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The Guomindang moved its government from Guangzhou (Canton) to Wuhan on January 1, 1927, but the right wing moved to Nanchang instead. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) went to Wuhan and met with Borodin and other leftists on January 11, but they could not agree. The northern general Feng Yuxiang had visited Moscow and joined the Guomindang. He moved from his base in Shaanxi and invaded Henan. Zhang Zuolin had mobilized an army of 150,000 in Beijing in late 1926, but he changed his mind about marching to the Yangzi Valley. Zhang hated leftists, and in April 1927 he ordered all the Chinese refugees in the Russian embassy arrested; nineteen were hanged, including Li Dazhao, a co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Meanwhile the General Labor Union made progress in central China. Wuhan had 73 unions with 82,000 members by late 1926. Jiang met with the leader of the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce and negotiated with bankers.
In January 1927 the new Provincial Federation of Unions held congresses in Hubei where 580 delegates from 314 unions represented 393,000 members and in Hunan where about 400,000 members were represented. The First National Congress of the Peasant Movement had met in Guangzhou in April 1926, and the unions represented more than a million members, mostly from Guangdong. By January 1927 the peasant unions in Hunan had 1,300,000 members.
Guomindang leaders in Wuhan complained that Jiang Jieshi was suppressing branches of the General Labor Union in Jiangxi. Instigated by Communists, Chinese crowds broke into the foreign concessions in Hankou in January 1927. Shanghai labor leaders organized a general strike in February to support the National Revolutionary Army’s advance. The warlord forces disrupted the workers’ meetings, arrested three hundred strike leaders, and beheaded twenty. CCP leaders Zhou Enlai and Li Lisan organized 5,000 pickets, and many were armed. In the O’Malley-Chen Agreement on February 19 the British promised they would not move forces from Hong Kong into Shanghai, and the Guomindang declared that their policy was not to use force to change international concessions.
On February 10 the League Against Imperialism and for National Independence was founded at a Brussels congress that was attended by 152 delegates from 37 countries including such notables as Jawaharlal Nehru, Albert Einstein, and Roger Baldwin. China had thirty delegates present, and one of the resolutions passed called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from China, direct action and strikes to prevent the movement of military forces and weapons to China and India, stopping military intervention, recognition of the Chinese National Government and cancellation of the unequal treaties, and united action to support labor movements in England, India, and China.
On March 11 one of Jiang’s officers executed Chen Zanxian, the Communist leader of the General Labor Union. On March 14 Admiral Yang Shuzhang brought the Shanghai fleet over to the Guomindang. Two days later Jiang dissolved the Nanchang Municipal Headquarters because it supported the Wuhan faction. On March 18 the General Labor Union of Shanghai mobilized 800,000 workers, and the union militias with 2,700 men fought the troops of the warlord Zhang Zongchang for four days before gaining control of the city. Then the Nationalist army of 20,000 men commanded by Bai Chongxi arrived on March 22 and set up headquarters on the southern edge of the city. Bai sent General Xue Yue’s forces to subdue the northern army, and he ended the strike on March 24. Many northern generals were executed.
On March 23 Zhang Zongchang withdrew his forces from Nanjing, and Jiang’s Nationalist troops occupied that city and looted the British, Japanese, and American consulates, killing six foreigners. American destroyers and a British cruiser shelled the area around the Standard Oil Company headquarters to assist its evacuation of about fifty Westerners. Both foreigners and the Chinese resented this “Nanjing incident.”
Jiang Jieshi entered Shanghai on March 26, 1927 and praised the unions. Two days later five of the twelve on the Central Supervisory Committee met and voted to expel the Communists from the Guomindang. Wang Jingwei arrived at Shanghai from abroad on April 1, and two days later Jiang sent telegrams announcing that Chairman Wang was head of the Nationalist administration. Shanghai had 22,000 foreign troops and police.
On April 9 Jiang went to Nanjing and declared martial law. In the next two days armed gangs attacked the General Labor Union while the military searched and arrested alleged Communists, killing some. The Comintern had advised the Communists to hide their weapons and avoid military conflict with Jiang.
While the CCP urged the unions in Shanghai to disarm, Jiang had met with Wang Jingwei, Cao Yuanpei, wealthy industrialists, and the Green Gang leaders who had formed the Society for Common Progress. On April 12 this latter group’s men attacked the headquarters of the large unions, killing many with pistols and swords while arresting hundreds. When workers, students, and others rallied in protest the next day, Guomindang troops used machine guns and killed nearly a hundred. The General Labor Union was declared illegal and called off its strikes in Shanghai on April 15, asking the Wuhan government for help. In the next month several thousand people were massacred.
