Series (History): The Cultural Revolution

Chapter 8: The Encirclements

This is the next installment of my book, The Cultural Revolution: Then and Mao.
To read the previous installment, click this link.
To start at the beginning, click this link.

Chapter 8
The Encirclements

Zhou Enlai in the 1940s.

Mao’s “delicate” handling of the Futian Incident did not impress the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mao was stripped of his leadership of the Red Army, and General Zhou Enlai took over. But although this might seem like a setback, it turned out very well for the murderous Mao. General Zhou became Mao’s most loyal follower, and a formidable partner in the civil war and Communist revolution.

Zhou would later serve as Premier of China, from 1949 to 1976. He was politically astute enough to survive the Cultural Revolution, but a son and daughter were not so lucky. Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, had them arrested, tortured, and killed in 1968. So even Mao’s most loyal follower would eventually feel the sting of Mao’s pain.

Mao still retained some power, and was named Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. Meanwhile, the CPC moved its headquarters to Jiangxi, as they considered it to be a secure location. Soon, the CPC declared Southwestern Jiangxi an independent Communist state, calling it the Soviet Republic of China.

But Chiang Kai-shek wasn’t having it. He sent Kuomintang (KMT) troops to Jiangxi and encircled the region, with the object of annihilating the Red Army. The Red Army was vastly outnumbered by the KMT, so Mao wanted to resort to guerrilla tactics. But Zhou Enlai was the new leader, and he preferred conventional warfare. He got his way, and surprisingly, Zhou was very successful.

Zhou defeated two encirclement campaigns, much to Chiang’s dismay and wroth. Finally, Chiang decided to personally lead the KMT in more encirclement campaigns. But Zhou defeated Chiang also, and sent him and the KMT packing.

In September 1931, the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria, in northeast China, in what some historians refer to as the beginning of World War II. This saved the Soviet Republic of China from future attacks, as Chiang now had to focus on resisting the Japanese.

He left the Red Army alone, and this gave it a chance to expand the size of the Soviet Republic of China, until it included three million people. Peace prevailed, and for the next few years, Mao was able to implement a land reform program.

Then in 1934, Chiang decided that the Communists posed a greater threat than the Japanese, and he returned his focus on defeating the CPC of Jiangxi. He launched his Fifth Encirclement Campaign, and things were about to get very hairy.

The KMT laid siege on Jiangxi, cutting it off from the outside world, using concrete and barbed wire barriers. This was a blockhouse strategy, recommended by German military advisers, and it was highly effective. The Red Army found it impossible to breach these barriers.

The KMT also beefed up its troop numbers to a half million, vastly outnumbering the Red Army. Then they bombed the hell out of the Red Army, using military aircraft. It was overwhelming, and Zhou found he could not defend against the onslaught, regardless of the conventional warfare tactics that he tried.

The Jiangxi Soviet shrank further and further in size, against the slowly advancing Nationalist Army. Red Army casualties piled up and troop strength weakened. Supplies of food and medicine ran low. The situation for the Communists grew desperate. Finally, in October 1934, after 13 months of futile resistance, the CPC decided to evacuate.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 9: The Long March.

8 replies »

  1. Of course, it’s just speculation… But I suspect that if Zhou Enlai had somehow come to lead, the result would have been very different, and likely far better for millions upon millions of Chinese. His sidelining probably stands as the most telling evidence that Mao’s version of the revolution had mostly to do with his own power.

    Sun Weishi’s horrific fate also showed the absolute depths that China’s leadership had reached under the Gang of Four.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Zhou would have been a much better and more humane leader than Mao. But instead he was left in a position where the best he could do was try to minimize the damage Mao caused. At least there was that.

      Very sad, the way Zhou’s daughter, Sun died. She was very talented, and the victim of jealous people in powerful positions.

      Liked by 1 person

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