50. The Communists' Counteroffensive
IN IHE spring of 1947, though the loyalty of his troops was shaky and the morale of his officers low, though his reserves throughout the country were getting closer to the bone, though rebellions were springing up in his rear and devouring troops that he could ill spare, though a people's war was spreading around his front line troops and though General George Marshall had returned to the United States and given every indication of abandoning him to his fate, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, instead of learning caution from his straitened circumstances, at his headquarters in Nanking, rashly gave sanction to a plan of grandiose proportions, yet of a dangerous and terrible nature.
To his cause he summoned the treacherous nature of the Yellow River. The Yellow River over several thousand years has shifted its course from time to time, flowing now into the Pacific Ocean through Shantung, now through north Kiangsu. To tamper with the river is like tampering with China itself and, to Chinese, almost like defying God. In 1938, Chiang had cut its massive dikes and diverted the river south across the path of the invading Japanese to halt them before the town of Chengchow. In doing this he submerged eleven cities and four thousand villages and made two million peasants homeless, but he stopped the Japanese.
| Now Chiang wished to repair the breach he had made
in the dikes and to send the river back once again to the north - that is,
into Communist-held areas. No matter what was the real intention of such
a move, its military effect would be to place a wall of water between the
two main Communist armies in North China - those of General Chen-Yi and
Liu Po-cheng - and split them apart. If Liu Po-cheng's raiders were immobilized
with water, Chiang could also release enough troops for an attack on the
Communist capital at Yenan. Finally, the switching of the course of the
Yellow River at this time would deal a heavy blow to Communist economy in
Shantung Province and might create an environment of flood and misery.
UNRRA had been co-operating with Chiang Kai-shek in 1946 in the engineering work necessary to repair the broken dikes on the completely valid understanding that the. restoration of the old channel was necessary to heal China's war wounds. Even the Communists had agreed to cooperate in the work. But all three groups - UNRRA, Communists and Chiang's - were parties to an agreement that the river would not be diverted back to its old channel till provision had been made for the peasants who were tilling the dry bed where the river had flowed before 1938. There were some four hundred thousand of these Shantung farmers cultivating eight hundred thousand acres of land in what had once been river bottom - and most of them lived in Communist areas.
During 1946, the dike might have been closed, but Nationalist generals were transporting troops north through Honan on a railway over the dried-up river bed and they interfered with UNRRA's work.(1) By 1947, however, the front had shifted to the east, the government troops no longer had need of the railway, and they brought heavy pressure on UNRRA to close the gap.
|原注一：联合国善后救济总署１９４６年１１月报告：＂今年春季，由于国军要通过原黄河河道上的铁路向新乡运兵，黄河归故被迫推迟。现在，他们又跳出来，急吼吼地要求赶快堵口归故。＂黄河归故必然牵扯到土地复垦，这一点报告中没有提到。||(1) Cf. UNRRA monthly report for November 1946. "Military objections which had hampered the work in the spring  because of the danger to the Nationalist military supply line to Hsien Hsiang by rail across the dry bed, were withdrawn and replaced by demands for rapid closure." What military demands had to do with a land reclamation project the report does not disclose.|
Informed of Chiang's intentions, the Communists requested UNRRA to
stick to the tripartite agreement. UNRRA wavered. Chiang's generals immediately
moved to close the breach. At the same time, his pilots bombed UNRRA ships
carrying dike-repair and relief materials to Shantung and his American
fighter planes strafed farmers erecting dikes near their native villages.
Whether Chiang himself meditated on the political effects of what he
was to undertake is something we do not know. China's dictator was accustomed
to gaze steadily at war, he never added up the sorrowful details. He seems
to have suffered no alarm at the possible consequences of his act. He
played with the Yellow River as if he were a god playing with a garden
hose. He gave the order for the breach to be closed. (2)
|原注二：１９４７年三月，联合国善后救济总署农业部提交了一个更加冷血的报告。报告中说，整个黄河堵口归故是在“（国民党）黄河水利委员会主持下、联合国善后救济总署装备、粮食、建材、工程设计人员的大力支持下完成的。……最后的堵口在国民党要求下提前，违背了同共产党边区代表达成的协议。……黄河归故最直接的效果是分隔了共军的运动，而同时国军正在大举进攻。此时水位很高，回归故道后直接冲毁了农田。联合国善后救济总署、国民党行政院善后救济总署、边区代表共同制定的减轻黄河归故破坏的计划完全放弃。黄河故道的河堤修筑进行得十分困难，因为国民党军用飞机反复轰炸扫射筑堤工人。”||(2) March 1947 report of UNRRA's Agricultural Division gives a more cold-blooded account of this whole affair. In part it declares that the closing of the breach "was carried out by the Yellow River Commission with UNRRA equipment, foodstuffs and construction materials and with the assistance of UNRRA engineering and mechanical personnel. . . . The final closure operations had been rushed under strong Nationalist military pressure and in disregard of agreements previously made with UNRRA and Border Region representatives. . . . Its immediate effect would be to divide the movements of their armies Concurrently with Nationalist military drives in that province, and in the high-water season would flood the agricultural lands in the river bed. Plans which UNRRA, CNRRA and Border Region personnel had made to alleviate the adverse economic effects of the river diversion . . . had not been carried out. Dike work was made difficult by frequent Nationalist air attacks upon the dike workers."|
The tale of disaster was not finished at one blow. Besides those districts
immediately flooded, the rising waters threatened to engulf twelve hundred
river-bed villages and the four hundred thousand people living in them.
