People's Liberation War in China of 1946–49

People’s Liberation War in China of 1946–49


a civil war between forces led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a counterrevolutionary coalition of landholders and the comprador bourgeoisie, whose political party was the Kuomintang, which was supported by the USA. This war was the final stage in the people’s democratic revolution that ended oppression by feudal landholders and the dominance of foreign imperialism in China.

By the end of World War II (1939–45) there were actually two Chinas: the territory controlled by the Kuomintang and the liberated regions under the control of the CPC. Civil war on a national scale was preceded by a period of negotiations between the CPC and the Kuomintang through the mediation of US diplomacy (from late August 1945 to June 1946). During this time, military operations between the Kuomintang troops and the people’s armed forces (from 1947, the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA) did not actually come to a halt on some fronts. Therefore, the People’s Liberation War in China is sometimes dated from 1945 to 1949.

In the summer of 1946 the Kuomintang government, with US support, launched a general offensive against the liberated regions. On June 26, 300,000 Kuomintang troops began an offensive in the liberated region of the Central Plain, which was defended by 60,000 soldiers. Taking advantage of their superiority in armaments and troops (4.3 million soldiers, as opposed to 1.2 million in the PLA) and benefiting from US military aid (45 divisions armed with American weapons formed the nucleus of the Kuomintang’s army), the Kuomintang troops captured some cities in the liberated regions, including Yenan (March 1947), where up until then the Central Committee of the CPC had been located. The Kuomintang lost 1 million soldiers and officers in the first year of the war. By July 1947 the Kuomintang’s army, after additional mobilizations, numbered 3.7 million soldiers; the PLA had 2 million.

In mid-1947 the PLA launched a counteroffensive. The PLA was successful because of popular support of the just goals of the people’s war of liberation, including destruction of the system of feudal exploitation, confiscation of bureaucratic capital, liberation of China from foreign dependency, and the creation of a people’s democratic order. Other contributing factors to success were the breakdown of the Kuomintang rear area and the skillful strategy and tactics of the PLA. The agrarian reform that the CPC began to implement in 1946 in the liberated regions ensured the active participation of the peasantry of the regions in the revolution. The peasants provided reinforcements and supplies for the PLA and participated in the partisan movement in the Kuomintang rear area.

Broad segments of the population in Kuomintang-held regions strongly opposed the antinational policy of Chiang Kaishek’s government, which contributed to the enslavement of China by US imperialism (the Sino-American Treaty of Nov. 4, 1946, and other treaties and agreements). The people also opposed the intensification of the exploitation of workers and peasants and the economic ruin of the country, as well as the oppression of national minorities. Mass strikes, demonstrations, and peasant uprisings took place in Kuomintang regions. Opposition to the Kuomintang regime grew on the part of the national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. The United People’s Democratic Front, led by the CPC, was forming.

The support of the Soviet people and all progressive forces throughout the world was an important factor in the success of the democratic forces of China. The defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army in August 1945 by the USSR armed forces created conditions favorable to the victory of the Chinese revolution. The Soviet command transferred to the PLA captured Japanese weapons and ammunition (including several thousand guns, mortars, and grenade launchers; hundreds of tanks and aircraft; and ships of the Sungari Flotilla), and Soviet specialists helped restore rail transport and industry in Northeast China. The liberated regions of Northeast China were actually the main strategic bases of operation for the PLA during the war. The Soviet Union undermined the plans for the expansion of US intervention in China. The campaign of the USSR for withdrawal of American troops from China provided major support for the Chinese people.

The PLA counteroffensive began in the summer of 1947 with a breakthrough from southwestern Shantung to the south of the field army of the Central Plain (Liu Po-ch’eng, commander). By September 30 the PLA had reached the Yangtze River. In September and October 1947 the field army of East China (Ch’en I, commander) had launched an offensive in Shantung, Honan, Anhwei, and Kiangsu provinces. Other PLA units simultaneously conducted offensive operations.

In late 1948 and early 1949 three decisive operations of the People’s War of Liberation took place. From Sept. 12 to Nov. 2, 1948, the PLA forces in Northeast China, commanded by Lin Piao, conducted the Liaohsi-Shenyang, or Liaoshen, operation in southern Manchuria and cut off ground and sea lines of communication between Northeast and North China. The Manchurian grouping of the Kuomintang’s army was completely crushed. After the operation the PLA surpassed the Kuomintang in size (3 million versus 2.9 million). PLA troops were consolidated on four fronts—the First Field Army under the command of P’eng Te-huai (Northwest China), the Second Field Army under Liu Po-ch’eng (Central China), the Third Field Army under Ch’en I (East China), and the Fourth Field Army under Lin Piao (Northeast China). The three groups of forces that operated in North China were directly subordinate to the PLA General Staff. From Nov. 7, 1948, to Jan. 10, 1949, the Huaihai battle was fought in east China (between the Huai River and the Yellow Sea), and the Second and Third field armies destroyed the largest enemy group, which was commanded by Tu Yü-ming and consisted of 22 armies (56 divisions). PLA troops came to the Yangtze River in a wide front on the near routes of approach to the Kuomintang capital of Nanking. From Dec. 5, 1948, to Jan. 31, 1949, troops of the Fourth Field Army and of two groups of forces from North China defeated a large enemy grouping commanded by Fo Tso-i in North China (the Peking-Tientsin-Kalgan operation).

In April 1949 negotiations were held in Peking between CPC and Kuomintang delegations, and an agreement was reached for cessation of the civil war on the basis of the conditions set forth by the CPC. Since the Kuomintang government refused to approve the agreement, the PLA renewed the offensive on Apr. 21, 1949, forcing the Yangtze River. By early 1950, continental China (excluding Tibet) had been liberated for all practical purposes. Kuomintang soldiers fled to the island of Taiwan under the protection of the US armed forces.

The People’s War of Liberation ended with the victory of the revolutionary forces. On Sept. 30, 1949, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference formed a central people’s government. The People’s Republic of China was established on Oct. 1, 1949. The people’s democratic revolution in China was victorious.


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Glunin, V. I. Tret’ia grazhdanskaia revoliutsionnaia voina v Kitae (1946–1949). Moscow, 1958.
Liao Kai-lung. Chung-kuo jen-min chieh-fang chan-cheng chien-shih. (Brief History of the Chinese People’s War of Liberation.) Peking, 1953.


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