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It’s said that nurses can tell a fighter from a patient who’s given up. And they say fighters often survive, sometimes against long odds. But those who’ve given up often slip away even when they stand a fair chance of making it.

I like to think I’m such a fighter. I’ve been fighting AFib, and it’s been landing some pretty hard blows lately. I’ve been sucker punched, rabbit punched, and had sand tossed in my face. Hey, this mutherfucker fights dirty.

But not as dirty as the medical system. That cocksucker will shake your hand, then kick you in the nuts.

I have two opponents: my heart condition, and the medical system. They’ve both been circling me lately, one armed with a switchblade, and the other with a sock full of rocks.

I got the go-ahead from my worthless PCP to visit my worthless cardiologist again, to consult with him over the possibility of an ablation procedure. But after my previous experience with this highly credentialed stooge, where he ambushed me with a dismissive attitude and incompetent advice, I decided I needed to arm myself.

So I clicked on over to the American College of Cardiology’s website. There I found their Guideline for Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. It was available, free of charge, so I downloaded a PDF version. And I studied the hell out of that complex, technically-worded Guideline, while familiarizing myself with the medical jargon. This way, armed with knowledge, I figured I could show that cardiologist that I knew what was what, and could insist upon proper, guideline-based treatment.

I felt nervous entering the doctor’s office. My cardiologist is a hard case. He’s very arrogant. I hoped I’d be able to stand up to him and fight effectively for my cause, rather than transform into a mewling kitten who gets picked up by the scruff of the neck and thrown out to the wolves.

I puffed myself up and boldly approached the front counter. And then, in an instant, the receptionist whipped out a gravity knife and popped my balloon. She informed me that my appointment had been canceled, due to the doctor having to assist a patient at the emergency room.

I protested. I’d waited weeks, and driven nearly an hour to this appointment. So she told me that the doctor should be back in a few hours if I wanted to wait some more. Nice rope-a-dope, lady. Yeah, wear the patient down. But I wouldn’t be worn down. I’d have to draw on my reserves for this, but I bit the bullet. I told her I’d wait.

Finally, a few hours later, there I sat in the chilly examining room, anticipating action at any second. My stomach churned. My body trembled. Was it from the cold, or the anticipation? That’s the problem when there are lulls in warfare. Anxiety can drive you nuts, because you know all hell can break loose at any moment.

Suddenly I jumped, as Dr. Sherman Tank burst into the room with his cannon blazing. “Sorry I’m late,” he loudly apologized, his tone betraying a hint of irritation. “I was attending to a patient in the ER. I had an ambulance rush me here, so I could see you.”

Huh? I wondered. The hospital is only a hundred yards away. Is this son-of-a-bitch trying to guilt me?

“You’re in normal sinus rhythm,” he sprayed at me like a machine gun, without giving me a chance to say anything. That’s one of his tactics. He talks loudly, quickly and impatiently, without giving me much chance to interject and tell him about my health concerns. “You don’t need to be cardioverted.”

I managed to regain my composure and grabbed my carbine, so that I could plink at this Sherman Tank. “I’m not here to be cardioverted,” I shot back. “I want to discuss ablation.”

His turret whipped around at me, and blasted, “You don’t need ablation! You don’t have AFib! I just told you, you’re in normal sinus rhythm!”

The concussion knocked me across the room. But I staggered to my feet and took unsteady aim again. “Uh . . . uh, yes, but I have recurring episodes of AFib. It’s paroxysmal, and brought on by physical activity. I want ablation so I won’t have fatigue anymore, and so that I can exercise more and be more physically active.”

He lobbed a hand grenade at me. “No, you can’t get fatigue from AFib unless you’re in AFib! If you’re not in AFib, you’re not tired!” Untrue, as many with AFib will attest to. AFib takes a lot out of you, and fatigue can linger well beyond an AFib episode. Besides, I know when I’m tired.

Then the Sherman Tank fragged me with something that was clearly contrary to the Guideline. His Guideline by the way. He’s an FACC, or Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. His FACC colleagues wrote the Guideline. So this was his Guideline. The fake, FACC fuck.

So I hurled a hand grenade back at him, with the protest, “That’s not what it says in your Guideline!”

