Hearts of Iron 4 (HOI4) – China Strategy Guide

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In Hearts of Iron 4, players get to guide any country they prefer through the tumultuous period of the Second World War.

One of the harder countries to play is one that actually lost relatively early before the main event. China is in one of the worst states in its history and Japan is coming to take their land in less than 2 years after the game’s start.

Recommended Read: Best CAS Designs in Hearts of Iron 4

Most players will usually just watch from a distance as Japan walks all over China, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. However, if you want to save this country from its imminent demise, here is how to do it.

In this guide, we will show you the exact strategy to use as both Nationalist and Communist China and how to defeat the Japanese in HOI4.

Table of Contents

General Strategy for China

One of the best things about playing as China in HOI4 is that you don’t actually have to do anything too complex to win.

As long as you keep your gun production flowing while also preparing to modernize, you will be on the way to defeat Japan in no time.

When it comes to industry, you will need to focus most of your Military Factories on Infantry Equipment, with some on the side working to increase your Artillery and Support Equipment count.

You can’t really even think about putting your troops in Trucks until around 1940, and you will be in the Sino-Japanese war already for around 2 years.

As both Communist and Nationalist China, your main goal until July 1937 will be to unite the warlords to fight against Japan as one. You will need to either puppet or conquer the other forces before the war starts.

If you manage to make China relatively unified before the war, then you will just need to trick the Japanese into territories with low supply while keeping a safe line that should never move until around 1940, when their Manpower and equipment should be low enough to push them back.

Japan has only two ways to push into China, through the North or by naval invasions. As long as you keep your ports safe and the North into a stalemate, you will be safe.

Since China has the largest available Manpower pool in the game, combined with huge territories, it is actually the real sleeping giant in HOI4.

Below, you will find exactly the steps you need to take from administrative and military points of view to win the Sino-Japanese war as either Nationalist China or Communist China in HOI4:

How to Start as Nationalist China in HOI4

Nationalist China starts in a much better position than Communist China, though that is still not a great start in HOI4.

National Focuses

Your main goal in the first year when it comes to National Focuses is to reach the Subjugate the Warlords focus as quickly as possible.

This focus will give you a 50-50 chance to puppet all the warlords of China besides Communist China.

If they don’t accept your demands, you will gain a war goal on them, allowing you to quickly take them over before Japan comes.

This means that you will need to start the game by picking these 4 National Focuses to quickly start unifying China:

  1. Three Principals of the People
  2. Nationalism
  3. Prioritize the Interior
  4. Subjugate the Warlords

In around 9 months, players should be in a very close position to uniting China properly before the war.

Once those focuses are done, you will need to complete the Anti-Communism focus to finally take care of Mao’s Communist China.

After this, any of the three branches are really good for making China more powerful and ready for the upcoming war. The main focuses that you should try to get relatively fast are the Army Reform and the Expand the Academica Sinica focuses.

Otherwise, just try to keep a balanced approach and get as many bonuses as you can from the focuses before and during the war.


The first problem you are going to find when you start playing as Nationalist China in HOI4 is the complete lack of supply in most states.

If you want to unite the Chinese warlords, you will need to take your armies into territories with 0 supply.

Unfortunately, you don’t really have time to invest in Civilian Factories to improve the country faster since there is a war coming in less than 2 years.


The first thing you will need to do with your Civilian Factories is build a Supply Hub and a Railway.

The province where you need a Supply Hub will be the one south of Xibei San Ma, in the Ganzi state, northwest of the city of Chamdo.

You can just search for Chamdo in the bottom right corner of the screen using the search button. The province that will help you is right over the river to the north.

After that, you should also start building a Railway from the Xi’an Supply Hub to the new Ganzi Supply Hub. You will need this Supply Hub for the potential wars with Xibei San Ma and Sinkiang.

To make sure you finish the constructions fast, go into the Decisions tab and activate the Reorganize the Railway System. This will take down the construction time from the 20th of November to the 1st of April, almost 6 months faster.

