Neha Patil (Editor)

Shanghai massacre

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
approx. 5,000 soldiers of the 2nd Division of the 26th Army & members of various gangs
thousands of workers

12 April 1927

300–400 killed, 5,000 missing

Beginning of the Chinese Civil War


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. 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. 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.

A man was stabbed by a man and surrounded by many people during the Shanghai massacre. The man (center) is kneeling on the floor crying for help

Depending on writers' political views, the incident is also sometimes referred to as the "April 12 Purge" (四·一二清黨), "Shanghai Massacre", the "April 12 Counter-revolutionary Coup" (四·一二反革命政變), or the "April 12 Tragedy" (四·一二慘案).

Shanghai massacre Shanghai Massacre by spencer bildfell on Prezi

Long term causes of shanghai massacre and the chinese civil war


A devasted area in Shanghai

The roots of the April 12 Incident go back to the Kuomintang's alliance with the Soviet Union, formally initiated by KMT 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. 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. 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 he had 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--after purging Guangzhou's Communists and Soviet advisors during the "Canton Coup" on 20 May 1926--finally launched the Expedition that June. 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.

A communist being executed by a Nationalist soldier

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 the Nationalist government reorganized the Military Commission and placed Chiang under its jurisdiction, while secretly plotting to arrest him. Chiang found out about this plot, which most likely led to his determination to purge the CCP from KMT.

Arresting a Chinese rebel at Tientsin, China

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 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 Gen. Bai Chongxi and Gen. 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 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 the KMT.

The Purge

On April 5 Wang Jingwei arrived in Shanghai from overseas and met with CCP leader Chen Duxiu. After their meeting they issued a joint declaration re-affirming the principle of cooperation between KMT and CCP, despite urgent pleas from Chiang and other KMT elders to eliminate Communist influence. When Wang left Shanghai for Wuhan the next day, Chiang asked Green Gang leader Du Yuesheng and other gang leaders in Shanghai to form a rival union to oppose the Shanghai labor union controlled by the Communists, and made final preparations for purging CCP members.

On April 9 Chiang declared martial law in Shanghai and the Central Control Commission issued the "Party Protection and National Salvation" proclamation, denouncing the Wuhan Nationalist Government's policy of cooperation with CCP. On April 11 Chiang issued a secret order to all provinces under the control of his forces to purge Communists from the KMT.

Before dawn on April 12 gang members began to attack district offices controlled by the union workers, including Zhabei, Nanshi and Pudong. Under an emergency decree, Chiang ordered the 26th Army to disarm the workers' militias; that resulted in more than 300 people being killed and wounded. The union workers organized a mass meeting denouncing Chiang Kai-shek on April 13, and thousands of workers and students went to the headquarters of the 2nd Division of the 26th Army to protest. Soldiers opened fire, killing 100 and wounding many more. Chiang dissolved the provisional government of Shanghai, labor unions and all other organizations under Communist control, and reorganized a network of unions with allegiance to the Kuomintang and under the control of Du Yuesheng. Over 1000 Communists were arrested, some 300 were executed and more than 5,000 went missing. Western news reports later nicknamed Gen. Bai "The Hewer of Communist Heads". Some National Revolutionary Army commanders with Communist backgrounds who were graduates of Whampoa Military Academy kept their sympathies for the Communists hidden and were not arrested, and many switched their allegiance to the CCP after the start of the Chinese Civil War.

Aftermath and significance

For the Kuomintang, 39 members of the Kuomintang Central Committee in Wuhan publicly denounced Chiang as a traitor to Sun Yat-sen, including Sun's widow Soong Ching-ling immediately after the purge. However, Chiang was defiant, forming a new Nationalist Government at Nanjing to rival the Communist-tolerant Nationalist Government in Wuhan controlled by Wang Jingwei on April 18.

The twin rival KMT governments, known as the Ninghan (Nanjing and Wuhan) Split (Chinese: 宁汉分裂), did not last long because the Wuhan Kuomintang also began to violently purge Communists as well after Wang found out about Stalin's secret order to Borodin to organize CCP's efforts to overthrow the left-wing KMT and take over the Wuhan government. More than 10,000 communists in Canton, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Changsha were arrested and executed within 20 days. The Soviet Union officially terminated its cooperation with the KMT while Wang, fearing retribution as a Communist sympathizer, fled to Europe. The Wuhan Nationalist government soon disintegrated, leaving Chiang as the sole legitimate leader of the Kuomintang. In the year after April 1927, over 300,000 people were killed across China in anti-Communist suppression campaigns carried out by the KMT.

On the Communists' side, Chen Duxiu and his Soviet advisers, who had promoted cooperation with the KMT, were discredited and lost their leadership roles in the CCP. Chen was personally blamed, forced to resign and replaced by Qu Qiubai, who did not change Chen's policies in any fundamental way. The CCP planned for worker uprisings and revolutions in the urban areas.

The first battles of the ten-year Chinese Civil War began with armed Communist insurrections in Changsha, Shantou, Nanchang and Guangzhou. During the Nanchang Uprising in August Communist troops under Zhu De were defeated but escaped from Kuomintang forces by withdrawing to the mountains of western Jiangxi. In September Mao Zedong led a small peasant army in what has come to be called the Autumn Harvest Uprising in Hunan province. It was defeated by Kuomintang forces and the survivors retreated to Jiangxi as well, forming the first elements of what would become the People's Liberation Army. By the time the CCP Central Committee was forced to flee Shanghai in 1933, Mao had established peasant-based soviets in Jiangxi and Hunan provinces, transforming the Communist Party's base of support from the urban proletariat to the countryside, where the People's War would be fought.

In June 1928 the National Revolutionary Army captured the Beiyang Government's capital of Beijing, leading to the nominal unification of China and worldwide recognition of the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek as the legal government of the Republic.


Shanghai massacre Wikipedia