In the 1930's they came very close to extinction through the Long March. It could very easily have went the other way. Stalin was also more predisposed to the KMT during the 1930's and the war. However, with the onset of the Cold War things began to change. If Chiang had managed to keep Stalin firmly on side, I doubt Mao would've won, or at least as early as he did. One of Mao's main strengths was that the Kuomintang did most of the fighting against Japan whilst the CCP took a much more laid back approach. They were also gifted the vast arsenal of weaponry left by the Kwantung Army and the other IJA units as the puppet Manchukuo regime of Pu Yi, last Qing emperor of China, collapsed as the Red Army crashed into the region in the final weeks of the war. This gave them the twin advantages of a weakened and exhausted opponent and the weapons to fight them. Then there were Chiang and his regime's weaknesses. Chiang was very dictatorial as a leader. He didn't advance any social programmes or democracy, both in defiance of Sun Yat Sen's three principles (Democracy, Nationalism and Welfare). China under Chiang was also a kleptocracy and this outraged many of the intelligensia of China who flocked to the red banners of the CCP. Also, many of China's rural poor suffered under corrupt officials, tax collectors, a failed stagnant economy combined with rampant inflation and a system of landlordism that was very little removed from Feudalism. This meant that people were much more amenable to the change and slogans of equality peddled by the CCP. What is it they say, Communism never came to power in a successful country - or something along those lines. That was true of China.
In terms of what China looks like, I'll deal with this in two parts as it's an interesting question.
Democracy. In reality, once Chiang died his son and his son's successor gradually opened up Taiwan then democratised it. Today, Taiwan represents a fusion of Western democracy and traditional Chinese culture, vilified by Mao on the mainland, which makes it very attractive to Western Sinophile observers, such myself, but it also represents the vision of Sun Yat Sen come to pass. I'm not sure that this would've happened. The mainland is vast and it represents a very large number of ethnic minorities who ideally don't want to be in China. Koreans, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians to name just a few. I can see how democracy might've developed with increased contact with the West and with the country revolving around Sun Yat Sen and his three principles. I don't think it would've looked like the Western democracy in the ROC today however. I can see it being very Orbanist and with more of a state capitalist system kind of similar to China under Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Under Xi China is reverting to a more Maoist stance in my view.
Foreign policy and relations with America and the European imperial powers. China was an anti imperialist* state. China would have wanted Hong Kong and Macau back. I can see it 'doing an India' and just invading Macau to be honest, but I don't think it would've done so with Hong Kong. We would've handed back Hong Kong on time and we wouldn't be facing the problems we are now.
Korea is simple really, if Kim still invades the South, and I'm sure he would, he is swiftly defeated, Stalin doesn't intervene and Korea is reunified. The Kims are a historical footnote, at best. I suppose this defeat could hypothetically make the USSR much more interventionist, as China did to us in our reality, with the consequences for Cuba, but that's a different thread.
Vietnam is interesting. With Mao's defeat the question arises as to what happens to the CCP operatives who aren't killed or captured. I think they go south and hook up with Ho in Indochina. This could very well mean that Chiang intervenes in Vietnam and not Kennedy. A Vietnam with Chiang would've looked like the Soviets in Afghanistan. They border the country so can actually invade and occupy the North but are subjected to horrific guerilla attacks and are forced to withdraw eventually. I can see Indochina becoming a solidly Communist and anti Chinese region. Perhaps it destabilises Thailand too. This could hypothetically cause the fall of Chiang, and perhaps the KMT more widely if the defeat ks catastrophic enough. In other words, we have pictures similar to the last US helicopter leaving Saigon.
Relations with America would be interesting. They'd start off cordial but I think they would turn into frenemies. China would want to be the hegemon of Asia as would the US. They'd compete for influence among the Asian powers and I can see China stirring up anti Western pan Asianist sentiments in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philipines and Japan. China would also have close relations with the Soviet Union and would not be a nailed on NATO partner. It could act as both a bridge for the West but also a threat, with China periodically threatening to go over to Moscow during their periodic spats with Washington in Asia. This would be a feasible threat in this scenario as, without the Sino-Soviet split, there wouldn't be hostility. In this way, I can actually see China becoming the leader of the non aligned movement in this scenario. On the other hand, the bonds of war and similar stated goals, democracy, they'd cooperate. Chinese people I meet are also very pro Western in their outlook, whatever their government say, and with the Chinese people having more of a say in the political process I can see a more pro American outlook being adopted due to public pressure.
This is my two pence anyway😅
* - Anti European imperialism because it wanted to be the hegemon.
Interesting analysis. I disagree with the Vietnam element though. I think without a Chinese victory, Ho Chi Min doesn't get seduced by communism (he was originally a democrat) and Vietnam follows Chiang's path more.
It's now very common to hear people say "I'm offended by that". Well so f***ing what? - Stephen Fry, 2006.
I beg to differ with David respective to the North Korean footnote. Its state form is that of a classical Chinese empire from the times before the Mongolian takeover under a different name. It does evoke their most basic political concepts within the political sphere in China, and this explains to me why they have stuck unconditionally to the state of North Korea up to now. On a side note this hypothesis does provide also a coherent explanation as to why, unlike Germany, Korea has not been reunified yet.
A few years ago during the transition in North Korea there was talk that the regime would just implode naturally. I think it is illusory to expect anything such as long as China itself doesn't, and if there is to be any change in North Korea in the meantime it will require the nod from China, if not the impulsion.
On a second side note this modelisation allows to comprehend the contrast between the societies of a classical empirical Chinese society, and the Romanized (via Marx, Mao, and Deng) 'mainland' empire.
Despite the possibility of that appearance arising, i'm not implying that Koreans are Chinese by any means here, as much as i wouldn't that the English are Germans. But i didn't derail the thread either.
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