He puffed up and kicked the grenade back at me, “YOU’RE telling ME what’s in my Guideline?!” Ah, the all-knowing-doctor-is-the-authority tactic. I’m supposed to defer to this fool, no matter what stupid thing he says, because he’s a DOCTOR and cannot be questioned, while I’m just a pissant, ignorant patient.

I had a copy of the Guideline in my arsenal, with relevant passages highlighted in yellow. But before I could whip it out and show him the damning truth, he changed the subject by announcing, “There is no evidence you even have AFib!”

Oh this was even better. Apparently, he had not reviewed my medical record before this skirmish broke out. He had barged into battle unprepared. But I was prepared. I reached into my armory (a file folder) and pulled out three ECG traces from emergency rooms, and let him have it.

There was no denying it. Even his cursory review of the traces clearly demonstrated that I’d been irregularly irregular (an AFib term). These bomb blasts staggered him. Finally he sputtered, “Okay, so you were in AFib then, but you don’t have AFib anymore. Anyway, there’s no cure for AFib.”

He was flailing. He must have realized how illogical he sounded just then. Besides, it’s not even true. There is a cure for AFib. Ablation cures it about 75% of the time.

I had this son-of-a-bitch on the ropes. But before I could move in for the kill, the nimble Dr. Tank beat a hasty retreat. He stormed out of the office while tossing a smoke screen behind him. He hollered to the receptionist, “Refer this patient to Dr. Fubar!”

Great, a new cardiologist. That’s what I needed. At least Dr. Tank was good for something. But later, my insurance plan would intervene and change the referral to a nurse practitioner, leaving me with a new battle on my hands.

I appreciated the referral, at the time, but Dr. Tank offered no explanation as to why I was getting this referral, and he quickly disappeared through a warren of office doors and passageways. I was shaking. The combination of combat and a bad heart left me feeling wounded and weak. It’s not good to excite a heart that has a propensity to go out of rhythm. I just wanted to get the hell out of there and rest my nerves.

I staggered to the elevator and pushed the button for the parking level. But suddenly Dr. Sherman Tank rushed in and joined me. Geez, this was awkward. I was tired of war and out of fight. But there I was standing next to the buttons. And Covid and social distancing, you know. So I politely asked him what level he wanted.

“Oh, where you’re going is good enough,” he blithely replied. Hmm. Is this guy stalking me, I wondered. The doors slid closed as he fixed his bayonet for some mano-a-mano action in close quarters.

He eyed me. “I know my Guideline,” he suddenly jabbed. “And it says what I told you it said.” His voice was authoritarian and patronizing, as if I was a kindergartner needing correction.

Why was he even talking to me about this? Was he as full of shit as I thought he was, and worried I was going to expose him?

I’d had enough of this bullshit. When a warrior tires he either lays down and dies or throws everything he’s got at the enemy. I chose the latter. With all the adrenaline I could muster, I parried his thrust and drove my blade home, declaring, “Sir, I’ve READ the Guideline. I KNOW you don’t know the Guideline.”

He stiffened up. For a fleeting moment I feared he was going to physically attack me in that elevator. But he kept his body still and mouth shut. For the first time, something I said triggered silence in this bastard. Perhaps he’s not accustomed to patients telling him they’ve read the Guideline.

The elevator doors slid open and Dr. Sherman Tank stalked away with a stiff gait and clinched fists. I quickly retreated in the opposite direction. He was younger and athletic, and I figured he could easily whup ass on me. I wanted away from him.

I don’t know who won this battle. I did not get what I wanted, which was a referral for an ablation procedure. Or at least a stress test, or a Holter monitoring. These are two standard, guideline-based tests I’ve never had before, but would have had six months ago if this quack knew and followed the Guideline.

But he apparently didn’t get what he wanted, either. Which I think was for me to back down, shut up, and meekly let him call all the shots with no dissent. I suspect he didn’t like being stood up to by a well-prepared and well-informed patient. And I’m hoping he spent the next week losing sleep, while worrying that I might file a formal complaint against him. I suspect I could devastate him with such a complaint, simply by citing the Guideline he didn’t follow.

But I won’t do that. Instead I’ve chosen the nuclear option. Open Season is coming up, and I’m changing insurance from my HMO to a plan that will allow me to go to any specialist I choose.

