Chongqing (1937-1946) / Chongqing as Provisional Capital: Background and Advantages

Chongqing (1937-1946) / Chongqing as Provisional Capital: Background and Advantages

Chongqing was made provisional capital of China in 1937. Both unique war situation and blessed quality of the city led to this decision.

In 1929, Republic of China officially announced Nanjing as the capital city. However, the international situation at that time was more than complicated. Japan, the neighbor to the east coast of China, had been developing rapidly throughout the years and planning to invade China. In 1931, Japanese provoked the “September 18” incident and subsequently occupied the northeast part of China. In the following year, Japanese army launched the “January 28 Incident” in Shanghai and seized the Zhabei area. Nanjing and Shanghai were very close to each other on the map. The republican government in Nanjing would become extremely vulnerable once the Japanese government declares war to China. Under this circumstance, the central committee adopted the solution of promoting Chang’an as the provisionary capital and Luoyang as the secondary capital. Some government departments started migrating to Chang’an.

In March 1933, Japanese army captured the vast area of Rehe Province, destroying all the barrier of China in north. Chang’an and Luoyang both came to the brink of danger. Same year in May, Chinese and Japanese government signed the Shanghai Armistice Agreement, which temporarily relieved the pressure on Nanjing. After a transient peace for 4 years, with the “July 7th incident”, anti-Japanese war broke out. Chinese government had no choice but to migrating west for defense.

Within the grand territory of China in the west, there are many inland hinterlands to choose from, including Sichuan basin, Guanzhong basin, Guizhou mountain, etc. These places are all easy to defend but hard to offend. But in terms of transportation, material living condition and industrial foundation, the provinces in the southwest were way better than the northwest counterparts. The city of Chongqing had been the center of the southwest region for dynasties since ancient time. It has an interconnected water network, a mountainous topography which is easy to defend, and a convenient location connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia. Even when transportation was blocked from the coastal area in the southeast, it could still maintain an international transportation of goods on the west. There are some more detailed illustration explaining why Chongqing was selected as the provisional capital during the anti-Japanese war.

  • Advantage of Water

Judging from the war situation at that time, the most viable way for the Japanese to attack Chongqing was to come through Yangtze River. Yet Chongqing was blessed by the three grand gorges that were extremely difficult to pass through. From Yichang to Chongqing, there was 1, 300 miles of waterway with more than 70 rapids and rough beaches (Figure 1). Seasonal water level difference reaches up to 20 meters each year, with rapid flow in summer and dry-ups in winter. Japanese troops tried to access Chongqing through water many times, but all ended up in vain. The dense river network not only formed a natural barrier against the enemy, but also provided convenience for the military factories to transport raw materials, which greatly enhanced the production in the rear.

Figure 1. Rough Beaches on Yangtze River from Yichang to Chongqing
  • Advantage of Mountain

Sichuan Basin is surrounded by multiple mountains, including Qinling and Daba which roar up to 3000 meters. This situation is extremely desirable for military defense, since the invading troop would lose great energy and large population trying to pass these mountains. In this context, KMT government sent heavy guard to the border of Sichuan basin and took full defensive advantage of the topography. Since then, Japanese army could only resort to harassing the city by air raid. The mountains again became the blessing for the city since it was convenient to excavate dugouts for shelter in them. In the 1937 plan of Chongqing, every government department was involved with the construction of underground dugouts. All important military factories, hospitals and offices were hidden in these dugouts in the mountains. It became a miracle in the history of human war to construct such a huge interconnected dugout network in the mountains.


  1. Huang Liren and Zheng Hongquan, The meaning and impact of migrating national capital to Chongqing, Journal: File of Republic of China (1996) Vol.2
  2. Xie Xuan, Study on the Urban Construction and Planning of Chongqnig (1947-1949), PhD diss, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, 2011, China Academic Journal Electronic Publishing House.
  3. Zhang Gong, The History of Chongqing as Capital City of the National Government of China (Chongqing: The Xinan University Press, 1993).
  4. Committee on History of Chongqing, History of Chinese National Government in the Provisional Capital of Chongqing, (Chongqing: Southwest Normal University Press, 1993)
  5.  Wang Dezhong, On the choice and formation of China’s “National Defense Center Zone” during the war of resistance against Japan, Journal: File of Republic of China (1995) Vol.1
  6. Tang Runming, The Anti-Japanese Base in Sichuan and Relocation of the National Government in Chongqing, Journal: Historical File and Material Studies (1992) Vol.4

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