After this, you should start pumping Military Factories all over China, except Qingdao, which we will use to cheesy the AI and destroy most of the Japanese Manpower.

If you don’t want to “cheese” HOI4, then you can build factories there as well.

In 1937, you should also start building Railways from the Naval Bases towards the other Supply Hubs, since they are separated, and this will mean that your country will use Convoys for supply, which will get destroyed by Japan’s powerful navy.

Also, bring the level of all your Railways to level 2 since you will otherwise have problems sending supply from one hub to the other.


Instantly cancel the production of that Cruiser since you won’t use a navy. Set up a Convoy production line with the maximum available Naval Dockyard potential.

Now, set up three production lines:

  • Infantry Equipment – 6 Military Factories (Hanyan Arsenal Military Industrial Organization)
  • Towed Artillery – 2 Military Factories
  • Anti-Air Artillery – 2 Military Factories
  • Trains – 1 Military Factory

Now, there is a choice you will have to make in the near future. You will need to somehow fight the Japanese air force around Beijing. You can either put Anti-Air Artillery in your divisions or start building an air force.

Luckily, there are quite a lot of focuses that will help you form an air force, so getting a couple of hundreds of Fighters and CAS shouldn’t be too hard, especially considering you have some industry to spare.

Go down the British Cooperation route of the Foreign Investors branch and make sure to research Small Airframes to the highest level possible.

The Trains will also be important until you learn how to build Trucks, since you will need a lot of help with transporting supplies around the frontlines.


Nationalist China starts off HOI4 with 57 divisions – 28 of them are 8-width Infantry divisions (Juntuan), 24 of them are 12-width Infantry Divisions (Sanjiao Jun), and 9 are 8-width Cavalry divisions. Absolutely all of them have no support companies and are absolutely atrocious.

Split the divisions into three armies: one with 24 Sanjiao Jun, one with 24 Juntuan, and one with the Cavalry and 4 Juntuan.

Put Hsueh Yueh in charge of the Army Group, since he has the best stats out of the bunch, and put anyone you want in charge of the armies.

Don’t train any new divisions, since you have more than enough. Until you modernize the army and make good division templates for the army, don’t even think about pumping out more troops.


This is the most important part of a single-player game against Japan as China. You will need to create an Intelligence Agency the moment you reach 1937 and start improving relations with Japan.

Get the Diplomatic Training branch upgrade and send your first operative to put Diplomatic Pressure on Japan.

This should allow you to get a Non-aggression pact with them, allowing you to postpone the war by at least 1 year, more than enough time to build up your strength.

How to Beat Japan and Unite the Warlords as Nationalist China

Now it’s the time to unite China. Your first steps should be advancing through the focus tree to get the war goals/puppets and also evolve your army.

Try to get Support Equipment as fast as possible since there is no way you can win without some support battalions in your divisions.

The first thing you should research is the Type 24 rifle. Once it’s done, some time in May, start a new production line for the gun but don’t get rid of the old one, since you will lose all efficiency and won’t be making a lot of guns for a long time.

Put just one Military Factory on the new Type 24 Infantry Equipment and slowly steal from the Type 88 factories once production efficiency increases for the new guns.

When it comes to the upgrades for the Hanyan Arsenal, go for Reinforced Stocks, Advanced Barrel Forging, and Mass Rifle Production since this will allow you to make a lot of guns in less time.

Preparing to Unite China

Around June, you should have the necessary Political Power to recruit a Political Advisor. Pick the Silent Workforce since you will need a lot of PP to annex all the warlords once they accept your unification proposal.

Once you start the Subjugate the Warlords focus, stop training all your divisions and prepare a few frontlines with the other Chinese countries.

In September you should have enough PP and Command Power to hire a Chief of Army. Though Li Zongren is an amazing chief, you shouldn’t spend so much PP this early in HOI4 as China.

But we need the Army XP, so let’s pick Zhu De since we are going to attack the warlords anyway.

