COLLAPSE OF A DYNASTY
55. Military Collapse
|SWIFT changes in the political allegiances
of a decisive portion of the Chinese people were the most immediate cause
of Communist success in China. Transformation of civilian psychology, however,
was not enough to guarantee that Chiang Kai-shek could be overthrown in
a short period of time. For the Reds were not only waging revolution against
the old Chinese society, they were also waging war against the army of Chiang
Kai-shek. This war was a revolutionary war and, as such, it partook of the
nature of both war and revolution. Its tactics therefore were an amalgam
of both of these activities. The usual method of waging war is to vanquish
the enemy by military means. The common method of waging revolution is to
win over a good portion of the enemy by political means. The chief contribution
of the Chinese Communists to the arts of war and revolution was that they
combined both politics and combat to a degree never before observed in so
complete a form, wielding both almost as a single instrument.
It was not, however, the strategy of the war which controlled the revolution, but the strategy of the revolution which dictated the tactics of the war. This was particularly so when the Chinese civil war and the Chinese Revolution reached their most critical periods. The fate of every revolution at a certain point is decided by a shift in the feelings of the army. This is of necessity also true of a revolutionary war which originally deploys weaker forces than its foes. Against the numerous and well-armed troops of Chiang Kai-shek, the poorly armed forces of the Communists at the start of the civil war could not possibly gain a victory. Nor could they ever have gained a decisive victory within a short time had not a large share of Chiang's army come over to the forces of the revolution. The going over of many of Chiang's divisions to the Communists did not happen of itself nor as a result of mere agitation. Rather was it the result of a long molecular process which worked like a ferment within the army, producing a change in its psychology.
| In the early part of the
war, contradictions within Nationalist forces had revealed themselves most
sharply in the conflicts between officers and soldiers, with the Communist
land reform playing a large part in whipping up the discontent of the peasant
privates and noncoms. Through 1948, however, the discipline and loyalty
of the field officers and the generals in the combat areas was badly shaken.
Economic chaos, gestapo terror, terrible blunders in strategy at the highest
levels had all served to disgust the officers' corps with the way the war
was being conducted. The rivalries of different cliques in Nanking produced
the same bitter contentions on the front. Numerous cabinet reshuffies left
the loyalties of the generals hanging in mid-air. Finally, Chiang's utter
dependence on America, his suppression of anti-American demonstrations,
the presence of American military men in China, the maintenance of a naval
base on China's soil, special treaties signed with the United States - all
of which exacerbated the nationalistic feelings of the literate Chinese
public - also produced a great discontent in army circles, wounding the
officers' patriotic vanity and making him a target for Communist propaganda.
It would be incorrect to represent conditions in the army as being the same throughout the country in all troops and regiments. The variation was considerable. While former warlords and provincial generals were carrying on all sorts of intrigues on the front, Chiang Kai-shek's Whampoa cadets were viciously suppressing any criticism of the "leader." There were many such contrasts between and within units. Nevertheless, the political mood of the officers, as well as the soldiers, was moving toward a single level - peace at any cost.
| It is impossible to understand
the mechanics of China's civil conflict without fully realizing that the
most important task of the war - defeat of Chiang Kai-shek's army - had
already been half accomplished by the revolution before the beginning of
the conclusive battles in Manchuria and North and Central China in the middle
of 1948. The last half of the Communists' quest for power consisted of two
parts: to bring Chiang's soldiers from a state of discontent to open revolt,
or at least refusal to fight, and to liquidate the remainder in actual combat.
The classic way of winning troops to the cause of revolution is by mass strikes, demonstrations, street encounters, fights at the barricades. This enables revolutionary elements to get in direct contact with wavering troops and infect them with their own mood. If such activities come at a critical moment of the revolution, an insurrection may occur and the state power be seized. At least that is the way the February and October revolutions in Russia reached their climaxes. The unique thing about the mechanics of the Chinese Communist movement as a revolution, however, was that it reached its crisis and gained its greatest victories not by an insurrection in the capital of the country against the summit of state power, but by success on the battlefield. The unique feature of this movement as a war was that it triumphed on the battlefield not only through combat but through insurrections within Chiang's army.
