The 20th century has been the most significant for China since the reign of the First Emperor in the 3rd century BC. China has gone from an imperial dynasty, to an experiment with democracy, to rule by warlords, to a stable Communism, all in the midst of two world wars. Those born in the early 1900’s could be equated with those born at the end of the Warring States Period, who lived through the Ch’in to see the beginning of the Han, for the magnitude of changes seen in their lives. We must include a brief overview of this turbulent time in order to complete the politico-historical narrative begun so very long ago, which, of course, followed the geographic-archaeological narrative from even longer ago.
It is a bittersweet feeling to reach the end of such a long journey with such faithful companions, who have accompanied us through China’s development from infancy, through childhood into maturity, into imperial old age, death and reincarnation. While it is sad to reach this inevitable point, we will see that in many ways, we are really not that far away from the beginning. The more things change; the more they stay the same.
Let us recreate our imaginary world, which is based upon supposed facts, relayed from one author/reader to another, (none of whom were there when the events occurred.) These idea/facts are then filtered and reconstituted in another account, which is represented as relative truth.
The Chinese living at the beginning of the 20th century had many things to be disturbed about. For one the foreign Manchurians had been rulers of China for over 250 years and were getting increasingly worse at running the country. Because of the lack of government control corruption and opium addiction were rampant. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the European powers, especially England were doing their best to undermine the Chinese imperial government militarily and through encouraging the use of opium to balance their trade deficit.
Furthermore the European colonial nations, taking advantage of the weak and corrupt Qing rule in China, established nearly 100 treaty 'ports' where they could do business outside of Chinese law. Within 16 of these economic 'ports' there were 'concessions' which were set aside only for the colonialist population. Shanghai with 14 square miles of 'concessions' was virtually a European city in 1915.[i]
Additionally a militarized Japan was attempting to seize parts of the crumbling Chinese empire. The Japanese were originally viewed as Oriental liberators. But this quickly changed after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). China and Japan went to war over competing interests in Korea. Japan who had been adapting to Western technology easily won, further exposing the weakness of the Qing dynasty. China had to cede Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan. The Japanese instead of liberating these territories from poor government, began treating the local inhabitants as their slaves. In comparison to the Japanese, the colonial powers began to look good.
For all the corruption of the European colonial system, for all the people that were dying of starvation, for all the people that were not receiving adequate medical care, at least there were some local Chinese making a profit and actually getting rich. The Japanese subjected the entire race to servitude. The English and French sucked off enormous profits and many natural resources, but they allowed those who cooperated with them to make fabulous fortunes. Money was the name of the game, not race.
Thus the Chinese people were surrounded by enemies, internally and externally, East and West. The Chinese people, especially the peasantry, were at the bottom of an international hierarchy. They were second-class citizens to the Manchus who ruled China. The Manchu government was subservient to the European powers and was threatened by Japanese imperialism. None of these international powers, European or Oriental, cared about the Chinese people except as laborers to be exploited in any way that they could.
As always, in China, the majority of the population was the agricultural peasantry. They had never been part of the decision making process except in a reactive sense. They didn’t care which military aristocracy ruled them as long as they had enough food to survive. Because of the enormity of the population, it was necessary to establish a stable political environment in order that trade could flourish and the canals could be maintained. The peasantry had nothing inherently against the foreign Manchu dynasty. They were only disturbed because of the breakdown of government control, which was leading to social instability. Further they had nothing against the European powers except to the extent that they disrupted social patterns by weakening the power of the central government, thus undermining social stability. As always the peasantry was only loyal to the government, which could provide a peaceful economic climate to go about their business. The first priority for the agricultural peasantry was social stability, not freedom from oppression. This perspective of the peasantry gives a clue to the rapid rise of Communism in China
Business as usual during the colonial period in China meant an enormous rural peasant population who was being taxed to the point of starvation by greedy warlords. In many cases the peasants had to yield up to half of their harvest from a good year to their economic overlords. In poor years when the tax remained constant and the crops declined, the vast majority of peasants could expect malnutrition at the best, starvation in the worst.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Chinese peasants are starving; the government is corrupt; and the colonial powers are bleeding China economically. Japan across the East China Sea from Shanghai provided a good example of an Oriental country quickly adapting to the modern industrial world. Unfortunately Japan was not interested in leading the Orient into the modern world. Instead the Japanese were interested in conquering, dominating and exploiting her fellow Oriental countries, especially China with her rich natural resources.