Unifying China

Out of all the warlords, the only one you don’t want to annex is Guangxi Clique. Even if they don’t accept your unification 50/50 choice, and you declare war on them, puppet them.

This way, you don’t need to call them in the war with Japan, and that whole side of the country should be safe from naval invasions.

In November you should declare the wars to unite China against the warlords that didn’t accept your demands. The wars should be extremely easy, and you won’t need to micromanage anything. Just use battle plans and wait for them to win, occasionally helping them finish everything faster.

In January, you should almost be done with the conquest and have enough PP to change your industry to Partial Mobilization. Now, it’s time to prepare for the war with Communist China.

Unfortunately, they have an incredibly good defensive position there. However, you can trick them into overextending their army and push back when they’re at their weakest.

Draw a fallback line on the railway line between the Xi’an and Henan Supply Hubs.

Declare war on Communist China and let them conquer the territories without supply. If you annexed Xibei San Ma or Shanxi, let them walk all over those territories.

Otherwise, call them into the war after Mao moved his troops into your territory and let him send divisions all over the place.

When you start seeing that there are not enough troops to defend the border, push into their capital and defeat them.

Only push with your troops from the South since you will have no supply on all the other fronts. Annex Communist China.

Fighting Japan

It shouldn’t be long now until Japan attacks you. Don’t take any doctrines and use all your Army Experience to remove the debuffs from the Army Corruption spirit after completing the Army Reform focus.

Unfortunately, the time between the start of HOI4 and the Sino-Japanese war is too short to prepare properly for what is to come.

So, if you listened to us and improved relations with Japan while also putting Diplomatic Pressure on them, it’s time to get that Non-aggression pact.

Japan will start the Marco Polo Bridge Incident some time in July 1937. So, if you can press the Non-aggression pact on the first day of July, you should have managed to avoid war with Japan until at least July 1938, giving you a full extra year to prepare.

Even if you postponed the war or not, there are three things you will need to:

  • Set up an army to protect the Supply Bases in Yan’an, Taiyuan, Hebei, and Beijing.
  • Request the forces of the warlords and put them to garrison your ports and coastline.
  • Set up a small, elite army to surround Qingdao.
How to Beat Japan and Unite the Warlords as Nationalist China in HOI4

One of the main strategies that you can use to ruin the Japanese army is to let them conquer the northern lands of China.

As long as you control the Supply Hubs and Railways, the Japanese will spread their line thin and never attack on that front due to supply problems.

You will also need to protect your ports, which will be impossible in ‘37 with your current army. So, just take everything from the warlords and palace it on the coastline to defend from the upcoming naval invasions.

Qingdao Cheese

If you want to always win the Sino-Japanese war as China in HOI4 then you will need to do two things:

  • Get a Non-aggression pact with Japan in July 1937
  • Create a fallback line around Qingdao

Now, usually, even in a normal game, getting a non-aggression pact with Japan and starting the war in late 1938 will be more than enough time to modernize the army and destroy Japan as China.

However, you can actually do a very nasty thing in both scenarios where you leave Qingdao free of troops. Why Qingdao? Because it’s a one province state that you can easily avoid while defending your other states.

Now, Japan will start the war with a lot of naval invasions all over the place, Qingdao usually being one of them. Once they manage to conquer the province, attack it as soon as troops land to destroy them.

But never let your troops take it back! This way, Japan will keep feeding troops into Qingdao to push the front, and you will keep decimating their Manpower. Right after getting rid of the troops, cancel the attack and let Japan bring troops back into the state.

Though this is a great strategy to always defeat Japan, many might consider it cheating since you are just playing the AI.

The same goes for the non-aggression pact since, historically speaking, Japan would have no reason to do that, even with Diplomatic Pressure.

Winning the War

All you need to do to win the war against Japan is to completely kick them out of the mainland.

The moment they have 0 territories in China or Korea, you will get an event that will allow you to get a white peace, where Korea gets independence, and you get all Japanese territories in China.

