48. Revolution and the 8th Route Army
IN ANY social upheaval as vast and violent as the Chinese Revolution, military organizations and concepts of strategy were swept aside as ruthlessly as political institutions and social classes. Just as the French Revolution scrapped the old aristocratic army of the Bourbons and the Russian Revolution abolished the tlemoralized army of the czars, so the Chinese Revolution destroyed the semifeudal army system of Chiang Kai-shek. There was, however, this significant difference. The French and Russians did not establish a new army until they had seized power; the Chinese established a new army while struggling for state power.
This fact alone guaranteed that the revolutionary Chinese army would be much weaker, yet, by force of circumstances, more democratic and more intimately associated with the processes of revolution than either of its earlier counterparts.
| In order to promote revolution
in Russia, the Bolsheviks had deliberately broken down the morale of the
old army, so that when they were forced to fight a civil war they had to
re-create this morale by some very undemocratic disciplinary measures, including
execution. The French, in carrying Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to the
rest of Europe by means of war, also stamped out many gains of the revolution
and instituted a levee en masse - that is, universal conscription. The Chinese
Communists having neither a Third Estate nor a proletariat had to use their
army for revolution. Therefore, in North China where I was, in order to
win the peasant to revolution, and to give him the dignity of a personality,
they could not conscript him. To do so would have put the Communists on
a par with Chiang Kai-shek and given their army no distinction from his.
For this reason the 8th Route Army was composed almost entirely of volunteers.
Soldiers were obtained by persuasion, propaganda and local social pressure. Preferential treatment was given to soldier families, the villages guaranteeing to plow a warrior s land and care for his relatives. In Kuomintang areas, peasants considered it a disgrace and a tragedy to be drafted into the army, but in the Liberated Areas, the Communists tried to make it appear an honor to join the army. Instead of being kidnaped from his home by draft agents, the volunteer for the 8th Route Army was given a feast by his whole village, decorated with a banner, set upon a caparisoned mule or even in a flower-decked sedan chair, serenaded by gongs, cymbals and flutes and escorted from the village by all the peasant boys and girls. In this way, the newly enlisted man got the idea that joining the army was not entirely a personal affair, but one in which he represented the whole village.
| Though men volunteered for the army,
their period of service was not limited to any length of time, but to the
duration of the war. Yet, if an enlisted man ran away, he was not put in
jail or beaten. A notice was merely sent to his village which would then
try to persuade him to go back to the army. If he would not, he was generally
shunned. Such social ostracism was generally sufficient to send him back
of his own accord. Should he desert three times, he was turned over to the
district magistrate for hard labor.
The reform of the draft apparatus had both military and revolutionary effects. For not only did the Communist volunteer fight more spiritedly than the Kuomintang conscript, but many peasants, knowing they would be safe, used to flee over from Chiang Kai-shek's side to the Liberated Areas in order to avoid Kuomintang conscription. Thus the volunteer system built up morale on the Communist side and. destroyed it on the Kuomintang side.
| It should not be thought, however,
that it was easy for a villager to avoid joining the army. The pressures
were terrific. In the first place, there was the matter of propaganda. This
was usually intimately associated with the land reform. For example, in
mass meetings, day-to-day gossip and in discussions and plays, recruiting
officers would say:
"The rise of the poor is the result of the struggle of the Communist party and the 8th Route Army.
"In order to protect the fruits of the struggle [land and food received in land reform] the reactionaries must be smashed and our villages defended.
"Let us avenge for our ancestors the exploitation they suffered from corrupt officials and rascal landlords.
"We must create our own freedom and welfare with our own sweat and blood. Everyone join the regular army."
Besides propaganda, family members were mobilized to convince a prospective recruit he should enlist. If this did not work, then the whole people of the village might be mobilized to break down the recruit's resistance and force him to join up.
When a man went off to join the army, the district magistrate served as a groom for the horse of the recruit. When he arrived in a new unit, after a physical examination, he was told the history, reforms and glorious accomplishments of his unit, so that he would feel happy on joining such a distinguished outfit.
