Hearts of Iron 4 – Historical Nationalist China SP Guide

A guide to bring China out of the ashes of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War and onto […]

A guide to bring China out of the ashes of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War and onto the world stage in a position to tackle the Axis, Allies, or Soviets.

Historical Nationalist China SP Guide

China is in an interesting place in January 1936. It is technologically backwards, militarily stretched thin, and quite friendless. Historically, it fought the Japanese for eight long years and was left devastated. Hyperinflation and insurrection left the Nationalist government unable to stem the tide of popular communist revolutionary Mao Zedong.

In Hearts of Iron, China has a tremendous potential to be a mid to late game powerhouse. It can comfortably sustain Total Mobilization with Volunteer Only and achieve 0% Consumer Goods. Though it will take some time to build up its tech, it has access to the most versatile air designer in the game and can churn out a green water Navy with astonishingly quick speed. Added to the fact that Chinese troops fighting on Core territory can expect to get upwards of 30% Attack and Defense, commanded by what will likely be the world’s most seasoned generals.

By the time you shrug off Japan and push them out to the sea, you will be in a prime position to unite China and then make a decision between three paths;

  • Continue the fight against the fascists. Joining the Allies proper will allow you to take the fight to Japan and claim your rightful place as one of the ‘Four Policemen’ proposed by FDR.
  • Make peace with the fascists, perhaps even join them. You can retake the lands stolen from China in the Unequal Treaties and maybe even save the Axis from its doom.
  • Wage war on the Soviet Union and take for yourself the immense steel reserves of Siberia… and perhaps also chase down where Mao fled to once you’ve kicked him out.

Focus and Research Tree

Now this is far from ‘optimal’ play for defeating Japan. The plan here isn’t to win the war as quickly as possible, though it will be won considerably sooner. The objective is to be in the best position after the war. Short-term sacrifices will be made for long-term gain.


1. Military Affairs Commission (Army XP +0.05/day)
2. Three Principles of the People (Stability +5%)
3. Democracy (PP +120)
4. Unified Industrial Planning (50% Industry Bonuses x2)
5. Expand the Academica Sinica (Research Slot +1)
6. Executive Yuan (PP +0.25/day)
7. Nationalism (Stability +10% Stability)
8. Army Reform

Knock knock. It’s Japan.

We’re here to get as much PP as possible so we can do some crazy stuff in a bit.


1 & 2: Electronic Mechanical Engineering and Grand Battleplan Doctrine
3. Basic Machine Tools
4. Grand Battleplan II
5. Concentrated/Dispersed Industry*
6. Improved Machine Tools (This should be your third research slot and one of your research bonuses)
7. Grand Battleplan III (Prepared Defense)
8. Concentrated/Dispersed Industry (Second research bonus)
9. Radio
10. Support Weapons I. You should get a 15% bonus from the warlords
11. Construction I. Another 15% bonus

We’re going to be playing catch up for a while so an extra research slot as soon as possible isn’t as useful as it sounds. We also don’t want to duplicate our efforts with our allies. Remember you will get up to a +15% technology sharing bonus from the warlords for free. Unfortunately, they have very limited research slots and do not use them optimally, so this generally only applies to early techs that they have a preference for (Infantry/Artillery/Industry and bizarrely some Air Doctrines). However, if you see that bonus on equipment it means you can license it from one of the other warlords. In this way you can research older technology fairly quickly.

So what’s the deal with Concentrated/Dispersed Industry?

This largely comes down to personal preference. You might think Concentrated plays to China’s strengths, given how technologically backwards it is. To an extent it does. This is also the route the Warlords go down but you won’t really get to take advantage of the research bonus.

It is important to remember that you are always going to be growing- constantly adding new factories to your production lines. Sometimes you’re going to get a huge amount of factories seemingly overnight when you annex territory. Once your tech is up to snuff, you’re also going to be rapidly upgrading equipment. You’ll research Fighter IIs as soon as you finish Fighter Is so you want your lines to warm up to it.

I would say that you should stick to Concentrated if you want to keep with the strategy of mass Infantry. Go dispersed if you want to modernize the military with armor and aircraft towards the late game. And by ‘modernize’, I mean that you’re going to have 150+ infantry divisions and maybe 12 dedicated armor/mechanized.