On April 17 the Wuhan government dismissed Jiang Jieshi as commander-in-chief, but the next day he and Hu Hanmin defiantly formed a Nationalist government in Nanjing with a manifesto that was revolutionary but also anti-Communist. That day Wang Jingwei’s Wuhan government, which claimed authority over Hunan, Hubei, and Jiangxi, decided to launch their own northern campaign. Stalin was involved in a power struggle with Leon Trotsky, who accused him of letting collaboration with bourgeois forces limit the action of the Chinese Communists. Stalin supported Jiang’s policies, hoping that his victories would help his standing. Jiang’s army suppressed the Communists and unions in all the provinces he controlled—Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu. Most of those executed in these areas were Communists, but it was reported that at radical Changsha in Hunan about thirty Chinese with foreign business connections were executed.
Jiang had been a stock broker in Shanghai and had connections with the gangsters of the Green Band. He tried to extort money from the wealthy in Shanghai. When the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce refused to provide most of a $10-million loan, Jiang confiscated his property and forced him into exile. Bankers eventually loaned Jiang ten million yuan, but he needed twenty million a month. Other businessmen were compelled to purchase short-term government bonds worth 30 million yuan, and large corporations were given quotas of 500,000 yuan or more. Children of the wealthy were arrested as subversives and were not released until their fathers made large donations.
Meanwhile the Wuhan government could not raise the 15 million yuan per month it needed to run its offices and pay 70,000 troops who were fighting in north China. In May 1927 Wang Jingwei, Borodin, Chen Duxiu, and Mao Zedong of the Central Land Committee urged self-government at the local level and agreed to guarantee land holdings of Guomindang soldiers and promised the others land when the war was over. On May 18 General Xia Douyin, who controlled the Changsha-Wuhan railway, mutinied against the Guomindang and marched on Wuhan, destroying peasant associations, but he was overcome by Guomindang forces led by the communist Ye Ting. Xia’s defeated troops terrorized southern and western Hubei and smashed peasant associations, killing thousands. On May 21 General Xu Kexiang of the Changsha garrison raided leftist organizations, arresting and killing nearly a hundred students and peasant leaders. He ordered peasant forces attacked, and thousands were slaughtered. Former landowners took revenge against peasants who had taken their lands. The Wuhan CCP cabled a peasant army not to fight, and they disbanded; but Mao Zedong recruited an army of 2,000 and attacked towns near Changsha. Chen Gongbo started the leftist Revolutionary Critic in May, but the Nanjing government suppressed it in September. Chen also began the Dalu University in Shanghai.
Meanwhile Jiang Jieshi’s forces advanced along the Tianjin-Pukou railway and took Xuzhou on June 2, 1927. Jiang abolished the Political Department. Wuhan leaders went to Zhengzhou and met with Feng Yuxiang on June 6. Feng’s authority in Henan was recognized, and his appointees in Shaanxi and Gansu were confirmed; but he declined to join a campaign against the Nanjing government. Two weeks later Feng met with Nanjing leaders in Xuzhou and accepted from them a much larger subsidy of $2 million a month. Feng then sent a telegram to Wang Jingwei and Tan Yankai demanding that Wuhan expel Borodin and the Communists. Jiang tried to pressure the Japanese to leave Shandong and started the League for the Rupture of Economic Relations with Japan, arresting merchants for violating the boycott and fining them up to 150,000 yuan each.
Wang Jingwei recalled Tang Shengzhi’s army from the north, and on July 15 he expelled the Communists from the Guomindang to reconcile with Nanjing. The next day the Guomindang Central Committee published their resolutions restricting Communists and ordered that no harm should come to workers’ and peasants’ movements. The two parties had irrevocably split. The Wuhan cities were put under martial law, and troops seized union headquarters; the Communists hid or fled. Zhou Enlai led the Nanchang revolt on August 1 (a date celebrated by the Chinese Communist Party as the founding of the Red Army), but they had to evacuate the city four days later. They managed to occupy the port of Swatow in late September before retreating to the interior. Communist generals in Jiangxi led 20,000 troops in August, but they were defeated and retreated to Haifeng, where Peng Pai had a rural soviet. CCP Secretary-General Chen Duxiu was dismissed and replaced by Qu Qiubai, and Stalin chose Li Lisan to be in charge of propaganda. Mao Zedong led the peasant revolt in Hunan east of Changsha during the autumn harvests that destroyed parts of the Guangzhou-Hankou railway. The insurrections were defeated, and Mao barely escaped, leading a thousand men south to the Jinggang Mountains on the Hunan-Jiangxi border. Qu Qiubai and a few others of the Politburo went to Shanghai and secretly established the CCP headquarters there in October.
Jiang Jieshi’s army was routed by the forces of the warlord Sun Chuanfang in July, and Nanjing was even threatened. The Guangxi faction led by Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi forced Jiang from power in August, and he left for Japan on September 28. Jiang arranged to marry Charlie Soong’s daughter Meiling. He was already married; but they accepted when he promised to study Christianity. On November 5 he met with Prime Minister Tanaka Giichi, who advised him to avoid the warlord politics in the north. Jiang indicated he was going to move north and asked for Japan’s support. Wang Jingwei went to Guangzhou on October 29 and set up a Guomindang headquarters that opposed the Special Central Committee in Nanjing. T. V. Soong was sent to Guangzhou to try to reconcile with Wang. After much negotiation, on December 10 Wang accepted Jiang as commander-in-chief and offered to resign for the sake of party unity.
