The Republic of China / ROC (1912 – 1949*): What You Need to Know and Why


With more and more Westerners interested in China, either out of pure intellectual curiosity in light of China’s economic as well as geopolitical ascension or as a result of proverbially having skin in the game (China-related investments), there is a growing demand for information related to the history of China. However, while Western interest in China’s history is on an upward trajectory, it is for the most part superficial interest.

In other words, the average Westerner usually doesn’t want to dig deep and limits himself to being exposed to a few talking points related to China’s post-1949 history (to put it differently, the history of the People’s Republic of China, that has been established in 1949), blissfully ignoring not decades, not centuries but downright millennia-worth of information in the process.

Here at, we don’t want to let that happen.

As such, we dig a lot deeper and through this article, will explain what the Republic of China was (or still is, depending on whom you ask, hence the “*” in the title) all about.

Simply put, after the Qing Dynasty (the last dynasty of Imperial China) was overthrown as a result of the Xinhai revolution, the Republic of China was established back in January of 1912. It’s important to understand that the Qing Dynasty tends to be associated with a period of severe humiliation in the collective mind of the Chinese.


Primarily as a result of the fact that a technologically inferior China (due to missing out on the benefits associated with the First Industrial Revolution) which had little interest in conducting extensive trade with European nations was… well, forced to do so at gunpoint. Easily defeated by the British in the Opium Wars and compelled to make concession after concession to the Europeans, Japanese and Russians, let’s just say it is a period of which the average Chinese citizen doesn’t exactly speak all that fondly.

However, the beginning of China’s post-imperial trajectory was anything but smooth. Despite the Kuomintang party winning the 1912 elections and Sun Yat-sen therefore becoming the first president of the ROC, political power was taken away by the Beiyang Army, following the assassination of the party’s president Song Jiaoren.

As of that point, Yuan Shikai (the Beiyang Army leader) considered himself the new emperor of China but his short “rule” was marked by severe unrest and as of his death in 1916, the Qing Dynasty was actually brought back for a short amount of time and what came to be known as the Warlord Era ensued, with even various Beiyang Army interest groups clashing with one another.

Back in 1921, the Kuomintang gained control over a significant territory and established a government in Canton with the help of (believe it or not) the Communist Party of China. Furthermore, taking advantage of the fact that an economic collapse was manifesting itself in Northern China as a result of the economy being choked by warlord demands (including but not limited to high taxes), the so-called Northern Expedition was initiated in 1926 and in 1928, the Beiyang government was successfully overthrown.

However, the new leader of the Kuomintang (general Chiang Kai-shek) had little tolerance for the Communist Party of China and after massacring CPC members in Shanghai, forced the Communist Party of China to start a rebellion and the Chinese Civil War began.

Despite all this turbulence, some degree of modernization did take place in China but the various conflicts between the nationalists of Kuomintang, the CPC and various warlords took their toll on China. To make matters worse, the Empire of Japan was becoming more and more aggressive and in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army essentially invaded China, something many historians consider the actual beginning of World War II.

Finally, Japan’s 1945 surrender paved the way for the resumption of the conflict between nationalists and communists in China, with the communists ultimately gaining control over China in 1949 and proclaiming the People’s Republic of China. The nationalists were forced to retreat to Taiwan, leading to the current China-Taiwan situation which has been covered extensively in another article.

To this day, we do not have a final resolution when it comes to the previously-mentioned conflict and this begs the question: does the Republic of China still exist? Let’s just say there will never be an answer to this question that everyone can agree on. One thing is certain, that two entities claimed to be the “true” China after 1949: the People’s Republic of China which accounts for the overwhelming majority of China’s territory (mainland China) and the Republic of China or Taiwan. At this point in time, a fragile consensus exists, with both entities agreeing that there is only one China but each party claiming that it represents the China in question, with the other regime being illegitimate. Again, however, the issue has been covered at length in a separate article.

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