Since they were so weak in the cities and since the Chinese proletariat was such an ineffective force, the Communists could not stimulate Chiang's troops to revolt by mass strikes. In fact, their best method of directly contacting Chiang's troops was on the field of battle. It was principally through contact in combat that the Kuomintang soldiers and officers were aroused to turn over to the Communists. This must be accounted one of the more ludicrous phenomena of the Chinese war.
| To beat the Communists,
Chiang had to attack them, but every time he did so, his troops became infected
with the revolutionary mood of the 8th Route soldiers. It seems that the
first break in the army appeared among the provincial forces and former
subordinates of the Christian General Feng Yu-hsiang, who had come to America
and denounced Chiang Kai-shek. This does not mean that these troops were
necessarily more revolutionary than the others. On the contrary, the regiments,
close to the old China, had many elements of conservatism. But just for
this reason the changes caused by the war were more noticeable in them.
Besides, they were always being shifted around, watched by Chiang's spies,
given worse equipment than Chiang's favored forces. They were sick of it,
and wanted to make peace.
In September 1948, the fall of Tsinan, the capital of Shantung Province, was precipitated by the revolt of General Wu Hwa-wen, commander of the 94th Army and a former follower of Feng Yu-hsiang. More striking still, however, was the fact that General Wang Yao-wu, governor of Shantung Province and a favorite of American military men, when captured by the Communists immediately got on the radio and urged the rest of the Shantung troops to mutiny right at the front or surrender en masse or else not to offer any strong resistance and to lay down their arms at the proper moment. Simultaneously, far to the west, three division commanders of Yen Hsi-shan surrendered outside of Taiyuan, the capital of Shansi Province, without fighting. It is possible to see behind such revolts mere conspiracies. However, other events along the whole length and breadth of the tremendous Chinese front clearly indicate that Chiang's army collapsed in the end, not only as the result of conspiratorial intrigue, but also as a result of revolutionary disintegration. An almost perfect example of this is offered by events in Manchuria.
During the latter half of 1948, Kuomintang commanders in Manchuria drew back into the cities, with orders, it was said, to hold on until Dewey was elected president of the United States and America poured forth her might in aid of Chiang Kai-shek. Some weeks before the presidential election, the 60th and the 7th Kuomintang armies retired on the city of Changchun with their heavy American equipment while a small force of the People's Liberation Army of General Lin Piao took up positions of siege around the city. Here the Communists had an extraordinary opportunity to apply their methods of disintegrating Chiang's army by revolutionary propaganda.
Every squad in Lin Piao's forces organized an "enemy work group."
They discussed the misconceptions of the Kuomintang troops facing them.
Then a program of propaganda was decided upon and a "shouting war"
Soon letters were exchanged between the opposing forces. One Kuomintang squad wrote saying its commander was sick and resting inside Changchun, but as soon as he came back, they would come over. Another wrote: "Thanks for the cakes, but we are southerners and would like rice. We also can't understand your dialect, find a southerner to shout to us."
Propaganda bombs with leaflets inside them were thrown across the lines.
Even small propaganda boats were set loose on the river and floated down
into the city. Inside the city itself, posters and whitewashed slogans
appeared on the walls and even on the pillboxes of the Kuomintang soldiers.
The Manchurian people were joining in the struggle and showing where their
| These dramatic events at Changchun are significant; they reveal the workings of the inner processes of the revolution in the Chinese army, the foundation of which had been laid by the whole past history of the country. The soldiers in Manchuria did not want to live any longer in the Old China. Because they saw no other way out, they joined forces that promised them a New China. This change in the state of mind of the soldiers was one of the most immediate causes of Chiang Kai-shek's military collapse.