As soon as he arrived, old soldiers rushed to pay their respects to the new soldier. Some helped him put on his uniform. Some gave him a haircut, or made him presents of hand towels and soap. A distinct effort was made to make the new soldier feel at home and among friends.
This was not unknown to the officers of Chiang Kai-shek. The Kuomintang intelligence report, which we have previously quoted, sadly noted: "The conscription of our side does not aim to make the people understand, does not carry out educational work, does not convince them ideologically, but only tries to enforce the law. As a result, for ten years the conscription system has been corrupt. To compare our situation with that of the bandits [Communists] is indeed terrifying."
It is almost superfluous to remark that the 8th Route Army treated its soldiers much differently than did the Kuomintang. There were none of those ultrademocratic reforms which were ruthlessly abolished from the early Russian Red Army. Officers were not elected, but appointed. Nevertheless, soldiers were treated with studied kindness. No one was ever beaten. A commander was forbidden to curse his soldiers or even lose his temper when reprimanding them.
| The success of these methods, which
proved their worth time and again, can be explained in part by the character
of the North China peasantry from whose ranks the soldiers were drawn. Thrifty,
frugal, frank, single minded, capable of bearing great hardship, the farmer
was sympathetic and honest with other people, but extremely vengeful against
anyone who did him harm. Self-respecting, he would work hard if encouraged,
but would lie down on the job if given bad treatment. "Bear hardship,
but not blame," said a proverb. Such a man would not respond to curses.
Officers of Chiang's armies beat this peasant and they got a bad instrument.
Commanders of the 8th Route Army buttered him up and got a good instrument.
For this reason there were few cliques in the 8th Route Army.
Equal pay, equal food, equal treatment, voluntary enlistment - these were all big factors in developing morale in the 8th Route Army. Another factor of great importance was political training. Every unit from the platoon up to the commander in chief of a war zone had a political director or a commissar whose duty it was to raise the morale of troops through political education. If a unit commander was killed, these men took command until another officer was appointed. The duties of these political directors were not, as might be supposed, to spy on military commanders and certainly, as far as I saw, there was no friction between them and purely military officers as there was friction between Chiang's officers and the spies of his secret service. The commanders gave the orders, but the comtnissars gave the pep talks and led the soldiers into battle.
The purpose of political education, according to the Communists, was
to make the soldier believe in victory, to guarantee that victory by the
organization of every kind of activity and to carry cut the political
line handed down from above. In informal meetings, political directors
read newspapers to the soldiers, told of the defeats of Chiang Kai-shek
in other parts of the country and explained the meaning of the war. Because
soldiers do not like to be rebuked by officers, the Communists got each
squad to organize a mutual self-help group which criticized the shortcomings
of squad members. When a squad moved out of a village, the self-help groups
checked to see that everything borrowed from the people had been returned.
This was done without the supervision of the commander and for this reason
was more effective. Three to five minutes each day were also used by such
groups for public self-criticism. Thus one soldier might say: "Today,
I dug a ditch poorly." Or another: "I did not fire the machine
Prior to every battle, the political workers explained to the troops the relation of the battle to the over-all situation, the meaning of this particular battle in the entire Chinese Revolution and the general situation on both sides, with emphasis on the low morale of Kuomintang forces, high prices, revolts in Chiang's rear and so on.
| As a matter of fact the
aim of all political education in the 8th Route Army was to instill a spirit
of class consciousness in the soldier. According to 8th Route Army leaders,
this was the surest way of building up morale. Since this is rather a questionable
subject, it is perhaps well to insert at this point some words of a conversation
I had with the political director of the army in Shansi Province on the
whole question of morale.
"To us," said my informant, "war is an emotional struggle carried on through political consciousness. Morale is composed of hatred, love, revenge and confidence in victory. It exists as a social phenomenon and does not lie in the strength of individuals, but in the strength of society. It is decisive in combat and decisive in war.