From this unstable, unjust, intolerable situation, emerged a sense of national pride. With no external assistance, the Chinese had to look inward for salvation. Dr. Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) led the Chinese nationalist movement attempting to restore Chinese rule in China. Part of their program had to do with getting rid of the Manchu imperial government and part of their movement also included limiting foreign influence of any kind in China. This nationalist stand was in opposition to the encroaching international imperialism and colonialism. His party operated throughout the early 1900s with the 'Three People's Principles" nationalism, democracy, and livelihood. The name of his party was the Kuomintang. i.e. KMT, (or Guomindang).[ii] While he succeeded in bringing many of these issues into the consciousness of the Chinese people for the first time, at the time of his death in 1925 the issues had just been brought to the surface, no solutions had emerged and the country had degenerated into the era of the warlords. What happened?
Basically Dr. Sun Zhongshan spent the late 1890's attempting revolutions to overthrow the existing Manchu dynasty which had ruled China for 200 years. Because of his activities he went into exile for 15 years trying to generate support for his ideals outside of China. When the Manchu dynasty was overthrown in a military coup in 1911, he was made ruler of the government by virtue of his unflagging opposition to the Manchus for so many years.
Although the party of the Kuomintang expressed the ideals of many Chinese; unfortunately Sun’s party had no military power. While Sun’s ideas had captured the popular imagination, his party had no power base from which to augment reform. The foreign economic powers wouldn't support the new government economically because the KMT was trying to wean the Chinese people from foreign influence. Further the Chinese armies tended to support the imperial autocracy rather than an egalitarian democracy. Inevitably the KMT had to rely upon an unsteady alliance with the army to get their aims across.
Inevitably, he had to relinquish his leadership to the war minister of the Qing regime, Yuan, who promptly assassinated the elected ruler of the Kuomintang, sent Sun into exile, and tried to establish himself as Emperor. His control was only as strong as his army, there were many problems and the warlords in various parts of the country took over their respective realms. The warlord era began.
In 1915 the Japanese took advantage of W.W.I. to seize Germany's ‘concessions’, i.e. territory, in China. After the war, the European treaty of Versailles recognized Japan's rights to this area of China. This response was quite normal upon the part of the European rulers. China had degenerated into innumerable spheres of influence too complicated for the casual observer of Chinese events to follow. It was easier for the European powers to negotiate with Japan and the warlords, recognizing military areas of influences as political boundaries than to rock the military boat by recognizing the Chinese populace as political force.
The Chinese response was equally natural. The Japanese had been direct aggressors and their traditional enemies. They didn't want this type of aggression ratified by a world body. The Chinese responded with riots and inevitably rejected the treaty of Versailles. This outer aggression further strengthened China's sense of nationalism and a need to separate from the imperialist powers.
The 1920s saw the struggle for power accelerate. The warlords continued to dominate the country. There was however, a growing sentiment, continually propounded by Sun, that the Chinese had to stand together as a country to resist foreign encroachment. Sun pointed out accurately that China was the only country in the world which was the colony of all countries, not just one. Sun with the cooperation of the Southern warlords was able to establish a power base in Canton, in the south of China, traditional bastion of peasant rebellions. He still preached a common united China. In the early 1920’s warlords many leading vestiges of the old imperial army, still controlled most of China, especially the north.
One of Sun's 3 Principles was to establish a democracy in China, along with jobs for all and an independent country, so logically enough he appealed to the center of democracy, the USA for help in establishing a democracy in China. He even requested their presence as a military power to restore order in China, and then to inevitably turn it into a democracy. After he was turned down by the USA, he turned to the other democratic bastions England and France, who also turned a deaf ear. This led him to state that he had lost "hope of help from America, Britain, and France... the only country that showed signs of helping is Soviet Russia."
To illustrate why the Western powers didn’t cooperate with Sun’s democratic party, the KMT, let us create an imaginary exchange.
Kuomintang to the Western powers: "From now on we Chinese are taking over all those 'concessions' that were granted to you by the corrupt and deposed Manchu regime."
Western powers: "Do you think we care about your internal politics? We own these concessions. We have it right here on Paper, signed from lawyers from both continents signed with the imperial seals of England and China. You can't just take that away from us, we're making lots of money on this deal."
Kuomintang: "Well its just not right."
Western powers: "What are you going to do about it. You have no army, no money, and therefore no power, except the power of ideas, which don't go too far in achieving your ends."
"As a matter of fact, we Western industrialists prefer the old Qing dynasty because they knew how to play by our, I mean, The rules. Which are our rules so what's the difference?"
"We industrialists with our military and money will support the vestiges of the old regime both economically and militarily."
"By the way, so your whole economic order doesn't collapse, why don't you put Yuan Shikai, the ex-war minister of the Manchus into power. We will certainly cooperate with him. Don't worry; he's a man we can trust. We speak a common language, Money and Guns."
