Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Chinese Communist Struggle Againt Japanese Imperialism 1937-1945 PART I

War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes.

               Mao Zedong

Mao Tse Tung, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung, (Peking:  Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1976), p. 58.  Hereinafter referred to as Little Red Book.

When Mao wrote this, Japan had already been in China for over 30 years as an occupying power.  It had established itself in China as a result of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. In the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, as part of the spoils of its victory, the Japanese Army captured Port Arthur and Mukden from the Russians, and forced them out of southern Manchuria.[1] In the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth which formally ended the war, Russia ceded to the Japanese the southern half of Sakhalin Island, their railroads in southern Manchuria, and the Russian lease on Liaotung Peninsula.

By 1931, the Japanese regional army, the Kwangtung Army, disdainful of the civil government in Tokyo, on its own initiative, staged the “Mukden Incident”, claiming that the Chinese had tried to blow up the Japanese controlled Southern Manchurian Railroad in Mukden; Manchuria was overrun.  The Japanese quickly established control over Manchuria in 1931-1932, created the puppet state of Manchukuo in February 1932, and placed Henry Pu Yi, the last Manchu Emperor, as its emperor.  US Secretary of State Henry Stimson initiated a "Non-Recognition Doctrine" vis-a-vis Manchukuo, not recognizing governments  established through aggression and demanded that Japan withdraw from Manchuria.  The League of Nations censured Japan for the invasion as well.  Japan ignored the Stimson doctrine and withdrew from the League in 1933.

China's ill-fortune was a blessing for the Chinese Communist Party.  The CCP had been almost decimated by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927-1928 during the Shanghai uprising and the Kuomintang (KMT)/Chinese Communist Party (CCP) split.  As a result of the KMT's white terror campaign the CCP’s membership decreased from an early 1927 figure of about 60,000 to 20,000.[2]  By 1933 the Central Committee of the CCP was obliged to leave Shanghai and move to the Kiangsi region where Mao had established himself.  Mao's rise can be attributed to this period.  During this time, however, Chiang Kai-shek conducted a series of campaigns to rid China of  Communist influence and Communists.  The CCP, though able to mobilize the peasantry, could not fight Nationalist armies;  Chiang eventually got the upper hand.  In late 1934 the CCP took off on a 6000 mile trek which became known as the Long March.[3]
Its objective was to establish a new territorial base at the periphery of nationalist power.  About 100,000 individuals began the year-long trek, with only about 4,000 finishing it.  At the end of the Long March in October 1935, the CCP become entrenched in the Shensi Province in Northwest China.

The extreme remoteness of this area was one of its greatest strengths, enabling the Communists to operate freely and unopposed, and to establish their main base areas here.  The geo-physical characteristics of Shensi province, which became the central base for the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army, include yellow thick-layered loess soil-acolian dust (very fine grained) from a few feet to 250 feet in depth blown in over the ages from the deserts in the North.  It is a dry area, with frequent droughts, with a climate that is very cold in the winter to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.  The landscape of the country is one of steep-sided valleys, gullies, and cliffs which enables the people to cut their homes directly into the vertical cliff faces.[4]  Very little industry was located in this area and transportation was rudimentary with few railroads.

By the end of 1936, the Red Army strength at Shensi totaled around 80,000 men.  Mao and his colleagues faced two primary tasks:  how to feed and equip the Red Army, and how to win over the peasantry.  Obviously, the first was dependent on the second.  Through land confiscations from rich landlords, suspension of taxes, and exemplary conduct on the part of Chinese Communist Party cadres such as helping the peasants with their harvest and growing their own crops, the peasants became supportive of the communists.  For example, Mao Zedong tells us that the Communist Eighth Route Army "put into practice a code known as "The Three Rules and the Eight Remarks.""[5]

These were:


1. All actions are subject to command.

2. Do not steal from the people.

3. Be neither selfish nor unjust.


1. Replace the door when you leave the house.

2. Roll up the bedding on which you have slept.

3. Be courteous.

4. Be honest in your transactions.

5. Return what you borrow.

6. Replace what you break.

7. Do not bathe in the presence of women.

8. Do not without authority search the pocketbooks of those you arrest.

Using such simple rules of engagement and conduct, the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army were able to accomplish both of their immediate tasks.