Worse, still, it was just the time of the wheat harvest and the people
had to abandon their fields and turn to halting the flood.
As for the effects of the flood on civilian morale, I myself had ample
opportunity to observe them. By a curious coincidence, I was with Chiang's
troops when he broke the dikes in 1938 and I was in Communist territory
when the river was sent back again in 1947. But whereas the first flood
had been for the peasants a cause of sorrow, this last flood was a cause
of rage. Chinese peasants, who are among the most friendly people in the
world, even refused to talk to me because they knew it was American planes
that had bombed them while they were repairing the dikes.
Other farmers, more friendly and more worldly, who had labored eight years to reclaim the land around the river mouth, said to me: "Old Chiang did this. How do you think we feel?"
The people's anger and its political consequence perhaps had not entered
into Chiang's calculations; but, even worse, those military calculations
he had made were to betray him yet further.
Having dismissed his enemy's representatives from his own capital at Nanking, Chiang marched on the capital of Chinese Communism. Behind the dust raised by his soldiers?feet, had he the eyes to see, the generalissimo might have discerned the faint signs of a threatening storm.
| Yenan was empty. Long before, the Communists had
sent their schools, their hospitals, even their troops elsewhere. For their
precious capital they put up no fight. Mao Tze-tung, chairman of the Communist
party, and General Chu Teh, commander in chief of the army, and other high
party leaders left the city without a murmur. Even elsewhere the loss of
Yenan created no great stir. Communists and peasants, alike, both shrugged
The Communists hardly paused in the hills behind Yenan, but continued north, apparently in precipitate flight. Ever deeper they went into the mountains, ever further they got away from the main battleground of the Yellow River Plain. Chiang's troops followed.
The turning point in the war had come.
| The Communists, like Joe Louis, are
counterfighters. When they see an opening they strike. Like the old-time
baseball player, Willie Keeler, they "hit 'em where they ain't."
Between Shantung and Shensi, Chiang had denuded his own center in
Honan. It was as if he had opened the door to his own house in the Yangtze
Valley and invited the Communists in. We might almost say that the coming
disaster originated in Chiang Kai-shek's own brain. The Communists poured,
not the waters of the Yellow River into the gap in Honan, but the columns
of the One-Eyed Dragon, Liu Po-cheng.
The Communists, however, had reached a different view. "This war has a revolutionary nature," they said, "and is governed by a special set of conditions. The Japanese war had three stages, but this war will have only two stages. There will be no long period of stalemate."
Along the Yellow River, the Communists now put this theory to the test.
In the meantime, Liu collected his main force for the crossing of the Yellow River. There were about fifty thousand of them. They formed a front a hundred miles in length. They were divided into many columns perhaps five thousand men each and they had behind and with them a number of men and women - government officials, district magistrates, land reform workers. Only the most healthy young people were allowed to go on this first crossing, for Liu was going far through enemy country and he did not wish to be slowed up. The men gathered in the mud villages near the river wore gray uniforms and gray peaked caps that matched the ancient dust rising from the plain baking under an early summer heat. In June, Liu addressed his columns, telling them that the long-awaited counterattack was about to begin. The soldiers remained near the bank of the river watching plays performed by their regimental combat teams and drawing the biggest supply of ammunition they had ever been issued. At the same time, behind them the old whitewashed slogans began to come off the mud walls of peasant homes. In their places, overnight, appeared the words: "Strike down Chiang Kai-shek. Get to Nanking and capture Chiang Kai-shek alive!"
On the night of June 30th, One-Eyed Liu broke open a front a hundred miles long and slid across the river in boats. At the same time, many miles to the west, General Chen Kang, coming out of Shansi, crossed the river and seized the western half of the Lunghai Railway. This move bottled up four hundred thousand troops of Chiang Kai-shek's army of the northwest behind Tungkwan Pass, deprived them of all rail communications with the rest of China and deprived Chiang of a source of quick help should he ever need it in Nanking. The spectacular move, however, was made by Liu himself.
