Where Chiang Kai-Shek Lost China: The Liao-Shen Campaign, 1948

Where Chiang Kai-Shek Lost China: The Liao-Shen Campaign, 1948

Where Chiang Kai-Shek Lost China: The Liao-Shen Campaign, 1948

Where Chiang Kai-Shek Lost China: The Liao-Shen Campaign, 1948

Synopsis

The civil war in China that ended in the 1949 victory of Mao Zedong's Communist forces was a major blow to US interests in the Far East and led to heated recriminations about how China was "lost." Despite their significance, there have been few studies in English of the war's major campaigns. The Liao-Shen Campaign was the final act in the struggle for control of China's northeast. After the Soviet defeat of Japan in Manchuria, Communist Chinese and then Nationalist troops moved into this strategically important area. China's largest industrial base and a major source of coal, Manchuria had extensive railways and key ports (both still under Soviet control). When American mediation over control of Manchuria failed, full-scale civil war broke out. By spring of 1946, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist armies had occupied most of the southern, economically developed part of Manchuria, pushing Communist forces north of the Songhua (Sungari) River. But over the next two years, the tide would turn. The Communists isolated the Nationalist armies and mounted a major campaign aimed at destroying the Kuomintang forces. This is the story of that campaign and its outcome, which were to have such far-reaching consequences.

Excerpt

Clausewitz’s observation is as true for the historian as it is for the general: as we observe war from afar, every action seems to have been contingent on a host of other related actions, peripheral factors, and underlying conditions. As a result, any attempt to identify one specific campaign or battle as the crucial event that determined the outcome of a war or the fate of a nation runs the risk of oversimplification. When I say that the Liao-Shen Campaign (12 September–2 November 1948) marks the historical moment when Chiang Kai-shek lost China, I am clearly exercising a degree of poetic license. Some historians might argue that the Huai-Hai Campaign (8 November 1948–10 January 1949) deserves that honor. Others might say that if we must search for the place where Chiang Kai-shek lost China, we will find it not on a battlefield, but in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.

Nonetheless, the Liao-Shen Campaign clearly played a very significant role in determining the outcome of the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949). This campaign marked the end of the struggle for control of the key strategic theater of China’s Northeast (Manchuria—I will use the two terms interchangeably). This struggle began immediately following the Japanese surrender in August 1945. By the time of the Liao-Shen Campaign, the Communists had taken control of most of the Northeast. Through a . . .

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