The Comintern had directed Qu Qiubai to order a Communist insurrection in Guangzhou, and on December 11 they seized police stations and took over the city as a soviet of the workers, soldiers, and peasants. Rebels seized railway stations, government offices, and Guomindang headquarters. Banks and shops were looted, and about three hundred police were killed. However, popular support was lacking, and few soldiers joined the rebellion. In three days of fighting, looting, and burning nearly 900 buildings were destroyed, and 600 people were killed. Then in the aftermath the Guomindang killed 5,700 people. Those in the Russian consulate were shot. Recently dyed kerchiefs left red marks on the necks of the radicals, and they were identified and massacred. To save ammunition groups of rebels were tied together and drowned. Wang Jingwei sailed for France again on December 17. This failed Communist uprising directed by Soviet Russia turned much of Chinese public opinion against the Communists. The Nationalist government broke off relations with Soviet Russia, and the Guomindang ended its alliance with the Comintern.
On January 7, 1928 T. V. Soong resumed his position as Finance minister and announced that the monthly deficit was eight million yuan, but he hoped to increase the monthly income by seven million yuan by March. Jiang Jieshi returned to Nanjing, and 29 members and alternates attended the Fourth Central Executive Committee Plenum on February 2. Jiang proposed policies based on Sun Yat-sen’s plan for national reconstruction before he was influenced by Bolshevik ideas. All the provincial departments for peasants, workers, merchants, women, and youth were to be abolished and replaced by the departments of organization, propaganda, and party training. Communist influence in mass movements was to be eliminated. Education should emphasize science. The Nationalist government was organized into the five branches. Jiang was commander-in-chief of the military, and Tan Yankai was put in charge of administration. On February 28 the new Central Military Council made Jiang commander of the First Group Army, Feng Yuxiang of the Second Group Army, and Yan Xishan of the Third Group Army. Yan had ruled Shanxi as military governor since the revolution of 1911, and he had managed to rule well and remain independent of the other factions which surrounded his province.
Jiang’s army advanced into Shandong in April. Prime Minister Tanaka had asked Jiang and Feng to bypass Jinan, where 2,000 Japanese lived, and on April 18 he ordered 5,000 Japanese troops to Shandong. Jiang strongly forbade hostile acts against the Japanese, but fighting broke out on May 3. The next day General Fukuda Hikosuke asked for reinforcements, and Tanaka sent more troops from Korea and Manchuria. Jiang met only some of Fukuda’s demands. So on May 8 Japanese forces attacked Jinan and defeated the Chinese troops three days later. Jiang appealed to the League of Nations, and this Jinan incident inflamed Chinese hatred against the Japanese. Jiang pulled his army back and sent them west across the Yellow River. General Bai Chongxi of Guangxi joined the campaign as the Fourth Group Army and entered Henan.
On May 18 Tanaka sent a memorandum to the Beijing and Nanjing governments proposing that if Zhang Zuolin withdrew from Beijing peacefully, Japan would allow him to return to Manchuria. Japanese forces would not let the Southern army pass north of the Great Wall. The generals Jiang, Feng, and Yan met on June 1, and the Nationalist government decided that Yan’s army would occupy Beijing. Zhang Zuolin withdrew on a special train which was bombed on June 4 near Mukden by Japanese officers, killing Zhang. He was succeeded by his oldest son Zhang Xueliang, who was an opium addict, but he brought the three Manchurian provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning into Nationalist China and was appointed to the State Council.
General Yan’s Shanxi army entered Beijing on June 8, 1928, and the same army took over Tianjin four days later. The National Revolutionary Army had about two million troops. Jiang wanted to reduce them by about half, but he found it difficult to get others to agree. On July 7 the Nationalist foreign minister Wang Zhengting announced that all treaties had expired and would be renegotiated. US Secretary of State Frank Kellogg signed a new tariff treaty with T. V. Soong on July 25 agreeing to equal treatment, but the “most favored nation” clause meant that it would not go into effect unless other governments also agreed. China made tariff agreements with Germany, Belgium, Italy, Britain, and France by the end of the year. Japan did not agree until May 1929. The Fifth Plenum of the Guomindang’s Central Executive Committee met in August 1928 at Nanjing. The government was to be centralized, and T. V. Soong insisted on a budget committee to decide on government appropriations. The military was also to be centralized, and the disbanded troops were to work on reconstruction. All the unequal treaties would be abrogated on January 1, 1929.
