There's general agreement that the Japanese invasion of China benefited the CPC by interrupting the civil war, forcing the KMT to fight the Japanese instead of continuing the CPC purge, which they were almost successful in doing. The CPC and KMT did mostly fight the Japanese instead of each other, with the CPC carrying out guerilla operations with the Eighth Route Army. The bulk of the fighting, at least conventional, was with the KMT.

Some claim that the relatively low participation of CPC in the defence of China is due to their opportunism, that they deliberately avoided conflict in order to preserve their forces for the inevitable resumption of the civil war. Another interpretation is that it was more due to their lack of manpower and war materiel. Which of these is closer to the truth?

Some facts that I've found so far (unfortunately they are from books that I don't own and can't verify):

  • After the Long March in 1935, the CPC were left with ~8000 military personnel. At the outbreak of the war, this number was ~30,000. At the end of the war, this was ~1,200,000.
  • The last major operation carried out by CPC during the war with Japan was the Hundred Regiments Offensive in late-1940, which involved ~400,000 of CPC's troops. The commanding officer, Peng Dehuai, was criticised by Mao for revealing their strength to the KMT, and was later purged in the Cultural Revolution.

Does anyone have more insight into this period of CPC history? I realise this is a highly-contentious period, so please stick to the facts and back up your answers with evidence.


2 Answers 2


The PRC being currently in power, they have been claiming that the CCP almost single-handedly defeated the Japanese – this I know from last year's news reports on Oct 1st 2016 when the PRC boasted its military might on national day. (I know this as I live in HK, I can find sources if you want, but I cannot ensure that they will be in English as most English-printed newspapers avoid provoking the national government.)

The opening of Soviet archives has led to research on their documents on the CCP, here is a source recently revealing that Mao colluded with the Japanese, meeting them and even agreeing on a truce: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/2016/07/02/truth-of-mao-zedongs-collusion-with-the-japanese-army-1/

A quote from the above:

Mao Zedong issued a secret order to Pan Hannian, telling him to negotiate directly with the Japanese army this time... [the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s local agency Maison Iwai] received a request from Pan Hannian, who said that “Actually, we would like to request a truce between the Japanese army and the CPC forces in Northern China.”

So my answer would be: to a major extent, but though there were strategical reasons behind their avoidance of war, the CCP was also almost incapable of waging war against the Japanese for lack of modern equipment. Furthermore, they had been holed up in the mountainous region of Shaanxi and Yan'an after the Long March, away from the Japanese who focused on urban areas, cities along the Eastern coast. To fight them would have required the CCP to deliberately treck to those areas, which would diminish supplies and strength.

However, there was still CCP fighting to a minor extent, in the form of guerrilla warfare. The following I quote from Jonathan D. Spence's The Search for Modern China: pg 461

"...since neither the Japanese, the provisional north China government, nor the Inner Mongolian Federation had complete control over [the CCP's] terrain, there was ample room for Communist political maneuvers, sabotage, and even the recruitment of new troops in to the Eighth Route Army. In addition, the survivors of the Communists forces who at the time of the Long March had been left behind in central China to conduct guerrilla actions were now reorganized as the New Fourth Army. With 12,000 combat troops, this army was nominally subject to overall Guomindang direction by was actually commanded by veteran Communist officers ... with the Long March veteran Zhu De serving as commander in chief and Peng Dehuai as his deputy commander - but also of large numbers of local, full-time armed forces based permanently in their own home areas. These local regulars were supported by militia forces of men and women aged sixteen to forty-five who held down regular jobs in farms or the towns, and were poorly armed but invaluable in gathering intelligence and giving logistical support and shelter to the regular forces."

(I selected this section as CCP "fighting" also consisted largely of intelligence rather than direct military confrontation, used for guerrilla fighting - where this counts is up to you.)

"... in 1940 the Communists launched a series of attacks against Japanese strong points, roads and railways in northern China. Called the Hundred Regiments Offensive – in fact as many as 104 regiments of CCP-affiliated troops were involved at different times – the attacks were coordinated by General Peng Dehuai ... Despite the courage with which the attacks were carried out, none of these objectives was attained. Though the Japanese did suffer heavy losses, the regular Japanese forces, with puppet troops as reinforcements, launched shattering counterattacks, often of immense cruelty, in which whole villages were destroyed to the last human being, farm animal, and building ... the Eighth Route Army lost 100,000 men to death, wounds, or desertion. Nor did events in north China stop GMD generals in central China from paying attention to the New Fourth Army. They were fully aware that the New Fourth Army gave the CCP a vital strategic presence in the Yangzi delta, which was China's richest food-producing area and the focus for much of China's heavy industry, now Japanese-controlled."

"General Peng Dehuai attempted to combat the Japanese witht he conventional techniques of modern warfare, but his forces could not overcome Japan's strength in manpower and supply ... they were in no position to act ... "

  • Can I just say - from a chinese point of view - this collusion between Mao and the Japanese is HUGE. I have more credible sources, some books that I have to go through first, but right now I have found a Chinese BBC report on it from 2015, but... its in Chinese ... google translate definitely helps though - even with grammatical errors, it's still understandable: bbc.com/zhongwen/trad/world/2015/12/151225_japan_professor_book Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:43

First of all you should know 蒋介石(Jiang Jieshi)'s "攘外必先安内" (must end the civil 'riot' then we can go against Japanese) policy, he was not motivated to confront Japanese at the beginning, in contrast, the CPC's policy was "一致对外" (we must fight together with Japanese), gained most of China people's support. If it was not the Xi'an Incident (西安事变, Dec,1936),蒋介石 wouldn't start to fight Japanese at all. He lost this battle(civil war) mainly because his attitude with the Japanese, and he lost at the beginning (in 1936, CPC's troops were weak indeed).

Therefore you question title is completely wrong, it was not CPC who was avoiding fight Japanese but 蒋介石's KMT.

You should not only read English or other external sourced materials on this period of history, lacking of CPC side of information would not benefit your research. I suggest you read more from both sides of the war as to see whether there was only the hundred regiments offensive or more activities. And I suggest you read whether CPC can gather that much people in that period, and whether KMT lost people's support that fast.

There is a recent movie called 1942 (《一九四二》) , that was all about the disaster under the war condition, and how was the KMT's government reacted at that time, then you know the reason.

  • 6
    Chiang's reluctance to fight the Japanese is well-known and well-documented, but that is not the question; the question is whether the CPC could be said to have done the same and to what extent. You suggest that I read other sources but which ones exactly? Movies are generally poor sources for historical evidence. Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 3:24
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    I don't think you 'll get the right answer for the wrong question anyway. If you ask for both sides, CPC and KMT, none of them would tell you they avoided fighting with Japanese invaders. You question should be if there's any circumstance that one side drove Japanese troop to the the other side as sabotage, so called 'avoiding fight with Japanese'. I believe there was such sabotage on both sides. But in general, when the Eight Route Army was built,this army belonged to KMT's troop structure, they were generally doing cooperation work at the time. Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 5:47
  • As for the resources, you can check zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%85%AB%E8%B7%AF%E5%86%9B, 360doc.com/content/10/1129/18/894924_73498598.shtml, or some books like this one book.douban.com/subject/6531475 Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 5:57
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    I don't see this as a helpful response. Suggesting someone watch a movie, read non-English language sources, and ask a different question than the one they asked is also not very constructive.
    – kmlawson
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 17:39

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