The Shanghai massacre of 12 April 1927, sometimes called the April 12 Incident, was the violent suppression of Communist Party organizations in Shanghai by the military forces of Chiang Kai-shek and conservative factions in the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT). Following the incident, conservative KMT elements carried out a full-scale purge of Communists in all areas under their control, and even more violent suppressions occurred in cities such as Guangzhou and Changsha.〔Wilbur, Nationalist Revolution 114〕 The purge led to an open split between KMT left and right wings, with Chiang Kai-shek establishing himself as the leader of the right wing at Nanjing in opposition to the original left-wing KMT government led by Wang Jingwei in Wuhan.
By July 15, 1927, the Wuhan regime had also expelled the Communists in its ranks, effectively ending the KMT's four-year alliance with Soviet Russia and its cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party. During the remainder of 1927, the Communists launched several revolts in an attempt to win back power, marking the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. With the failure of the Guangzhou Uprising (December 11–13, 1927), the Chinese Communist Party's eclipse was complete; it was two decades before they were able to launch another major urban offensive.〔Wilbur, Nationalist Revolution 170.〕 The incident was a key moment in the complex sequence of events that set the stage for the first ten years of the Nationalist government.
Depending on writers' political views, the incident is also sometimes referred to as the "April 12 Purge" (四·一二清黨), "Shanghai Massacre",〔Zhao, Suisheng. () (2004). A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-5001-7.〕 the "April 12 Counter-revolutionary Coup" (四·一二反革命政變), or the "April 12 Tragedy" (四·一二慘案).
The roots of the April 12 Incident go back to the Kuomintang's alliance with the Soviet Union, formally initiated by KMT's founder Sun Yat-sen after discussions with Soviet diplomat Adolph Joffe in January 1923. This alliance included both financial and military aid and a small but important group of Soviet political and military advisors, headed by Michael Borodin.〔Wilbur 1976, 135–140.〕 The Soviet Union's conditions for alliance and aid included cooperation with the small Chinese Communist Party. Sun agreed to let the Communists join the KMT as individuals, but ruled out an alliance with them or their participation as an organized bloc; in addition, once in the KMT he demanded that the Communists support KMT's party ideology and observe party discipline. Following their admission, Communist activities within the KMT, often covert, soon attracted opposition to this policy among prominent KMT members.〔Wilbur1976, 180-81.〕 Internal conflicts between left- and right-wing leaders of the KMT with regards to the CCP problem continued right up to the launch of the Northern Expedition.
Plans for a Northern Expedition originated with Sun Yat-sen. After his expulsion from the government in Peking, by 1920 Sun made a military comeback, gaining control of some parts of Guangdong province. His goal was to extend his control over all of China, particularly Peking. After Sun's death from cancer in March 1925, KMT leaders continued to push the plan, and finally launched the Expedition in June 1926. Initial successes in the first months of the Expedition soon saw the KMT's National Revolutionary Army (NRA) in control of Guangdong and large areas in Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi and Fujian.
With the growth of KMT authority and military strength, the struggle for control of the Party's direction and leadership intensified. In January 1927 the NRA commanded by Chiang Kai-shek captured Wuhan and went on to attack Nanchang, while KMT leader Wang Jingwei and his left-wing allies, along with the Chinese Communists and Soviet agent Borodin, transferred the seat of the Nationalist Government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. On March 1, 1927, the Nationalist government reorganized the Military Commission and placed Chiang under its jurisdiction, while secretly plotting to arrest him. Later Chiang found out about this plot, which most likely led to his determination to purge the CCP from KMT.〔Chang Kuo-t'ao, The rise of the Chinese Communist Party: 1928–1938, p. 581〕
In response to the advances of the NRA, Communists in Shanghai began to plan uprisings against the warlord forces controlling the city. On March 21–22, 1927, KMT and CCP union workers led by Zhou Enlai and Chen Duxiu launched an armed uprising in Shanghai, defeating the warlord forces of the Zhili clique. The victorious union workers occupied and governed urban Shanghai except for the international settlements prior to the arrival of the NRA's Eastern Route Army led by Generals Bai Chongxi and Li Zongren. After the Nanjing Incident, in which foreign concessions in Nanjing were attacked and looted, both the right wing of the Kuomintang and western powers became alarmed by the growth of Communist influence, while CCP continued to organize daily mass student protests and labor strikes demanding the return of Shanghai international settlements to Chinese control. With Bai's army firmly in control of Shanghai, on April 2, 1927 the Central Control Commission of KMT, led by former Chancellor of Peking University Cai Yuanpei, determined that CCP actions were anti-revolutionary and undermined the national interest of China, and voted unanimously to purge the communists from KMT.〔Chen Lifu, Columbia interviews, part 1, p.29〕
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