The Futian Incident
Mao turned out to be a scrappy military leader, but he was not very experienced. It was a tough struggle. Over the next few years his forces usually lost to the Kuomintang (KMT), but during this time of conflict in the Jinggang mountains he learned many lessons on warfare. Especially guerrilla warfare. He often learned the hard way, through defeat, but at least he learned.
One of Mao’s famous quotes about guerrilla warfare is, “When the enemy advances, we retreat. When the enemy halts and encamps, we harass him. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack. Whenever the enemy retreats, we pursue.” Mao eventually won respect as a genius at guerilla warfare, and his relentless tactics have been emulated by Marxist forces throughout the world, including the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
While Mao fought in the Jinggang mountains, Chiang Kai-shek pressed on with his military campaign against the warlords ruling China. He was highly successful, and by December, 1928, he forced Manchuria to capitulate, and became ruler of a unified China.
Well, mostly unified. He still had Mao Zedong to deal with. Mao and his troops struggled through one defeat after another, with few victories. They endured food shortages and other privations. By 1929, his numbers had increased to 2,800 fighters. This was too many people to keep alive, so in January of that year he realized he had to move to an area where he could feed his troops better. He evacuated the Jinggang mountains and headed to the southwestern region of Jiangxi province.
Li Lisan, the leader of the CPC, began quarreling with Mao. Li thought Mao and his unsophisticated peasant army could not succeed, and ordered him to disband his forces. Mao refused. Then Moscow decided to replace Li with 28 Soviet-educated Chinese Communists, to head the CPC. But the ever-rebellious Mao would not accept their authority, either.
The renegade Mao created a provisional Communist government in Southwestern Jiangxi, in 1930. Soon after, a tragedy befell him. Karma, perhaps, for all the fighting he had instigated. In November of that year, his wife and sister were captured by the KMT and beheaded.
Mao was a bigamist, having married another woman six months earlier. Still, this death of the mother of his children must have left him in a particularly nasty mood, and it was no time to trifle with him. He was very likely in the mood for a fight. And a fight is exactly what he got.
In December, just one month after Mao’s wife and sister lost their heads, troops known as the Futian battalion mutinied, accusing Mao of being a counterrevolutionary, and of plotting to surrender to the KMT army. They occupied the town of Yongyang, raised banners proclaiming, “Down with Mao Zedong!” and they appealed to the CPC for help.
This was fucking bullshit as far as Mao was concerned. But it was a delicate situation, requiring delicate strategy to deal with this internal rebellion. In June 1931, Mao came up with a “delicate” idea for handling the dissenters. It was actually quite a cruel idea, which of course he particularly liked. And so it became a strategy he would implement in one form or another, periodically throughout the rest of his life.
He invited the rebels to a meeting, where they could discuss their differences and try to come to a resolution. 200 troops accepted the invitation and showed up. But as soon as they sat down, troops loyal to Mao disarmed them and executed them. After this, dissenters all over Jianxi were rounded up, tortured and executed. This became known as the Futian Incident, and by the time the bloodbath was over, two to three thousand dissenters had been slaughtered by Mao’s loyalists.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 8: The Encirclements.