Grand Battleplan Doctrine

Now even if you stick with Mass Assault, it’s not all that helpful. The greatest advantages of Mass Assault (width reduction) come fairly late in the tree and you can fix attrition issues with proper infrastructure-as-you-go. Going with Grand Battleplan means we can get to Prepared Defense within several months of the war starting. Entrenchment and Planning Bonuses play into our strength of superior generals and training. Sun Tzu would be proud. So will you be when your 8 width infantry divisions are beating Japan’s 24 width monstrosities.

Political Power

We’re going to be using a lot of PP in the future so we’re going to have to go into the war in a somewhat weaker position in order to emerge out of it stronger in mid’ 39.

1. Silent Workhorse (PP +15%)
2. Old Guard Chief of Airforce (PP +10%)
3. Backroom Backstabber (PP +5%)
4. Popular Figurehead (Stability +15%) or First Lady of the Republic (Stability +5%, War Support +5%)
5. Improved Worker Conditions (Stability +12.5%)
Hold on a bit until the war with Japan…

Popular Figurehead or First Lady of the Republic really depends on what path you want to go on. If you want to join the Allies, get the lovely Lady Chiang to make some trips over to America. If you want to go with the Axis or strike out on your own, stick with the Popular Figurehead. For now, we need that stability for our economy.

Construction, Production, and Trade

Boy, Civilian Economy sucks but we’re gonna be stuck with it for awhile. You know what isn’t penalized though? Forts!

Build level 3 forts all along your border with Japan and their puppets. Put a coastal fort on that port south of Beijing and just to be safe, a level 2 and level 1 fort on the northern most provinces bordering Shanxi. The Japanese will probably break through your allies there and you don’t want them to rush through that gap between the hills and behind Beijing.

That will pretty much keep you busy until the war starts. After that, you can start making military factories where it pleases you.

For production, you know where to put it. Basic Infantry Equipment. Keep that one factory on interwar fighters! You might as well let your cruiser finish and then shift your single dockyard to convoys once its complete. Don’t worry, mighty Chinese Navy, we’ll get to you eventually.

The only thing you want to trade for now is Steel. Don’t trust on Guangxi to have enough for you, but feel free to send your civilian factories over to whoever you want to win in Europe.

Army, Navy, Airforce Composition

  • You start with a solid 57 divisions, all of which are basic Infantry or Cavalry.
  • 24 of them are conveniently Sanjiao Jun (12 width infantry)
  • 5 are Qibing Jun (8 width cavalry)
  • 28 are reserve Juntuan (8 width infantry)

It’s going to be a long time before we can really play around with division templates.

Remove each non-regular and put them into an army devoted solely to exercising and then filter them back out to their respective armies when they hit regular. I do this throughout the entire game if I have an equipment surplus. I will even remove frontline divisions that have lost their regular status for some R&R with the training command. We won’t have superior technology, template design, national spirits, or even doctrines for a long time. The only advantages we have going for us is a pool of talented officers and experienced troops. Keeping your army highly trained and cycling out depleted divisions is a good way to go. The 75% bonus you get with maximum veterancy is huge, especially combined with a +50% planning or entrenchment bonus. That’s how you get 8 width divisions to fight like they’re three times larger.

The Juntuan can exercise as a group off the bat and unfortunately you’ll have to convert the cavalry into foot infantry. You can sometimes get cavalry commanders later down the line (and they can be useful) but for right now, there’s nowhere to effectively put them. Duplicate the Juntuan template, make it default supply priority and convert your cavalry to that template. Might as well change its icon too.

Once everyone is regular, I put the Sanjiao Jun on the three provinces bordering Japan around Beijing. 8 divisions to a province means more than enough to fill combat width. I put the former cavalry on the other side, facing Mengkukou.

Put reinforcement and upgrades to max and start training 19 of your not-cavalry 8 widths. Then train 11 Juntuan in 4 lines. At the onset of the war, you should have a comfortable surplus at this pace. Maybe 5k rifles or so. Eventually you’ll have 3 neat armies of 24, 24, and 72 divisions.