In its political program, the Chinese Communist Party advocated a 'United Front' strategy with the Kuomintang against the Japanese.  This strategy, in accord with the 'United Front' strategy promulgated by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935, called for communist cooperation with all groups and political parties opposed to Japanese fascism.  Essentially, the Communist International's strategy called for communist parties to unite with nationalist parties in the common struggle against the larger threat of fascism.  In China, the "United Front" was created as a result of the so-called "Sian Incident" of December 1936.  A group of Nationalist Chinese generals led by Chang Hsueh Liang placed Chang Kai-shek under house arrest and kept him prisoner until he agreed to work with the Communists against the Japanese. In August 1937, Chiang even appointed Chu Teh, who was leading the Communist forces, as commander of the Eighth Route Army, and in the following month issued a communiqué announcing the KMT- Chinese Communist Party reconciliation.[6]  In all cases, the “United Front” strategy was purely a marriage of convenience which, in the Chinese case, was not destined to last for long.
Regardless, to the Japanese a potential peace between the Kuomintang and the Communists was considered a major threat to their plans of eventually controlling and pacifying all of China. Hitherto, the Japanese had been steadily encroaching upon Chinese territory, for example by exploiting Mongol restlessness and through a myriad of incursions in the periphery of Manchuria. On 7 July 1937, some Japanese troops, part of the China Garrison Army which was there as a result of the Boxer Protocol of 1901, broke into a small town near Beijing, allegedly searching for a comrade. A fire fight broke out between Chinese and Japanese soldiers and, this so-called Lukouchiao, or Marco Polo Bridge Incident, set off the Sino-Japanese War which lasted until the autumn of 1945.

While the Japanese invasion of China was disastrous for Chiang Kai-shek, it provided a tremendous opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army. It allowed the Chinese Communist Party to claim political legitimacy as patriots fighting the Japanese and, through the Red Army's military efforts, to promote their political program among the population. The success of these efforts can be measured by the growth of personnel: at the beginning of 1937, communist forces totaled about 100,000 men in northwest China. By 1945 these forces had grown to more than 900,000[7].

Aiding the Communist cause was the barbarous behavior of the Japanese armies in China.  In one early incident, Japanese troops from Lieutenant General Yanagawa Heisuke's 10th Army occupied Nanking, the Nationalist capital, in December 13, 1937.  In the ensuing few weeks, they killed between 20,000 to 200,000 people (the figures vary depending on the sources).[8]

Regardless of the actual figure, it was widely condemned by the rest of the world as an act of inhuman proportions. Events such as these, this particular episode becoming known as the "Rape of Nanking", differing from others only in scale, helped to rally the Chinese people against the Japanese invaders and to ensure world censure against Japanese actions. The Americans, in particular, were highly incensed and by 1938 had stopped selling aircraft and scrap iron to Japan, this incident being one of the reasons for initiating this policy. Regardless of how the world felt, by October 1938 the Japanese had taken Hankow, moved into the south by sea-borne operations, taken Canton, and had begun a tight blockade on the China coast. The KMT moved its capital first to Wuhan, and then eventually to Chunking further inland. This move cutoff the KMT from its roots, and instead of being the central government of China, became a fugitive in a mountain redoubt.

However the size and primitiveness of China which combined with the nationalistic feelings of an aroused Chinese populace, prevented the Japanese from fully controlling and defeating China itself. Though the Japanese had driven nationalists forces out of North China into the western areas, they were unable to control more than a few strategic points. The peasants smoldering with hatred for the Japanese, it was relatively easy for the Communists to convince the peasants that they were the real defenders of China. In order to effectively do this, they established nineteen main guerrilla bases behind Japanese lines and set up effective operations from these areas, as well as establishing their own Communist-sponsored governments, which gave the Communists political legitimacy among the people.

[1]   Thomas E. Gries, Series Ed.,  Atlas for the Second World War:  Asia and the Pacific, The West Point Military History Series, (Wayne, NJ:  Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1985), Map 37.

[2] John King Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 (New York: Perennial Library, 1987), p. 227.

[3] Fairbank, p. 233.

[4] Central Intelligence Agency, People's Republic of China Atlas, (Wash DC: US Government Publishing Office, November 1971).

[5] Samuel B. Griffith, Brigadier General, USMC (Ret), trans., Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1961), p. 92.

[6] Saburo Ienaga, "The War in China: A Clash of Political Values," Reading G, Course A653 Asian Military History, (Ft Leavenworth KS: US Army Command and General Staff College, Class 1994-95), pp. 113.

[7] Whiting, Kenneth R. Chinese Communist Armed Forces, AU-11. (Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press, 1967), p. 34

[8] Meiron and Susie Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army, (New York: Random House, 1991).

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