With an HMO, you’re stuck with a small selection of specialists, confined within the HMO’s sub-network medical group that you’ve chosen. And often these doctors aren’t, shall I say nicely, the cream of the crop.

But my new insurance plan will allow me to choose from a wide range of cardiologists. If I make a bad choice I’ll figure that out quickly, due to my familiarity with the Guideline they’re entrusted to follow. And then I’ll fire the bastard and choose a new one.

This new insurance plan will cost more, but hey, you get what you pay for.

I’ll have to wait until January before I can see a better doctor. A considerate, competent doctor whom I hope I won’t have to do combat with. And with any luck, my heart will hold out until then. In the meantime I’ll stay in the ring, bloodied but unbowed, and keep duking it out with AFib.

I ain’t gonna let it knock me out. I’m determined. I’m a fighter.

Out of Rhythm

As I write the first part of this post, it’s December 5th, 2020, and I ain’t in rhythm. Right now the electrical currents in my heart are zinging about helter-skelter, dancing to the beat of a drunk drummer.

This is a heart arrhythmia event, and it can go on for hours, even days. I get them just about every day, nowadays. I think they began when I was a teenager, or at least that’s my story. I can’t prove it, but I’ll use any excuse to vindicate my life-long laziness.

But I may be running out of excuses. Some damned doctor has decided I need heart surgery. And if this surgery is successful, I’ll have to get off my shiftless ass and start doing more chores around the house. Fuck.

My last cardiologist was more than willing to do nothing. But he and I got into it and I got feisty and found a new heart doctor. It’s my pride, you see. I don’t like to lose.

My new sawbones is an electrophysiologist (EP), and EPs specialize in heart arrhythmias. The surgery he’s planning is called a cryoablation. This crazy son-of-a-bitch plans to run a thin catheter from my groin, through my blood vessels, up to my heart, and freeze the hell out of the supercharged areas that he believes are short-circuiting my ticker. Talk about a cold-hearted thing to do.

I only hope he won’t make a mistake and freeze my balls off in the process.

And hopefully this will put an end to my nuisance heart condition, that has been diagnosed as Atrial Fibrillation (Afib). Except that I won’t have an excuse to be lazy anymore.

Arrhythmia events feel so unusual, that they are hard for me to describe, and hard to remember how to describe. So if the cryoablation is successful, I fear I may forget altogether what an arrhythmia event feels like, or how to identify it, should this mutherfucker pop up its evil head again.

And so this post is about describing, to the best of my ability, what Afib feels like. I’ll use it for reference, in case my frozen arrhythmia ever thaws out and revives, like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Presently, I feel weak and shaky. And I feel congested, as if I have a bag of dry sand in my chest. It’s the kind of stifling sensation you can get in your lungs when driving down a dirt road, inhaling the dust.

But because I feel shaky, let’s make it a bumpy dirt road.

Another analogy is feeling as if I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon in my life, but my heart has, so I think I know what it feels like. My chest feels raw during an arrhythmia event, and my limbs feel weak, as if I might collapse.

Most of my episodes begin gradually. Afib sneaks up like a slow-acting toxin. In fact sometimes when an event is coming on, I’ve worried that my wife has poisoned my dinner. But I don’t dare accuse her anymore. I’m tired of those dirty looks she gives me, and her threats to never cook a meal again.

When I tell people how I feel at these times, they sometimes act like amateur physicians and diagnose me with hypoglycemia. They advise that I should eat something. But when eating doesn’t help, I realize that these folks are practicing medicine without a license. That’s why they’re wrong. About as wrong as most licensed doctors, who are also piss-poor at diagnosing Afib.

Afib events are uncomfortable and damned tiring. But they are rarely fatal. Which is too bad. There are many times in my life when I’ve wished I was dead, rather than continue to feel this way.

But no, this damned heart condition is only fatal when it leads to a massive stroke, or heart attack from tachycardia. I think my grandfather had Afib. He had a massive stroke when he was 77, that left him partially paralyzed, and with the mentality of a blubbering fool. That’s how merciless Afib can be. But when he was 82 it finally it had mercy on him and took him out of this world, with another massive stroke.

