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The Kuomintang of China (Traditional Chinese: 中國國民黨; Simplified Chinese: 中国国民党; Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng; Initials: KMT or GMD) is a Chinese political party that ruled China 1927-48 and then moved to Taiwan. The name translates as "China's National People's Party" and was historically referred to as the Chinese Nationalists. The Party was initially founded on August 25th 1912, by Sun Yat-sen but dissolved in November 1913. It reformed on October 10th 1919, again led by Sun Yat-sen, and became the ruling party in China. After Sun's death, the party was dominated from 1927 to 1975 by Chiang Kai-shek. Though the KMT lost the civil war with the Communist Party of China in 1949, the party took control of Taiwan and remains a major political party of the Republic of China based in Taiwan.

In China

Founded in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, the KMT helped topple the Qing Emperor and promoted modernization along Western lines. The party played a significant part in the first Chinese first National Assembly where is was the majority party. However the KMT failed to achieve complete control. The post of president was given to Yuan Shikai (1859-1916) as reward for his part in the revolution. Yuan Shikai abused his powers, over riding the constitution and creating strong tensions between himself and the other parties. In July 1913, the KMT staged a 'Second Revolution' to depose Yuan. This failed and the following crack down by Yuan led to the dissolution of the KMT and the exile of it's leadership, mostly to Japan. Subsequently Yuan Shikai had himself made Emperor of China.

In exile, Sun Yat-sen and other former KMT members founded several revolutionary parties under various names but with little success. These parties were united by Sun in 1919 under the title "The Kuomintang of China". The new party returned to Guangzhou in China in 1920 where it set up a government but failed to achieve control of all of China. After the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916, China fractured into many regions controlled by warlords. To strengthen the party's position, it accepted aid and support for the Soviet Union and its Comintern. The fledgling Communist Party of China was encouraged to join the KMT and thus formed the First United Front. The KMT gradually increased its sphere of influence from its Guangzhou base. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 and Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) became the KMT strong man. In 1926 Chiang led a military operation known as the Northern Expedition against the warlords that controled much of the country. In 1927, Chiang instigated the April 12 Incident in Shanghai in which the Communist Party of China and Communist elements of the KMT were purged.[1] The Northern Expedition proved successful and the KMT party came to power throughout China (except Manchuria) in 1927 under the leadership of Chiang. The capital of China was moved to Nanjing in order to be closer to the party's strong base in southern China.

The party was always concerned with strengthening Chinese identity at the same time it was discarding old traditions in the name of modernity. In 1929, the KMT government suppressed the textbook Modern Chinese History, widely used in secondary education. The Nationalists were concerned that, by not admitting the existence of the earliest emperors in ancient Chinese history, the book would weaken the foundation of the state. The case of the Modern Chinese History textbook reflects the symptoms of the period: banning the textbook strengthened the Nationalists' ideological control but also revealed their fear of the New Culture Movement and its more liberal ideological implications.

The KMT tried to destroy the Communist party of Mao Zedong, but was unable to stop the invasion by Japan, which controlled most of the coastline and major cities, 1937-1945. Chiang Kai-shek secured massive military and economic aid from the United States, and in 1945 became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with a veto. The KMT governed most of China until it was defeated in civil war by the Communists in 1949.

The collapse of the KMT regime can in part be attributed to the government's economic policies, which triggered capital flight among the businessmen who had been the KMT's strongest supporters. The cotton textile industry was the leading sector of Chinese industry, but in 1948, shortages of raw cotton plunged the industry into dire straits. The KMT government responded with an aggressive control policy that directly procured cotton from producers to ensure a sufficient supply and established a price freeze on cotton thread and textiles. This policy failed because of resistance from cotton textile industrialists, who relocated textile facilities and capital to Hong Kong or Taiwan around the end of 1948 and early 1949 when prices soared and inflation spiraled out of control. Their withdrawal of support was a shattering blow to the morale of the KMT.

