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The reasons for the use of guerrilla warfare, and its effectiveness by the communists during the Long Civil War 1927-49.

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Ikhwan Mahadi

on 16 January 2013

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Transcript of The reasons for the use of guerrilla warfare, and its effectiveness by the communists during the Long Civil War 1927-49.

The reasons for the use of guerilla warfare and its effectiveness during the Chinese Civil War. The Chinese Civil War occured between 1927 and 1949, and resulted in the victory of the CCP, which then cemented its control over China. The experience of the war laid the foundations of the New People's Republic and the militarization of society that followed throughtout the war allowed the CCP especially Mao Zedong, to establish their authoritarian rule. The support of the peasants gained during the course of the war, facilitated the spread of the party's policies and ideologies without major resistance. It could be argued though, that there are other factors that contributed to the victory of the CCP, although guerrilla warfare played a crucial role in Mao’s plan. The retreat of the CCP in what was become known as the 'Long March' began to develop into guerilla tactics, as they retreated further and further into the mountains where they increased their support, setting up camps as they went and recruiting more peasants as soldiers. The vast majority of the populations of China were rural workers, so the CCP already had a potential advantage of numbers and an army that knew the territory well. Despite the GMD having strong and numerous forces, they were unable to defeat their rivals. GMD tactics were not as strategic and organized as the Communists, who allowed the GMD to enter their territory and begin to round up CCP members before attacking the split army, fighting several small forces rather than one large one. The GMD were not as knowledgeable about the territory, and so they were at a disadvantage in terms of organizing and when and where to strike, whereas the CCP could make plans and place certain groups of fighters in certain places to have the most effective outcome. Zhu De believes that knowing the terrain and the support that the CCP had were central to their success: " They (GMD) failed because such guerrilla warfare requires not only a thorough knowledge of the terrain of the battle area but also the support of the common people ". The traditional military tactics used by the GMD were also part of their defeat. They advanced in one huge unit, whereas the CCP spilt into smaller units that infiltrated the enemy forces and divided them. In addition, they used hit and run tactics to reduce their own losses. The knowledge that they had of the territory allowed them to hide once they had attacked, something the GMD would not have been able to do because they did not have this knowledge. In this case, Guerrilla warfare seemed to be much more effective than traditional military techniques, and so Mao invented this philosophy of ‘revolutionary warfare’ that incorporated several stages in which the Communists needed to teach their ideology to the peasants to educate them, thus gaining their trust and support. The CCP believed that by instilling a strong sense of ideology into the peasants it would give them something worth fighting for. Evidence throughout history supports the concept that ideology is a crucial factor for victory in warfare, as soldiers must not only be willing to fight, but willing to die for their cause. Italian soldiers during WWII for example did not believe that they were fighting for a significant cause, and so refused to do so. It could be argued that if they had a major cause to fight for, the Italians would have had more success. The way in which Mao treated the peasants contrasted with what they had previously had to endure. Life seemed better under the CCP, and so they were popular with the peasants because they offered respect, justice and fairness. With the end of the first stage of the civil war, which resulted in the joining of Mao’s guerrilla forces into a conventional army, the second stage eventually came into effect. The CCP had survived the Long March, arguably due to their guerrilla tactics, which allowed them to strengthen their own support and weaken the GMD forces. Historian James Sheridan argues that this type of warfare was the main reason why the communists were able to win the civil war: " the central factor was unquestionably the mobilization of vast numbers of Chinese, primarily peasants, into new political, social, economic, and military organizations, infused with a new purpose and a new spirit. This mobilization largely accounted for the communist victory, " What Sheridan is saying is that although many other factors contributed to the outcome of the war, guerrilla warfare was the most important because of the huge movement that it created and the way in which it changed people’s ideologies allowing the Communists to take control. While the Communists had used guerrilla warfare throughout the war and had much success, it did not always work. It could be argued that guerrilla warfare would have been failure had it not been for the actions of the USA in enforcing a ceasefire which bought the CCP time to rejuvenate their forces. They were perhaps on the verge of defeat before the ceasefire, and could have most likely been defeated by the GMD. This then suggests that guerrilla warfare alone would not have ensured victory, and that it is therefore not as effective as it may seem. If it had it not been for the Sino-Japanese war and the intervention from the USA, the CCP would not have had the time to have been able to reorganise, rearm and retrain their forces. Historian Immanuel Hsu believes that the Sino-Japanese war was extremely significant for the outcome of the civil war: "Had there been no civil war, the situation in China would have been very different. Many of the disastrous repercussions of the war continued to plague the Nationalists during their struggle with the Communists." This suggests that it was not the strengths of the CCP and the tactics that they used such as guerrilla warfare, but the weaknesses of the GMD that primarily led to their defeat. In conclusion, although guerrilla warfare played a crucial role in Mao’s revolutionary war, historians argue whether it was really that significant, or if another, or a number of other factors were more central to the outcome. There is evidence to back up several different opinions on which was the most important, however the most convincing seems to be a balance between the strengths of the CCP and the weaknesses of the GMD at a time where China was in an ‘era of revolution’, people were tired of the old regime and open to the new communist ideas and a better future in China. A combination of ideology, military tactics and the successes of guerrilla warfare, intervention by the USA and the weaknesses of the GMD ultimately led to victory for the Communist forces and they established a new republic under an authoritarian regime led by Mao Zedong.
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