"The origins of morale lie in the emotions of the people. Our soldiers are farmers in uniform and they bring with them the hearts of farmers. Their social condition therefore determines their morale in fighting. Morale with these soldiers is higher than it was during the Japanese war, because the people hate Chiang Kai-shek more than they did the Japanese, because they have gone through the land reform and because they look on the Liberated Areas as their own nation and feel they have a reason to defend their homes.
"Leadership and education play an important part in raising morale. Leadership depends on the political education of the leader. He must believe in what he is fighting for and he must first of all love his soldiers, attending to their daily wants, their food and their sleeping before anything else. You ask is food, equipment or a political commissar more important for morales The care of material conditions is a part of leadership. Of course, if troops had no food, a political director would speak empty words.
"Morale can go in waves. In general, with inexperienced troops, a lost battle, fatigue, sickness have bad effects. Raising morale under such circumstances again depends on leadership. Old soldiers are not so influenced by passing circumstances, but they demand more from leadership and so it is important with them too.
"In new outfits, killed friends weakens morale; in old, it toughens morale. All our columns are composed solely of old soldiers. Local regulars are placed in new outfits where they can gradually develop morale.
"Morale is far more important than economic conditions. If we should take economy as a basis for victory, we would have no confidence, as Chiang Kai-shek has a superior economy.
"Our methods of building morale would be of no use in the American army because you have a different kind of society than we do. Our way of building morale depends on class consciousness and hardly could be used except in a revolutionary war.
Examples of the way army political leaders put these theories into practice come readily to mind. Soldiers were told they came from an oppressed class and that the nature of the war they were fighting was to end exploitation. It was explained that the civil war was a war for themselves, for their emancipation and for their protection as individuals. The first lesson the soldier had to learn, therefore, was to cultivate good relations with the people. Incessantly the army dinned into the soldier's head that he could not molest the people, that he had to pay for everything he bought, that he could not loot, that he had to clean up rooms that he had used, that above all he must not make the people feel that the army was crushing their privileges. Naturally, this was of extreme importance, as the people of China have commonly hated all soldiers.
The success of the Communists in this type of political training was amazing to anyone who knew anything about China. Village cadres and local militiamen were often extremely cruel to the people, but rarely could the same thing be said of the 8th Route Army whose soldiers were characterized by an extraordinary pride in their discipline and close relations with the people. Exterior signs of this friendliness could be seen in the special language they adopted toward the peasantry, such as "my big sister," "my younger brother" and so on. Far more revealing than any of these things, however, was to see peasants near the fighting areas carrying pigs and chickens ten and fifteen miles to the front to give the soldiers, to see women sewing shoes for their lovers in the army instead of for their husbands, to see these same women set aside their only beds as rest stations for traveling soldiers, cut up their skirts into bandages and join in celebrations of army victories. Pitiful efforts compared to what America does for her soldiers, but magnificent co-operation of peasantry and army when compared to Chiang Kai-shek's areas.
Lest all the above sound starry-eyed, I should perhaps mention that I have seen the American, British, Burmese, Indian, French, German, Russian and Chinese Kucmintang armies in action, but I have never seen an army quite like the 8th Route Army led by the Chinese Communists. In many ways, it was absolutely unique among the armies of the world. I think this was principally due to the fact that much of it was not created from an old standing army, but out of the people themselves. The very desperateness of their position forced the Communists to form a democratic army. Offhand, the only other army that I know of that was formed in the same way was the Yugoslav partisans of Marshal Tito. But you will not find anyone in Chinese Communist territory who calls himself marshal nor will you find, anyone who dresses himself in a fancy uniform and besplatters himself with medals. This, of course, may change now that the Communists are moving toward total power.
| Here, I would like to tell about a
political tactic that possibly has never been tried before by any army in
the world. I refer to the use of the Speak Bitterness Meetings by the army.