A great combination, like Rice and Beans, Bread and Butter, Love and Affection.
This scenario is repeated frequently in many countries all over the world. The multi-national business concerns care very little about human rights and care quite a bit about profits, hence they tend to support military dictatorships which can guarantee their profits.
Corruption is the first stage of a political mechanism of the 20th century. First comes the economic greed and corruption, then comes the national disgust and rebellion, replaced by a normally more serious and austere vision of life. This is what happened in Russia in 1917, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959 & Iran in 1977. In each case internal corruption reached such an outrageous level that the people en masse arose to overthrow the government to replace it with a more egalitarian system where the poor are better taken care of. However this new government in the leveling process creates a more austere society. It is this austerity that frightens most Westerners. We will see this dynamic manifesting in twentieth century China. But we are ahead of our story.
Rejected by the Western democracies, Sun’s GMT turned to Russia for aid in overthrowing imperialism. Sun had found an ally, who was also attempting to fight the effects of imperialism, western or eastern. On the basis of Russian assistance and their assurance that they were to renounce their concessions in China, the Communists were invited to join the GMT’s movement to overthrow the imperialist overlords, local and foreign. On Sun's recommendation the Chinese Communist party, which only numbered in the hundreds, was invited to join the KMT’s revolutionary movement. Many future leaders of China were included among the members of this alliance held together by Sun's powerful personality; Jiang Jieshi, (Chiang Kai Chek), Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedung, (Mao Tse Tung) all belonged to this unstable alliance.
Because he found a deaf ear in the supposedly democratic regimes in the West, he turned to Russia. Where he sought for democracy, he found economic imperialism instead. When he looked to Russia for social revolution, instead he found military assistance. The Russians sent Borodin, one of their original revolutionaries, to help organize the Kuomintang's military organization.
The Russians based their philosophy upon an industrial revolution not on an agrarian revolt. Therefore the Russians felt that the revolution would come from within the industrialized cities not from without in the agrarian countryside. Their support of the United Front, including Sun’s Kuomintang and the Communists, was based upon industrialization rather than on agriculture. Controlling the means of production was the philosophy, not controlling the source of food. Also the United Front had more potential for the Russian Communists than did the imperialist armies, east and west.
Jiang Jieshi, trained at a Japanese military academy, was the first director of a military academy set up by Borodin to train the revolutionary army. Jiang had risen to his level of prominence by virtue of his devotion to Sun Zhongshan and his nationalist principles. In the mid 1920's he made a fortune in the Shanghai stock market, established connections with the Green Gang, a notorious band of gangsters who controlled the lucrative opium trade, married a banker's daughter, and generally established himself in the forefront of the capitalist society. He realized, however, that he still needed the Russian military assistance to establish a strong army. So for the time being, 1925, an uneasy truce was maintained between the Chinese Communist Party and the nationalist Kuomintang.
By virtue of his military prowess, he established himself as the leader of the Kuomintang. In 1925, he decided to launch the Northern Expedition, to conquer the warlords and unify China. This campaign was blessed and partially financed by the Russians. The success of the northern campaign was based upon cooperation with farm worker’s organizations and labor unions, who obstructed the warlords and assisted the Nationalist Army. The first two years of the campaign produced an optimistic and nationalist China, with leaders and people working together to root out corruption and tame the warlords.
Then in the Spring of 1927, the leftists of the Kuomintang along with the rapidly growing Communist Party, began asserting its power. First they established a new Chinese capital in Wuhang in Hubei, a Communist controlled province. Second they seized Shanghai, China's major industrial city and window to the world, as its major port and center of European commerce. When Jiang entered Shanghai 5 days later with his Nationalist Army, he was viewed as an ally rather than as an opponent to the labor unions who had seized the city. He revealed himself quickly enough.
Using his connections with the Green Gang and the Shanghai business community, he quickly and violently crushed the people's uprising, killing 5000 leftists in the first week of the reprisal. He first sent the gangsters of the Green Gang to brutalize the union offices, then when the people protested in the next few days, he had them machine gunned down by his Nationalist Army. Such began the purge and the break with Russia, who had been recently praising his military victories.
His conquering of Shanghai was a brilliant maneuver. First Shanghai, as the center of international business and the opium trade, was a wealthy town, able to finance his army enabling him to break with Moscow. Second because Shanghai was the West's primary gateway to China, he was able to establish an excellent relation with the Western industrial leaders by crushing the labor movement. The Western industrialists were trying to crush their own labor movements in the West, so they both admired and supported his techniques for gaining control. Jiang also had converted to Christianity, which made him even more appealing to the West.