I have seen a great deal of war, but I don't think I have ever seen anything more brilliant than these and subsequent moves the Communists made across the Yellow River. The brilliance lay not so much in the execution, even though all would have been in vain without it, but in the conception - the daring, the single-mindedness, and above all the creative imagination of it. Chinese Communist military leaders are great masters of one thing: they know how to discard what is not essential and strike directly for what is essential. Liu Po-cheng, for example, as he departed from his old bases in North China left a number of towns garrisoned by Kuomintang troops in his rear. He had been doing this for almost two years, often with the disapproval of his subordinates who wanted to wipe out the weaker of these garrisons, because, as he explained to me, they could do him no harm and the men they might lose in such attacks would not be worth the possible gains.
Now Liu, as he crossed the Yellow River, fought as few battles as he could, for it was his mission to head toward the Yangtze Valley, Chiang Kai-shek's stronghold. Once there, he was to attract as many of Chiang's troops as he could so that other Communist forces, following behind him, might also cross the river and establish themselves in Central China. The whole idea behind this plan was to open up a new theater of war and strike directly against Chiang's bases of power.
Down along the Yangtze River, between Nanking and Hankow, lies a range
of hills known as the Ta Pieh Mountains. During the Japanese war a small
band of guerrillas who had allied themselves with the Communist New Fourth
Army had established bases here. Later they had been driven out by Chiang
Kai-shek, but on their departure, they had left underground workers behind,
who now began to prepare for Liu's arrival.
After Liu had crossed the Yellow River, he made a series of distracting maneuvers. Guided by the guerrillas he had left behind, he crossed the Lunghai Railway east of Hsuchow, entered the lightly held town of Suiteh, stocked up on arms, gathered a few recruits and then turned west and south. He was in the clear with nothing but local troops in his way and he moved fast.
For several days he marched across a barren desolate area where whole villages had been wiped out during the flood of 1938; then he entered the green hills of Anhui, crossed over into Hupeh Province and came out of the millet lands of North China into the rice fields of the Yangtze Valley.
In town after town, Liu's troops broke open the official grain stores
of the Kuomintang, replenished their own stocks and distributed the remainder
to the poor as a propaganda measure. Local rifles fell into his hands
without a struggle. Pauperized tenants, landless peasants, adventure-seeking
boys flocked to join him. With his forces increased by many thousands
Liu pressed south.
Liu fled on.
No longer could the Kuomintang call this tremendous advance a flight. The navy was summoned from the ocean and sent up the Yangtze. Several billion dollars' reward was offered for Liu'S head. Finally, lest Liu flee into the capital of Nanking itself, Chiang was forced to organize a Central China Command and open up a new front.
| This confession on the part of the Kuomintang that
Liu had succeeded in his plans to open a new front fell in with larger Communist
designs to bring other armies out of North China into Central China. Because
of this, Liu'S troops far from their old bases and without any chance of
quick help, fought hard to attract as many of Chiang'S soldiers as they
could. For the Communists had another shot in their great offensive to establish
themselves in Kuomintang territory.
In Liu'S path, General Chen Yi sent a number of his troops out of Shantung to link up with guerrillas on the east who had remained in north Kiangsu near the sea. At the same time both Liu and Chen worked east and west along the Lunghai Railway, until they had isolated Kaifeng, Lanfeng and Chengchow, all cities that Chiang had to hold if he was to hold Nanking.
Following Liu, at least six top-ranking Communist generals crossed the Yellow River into Central China. Slowly joining forces, they made connections with agents in Hankow, Nanking and Shanghai and began preparations for another offensive which was to strike Chiang in the spring of 1948.
The atmosphere after the Communists came into Kuomintang territory
Chiang tries to halt the disintegration, he purges the Kuomintang, he outlaws the Democratic League, he erects walls from what is left him of his gestapo, he arrests officers of the operation department of General Sun Lien-chung, head of his war area in Peiping; in vain does he recall to the members of the Kuomintang that they are a revolutionary party; the Kuomintang is now composed of old men and they are tired of revolutions. Such was the turnabout that came in China's civil war.
| How did the Communists greet this new situation?
They immediately burned all their bridges behind them and abandoned any
pretense of making a peace with Chiang Kai-shek. The cry now is: "Chiang
Chu Teh, commander in chief of the 8th Route Army, declares the objective of his army is to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek and organize a coalition government. On Christmas Day 1947, Mao Tze-tung announces: the offensive is "a turning point in history. It signals the end of the counterrevolutionary role of Chiang Kai-shek and the end of more than a hundred years of rule of imperialism in China."
Was this Communist leader right? For the moment that question would have to remain unanswered.
After going to Shantung to see the flooded areas, then returning to Honan to see the counteroffensive get underway, I was convinced that a turning point in the war had come, and I immediately started back across the North China Plain, intent on getting to Peiping and telling these events to the outside world.