Everywhere the story was the same. Even the commanders no longer wanted to fight. In September and October 1948, the provincial cities of Kaifeng, Tsinan, Chefoo and Linyi fell to the Communists almost without a struggle. Overnight Chiang lost three hundred thousand troops, including the 93rd Army, the 6oth Army and the 70th Army. Not a single one of these commanders fought to the death as the generalissimo had ordered. Some fifty generals preserved their lives by mutinying, surrendering or allowing themselves to be captured. Eighteen full divisions, nine brigades and fifteen regiments within the space of two months were wiped out. Casualties were few. Everywhere white flags were hoisted.
The darkest hour for Chiang Kai-shek was at hand. With the Kuomintang soldiers facing them in a revolutionary mood, the Communists struck swiftly to take full advantage of the situation. In Manchuria, while the soldiers in Changchun were running out to join his besieging forces, General Lin Piao concentrated his main forces in the south and cut the Liaoning corridor through which Chiang's commanders had hoped, in the event of an emergency, to escape through the Great Wall into North China.
That emergency was now on them and the generalissimo, himself, flew to
Manchuria. Into an already disintegrating situation, China's dictator
introduced a last element of chaos. Lin Piao had surrounded the city of
Chinchow, main Kuomintang supply and transport base. Chiang ordered an
army group of twelve divisions under General Liao Yao-hsiang to the relief
of the beleaguered city. Chinchow, however, fell and with it 120,000 troops
while the Liao Army Group was just a little way out of Mukden.
| The Communists, with all-out victory
in sight, never hesitated. Instead of waiting many weeks to repair the railways
and amass supplies, General Lin Piao immediately dispatched his soldiers
on foot through the Great Wall and south into China proper. Advancing as
much as fifty and sixty miles a day, columns of Lin Piao covered eight hundred
miles within twenty days and in early December 1948 reached the railway
junction of Fengtai near Peiping. General Fu Tso-yi, who had ruled Inner
Mongolia for many years and who was considered one of China's better generals,
was shaken from his slumbers by the advent of this force which he thought
was many miles distant. Although only a few patrols had arrived, Fu was
so badly upset that he hastily withdrew behind the walls of Peiping where
he started bargaining with the Communists to have his name taken off the
list of "war criminals."
In the meantime, the rest of Lin Piao's army poured down through the
Great Wall and joined forces with the Communist detachments from Shansi,
Shantung and Hopei. Within the space of a few days, North China's greatest
port, Tientsin, fell to Lin Piao's fur-hatted Manchurians. Peiping, the
ancient capital of the empire, soon followed suit.
The depth and extent of the military crisis which overcame China in 1948
was fully foreseen neither by the Communists nor by Chiang Kai-shek. It
would seem that the Communists seriously underestimated the collapse of
morale on their opponent's side. The politically active masses in Chiang's
territory - the intellectuals, the students, the army officers and the
lower government officials - were often to the left of even the Communists.
While the party was still talking of a five-year war, a large share of
Chiang's army was ready to end the war immediately by revolts. Nevertheless,
though they did not foresee the speed of Chiang's collapse, the Communists
observed events on the whole much more ably than did the national government.
For this reason they were able to take advantage of a situation which
left Kuomintang leaders gaping with surprise and helplessness.
But China's dictator refused to step down. In a speech on November 8, 1948, he declared: "I have all my life done things with the attitude that once anything is begun it must be carried through to success." The generalissimo comforted his subordinates by saying: "Despite military failures in Manchuria our political military and economic foundations in the rest of China have not been shaken in the slightest. Compared with the Communist bandits our strength is superior."