The Kuomintang immediately broke with the Communist Party isolating them even further. Jiang’s army slaughtered 100,000 Communists and their sympathizers within the next year. A major Chinese sentiment seemed to fear Communism and initially welcomed Jiang's rapprochement with the West. However reality soon set in.
The Chinese in the cities were initially excited about Jiang's march north and about his control of the masses. But they soon realized they had merely traded one warlord for another. Jiang's government and power extended about as far as his army, although the Western world considered him the ruler of all of China, supplying him generously with assistance. Corruption and greed were rampant. In 1929 and 1930 an estimated 6 million peasants died of starvation due to a famine. Sun's widow quit the Kuomintang as a result of the widespread greed saying since her husband's death the party had become "a tool for the rich to get still richer and suck the blood of the starving millions."
Disillusioned by democracy, Jiang set up a type of fascist dictatorship supported by his Blue Shirts fashioned after Mussolini's Black Shirts. As with the European fascists, his support came primarily from the business community who were scared to death of worker's rights and labor movements, as they were associated with Communism and declining profits. So his extermination of the Communists was met by approval of businessmen everywhere. Since business rules government, the governments of the world supported Jiang wholeheartedly, caring little for the millions of starving Chinese peasants.
Let us leave Jiang’s thread of the story for a moment to introduce the other major player in China’s modern history, Mao Zedong, (1893-1976).
Born a poor peasant in the southern province of Hunan in 1893 Mao started his work there. In 1925 he wrote a paper stating that the revolution in China would come through the agricultural peasantry. While the philosophies of Marx and Lenin had been written in response to European industrialization, the Chinese situation was far different.
In following the history of China as represented in these pages, it is obvious that while the peasantry has always been suppressed that they have also always been a underlying political force. We’ve tried to establish that the dissatisfaction of the Chinese peasantry expressed in open revolts has been a major factor in most of dynastic changes since the Ch’in were overthrown in 200 BC. While many times these peasant revolts have been brutally suppressed, at least twice, the Han and the Ming, peasants have risen to establish a long-lived dynasty. Aware of both Chinese history and the present plight of the agricultural peasantry Mao realized that the peasantry were a potent political force, when organized.
Prior to the 20th century, the only political solution considered was that of an imperial dynasty. Both Liu Pang, i.e. Han Kao-tsu, founder of the Han dynasty and Chu Yuan-chang, i.e. Hung-wu or T’ai-tsu, founder of the Ming dynasty were peasants. However neither of them founded a peasant cooperative. Both of them founded an imperial dynasty in the Chinese tradition. While early members of the ruling dynasty remembered their peasant roots and looked out for the well fare of the peasantry, later members of the dynasty had lost touch with the peasantry having become the leader of the military aristocracy. A peasant cooperative, a democratic republic, even a constitutional monarchy were outside the ken of most Chinese, who could not see beyond an imperial dynasty ruling China.
In the 20th century, under the influence of Western concepts, the ken of Chinese types of political organization was expanded. The ideas of different forms of government came into play. The Manchus attempted to move towards a constitutional monarchy, English style. But Sun Zhongshan and his followers advocated a social revolution to set up a Chinese republic along the lines of a Western democracy, without any imperial trappings. Besides, as every Chinese was aware, the ruling monarchy wasn’t even Chinese; they were the foreign Manchus.
Probably more important than alien culture for the Chinese was the fact that the Manchus were losing control of the government, which meant that they were losing the Mandate of Heaven. They had the Mandate of Heaven for the first century or so of their dynasty, but with the peasant revolutions in the 1790’s followed by the opium wars in the 1820’s and the Taiping rebellion in the 1850’s, the Manchu dynasty was in the process of losing this divine mandate. All of China could sense that the fall of the Manchu dynasty was imminent. The only question was who was going to have the Mandate of Heaven next.
At the turn of the century, the scramble to meet this demand was mixed between imperial forces hoping to maintain the Manchu dynasty, warlords hoping to establish a new dynasty, Sun Zhongshan’s Kuomintang hoping through social revolution to establish a democratic republic. When the dynasty fell in 1911, these three groups fought for dominance. First Sun Zhongshan’s Kuomintang or KMT achieved dominance, then imperial forces, and finally the country spilt into separate regions of the country falling under the influence of a variety of warlords. With the success of the Communist Party in Russia in 1917, a fourth player entered the field, whose goal was to establish a worker’s republic, the Chinese Communist party or CCP, founded in 1921 [iii].
