DICTATOR VS. PEOPLE
51. The Republican Party and Chiang Kai-shek
|I EMERGED from the Liberated Areas and
returned to Nanking and Shanghai to find a sharpening tension in government
circles over Chiang Kai-shek's failure to bring the war to a successful
and speedy conclusion. These strongholds of the generalissimo were far removed,
both physically and spiritually, from the passionate disturbances in the
countryside and the growing discontent in the army on the front. Nevertheless,
the troubles of the war had produced psychological and material strains
within Chiang's governing bureaucracy.
On the surface, however, everything remained much as before. Generals and propagandists in the summer of 1947 were proclaiming that the Communists had been all but wiped out in North China and only mopping-up operations remained. The professors and some of the more daring liberals were raging against corruption and inefficiency. The students were parading for peace. The Americans were conducting behind-the-scenes activities trying to persuade Chiang to remove some of his less-talented generals in favor of men the Americans preferred. But the corruption continued unabated, the voices for war in the highest circles shouted louder than ever and the same inefficient generals held on to their positions at the front.
The exchange which had been seven thousand of Chiang Kai-shek's dollars to one American dollar when I arrived in China was now up to three hundred thousand. People were sleeping in the streets and dying every day. Ricksha boys were operating in gangs, robbing both Chinese and foreigners on the main str~eets at night. Everything was growing more dear and the homeless in the cities were increasing all the time. But the leavings of the old feast were still plentiful.
Officials rode around in cars bought up at seven thousand dollars American money from American importers who moaned in their Scotch and water at the American Club about the hard times that had come to China. Sumptuous parties were in progress in the dining rooms of expensive restaurants. Out in the country the peasants were eating millet husks. But here in Shanghai, officials and businessmen, their mouths full of food and curses for both the Communists and Chiang Kai-shek, were eating five bowls of rice at one sitting and complimenting one another on the tastiness of the Mandarin Fish, the Gold Coin Chicken, the fatted Peiping Duck and the specially warmed yellow wine. The war raging in the countryside did not prevent the parties in the foreign correspondents' club atop the eighteen-story Broadway Mansions, where dancing went on under gaily colored lights and where White Russian mistresses mingled with American wives and both cursed the Chinese; it did not prevent the horny gatherings of American Army personnel on China's supposedly sovereign soil, nor did it put a halt to the wild black market speculation or the gambling behind closed doors or the open smoking of opium in every maj or Chinese hotel in Shanghai.
All remained as before yet nobody felt sure of himself. The storm in
the countryside, though distant, nevertheless reverberated in the yamens
of the Nanking government. All the Chinese army was aware of it and even
the more discerning civilian officials.
That no one cared to understand that the Chinese Revolution was the decisive factor in the war seemed to me somewhat obstinate. These men would not expose their minds to the shock of revolution. Whenever I tried to tell US military men about the rising of the peasantry, they interrupted me to inquire about the pay of soldiers in the 8th Route Army, the kind of uniform they wore, the size and shape of their medals or the kind of trees that grew along highways where revolutionists fell. Not willing to expose themselves to new ideas, they could not help but concern themselves with unessentials.
Consciously and unconsciously, some of these men were afraid of becoming tainted with a politically pink tinge. The Communist witch hunt in America and the fact that congressmen were at periodic intervals sounding off about the "Reds" in the State Department made some of the more intelligent observers cautious and understandably so. American diplomats and military observers were willing to report the corruption in the Chiang government, the inefficiency of his generals, the dissidence of various factions in the government, but anything about the revolution in the Communist-held countryside many of them either deliberately side-stepped or hedged about, with all sorts of qualifications, and denunciations. One American official quite frankly told me: "I'm not sticking my neck out." Another one said: "You've been away so long, you don't know what it's like in the States. You either is [a Red] or you isn't. What you tell me may all be true, but I'm not going to report it."
Before going any further I should perhaps state that I do not wish
to criticize the professional qualifications of our representatives in
China. On the whole, they were decent, forthright and intelligent men,
probably as capable agents of this country as could be found anywhere
abroad. American diplomats, military attaches, businessmen, correspondents
and missionaries must be given full credit for honestly exposing the inefficient,
corrupt and despotic nature of the Chiang regime. However, it was impossible
for these men entirely to avoid the effects of the proscription of freedom
of thought and conscience in the United States itself. It is true that
they were not hunted down as many ordinary American citizens have recently
been hunted down in the United States in an orgy of denunciation, suspicion,
rumor and fear, but they were made to feel uneasy to a point where some
of them were inclined to lose their curiosity about the inner workings
of the Chinese Revolution. This led a few men to hold up mirrors to the
viewpoints of their superiors in America instead of reflecting their own
viewpoints as in the past.
