Republic of China History


The history of the Republic of China began in 1912, shortly after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. It led all of China throughout the first half of the 20th century and still exists today on the island of Taiwan.

Early Republic of China and Warlord Rule

The weak Qing Empire collapsed in 1911 and the Chinese imperial system was officially abolished. Instead the Republic of China (ROC) was founded as the central authority in China.

Sun Yatsen was the reformer that had been essential to organizing opposition to the Qing Dynasty. However, he soon found that he was unable to function as president of the Republic of China because he lacked domestic support.

Sun Yatsen arranged for Yuan Shikai, a general in the Chinese army, to become president. However, Yuan proved to be corrupt and incapable of unifying China or defending against foreign powers.

The May Fourth Movement and the Northern Expedition

During WWI, the Chinese government aided the allies by sending workers and raw materials to Europe to fight the Central Powers. However, instead of giving the German colony in Shandong back to China, the Allies instead gave it to Japan. This caused great a great upheaval and led to the May 4th Movement.

The May Fourth Movement took place on May 4th, 1919 in Beijing. Students came to protest both foreign imperialism in China and the weakness of the Republic of China government. This was a turning point for Chinese activists.

The Chinese Communist Party joined forces with the Nationalist Party and worked from a base in Guangzhou to unify China and realize the ideals of the May Fourth Movement.

In 1926 the Nationalists and the Communists launched the Northern Expedition – a campaign to unify China under one government. However, once the expedition reached Shanghai, the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek betrayed the Communists and massacred many CCP members.

Civil War in China

The Chinese civil war began after the Nationalists and Communist split in 1927. During the years leading up to WWII, the two sides fought bitterly. The Nationalists had control over urban areas, while the Communists organized peasants and conducted guerrilla warfare in the countryside.

Meanwhile, the Nationalists took formal control of the Republic of China. However, the Republic of China government in Nanjing was forced to ally with the Communists when war broke out against the Japanese in 1937.

China During WWII

It became clear that the Republic of China under the Nationalists was corrupt and incapable of defending China against the Japanese. Despite huge support from the Allies the Nationalists were unable to fend off the Japanese.

The Communists, however, used the guerrilla tactics they had tested on the Nationalists against the Japanese. This gave them widespread support in China, which later allowed them to defeat the Nationalists after WWII. The Republic of China government fled to the island of Taiwan off the coast of the Chinese mainland.

After WWII

Even after the People’s Republic of China was declared on the mainland in 1949, was recognized as the legitimate government of China by many other countries.

As relations between the West and the People’s Republic of China warmed during the 1970s, many countries stopped recognizing the Republic of China and instead switched to recognizing the People’s Republic of China under the Chinese Communist Party.

The Nationalists dominated Taiwan from 1949 up until the early 1990s, when liberalizing policies allowed for multi-party elections. Relations between the mainland and the Republic of China have always been tense; however, recent years have seen greater economic cooperation and hope for future reconciliation.