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31 March, 2022

ON 12 APRIL 1927, the bodies of three soldiers are displayed in coffins in Shanghai.

The Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, was the major power in the battle for control over the Republic of China after the fall of the Qing dynasty, in 1911. Sun Yat-sen, the ideological father of the Kuomintang, entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union in 1923 that provided the party with financial and military aid on the condition that it work together with the Communist Party of China. Soon after Sun’s death, in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek emerged as the head of the Kuomintang’s military branch, the National Revolutionary Army, and the figurehead of conservative forces within the party.

In February 1927, worker groups in Shanghai gained control of the city after defeating the warlord Sun Chuanfan. Chiang, meanwhile, was leading the National Revolutionary Army on a campaign against warlords in the country’s north. He arrived to seize the city, and began a bloody purge of communist and other leftist elements. By some estimates, as many as twelve thousand people were either killed or disappeared in Shanghai alone.

The purge in Shanghai was followed by a wider anti-communist campaign in all areas under Kuomintang control. The party’s alliance with the communists collapsed, and Chiang imposed himself as the Kuomintang’s supreme leader. The Chinese Communist Party lost a vast share of its membership in Chiang’s purges, but after retreating and regrouping in the countryside it began to fight back. The Chinese Civil War endured until 1949, when Chiang and his Kuomintang were pushed off the mainland and onto the island of Taiwan.