COLLAPSE OF A DYNASTY
57. The Last Rulers of Old China
|IT MAY have occurred to the reader of these pages,
as it occurred to many people in China, to ask why the Kuomintang leaders
who wanted to save themselves from the Communists did not get rid of Chiang
Kai-shek and create a revolution of their own. Some wanted to, but did not
dare. Others found Chiang a useful screen behind which to conduct their
own personal struggle for power and riches. Still others cynically let the
Communist-led revolution take its course, while piling up wealth by means
of war and leaving the back door open for flight abroad. Finally, many drifted
with events or were held spellbound in the grip of a suicidal feeling.
Nevertheless the idea of throwing out the nation's dictator and instituting reform was one that attracted many officials in Nanking as well as members of the American embassy and the American State Department from the second year of the war right up until the day Chiang abdicated his capital. That this thought was never transmuted into action until very late in the civil war is proof of the weakness of the opposition inside the ruling group and also proof that the forces which defeated the generalissimo came primarily from below and not from within his own ranks.
| What went on in government circles, however, was
by no means without effect on the course of events. In the end, the Kuomintang
fell to pieces and a bitter struggle of cliques prevailed at the summit
of power. This was one of the premises of Communist victory, though a passive
one. It was also one of the reasons Chiang was able to hold on to many of
the strings of power beyond a period of normal expectancy. Cbiang had always
operated successfully on the principle of divide and rule. But this tactic
which was so effective in normal times, when the question of power was limited
to who ruled the Kuomintang, was fatally defective during a period of revolutionary
upsurge, when the question of power was broadened to who ruled the state
and who ruled the new society growing up within the old social order. Under
these last circumstances, the principle of divide and rule not only divided
Chiang's enemies within the Kuomintang, it also divided the enemies of the
A sense of the danger of employing his favorite tactic does not seem to have awakened in Chiang until very late in the civil war. He never could get it into his head that he was facing a revolution and not a conspiracy. As for his enemies within the Kuomintang, the danger to Chiang was not so much that they would seize him as they would walk away from him.
The simplest method of the ruling groups to rid themselves of Chiang would have been to kill him, kidnap him or imprison him. But though the malice against the generalissimo penetrated the highest circles and though the Communists after their great military victories even called on opposition Kuomintang leaders to seize Chiang, there is no evidence that a determined plot against the person of China's dictator ever existed. Certainly the United States which was anxious to get rid of Chiang in order to reform the government was never party to such intrigue. Direct action of this kind was contrary to American tradition. It was, however, not contrary to Chinese tradition. Chinese history is filled with instances of such corrective practices effected against unpopular rulers: this type of operation was last carried out in the kidnaping of Chiang Kai-shek in 1936. It is by no means certain, therefore, that a seizure of the generalissimo's person by his old comrades would have offended Chinese public opinion. On the contrary, such a deed might have transformed even the most odious of the Kuornintang leaders into a kind of national hero. But no one in the ruling group had stomach for such an action. Of course, many were afraid that a bullet directed against Chiang would also reach the heart of the Kuomintang and deliver it into the hands of the Communists. This fear was probably correct. But dread of the Communists was not the only thing that kept the bureaucrats from taking aim at their dictator.
Those with the best opportunity of getting rid of Chiang were the men
closest to him. But the immediate camarilla surrounding China sleader
was a contradictory crew - an indigestible mixture of YMCA secretaries,
Shanghai gangsters, ambitious sycophants, disillusioned visionaries, party
thugs, tired revolutionaries, wistful liberals, palace eunuchs, feudal
clowns, corrupt bureaucrats, Confucian mystics and sick psychopaths. "The
Grand Eunuch," "Rasputin," "Little Lord Machiavelli"
these were some of the names foreign diplomats fastened on the leaders
of Kuomintang society and they adequately bespeak the low prestige in
which the government was held both at home and abroad. Most of these men
were tied to Chiang Kai-shek by reason of interest, habit and fear. They
had no belief in their own cause; in fact, they did not have a cause.