While the warlords and imperial armies wanted to maintain the millennia old dynastic political tradition, both the KMT and the CCP needed a social revolution to fulfill their goals. Because of this common goal the KMT, or Nationalists, and the CCP, or the Communists, joined forces calling their organization the United Front. Because both the KMT and the CCP were working for social revolution, the Western powers supported the imperial powers because they wouldn’t attack their trading privileges. Both the KMT and the CCP wanted China ruled by the Chinese, which threatened Western imperialism. Hence Western imperialists joined with Chinese imperialists to support the status quo. The Russian Communists in opposition to Western or Chinese imperialism sent military aid and advisors to China to aid the revolution.
The Nationalists while needing a social revolution to achieve their goal of a Chinese republic were pro-business. On the other hand, the Communists were pro-worker. These two unlikely allies were both being trained militarily by Russians to overthrow the government. Both parties must have realized that once they had achieved their common goal of social revolution, that they would become enemies. There were probably idealists that felt that a conciliation between worker and business was a possibility and a hope. However based upon the Russian experience, any realist must have known that conciliation was an impossibility.
As to be expected, the imperial armies and warlords sphere of influence was the north, while the strength of the KMT was in the south. As the Communists, representative of Chinese labor, and the Nationalists, representatives of Chinese business, joined forces, the south became a potent military force under the leadership of Jiang. After the consolidation of the south, Jiang began moving north to attack the warlords. At this same time. in 1927, the Labor movement under the leadership of Zhou Enlai and the Russians, fomented a labor revolt in Shanghai. Instead of continuing to move against the warlords Jiang crushed the labor revolt in Shanghai.
On the one side, he seems to have stabbed his partner in the back. It was this move on Jiang’s part that broke up the United Front of the KMT and the CCP. On the other side, it is probable that the Communists because of their insistence upon worker rule would have come into inevitable conflict with the Nationalists who, while wanting to change the government, wanted to preserve the status quo of business. Hence Jiang only seized the initiative; the split was unavoidable because of mutually exclusive goals.
Shanghai as the Chinese center of Western business, was an ideal target for the Communists as well as something that the Western powers had to hold onto. Shanghai the most Western city in China was also the most industrialized. Hence it was perfect for the Communist revolution Russian style, where the proletariat worker seizes control of the factory from the owner in the idealized scenario. In some ways the worker’s revolution in Shanghai could be blamed for the split of the United Front. The worker revolution in Shanghai was a direct attack upon the international business community; imperial, Chinese, and Western. Thus the aggression of the labor movement in Shanghai threw the business oriented Nationalist party into an alliance with the pro-business, anti-labor Western powers as well as, by default the warlords and the remnants of the imperial army. The Western powers were only looking for a government that would support their interests and maintain social order. Jiang was ready to be that man. To sweeten the pot he converted to Christianity.
From this crucial point in 1927, Chinese society had re-polarized in a new way. Jiang’s Nationalist Party was now aligned with the West, the warlords, and business, while the Communists were aligned with Russia and the workers. The republican revolution had occurred and there was no longer a need for the United Front. Further from a Russian standpoint this violent suppression of the labor movement in Shanghai had virtually killed the Communist movement in China for the time being. The Russian perception was that the revolution should occur in the industrialized areas and then spread as it had in Russia. In Russia the farmers were too isolated and sedentary to participate in a social revolution was their reasoning.
In support of Jiang, he did his best to become an image of his Western counterparts, the business leaders, even converting to Christianity. Unfortunately international business leaders worldwide tend to place individual profits far above worker’s rights, including pay, health and safety. Hence Jiang would be considered normal in a global context. Basically he worked in concert with the Western powers and the warlords to establish a favorable business climate, which unfortunately didn’t include worker rights.
The whole world at this point was coming to grips with worker’s rights. The democratic West, as a whole, possibly because of the democratic institutions already in place, solved the problem by granting worker rights, not without a struggle. This defused the violent revolution advocated and predicted by Karl Marx, who thought that it was impossible that management in league with government would ever grant the workers any rights. While the granting of worker’s rights in the West defused militaristic Communism, in China, where the Imperial tradition was so strong, the traditional response to unrest and rebellion was military. Jiang, as a Chinese military general, responded predictably. Instead of attempting to solve the problem of worker’s rights, instead he attempted to eradicate the symptoms, which included Communist organizers. In typical military fashion, he reasoned that the workers wouldn’t complain if those that complain are eliminated. Of course world history could have been far different if he had reasoned that the workers wouldn’t complain if their needs were addressed. Instead of quashing the opposition Jiang’s response militarized it. While there may be no ultimate solution to the problem of social injustice, violent suppression is only a stopgap measure, not a permanent solution. Jiang, as we shall see, attempted an unsuccessful social experiment to prove that violent suppression could be the ultimate solution.