Today, the 8th Route Army - or as they are now calling it, the People's Revolutionary Army's composed of three kinds of soldiers: old soldiers, newly enlisted farmers from the Communist areas and prisoners of war. When a battle takes place and prisoners are captured, the army retires to an open field and holds a vast public meeting. An old soldier gets up and tells how he joined the 8th Route Army, how he fought and what kind of a life he leads. A new soldier tells of his bitterness on the land and how they "turned over" against the landlords and what results they got from the land reform. A prisoner then is persuaded to get up and talk about his life in Chiang Kai-shek's army. He tells how he was dragged from his farm, how he was beaten in the army, how he starved and so on. Some of these tales are so horrible and so filled with suffering that even the most hardened soldiers weep at hearing them. Each one has a different story. If he has not personally suffered, the soldier tells the sufferings of his parents. Needless to say, it is a tremendous experience for the soldier to be able to cry out his sorrows to a host of sympathetic listeners.
Chinese are philosophical people, and a Chinese soldier is the most philosophical of them all. Like the peasant, the individual soldier thought it was his fate to suffer. But when he saw that everyone had his own store of bitterness, he reached the conclusion that all the poor were from the same family.
These mass confessionals spoke far more forcibly to the heart of the soldiers than did the commanders or the political directors. There was absolutely no way to undermine such teaching. Nor could the method be copied. For had Chiang Kai-shek allowed his soldiers to reveal their bitterness, they might well have risen up against their own officers.
| Commissars, of course, took advantage
of these meetings to point political lessons to Kuomintang prisoners. They
tried to sow dissension between officers and men. They told captives that
Kuomintang officers were the sons and brothers of landlords and corrupt
officials, that their ancestors had exploited the soldiers?ancestors and
that now they had become the slaves of superior officers. "You fight
and suffer at the front," political directors told captives, "but
nobody even picks up your corpse after you die, while the rich who have
authority have a good time in the rear." When a captured soldier blamed
an evil village chief for his troubles, the commissar would trace the action
up to the magistrate and then to the governor and finally to Chiang Kai-shek.
Pretty soon, the soldier came to the belief that his worst personal enemy
was not the county chief, but the dictator of China. Thus the commissars
taught captured soldiers to generalize politically.
So effective were these new methods that even by the middle of 1947 Kuomintang soldiers captured one day would attend a political meeting the same night, and be fighting in the 8th Route Army the next day. Before 1947, the Communists used to send prisoners to training camps, but the political disintegration in Chiang's armies became so marked that in many places, they no longer felt the need of these camps.
| While the Communists welcomed
any soldier of Chiang's into the 8th Route Army, at the same time they also
released any prisoner who wanted to go back to Chiang's side. As a matter
of fact, they even gave prisoners traveling expenses to get home.
There have been too many witnesses to this Communist policy, both Chinese and foreign, to doubt its authenticity. An American Army officer who was captured by the Communists in Manchuria tells how six thousand men of Chiang's 88th Division were brought to a mass meeting and treated as honored guests. An American girl in Shantung tells how she visited a camp for fifty captured Kuomintang generals and saw them getting far better food and living under better conditions than 8th Route officers. Finally, I myself, when in Kuomintang areas have seen hundreds of prisoners released by the Communists pouring across the lines.
Originally, the Kuomintang had not paid much attention to the political tactics used by the Reds to break down their army. "Just propaganda" was their comment. But as more soldiers began to desert and as the Kuomintang officers learned about Red political undermining, they became terrified. "Upon hearing such things," (Speak Bitterness Meetings), wrote one of Chiang's officers, "how can one help but being heart-broken. Unless we can devise methods of counteraction, it will be simply horrible."
But the army of Chiang Kai-shek was too far gone in dissolution to devise any methods of counteraction. As I was writing these words, there came to hand an Associated Press story out of China describing how General Ma Wen-ting, chief of staff of the 82nd Division, ordered the massacre of five hundred of the soldiers of Communist General Peng Teh-huai.
"Without emotion," says the Associated Press, "the grim-visaged Ma described the mass killing of prisoners. 'We chopped off one head after another with our big broadswords. We finished the others off with hand grenades.'"
Such were the exploits of Chiang Kai-shek's generals. The difference between Kuomintang and Communist treatment of prisoners is too striking to need comment.
Perhaps the difference also accounts in some measure for the different results obtained on the field of battle. Let us look at this battlefield.