When the Communists crossed the Yangtze River, a New York newspaper
suggested that the FBI investigate all writers who had ever said that
China's Reds were not Communists. In other words, an attempt was being
made to frighten observers of the China scene with the specter of an American
| The history of all revolutions and civil wars invariably
shows that a threatened ruling class finds the cause of its misfortune not
in itself, but in foreign agents or powers. The ruling class of China being
no more original than other endangered regimes in history now tried to convince
itself and the outside world that the cause of its troubles lay in the Soviet
Union. Such an attempt, however, strained even the fertile imaginations
of Chiang's ruling clique and involved the bureaucracy in serious contradictions.
In the first place, Chiang's generals and many of his top ministers knew
their lack of success against the 8th Route Army was not due to Russian
help given the Communists. In fact, many of these generals blamed Chiang
Kai-shek's mistakes and the corruption of the bureaucracy for their own
defeats in the field and they had strong desires to reform the army and
the government itself. Therefore, any attempts to blame the Soviet Union
seemed to these generals like an attempt to whitewash the bureaucracy, to
prevent reforms and to strengthen Chiang's hands which they wanted to weaken.
In the second place, many of Chiang's supporters had no wish to alienate
the Soviet Union in favor of the United States, rather preferring to balance
themselves between the two. Thirdly, it was obvious to everyone, including
foreigners who had been in the areas, that no Russians or Russian arms were
in North China which was separated from the borders of Siberia by over a
thousand miles of forests and mountains, not to mention Chiang's troops
Under these circumstances, for the Chiang Kai-shek government to seek to blame its misfortunes on the Soviet Union was not only difficult but dangerous. A combination of factors, however, led a few party officials to adopt a risky course. In the first place, there was the psychology of the government leaders themselves. Aghast at the peasant uprisings in the north, shaken by the disaffection of generals and oppressed by the insistent and insidiously growing demands for peace on the part of the intellectuals, students and impoverished merchants, the Kuoniintang ruling clique had suffered a tremendous loss of self-confidence and had begun to doubt the ability of Chiang Kai-shek to win the war. No longer believing in themselves or their leader, these officials saw their only means of salvation in getting help from the United States. But the corruption in their own ranks and the oppressive nature of the Chiang dictatorship had been so widely publicized that these men also clearly recognized that their only way to get such help was to identify their twenty-year civil war against their own Communists with America's worldwide struggle against the Soviet Union. Ideological identification, however, was not enough, and it became necessary for the Kuomintang to find a formula whereby they could accuse the Soviet Union of interfering in China's civil war in order that they might get American help and save their own skins.
| Such a formula was difficult to find.
George Marshall, then Secretary of State in President Truman's administration,
had publicly stated that there was no evidence of Russian interference in
China's civil war. It was obvious, therefore, that the government of the
United States had no intention of helping Chiang invent such a formula.
There was, however, at this time a powerful group of American interventionists
who saw in Chiang's dilemma an identity of interests with their own needs
and they quickly came to Chiang's assistance.
The chief proponents of American intervention in China at this time were the Time-Life-Fortune publishing group, headed by China-born Henry Luce, the Scripps-Howard newspapers, certain high members of the Republican party, a few lesser lights such as Congressman Walter Judd, Generals Albert Wedemeyer and Claire Chennault and most important of all, Mr. William C. Bullitt, former US ambassador to Moscow and Paris and an important foreign policy spokesman for the Republican party with whom Henry Luce was intimately associated.
Although Bullitt and Luce at various times expressed admiration for Chiang Kai-shek, though Governor Thomas Dewey in his campaign for the presidency of the United States also indicated his sympathy for the generalissimo's government and though all these men were undoubtedly moved by anti-Communist feelings, there is also the fact that the interests of the Republican party and China's dictator coincided at important points. Chiang Kai-shek had to find a scapegoat for his defeats. The only scapegoat could be the Russians and the only place there could be any Russians was Manchuria. The Republican party, facing a presidential election, was under the compelling necessity of discrediting the Democratic administration of President Truman not only at home but abroad. The misfortunes of Chiang Kai-shek furnished influential party members with ammunition to blame the spread of Communism in China on President Roosevelt because of the deal he made at Yalta with Stalin to get Russian troops into the war against Japan in Manchuria.
