DICTATOR VS. PEOPLE
52. Loot of Manchuria
|ONE of the first men I met in Manchuria
was a Western intelligence officer who told me the only funny story I heard
during my entire stay in China's northeast. This story which was well known
in diplomatic circles in Manchuria had peculiar interest because it symbolized
the techniques that a few of Chiang Kai-shek's officials were then using
to prove that Russian soldiers were fighting in the ranks of the Chinese
Communists beyond the Great Wall.
According to this story, during the withdrawal of the Soviet Union's Red Army from Manchuria, a Russian straggler was cut off from his units and captured by Chiang Kai-shek's troops. My friend, the foreign officer, hearing of his capture, was able to interview the soldier and had quite a long conversation with him.
The soldier, an affable fellow, admitted his Kuomintang hosts were treating him well, but expressed bewilderment at Chinese habits. "Tell me," he said to the foreigner, "why do Chinese take so many pictures? One day, they stick me in a trench, hand me a tommy gun and photograph me from a dozen different angles. The next day, they dress me in Chinese uniform, give me a rifle and take a dozen more pictures. Then, sometimes, they get Russian civilians to lie down on the ground and they take their pictures, too. I don't understand it."
The foreigner was nonplussed by the soldier's story, but filed it
away in his mind for future reference. Some time later, representatives
of Chiang Kai-shek's army in the Northeast presented him with a set of
pictures they had taken of Soviet nationals that had allegedly been killed
by Kuomintang troops in a fight with Chinese Communists. Among these supposedly
dead warriors, the foreigner noted some white Russian civilians with whom
he was personally acquainted. He was about to mention this when he was
handed a photograph of the Russian soldier with whom he had previously
spoken. There, just as he had described himself, was the soldier in a
trench with a tommy gun. There he was again, in various other pictures,
in Chinese Communist uniform and with a Chinese rifle.
That ended the attempt to convince this particular Westerner that Russians
were fighting on the Chinese Communist side in Manchuria. It did not,
however, end the attempts of some of the American interventionists or
a few (not many) of Chiang Kai-shek's officials to convince the outside
world that Communist successes were primarily due to Russian interference
in China's civil war.
Such a colossal failure outside the Great Wall had profound repercussions
inside China proper. Many high Kuomintang officials by 1947 had concluded
they could not beat the Communists in Manchuria by themselves. Lacking
the power to overcome the Communists and harboring few illusions about
the loyalty of the Manchurians, who had already become disaffected, these
men were waging a war of wits to convince both their own subjects and
the outside world that the historic Hun, Mongol and Tartar barbarians
had risen again in the person ot the Soviet Union. In such a propaganda
war, American interventionists, of course, became a useful ally.
Just why, then, were the Communists winning in Manchuria and Chiang
Kai-shek losing? There were many reasons. But first it is necessary briefly
to examine a few facts of history. When the Japanese invaded Manchuria
in 1931, Chiang Kai-shek not only left the Manchurians entirely to their
own fate, but at the same time he squashed all patriotic demonstrations
inside the Great Wall, censored all books dealing with anti-Japanese sentiments
and even banned the singing of China's most popular song, "Arise,"
which was written in commemoration of the Mukden incident of 1931 This
alienated many Manchurians.
While this was going on, the United States rushed nearly two hundred
thousand of Chiang's troops into Manchuria by ship and plane. Chiang's
officials and officers might have contacted the Volunteers as did the
Communists and won them over. However, they adopted just the opposite
course. They contacted landlords who had been agents for the Japanese
for fourteen years and organized them into armed bands to fight the Volunteers
and the Communists. In other words, the Kuomintang, true to its own semifeudal
nature, allied itself with the most hated elements in Manchuria and thus
laid a basis for a class war. This gave the Communists an opportunity
to win rural Manchuria, as they won rural North China.
With the evacuation of the Russians, Chiang Kai-shek, now having five American-equipped armies in southern Manchuria, began a drive to the north. Held up by a bloody battle at Szepingkai, he managed at last to reach the city of Changchun where his march came to a halt under the terms of the Marshall truce agreements. It has been assumed by some people, especially those with an interest in discrediting George Marshall and the Truman administration, that this truce prevented Chiang from conquering Manchuria. But there is not the slightest evidence to suppose that Chiang's troops, already spread thin, could have continued on for hundreds of more miles and captured Harbin and Tsitsihar on the borders of the Soviet Union. Even supposing they could have, such an operation would have resulted in ultimate disaster, for it would have put Chiang at the end of an even longer supply line than the one he unsuccessfully tried to support in southern Manchuria.
Suppose for a moment we forget that Chiang deserted the Manchurians
in 1931, forget that he allied himself with puppet landlords and not the
Volunteers, forget that the Russians installed his officials in the cities
- forget all this and suppose for a moment that the Russians did help
the Communists in Manchuria. Even taking all these assumptions for granted,
I found that Chiang Kai-shek had been defeated in the Northeast for reasons
entirely unconnected with Russian help.
