January 7, 1941 – Chinese Kuomintang forces open fire on surrounded Communist New Fourth Army at Maolin, killing or capturing 7,000 troops

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Chinese Kuomintang forces

Original caption: 11/30/1944-China: Standing on a raised platform, Mao Tse-Tung, leader of China's Communists, addresses some of his followers. In the north of China, he and his Communist armies control some 80 million people and thousands of square miles of territory, in defiance of the Kuomintang Government. November 30, 1944 China

The New Fourth Army Incident, also known as the South Anhui Incident, occurred in China in January 1941 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which the Chinese Civil War was in theory suspended, uniting the Communists and Nationalists against the Japanese.

It is significant as the end of real cooperation between the Nationalists and Communists. Today, ROC and PRC historians view the New Fourth Army Incident differently. From the ROC point of view, it was punishment of Communist insubordination; from the PRC view, it was Nationalist treachery.

ROC viewpoint

In the fall of 1940, the Communist New Fourth Army attacked Nationalist forces under Han Deqin. However, Benton’s book New Fourth Army argues the Communist attack was a counterattack, a response to an initial attack by Han Deqin, and that this initial attack was the result of Chen Yi’s goading and harassment of Nationalist forces. Regardless, the conflict led to heavy losses for the Communists.

PRC viewpoint

For PRC historians the incident began in December 1940, when Chiang Kai-shek ordered Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army to withdraw from Anhui and Jiangsu to the north of the old Yellow River track in a month.

In response, the Communist Party only agreed to move the New Fourth Army troops in Southern Anhui (Wannan) to the northern shore of the Yangtze River. On 4 January, the 9000-strong force started to move from Yunling Township in Jing County towards Jiangsu, planning to cross the river along three routes.


On January 5, the Communist forces were surrounded in Maolin Township by a Nationalist force of 80,000 led by Shangguan Yunxiang and attacked on January 7. After days of fighting, heavy losses – including many civilian workers who staffed the army’s political headquarters – were inflicted on the New Fourth Army due to the overwhelming numbers of Nationalist troops.

On January 13, Ye Ting, wanting to save his men, went to Shangguan Yunxiang’s headquarters to negotiate terms. Upon arrival, Ye was detained. The New Fourth Army’s political commissar Xiang Ying was killed, and only 2,000 people, led by Huang Huoxing and Fu Qiutao, were able to break out.


Chiang Kai-shek ordered the New Fourth Army disbanded on January 17, and sent Ye Ting to a military tribunal. However, on January 20, the Chinese Communist Party in Yan’an ordered the reorganization of the army. Chen Yi was the new army commander.

Liu Shaoqi was the political commissar. The new headquarters was in Jiangsu, which was now the general headquarters for the New Fourth Army and the Eighth Route Army. Together, they comprised seven divisions and one independent brigade, totalling over 90,000 troops.

Because of this incident, according to the Communist Party of China, the Nationalist Party of China was criticized for creating internal strife when the Chinese were supposed to be united against the Japanese; the Communist Party of China, on the other hand, was seen as heroes at the vanguard of the fight against the Japanese and Nationalist treachery.

Although as a result of this incident, the Communist Party lost possession of the lands south of Changjiang, it drew the party support from the population, which strengthened their foundations north of Changjiang.

According to the Nationalist Party, this incident was retribution to numerous occasions of treachery and harassment by the New Fourth Army.

Tony Simon

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