Despite popular belief, it’s common to have an Afib event without a racing pulse. In fact, that’s how my events almost always occur. With no tachycardia. But if you get the racing pulse, you’d better check into an emergency room quick, before your heart gives up from working too hard, and takes an eternal nap.

Some people have Afib events and never even notice them. They’re the asymptomatic ones. Lucky bastards. But also unlucky, because if they don’t know they have this heart condition, they won’t take the anticoagulant medication that prevents massive strokes. They’re walking time bombs, and might be in for a big, unpleasant surprise, someday down the road. The same kind of surprise my grandpa had.

However, the anticoagulants can give you a big surprise also, and right in your wallet. I take Eliquis. There is no generic version available, so I’m stuck with the expensive brand name. A 90-day supply of Eliquis costs about $1,500, without insurance. Thankfully, my current insurance cuts this expense down to about $500.

When I have an event I just want to lay down and sink to the center of the Earth. I want the universe to fold up around me and take me away to an unconscious place where I can rest in total comfort. A place with no weakness and no shakiness.

But when I lay down, the symptoms don’t go away with bedrest. They are only somewhat ameliorated. It beats being on one’s feet, trying to get chores accomplished, but it sure ain’t like a vacation at Sandals.

When I do the opposite of rest, and force myself to be active during an event, I run the risk of getting a splitting headache. I don’t know how the heart connects itself to the forehead, but a strong relationship seems to exist. It sometimes smacks me in the head, and keeps smacking me in the head, as if to tell me I’m a dummkopf for not resting.

When I walk during an event, I stagger like a drunk. That’s because I relax all my limbs, like a ragdoll. It saves energy. But it also makes me appear intoxicated. And my speech slurs and I mumble a lot, as articulate speech requires too much effort.

When I was in the military, my CO’s ordered me to be drug-tested several times, after I was observed in ragdoll form, probably having an arrhythmia event. And so I offered up jars of pure piss, of the finest amber, to military labs, which exonerated me every time. And which no doubt left my CO’s in a pissy mood, for being so wrong.

And speaking of piss, Afib makes me a piss-poor conversationalist. Animation and repartee go right out the window when I’m in an event, and I possess all the charm of a cinder block. You might as well be in the company of a zombie.

I won’t miss having Afib, even though I want to remember what it feels like. It seems impossible that my decades of heart arrhythmia hell may soon come to an end. If indeed, my problem really is arrhythmia, and not laziness. I could just be a lazy bastard, you know.

And maybe the cryoablation surgery won’t cure me. Ablations are successful 70 to 80% of the time, which means 20 to 30% of patients are left shit-out-of-luck. They often have to undergo additional ablations, for any chance of success.

It takes three months to know if the surgery is successful. But I hope one day in the not-too-distant future, my ragdoll days will be over. I hope these events will become a thing of the past, and that my heart will start behaving itself, so I can get back into the rhythm of things.

Today it’s January 11th, 2021, as I’m posting this. Tomorrow I’m going in for the surgery, so this blog will be idle for a little while. I’m taking at least a few days off from blogging, up to a week, depending on how I feel.

Perhaps forever, if I croak in the middle of the operation. That can happen, but it’s rare. Sometimes doctors have butterfingers, and sometimes they get in a hurry and make mistakes. But who can blame them for not wanting to miss Happy Hour?

I have a post scheduled for a week after my surgery, with a simple message that reads, “I’m dead.” But if I survive I’ll unschedule it. Goddamn, I hope I remember.

But either way, it’s been nice knowing all the people who follow my blog. I hope to see everyone again on the other side. And I mean within the next week, on the other side of the surgery.

Until then, so long for now.

Who the Hell Am I?

We haven’t played Who the Hell Am I? since January. And everyone failed miserably, as I remember. However, Carolyn, at joyroses13, won the contest with a half-point. But she cheated. Which is pathetic.

But I want to give everyone another chance, so how about we play the fun and exciting game again, of Who the Hell Am I?!

In this game you get 10 clues to guess the name of a famous person. These clues are numbered countdown-style, 10 to 1, with the first clue numbered 10. Your score is determined by the highest numbered clue that evokes the correct answer.

At the end of the list you can click a link for the answer. However, this link is numbered zero, so if you haven’t figured out the answer by the time you click it, you get no points.

Who the Hell Am I?