It is fascinating but depressing to follow the lives of Kuomintang leaders and see them first facing the future then turning toward the past, wooing the unknown then taking refuge in the known, eagerly seizing power and wealth then trying to conserve both while fear crept in and deadened their sensibilitics. Even the greed of some Kuomintang leaders which was one of their strongest motivations to action lost its pristine magnificence. During the Japanese war and the early days of the civil war the Kuomintang bureaucrats turned to squabble among themselves over the wealth of the country which was fast diminishing.
During the latter days of the civil war their acquisitive instincts turned into conservative instincts. They wanted to hold on to what they had. "When pirates count their booty," says William Bolitho, "they become mere thieves." It is hard not to apply this statement to many of the leaders of Nationalist China.
Behind the greed of many Kuomintang leaders, one notes another factor:
disappointed hopes. Among the older men who had known Dr. Sun Yat-sen
and followed the generalissimo with revolutionary enthusiasm to power
there lurked a strange feeling of guilt. They had begun as revolutionists
seeking to construct a new order, but they had become oligarchs defending
an old order, or rather, their power. Memory of youthful dreams, however,
sometimes persists to poison the will. Kuomintang leaders were suffering
from a mortal sickness of the soul. Sworn to end warlordism, they had
ended up in the train of one of the biggest warlords in Chinese history.
Sworn to establish democracy, they had created a despotism which made
the ancient emperors of China look like fumbling amateurs. Promising to
improve the "livelihood of the people," they made it worse than
it had been in the memory of living man. Dedicated to freeing China from
foreign powers they had become dependent on them.
Madame Sun Yat-sen, who deserted the generalissimo twenty years ago
because she believed he had betrayed her husband's principles, refused
to have anything to do with him right to the end and refused even to join
oppositional elements within the Kuomintang who were heading a peace movement.
Her sister, Madame Chiang, fled to the United States to plead with President
Truman to save her husband. Dr. H. H. Kung, descendant of Confucius, Yale
University alumnus and financial wizard, combining the wisdom, gusto and
foresight of all three, also came to the United States where he could
enjoy his wealth in safety and muse on the days when he had been premier
and finance minister in Chiang's government. Wong Wen-hao, an economist
summoned to the premiership in the spring of 1948, resigned four or five
times and finally let it be known that he spent his days at home - reading
and writing poetry - because he "no longer feels interested in national
affairs." Tai Chi-tao, an "elder statesman" of the Kuomintang,
committed suicide in Hongkong, Chen Pu-lei, personal secretary of the
generalissimo and famous feudal literatus, wrote a letter to Chiang in
which he quoted the words of a classical poem - the oil is exhausted;
the light is dying - then he, too, killed himself. With an owl scream
in the dark, feudalism paid its last tribute to China's despot.
Nor did any iron opposition within government circles show up at the
other end of the political spectrum - among the liberals. George Marshall
had seen the salvation of China in a movement by government and minority
party liberals to take power "under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek."
But this type of salvation was little better than a pious hope. Liberals
in China were unarmed and a Chinese liberal without a gun was no more
effective than a watchdog without a bite or a bark. And who were these
liberals? By Western tradition a liberal is one who has respect for another's
viewpoint. But such men, due to the effects of the authoritarian Confucian
tradition, were so few as to be practically nonexistent in China, either
in the Kuomintang, the Communist party, minority parties or anywhere else.
Furthermore, except for the already mentioned intellectuals and students
who stood up courageously against Chiang, there were few liberals - certainly
not within the government - willing to show their colors so openly. Within
the ruling classes, for every courageous critic who wanted to get rid
of Chiang, there were two who wanted to "reform" his character.
During the civil war, in the midst of one of the terror campaigns against
the students, a university professor, a member of the government, was
sent to me by an American with the recommendation that I write an article
about "an ardent opponent of Chiang Kai-shek, one of the better type
of men in whom the salvation of China lies.?A long conversation revealed
that this particular savior of China had visited the generalissimo as
spokesman for a Christian group, had praised the dictator as a "great
man" and had ended up by reading a poem about George Washington.
The implication was that Chiang should try like George to become the revered
"father of his country."
