46. The 8th Route Army
|AMONG world military organizations,
the 8th Route Army was probably unique. It owed allegiance to no government,
yet fought under a central military command. Its soldiers were volunteers,
yet received no salary. Its officers enforced strict discipline, yet had
So extraordinary was this army that it was probably better known than any fighting force in four thousand years of Chinese history. Not even the Chinese Red Army, from which it sprang, was so loved and hated, so feared and admired, so reviled and praised. The fame of these soldiers had spread so far that you could go almost any place in China, either on the Communist side or the Kuomintang, and merely by holding up your thumb and first finger, (1) signify that you wished to speak about the 8th Route Army. Almost as far traveled as its fame were its soldiers. From the jungles of Burma to the snowy fields of Manchuria, from the mountains of Tibet to the plains by the Yellow Sea, these soldiers had marched back and forth across the continent, fighting over a hundred different armies of the warlords, of Chiang. Kai-shek, of the Japanese. They were from all provinces and were in a sense a national army, yet no nation recognized them. In short, they were armed rebels.
Perhaps the best way to approach an understanding of these rebels is statistical. At the start of the civil war the 8th Route Army had about a million men. By the end of 1948, this army totaled nearly three million men, the increase being accounted for partly by recruiting, but mostly by desertions from the Kuomintang. By this time, the Communists had changed the designation of their forces to the People's Revolutionary Army in order to give it the character of a national army. The direction of this army was vested in the five-man Revolutionary Affairs Military Council of the Communist party, headed by Mao Tze-tung.
The very size of this army and the extent of the area in which it operated made it much different from the old Red Army or even than the army which had fought the Japanese. This was particularly so in tactical organization. Previously, the Reds had fought nothing but a partisan warfare and operated in units generally no larger than a regiment. When I was in Communist territory, however, they were just in the process of changing from partisan to mobile and regular warfare and operated in divisions and corps.
|原注一：同时伸出食指和拇指是中国人表示“八”的一种办法，就跟西方人用拇指和中指表示“胜利”一样普遍。不过，在中国敌我都用这种方法。||(1) A Chinese way of indicating the figure 8. The use of this sign became as prevalent in China as the V sign in Europe. It, however, was used by friend and foe alike.|
War to the Communists not being primarily a military affair, their frontline regiments were often leavened with a large smattering of nonmilitary personnel. In each regiment, there were not only officers and soldiers, but teachers and students, actors and actresses, land reform cadres and farm experts. Thus an 8th Route Army unit was often not only a fighting organization but at the same time a school, theater, labor co-operative and political club.
As for the men themselves, the great majority of them were young peasants.
Their average age was much higher than that of the old Red Army and I
suppose corresponded somewhat to the age level in our own army. In one
regiment that I investigated, the average soldier was twenty-three years
old, five feet high and weighed 136 pounds.
The officers, (2) except for the top-ranking old-line Communists, were
mostly from local areas. A few were from the old Red Army and some were
intellectuals who came in from outside during the war against Japan. The
average age of these officers was thirty in the regiment, thirty-five
in a brigade, forty or over in a division. The oldest commander in the
whole army was Chu Teh, next was General Liu Po-cheng, who was fifty-five.
The youngest division commander was thirty-seven.
There was none of that boot-and-polish and asinine discipline that so angered American soldiers in Paris during the war. There were no Courthouse Lees and if one developed, he would soon have been put in his place by the soldiers.
|原注二：“官”在这里是指基层部队指挥员，如连长、营长（应为当时共军没有军衔）。共军中用“官”、“兵”来区别指挥员和战斗员。||(2) Officer is used here in the sense of a commander of a unit, such as a company or a battalion. Officers and soldiers were usually distinguished by the terms "leaders" and "fighters."|
oldiers committing small offenses were usually talked to by officers
or sergeants. Those who continually committed such offenses were criticized
at mass meetings of their platoon, company or battalion. Such culprits
were told they must "Turn over their thoughts." This ideological
and social pressure was extremely hard to withstand. More serious offenses
were punished by jail. Obvious antiparty activities were presented to
mass meetings. Culprits could be shot if the mass meeting so decided.
This applied to officers as well as top-ranking commanders.
The majority of the officers, as well as the soldiers, in the 8th Route
Army were unmarried. Those who were married were generally in that state
before they entered the army. Local regulars sometimes obtained leave
over the New Year holidays to get married. Once he had taken a wife, the
soldier got preferential treatment in the way of subsidies. By law, a
soldier was guaranteed that his wife could not divorce him while he was
on the front. But if the wife did not hear from her husband for three
years, she had the right to marry again. This law, I am afraid, sometimes
protected the soldier better than it did the wife. I met a girl who was
the wife of a brigade chief of staff. She had not seen him for four years
and he had taken up with another woman. She wanted a divorce, but did
not know what to do about her child.
As far as I could see and learn, the soldiers of the 8th Route Army treated the peasant girls with respect, and the farmers had a far higher opinion of army morality than they did of Chiang's soldiers. One of the reasons 8th Route Army soldiers treated the women so well was that they often fought in their own locality. Kuomintang soldiers were imported from outside and often had no sympathy for the local populace. I even found landlords who had been won to the Communist cause because of the difference between Kuomintang and 8th Route Army officers. In one village, I came across a landlord whose land had been divided and who hated the 8th Route Army because of this. But when the Kuomintang temporarily took over the area, his daughter, being the best-looking girl in the village, as landlords' daughters generally are, was forced to sleep with the local Kuomintang commander. As a result, despite the loss of his property, the landlord much preferred the 8th Route Army.
From the highest commander down to the lowliest soldier, all men of
the 8th Route Army dressed alike. The higher the person's job, however,
the more privileges. Battalion commanders and up were entitled to a horse
or a mule. Army commanders might have a captured jeep. Regiment commanders
might have Little Devils (boys who run away from home to join the army)
as orderlies. Neither officer nor soldier wore any insignia showing either
rank or unit. Commanders were distinguished by their cleaner clothes and
sometimes fancy pistol belts. No officer ever went around sporting a row
of medals. As a matter of fact, the only medals were worker and soldier
| How did the Communists manage to feed,
clothe and equip their armies? Here is where the Communist encouragement
of production and the revival of handicrafts proved their worth to the army
as well as to the economy of the peasant. As far as armaments went, the
United States and Chiang's armies were really their main source of supply.
Ninety percent of all its artillery, machine guns and rifles were from Kuomintang
troops. Border Region could make 80 percent of the hand grenades and 70
percent of the shells the army used.
The manufacture of shells was a difficult problem. Shells made to fit Chinese- and Japanese-captured guns would not fit the American guns the 8th Route captured from Chiang's troops. Soldiers I saw had mobile American 105s and bazookas with some ammunition. Border Region leaders, when I was there, were debating whether to change the size of their gun barrel to meet their shells or to change the shells to fit the guns. It was a tough problem because they never knew what size guns they were going to capture or whether they would be Chinese, Japanese or American.
As for the individual soldier, he generally had a rifle, two hand grenades, five to ten clips of ammunition, one blanket, an extra suit of underwear, a cake of soap, a rice bowl, a pair of chopsticks, a sewing kit, two pairs of shoes and a notebook. Old soldiers often had fountain pens won as prizes in production campaigns. Seldom did the soldier have a toothbrush and almost never any tooth paste. He wore no charms, carried no Bible, confessed to no chaplain and had few superstitions.
So much for statistics. But really to understand the 8th Route Army it is necessary to understand Chiang Kai-shek's army and the relation of both armies to the Chinese Revolution.