Was The Chinese Civil War The Most Brutal War In History?

It's an unfortunate fact that there are quite a few contenders for the top spot on the list of the "most brutal wars in history." And the Chinese Civil War is definitely a contender, despite the fact that many folks in the Western Hemisphere are utterly clueless as to the tragic details of the conflict.

Britannica dates the main events of the war from 1945 to 1949, but the roots of the bloody clash go back decades earlier. As History notes, the terrible infighting in China began back in 1927, when Chiang Kai-shek, military and political leader of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), led a coup to oust members of China's Communist party, who had been allowed into the KMT a few years earlier.

The Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937, fractured China into three distinct regions of power: the KMT, which controlled the government, the rebelling Communist forces, and Japanese-occupied areas in Manchuria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other locations on the coast. That war and the larger world war both came to an end in 1945, but the fighting was far from over in China. That country's bloody civil war had only just begun.

The Chinese Civil War was definitely one of the most brutal wars in history

At the beginning of the Chinese Civil War, it looked like Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists were going to come out victorious, but the tide turned in 1947. While the KMT had control of many urban centers, Mao Zedong's Communists paid special attention to the country's poor rural population. This proved to be a savvy tactic, and by the end of 1947, the communists had the upper hand. "The Chinese people's revolutionary war has now reached a turning point," said Mao Zedong in December of that year. "The main forces of the People's Liberation Army have carried the fight to the Kuomintang Area. ... This is a turning point in history."

Indeed it was. From there on, the communists had the KMT on the run, eventually forcing Chiang Kai-shek to flee to the island of Formosa, aka Taiwan. The People's Republic of China was established in 1949, after a terrible conflict that left nearly 8 million people dead, the vast majority (around 5 million) of those civilians either killed in combat or dead as a result of factors like disease and famine.

While that is a staggering number of deaths, it is tragically nowhere near the bloodiest war in history. The Chinese Civil War is actually only number 9 on the Borgen Project's list of the deadliest wars in history. Several others on the list also took place in China, but the number one spot goes to — you guessed it — WWII, which killed over 70 million people across the globe.