It had destroyed at least half of the forces and a good part of the effectiveness of seven armies, trained and equipped for them by the Americans.
It had ruined, with the aid of prior Russian looting, a powerful agrarian and industrial economy bequeathed it by the Japanese.
It had lost the good will of many Manchurians who, instead of revolting against Chiang Kai-shek as did the Formosans, had gone over to the Communists.
The Kuomintang armies that had been bled white in the civil war in Manchuria and cut down to Communist size were not traditional Chinese rabble troops. They were among the best units Chiang Kai-shek ever had, certainly the best-equipped armies in Chinese history. They represented the culmination of a dream General Joseph W. Stilwell had when he was making his forlorn retreat out of Burma in 1942. He could not fly American equipment to China, so he decided to fly Chinese soldiers to American equipment in India, build up an army and retake Burma. This he successfully did. But he soon thought that he was building an army that was going to fight the Chinese Communists after the war and not the Japanese during the war. On this ground, he opposed Chiang Kai-shek, lost out, went home and died a brokenhearted man. Since General Stilwell before his death believed Chiang Kai-shek had lost the mandate of the people and no longer had the right to rule China, he would perhaps from a political standpoint have been happy to see how Kuomintang troops in Manchuria had deteriorated. As an army officer, however, he would have been saddened by the sight of well-tempered combat units that had become little better than gendarmes and garrison troops.
Not only bad the army deteriorated physically, but its morale was completely
shot. A squabble had broken out between General Tu Liming, commander in
chief in Manchuria, and General Sun Li-jen, a graduate of Virginia Military
Institute. The Americans, who had disliked Tu ever since his failure to
launch an attack in Burma in accordance with American orders, sided with
Sun and tried to get Tu relieved. In the end, both were relieved.
The slow physical and moral disintegration of Chiang Kai-shek's Manchurian army was a strange contrast to the ever-growing strength of the Northeast United Democratic Army run by the Communist commander Lin Piao.
In 1945 and 1946, while American ships and planes were transporting Kuomintang troops to the Northeast, the Communists who were marching overland through the Great Wall passes had only scattered bands of troops, numbering from forty thousand to fifty thousand men. By 1947 this force had grown to nearly three hundred thousand men, of which at least one hundred twenty thousand men were organized into a striking force of six corps of three divisions each. It was very obvious, as I wrote at the time, "Communist forces will eventually drive Chiang's forces out of Manchuria or annihilate them where they stand."
While the Kuornintang was rapidly blunting the edge of the army delivered to them by the Americans, it was at the same time doing even worse damage to the powerful Manchurian economy left them by the Japanese. Chiang's forces then controlled 80 percent of the industry in the Northeast, but they had only io per cent going. Much of this could be put down to Russian looting and some to the war, but a great deal of it could be put down to Kuomintang corruption and inefficiency.
I gained numerous examples of this all over Manchuria, but here I shall
only mention the conditions obtaining in the Fuhsun coal mines. About
Fuhsun, where was located one of the biggest open coalpits in the world,
the Japanese had built a miniature Pittsburgh, with subsidiary industries
in shale oil, gas, paraffin, mobile oil, coke, asphalt, high carbon steels,
cements and various smaller industries. At the height of their production,
the Japanese had mined twenty thousand tons of coal a day. The Chinese
had got it up to five thousand, but now it had fallen back below two thousand
principally because of army interference in the mine. Ten thousand workers
had been conscripted along with eighteen thousand civilians to build defense
works. None of these workers were fed or paid by the army. The miners
could stand that but they hated the fact that frameworks, steel rods,
valuable vanadium, rust-resisting steels and timber supposedly taken from
the mines for defense works, seldom went into defense works but went by
cart to Mukden for sale.
I went to see one of the assistant managers who was then in charge
of the mine - a man who had been educated in America, an engineer and
also a businessman.
| Somewhat better than conditions
in industry were those existing in agriculture. But even here, the same
Kuomintang tactics, practiced in China proper had been exported beyond the
Great Wall. Soy beans, which were once the greatest export product of Manchuria,
were no longer a source of wealth to the natives. The Northeast China Command
had dictated that soy beans could only be exported by the Central Trust,
a government monopoly, or the army. Though the Central Trust was getting
ten cents a pound for its product, the farmer who sold to the trust was
getting only three cents a pound. Of this he was allowed to keep little
as he was forced to contribute most of his sale money to equipping and clothing
local defense units.