After that, you will usually just have to decide if you want to continue the war and capitulate Japan or end it and basically end your run.

There is nothing much to do after this, you can either attack the Allies to regain your treaty ports from them, attack the USSR to help the Axis, or just wait WW2 out.

How to Start as Communist China in HOI4

Communist China starts in a much worse position than Nationalist China. There is no industry and almost no divisions to use. However, you have a lot of Manpower.

Since you start with Service by Requirement, you won’t have any problems spamming troops left and right.

The first thing you need to do is pump out a lot of divisions. Getting two full armies of 24 divisions in around a year would be advised. They don’t need to be fully equipped or trained since you just need a lot of troops for this strategy to work.

When it comes to industry, you just need Infantry Equipment. If you have Military Factories to spare, which you likely won’t, invest at least 1 in Trains, 1 in Trucks, and a lot in Artillery once you unlock the tech for all of these.

The main plan will be to defeat Shanxi, Xibei San Ma, and Sinkiang before Japan attacks China. Once Japan attacks the Nationalists, wait for the perfect moment to join the war. Do not try to help the Nationalists, they are your enemy.

For Construction, you will have to build Railways between Supply Hubs and Military Factories. Absolutely nothing else.

How to Beat Japan and Unite the Warlords as Communist China

Communist China will be a relatively hard challenge in HOI4 if you don’t want Soviet support. However, it can still be doable if you play as a shady ally for Nationalist China.

Unite the Warlords

The only warlords you can conquer as Communist China are Shanxi, Xibei San Ma, and Sinkiang. What you need to do the moment the game starts is to justify a war goal for one of the cores on Sinkiang.

By the time you have the war goal, you should be ready to also attack the other two. Rush the Exploit the Weak Neighbors national focus to gain war goals on Shanxi and Xibei San Ma.

Both of those nations don’t have enough troops to protect their borders against you. This is why you need to pump out a lot of useless divisions since you can use some to pin the troops on the borders while the rest conquer the countries.

Shanxi starts the game with 2 divisions, and Xibei San Ma has 8 divisions, but they won’t be enough to protect the whole border.

You will need to micromanage your divisions and guide them to all the victory points of these nations. Shaxi only has one, the capital, so you will need to move around a bit after conquering it.

Declare war on Sinkiang as soon as you get the war goal since they can’t do anything until you conquer Xibei San Ma. Declare war on both Shaxi and Xibei San Ma at the same time since it should be easy enough to take them both over.

Once you manage to defeat the three warlords, you can do two things: wait and consolidate or justify and attack Tibet. Attacking Tibet can get you some extra Tungsten and some more factories to use in the upcoming war.

The last step before the war is to decide if you want to form the alliance with Nationalist China or not. You should usually do it since it will give China a chance to fight back the Japanese and weaken them both.

War with Japan

Your main goal for most of the war should be taking Manchukuo for yourself. Only keep your army on your side of the frontline and never give anything to the Nationalists. It might also be a good idea to let the Japanese push them back while you let them weaken each other.

Unfortunately, there is no way to quickly win this war. You will have to learn how to build an air force and start bringing Fighters and CAS to demolish the Japanese army on the frontlines.

Generally, you should only care about making yourself stronger than Nationalist China while also keeping yourself safe from Japan.

Once you manage to kick Japan out of the mainland, you will get an event to declare war on the other China. It doesn’t matter if you take the white peace with Japan or not.

Since you are part of the same faction, they won’t have any troops on the borders, allowing you to easily defeat them.

Though the Nationalist China strategy is much more efficient and faster to complete, the Communist one will require a lot of patience from you as you slowly defeat both Japan and the Nationalists.

That’s everything you need to know about how to play both Nationalist and Communist China in Hearts of Iron 4!

Have any input or suggestions for this guide? Let us know in the comment section below.

Adrian Oprea

Based in London, United Kingdom, Adrian Oprea is a Guides Writer. As a professional single-player RPG player, Adrian has often been stigmatized. He has decided to pour his frustration into writing guides!

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