THE PEOPLE'S WAR
39. Guerrilla Commando
|THE easiest way for a general
to make a people's war more effective is to support the movement by small
detachments sent from the regular army. Without support of a few regular
troops, the people generally are not encouraged to take up arms.
Such is the classic view of a people's war.
Yet, in Anyang County, the people's war started with little help from the army and priniarily because conditions of life had become unbearable. The main fighting force in the county was the militia - that is, farmers with rifles, armed civilians, who came out and fought for two weeks and then went back to their villages to resume farming. Nevertheless, there was a more permanent military force composed of trained soldiers who provided a stiffening to the fighting morale of the untrained farmers.
This force was known as the Armed Working Team. Though there were a few regular soldiers and officers from the 8th Route Army in this outfit, it was by no means a regular army unit, of which there were none in Anyang, and it was completely under the command of the county magistrate. These Armed Working Teams were in a way guerrilla specialists and at the same time they had somewhat the character of commandos, performing jobs that were entirely too big or specialized for the ill-equipped militiamen. Sometimes they would blow up a Kuomintang blockhouse, sometimes derail a train, sometimes join the fight against an especiapy strong Home Returning Corps. Very often, they came to the rescue of militia units that had become involved in scraps with Kuomintang troops that were too strong for them to handle.
| One morning I decided
I would like to see one of these teams, so Mr. Chen, Liu Ming-chi, a couple
of militiamen and I set out over a mountain trail and after a couple of
days?walking reached a small village in the foothills of the Taihang Mountains
where a unit of forty men had set up temporary headquarters.
Whether by design or accident, this headquarters was in a rather idyllic spot on the edge of a bubbling brook beneath the overhanging brow of a sheer rock cliff. The Kuomintang troops were only a few miles away, yet I spent a very quiet time here basking in the sun and conversing with my companions about the war.
In aspect, as well as training, these men were entirely different from the militiamen. All of them wore uniforms which were kept spotlessly clean. They seemed healthier than the militiamen and stronger, as if they were particularly well fed. Yet, in all the time I was with them, we never ate anything but millet and a few carrots. Each soldier carried his own millet in a cloth, which he rolled like a sausage and slung over his back in a loop. This grain was given them by the county and no one ever took any food from the civilians, who were in a pretty bad way in this area.
| The leader of this particular
outfit, Li Yu-ming, was a well set-up man, about thirty-two, slender and
wiry, with a bronzed face, and he had a ready but grave smile. He was exceptionally
articulate for an army officer and, though normally a quiet man, he used
to take me up on the roof of a peasant's home and talk to me for hours about
his life. I found it interesting because he was an intellectual who had
rebelled against Chiang Kai-shek for reasons quite different than those
of the peasants. Yet his revolt was tied up, as almost all such revolts
were, with the feudal conditions of China.
He had been born in a good-sized village in the hills of western Shansi Province, not far from the Yellow River. His mother died when he was about ten and his father married again. His new step-mother treated him cruelly and finally forced him to marry a girl with a pock-marked face for whom he had no liking. At the insistence and with the aid of his grandfather, he continued his studies, finally going to middle school in the provincial capital at Taiyuan. There, he was much influenced by his first glimpses of the outside world, glimpses obtained partly from other companions, but mostly from books about Europe and America. He was also deeply moved by various student movements against the Japanese who were then in occupation of Manchuria. For this reason, and also because his money was running out, he was attracted by advertisements of the Nanking government offering scholarships to provincial students in the officer's training school in the national capital.
About 1935, with a number of other students from North China, he journeyed to Nanking and enrolled himself in one of Chiang Kai-shek's military schools. The first morning, he and several hundred other students in the freshman class were greatly surprised when the dean of the school got up and announced that they were to be trained as gendarmes. The dean pointed out that the backbone of any modern country was its police force and its gendarmerie and he made numerous references to Italy and Germany to prove his case.
Though the students knew little about Hitler or Mussolini, they were enraged at the way they had been cheated. They had expected to be trained as officers in an army that would eventually fight Japan. Now they found they had been lured from their homes to form an internal police and spy force for Chiang Kai-shek.