10. I was born in Glendale, Arizona in 1925. My father was a drunk, and my mother was a Paiute Indian. She divorced my dad when I was 12. My maternal grandfather regaled me with many fascinating stories of the American West, while I was growing up. He was an inspiration because later, I would achieve great success writing and singing songs about the Old West.

9. My one and only wife’s name was Marizona, and we were married for 34 years, until the day I died.

8. I served in the Navy during World War II, and in the Solomon Islands I learned to play the guitar. There, I fell in love with Hawaiian music and later, in 1957, recorded an album entitled, Song of the Islands.

7. After World War II, I pursued a career in music, and in 1952 I recorded a #1 Country hit entitled I’ll Go On Alone. My career took off like a nitro-powered race car after that, and I was eventually named to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

6. I recorded 18 #1 hits during my career (two were #1 in Canada), 11 albums that went gold or platinum, and was named Artist of the Decade, for the 1960s, by the Academy of Country Music.

5. Even though I was a famous country singer, many of my hits crossed over to the pop charts, including one in 1957 about a heartbroken teenager in a white sport coat, who was stood up for the prom.

4. In 1961, I won a Grammy Award for an album entitled, More Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

3. I loved fast cars, and competed in 35 NASCAR Grand National Series races, finishing in the top-10, six times. One of my race cars was a ‘34 Ford coupe named Devil Woman.

2. My last NASCAR race was in November, 1982. I died one month later, at age 57, after failed quadruple bypass heart surgery.

1. My signature song was a 1959 Grammy Award winner about a cowboy who loses his life over a Mexican girl, who works in a West Texas cantina. This song was featured in 2013, in the series finale of Breaking Bad. The episode was entitled Felina.

0. So, who the hell am I? For the correct answer, click this link.

And if you’re up to a little fun, here’s a youtube link to this artist’s signature song, as featured in the Breaking Bad finale.

Chapter 34: Trial of the Gang of Four

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 34
Trial of the Gang of Four

When the arrest of the Gang of Four was made public, spontaneous celebrations broke out all over China. The Chinese people were fed up with Jiang Qing and the Cultural Revolution. It was clear that their arrest was a very popular move, so the Communist Party jumped on the bandwagon.

The government-run media laid it on thick, denouncing the Gang, and calling them traitors. It linked them with Lin Biao, and blamed them for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. And a new movement was begun, called the Movement of Exposition, Criticism and Uncovering, where millions of former Red Guards were publicly criticized for having committed atrocities for the Gang of Four.

The Gang of Four at trial, in 1981.

The trial of the Gang began in November 1980, and was televised so the public could see for themselves how the Party had turned against the Cultural Revolution. This trial was sometimes marked by outbursts from Jiang, who would protest loudly and sometimes burst into tears. She would then be hauled out of the courtroom.

Jiang Qing at trial, 1980.

Jiang represented herself, and was the only member of the Gang who bothered to argue against the charges. Her defense was that she was always obeying the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong, and from this trial she has been famously quoted as saying, “I was Chairman Mao’s dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite.”

But her defense fell flat. And it was bound to fall flat. It was a fait accompli. The Politburo had already determined everyone’s fate, and this trial was for show only.

While Jiang presented a defense, Zhang Chunqiao did not. He simply refused to admit he’d done anything wrong. However, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen confessed to their crimes and made a show of repentance. But confession or no, repentance or no, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The outcome had been predetermined. They were all found guilty of various crimes related to the Cultural Revolution and alleged attempted coups.

On January 25, 1981, Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao were sentenced to death. Wang Hongwen was handed a life sentence, and Yao Wenyuan got 20 years.

Exactly two years later, on January 25, 1983, Jiang and Zhang’s death sentences were commuted to life.

But while Jiang was serving her life sentence, she was diagnosed with throat cancer. She refused an operation. Naturally her condition worsened, and in 1991 she was released from prison, on medical grounds, and admitted to a hospital. Then on May 14, 1991, at age 77, she hanged herself in a bathroom of the hospital.

She left a suicide note that read, “Today the revolution has been stolen by the revisionist clique of Deng, Peng Zhen, and Yang Shangkun. Chairman Mao exterminated Liu Shaoqi, but not Deng, and the result of this omission is that unending evils have been unleashed on the Chinese people and nation. Chairman, your student and fighter is coming to see you!”