Hu Hanmin returned from abroad in September and helped draft the Organic Law of the National Government. On October 3 the Guomindang Central Executive Committee adopted this provisional constitution as the beginning of a period of political tutelage. The five powers were the executive, legislative, judicial, control (auditing), and examination (civil service). Each branch had its own president, and Jiang Jieshi was president of the republic. The executive was led by Tan Yankai until his death in 1930 and had a cabinet with ministries of Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, War, Finance, Agriculture and Mining, Industry and Commerce, Education, Communication, Railways, and Health. Hu Hanmin was the first head of the legislative which approved the budget and foreign policy. Jiang established the Guomindang Central Political Institute and training schools in Nanjing to gain loyal followers. Beijing, which means northern capital, was renamed Beiping (northern peace), and the new government was inaugurated in Nanjing on October 10, exactly 17 years after the 1911 revolution began.
Mao Zedong traveled through Xiangtan and four other counties in January and early February 1927, and he was amazed at the transformation that had occurred among the peasants. Mao Zedong published his “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” which noted that in the first nine months of 1926 they had begun by meeting in secret, but after the Northern Expedition they met openly. In the last three months of 1926 the peasants rose in revolt, and their associations’ membership increased from 400,000 to 2,000,000. The Hubei peasant movement claimed to have 2.5 million members in May 1927. The next month the peasant department of the Guomindang claimed that the peasant associations in six provinces had nine million members. Yet the peasant associations were forbidden to purchase weapons by the Wuhan government.
Mao’s report described the following victories of the peasants: organizing unions; defeating property owners; eliminating armed forces; canceling the district chief’s authority over family, religion, and marriage; prohibiting luxuries and vice; abolishing abusive taxes; developing culture and cooperatives; and repairing roads and earth banks. He wrote that the execution of one big bully could effect the feudalism of the gentry in an entire county. Their objectives were to reduce land rents and interest rates on debt, end hoarding to bring down prices, and disband the landlord militias and replace them with spear-carrying peasants. They used village assemblies to create new rural administrations. They were overthrowing the feudal and patriarchal domination by the state, clan, religion, and even husbands over their wives. Qu Qiubai favored Mao’s report; but Chen Duxiu had objections, and he kept half the report from being published in Xingdao in March 1927. Later the full text was published as a pamphlet with a preface by Qu.
Meanwhile Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and his Nationalists had turned on the Communists and slaughtered them in Jiangxi in March and at Shanghai in April. On May 21 the Changsha garrison commander Xu Kexiang cracked down. In three weeks about 10,000 suspected Communists were killed in the Changsha area. The landlord militias went after the peasant associations and killed about 380,000 people in Hunan. Xia Douyin’s force had been defeated by forces under the Communist Ye Ting’s troops near Wuchang. Xia’s army then slaughtered thousands of villagers in Hubei, and in Jiangxi the dissolved peasant associations suffered revenge from the gentry. On June 1 Stalin sent a telegram instructing the Central Committee to raise an army of 70,000 to take over the Guomindang. A year before the CCP’s request for 5,000 rifles had been rejected by Moscow, and now they considered Stalin’s order too late and impractical. The Indian Communist Mahendranath N. Roy had arrived from Moscow in April, and he advocated organizing the peasant movement. Without consulting Borodin or other CCP leaders, Roy showed Stalin’s telegram to Wang Jingwei, who realized the CCP-Guomindang alliance was broken and led a leftist delegation to reconcile with Jiang. Zhou Enlai sent more than a hundred agents to organize armed peasant uprisings against Xu Kexiang’s Guomindang forces.
Mao Zedong was appointed party secretary for Hunan on June 24 and went to Changsha. As late as June 30 the CCP Politburo passed a resolution affirming the Guomindang’s leading place in the revolution. Roy and Voitinsky were recalled to Moscow, and on July 10 Nikolai Bukharin in Pravda denounced the CCP leaders for disobeying Stalin. Two days later Chen Duxiu resigned, and in the next few days the Communists and the Left Guomindang leaders split. Borodin also went back to Russia, and most of the CCP leaders went into hiding. A secret directive, probably by Mao, urged they concentrate their energy on the peasant movement. Only two small military units were still intact—Peng Pai’s forces in Hailufeng and troops led by Zhu De and Chen Yi based in northern Guangdong. Mao reorganized his few forces and Guomindang mutineers in the mountain village of Sanwan in western Jiangxi. He promised that officers would not beat them and that they would use democratic methods. Those who wanted to leave would be given money for their journey. They were to treat civilians well and fairly. These policies were unusual in a China accustomed to warlords. Mao established a base at Maoping and won over forces led by Yuan Wencai and Wang Zuo by giving them rifles and training.
In November the Politburo met in Shanghai, and the Russian Besso Lominadze insisted that Mao be dismissed. The Comintern agent Meyer called Peng a coward, and he lost his position. Zhang Guotao was blamed for the defeat of the Nanchang forces and was also removed. Zhou Enlai and Li Lisan were reprimanded but remained in the Politburo. In December some Communist insurgents, supported by 1,200 cadets trained by the Guomindang and led by Ye Jianying, held Guangzhou for three days, but then thousands of Communists and their supporters were massacred. Party membership fell from 57,000 in May to only 10,000 by the end of 1927.