KMT as modernizers

Historians until the 1990s often portrayed the KMT simply as a band of corrupt leaders who colluded with rich financiers and industrialists and cared little for China's workers and peasants, contrasting it with the supposed broad base of popular support for the communists. However, as Bodenhorn (2002) shows, scholars are coming to an appreciation of its efforts to build a vibrant and dynamic state, before it lost on the battlefield to the Communists, but then had a second chance on Taiwan where they did succeed.

The KMT promoted science and industry, and tried to eradicate such traditional practices as footbinding, and extravagant marriage and funerary customs. The KMT had a complicated relationship to Christian missionary activity. Many high officials (including Chiang) were Christians and American public opinion that favored China was based on the missionaries. At the same time in the villages the KMT criticized missionary activity as an egregious example of imperialism. No significant action against the churches was taken but criticizing them was a much safer way to spread the anti-imperialist message of the KMT than taking on foreign firms or the U.S. The anti-Christian movements were important tactically for gaining the support of students and others in society who were angry at the influence of outsiders in China.

On Taiwan

The leadership, the remaining army, and hundreds of thousands of businessmen and other supporters, two million in all, fled to Taiwan. They continued to operate there as the "Republic of China" and dreamed of invading and reconquering what they called "Mainland China". The United States, however, set up a naval cordon after 1950 that has since prevented an invasion in either direction. The KMT regime kept the island under martial law for 38 years, killing up to 30,000 opponents during its dictatorial rule by Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (1910-1988). As the original leadership died off, it had to held elections, so it allowed democracy, with full election of parliament in the early 1990s and first direct presidential election in 1996.

As the U.S. and China normalized relations after 1972, the status of Taiwan became a contested international issue. The KMT regime was ousted by the UN in 1971 and replaced there by the Communist regime.

Since the 1910s the KMT has received support from the international Chinese diaspora.

The KMT lost power in the 2000 elections to the Democratic Progressive party. It has restructured itself, but continues to represent the descendants of the mainland Chinese who arrived in 1949, as opposed to the native islanders who support the Democratic Progressive party. The KMT is committed to "One China" but the Democratic Progressive party seeks independence, a demand that is fiercely opposed by China, even to the point of military threats. The KMT under Ma Ying-jeouis won of 58% of the vote in the elections of 2008, ending eight years of rule by the rival Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

In Vietnam

The nationalist Vietnamese VNQDD is derived from the KMT; it disappeared after unification and was minor after partition.


Ideology has played a central role in the modernization and democratization of Taiwan under the KMT. It used the Three People's Principles of Sun Yat-sen in a pragmatic way, as some of its tenets were followed strictly, some were interpreted according to concrete needs, and others were ignored. The pragmatic character of Sun's designs facilitated the development of the KMT's ideology and undoubtedly facilitated its rule of Taiwan. Initially, the "people's livelihood" principle encouraged the KMT to carry out land reforms that laid down the basis for later rapid economic growth, while the democratic principle encouraged local self-governance that formed the basis for recent democratization. Sun placed election politics in a central position in the political constitution, and his plan has been largely fulfilled by the KMT in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the KMT's ideology has changed from authoritarian convictions to a democratic ideal. The KMT's elitist ideology has changed to a constituent-oriented ideology, and with this change to electoral politics the KMT is also converting from mainland-oriented nationalism to Taiwan-oriented nationalism.[2]

Primary sources

  • Esherick, Joseph W., ed. Lost Chance in China: The World War II Despatches of John S. Service. (1974). 409 pp.


  1. The event is also known as the Shanghai Massacre of 1927. See Tien-wei Wu, "A Review of the Wuhan Debacle: the Kuomintang-Communist Split of 1927." Journal of Asian Studies 1969 29(1): 125-143
  2. Paul W. Hao, “The Transformation of the KMT's Ideology,” ‘’ Issues & Studies’‘ 1996 32(2): 1-31