While the Nationalist government was recognized as the government of China by the Western powers, in fact Jiang ruled China in a weak feudal way. The warlords had been subdued but not defeated. His real power was centered in a small area in the south. His power was based upon Western support and cooperation by the warlords to fulfill common goals, which included increased wealth and suppression of Communism. Fortunately for the Communists and unfortunately for the warlords including Jiang, they didn’t trust each other. They were not able to act in concert because of their military fear of each other.
After the Shanghai purge, Mao Zedong and the rest of the Communist organization went into hiding. Mao returned to the south where he was born. He went into hiding in a ‘notorious bandit lair’[iv] in a remote region in the hills of the south. The Lenin-Marxist Russian-dominated Communism of Shanghai rejected Mao’s novel Communist idea that the revolution would occur within the agricultural peasantry. Despite his lack of organizational support, Mao began fighting local injustice by training peasant guerrilla fighters to take action against, as he said, ‘local bullies and bad gentry, corrupt officials, militarists, and all counterrevolutionary elements’. Eventually he and his comrades trained a peasant army that grew so large that it was able to take control of an upland region on Jiangxi’s southern border. The Nationalist Army and the warlords were so weak that several of these Communist cooperatives had set themselves up around the country.
Their policy was to cut the rents and taxes of the peasantry. These rents and taxes had reached 50% of their average crop. It was hard enough in average years to make ends meet; in substandard years malnutrition and starvation were common. Establishing peasant friendly policies, they set up a solid base of operations from which to expand and harass Jiang’s military organization, which was propped up by military aid from the Western powers, especially the United States.
To Jiang’s credit he never underestimated the potential for a Communist revolt under Mao’s charismatic leadership. After consolidating control of the country he devoted his primary military force to rooting out Communist groups and exterminating them wherever he could. Realizing the growing threat of these Communist communities Jiang sent an army of 100,000 strong, comprised mainly of warlord armies, against these Communist strongholds in 1930. This was the first of five Annihilation campaigns. He hoped to exterminate and root out Communism once and for all.
Using their knowledge of the terrain Mao’s small peasant armies were able to defeat the larger Nationalist forces. The basic guerrilla warfare that Mao’s Communists adopted was the same as the nomadic northern empires. Attack, disappear, harass. Never risk a direct encounter.
“When the enemy advances, we retreat.
When he escapes, we harass.
When he retreats, we pursue.
When he is tired, we attack.” A Chinese song-poem [v]
In 1931 the Japanese captured some key cities in Manchuria. In 1932 they conquered the rest of Manchuria and the northern province of Jehol. While many Chinese reacted with horror and fear of this Japanese invasion of traditional Chinese territory, Jiang negotiated a peace treaty, ceding them these territories. He had relied upon Japanese military support against the Communists, whom he feared more. He considered the Japanese a disease of the skin, i.e. superficial, while he considered the Communists a disease of the heart, i.e. fundamental. Relying upon Japanese support and hoping that they would invade Russia, he launched a few more unsuccessful Annihilation Campaigns against the Communists.
Realizing that he could not defeat Mao’s forces in face-to-face combat, Jiang, on the advice of a German advisor, decided to blockade them. This was his fifth Annihilation campaign begun in 1933. By this time the area which was governed by communist principles, called a soviet, was the second largest in the world having between 8 to 9 million people. Also by this time, because of an influx of Communists from the cities escaping extreme repression, Mao had been replaced as leader by those who supported the Russian party line.
As the noose tightened, Mao and a group of Communists including Zhou Enlai escaped the blockade to begin their famous 6000 mile march. While trekking through the rugged hills they were regularly attacked by Jiang’s Nationalist Army. At one point the group decided to abandon the traditional Russian party line and military strategy because it wasn’t working. This is when Mao was elected chairman and Zhou Enlai was made his chief political officer.[vi] Basically the group under Mao’s leadership decided to keep to the highlands, which surround China’s agricultural plains, to prevent the Nationalists from amassing a huge force. However these highlands were laced with deep river valleys and gorges that were not so easy to pass. Assisted by the peasantry whom he and his men had always treated well, and assisted by the guardian angels because they were on a divine mission, they eventually reached their destination 6000 miles away in Shaanxi province. They left on October 18, 1934 with 85,000, including 35 women, and arrived in the north a year later in October 1935, with 20,000 which included many who were recruited on the way.
The Long March was important for the Communists in quite a few ways. Obviously the most important aspect was that they had survived to reorganize. However they had been greatly reduced in numbers and territory. Further their new territory was in the devastated province of Shaanxi at the bottom of the loop in the Yellow River below the Ordos plain. We remember from our previous histories that this location on the top of the Yellow River was very strategic militarily because it was on top of the Yellow River plain and that it was relatively close to Beijing. However the area regularly suffered from drought and flood. Further with all the warfare 1/4 of its population had died between the turbulent years of 1927 and 1930.