In March 1928 the junior official Zhou Lu arrived and told Mao that he had been dismissed from the Politburo and (falsely) that he had been expelled from the party. Zhou ordered Mao to support Zhu’s army that was supporting peasant uprisings in southeastern Hunan. In the fighting Zhou Lu was captured and executed, and Mao met up with Zhu De in April. They set up a Soviet base on the Hunan-Jiangxi border with Yuan Wencai as chairman, forming the Fourth Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolutionary Army with about 8,000 men. They held a party congress on May 20-21, and Mao’s strategy of deepening the revolution in a single area was approved. Their military tactics were put into the following folk-rhyme:
Mao urged moderate treatment of the shopkeepers and traders so that they would not oppose the revolution. He was accused of being “too right-wing,” but Qu Qiubai agreed with him that peasants should not be allowed to burn down towns and kill the gentry. Yet they had to expropriate $5,000 a month to buy food. Peng Dehuai arrived in December with 800 Guomindang troops who had mutinied in Pingjiang.
The CCP Sixth Congress in July 1928 was held in Moscow, and Li Lisan became secretary-general. The number of union members in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had fallen drastically, and Zhou Enlai estimated that only three percent of them were proletarians in 1929. Nationalist attacks forced Mao Zedong to move east to the Jiangxi-Fujian border, where he established the Jiangxi Soviet in Ruijin. Mao was removed from command for a few months in 1929 while he recovered from malaria. He called a conference in December in western Fujian and began his “rectification campaigns” to develop party discipline with his report on “The Problem of Correcting Erroneous and Non-Proletarian Ideological Tendencies in the Party.” He wanted to make sure the party was in charge of the military. He criticized officers for beating their men, shooting deserters, maltreating prisoners, and leaving the sick and wounded to die.
The CCP established about fifteen soviets that survived the Nationalist repression, usually in border regions. Deng Xiaoping led a group in southwest Guangxi that cooperated with Vietnamese Communists. Mao and his military commander Zhu De used guerrilla tactics to harass their enemies and arouse the masses. Moscow changed its policy and persuaded Li Lisan that a revolutionary upsurge was imminent. A Central Committee directive issued on December 8 called for expanding the Red Army by incorporating peasant self-defense units and for concentrating rather than dispersing their military forces.
In February 1930 Mao reorganized the Southwest Jiangxi Special Committee with Liu Shaoqi as head, and they ordered the secret execution of four of those who had founded the local party. Over the next few months Liu expelled from the party hundreds of cadres who had been landlords and rich peasants and were suspected of being in the Anti-Bolshevik League (AB-tuan). By October more than a thousand members had been executed. In the army every unit formed a committee to eliminate counter-revolutionaries, and more than 1,300 in the Fourth Army were killed. In the First Front Army 4,400 soldiers confessed to connection with the AB-tuan, and more than 2,000 were shot.
Li Shaojiu served on Mao’s staff, and on December 7 his men surrounded the Action Committee’s Propaganda Department at Futian and arrested eight members. They were tortured until they confessed the names of others. Within a week 120 were arrested. Liu Di was released and led a mutiny with 400 men, killing 100 of Li Shaojiu’s troops. The 20th Army mutinied and crossed the Gan River to Yongyang. Mao reprimanded Li for excessive zeal, but the new Central Bureau expelled Liu Di and four rebel leaders. Liu Di was brought before Zhu De at a court martial in April 1931 and was beheaded with two others. The purge continued as the Jiangxi Political Security Department proposed arresting every rich peasant and stated “that it was better to kill a hundred innocent people than to have a truly guilty one at large.”2
In July 1931 the 20th Army was disbanded as the officers were arrested. Four hundred officers and men were executed along with several hundred from the 35th Army. As many as ten thousand from the Jiangxi party may have been executed that summer. About 6,000 were suspected of being Social Democrats. Zhang Guotao and Zeng Hongyi in north Fujian each executed about 2,000. In December efforts were made to control the purge, and low-level officials were no longer allowed to order executions. The Communists began a legal system that sentenced to death landlords, rich peasants, and those with “capitalist origins” but not the masses.
Mao became chairman of the Military Commission with Zhu as commander-in-chief, and the CCP Secretary-General Li Lisan ordered attacks on Changsha, Wuhan, and Nanchang. Moscow wanted the offensive called off, but Li kept secret their orders and went ahead anyway. On July 25, 1930 Peng Dehuai’s small army defeated He Jian’s Guomindang force that was four times as large. They took Changsha two days later, but they could hold it for only nine days. Mao and Zhu were defeated at Nanchang and joined Dehuai in August; but they could not recapture Changsha and had to withdraw in September. However, the defenders abandoned Jian, and the Communists took this city of 40,000 in October and held it for six weeks. Mao’s First Front Army had grown to 40,000 men, and most were equipped with modern rifles. On October 30 Mao came up with his new tactic of “luring the enemy in deep.” For six weeks as local Red Guards harassed the advancing Nationalist troops, the Communist army retreated. Finally on December 29 Zhu De’s army of 40,000 defeated 100,000 Nationalists led by Zhang Huizan, taking 9,000 prisoners, 5,000 rifles, and 30 machine-guns. Tan Daoyuan who commanded Jiang’s 50th Division ordered a retreat, and the Front Army pursued them, capturing 3,000 prisoners and valuable equipment including a radio unit.
