Xi'an Incident

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Xi'an Incident
Part of the Chinese Civil War
KMT officials in the Xi'an Incident.jpg
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and senior members of the Kuomintang after the incident.
Date 12 December – 26 December 1936
Location Xi'an, China
34.3416° N, 108.9398° E
Result End of Encirclement Campaigns
Creation of the Second United Front
Temporary end of the Chinese Civil War
The map showing the situation of China during the Xi'an Incident in December 1936

The Xi'an Incident of 1936 (traditional Chinese: 西安事變; simplified Chinese: 西安事变; pinyin: Xī'ān Shìbìan) was a political crisis that took place in Xi'an, China prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The crisis unfolded when Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of Nationalist government was detained by his subordinates Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng with the purpose of forcing changes in policies toward Empire of Japan and Communist Party of China (CPC) in the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT).[1]

The crisis ended after two weeks of negotiation, in which Chiang was eventually released and returned to Nanjing, accompanied by Zhang. Chiang agreed to end the ongoing civil war against the CPC, and began actively preparing for the impending war with Japan.[1]


Japanese invasion of Manchuria

In 1931, Empire of Japan continued to escalate aggression against China through the Mukden Incident and the eventual occupation of Northeast China. Zhang Xueliang, the successor of Fengtian clique stationed in the Northeast, was widely criticized for the loss of his territory against the Imperial Japanese Army. In response, Zhang resigned from his position and went on a tour of Europe.[2]

Nationalist-Communist conflicts

In the aftermath of the Northern Expedition in 1928, China was nominally unified under the authority of the Nationalist government in Nanjing. Simultaneously, the Nationalist government violently purged members of the CPC in the Kuomintang, effectively ending the alliance between the two parties.[3] Beginning in the 1930s, the Nationalist government launched a series of campaigns against the CPC. After Zhang returned from his tour of Europe, he was given the task of overseeing these campaigns with his Northeast Army.[4] In the meanwhile, the impending war against Japan led to nationwide unrest and surge of Chinese nationalism.[5] Consequently, the campaigns against the Communist Party were becoming increasingly unpopular. Chiang, fearing the loss of leadership to China, continues the civil war against the CPC despite of lacking the popular support.[6] Zhang was hoping to reverse the Nationalist policy of prioritizing the purge of Communists, and instead focusing on military preparation against Japanese aggression.[7] After his proposal was rejected by Chiang, the CPC was able to convince Zhang in their commitment to fight the Japanese as a united front, and Zhang began to plot a coup in "great secrecy".[8] By June 1936, the secret agreement between Zhang and the CPC had been successfully settled.[9]


Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng in 1936

On 12 December 1936, bodyguards of Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng stormed the cabin where Chiang was staying and detained the Nationalist leader.[10] A telegram was sent to Nanjing to demand immediate end to civil war against the CPC, and to reorganize the Nationalist government by expelling pro-Japanese factions and adopting an active anti-Japanese stance. As conflicting reports unfold, the Nationalist government in Nanjing was sent into disarray.[7]


Many young officers in the Northeast Army demands Chiang to be killed, but this was refused by Zhang as his intention was "only to change his policy".[11] The response to the coup from high-level Nationalist figures in Nanjing were highly divisive. The Military Affairs Commission led by He Yingqin recommended military campaign against Xi'an, and immediately send a regiment to capture Tongguan.[12] Soong Mei-ling and Kong Xiangxi was strongly in favor of negotiating a settlement to ensure the safety of Chiang[13] Fearing military intervention would put the life of Chiang at risk, Madame Chiang arrived in Xi'an on 22 December to finalize negotiation with the mutineers. In response, Chiang offered verbal concessions such as stopping the government forces from advancing toward Xi'an.[14]


Zhou Enlai arrived in Xi'an and informed Zhang that despite of the secret agreement, the coup is not supported by Comintern as the Soviet Union "desperately needed" Chiang to remain as the leader of China to defend against the Japanese.[15] Without the support from CPC and the Soviet Union, Zhang was also feeling "increasingly desperate", particularly after visit from Dai Li, the head of the Chinese secret service.[14][16] Chiang was eventually released on 26 December and returned to Nanjing, accompanied by Zhang.[17]


The Xi'an Incident was a turning point for the CPC. Chiang's leadership over political and military affairs in China was affirmed, the CPC was able to expand its own strength under the new united front, which later played a factor in the Chinese Communist Revolution.[18]

Zhang was put under house arrest for much remainder of his life, and Yang was eventually killed by the Chinese Secret Service in 1949 while being held prisoner, before the Nationalists retreat to Taiwan.[16]



  1. ^ a b Taylor 2009, p. 136–37.
  2. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 100.
  3. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 68.
  4. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 116.
  5. ^ Garver 1988, p. 5.
  6. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 125.
  7. ^ a b Worthing 2017, p. 168.
  8. ^ Eastman 1986, p. 109-111.
  9. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 119.
  10. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 127.
  11. ^ Eastman 1986, p. 48.
  12. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 128.
  13. ^ Worthing 2017, p. 169.
  14. ^ a b Taylor 2009, p. 134.
  15. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 130.
  16. ^ a b Wakeman 2003, p. 234.
  17. ^ Taylor 2009, p. 136-137.
  18. ^ Garver 1988, p. 78.


  • Cohen, Paul A (2014). History and Popular Memory: The Power of Story in Moments of Crisis. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231166362. 
  • Eastman, Lloyd E. (1986). The Nationalist Era in China, 1927–1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521385911. 
  • Garver, John W. (1988). Chinese-Soviet Relations, 1937-1945: The Diplomacy of Chinese Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195363744. 
  • Taylor, Jay (2009). The Generalissimo. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674033388. 
  • Wakeman, Frederic (2003). Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese Secret Service. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520234073. 
  • Worthing, Peter (2017). General He Yingqin: The Rise and Fall of Nationalist China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107144637. 

Coordinates: 34°16′N 108°56′E / 34.267°N 108.933°E / 34.267; 108.933

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