This statement was a simple lie. Chiang's foundations had collapsed. His superiority no longer existed. Events in Manchuria, and North China, however, were so far away that a blow closer to his power in Nanking was needed to complete the downfall of the generalissimo. This blow was delivered by Communist Generals Liu Po-cheng and Chen Yi around the town of Suchow, 180 miles north of Nanking in November and December 1948. It was to prove catastrophic.
| The city of Suchow, which
lies at the junction of the east-west Lunghia Railway and the north-south
Tientsin-Nanking Railway, is perhaps the most strategic city in modern-day
China. Situated at the southern boundaries of the North China Plain, this
town and the area adjacent to it form a kind of gateway between the north
and the south. Possession of Suchow by a force operating from the south
may not be decisive in war, as the rest of the North China Plain must be
conquered in order to unify the country. Capture of the town and destruction
of its defenders by a force coming from the north - as the Communists came
however, may be crucial, as the loss of Suchow in this event makes Nanking, Shanghai and Hankow almost indefendable.
The terrain in this region is flat as a pavement, but approaching the capital at Nanking, the land is broken up by rivers and creeks and low-lying hills which come down almost to the shores of the Yangtze. The flat nature of the terrain makes it an ideal battleground for a war of maneuver. To fight a static warfare with troops garrisoned in towns, strong points and along rail lines is to invite the enemy to attack you piecemeal and to court disaster. Nevertheless, this was how Chiang Kai-shek tried to fight the Communists. This was a mistake in tactics, but Chiang made an even graver mistake in strategy. When he lost the province of Shantung north of Suchow and when General Liu Po-cheng began operating on his flanks west and south of Suchow, Chiang should have pulled back and concentrated his forces closer to the Yangtze River so that he might cover a retreat across the river to the south or be able to bring up reserves from the south across the river to the north and so influence any battle. Chiang, however, made the same mistake Hitler did in Germany and fought before the Yangtze as Germany's dictator fought before the Rhine until the best part of his army was trapped and wiped out.
The importance of Suchow in the scheme of China's war was clearly recognized by the Communists. As early as January 1947, they told this writer that the war in China would be decided by the outcome of the battle for Suchow. In January 1948, this writer predicted that Chiang was facing a great military catastrophe at Suchow unless he immediately altered his plans. Not a word of mine about this front was printed in the United States either. I say this now not with any desire to play the role of unhonored prophet, but merely to show that anti-Communism has reached such a state in this country that even coldly objective facts about military events will not be printed by scared editors. This ostrich attitude, of course, can only lead to suicide as it led Chiang to suicide.
| Chiang Kai-shek had concentrated four hundred thousand men of the 2nd, 12th, 13th, and 16th armies for the defense of Suchow. The strongest of these was the American-trained and equipped Second Army under General Chiu Ching-chuan which w~s concentrated northwest of the city where Chiang Kai-shek expected Communist General Chen Yi to attack.
Chen Yi, however, chose another road. From the north and east, he launched a surprise attack against the much weaker 7th Army Group under General Huang Po-tao. This force began to crumble when two armies formerly organized by the Christian General Feng Yu-hsiang surrendered without fighting. These surrenders gave Chen Yi's offensive a continuity which might not otherwise have been possible. Quickly the Communist general divided his forces into two columns. With one column he encircled the remainder of the 7th Army Group, which was unable to take any further part in the battle and was thereafter destroyed. The other column he interposed between the isolated army group and Chiang's 13th Army inside of Suchow. When Chen Yi's initial operation had been completed, 18o0,000 of the four hundred thousand men Chiang had assembled to hold Suchow had become casualties, surrendered or been broken up to a point where they no longer represented an organized military force.
At this point, Chiang Kai-shek took a hand and again, as in Manchuria, introduced chaos into a confused situation. Instead of withdrawing as it was imperative for him to do, the generalissimo, like a gambler who has lost his nerve, began throwing good money after bad.
Yet they had to escape. Else the government at Nanking was finished.
Chiang had ordered them into the trap, now he tried to order them out
so that they could get back to the Yangtze and defend Nanking. It was
too late. The city garrison in Suchow, which had not yet faced any enemy,
was reluctant to venture into open country where Chen Yi and Liu Po-cheng
were waiting for it. Only by cutting off all the air-borne supplies on
which the troops in Suchow depended was Chiang able to get them to obey