However the Communists had created an incredible legacy amongst the peasantry First the soldiers had treated the peasants with incredible respect. The Three Principles of the Communist Army were: “Obey orders at all times; do not take even a needle or a piece of thread from the people; turn in all confiscated property to headquarters.” Hence there was virtually no looting. According to first hand reports Mao’s army wouldn’t even eat the fruit of the peasantry without permission although they might be starving themselves. Traditionally armies globally have taken what they wanted and needed to survive from the local peasantry with little regard for their well-being. Hence this aspect alone won the respect of the peasantry. Further in their march they continually were talking to the peasantry to drum up support.
Possibly most importantly, the Long March was highly symbolic for the Chinese. The success of the Long March against such long odds was a bit of evidence that the Mandate of Heaven was on the side of the Communists under Mao. Mao had somehow been able to align himself and his party with the Tao of Heaven and was receiving her blessing. Instead of aligning with western democracy, Russian communism, or the Chinese Imperial structure, the Communists had aligned themselves with the peasantry, working for their rights. The fact that they survived the Long March was concrete evidence of divine alignment, otherwise they would have been left to perish. Inspired many Chinese began to flock to this Communist stronghold in the north west.
Here they were able to regroup. They established an even more revolutionary social form. They broke up the large estates and gave them to the peasantry. Further ground was cleared and irrigated by the growing Communist army. The Army itself worked alongside the peasantry to work the land, gradually bringing millions of acres of land under irrigation and doubling the agricultural output.
In 1936, Jiang flew to a Nationalist city in Shaanxi to announce his Sixth Annihilation campaign against the Communists. The Manchurian warlords arrested him and demanded that he lead an army against the Japanese instead. They wanted all Chinese armies including the Communist forces to join together to repel the foreign invaders. The Russians, also fearing the Japanese, told the Chinese Communists who they were supporting to stand behind Jiang to repel the Japanese. Thus these diametrically opposed Chinese parties, which had just recently been attempting to exterminate each other, joined forces to fight the Japanese.
The Japanese struck first in 1937, invading China. Basically Jiang’s strategy was based upon survival. He continually retreated, destroying land and dikes in the process. This caused widespread starvation in the peasant population. By the end of 1938 the Japanese occupied the major cities of China, which they held until the end of the war. Jiang holed up in a mountainous region with his troops. He did not attempt to regain lost territory. Biding his time he just repelled attacks,.
In the meantime the Communists had been organizing resistance in Northern China, employing the methods of guerrilla warfare that had been employed against the Nationalist Army. They were so successful that the Japanese army responded with a strategy of kill all, loot all, and burn all. Henceforth the Communist army was content with harassment behind the lines rather than outright confrontation, which threatened the sedentary peasant population they were trying to protect.
Jiang and his army just kept waiting, continuously growing more corrupt. They conscripted anyone between the ages of 18 and 45. Basically of the 14 million Chinese troops called to fight for the Nationalist army during China’s 8 year War of Resistance, 1937 to 1945, to the Japanese occupation, three million were casualties, the 11 million remainder disappeared. The majority of these deserted or died of starvation. In most countries in the world the one way of getting fed was to join the army, because the King's armies are always fed first. However during Jiang's rule people could always tell where his Nationalist army had been by the trail of dead bodies, due to malnutrition or starvation. Because of widespread corruption even his army wasn’t getting fed.
There were however 1/2 million, including 700 generals who went over to the Japanese side. The Nationalist Army was made up primarily of the peasantry, as we’ve seen is traditional in China. The officers were of the new Chinese aristocracy, while the peasant soldiers were virtually slaves. There was no loyalty to the Nationalist army, as evidenced by their mass defections. In Hunan province, which was controlled by the Nationalists, the peasantry disarmed retreating Nationalist troops, shot them, and then welcomed the Japanese as liberators[vii]
This was in contrast to the Communist controlled country in North and central China. During Japan’s occupation of China, the Communists had consolidated their support in the countryside. By 1945, the Communist Party administered over some 95 million people over 300,000 square miles. According to foreign observers they enjoyed popular support and their soldiers were well disciplined and loyal.
However when the Japanese were defeated by the Allied forces, the United States, against much advice, threw their support behind Jiang’s Nationalist government in the south. The Allied forces, mainly American, instead of coming in with a huge army, which Jiang had hoped for, just supplied Jiang’s government with all their surplus military hardware, which included 1000 airplanes.