Hey, that third army is really big! Why, it’s because of the garrison order. That’s right, the most wonky mechanic in the game. If used properly, it can be EXTREMELY useful for macromanaging. Cover the whole of China in a garrison order (including warlords except the communists) and set them to guard only ports and forts. The biggest advantage to this is actually being able to put 72 divisions under one dedicated entrenchment/defense general. Despite not having a frontline, your general in charge will gain experience pretty quickly. That’s not all, garrison order automatically fills in gaps wherever it finds them so it will react to naval invasions that you didn’t even see. As long as you have enough troops to cover your ports and forts, it generally won’t leave any unguarded.

Seems like Paradox fixed some of those nasty bugs…

Now the Japanese shouldn’t break through your line but if they do, garrison troops are rather effective at plugging in holes and even encircling an enemy that gets too ambitious. The fun part is that you can use this offensively as well. If you breakthrough the enemy and have a garrison order on the territory you wish to capture, those troops will come flooding through the gap and spread in every direction. It is a very convenient way to plug in pockets created by capitulation while you redirect your elite troops to where they’re needed.

Command Power is very slim starting out but you only have five generals and field marshals to spend it on. That’s more than enough for now. Organize each general under a field marshal and give them ‘Organization First’ as soon as possible. There’s a maximum amount of XP a general can accrue in one hour and you’re going to have a LOT of combat going on so you want to maximize these gains among as many of your officers as possible. Ignore the brownnoser Hu Zongnan for now. Eventually you are going to use all ten of these officers. You should have just enough CP to fill in your Field Marshal’s traits AND activate More Ground Crews on your wings in Northern China. You want to do this.


Combine your fighters into one wing of 100 and then… split them again. Split them a lot. Split them until you have 100 wings of 1 fighter each. Keep doing this whenever you have enough planes that you feel like deploying them. Put them on daytime air superiority over Northern China. You’ll see why we do this when the war breaks out.


Well, you’ve got 5 light cruisers and 2 destroyers. Could be worse I guess. Put them on do not engage and have them run convoy raids, I guess? You might lose a few during the war but this should keep your fleet largely intact. Honestly the only thing you’re doing is giving your Create-an-Admiral some experience from running away.

Not One Inch!

So some drunk Japanese soldier wandered off post and got himself into a spot of trouble. Now we’ve kicked off a war that would span eight years and millions of lives in real life. Oof.

You should be sitting on at least 100 divisions, 5-10k spare rifles, 150+ PP, and a complete fort line around Beijing. There’s a few things to consider and a few things to do when this kicks off.

Sometimes, even on historical AI, you won’t get invited to make peace with the communists. This will leave you and Shanxi alone to deal with Japan. Now this is bad but not the worst thing that can happen. If this occurs, you have two options.

1. Beeline the focuses Foreign Threats and United Front. This will delay the unification of China until you progress through the entirety of the Foreign Aid path but is the safest option.

2. Beeline the focuses Prioritize the Interior and Subjugate the Warlords. With any luck, you’ll get a few puppets that you can pull divisions from. This may delay your unification of China a bit however. If you declare war on any of the warlords during your battle with Japan, they’ll join the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even if you push them off the mainland and sign an armistice, the warlords will regain all their territory and still be in Japan’s faction. A war against them will drag Japan back in… this time with defensive war bonuses. Not ideal. If you still have the Cassus Belli after you’ve beaten Japan, you can invade them and it is possible Japan will not invite them in- especially if you still have an active truce.

Either way, you should now have enough PP to smash that Total Mobilization button on day 1. Whoa. There goes all your manpower. Don’t worry, it’ll take a long time to deplete. If you have Soong Mei-Lin, you can grab Women in the Workforce right away. If you picked the Popular Figurehead, you’ll have to wait for the aces to start coming in… and boy will they start coming in.

Do not activate your battle plans! It’s really quite simple; you don’t need to attack until Japan stops attacking. When you do activate them, you better be prepared to go all the way to Korea. You don’t want to stop and give them time to wear you down in Manchuria.