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 35: The Rise of Deng Xiaoping.

Chapter 18: Madame Mao, Jiang Qing

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 18
Madame Mao, Jiang Qing

The Socialist Education Movement was only the beginning for Mao, because it only persecuted intellectuals, and could not reach as high as State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. Liu was the one who had taken power from Mao, and so he was Mao’s prime target. To get at Liu, Mao knew he had to up his game of continuous revolution. And that is why he masterminded the Cultural Revolution.

He began setting up the Cultural Revolution in a way that one might stand up a row of dominoes, where when the first domino is knocked over, the others rapidly fall in a chain-reaction. Chain-reactions run the risk of getting out of control, but that was not much concern for Mao. His biggest desire was to return to power, and he needed some chaos to bring that about.

But he also needed help with this conspiracy, and from someone he could trust. So he turned to Jiang Qing. Jiang Qing was Mao’s fourth wife. Of all his wives, she was the most devious, cruel, and vindictive. Jiang’s character had been a perfect fit for Mao’s, when he married her nearly 30 years before.

His first wife had probably not been a good fit, since she and Mao had not done the fitting. It was an arranged marriage, and his father had made the arrangement. Her name was Luo Yigu. She was Mao’s cousin, and he married her when he was just 13 years old, over his protestations. He resented the marriage, never lived with Luo, and soon abandoned her.

Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for his wife, Luo died of dysentery in 1910, making Mao a widower at age 16. This freed him up to marry whomever he wanted. The experience turned Mao against arranged marriages and made him something of a feminist for the rest of his life.

His second wife was Yang Kaihui, and this marriage with her was mutually consensual. They wed in 1920, when Mao was 26, and they had three children together. But in November 1930, Yang was captured by Kuomintang (KMT) forces. She was tortured for a month and then beheaded in front of her eight-year-old son.

You might conclude this made Mao a widower again. In a sense it did, of course, but in another sense it did not.

That’s because although Mao was a feminist, he was also a womanizer. In the late-1920s he battled alongside a female guerrilla fighter named He Zizhen, who was a tough lady, whom he must have come to admire very much. She was so tough, she was also known as the “Two-Gunned Girl General.” They fell in love, and He bore a child with him in 1929. In May 1930, he married He. This while still being married to her (Yang).

In other words, Mao was a bigamist, so his status of being a married man did not change with the death of Yang, six months into his bigamy.

Although the beheading of Yang was tragic, it worked out conveniently for Mao. He was already married to He, and now he didn’t have to go through a nasty divorce with Yang, and all the scandal of bigamy revelations that would entail.

He and Mao were quite amorous, as evidenced by all the children they had. Altogether, He had six children with him. But this did not increase the size of Mao’s family much, because all but one died young or were separated from their parents, during the wild, tumultuous war years of the 1930s.

During the Long March, He was wounded in the head by shrapnel, and she was sent to Moscow to recover. But in 1937, while He was away, her husband decided to play. He (Mao) met the actress Jiang Qing, and began a dalliance with her.

This was a cause for concern among Communist leaders. Mao was 45 years old, and Jiang was only 23, and their vast age difference was considered licentious. Besides, even though Jiang was a member of the Communist Party, her lavish lifestyle prior to meeting Mao was criticized as being too bourgeoisie. And finally, Mao was still married to He. This was officially considered immoral, and not a good example to set for the proletariat.

Jiang Qing and Mao, with their daughter, Li Na, in 1943.

But Mao worked out a compromise with his fellow leaders. He (Mao) would marry Jiang in a small, private ceremony. But because he was still married to He, she (Jiang) could not be seen in public with him. Also, Jiang was forbidden to participate in politics for 20 years.

They married on November 28, 1938. They had one child together in 1940, named Li Na. And true to their word, Jiang stayed out of politics for 20 years. In fact a little longer than 20 years. As the first lady of China she was often referred to as Madame Mao. And Madame Mao abstained from political involvement until Mr. Mao got her involved in his twisted plot to regain power, in 1965.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 19: The Cultural Revolution Begins.

Chapter 9: The Long March

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.

