45. Why a General Revolts
NOBODY can understand the Chinese army without understanding something about that fascinating group of half-educated, dispossessed farm boys who suddenly rose from obscurity between 1911 and 1926 and almost overnight became field marshals, generalissimos and warlords, with dominion over regions as large and populous as many modern European states. These quondam rulers of China have had a bad reputation abroad. Many people think they employed their armies merely as weapons to amass wealth, power and concubines, that they fought battles principally with "Silver bullets" and that they paid their soldiers in opium. Some of this was true enough of many of the old provincial generals, but many of these petty militarists were not driven by insatiable power lusts, but by high ideals of a romantic, if somewhat confused, nature. Appearing like vaudeville clowns, they were in reality minor actors in one of the greatest tragedies of history - the collision between the East and West.
Such a man was General Kao Hsu-hsun, who, having deserted Chiang Kai-shek, now sat before me in a hut in Shansi Province telling me the story of his life.
Now the remarkable thing about General Kao as a study in character
development is not that he was a dissolute warlord who was surrounded
and cut off by the Communists and surrendered only to save his own life.
On the contrary, the uniqueness of his position is this: that this illiterate
son of a bankrupt middle farmer, rising to become general of an army when
he was still in his twenties, was nevertheless able, when past middle
age, to re-create the ideals of his youth, to discard his position of
power and finally, in spite of fear of the secret police and the pleadings
of his fellow-generals, to disown his loyalty to Chiang Kai-shek and deliberately
to bring his whole army over to the Chinese Communists whom he had once
Kao was depressed by the fact that all the cigarettes in his tray were manufactured by foreign concerns. "It irritated me," he said,"to sell cigarettes for foreigners. Why should they get all the profits? Why could not China make cigarettes herself ??He concluded this was because China was not strong. Looking around at foreign soldiers guarding the embassies in Peking, he decided that the power of a country lay in its army. So he enlisted as a private in the forces of the Christian General Feng Yu-hsiang.
| "Under Feng,"
said Kao, "I came to realize the imperialist designs of the great powers.
Worst of all was Japan. Every May 7th, Feng used to assemble all of us on
the parade ground and read to us Japan's twenty-one demands. Then he would
weep. I was much affected and soon I developed a deep feeling about the
necessity for revolution and a great belief in the doctrines of Dr. Sun
Yat-sen, especially his principle of nationalism."
In 1926, Kao became commander of Feng Yu-hsiang's 12th Division. When Chiang Kai-shek marched north in 1927, with the slogans of Dr. Sun Yat-sen on his lips and with the intention of throwing out the warlords, Kao's enthusiasm ran very high. The events of 1927 and the despotism of Chiang Kai-shek somewhat disillusioned Kao. "Chiang took up the same old role of the warlords," he said. "I was depressed." His disillusionment, however, was not complete, and Kao still remained ambitious. By 1929, he became commander of the 9th Army under Feng. He went to the far-distant northwest with General Sun Lien-chung with whom he served for twenty years. For a time he was governor of Chinghai Province. Then he fought on Feng's side in a brief but bitter civil war with Chiang. Feng was defeated, and most all of his armies, including Kao's, were incorporated into the national army under Chiang Kai-shek and sent south of the Yangtze River to fight the Communists.
| Here Kao maintained his
position as army commander, but he was unhappy. During his twenty years
in the army, he had developed a very bad habit. He had learned to read.
Ambitious and energetic as he had been till now, and swift and successful
as had been his rise from jobless wanderer and cigarette peddler to governor
and army commander, there had always remained in him a strain of idealism.
Influenced by reading, influenced also by many years of war, he gradually
came to the conclusion that Chiang Kai-shek had betrayed the principles
of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and made of the revolution a thing to mock the hopes
of the mass of the people. One day, having read an article about the life
of serfs in Czarist Russia, he looked about him and thought that conditions
were much the same in China. Embittered when he saw the Kuomintang bureaucrats
come in and seize the land of the peasants that he, himself, had freed from
the Communists, he thought that Dr. Sun's principle of the "Livelihood
of the people" existed only in the mouths of officials. Then, too,
living among his troops, he wondered why the officials should live so much
better than he, who was preserving them in power.
Suddenly he could stand no more, and in the early 1930's without a word to anyone, he gave up his command in the field, and fled to Tientsin. Chiang put out an order for his arrest, but Kao remained safe, hiding in the British Concession. In 1933, he went to Kalgan and joined a movement against the Japanese led by his old commander Feng Yu-hsiang. The movement was quickly suppressed and Kao became head of the Public Safety Bureau of Hopei.
When Japan captured Peiping, Kao led his gendarmes into the countryside to fight a guerrilla war. For five years, he remained behind the Japanese lines, commanding a force of thirty thousand men. The 8th Route Army, expanding everywhere, however, soon left him no place to live and he came across the Yellow River with his troops.
Now, at last safe in the rear lines, Kao went to the then capital of China at Chungking. "I got a headache there," he said. "I was disgusted by what I saw. No government office was doing anything. All the officials were just waiting for Chiang Kai-shek's orders. Everyone was grafting. A needle factory owner invited me to dinner and told me he had to pay the Special Service agents of Chiang Kai-shek one hundred thousand dollars for every worker in his factory so that they would not be conscripted. I was sick."
| In anger, Kao went to see General Chen
Cheng, chief of staff of the army. Protesting against the corruption and
the despotism he had seen in Chungking, Kao angrily burst out: "You
may find the Three People's Principles on a wall or in a bookstore, but
not among the people. Just show me one county where Dr. Sun's principles
have been put in practice."