For Focuses, go down either Foreign Threats/Prioritize the Interior so you can get the powerful War of Resistance bonuses when your reforms are complete. You may consider idling with no focus if your Army Reforms are really close to completion and you can progress down the War of Resistance tree. You might want to consider getting Scorched Earth, not because you’ll use it- but because you’ll need Forced Conscription to maintain Total Mobilization after the war.

Consider Subjugate the Warlords if you can. It’s really feast or famine. If you get Guangxi, consider spending the PP as soon as possible to annex them. That should give you just enough factories to pursue your fourth research slot.

Also, ALWAYS TAKE ARMY REFORM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Japan is able to reduce its Marco Polo debuff by 10% every 6 months. You should have just enough Army XP to take the next stage of Army Reform as the last one finishes, meaning you can whip your boys into tip top shape in just 9 months.

If you formed the Chinese United Front, you’ll start getting offers from the warlords to take their expeditionary troops. Take them and put them on Shanxi’s border. If you allocate garrison troops to Guangxi, that’ll free up divisions for them to put under your command. This is extraordinarily useful because they use their home country’s equipment. You can sap your allies’ strength dry if you so wish, but I recommend keeping them on cautious execution for the sake of winning the war. …Maybe make an army especially for the Communists and put them on aggressive though if you want to make Chiang Kai-Shek’s ghost proud.

You will lose some of Shanxi but Beijing should hold strong. Once you get 100% War Support, feel free to consolidate your air wings under the best ace. You should retain air superiority over Northern China this way.

I generally stop training divisions here and rely on the warlords to supply me with the fourth and fifth armies that I put under offensive field marshals. If the war goes on for awhile, they’ll supply you with enough divisions to start making a 6th army. Put a field marshal in charge and subordinate him to one of his peers.

Get the Military Theorist first, then the Infantry Military Staff and the Genius Defense Army Chief. Don’t forget to check your generals’ skills. They should have new traits in a matter of months and whoever is stationed in Beijing should quickly get Urban bonuses.

A note, the actual city of Beijing is NOT important. You’ll lose two civ factories if it falls. What IS important is that airport. You do not want to give Japan air superiority over Northern China. Keep an eye out on them both and try to micro-manage reinforcements whenever those combat bubbles turn red. If you have to lose one- lose the city and not the airport.

But that shouldn’t happen, should it? We meant it when we said not an inch!

So now… when do we counterattack? I use the expeditionary forces to decide. Since they use their own equipment, I have them on active attack orders throughout the entirety of the war, though still on cautious execution. The first 24 divisions I receive from the warlords reinforce Shanxi. It’s a good sign when they start reclaiming territory and pushing into Mengkukou. The next 24 reinforce Beijing and attack that little enclave of Japan.

Once the warlord troops actually start pushing the enemy back, let loose your own elite troops. It might take a year or two, but your Beijing force should have maximum veterancy and one hell of a general commanding them. Reorganize them under your offensive field marshals and push until you hit Korea. You should have a huge surplus of rifles but don’t be afraid to go into the red during the offensive. It is important to keep attacking. It might be slow at first, but capitulating Mengkukou is the start of the snowball.

If you absolutely want to play it safe, wait until you’ve got the War of Anti-Imperialism focus.

Thinking About the Future

So you should reliably be able to push Japan out by 1939 if you followed this guide. There are a lot of factors though, like how your generals and Japan’s generals level up. Sometimes you get unlucky. But even if you had to give up one inch or were even pushed back to the Yellow River, I believe in you! Use your best judgement to react to the situation and you’ll be able to throw off the invaders much sooner than the historical outcome of 1945.

Under normal conditions, by the time you defeat Japan, it should be around 1939 and WW2 is about to pop off! You are in a pretty strong position to decide your future… and heck, the future of the world! I’ll assume you want to reunite China, but we can do that simultaneously with any of these other things. If you beat Japan and used Subjugate the Warlords, you might just be lucky enough to have those Cassus Belli still active! Kick the warlords out of your faction and invade them quickly before your truce with Japan ends. Mao can be tricky… because he likes to join the Soviet Union. I would either wait for him to shoot first or take him out with the One China Policy focus.