Route of the Long March. There were actually three Long Marches, that all converged on Shaanxi, in the north. The dark red dashed line was the main march, and the route taken by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, with their forces. The pink areas marked with X’s are Communist enclaves overrun by the KMT during the Fourth Encirclement Campaign. Notice that dashed lines run from two of these X’d out enclaves to new enclaves formed to the west. The pink, shaded areas that are not X’d out are Communist enclaves that were evacuated during the Fifth Encirclement Campaign. Map by Rowanwindwhistler. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Chapter 9
The Long March

85,000 Communist soldiers and 15,000 Communist cadres broke through the Kuomintang (KMT) line on October 14, 1934, and headed to southern Hunan Province. This began what would famously become known as the “Long March.” And it was indeed, very long.

It was a grueling and deadly ordeal of thousands of miles, which would later be mythologized and exaggerated to seem even more grueling, deadly, and long than it actually was. But even without exaggeration, the Long March was a heroic effort that galvanized the Communist Party.

By December 1st, 50,000 had already been lost through military casualty or desertion. They encountered heavy fighting, crossed rivers, and pushed tenaciously onward, finally arriving in Guizhou Province in January, 1935. There they were able to rest for a little while, catch their breath, and hold an important bureaucratic meeting to discuss their shitty situation.

This meeting is known as the Zunyi Conference. In this conference, Mao got involved in another fight. It was a power struggle over how they’d gotten into this mess, between some hand-picked leaders chosen by Stalin, and Mao and Zhou Enlai.

Zhou took responsibility for having made poor decisions, and criticized himself in front of the other leaders. But Stalin’s men did not take any responsibility. Mao, himself, had no responsibility, since he had been stripped of most leadership positions two years earlier. So he was in a position to criticize. And he went after Stalin’s men, and managed to have them demoted.

Zhou put his support behind Mao, and the two managed to emerge victorious. Mao emerged as the undisputed leader of the Communist Party. He was elected to Chairman of the Politburo, and leader of both the CPC and the Red Army. Zhou emerged as the number two leader.

They would both retain these #1 and #2 positions for the rest of their lives. Well, except for Mao, during the five years or so leading up to the Cultural Revolution. Stalin felt dismayed by all of this, but he grudgingly decided to support Mao.

Now Mao and Zhou were running the show. They knew the Red Army couldn’t stay where they were for very long, because Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT Army were after them. So the question put to Mao was, which way to go? North? East? South? West?

Mao decided on north by west. They would head west first, to evade the KMT. Then they would head north, until they reached Shaanxi Province in northern China. Shaanxi was near Japanese occupied territory. Mao reasoned that by fighting the imperialist Japanese forces, the Communists would win over the trust of the people, and could turn them against the KMT, who had abandoned their fight against the Japanese.

But China is a big country, and Shaanxi was a long, long way off from Guizhou Province, especially by foot. Mao led his troops through mountain passes. They fought their way over bridges. And when Chiang flew in KMT troops to meet him, he managed to outmaneuver the KMT and continue northward.

At one point, his forces encountered 50,000 CPC troops, led by General Zhang Guotao. Zhang urged Mao to head west to avoid capture, but Mao was stubborn in his direction north. The two forces parted ways. And onward Mao’s troops forged, through quagmires where they were attacked by Manchu tribesmen, and where famine and disease took the lives of many Red Army soldiers.

Communist leader addressing Long March survivors.

Finally they straggled into Shaanxi, 370 days and 5,600 miles later. Or so the propaganda claims. Some historians say they only traveled about three to four thousand miles, and the rest is exaggeration. But even so, it was a long, arduous, and costly journey. Only 7,000 to 8,000 of the original 100,000 managed to survive this march.

The Long March came at a tremendous cost to the Red Army and the Communist Party. But it was a moral victory for Mao. He became a celebrated hero, and this further secured his position as undisputed leader of the Party.

By the spring of 1936, Mao’s forces had increased to 15,000 strong. He began a recruitment and training operation, and by January, 1937, he was able to send guerrilla fighters into Japanese occupied territory to attack and harass imperial troops.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 10: The Crazy, Wacky Xi’an Incident.

Chapter 7: The Futian Incident

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 7:
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.

Mao in 1930, at age 36.

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.

