The Chinese Civil War Begins Amidst the Northern Expedition
The Chinese Civil War (traditional Chinese: 國共內戰; simplified Chinese: 国共内战; pinyin: Guógòng Nèizhàn; literally "Nationalist-Communist Civil War") was fought between the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). The war began in April 1927, amidst the Northern Expedition. The war represented an ideological split between the Western-supported Nationalist KMT and the Soviet-supported Communist CPC. In communist historiography the war was also known as the "War of Liberation" (traditional Chinese: 解放戰爭; simplified Chinese: 解放战争; pinyin: Jiefang Zhanzheng).
The civil war carried on intermittently until the Second Sino-Japanese War interrupted it, resulting in the two parties forming a Second United Front. The Japanese assault and occupation of Eastern China was an opportunistic attack made possible by China's internal turmoil. Japan's campaign was defeated in 1945, marking the end of World War II, and China's full-scale civil war resumed in 1946. After a further four years, 1950 saw a cessation of major hostilities—with the newly founded People's Republic of China controlling mainland China (including Hainan Island), and the Republic of China's jurisdiction being restricted to Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and several outlying Fujianese islands. To this day, since no armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed, there is controversy as to whether the Civil War has legally ended, even though the two sides have close economic ties.
Nowadays, the Northern Expedition is viewed favorably by Chinese because it ended a period of disorder and started the formation of an effective central government. However it did not solve the warlord problem completely, as many warlords still had large armies that served their own needs.
The irony is that when the old warlords such as Wu and Sun were terminated, new warlords such as Li Zongren and his New Guangxi Clique became established. In addition, Yan Xishan's Shanxi clique, Feng Yuxiang and his Northwestern or Guominjun Clique, Zhang Xueliang of the Northeastern or Fengtian Clique remained.
Local provincial warlords who seized or enhanced their power included Tang Shengzhi in Hunan, Chiang Kuang-Nai in Fujian, Sheng Shicai of Xinjiang, Long Yun of Yunnan, Wang Jialie of Guizhou, Liu Xiang and Liu Wenhui of the Sichuan Clique, Han Fuqu of Shandong, Bie Tingfang (别廷芳) of Henan, the Ma Clique of Ma Bufang and his family in Qinghai, Ma Hongkui in Ningxia, and Ma Zhongyin in Gansu, Chen Jitang and his Cantonese Clique, Lu Diping (鲁涤平) of Jiangxi and Jing Yuexiu (井岳秀) of Shaanxi.
The wars between these new warlords claimed more lives than ever during the 1930's. This would prove to be a major problem for the KMT all the way through World War II and the following civil war.
Chiang did get the greatest benefit from the expedition, however, for the victory achieved his personal goal of becoming paramount leader. Furthermore, Chiang made the military command superior to KMT party leadership, which resulted in his dictatorship later.
Significantly, even before the objectives of the Northern Expedition had been achieved, cooperation between KMT and CPC broke down. In the April 12 Incident in the summer of 1927, CPC members and parts of the KMT political left-wing broke their ties with Chiang. But with the military now firmly in Chiang's grasp, these proved no match for him, and all CPC members of the KMT were expelled. This would also prove to be the beginning of a twenty-year KMT/CPC civil war that ended with the KMT's withdrawal to Taiwan in 1949.
It is worth noting that the Northern Expedition was one of only two times in Chinese history when China was united by a conquest from south to north. The other time was when the Ming Dynasty succeeded in expelling the Mongol-Yuan Dynasty from China.