Since most of the boys were between seventeen and twenty, they were quite idealistic and the life they were now forced to lead shocked and disillusioned them. Many of the boys had never been away from home before and some cried during the night, but others, especially the northern students, began to run away. As a result, all the new students were forced to hand in their clothes at night and were seldom let out of the compound.
Although they were not in the army, the students were not allowed to
resign from the school. They were little better than prisoners. Once,
one Honan student was caught running away and the whole school was marched
outside the walls of Nanking and made to watch his execution. The students
were terror struck, yet the more daring ones continued to flee. In one
term, according to Li, nearly three hundred students ran away.
One hot summer day when the temperature was over 100, Li's class was
sent on a long training march outside the walls of Nanking. In full regalia
and with heavy packs on their backs, many of the students, especially
those from the north, succumbed to sunstroke and passed out on the road.
Li, himself, staggered on. When he walked slowly, he was prodded. When
he fell down he was kicked. His eyes staring, his mind reeling, his legs
trembling, he at last toppled over.
| During the training march,
Li had slightly injured his leg. He now pretended the leg would not get
well. Week after week, he refused to walk. The doctors, puzzled at first,
finally announced he had some rare disease. He was dismissed from school.
On crutches and supported by two friends, he made his way to the ferry leading across the Yangtze River. Reaching the other side, he took a deep breath of relief, threw away his crutches and then laughed with joy to find that he was in North China.
Arriving home, he found his father ill in bed. "I knew you were in trouble," said the old man, "and I did not think to live. But now I shall get better." Li's pock-marked wife was also waiting for him in a subdued, humble way. Although he had been married against his desires and had little affection for his wife, Li treated her well, for she had never done anything bad to him. Then, he had undergone so much bitterness himself, be had not the heart to be unkind to anyone.
For a while he lay in a kind of stupor around the house. Then he began to work in the fields and take long walks in the hills about his home. It seemed to him that the only good thing left in life was nature, a man's family and a few friends. He hated society and had little desire to go out and see the world again. Working in his fields, he made friends with some "long-term" workers and he came to feel that these were much finer people than anyone else in the village.
| About this time, one of
his former classmates sent him a letter from Yenan, the Communist capital,
begging him to come up there to school. After several adventures, Li made
his way through the Kuomintang lines and reached Yenan. On his arrival,
a cadre warned him that he was in for a hard life, that he would get little
to eat and that he would probably be killed in the expected Japanese war
or by frost or starvation. Li said he would take a chance.
He enrolled in an anti-Japanese training school. It was the happiest time of his life. Having gone through so much in Chiang Kai-shek's schools, he was surprised to see students walking from classroom to classroom with their arms around each other, singing. He lost his morose depressed attitude and began to open his heart to others.
"You know," he said to me one day, "I've completely changed since then. As you can see, I am always smiling now. But before I was glum, frustrated and unhappy."
Li's idyllic life lasted little more than six months. One day, the schoolteacher came and announced that China was at war with Japan. "You students are not completely trained," said the dean, "but you are needed at the front." With five or six others, Li went into the Shansi Mountains. He stood on highways and watched the soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek running away in panic through Shansi. Wherever he found a deserting soldier, he tried to get him to go into the mountains and continue resistance. He did not operate as a Communist, which he was not, but as an organizer for the United Front. Except for four or five companions, he operated alone. Gradually he built up a small guerrilla band. He seldom had food. He would go into a village and find a tenant and ask him where the fledaway landlord had buried his grain. The two of them would dig it up and then Li would supply his guerrillas. For months on end, he lived a hunted existence, always surrounded by the Japanese. From one mountain peak to another, he was continually on the move. He ate little, slept less, dressed in rags.
At one time, he joined a United Front government in Shansi. The magistrate
was an opium smoker and let Li do all the work. Li tried to lighten the
burden of taxes on the peasants. The gentry protested and finally drove
him out of office.
Because he had a bad limp - this time a real one - he never went on
any expeditions that required much walking. Yet, his outfit was now so
well trained that they operated well without him. As a matter of fact,
Li was very proud of them and it was clear to see that he held them in
much greater esteem than the militia.
I wanted to go behind the lines on a raid with Li's men, for they
seemed to me very efficient, but Li was called away and there was no other
way to go behind the lines but with a militia outfit. Li had advised me
against doing this, as the militiamen were ill trained. But I decided
to go anyway.