The Xian Incident that broke out on December 12, 1936 was considered one of the most critical elements that had profound impact on the development of modern Chinese history. It occurred when the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, then de facto ruler of China whose official titles were the chair of the military commission of the Nationalist Chinese government and the head of the ruling KMT Party, arrived Xian, the capital city of Shanxi province to discuss the military strategies against Chinese Communist Party with Zhang Xue-liang and Yang Hu-cheng, the commanders of the armed forces in Northeast China (Manchuria) and Northwest China.
On the eve of December 12, Chiang found himself seized by Zhang and Yang, who demanded him to delay the war against Chinese communists and devote all his efforts to drive the Japanese away from Manchuria, the northeastern Chinese territories used to belong to Zhang and his father Zhang Zuo-lin, also known as “the Big Marshal Zhang,” a warlord who was assassinated by the Japanese military in 1928. Manchuria was completely occupied and a puppet state was established there after the September 18 Incident in 1931 by the notorious Japanese Kwantung Army. Zhang and some 200,000 of his men moved to Xian thinking all day long of regaining their lost homeland from the Japanese hands. Instead, Chiang sent Zhang and his men to fight the Chinese communist insurgent troops, a task with which Zhang was somehow reluctant to comply.
Having been detained for nearly two weeks, Chiang, the hardliner military head of China, obstinately refused Zhang’s request and was later released. Zhang escorted Chiang back to Nanjing, then the Nationalist capital. Immediately after their plane landed in Nanjing, Chiang put Zhang under house arrest and was not released until 1990, two years after Chiang’s son, the late President Chiang Jing-guo had died. Zhang then moved to Hawaii and died there in 2001. And Yang and his family were all slaughtered by Chiang’s secret agents right before the Nationalist government lost the war to the Communist and was ready to pull back to Taiwan in late 1949. When asked why he followed Chiang to Nanjing and put himself in harm’s way, Zhang always replied that it was his deep conviction that there should be a unified China and all Chinese must work together to drive the Japanese invaders out of our country.
Seven months after the Xian Incident, on July 7, 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War, or War of Resistance, erupted after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. This eight-year-long war which ended in 1945 gave Chinese communists a good chance to develop, get stronger, and eventually win the civil war, thus build their own People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 in Beijing. The Republic of China led by Chiang was forced to withdraw to Taiwan. What if Chiang, although under seizure, still complied with Zhang and Yang’s request and ordered his army to fight the Japanese first?