General Chen flushed, but said nothing. Kao went to see Chiang Kai-shek himself. "I got another headache," he said, and here he got up and gave an imitation of Chiang's "Shanghai-loafer walk," imperceptibly swaggering, nodding his head and saying: "Good! Good!" But Kao got no satisfaction from the generalissimo either.
| "I was so angry at what I saw
in Chungking," he said, "that I thought there was no way to fight
Japan effectively but to kill Chiang Kai-shek." Such an outspoken critic
was not wanted around Chungking and the army found it convenient to ship
him back quickly to the front. He arrived just in time to be completely
overrun in the battle of Loyang and to see Chinese farmers, angered at the
tax collectors, rise in revolt against Chinese soldiers and join the Japanese.
By now, he saw no hope in the Chiang Kai-shek government at all. Meanwhile, the Communists had been watching Kao's antics with much interest. Every time he published a book, Mao Tze-tung sent Kao a copy. Kao began to think nobody could be worse than Chiang and a year before the Japanese surrender he sent a letter by trusted messenger to General Peng Teh-huai, vice-commander of the 8th Route Army and also one to General Liu Po-cheng, suggesting that they arrange further communications. "I dared do this," said Kao, "because I had read a lot of Communist books and because I had over a hundred Communist party members in my army and found they weren't such bad people after all."
Kao's gravitation toward the Communists was soon to have an effect, not only on his own character, but on the course of the civil war. In 1945, after the Japanese surrender, Chiang Kai-shek ordered Kao and two other armies in the vicinity to advance up the Peiping-Hankow Railway and take the town of Sinsiang, preparatory to making a quick dash across the North China Plain and opening up railway communications to Peiping. In Sinsiang, an emissary from General Liu Po-cheng and also two delegates of the Communist party came to see Kao. Kao informed these delegates that he was dispatching his army northward and wanted to know where he could meet the 8th Route Army and come over. This was a terrible decision for Kao. In his own words, though, "It was not an accident but the result of twenty years of experience."
Kao told the other two army commanders what he was going to do and pleaded with them to come over. They would not. Writing explanatory letters to his wife, his old commanders in the army and to his friends, Kao bid a painful good-by to his fellow-generals and then surrendered with his army to General Liu. Allowed to keep his arms, he sent out a telegram addressed to the whole nation, explaining his attitude and asking every patriotic Chinese to observe three points: "Oppose the civil war, fight for peace and democracy and co-operate with all parties to organize a democratic coalition government."
His sons and daughters in Chiang Kai-shek's hands were immediately
arrested, but Kao with the aid of friends rescued them from jail and smuggled
one son and his wife across the lines.
"Everything here is different," he told me. "In Chiang
Kai-shek's areas, society is distinctly stratified. I know, for I passed
up from the bottom through all grades to the top. In Chiang's areas, the
important thing is how much money you make, what rank you have or what
kind of a house you're living in. Here people ask only one thing: 'Is
your work well done?" When I was an army commander on the other side,
people used to flatter me, call me Reverend Sir or Elder Born. Nobody
does that now, and if I spun thread, I would be just as respected. Before
I used to smoke Three Castles, now I smoke grass cigarettes. I used to
have central heating in my big house in Tientsin, but now all I have is
a pan of charcoal. For twenty years I drank from one to thirty glasses
of brandy a day, but now I only drink an occasional cup of Pai kar native
I certainly was not prepared to take Kao's statements about his feelings toward the Communists at face value. After all what else could he say? Moreover, despite all his protestations of happiness, Kao seemed to me a little sad. I don't know what it was, but as I saw him eating with Red commanders he just appeared out of place - somewhat strained and forcedly gay. Perhaps, the very serious attitude of the Communists depressed him, perhaps the ceaseless political talk bored him. Maybe my impressions were wrong, but that's how I felt.
But actually, the subjective feelings of Kao were not so important as far as the war was concerned. What mattered was that he had deserted Chiang Kai-shek and of his own accord. Just before I said good-by to Kao, he asked me when I returned to the outside world to go and see a very high-ranking officer - whom I can't name here - in Chiang Kai-shek's army. "Give him this message," he said. "Please understand that I came over to this side not for any reasons of personal enmity. And please understand that I had to join the revolution, but still have good friendship with you. Take the lead of all the legitimate forces in North China and we will follow you."
Later, I did as Kao requested. At a party where were present not only a number of high Chinese officials, both in Chiang's government and his army, but also General Wedemeyer, who was then in China on a special mission to see if there were not some way the United States could help Chiang Kai-shek, I told this general I had seen Kao. His reaction was amazing. Right in front of everyone he seized me by the sleeve, drew me close and listened to Kao's message which I delivered. "It's coming, it's coming," he said somewhat cryptically, but with great excitement.
| And come it did. The tale of Kao Hsu-hsun
was repeated over and over again, not only on the battlefield, but in government
offices and rear-line headquarters all over North China.
But it was not only deserting Kuomintang generals that led to the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, but also a small matter of the 8th Route Army.
Let's see what kind of an army this was.