THE PEOPLE'S WAR
|WAGING a war against an enemy equipped
as well as you are is a hard enough proposition. Defending yourself against
an enemy much your superior in material strength is an affair that tries
the soul. But attacking and defeating an enemy that is ten or twenty times
as strong as you are seems almost impossible.
The difficulty in the case of Anyang County, as with all half-occupied counties, was that though the people could organize themselves sufficiently to evacuate their homes, to save their goods from plunder and to protect their local officials trom murder, they could not develop the military might to drive off the well-armed troops of Chiang Kai-shek by direct assault. Nor, except in isolated cases, could they win the enemy soldiers over by propaganda. Yet, somehow, they had to destroy the forces of Chiang Kai-shek or at least render them harmless.
Since they could not fall upon the larger garrisons Chiang maintained at the front, their only recourse was to operate in his rear, to pick off an isolated outpost one night, to disperse a Home Returning Corps on another night and to free a village on a third night.
Such a way of fighting was not only dangerous, but extremely tiresome and more than slow. Yet these operations, carried on with painstaking patience and over widely scattered areas, were destined in many counties to destroy Chiang's forces piecemeal.
| When I arrived in Anyang,
this type of warfare had only just begun. Some days before, the county government
had managed to break the Kuomintang blockade line between Kwangtai and Suiyeh
by infiltrating eighty militiamen past a long row of Kuomingtang pillboxes.
Though fired on, the militiamen had not stopped to fight, but bad continued
on ten miles behind the lines. Along the way, two and three militiamen each
village to do propaganda work. Only thirty men arrived at the main target
- a large village housing a Home Returning Corps. In order to give the impression
that they were regular troops, the militiamen blew several mighty blasts
on their bugles. As hoped, the Home Returning Corps took fright and fled
in the night. The militiamen searched out the people and delivered a number
"We are from the 8th Route Army," they said. "we want to show you we have not fled. Do not give up hope, we will come back often. From now on anyone who oppresses you will have to deal with us."
The results of this seemingly innocuous raid were more widespread than appears at first glance. As soon as they saw that militiamen were operating behind their lines at night, the soldiers of Chiang, who had little belief in the war, took to their pillboxes and would not come out. Thus, further raids became easier. At the same time, various landlords afraid to sleep in local Home Returning Corps barracks, began to collect in a central location for safety. That left further villages free. Then poor tenants realizing they had allies just across the way began to stand up to the landlords who were scared to be too severe.
| Now, on my arrival in
Anyang, the raids were spreading ever deeper and wider into Kuomintang territory.
Every night small groups of three, five, ten and fifteen men were going
behind the lines to gather information, to do propaganda work, to fight
with the Home Returning Corps and with stray Kuomintang soldiers.
Very often the militiamen who led the raids were refugees from Chiang's areas. Sometimes they went on the raids to get revenge for relatives who had been killed. Most often, however, the raids were intimately connected with the land reform. Their purpose was to protect the results of the iand division, to force the landlords to return what they had taken from the people and generally to encourage the poor. Such operations went under the sinister-sounding name of Counter-Counter-Settlement. Although there was often much shooting, the raids did not seem to me to be essentially military. Rather did this kind of warfare seem to be a political and a social combat carried on by armed means. The targets of the raids were not so often strongpoints or even lines of communications, as they were social institutions, government organs and private individuals. Thus, raiding militiamen would free a girl who had been forced into marriage, depose a hated village chief or kidnap a landord. In brief, this war aimed at people's emotions and sought to conquer hearts and not territory.
I do not mean that propaganda replaced combat, but rather that the guerrilla war was carried on in an entirely different emotional environment than regular war. An example of this is furnished by the way the guerrillas and the militia gathered intelligence. Militiamen, crossing the lines at night, would climb over a house wall, knock on a woman's door and ask: "How are you being treated? How much have you been taxed? What are you getting to eat?" Farmers sneaking over for a day or so to the 8th Route Army side would bring not so much information about Kuomintang dispositions as they would bring the names of peasants who had been conscripted for labor, of women who were being beaten or of children who had lost their fathers.