The idea of making a revolution from above in order to forestall a revolution from below held an irresistible charm for Chinese intellectuals as well as pale-faced college men in the halls of foreign embassies. But such ideas hung in the air as mooded despair. They never developed into a hard plot. The heart of Chinese liberalism was literary, but rather weak. In any case it was quite willing to surrender the honor of getting rid of the generalissimo to the old Kuomintang provincial militanists of whom it had been so contemptuous. These leaders were more hardheaded and for that reason a little more resolute. They now re-entered the political picture and offered the most determined opposition to Chiang within his own party.
We have already remarked at the beginning of this book that when Chiang Kai-shek started the civil war against the Communists he had rendered ineffective nearly every warlord or provincial military man who had ever opposed him. Now it is a curious fact that the very powerlessness of these men was just what enabled them in the long run to make a comeback in Chinese politics. This seeming paradox is explained by a peculiar change which took place in the social structure of the Kuomintang during the Japanese war. In 1937 and 1938, when the Japanese drove the Chinese government away from the coast, Chiang Kai-shek was deprived of most of the nation's industrial plants and the proceeds from foreign trade. As a result, between 1938 and 1945, he was compelled to rely more and more on the feudal barons in the interior to maintain himself in power. This brought about a decline in the economic strength and the political influence of the native industrialists and bankers while the power of the "sedan chair" gentry grew and along with it the feudal elements within the Kuomintang. Within a couple of years, a war of cliques developed within the party for the control of the only real wealth in China's interior - land and the produce of the land and trade communications resulting from that produce.
Politically this struggle was highlighted by the rise in relative economic strength of the right-wing CC Clique, of the Kuomintang. At the conclusion of the Japanese war, compradore interests in the Kuomintang, using their superior administrative capacities and their contacts with American interests, gained most of the spoils from the occupied areas, leaving CC Clique out in the cold. Thus, the CC men, needing continued party dictatorship to strengthen their economic position, became the spearhead of the movement for war against the Communists. This war gave the CC Clique an opportunity to follow in the wake of the army and to organize local party bureaus and also, through their Farmers Bank and Bank of Communications, to organize rural co-operatives with the aid of the landed gentry. At the same time, through its control of the party, the CC men took over numerous newspapers and publications which it used to assault its enemies within the Kuomintang. In addition, they also manipulated the students in movements against rival cliques and various wartime premiers. Because of these struggles the middle elements of the Kuomintang were devoured much as small businessmen are devoured by giant trusts and monopolies. The Kuomintang gradually became more and more polarized between right and left, between those with power and those without power, between those who wanted reform and those who resisted reform. The native bankers grew weaker under pressure from the bureaucrats. Kuomintang leaders, oriented toward the West, became involved, in a war for control of help coming from the United States. Those with the least power were pushed aside. Just as the Chinese people disinherited from society had grown in leaps and bounds, so there took place a disinheritance within the Kuomintang itself. At the same time, Communist land reform and Communist military conquests, plus carpetbagging by Chiang's officials, deprived the gentry and local civilian leaders in Manchuria and North and Central China of their economic bases. The comparative opulence and the corruption of Chiang's top bureaucrats along with the increased power of the rightist clique in the Kuomintang now seemed intolerable to these newly dispossessed leaders. As the tenant, with his back against the wall, had turned on the landlord, so the petty party leaders were now ready to turn on the top party leaders.
These twin developments - increased party dictatorship plus the disinheritance of the lower party ranks - gave hitherto powerless Kuomintang militarists a chance to reenter the Chinese political picture. Misery loves company and the old militarists who had long been deprived of power by Chiang now found companions of the road in new malcontents within the Kuomintang. It remained, however, for the generalissimo's oldest enemies within the party to take leadership of the movement against him at the highest levels.
In Chiang's political closet there were many skeletons. Three of the
more lively ones were Pai Chung-hsi, Ho Ying-chin and Li Tsung-jen. All
of them were old members of the Kuomintang. All of them were generals.
And all of them at one time or another had opposed China's dictator. At
the conclusion of the Japanese war, the generalissimo isolated these three
men by separating them. General Li Tsung-jen was kicked upstairs and made
titular head of the generalissimo's bureau in Peiping. General Ho went
to the United States. General Pai was appointed defense minister, a post
with little meaning. So segregated, the three could not pull together.
The first opportunity any of the generals had to challenge Chiang's control of the party, and hence of the government, came in April 1948 during the convening of the national assembly in Nanking. Meekly, delegates elected Chiang Kai-shek president of China. Immediately afterward, however, delegates from Manchuria and North China, among whom were bankers1 educators and gentry who were disgusted with the way Chiang's bureaucrats had looted their provinces and with Chiang's unwillingness to arm the population, rallied around Li Tsung-jen and backed his candidacy for the vice-presidency against Sun Fo, the generalissimo's choice for the office.
Chiang Kai-shek and the CC Clique, fearful of the implied threat to
their control of the party, brought heavy pressure on Li to retire from
the race. The night before the balloting Chiang's secret police visited
the known supporters of Li and advised them to switch to Sun Fo. Delegates
were told this was an order from the generalissimo; if they did not obey,
their lives would be in danger. Under this threat Li withdrew his name
from the election. He then addressed the assembly with a letter in which
he expressed his deep indignation that terror had been employed against
delegates to prevent them from exercising their rights to vote freely.
The assembly was thrown into a great state of confusion. Some delegates
were so aroused that they lost their usual caution and shouted such slogans
as "Down with dictator Chiang Kai-shek." In embarrassment, Sun
Fo, Chiang's candidate, also withdrew from the race.
For the first time in twenty years Chiang's control of the party had been challenged and he had been defeated. Despite the break in party ranks, Chiang was able to maintain control in the nation's capital at Nanking until the collapse of his armies at Suchow and the advance of the Communists to the Yangtze River. This changed the temper of all but the most ardent die-bards.
The pressure for peace was severe and came from every quarter. Shanghai
merchants, having no desire to see their property sacrificed in a last-ditch
defense of China's dictator and fearing an alliance between hungry mobs
and still hungrier soldiers, began maneuvering among local garrison commanders
and paying off their troops. Shanghai's foreign community, particularly
American businessmen (no matter what the United States policy was), also
had no desire to see a battle around the port and they too began to add
their pettish voices to the chorus demanding that Chiang resign. They
wanted peace even at the cost of Communist domination of the government.
That meant: get rid of Chiang.
Chiang first turned toward the United States. Shortly after the collapse
of resistance in Manchuria, Dr. Sun Fo, a member of the National Reconstruction
Group of the Kuomintang from which Chiang drew much of his party support,
urged the United States to establish military and naval bases on the supposedly
sovereign soil of China, to take over her greatest inland waterway, the
Yangtze River, and to send General MacArthur to China to take command
of an aid program. This was nothing but an elaboration of the old Bullitt
plan. But to hear the son of Dr. Sun Yat-sen make such a proposal was
a distinct shock to the national feelings of many Chinese. The fact that
Chiang was to be offered an equal partnership with Hirohito as a kind
of subemperor under MacArthur also injured Chiang's prestige. Thus, another
element of decay was introduced into Chiang's power.
In December 1948, Chiang is reported to have asked his representatives in the United States whether he should resign. The agents, presumably not disposed to offend Chiang, told him to hang on and wait developments in Congress. But the situation in China would not wait. For the Communist party, which had been keeping a careful eye on the shifts within the Kuomintang, suddenly decided to force matters.
| On Christmas Day, 1948, they broadcast
a list of forty-three "war criminals." The list included not only
Chiang Kai-shek, his wife, his various in-laws and top government officials
and diplomats in the United States, but also various provincial politicians
and militarists who were carrying on their own maneuvers for peace and power.
This Christmas package fell like a sword among the squabbling Kuomintang
leaders. Pai Chung-hsi and the Hupeh Provincial Council immediately brought
the question of peace before the generalissimo.
