Chapter 10: The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident
The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident
In 1936, the Chinese civil war took a strange twist. Joseph Stalin came up with the cockamamied idea of the Communist Party of China (CPC) uniting with the Kuomintang (KMT) to take on their common enemy, the Japanese. Mao was cool to this idea, but he depended a lot on Stalin for help, and so on May 5, 1936, he humored Stalin by telegramming this proposition to Chiang Kai-shek. But Chiang predictably ignored the telegram. Those two hated each other.
Their refusal to set aside their differences to take on their common enemy led to the crazy, wacky Xi’an Incident.
General Zhang Xueliang (also known as Chang Hsueh-liang) was the main protagonist in this Incident. He had been the commander of KMT forces in Manchuria when the Japanese invaded in 1931. He knew his army was no match against the imperial forces, so he had retreated without a fight, practically handing over Manchuria to Japan.
But Zhang wanted Manchuria back, and he resented the fact that Chiang had decided to leave the Japanese alone, and instead focus on making war with Mao and his Communists. He zealously wanted the civil war to end, so that the Japanese could be driven out of Manchuria. He’d been criticized for his retreat from Manchuria, and he had his honor to regain.
The CPC knew this, and so they approached Zhang and made a secret deal with him, in June 1936. This agreement involved Zhang overthrowing Chiang, then uniting the KMT with the CPC, against Japan.
On December 12, 1936, Zhang and another KMT general named Yang Hucheng managed to pull off the impossible. Chiang had flown into Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, to coordinate a major assault on the Red Army. He headquartered in a cabin, where his security was not very strong.
Zhang and Yang seized upon the opportunity this presented, and they had their bodyguards abduct Chiang, in what became one of the craziest kidnappings in history. They held Chiang against his will, but they did not demand money for his ransom, as one would expect from most kidnappers. Instead, they demanded that the KMT end their civil war against the CPC.
Chiang held out for a few weeks, refusing to meet the ransom demand. But when he realized his life was at stake, he finally struck a deal with Zhou Enlai of the CPC. He would go ahead and unite his forces with the CPC, and stop fighting them. In return, Chiang would be allowed to live, and could return back to the nation’s capital of Nanjing.
Zhang’s supporters urged him to execute Chiang, but he refused. A deal was a deal, and he had his honor to protect. So instead, this kidnapper did the honorable thing and returned Chiang safely to Nanjing.
But as soon as Chiang arrived back in Nanjing, he had Zhang and Yang arrested. Zhang spent the next 50 years under a loose form of house arrest, first in mainland China and then in Taiwan. Yang was imprisoned, and then executed in 1949.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 11: Victory.