Time after time I have sat in various villages in no man's land and seen farmers come up to guerrillas and give them information that any regular army officer would have scorned. But such information was extremely useful in this type of warfare. The local guerrillas in learning who was suffering would also learn the name of someone who would probably help them. On the other hand all this information was sent back to the rear where it was collated so that the 8th Route Army could make an effective political and social policy.
While uncovering the suffering of the villagers, the militiamen also uncovered the names of landlords, dog legs and bandits who were treating the people badly. If a landlord took things from the people, the militiamen would send him a letter warning him to return what he had taken. If he did not, they would send him a more peremptory note. If nothing happened, they very often kidnaped him and brought him across the lines in the night.
During a two-month period in Anyang, eighty landlords and members of the Home Returning Corps were brought across the lines in this way. Generally, the subdistrict commissar or the district government head would give them a lecture and then let them go. I don't exactly approve of kidnaping, yet I was sometimes amazed by the patience and forbearance county officials showed toward landlords who had carried arms and fought them.
The operations of militiamen in Kuomintang territory often had a Robin
Hood character about them. Since the militiamen were poor men themselves,
whenever they found a man or woman in distress they would try to help
them out. Undoubtedly the roving farmers in redressing wrongs often committed
brutal deeds and to many men they must have appeared as nothing but barbaric
murderers. But I have very good reason to know that many poor peasants
in Chiang Kai-shek's areas looked on these men who came to them in the
night as virtuous outlaws and sometimes as shining Sir Galahads.
The militiamen grew angry, but wondered if the old woman's story were
true. To find out, they went into four or five houses and asked the people.
Everyone said Wei Ching-lien was a wicked man and that the old woman had
nothing to eat.
No one had any grenades, but they hoped to scare the landlord into
opening his door. Still no one came.
| Not all the raids were
so grim as this. Some of them were even funny. A militia band went behind
the lines and told a landlord he should give batk the things he had taken
from the poor. The landlord agreed, but still returned nothing. Again the
militiamen went and this time the landlord said: "I am going to give
them back right away, but I have to dig them up from the cave where I buried
them." Again nothing happened. The third time the militiamen went to
the landlord's house, his wife answered the door, saying her husband was
not at home. The militiamen walked in and noticed that two people had been
sleeping on the kang. Shining their flashlight around the room, they saw
the landlord, completely naked clinging to the rafters overhead. When the
light shone on him, the landlord trembled so violently that he fell to the
floor. It was cold. The militiamen would not let the landlord get dressed.
"Well," they asked, "are you going to give back their things to the poor?" "Oh, I was just preparing to do so tomorrow," said the landlord.
"Fine," said the militiamen. "when you give back their things, we will give back your clothes,?and with these words they walked out with all the landlord's clothing and his blankets.
The militiamen also became mixed up in marital affairs. During the famine, some tenants had lost not only their land, but their wives to landlords and bandits. In the sixth chu I heard of a tenant farmer who had struggled against a landlord and received some land in the settlement. When the Kuomintang and the landlord came back, the tenant fled. The landlord kidnaped his wife, saying to neighbors, "He took my property and I'll take his." One night with some militiamen, the tenant returned to his village, climbed over the wall, shot the landlord and took back his wife.
Many as were the personal vendettas, most of the raids behind the lines had more general aims. And they had much more effect than might be imagined. For step by step the militiamen drove the Home Returning Corps from the villages behind Chiang's lines. This meant just so many more people freed from Chiang Kai-shek and just so much narrower an area in which his troops and officials could operate. In the words of one militiaman, these operations showed the people "that the world is ours."
Because of the conditions behind Chiang's lines, thousands of villagers
were waiting for the 8th Route Army, and when the militiamen came at night,
they received a heartfelt welcome.