In 1930 Lu Xun and Xia Yan had helped organize the League of Leftist Writers that criticized the Nationalist government. Qu Qiubai became one of their most prominent advocates. Li Lisan and Qu Qiubai were severely criticized for their strategies by the 28 students who returned from four years of study at the Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. When Li Lisan proposed an uprising in Manchuria to start a war between Russia and Japan, Stalin quickly had him removed. At the fourth plenum in January 1931 the “real work” group led by He Mengxiong and Luo Zhanglong came into conflict with the 28 Bolsheviks led by Wang Ming and their mentor Pavel Mif. The labor union members opposed the “real work” group, which was defeated. Luo, five young leftist writers, and seventeen others may have been betrayed to the police and were shot on February 7, 1931. Zhou Enlai became head of the Central Bureau, but Xiang Ying replaced Mao as secretary.
In May 1931 the Communists fought more than 200,000 soldiers for a month and inflicted 30,000 casualties while capturing 20,000 rifles. On his third encirclement campaign Jiang took command of 300,000 men himself in July. Mao’s army retreated south and then west, but they were surrounded in August. They broke out to the west and took more than 7,000 prisoners. Encircled again, the Red Army of 20,000 escaped by climbing over a 3,000-foot mountain at night. Jiang’s army had 30,000 wounded, killed, or captured before moving west to take on a rival Guomindang army in Hunan. Then in September they had to return north to face the Japanese threat in Manchuria. This gave the Communists a respite from the Nationalist campaigns for the next two years.
Mao Zedong organized the First All-China Congress of the Soviets in Ruijin on November 7, 1931, founding the Chinese Soviet Republic. The 28 Bolsheviks attended and criticized Mao, keeping him out of the Politburo, but he was elected chairman and remained Chief Political Commissar of the First Front Red Army. Mao distributed all grades of land to all the peasants and to small landlords, implementing Sun Yat-sen’s policy that peasants should own the land they cultivate. Taxes did not exceed twenty percent of the harvest. He observed that poor women held more power than their rich counterparts because they did more work. In December the Jiangxi Soviet passed the Marriage Law that prohibited arranged marriages and the purchase of marriage contracts, and the minimum ages were 20 for men and 18 for women. Divorces were granted at the request of either partner.
Everyone in the Red Army received the same pay regardless of rank. The Red Army had three rules, which were to obey orders, take nothing from the people, and give confiscated goods to the authorities for public distribution. Their eight points of discipline were:
The Red Army increased from about 50,000 in 1930 to 500,000 in 1933.
The Nationalist army’s campaign to destroy Communists was called “bandit suppression.” They arrested the Communist secret service chief in Hankou and executed Secretary-General Xiang Zhongfa on June 24, 1931. However, they failed against the Jiangxi Soviet in 1931 and early 1932.
New treaties allowed the raising of tariffs, and customs revenues doubled to 244 million yuan in 1929 and then were 385 million yuan in 1930. Half the Nationalist government’s income came from customs, and land taxes were taken by local armies. Abolishing the transit (likin) tax in 1931 helped internal trade. T. V. Soong used the Central Bank, the Bank of China, the Communications Bank, and the Farmers’ Bank as a state bank and had a capital of 20 million yuan in late 1928. He redeemed the bad notes issued by the governments in Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Nanjing. Banks often sold their bonds at about a third off the face value and so offered much profit. Borrowing was the Government’s other chief source of funds, making interest rates about 20% for private borrowers. Over the first nine years the Nationalist government’s deficit would average about twenty percent of expenditures. In its first six years military spending and debt payments accounted for more than 80% of all expenditures. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) was baptized a Christian in October 1930, and his Soong relatives gained much American support for the Nationalist regime.
Nationalist China improved communications by adding more post offices and telegraph and telephone lines. The railways increased from 11,000 to 16,000 kilometers, and nearly 100,000 kilometers of new roads were constructed. Thirteen national universities, nine provincial universities, five technical colleges along with twenty private universities and 33 private colleges educated a few, but by 1937 only 545,207 students were in 2,042 middle schools, 1,211 normal schools, and 370 professional schools. In 1936 according to the Nanjing government there were 479,084,651 people in China.
In 1930 China had one of the highest death rates in the world. Labor unions were controlled by the Offices of Social Affairs, and working conditions continued to be poor with low wages, long hours, wretched housing, unemployment, and oppression by supervisors and gangsters. Millions of men waited for work before dawn each day, and many could not make enough to marry. Women and children were paid only 30 cents a day or less. The number of tenant farmers increased as fewer landowners controlled more land. In 1930 Hu Hanmin promulgated a Land Law that limited rent to a maximum of three-eighths of the harvest, but it was never enforced. Rents continued at 50-70% of the crop, and about half the farmers rented their land. Peasants were eighty percent of the population. Human labor was so cheap that machines and draft animals were rarely used on farms.