You can settle down and work on fixing China but this is a slow and ponderous path that will possibly mean you’ll enter WW2 too late to make a difference. If that suits you just fine, work towards adding and removing inflation on your way to Rural Schooling. Grain Tax is worth picking up. …Having 0% consumer goods in a game where everyone has hundreds of factories is crazy. Go with this if you want to really pick up steam in the post game, 1945+

However, if you want to enter the world stage in time to make a difference, there’s a few options available to you. Remember to boost relations with any country you want to go with!


If you intend to persecute this war to the end and refuse Japan’s armistice or sign a peace only to wage war on them again, invite foreign investors and send a Mission to the US then the Ally of your choice. In terms of speed, the USA is the fastest… except all those naval bonuses aren’t all that helpful. France is second fastest and offers some very good bonuses. England is the slowest and requires dipping into American support. Remember to boost the relations with your new friend.

If you want to join the Allies, you’ll need to be at war with the Axis or Japan again while they’re fighting. Oh, and you’ll need to dissolve your own faction, which does mean severing your ties with the warlords you didn’t puppet. Danzig or War will spike World Tension up high enough that you can guarantee any of the non-aligned countries in Europe that the Axis invades. Being non-aligned means you can still wage offensive wars pretty much indiscriminately. The Allies don’t much care if you take Tibet, Korea, Bhutan, or Nepal. Going down the democratic path is actually kind of superfluous. If you’re feeling really spiteful, you can always declare an offensive war on Japan, though I’m sure they’ll appreciate the bonuses that gives them.

It’s pretty much just a matter of time before the USA comes and gives their navy a wallop, especially after you weakened them. In the mean time, you can start training paratroopers or your own fledgling Navy to mount an invasion once Japan’s coastline is defenseless. Paratroopers are… a bit of feast or famine. It’s easier to get aerial superiority than naval superiority before the Allies are involved, sure, but because you threw Japan off the mainland, most of their divisions are sitting on the Home Islands. It’s gonna be a tough nut to crack… but who said vengeance came easy?


Well, aren’t you a masochist? You just beat Japan and now you want to take on the Allies or the Comintern? Now you can certainly get REALLY fast war goals on them by a core territory war goal but eventually you’re going to face severe resource shortages. Rely too much on trade and you’re in for a painful lesson when war breaks out. This is why you want to move towards Renegotiate the Unequal Treaties so you can change your trade law. Make sure to get the motorized tech around the same time you take ‘Closer Ties with Germany/Rapprochement with Soviet Union. This is the fastest path. It’s only 490 days as opposed to 560 with the US, 700 with France, and 770 days with the UK. Keep this timeframe in mind, especially if you need One China Policy.

The British Raj is fairly difficult to take out from your natural borders. Your best bet for a quick victory is to conquer Tibet and Nepal and come down from the north. No need to use the focus on Tibet, just justify the good old fashion way. Best to do this before you’re at war with the Allies- you don’t want crack British Divisions defending the Nepalese Mountains.

Do this and you should get offers to join the Axis. It’s… quaint, considering China’s relationship with Germany before WW2… but not very helpful. Wait until Japan is at war with the allies and go with them instead. Having Japan as a faction member is actually really helpful since they’ll make up for your naval deficit.

If you want to avoid war with the Allies and just take on the Soviet Union, you can wait until Germany invades them and declare a simultaneous offensive war. In my experience, this generally leaves Germany in a very weakened state even if you win since the USA and the Allies have all the time they need to bounce back. That could be exactly what you want though… if you’re the backstabbing sort.

Alternatively, you can declare war on Germany when it invades Russia and join the Comintern. If you do this, make sure you go down the One China path and stay in the Chinese United Front so you can deal with Mao before he runs to Papa Stalin. This should be doable by the time Operation Barbarossa kicks off. Stalin will appreciate the hundreds of divisions you send to the Eastern Far Western front and Germany should fall fairly quickly.

But then… before you defeat the Axis, why not reclaim Hong Kong? There’s a good chance you’ll drag Stalin into a war with the Allies.

And that’s when the fun begins.

I leave the rest to you.

1 thought on “Hearts of Iron 4 – Historical Nationalist China SP Guide”

  1. Is this guide even viable after the MtG DLC and subsequent patches? Your guide is the only one I found for China and despite following everything to a “T” I am still getting overrun.

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