Although Chiang's strategy had collapsed because he had been unable
to beat his way across the North China Plain, Chiang's propagandists continued
to maintain the fiction that they were victorious in this area. They adopted
just the opposite propaganda tactic in relation to Manchuria. Correspondents
were now treated to the spectacle of a government trying to make an admittedly
bad situation even worse than it was. All of us were fed inside stories
from "Authoritative sources" about the imminent evacuation of
Manchuria, about lost battles that never took place and many other tales,
as interesting as they were unreliable.
This was particularly true when Governor Dewey, Senator Vandenberg, Alfred Landon and a host of other prominent Republicans began thundering about the need of aiding Chiang Kai-shek. In the meantime Henry Luce's Time and Life magazines, while often disregarding their own correspondents?dispatches, also demanded aid to Chiang and dispatched Bullitt to China. The denunciation of all those who had refused to play Chiang's game swelled to a mighty chorus. George Marshall was bitterly assailed for not helping Chiang; the deceased General Stilwell, who despised the generalissimo, was attacked as a gullible liberal, and President Roosevelt was roundly assaulted for "betraying" his country's vital interest to the Soviet Union.
| About this time, Bullitt came to China as a correspondent
of Life Magazine. The former ambassador spent a short time in several Chinese
cities and then went home and published a twelve-page article in Life entitled
"Report to the American People on China." Actually, this piece
was not so much a report as an incitement to direct and open military intervention
on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek to "Keep China out of the hands of Stalin."
It declared that General MacArthur should take charge of the program for
aiding Chiang, dividing his time equally between China and Japan.
Luce announced this article by placing full-page advertisements in dozens of papers throughout the country. The Bullitt thesis was plugged by Chinese government spokesmen and it had some influence on the Chinese civil war.
Bullitt's argument was very simple. Chiang Kai-shek was a man whose "foresight and wisdom have rarely been surpassed in the annals of statesmanship" and whose only ambition was "to lead the Chinese to the peaceful establishment of democratic institutions and modernization of their ancient civilization." He would have succeeded in his self-appointed mission if not "betrayed" to Stalin at Yalta which made it possible for Russia to threaten the territorial integrity and the "very independence" of China. Therefore the United States had to take immediate action to defend Chiang Kai-shek from the encroachment of the Soviet Union and drive every last armed Chinese Communist out of China. Such a program could be achieved very cheaply at the cost of only a billion dollars to the American taxpayer.
Bullitt's thesis produced a curious reaction in China. In the first place, his proposal that the United States intervene in China's civil war offended the nationalist sentiments of many Chinese intellectuals. Secondly, his praise of Chiang Kai-shek offended democratic sentiments. Thirdly, his suggestion that the United States continue to help China until every last armed Communist had been liquidated offended the peace hopes of middle-of-the-road Chinese. Finally, his idea that China's civil conflict could be decided merely by sending a billion dollars to the national government offended the common sense of the Chinese people.
Nor was Bullitt's thesis accurate in any detail. In concentrating his attention on Manchuria, Bullitt declared that Communist forces in North China were guerrillas. But the plain fact was that both the Communists and the national government had greater regular forces deployedin North and Central China below the Great Wall than they had in Manchuria, outside the Great Wall. In other words, the main Communistarmies had come into being and had defeated Chiang Kai-shek in areas where there were no Russians and where there was no contact withthem. When Bullitt indicated that Chiang Kai-shek was being defeatedprimarily because of the Yalta deal, he made no allusion to the fact that General Wedemeyer had advised the generalissimo in 1945 not to go into Manchuria and was now, in 1947, privately saying that Chiang's position beyond the Great Wall was hopeless. In short, Bullitt was advocating a program that was based on wrong assumptions to begin with and on questionable conclusions to end with.
| I shall have occasion later to show how the actions
of American interventionists played some role in bringing about the collapse
of Chiang Kai-shek's power. Here, however, it is necessary to admit that
the ceaseless stream of stories about the Soviet Union's interference in
China's civil war did for a time have an effect on that war, not so much
in China, but abroad. For one thing the constant barrage of anti-Russian
propaganda made it difficult for any correspondent to point out the major
reasons why Chiang Kai-shek was being defeated. For another thing, the piling
up of stories made Manchuria much more important than it was and completely
hid the role of the peasants in the war. Finally, the stories affected even
us who were there and made us wonder just how much the Russians were really
helping the Chinese Communists.
I decided to go to Manchuria and see for myself.