In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chinese Civil War, 1945-1949

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Maps and Photographs
  • Chinese Communist Published Documents
  • Chinese Nationalist Published Documents
  • American Published Documents
  • Biographies of Major Personalities
  • Memoirs of Chinese Nationalist Personalities
  • Memoirs of Chinese Communist Personalities
  • Eyewitness Accounts of Foreign Observers
  • Eyewitness Accounts of American Military Personnel
  • Accounts of Chinese Observers
  • The US-China Relationship
  • The Marshall Mission
  • The Chinese Civil War in the Cold War
  • Chinese Communist Foreign Policy
  • Urban Protest, Social and Political Struggle
  • Land Reform and Rural Revolution
  • The “Who Lost China” Debate

Military History Chinese Civil War, 1945-1949
Harold Tanner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0031


For the Allies and for Japan itself, the Japanese surrender in August 1945 signaled the arrival of peace. For China, it marked the resumption of the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) and Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The conflict began with deployments and military clashes as each side tried to position itself to control North China and Northeast China (Manchuria). The military struggle took place in the context of an international diplomatic contest in which the Soviet Union and the United States each tried to advance their interests in China while avoiding any military involvement themselves. While the Soviets and the Americans each offered limited military assistance to their Chinese protégés, they also pushed them into negotiations, first at Chongqing from August to October 1945, and then from December 1945 through January 1947, in Chongqing and in Nanjing under the auspices of General George Marshall. Both the Communist and the Nationalist leaders engaged in “talking while fighting,” trying to use the dynamic relationship between negotiations and combat in order to maximize gains both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. By the summer of 1946, it was evident that the negotiations had failed and that the contest between the two parties would be settled by force. While General Marshall continued his efforts at negotiation until January 1947, full-scale civil war broke out, first in China south of the Great Wall, and then with a resumption of hostilities in the Northeast. The military conflict was accompanied by severe economic problems and by intense internal social and political struggles, both in the rural areas and in the cities. The military situation developed rapidly. In the autumn and winter of 1948–1949, the Communists, no longer simple guerrilla forces, defeated Chiang’s armies in three major campaigns: the Liao-Shen, Ping-Jin, and Huai-Hai campaigns. By the end of 1949, Chiang was forced to withdraw to Taiwan. Because the Chinese Civil War had military, political, and social dimensions, and because it unfolded in the context of the Cold War and with the involvement of both the Soviet Union and the United States, there is a vast array of literature that at least touches on the subject. The aim of this bibliography is to focus on the scholarly literature on the civil war itself, while touching on at least some of the major works dealing with the political, social, and particularly the diplomatic context in which the war took place.

General Overviews

Those new to the study of this particular period of Chinese history will want to get a bird’s-eye view of the Republican period (1911–1949) in order to understand the historical context in which the civil war occurred. Lary 2007 provides a good overview of the Republican period, including the civil war. Eastman 2002 focuses more closely on the civil war period and will also initiate the student into the politically charged business of explaining why the civil war ended as it did—an issue which pervades the English-language literature. Pepper 1986, though now somewhat dated, provides a concise overview of the war itself. For readers of Chinese, Wang 2000 and Zhu and Tao 2000 together provide a treatment of all aspects of the civil war years. Graduate students and other specialists will also find their extensive bibliographies useful.

  • Eastman, Lloyd E. Seeds of Destruction: Nationalist China in War and Revolution, 1937–1949. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

    Overview of the political, economic, and military history of the Republic of China from 1937 to 1949. Concludes that the fundamental reasons for the Kuomintang (KMT) defeat were weaknesses deeply embedded in the regime itself, rather than betrayal by the American government. First published 1984.

  • Lary, Diana. China’s Republic. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139167253

    A recent textbook introduction to the entire Republican period, including discussion of the civil war. A good starting point for those who need to put the civil war years into context.

  • Pepper, Suzanne. “The KMT-CCP Conflict 1945–1949.” In The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 13, Republican China: 1912–1949—Part 2. Edited by John King Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker, 723–788. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521243384

    An overview of the political, economic, diplomatic, and military dimensions of the civil war. Pepper notes that while observers easily recognized the weaknesses of the Nationalist government and army, they failed to understand the strengths of the Communists.

  • Wang Chaoguang. Cong kangzhan shengli dao neizhan baofa qianhou. Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju, 2000.

    Draws on a wide spectrum of archival and secondary sources in Chinese and in English to describe in great detail the domestic, international, and military facets of what the author sees as a competition between two visions of China’s future from August 1945 through July 1947.

  • Zhu Zongzhen, and Tao Wenzhao. Guomindang zhengquan de zongbengkui he Zhonghua Minguo shiqi de jieshu. Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju, 2000.

    A comprehensive and multifactor historical analysis of the process and causes of the Nationalist Party’s collapse, covering the period from July 1947 through September 1949.

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