalist Party. The acronym KMT is also used. The Nationalist Party was founded by Sun Yat-sen after the Xinhai Revolution and ruled China from 1928 until 1949 when they were defeated by the Chinese Communist Party.

League of Nations: International organisation founded after World War One to prevent conflict and resolve disputes. Chiang Kai-shek appealed to the league to help stop Japanese aggression, but Japan simply walked out of negotiations and rescinded their membership.

Cooperatives: Intermediary stage in the collectivisation of agriculture. Peasants pooled together land and resources to generate a greater yield.

Danwei: Often translated as a work unit. The term applied to urban areas and is a rough equivalent of the commune which controlled housing and education as well as employment.

Mutual Aid Team: First stage of the collectivisation of agriculture. Peasants were encouraged to pool together resources on an informal basis to increase agricultural production.

NRA: Short for National Revolutionary Army and referring to the army of the Nationalist party. Founded in 1925 in order to reunite China under the chaos of warlordism. Bore the majority of conflict during the Sino-Japanese War. Retreated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek having lost the Chinese Civil War.

PVA: Short for People’s Volunteer Army, a Communist army which fought in the Korean War. Established in order to avoid official conflict with the United States. Troops were in effect drafted in from the People’s Liberation Army.

PLA: Short for People’s Liberation Army.  Founded after the Shanghai Massacre of 1927 when Chiang Kai-shek purged Communists from the Nationalist Party. Fought during the Sino-Japanese War and were victorious over the National Revolutionary Army in 1949.

Qing dynasty: Last imperial dynasty of China. Criticised for enabling foreign imperialism to influence China. The child-emperor Puyi abdicated in 1912 after the dynasty was overthrown by the Xinhai Revolution.

Warlords: After the death of Yuan Shikai, provinces were claiming independence and run by several military generals who were in constant conflict with one another.

Whampoa Military Academy: Set up by the Nationalist Party with the help of Soviet aid in 1924 with the aim of training troops to reunite China which had succumbed to warlord chaos. Trained both Nationalist and Communist soldiers during the First United Front until Communists were expelled by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927.


An nei rang wai: Translates as ‘internal pacification before external aggression’ and refers to Chiang Kai-shek’s policy that it was first necessary to defeat the Chinese Communist Party before fighting the Japanese.

Century of humiliation: Chinese term referring to the period from 1839 to 1949 where colonial powers forcibly established concessions to trade with China and gain economic influence within the country.

Class struggle: Mao feared the possibility of the bourgeoise infiltrating the Chinese Communist Party who he believed would revert back to capitalism.

Continuous revolution: Theory of Mao Zedong. States that revolution is never complete and involves working through contradictions to attain a higher state of socialism.

Democratic centralism: Maoist concept whereby all political decisions by the party leadership are binding and must be fully supported. Individual thoughts can however be expressed in the initial stages.

Guerrilla warfare: Tactic used by Mao whereby a small unit launches a surprise ambush or raid on a larger army before retreating.

Land Reform: The idea that every peasant should be entitled to his own plot of land to till having been persecuted by landlords.

Mass line: Maoist idea that the masses are the dominant revolutionary force. Policies should come from the masses and then be implemented in accordance with Communist ideology.

New Life Movement: Campaign launched by Chiang Kai-shek intended to halt corruption within his party whilst providing an alternative ideology to Communism. Drinking, smoking, gambling and prostitution were all condemned.

Paper tiger: Term used by Mao Zedong to describe the United States. In Chinese the term means something that looks powerful and intimidating but is in fact weak.

Peasant revolution: Idea of Mao Zedong that led to the ‘sinification of marxism.’ He believed a peasant uprising would prompt a revolution given that over 80% of China was rural.

Revisionism: Term used by Mao to condemn those who allowed capitalist elements to persist in a socialist society or who criticised official government policy.  These people were also referred to as ‘rightists.'

Self-criticism: Often required of Communist Party members who expressed views or acted counter to the leadership. This could take the form of writing notes to express one’s ‘errors’ or a public session where it was required to confess one’s failings.

Speaking Bitterness: The act of condemning the actions of landlords publicly in people’s courts during land reform.

Three principles of the people: Sun Yat-sen’s principles of Nationalism  ( i.e Anti-imperialism, anti-monarchy), People’s rights such as the right to vote and People’s livelihood, often read as a critique of capitalism and unfair taxes.

Thought reform: Called for intellectuals to remould their thought to the ideals of Communism. Many intellectuals were compelled to intensively study Marxism and enter into self-criticism.