In 1912, Sun Yixian stepped down as president in favor of Yuan Shikai (yoo AHN shih KY), a powerful general. Sun hoped that Yuan would create a strong central government. Instead, the ambitious general tried to set up a new dynasty. The military, however, did not support Yuan, and opposition divided the nation. When Yuan died in 1916, China plunged into still greater disorder.

In the provinces, local warlords seized power. As rival armies battled for control, the economy collapsed and millions of peasants suffered terrible hardships. Famine and attacks by bandits added to their misery.

Foreign Imperialism

During this period of upheaval, foreign powers increased their influence over Chinese affairs. They dominated Chinese port cities and extended their influence inland. During World War I, Japanese officials presented Yuan Shikai with the Twenty-One Demands, a list of demands that sought to make China a Japanese protectorate.

With China too weak to resist, Yuan gave in to some of the demands. Then, at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Allies gave Japan control over some former German possessions in China. That news infuriated Chinese Nationalists.

Painting of a man saluting on horseback, surrounded by other soldiers on horseback.

Jiang Jieshi led the Guomindang after Sun's death in 1925. He headed the Guomindang government in China from 1928 to 1949.

The May Fourth Movement Seeks Reform

In response, student protests erupted in Beijing on May 4, 1919, and later spread to cities across China. “China's territory may be conquered,” they declared, “but it cannot be given away!” The students organized boycotts of Japanese goods and businesses.

The protests set off a cultural and intellectual ferment known as the May Fourth Movement. Western-educated leaders blamed the imperialists' success on China's own weakness. As in Meiji Japan, Chinese reformers wanted to learn from the West and use that knowledge to end foreign domination. Most reformers rejected Confucian traditions in favor of Western science and ideas such as democracy and nationalism.

Women played a key role in the May Fourth Movement. They campaigned to end traditional practices, such as footbinding and the seclusion of women within the home. Their work helped open doors for women in education and the economy.

Chinese Communism Is Born

Some Chinese turned to the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Lenin. The Russian Revolution seemed to offer a model of how a strong, well-organized party could transform a nation.

The Soviet Union trained Chinese students and military officers to become the vanguard, or elite leaders, of a communist revolution. By the 1920s, a small group of Chinese Communists had formed their own political party.

Nationalists and Communists

In 1921, Sun Yixian and his Guomindang (gwoh meen DAWNG) or Nationalist party, established a government in south China. Sun planned to raise an army to defeat the warlords and unite China. When Western democracies refused to help, Sun accepted aid from the Soviet Union and joined forces with the small group of Chinese Communists to defeat the warlords. However, he still believed that China's future should be based on his Three Principles of the People.

The Nationalists and Jiang Jieshi

After Sun's death in 1925, an energetic young army officer, Jiang Jieshi (jahng jeh shur), took over the Guomindang. Jiang Jieshi was determined to smash the power of the warlords and reunite China, but he had little interest in either democracy or communism.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments