COLLAPSE OF A DYNASTY
58. The End of an Era
|THE years 1945 to 1949 in China present an extraordinary
spectacle of millions of people in constant turmoil. Men leave their customary
pursuits, march to and fro across the continent, plunder and siaughter one
another, triumph and are plunged in despair, betray and are betrayed, and
during this time the whole course of life is altered and probably the very
future of Asia itself. What was the primary characteristic of all this terrific
One is inclined to answer in the largest philosophic terms that what
we see before us in China are the phenomena of birth and death. On the
one hand, a new society is coming into being; on the other hand an old
order is dying out.
This does not mean there was anything predestined about the fall of Kuomintang society and the rise of Communist society. Far from it. The Chinese civil war was only decided in the fighting of it. Nevertheless, the Chinese Revolution by 1949 had created such a wave of power, principle and passion that no one could hold it back any more than a man with a broom can hold back a flood that has burst its dam.
Chiang Kai-shek is a case in point. When he retired from Nanking, the generalissimo tried desperately to hold his deserting supporters together. Because he still controlled the monies of the state treasury, he was able to outbid most of his rival politicians for the support of the secret service and some of the army commanders. And because he still possessed enormous talents for intrigue, he was also able to continue to divide his party opponents. But he had not enough money to hold any large groups of men together and his divisive tactics, though they gave him the upper hand over his top opponents, only succeeded in demoralizing the lower ranks of the party and the army until many of them had no spirit to resist at all.
| Chiang probably calculated that the Communists
would make peace demands that his rivals in the Kuomintang could not possibly
accept. With his opponents discredited, he then could make a comeback with
restored prestige. In the meantime, his closest supporters planned to sabotage
peace and those who opposed his personal rule. This was a cute strategy.
But in sabotaging the reform group in the government and in sabotaging the
movements for democracy and peace, Chiang's supporters were in reality sabotaging
the ability of his party and government to make war. The efforts to halt
the disintegration of Chiang's own support merely increased the over-all
disintegration of Nationalist society. And for all his intrigues, Chiang
was never wise enough to set in motion any revolutionary policies that alone
might have saved him, if saved he could be.
From the shadows of his ancestral tombs in Fenghwa, the generalissimo throughout the spring of 1949 continued to reach out his black hand to control the events in the capital he had abandoned. Newspaper editors who criticized his backstage manipulations were arrested, students who paraded for peace were clubbed, shot and killed on the streets of Nanking and an attempt was even made to kidnap Li Tsung-jen who had taken over the presidency from the generalissimo.
Much more startling was the fact that after Chiang's retirement ninety-two accused traitors and collaborators with the Japanese were released from jail while 260 Japanese war criminals convicted by Chinese courts were sent back to Japan. More revealing still, General Okamura, Japanese staff expert who had made a lifelong study of how to conquer China, who had been commander in chief of Japanese forces in North China and then Central China and who was the author of the "Kill all, loot all, burn all" policy, was suddenly, in late January 1949, declared innocent of war crimes by Chiang's judges and allowed to return on an American ship to Japan and the protection of General MacArthur. The continued suppression of his own subjects along with the release of Japanese "war criminals" naturally dropped Chiang's prestige still lower among the common people of China. From this one can only conclude that Chiang had no confidence in his ability to rouse his own people to beat the Communists. He was banking on a third World War and was laying out his lines of alliance to Japan and the American military in Japan.
Despite Chiang's attempts at long-distance control of the Chinese state,
his departure from the capital had definitely weakened his authority.
The rift within the Kuomintang kept widening. The government was nominally
and factually nowhere. In Fenghwa there was a "retired"
The same hope stimulated warlords in the far-off provinces to realign
themselves for continued resistance. At an Eight Province Defense Conference
in Chungking, General Wang Ling-chi, governor of Szechuan, announced that
the southwest provinces would raise a new fighting force of five million
men. The general was exaggerating; he could not raise any such force;
he probably hoped also to obtain American aid. In this he was encouraged
by certain American military commentators who advocated supporting provincial
Chinese leaders to stem the Red tide in China. Such a program was nothing
but an imitation of a similar policy that had failed thirty years earlier
when the Great Powers supported Admiral Kolchak against the newly born
Soviet Union. The policy had proved defective then; it would have been
equally defective now.
In their haste and greed, the rulers of old China abandoned almost
all pretense. The plunder was now open and aboveboard. Take, for example,
Kunming, chief city of Yunan Province. This city had been the terminus
for the American air supply route over the "Hump" during World
War II and it was filled with American dollars left there by American
soldiers. On February 10, 1949, a huge amount of purple-colored Gold Yuan
notes of fifty-dollar denomination were brought into the city and used
by the Central Bank of China to buy up all foreign notes and gold bullion
on the open market. The price of gold and all commodities doubled within
twenty-four hours. On the second day, the bank announced that all the
fifty-dollar notes were counterfeit. Thirty thousand people gathered on
Nanping Street where the bank was located and began a run on the bank.
The bank closed its doors and a riot ensued. Governor Lu Han arrived in
an armored car at the head of several hundred soldiers, dispersed the
crowds and indiscriminately arrested 118 people. A court-martial, presided
over by Lu, was set up on the road opposite the bank building. The arrested
men were questioned briefly and then shot to death, one by one, with thousands
looking on. The governor ordered the "trial" to come to an end
after twenty-one had been executed and after the executioners pleaded
that "All the rest seemed to be accomplices only." (1)
|原注一：据一九四九年二月十九日《远东新闻简报》。||(1) As reported by Far Eastern Bulletin, Feb. 19, 1949.|
It has always been characteristic of Chinese warlords that they hold on to their positions to the last, not out of belief in their own destiny, but so that they may tax the people for years ahead, put their wealth in foreign concessions or abroad and then retire or make a deal which will enable them to live handsomely in exile. Kuomintang leaders, though more adroit, were much the same. Perhaps they were not to blame: they were merely following "old Chinese custom."
The spirit of the times, then, was not fin de siele, like the exhausted
days of latter nineteenth-century England, but fin du monde, like Czarist
Russia or Bourbon France. In this world of despair, anything went, anything
was excusable. Save yourself: that was the code.
| During this period of truce, which the Kuomintang so urgently needed but so ill employed, the Communist party, north of the Yangtze River, used its talents to more effective purpose. Having laid down peace terms which the Kuomintang could not accept, Mao Tze-tung directed his followers to make full war preparations for crossing the Yangtze into South China. These preparations were thorough, but not solely military. In the countryside, the land reform continued at a wiser and less brutal tempo. In the newly conquered cities, the common people were kept quiet by food supplies brought in from the farms. On the other hand, in order to arouse the intelligentsia, the party appealed in Peiping and Tientsin for student volunteers to accompany their, southbound armies as political auxiliaries. Because they had been but newly freed from Kuomintang terror and because their fellow-students in the south were still being arrested and killed, the pupils in the north flocked to the Communists as converts gather to a new religious leader. Within a few weeks, ten thousand girls and bays from the universities and middle schools of Peiping and Tientsin had learned the Red techniques for taking over cities and were eagerly awaiting the call to march south.
That call was not long in coming. By the middle of April, the Communists had concentrated one million soldiers of the People's Liberation Army in staging bases along a six-hundred-mile front skirting the north bank of the Yangtze River from the China Sea to river gorges near the Szechuan border. On the south side of the river, secret Communist agents had already organized peasant guerrilla bands to aid in the crossing. With every preparation made to seize the Nationalist capital at Nanking, the Communists sent a last ultimatum to the Kuomintang government.
The terms were stiff. They called among other things for: 1. Nationalist agreement to an unopposed crossing of the Yangtze; 2. Surrender of all war criminals, including some members of the Nationalist government; 3. Formation of a "coalition" government dominated by the Communists.
A deadline was set for the Nationalist answer. Twice the deadline was put ahead. Then, on April 17, the Communists announced that unless the government, headed by Acting President Li Tsung-jen, yielded by April 20, they would force the river barrier. Seven hours before the April 20 deadline, the Nationalists rejected the terms. Mao Tze-tung, chairman of the Communist party and General Chu Teh, commander in chief of the People's Liberation Army, immediately issued a joint order commanding their forces to push south and "liberate all of China." All Kuomintang "reactionaries" who dared resist were to be wiped out.
On the evening of April 20, within a few hours of Mao Tze-tung's order, the People's Liberation Army began to cross the Yangtze River. Landing operations proceeded along a 350-mile front from Kiukiang in the west to Kiangyin in the east. The Yangtze in this section of China is sometimes two miles wide and it is deep enough to allow the passage of ocean-going steamers and warships of nearly every size and description. To negotiate this formidable water barrier, the Communists had only wooden boats, junks, and rafts. Everything they would need in South China, including artillery, ammunition, provisions and supplies of all kinds had to be ferried over the river by these primitive means. To halt the Yangtze crossing, the Kuomintang had a navy and an air force. Outwardly, the odds appeared in favor of Chiang Kai-shek.
But there was almost no resistance to the crossing. The Chinese navy, which had been partially equipped and trained by the United States, showed little stomach for a fight. The air force, which had also been furnished to Chiang by the United States and which might conceivably have turned the crossing into a holocaust, seldom appeared to give battle to the Communists.
The Kuomintang had deployed nearly half a million troops to man the Yangtze, but their fighting power was not to be measured by their numbers. The first break in the river line was made at Tikang on the evening of April 20. Garrisoning this town were the 8oth and 88th divisions, the latter;crack outfit and one of the three army units originally known as "Chiang's Own." Both divisions revolted on the eve of the battle. On April 21, the Communists landed at Kiukiang midway between Nanking and Hankow. A day later, forces of the People's Liberation Army were in the Kiangyin fort area, supposedly the strongest point in Kuomintang defenses. The garrison batteries in the Kiangyin fort opened fire, not on the People's Liberation Army, but on Kuomintang gunboats so that the Communists could the more easily cross the river. Everywhere, the story was repeated: insurrection, surrender, disintegration. Formerly, military analysts had made distinctions between the fighting power of Central troops and Irregular troops loyal to the Kuomintang. The Yangtze crossing proved that such distinctions no longer existed. The revolution had brought all to the same level.
The advance of the People's Liberation Army was unbelievably swift. During the first week after the crossing, Communist troops captured an average of three cities per day. Within twenty-four hours, thirty thousand soldiers were at Wuhu, sixty miles southwest of Nanking. Within three days, they were at the walls of the capital of the republic.
When the officials sneaked away from Nanking, the city police took off their uniforms. Defenders of law and order, they had no desire to defend a dead regime. The common people emerged into the streets and began looting. So little affection did the crowds have for their departed rulers that they rushed to the house of President Li Tsung-jen and stripped it bare. In this they were aided by the departed president's housekeeper. Some American apologists for Chiang Kai-shek had often said he was a creative force in China because he had morally regenerated the people. Now, all the world could see just how deeply this regeneration had taken effect.
"Down with reactionaries."
"Mao Tze-tung is our savior."
The next day, at 6:45 o'clock in the morning, twelve soldiers invaded the United States embassy and entered the bedroom of the American ambassador, J. Leighton Stuart, who was lying in bed, half awake. After rudely addressing the seventy-two-year-old diplomat, a fluent Chinese scholar and a lifelong resident of China, they pointed to articles in his room and said, "These will soon belong to the people." As they were leaving, they told a servant of the embassy that Stuart should not be allowed to leave the residence compound. These simple soldiers, armed creators of the revolution, were no respecters of persons. They were probably a portent of the shape of things to come in the Orient.
| The fall of Nanking was of little military importance. Its political significance, however, was tremendous. For three decades, this metropolis of one million people on the banks of the Yangtze, 235 miles from the China Sea, had been the symbol of the Chinese republic. It was here, on January I, 1912, that Sun Yat-sen took the oath as president of the republic. It was here, in 1929, that generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had set up his capital and headquarters for the war against the Communists, then but a small guerrilla band isolated in South China. Now, these same guerrillas, enlarged into an army of nearly three million men had taken his capital and he had not been able even to attempt to defend it. Such was the tremendous turnabout that had occurred in Chinese politics.
From Nanking, the Communists wheeled on Shanghai, long the base of Western imperialism in the Far East. This city of six million people with its former foreign concessions which had stood inviolate during innumerable Chinese civil wars, was now protected only by a wooden fence and mud pillboxes. Behind these stage property defenses - built not for defense but for graft - fifteen thousand Americans, British and Europeans awaited the Communists with no thought of resisting. Twenty-two years earlier, the forerunners of these men had allowed the armed gangsters of Chiang Kai-shek to pass through the foreign concessions and slaughter factory workers in the native city who were adhering to the Communist cause. Now, no such easy solution of Chinese Communism was possible.
During the crossing of the Yangtze River, there occurred an incident which pointed up the significance of the whole China war in a fashion more revealing than a dozen political dissertations. The Yangtze, one of the world's great rivers, which has its source in Tibet and its mouth three thousand miles away in the China Sea, is navigable for its last thousand miles by ocean-going steamers. On this stretch of the river, foreign warships have been maneuvering for nearly a hundred years, with no Chinese government able or willing to keep them out. As the battle over this great waterway began, British naval authorities, with a sublime indifference to the new realities in China, ordered the sloop Amethyst to move out of Shanghai with supplies for British embassy officials in Nanking. This action was definitely, though perhaps not purposely, provocative. Later both Kuomintang and British authorities were to declare that the ship had a perfect right on the Yangtze because of treaties concluded with the Chiang government. But it was just these treaties which the Communists were fighting to destroy. As might have been expected, Communist soldiers in the midst of a battle with the Kuomintang fleet and Kuomintang soldiers on the opposite shore opened up with their American-made batteries on the Amethyst. She was severely damaged and ran aground fifty miles from Nanking. From that city another British warship, the destroyer Consort, headed downstream but was beaten off by Communist guns. Adding folly to arrogance, two other British warships moved upstream from Shanghai; they too were heavily shelled and turned tail and fled. In all, the British suffered forty-four seamen killed, eighty injured.
The significance of this event is tremendous. Thirty years earlier, the mere presence of the British warships on the Yangtze would have been enough to turn the tide of any civil war. Twenty years ago, such an incident would have sent every foreign warship on the China station scurrying up the river to silence the insolent Chinese; diplomats would have sternly demanded apologies; the foreign press would have thundered for revenge and editors would have written philosophic dissertations on the need for "law and order." But 1949 was not 1929.
The crossing of the Yangtze - like the crossing of so many other river
barriers in history, from the Rubicon to the Rappahannock or the Rhine
- may stand as a decisive date in world history.
The Yangtze River crossing ended these days forever. Gone was the era of gunboat diplomacy, gone the treaty port concessions, gone the specially conceded naval bases, the military missions, the ill-disguised interference in Chinese affairs. The China of the imperialists that had existed with only insignificant changes since the middle of the nineteenth century was going up in the smoke of a Communist-led revolution.
For better or for worse, a new day was dawning in China. The weather of this day was uncertain. Many storm clouds were on the horizon. But that a new day was coming up in an ancient land, of that there could be little doubt.
The Communists in crossing the Yangtze River had begun an adventure of terrible proportions, from which there could be no turning back. They had set out to conquer all of China and there could be no compromise. The risks of such an undertaking were enormous. In evolving from country-based guerrillas to aspirants for state power, the Communists were now face to face with the bared fangs of the Western powers. In crossing the Yangtze River, they were leaving the scene of their greatest triumphs where they had built up their strength by close association for thirteen years with the people of the North. There they had bases in the countryside, now they had none, but must create them. Behind them was the turbulent past, ahead of them the uncertain future.
| The risks taken by the Communists
were great. But the difficulties facing them were greater still. Before
them lay a vast territory larger than Europe, of endless variety and almost
limitless boundaries. Great cities, such as Hankow, Canton and Shanghai,
with their foreign populations, their factory workers, their gangster problems
and their international ties, posed terrible challenges to country-bred
cadres. Two hundred million people speaking a score of different dialects
remained to be won over. The way of conquest was a long and an arduous one.
The terrain was far different from the flat lands of the North China Plain.
Here, south of the Yangtze River, where the Communists were going, were
the hills of Kiangsi whence they themselves had begun their famous six-thousand-mile
Long March fifteen years before. Here were the paddy fields of the Canton
delta, from which had sprung Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang revolution.
Here, the far-off province of Yunan with its wild Lob tribesmen, here the
lush fields of the Red Basin in Szechuan, the desert of northwest China,
the towering mountains of Tibet and the great and almost impenetrable Yangtze
gorges and the winding three-thousand-mile barrier of the river itself.
And beyond the soaring boundaries, beyond the Great Wall, to the north and
west, lay the wary Soviet Union, and to the south Indo-China and the French,
frightened for their empire, and to the east, Hongkong, an English fortress
in a Chinese sea.
This final act in the Communist drive for power in China might be long and it might be difficult. But the outcome could scarcely be in doubt. The movement for social revolution had gained too much headway to be halted now. The Kuomintang armies might put up resistance here and there. The great landholders of South China, following the traditions of Tseng Kuo-fan and Tso Tsung-tang who put down the Taiping Rebellion, might raise a gentry-led guerrilla force. Chiang's secret service might plant centers of resistance in every corner. The United States might even funnel many more millions into the China rathole. But it would make little difference. There was little soul left in the Kuomintang any more. Indeed, the "oil was exhausted and the light was dying."
| In the meantime, a mighty convulsion is shaking
the land of Confucius. For four thousand years the Chinese people have been
kowtowing before their ancestral tombs, seeking an answer to life in the
past. But now, almost for the first time since Chinese medicine men and
despots put their blight on the Chinese mind, the common people of Cathay
are beginning to stand erect and seek an answer to their problems in the
future. For better or for worse, the Chinese Communists have succeeded in
awakening in millions of people a sense of personality. In the wake of this
act has come an irresistible discharge of emotional energy that is sweeping
the last barbarities of Oriental medievalism along with the more refined
barbarities of Occidental imperialism remorselessly toward oblivion. Whether
a new barbarism is rising remains for history to decide.
Only four things can possibly halt the onward march of the Chinese Revolution. The first of these is the rising of a new force in South and West China, utterly divorced from Chiang Kai-shek and the old leaders of the Kuomintang, with a land reform program of its own, and with a leadership just as revolutionary as the Communists? The possibility of this happening is one in a hundred. The second way in which Chinese Communism might be halted would be by interference from the Soviet Union. The possibility of this happening is just as remote. The third possibility is an internal revolt in the revolutionary camp against the Communists. This, too, is unlikely. There remains a third World War. Cornered in South China, the retreating Nationalist armies might conceivably back into Indo-China and Burma and seek to obtain the aid of France and England and through them the United States. In this way, the old leaders of Chinese nationalism might attempt to set themselves up as a bulwark against Communism in southeast Asia.
This occurrence is a distinct possibility. But it is not a probability unless the United States tries to restore the old structure of imperialist empire in the Orient. That the Chinese Communists might become involved in any such event merely brings more sharply into focus the astounding fact that the tiny band of guerrillas who were once outlaws in the interior of China have now become major actors on the stage of world power.
Since there are peasants like the Chinese, more or less similar in every country in the Orient, from Japan to Indonesia, led by intellectuals with a Marxist ideology, these men have become a portent. Statesmen may fear them or wonder at them, and businessmen may try to serve them while philosophers shudder. But whatever one thinks about them or plans to do about them, they cannot be wished out of existence nor can their importance be denied. There they are, vibrant, vital and vigorous, marching across Asia with arms in hand, blood in their eyes and a song on their lips, a new force, a terrible force in an ancient world, a crumbling world.