Much of China was still controlled by what were called the new warlords. Generals were 25 of the 33 chairmen of provinces controlled by the Nationalists in their first decade. The Guangxi clique led by Li Zongren dominated Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan, and Hubei. Feng Yuxiang’s National People’s Army occupied Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and the new provinces called Qinghai and Ningxia. Yan Xishan still had his base in Shanxi and governed Hebei (the new name for Zhili), Suiyuan, and Chahar. Inner Mongolia had been divided into Chahar, Suiyuan, Ningxia, and Rehe (Jehol). When two of Zhang Zuolin’s former advisors tried to dominate his son Zhang Xueliang for Japan, in January 1929 Xueliang invited them to dinner and had them shot. Young Zhang raided the Soviet consulate at Harbin, but in the fall Soviet forces led by General Blücher (Galen) stopped him from taking over the East China Railway.
Guomindang’s Third National Congress in March 1929 had only one-fourth of the delegates elected by party members, and the leftists criticized the lack of democracy. Jiang Jieshi again tried to reduce the armies, but he expected others to go first and make larger cuts. They did not trust him, and as a result the numbers increased. The Guomindang party had 280,000 military members and 266,000 civilians. The followers of the brothers Chen Guofu and Chen Lifu admired Mussolini. In September 1930 the Guomindang Central Committee ordered members of left-wing organizations arrested, and the following January they authorized the death penalty or life imprisonment for “endangering the Republic.”
In 1931 Jiang sponsored the Blue Shirts of the Huangpu clique as a way to achieve effective party rule. They were fascists who followed the head of the secret services, Dai Li, who started with 145 operatives but had 1,700 by 1935. Dai took control of the Zhejiang Police Academy in 1932. His agents were probably responsible for assassinating Yang Quan, vice-chairman of the Chinese League for the Protection of Civil Rights in June 1933 and Shanghai’s leading newspaper editor in 1934. The Blue Shirts committed several assassinations of political enemies between 1933 and 1935. The Green Gang controlled the traffic in opium, women, and weapons. Many criticized democracy and favored the slogan “nation-army-production.” Jiang made the conservative Hu Hanmin president of the legislative branch while leftists such as Wang Jingwei were excluded. They wanted the reorganization recommended in 1924 and were called Reorganizationists.
Li Zongren still led the Political Council in Guangxi, and in February 1929 he dismissed the Hunan governor who was loyal to Jiang. When Nanjing canceled his order, he and Bai Chongxi of the Wuhan Political Council revolted in March. They were defeated but remained somewhat independent. Jiang had bribed Feng Yuxiang to stay out of their revolt but reneged on his promise. So Feng rebelled in May, and the 300,000 men in his National Salvation Army of the Northwest attacked the Beiping-Hankou and Longhai railways. When half his best troops were bribed by “silver bullets” to defect to the Nationalists, Feng was persuaded to retire. Five months later 27 generals rebelled. Jiang raised 300,000 troops who defeated them in Henan and Hebei by December.
In February 1930 Yan Xishan joined with Li Zongren and Feng Yuxiang and declared himself head of all armies in China. They were supported by the Reorganizationists on the left and by the Western Hills group on the right. A major civil war broke out in central China in May that cost a quarter million casualties. Wang Jingwei came back from exile and called an executive meeting at Beiping in July which made Yan the chairman of a presidium in September. Jiang won over Zhang Xueliang with a bribe of ten million yuan and a promise that he would control China north of the Yellow River. Zhang’s Northeastern Border Defense Army with 400,000 troops then drove the rebels out of Beiping and Tianjin to Taiyuan. Zhang gained the Tianjin customs revenues by taking over the Beiping-Wuhan and Tianjin-Pukou railways. Jiang’s army prevailed in Hunan and Hebei, forcing Yan and Feng to withdraw.
In early 1931 Gu Shunzhang, head of the Politburo security service, was sent to Wuhan to assassinate Jiang Jieshi. He was arrested and defected, resulting in thousands of Communists being killed in the next three months. In reprisal his family was murdered. The Nationalists often implemented a policy of burning villages and killing all the able-bodied men. Women and girls were sold as prostitutes or slaves. Heads became too heavy to tally the dead, and so they collected ears. One division proudly collected 700 pounds of ears. In Hubei more than 100,000 villagers were killed in Huang’an county. In Henan 80,000 were killed in Xin county. In the Hunan-Hubei base area only 10,000 people remained where one million had been living. The Nationalists killed the families of Communist leaders, including Mao’s wife.