Due to lack of transport, v ar and old-fashioned skullduggery, Manchuria's whole export trade was in bad shape. No banks in Manchuria were allowed to deal in foreign exchange and it was impossible for local firms to do any foreign trade. The central government at Nanking had allowed the Northeast no import quotas and all produce came from ports below the Wall with consequent high extra transport charges. These two regulations were enough to ruin any local firm. Angry Manchurian businessmen said they were made purposely to favor Shanghai trading companies in which Chiang's officers and officials had invested.
Red tape was also stifling trade and giving southern officials a chance to squeeze small Manchurian merchants. No merchants could export goods from Manchuria without a permit from the Foreign Trade Commission. But small, poorly dressed merchants could not even get in the building harboring the trade commission without paying a bribe to the guard at the door. Once in the building the clerks had to be bribed before one could even talk to someone who was empowered to issue a permit. As a result, desperate small traders were buying permits through brokers or trying to smuggle goods through the Great Wall.
It was not only Manchurians who were disgusted, but even many officials
in Chiang Kai-shek's own government. I met an English-speaking official
in the Trade Bureau in Mukden. "Our government," he told me,
"is corrupt, but in the Northeast it's specially corrupt. Everyone
around me in my office is robbing and stealing. I have to connive at extortion.
I have come to hate my work. I can't stand any more. I'm going to resign
and get out of here."
Chief watchdogs of tyranny in the Northeast were skilled SS operators trained by Tai Li, dead but not forgotten chief of Chiang Kai-shek's gestapo. Sent from Sian, long the headquarters of the anti-Communist movement against Yenan, these men were ostensibly concerned with ferreting out Communists. In practice, their job amounted to suppressing all criticism of the government which they did by accusing any critic of Communism. Even worse, Manchurians claimed the operators of the Special Service Section were getting rich by squeezing bankers, merchants, landlords and former high-ranking Manchukuo officials. With funds squeezed from puppets and their rich associates, the SS men were opening small department stores, restaurants, import-export firms and dance halls which they operated clandestinely in cellars.
| All the nepotism, extortion
and oppression practiced by Chiang's officials and army officers in the
Northeast had endeared them to few Manchurians. The natives felt - and rightly,
too - that Chiang's southerners had no desire to stay in Manchuria. In several
minor Communist offensives, mayors had fled from their posts without orders.
When officials cleared out of danger spots in such a precipitate hurry with
their wives and mistresses and loaded with so many gold bars the Manchurians
but drew the conclusion that the southerners were just in Manchuria to get
rich and were leaving as soon as the chance of making money disappeared.
The flight of Chiang's officials in time of danger, however, was not without
comfort to the local people. When the Communists by-passed the city of Changchun
in one of their offensives and cut the railway below the city, instead of
being alarmed at being cut off from the outside world, many people breathed
a sigh of relief.
"Whew!" they said. "We're cut off. That's good. Now those Kuomintang turtle eggs can't come back."
From all I saw in Manchuria I got the feeling that the people would have driven Chiang Kai-shek's forces from the country immediately if they had the chance. There were three symptoms that clearly showed their sentiments. One was the feeling that the Japanese were, after all, not so bad. They gave the people security, kept the industries going, kept prices down and operated the country on an efficient basis.
The second symptom of anti-Nationalist feeling was the increasing popularity
of the Chinese Communists. Because they were Communists, they had to live
down the bad name left by the Russians and also the name of bandits given
them by Chiang Kai-shek's propagandists. They did this to a startling
degree. Distribution of captured food stores increased their popularity
with the poor. Because there was no confiscation of business and commercial
houses the fears of the town merchants had been somewhat allayed. Ordinary
human sympathy also won them respect, if not popularity. In street fighting
in the cities, the nationalist commander refused to allow civilians to
leave their homes so that many noncombatants were killed. Whenever the
Communists occupied a street, however, they allowed the people to escape
the fighting and go wherever they pleased - to the Kuomintang side, if
they liked. This action made a tremendous impression on the people of
| The army and secret police were well
aware of this growing feeling of discontent among the Manchurians. They
were afraid of another Formosa revolt. Actually, there was no need for a
revolt. All those who wanted to oppose the government could let off steam
by running over to the Communists in the countryside.
Nevertheless, the government was trying to squash the revolt before it happened. They did not give the people bread, but they did give them circuses. They were rather grim affairs.
You could see them any day in the city of Changchun, then cut off from Mukden by Communist raids against the railway. I flew up there in an American Army plane, over the Communist-held countryside. In this former capital of Manchukuo, which the Japanese built for Emperor Henry Pu Yi, there was near the center of the city a great traffic circle which in Japanese times was known as Universal Harmony Circle. When the Russians came to drive the Japanese out, they erected a monument there, put a plane on top of it and called the place Utopia Circle. Later, the Chinese arrived, put up a large picture of Chiang Kai-shek and embossed it with two chauvinistic slogans: "Up with the country!" "Up with the race!"
