After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Chiang resigned as Chairman of the National Government. He returned shortly afterwards, adopting the slogan "first internal pacification, then external resistance". However, this policy of avoiding a frontal war against the Japanese was widely unpopular. In 1932, while Chiang was seeking first to defeat the Communists, Japan launched an advance on Shanghai and bombarded Nanjing. This disrupted Chiang's offensives against the Communists for a time, although it was the northern factions of Hu Hanmin's Guangzhou (Canton) government (notably the 19th Route Army) that primarily led the offensive against the Japanese during this skirmish. Brought into the Nationalist army immediately after the battle, the 19th Route Army's career under Chiang would be cut short after it was disbanded for demonstrating socialist tendencies.
In December 1936, Chiang flew to Xi'an to coordinate a major assault on the Red Army and the Communist Republic that had retreated into Yan'an. However, Chiang's allied commander Zhang Xueliang, whose forces were used in his attack and whose homeland of Manchuria had been recently invaded by the Japanese, did not support the attack on the Communists. On December 12, Zhang and several other Nationalist generals kidnapped Chiang for two weeks in what is known as the Xi'an Incident. They forced Chiang into making a "Second United Front" with the Communists against Japan. After releasing Chiang and returning to Nanjing with him, Zhang was placed under house arrest and the generals who had assisted him were executed. Chiang's commitment to the Second United Front was nominal at best, and it was all but broken up in 1941
Second Sino-Japanese War: 1937–1945The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1937, and in August of that year Chiang sent 600,000 of his best-trained and equipped soldiers to defend Shanghai. With over 200,000 Chinese casualties, Chiang lost the political cream of his Whampoa-trained officers. Though Chiang lost militarily, the battle dispelled Japanese claims that it could conquer China in three months and demonstrated to the Western powers that the Chinese would continue the fight. By December, the capital city of Nanjing had fallen to the Japanese, and Chiang moved the government inland, first to Wuhan and later to Chongqing. Having lost most of China's economic and industrial centers, Chiang withdrew into the hinterlands, stretching the Japanese supply lines and bogging down Japanese soldiers in the vast Chinese interior. As part of a policy of protracted resistance, Chiang authorized the use of scorched earth tactics, resulted in many civilian deaths. During the Nationalist's retreat from Nanjing, the dams around the city were deliberately destroyed by the Nationalist army in order to delay the Japanese advance, killing 500,000 people in the subsequent 1938 Yellow River flood.
When the Japanese army approached Wuhan in the fall of 1938, Chiang's forces abandoned the city without a fight and withdrew farther inland, to Chongqing. While en route to Chongqing, the Nationalist army intentionally started the "fire of Changsha", which lasted for three days, destroyed two thirds of the city, killed twenty thousand civilians, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. This fire was deliberately caused by the retreating Nationalist army in order to prevent the city from falling to the Japanese. Due to an organizational error (it was claimed), the fire was begun without any warning to the residents of the city. The Nationalists eventually blamed three local commanders for the fire and executed them. Newspapers across China blamed the fire on (non-KMT) arsonists, but the blaze contributed to a nation-wide loss of support for the KMT.
In 1939 Muslim leaders Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Ma Fuliang were sent by Chiang to several Middle eastern countries, including Egypt, Turkey, and Syria, to gain support for the Chinese War against Japan, and to express his support for Muslims.
The Japanese, controlling the puppet-state of Manchukuo and much of China's eastern seaboard, appointed Wang Jingwei as a Quisling-ruler of the occupied Chinese territories around Nanjing. Wang named himself President of the Executive Yuan and Chairman of the National Government (not the same 'National Government' as Chiang's), and led a surprisingly large[quantify] minority of anti-Chiang/anti-Communist Chinese against his old comrades. He died in 1944, within a year of the end of World War II.
In 1942 Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek personally went on tour in northwestern China in Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Qinghai, where he met both Muslim Generals Ma Buqing and Ma Bufang. He also met the Muslim Generals Ma Hongbin and Ma Hongkui separately.
Ma Bufang repaired Yushu airport to prevent Tibetan separatists from seeking independence. Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942. Ma Bufang complied and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet. Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with aerial bombardment if they worked with the Japanese. Ma Bufang attacked the Tibetan Buddhist Tsang monastery in 1941. He also constantly attacked the Labrang monastery.
General Joseph Stilwell, an American military adviser to Chiang during World War II, strongly criticized Chiang and his generals for what he saw as their incompetence and corruption. In 1944, the United States Army Air Corps commenced Operation Matterhorn in order to bomb Japan's steel industry from bases to be constructed in mainland China. This was meant to fulfill President Roosevelt's promise to Chiang Kai-shek to begin bombing operations against Japan by November 1944. However, Chiang Kai-shek's subordinates refused to take airbase construction seriously until enough capital had been delivered to permit embezzlement on a massive scale. Stilwell estimated that at least half of the $100 million spent on construction of airbases was embezzled by Nationalist party officials.
Relationship with the United StatesChiang did not like the Americans, and was suspicious of their motives. When he suspected that the American Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) was showing an interest in seizing control of Chiang's regime, Chiang ordered the plotters arrested and executed. Chiang felt no friendship towards the United States, and viewed it as pursuing imperialist motives in China. Chiang did not want to be suboordinate to either the United States or the Soviet Union but jockeyed for room between the two and wanted to get the most out of the Soviet Union and the Americans without taking sides. He predicted that war would come between the two and that they would both seek China's alliance, which he would use to China's advantage. Abusive incidents followed a drunk American general making comments about Chiang's regime, and a low point in Sino-American relations followed the rape of a Chinese university student by American marines shortly after World War II. American officials, notably Stilwell, found Chiang to be incompetent and corrupt.
Chiang also differed from the Americans in ideological issues. He organized the Kuomintang as a Leninist-style party, oppressed dissension, and banned democracy. By the end of World War II, Chiang had come to believe that democracy was impossible for China to achieve.
Chiang played off the Soviets and Americans against each other during the war. He first told the Americans that they would be welcome in talks between the Soviet Union and China then secretly told the Soviets that the Americans were unimportant and that their opinions would not be considered. Chiang also used American support and military power in China against the ambitions of the Soviet Union to dominate the talks, stopping the Soviets from taking full advantage of the situation in China with the threat of American military action against the Soviets.