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.
Chiang Kai-shek may have been a cruel man, but he did have a sense of honor. So he kept to his word and united the Kuomintang (KMT) with the Communist Party of China (CPC), in a joint effort to oust their invaders. This was very popular with the Chinese people. They were incensed at the brutality of the Japanese, and were eager to join in the fight. As a result, Mao’s Red Army swelled from 50,000 to a massive 500,000.
A meeting between Mao Zedong (left) and Chiang Kai-shek (right), as collaborators against the Japanese.
During the fighting that ensued, Mao sat at his base and wrote books for his many troops. These books taught them guerrilla warfare tactics, introduced them to Marxist theory, and outlined a vision for a glorious Communist future in China. Mao never missed an opportunity to propagandize his “good cause.”
In August 1940, the United Front of the KMT and CPC slammed the Japanese, killing 20,000 enemy troops, disrupting rail lines, and retaking a coal mine. But after this encouraging joint success, the two sides began to clash. They skirmished against each other in one incident after another. Officially, they remained allies, but in reality they were competitors, jockeying for position, seeking the most advantageous situation for the inevitable resumption of civil war.
Soon after the Japanese surrender to Allied forces, an effort was made to reconcile the differences between Mao and Chiang. They talked and talked and yakked and yakked. And after 43 days of negotiations, they finally signed the Double Tenth Agreement on 10/10/45. In this agreement, the CPC acknowledged the KMT as the legitimate government, while the KMT in return recognized the CPC as a legitimate opposition party.
You’d think the two sides had finally figured out how to get along. But all the heartwarming Kumbaya and group hugs didn’t last long. The two sides soon began to clash in small military campaigns and shootouts that gradually intensified. Finally, in the summer of 1946, Chiang launched an all-out attack on the Communists, and the Chinese Civil War was back on.
The Red Army had been renamed the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. American diplomats who had been to China knew that the CPC was less corrupt, stronger, and more popular than the KMT. But their advice fell on deaf ears in Washington, and the U.S. government backed Chiang Kai-shek with military assistance in his fight against the Communists.
But Chiang was such an enigma, he found it hard to gain support within his own country. Nobody could figure out his political vision. By this time, everyone knew he was against communism. But he also seemed to be against capitalism. He would crush Communists with one hand, while attacking and confiscating the wealth of capitalists with the other. But he pushed for government control of industry, so perhaps it’s best to describe him as an odd form of Socialist.
His main support came from gangsters, who he used as muscle for extorting money from capitalists, in order to fund his military expeditions. For this reason, corruption ran rampant throughout the KMT, and he had weak popular support.
But Mao was different. His political vision was clear to everyone, because everyone knew he was a Communist through and through. And he and the PLA enjoyed wide popular support from the underclass, the downtrodden, the peasants of China. In their eyes, Mao was going to level the playing field, destroy the overclass, and equalize wealth among all classes. And they were all for it.
In August 1945, shortly before the Japanese surrender, the Soviet Army had invaded and occupied Manchuria. After the war ended, the Soviets delayed their departure until Mao’s PLA could sneak in after them and take over the territory. This enabled the PLA to confiscate a large supply of arms left behind by the Japanese.
This gave Mao a huge boon. And Mao meant business. He was damned determined to use those arms to kill lots of people while winning this civil war.
In fact, Mao is famously quoted as saying, “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” At least he said this honestly. For him, the end justified the means, and this quote was fair warning to anyone expecting anything other than ruthless violence.
In May 1948, Mao ordered the siege of the city of Changchun, in Manchuria. His forces encircled the city and prevented food from entering. Civilians began to starve, and desperately attempted to leave this besieged metropolis, but the PLA prevented their escape. Mao wanted them to stay in place so they would consume any remaining food that KMT forces would otherwise eat.
They did eat the food, rending their cupboards bare. But they still were not allowed to leave. And after five hungry months of siege, at least 160,000 civilians had starved to death.
A regiment of the KMT defected to the Communist side, and attacked another regiment of the KMT that had been receiving favorable treatment in the distribution of food. This resulted in the capitulation and surrender of KMT forces in Changchun. Thus, the end worked out well for the PLA, but the means were ghastly.
Soon after the fall of Changchun, the remaining Manchurian cities fell like dominoes to the PLA.
Mao and the PLA pushed on relentlessly, mercilessly laying siege to more cities throughout China. Finally, in December 1949, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to flee mainland China to Taiwan. The civil war was over. Mao and his “good cause” of communism had won.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 12: First, the Landlords.