On my arrival, this circle was noteworthy for two features. On one side, there was a "flea" market where were sold the goods looted by the people from hospitals and factories and the materials requisitioned by officials from the people. On the other side of the circle, there was a public execution ground.
During the week of my arrival, a "criminal" a day was killed in this circle. All the executions were announced ahead of tune in the papers. A rainy spell, however, brought the executions to a halt. Perhaps the authorities did not want to kill without an audience.
As far as I know, the executions may still have gone on after I left. The victims? A twenty-year-old girl accused of Communism. A sixteen-year-old boy accused of spying. A fifty-six-year-old woman accused of spreading rumors. At other times, those to be done away with were just "bandits."
There was a Roman air about it all. The victim's hands were tied behind
him. A board inscribed with his crime was fitted against his back. Then
he was made to kneel in a cart and drawn to the circle.
| I left Manchuria with the feeling that
unless Chiang Kai-shek evacuated his troops back below the Great Wall, he
would suffer a terrible catastrophe. I wrote so at the time, including many
of the facts given above. Not a word of mine was published in America. In
the meantime, the interventionists continued to promote the thesis that
Chiang could be saved in Manchuria. The support of these men may have been
a factor in making Chiang hold on to an untenable position. Thus, the very
men who wanted to help him were instruments for effecting his military suicide.
For Chiang's position in Manchuria was irretrievable. General Wedemeyer
had advised him not to go there in the first place. From the standpoint
of grand strategy, Chiang had failed in Manchuria because he had not been
able to win the North China Plain and link up his capital and his main bases
of supply with the Northeast. His fronts had no unity. His position was
very similar to that of von Rundstedt's in Normandy. The German general
wanted to get out, Hitler refused. Chiang's generals also wanted to get
out; American advisers told him to get out; Wedemeyer said his position
was hopeless. But Chiang refused to budge.
The causes of Chiang's defeat in Manchuria, however, went far deeper than any strategy. The spirit of his army was disintegrating in the chemical processes of the Chinese Revolution. Torn from their villages in the south and exported beyond the Great Wall, the soldiers and even the officers felt they were in a foreign country, where their feelings and those of the native population were refracted through entirely different mediums. They could not help but notice the looks of hatred thrown at them like so many knives by the sturdy Manchurian people. A mood of angry frustration, followed by feelings of guilt, burned away at the soldiers' heart.
As the Communists moved in on villages, Chiang's army was torn loose from its social moorings. Psychologically, the soldiers felt completely lost. The further the army got away from the good Chinese earth, the more did it become like a balloon which, rising from the ground, gets ever higher until its internal tensions cause it to burst. In drawing away from the villages, Chiang Kai-shek's Manchurian army was also building up internal tension, and its bursting point was not far off.
A very striking picture of the loss of internal self-confidence in the army was furnished me on the train I traveled on from Mukden to Peiping. At a stop along the way, a Chinese cavalry general entered my compartment and seated himself opposite me. I nodded to him, but gave no indication I spoke Chinese. In a short while, an infantry colonel entered the compartment and engaged the general, who was unknown to him, in conversation. By many subtle remarks, the two officers began feeling out each other's sentiments toward the war. The general would make a slight criticism, the colonel would cap it with a stronger one, and the general would follow with a still more bitter comment. Soon both were denouncing the conduct of the war.
"I am a cavalry commander," said the general. "You can use cavalry for reconnaissance, patrol or a charge, but I'm just guarding a railroad. But how can I guard it? The peasants come and take up the tracks. What can I do about that? I am a Northeasterner; shall I shoot my own Northeastern farmers? I ask for orders. But I don't get orders. Nobody has any idea how we should fight. I often wonder why we are fighting. Fourteen years, the Japanese occupied our woods and rivers and hills, and now here we are killing each other again."
The colonel nodded. The conversation lapsed for a moment. We were drawing near to Shanhaikuan where the Great Wall comes down to meet the sea. The colonel looked out the window, then turned back. "You know," he said, "I don't think the 8th Route needs to take Changchun and Mukden. They'll just take the countryside all around, organize the militia, then they'll come down here by the Great Wall and cut us all off. I don't know what the higher authorities are thinking of. We ought to get out of here or stop fighting."
The colonel sounded so lugubrious and the general looked so sad that
I could not help but burst into laughter. They both looked at me. "You
understand Chinese then?" said the general. I nodded.
| Indeed this general was right. There
was no way. The soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek on Manchurian soil did not wish
any longer to fight. They began to fraternize with the Manchurian people
and then with the 8th Route Army. It was this fraternization that broke
up Chiang Kai-shek's vain hopes to hold on to Manchuria. Slowly his hold
on the territory beyond the Great Wall weakened and crumbled away.
In the meantime, inside the Great Wall far to the south and also far from the borders of the Soviet Union, China's dictator was threatened from still another direction. The Chinese people were in almost open revolt against the despot who had ruled them for twenty-two years.