The old dictator, caught in a cul-de-sac, tried to wriggle out. On New Year's Day, 1949, he broadcast his own "Appeal for peace." This was one of the most curious documents of modern warfare. In essence it was a no-peace-no-war formula designed to gain time. Chiang spoke of the national independence of China, but made no move to dismiss American marines from Chinese soil or to demand the return of naval bases used by the United States. At the same time, the government began to make certain treaties with the Soviet Union in Singkiang Province. Chiang wanted to preserve the constitution under which his regime was legitimized and also the "entity" of the armed forces by which he ruled the country. All in all his conditions of peace were so unrealistic that the Communists could not possibly accept them.
But a breach had been made in the Kuomintang's will for war and the Communists poured in to widen it. On the same day that Chiang issued his peace appeal, the Communists?New China News Agency published an historic editorial called "Carry the Revolution to the Very End." Denouncing the "peace plots" of the Kuomintang "reactionaries" and warning that the American government was trying to organize an opposition within the revolutionary camp "to halt the revolution" or to force it to "take on a moderate coloring so as not to encroach too much on the interests of imperialism,?the agency called for a closing of all ranks against the rulers of old China:
"The question now confronting the people of China is: are they to carry the revolution through to the end or are they to abandon the revolution in mid-stream? If the revolution is to be carried through to the end, then this means using revolutionary methods to wipe out all reactionary forces. This means the unswerving overthrow of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism. This means overthrowing the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang throughout the entire country and establishing a republic of the people's democratic dictatorship under the leadership of the proletariat with an alliance of the workers and peasants as the main body. If the revolution should be abandoned in mid-stream, that would be going against the will of the Chinese people, giving in to the will of foreign aggressors and Chinese reactionaries, enabling the Kuomintang to gain a respite, permitting the wounded beast to nurse his wounds and then spring up again one day to throttle the revolution so that the entire country would return to the world of darkness.
The question of the moment is presented just as clearly and sharply as this: there are two roads; which one do you choose?"
This might have been the voice of Lenin himself speaking. Or even that of Karl Marx or Engels. For like the authors of the Communist Manifesto, the authors of this editorial "scorned to conceal their aims." Gone were the tactical shifts, gone the political double talk, gone the illusions of a mere "reform" government. What the Chinese Communists were saying in essence was: "You are either for us or against us. Choose!"
Kuomintang leaders had no intention of choosing the revolutionary road of the Communists and thus liquidating their own society. Nevertheless, they saw they would have to sacrifice, or appear to sacrifice, the generalissimo. Plead as he would, Chiang could not get the Kuomintang to close ranks and rally behind him. On January 8, 1949, he sent his personal trouble shooter, Chang chun, to Hankow and Changsha to ask the support of Pal Chung-hsi, Central China political leader, and on the same day appealed to the four governments of France, England, the United States and the Soviet Union to mediate China's civil war. He was turned down - both inside and outside the country.
Chiang's movements were now those of an animal in a cage. One by one
he shakes at every locked opening: his old cronies in the Kuomintang,
his revived enemies, the United States, even the Soviet Union. All to
no avail. With characteristic directness, the Communists moved in to separate
Chiang from his protecting followers.
In this kind of backstage intrigue, Chiang was an experienced hand.
On hearing Mao's peace demands, he called together a dozen of his more
faithful followers, including Chen Li-fu, Ku Cheng-kang, Huang Shao-ku,
Tao Hsi-sheng and others. It was reported that Chiang, though going into
retirement, would maintain control over the peace movements. His political
cohorts would be protected by the Kuomintang secret police, while the
Central Bureau of Investigation and Statistics was empowered to punish
all those who did not accept his leadership. The most important political
prisoners would be moved to South China.
At 2 P.M., on January 21, after turning his office over to Li Tsung-jen,
the generalissimo boarded a two-engined American plane and flew to his
ancestral home in Fenghwa in Chekiang Province, 210 miles from Nanking.
For twenty-two years, with one or two interruptions, Chiang had been at
the helm of the Chinese state, but his retirement and departure were greeted
with indifference by the common Chinese people. During the three and a
half years since the surrender of Japan, Chiang's prestige had dipped
to an all-time low. The same man who had been a magnet for a hundred thousand
cheering Shanghai Chinese at the victory celebration in Racecourse Park
in 1945 now drew neither cheers nor tears as he headed back to his ancestors
and perhaps oblivion.