Chapter 6: Civil War

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 6
Civil War

In 1926, Chiang Kai-shek set off for North China to make revolution. This would become his famous Northern Expedition, and it turned into one hell of a fight. Chiang attacked and defeated warlords, and fought hard and successfully, taking province after province while uniting much of China.

But there was one unexpected result of Chiang’s successes that left the right-wing leaders of his Kuomintang (KMT) feeling unsettled. Peasants were feeling encouraged by Chiang’s victories, and began rising up, attacking and killing wealthy landowners. Senior right-wing members of the KMT didn’t like this because they, too, were wealthy landowners. But left-wing members were quite satisfied and encouraged by this development, as communists don’t care much for landowners. They thought it was just dandy. This led to friction between the left and right wings of the KMT.

KMT troops rounding up Shanghai Communists, for execution.

In March 1927, while Chiang was still out fighting warlords, left-wingers of the KMT, from Shanghai, tried to strip Chiang of his power and install a left-winger in his place. It seemed Chiang had a new fight on his hands. An internal power struggle against Communists. So in April 1927, he returned from his Northern Expedition and marched on Shanghai. There he viciously turned on the left-wing and arranged for criminal gang members to slaughter 12,000 Communists in what became known as the Shanghai Massacre.

Chiang then began a cruel campaign of purging Communists and Communist sympathizers all over China, in what was called the White Terror. His forces loyal to him were merciless. Over the next year more than 300,000 people were murdered across China, in anti-Communist suppression campaigns. Some historians actually put the number of dead in the millions.

Chiang was quoted to have said that he would rather mistakenly kill 1,000 innocent people, rather than allow one Communist to escape.

Obviously, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, and the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), had greatly misjudged Chiang. They had previously assumed he was sympathetic to communism, and Chiang’s picture had even been hung on walls in public places throughout the Soviet Union. Of course, those pictures came down quickly, and Stalin stopped supporting the KMT.

Chiang Kai-shek was a hard man to read, concerning his political philosophies. Maybe he was a little crazy. He was against big business and capitalism, but he was also against communism. He wasn’t really a fascist, because he never preached the superiority of the Chinese race. But he often behaved like a dictator, even while in theory, trying to establish democracy.

The confusion concerning Chiang’s vision worked against the communists, initially, because it took them by surprise. But it would eventually lead to his downfall and defeat by Mao, and force him to retreat to Taiwan.

The KMT’s murders and massacres during the White Terror had decimated the CPC, reducing its members from 25,000 to 10,000. This marked the split of the left and right within the KMT, and the beginning of a bloody, bitter, and painful civil war in China that would endure for more than 20 years.

The Communists that remained were expelled from the KMT. They were demoralized, and on the ropes. But Mao had an idea. He’d taken notice of the peasant uprisings that followed Chiang’s Northern Expedition, and he realized that peasants had a lot of potential as a fighting force.

Soon the CPC organized an army of peasants, which they called the Red Army, to battle Chiang, and Mao was appointed commander-in-chief. At last an opportunity arrived for Mao to get some blood on his hands.

In August 1927, Mao sent a battalion to attack Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province. They were initially successful, but after about five days, KMT forces drove the Communists out.

Then on September 7, 1927, Mao led four regiments to attack Changsha in his home province of Hunan, where the school he had taught at was located. But one of his regiments deserted to the KMT and attacked his own army. Mao fled in defeat to the Jinggang mountains in Jiangxi Province, taking with him about a thousand survivors.

But he’d tasted his first blood. And it might have been his last, because the CPC didn’t like Mao’s inclination for fighting. They criticized what they called his “military opportunism,” and they expelled him from the Party.

But fighters like Mao can’t be rid of that easily. Rather than pack his bags and go home, Mao simply chose to ignore his Communist comrades.

He moved his troops to Jinggangshan City and set up a base of operations. There he won the support of nearby villages and set up a self-governing state. He garnered the support of peasants and began confiscating land from rich landlords. The landlords were executed, giving Mao more of a taste of blood.

He built his forces to 1,800 strong, and established strict disciplinary rules for his recruits. The CPC saw all this and realized Mao wasn’t going anywhere soon. They grudgingly readmitted him to the Party, and put him to work fighting the KMT.

Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 7: The Futian Incident.