There were a few reasons for this. First Jiang had preserved his government and army throughout the Japanese occupation. By the end of the war Jiang’s forces were used in concert with those of the United States, Russia, and Britain to defeat the Japanese. Thus his army was an active part of the victorious forces while the Communists were busily consolidating the countryside, organizing the peasantry.
Further in an ironic twist of fate, the Russians under Stalin also supported Jiang’s GMT. The Russian brand of Communism wasn’t mixing with the Chinese Communism. Basically Russian Communism was based upon controlling the means of production, which tended to be industrial. They tended to look down upon the agricultural peasantry considering them somewhat slow and backward. Hence these city dwellers, as is usual, were looking down upon the rural countryside. Thus Stalin’s Russian Communists who were controlling Russian industry for their power, looked down upon the Chinese communists who relied upon the peasantry for their strength. There was no wealth in agriculture. Stalin’s Communists felt more comfortable talking to the captains of western industry about increased worker productivity than they did in talking to the Chinese about peasant rights. Further the city dwellers in their arrogance felt that China’s agricultural peasantry would fall apart at the first sign of military aggression. As Stalin said, ‘red on the outside, white on the inside’.
After the United States dropped the Bomb on Japan followed by their capitulation, Nationalists, Russians and Chinese Communists, all rushed to seize control of the vacated territories. Russia seized Manchuria. The United States sent in troops to support Jiang’s government. Jiang encouraged the Japanese to fight the Communist expansion.
In the negotiations that followed the collapse of the Japanese occupation force, the main thrust was to discourage civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists. Stalin encouraged Mao’s Communists to accept a subsidiary role in the new government under Jiang’s Nationalist Party, which he did. Mao even called Jiang ‘Uncle’, as a sign of respect. Thus for a third time Jiang and Mao join the same side.
However in a predictable scenario, Jiang, with all the military force of the West under his control, plus his support from the international community, plus his control of the wealth and power of China’s cities including their industrial strength, immediately set about to destroy the Communists once and for all. Everything was on his side. He had 3 million troops, some trained in the West, compared to 1 million Communist troops, many not armed. Plus Jiang had total control of the air because of the 1000 donated American Air Force airplanes.
As soon as the ink from the peace negotiations was dry, Jiang’s forces began the offensive in June 1946. Initially they dominated the Communists everywhere they clashed – controlling all of their traditional strongholds by the end of 1947. It looked as if the Nationalist forces with the support of Western industrialists would reign supreme.
In 1948 because of widespread corruption, inflation raged out of control and many in the cities died of starvation. The Communist peasantry, on the other hand, didn’t experience the same problems because they lived in a non-cash economy, unaffected by inflation. The moderate city people who had initially supported Jiang began to shift allegiance. Further his officials sent to manage the countryside only enriched themselves at the expense of the populace as they were used to doing.
The defections to the Communist Army, the People’s Liberation Army, the PLA, as they were now called, increased daily. Entire divisions changed sides over night. Of the soldiers in the Nationalist army who were captured by the PLA, 3/4 merely surrendered and changed sides. In the last battle for Nanjing, capital of Jiang’s Kuomintang government, many of the half million KMT troops just switched sides.
By January 1949, the PLA troops entered Beijing, encountering no resistance. Jiang’s KMT government sued for peace. When negotiations broke down, Mao ordered his troops across the Yangtze River to complete the victory. On October 1, 1949 Mao proclaimed the beginning of the People’s Republic of China.
Focused upon his own survival, as always, Jiang escaped to Taiwan, setting up the Republic of China. With the backing of the international business community Jiang claimed that his government was the true Chinese government and vowed to return to rule mainland China. For over 20 years the United States and many Western powers refused to recognize Mao’s government of China and only recognized the Jiang’s Taiwanese government as representative of the Chinese people as a whole. They attempted as best they could to undermine Mao’s government, hoping that it would fall under the weight of international pressure.
Because the foundation of Communist support was the agricultural peasantry who resided in the countryside, not the industrial middle class who resided in the cities, they were not as subject to international pressure. Furthermore as the Chinese economy was based in agriculture and internal trade the newly founded Communist government was not subject to the disruption of the free market economy of Western imperialism. As always the West needed Chinese goods more than the Chinese needed Western goods. The Chinese had been deliberately self-sufficient for thousands of years. Some things don’t change.
[i]Time-Frame AD. 1925-1950, Shadow of the Dictators, Time-Life Books 1989, p137
[iii]Cradles of Civilization: China, p. 169 University of Oklahoma Press 1995
[iv]Time Frame AD 1925-1950, p 145
[v]Time Frame AD 1925-1950, Time-Life Books, 1989 p. 148
[vi]Time Frame AD 1925-1950, p 151
[vii]Time Frame AD 1925-1950, p 159
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