The northern coalition had gained popularity by proclaiming a provisional constitution. When Jiang decided to do the same, Hu Hanmin resigned in protest and was arrested. Wang Jingwei went to Hong Kong, and then in May 1931 he joined with Sun Fo and Eugene Chen to form another government at Guangzhou. They demanded that Jiang resign, but Shi Yusan’s northern revolt was also defeated by Zhang Xueliang and the Nationalists. In the Yangzi Valley 14 million people became refugees from flooding in 1931; many died as the government did little to help. The brutality of the troops in the Longtian peninsula provoked an attack by tens of thousands of peasants in December that killed more than half the 2,500 soldiers. The peasants also suffered heavy casualties but would not stop fighting until an official promised that the troops would be transferred. Reinforcements arrived in January and forced the troops who were holding out for money to leave. In the summer of 1931 Jiang himself led 300,000 troops on his third campaign to encircle the Communists, but they escaped in August. In September his forces went west to take on the troops sent into Hunan by Hu Hanmin and Wang Jingwei from their Guangzhou government that was supported by warlords in Guangdong and Guangxi.
On September 11, 1931 Jiang advised Zhang Xueliang to move his troops south of the Manchurian border to avoid a fight with the Japanese, and he did so four days later. On September 18 Japanese officers independently attacked the Chinese at Mukden, and three days later the Japanese commander in Korea sent troops across the border into Manchuria. The Chinese and Americans appealed to the League of Nations, which asked China and Japan to cease hostilities on September 23. A month later the League asked Japan to evacuate Manchuria by November 16, but the Japanese army accelerated its advance. So on December 10 the League sent a commission led by Viceroy Lytton. By the end of the year Japan had control of Manchuria. Only General Ma Zhanshan put up much resistance in Heilongjiang. Jiang resigned his positions on December 15 and was replaced by Lin Shen as chairman and Sun Fo as head of the executive branch. The Guangzhou regime agreed to dissolve itself. The new government could not obtain funds and lasted only the first 25 days in January. Wang Jingwei negotiated with Jiang at Hangzhou. Jiang returned as head of the Military Affairs Commission, and Wang became president of the executive branch. Deng Yanda, who had integrity, was arrested and executed.
The US Secretary of State Henry Stimson argued that Japan had violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which renounced war. A boycott against Japan in Shanghai led to Japanese troops being deployed in the International Settlement to defend concessions on January 28, 1932. That night Japanese marines landed to defend their perimeter, and they exchanged fire with a Guomindang army in Chapei. The next day the Japanese navy bombed Chapei, arousing world opinion. Japan also sent three divisions against the Chinese in Shanghai. In May an armistice established a neutral zone around the city. The Lytton report was published in October, and on November 21 V. K. Wellington Koo asked the League of Nations Council to take “prompt and effective action” against the Japanese in Manchuria; but the Japanese asked Koo if he represented Jiang Jieshi or Zhang Xueliang.
On March 9, 1932 the last Qing emperor Puyi agreed to be the chief executive of Manchuria, which was renamed Manzhouguo. When the Lytton Commission condemned Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in January 1933, the Japanese made their conquest complete by taking over Rehe (Jehol). In February the League of Nations voted to reject Manzhouguo as an independent state, and Japan withdrew from the League. Most of Zhang Xueliang’s forces retreated in February, and he resigned. In May the Japanese troops crossed the Great Wall to secure the portion of Hebei province north of the Bai River. The Chinese armies asked for peace, and the Tanggu truce established a demilitarized zone northeast of the Bai River. Puyi was proclaimed Emperor Kangde on March 1, 1934.
General Cai Tingkai had become popular resisting the Japanese invading Shanghai in 1932, and he led the government of Fujian that declared independence in November 1933. Eugene Chen was foreign minister, but they were isolated and defeated in January 1934.
When Zhou Enlai replaced him in January 1932, Mao Zedong went on “sick leave” for one of his retreats. Peng Dehuai was ordered to attack Ganzhou in Fujian, and they were surprised by Nationalist reinforcements. Mao was summoned to his rescue, and on April 10 they took Longyan and captured 700 prisoners. Ten days later they took Zhangzhou that had 50,000 people, and they found $500,000, arms, and ammunition. Zhou Enlai reinstated Mao as General Political Commissar. After the Japanese aggression against Shanghai, the CCP in April 1932 declared war on Japan. In August they failed to take Nanchang. The third Nationalist campaign from Nanchang in the summer forced Zhang Guotao and Xu Xiangqian to abandon the Eyuwan Soviet base on the Henan-Hubei-Anhui border and move west to the Sichuan-Shaanxi border. Jiang Jieshi announced that his policy was changed to be 70% political and only 30% military. In the urban areas the Nationalists arrested or executed about 24,000 Communists, finding and destroying the CCP center in Shanghai fourteen times. Zhou Enlai was appointed General Political Commissar in October. Mao was excluded from military decisions for the next two years, but as chairman of the Republic he was still the main administrator in the base area. His brother Mao Zemin issued bank notes backed by silver they had expropriated from landlords. Land was redistributed so that everyone had an equal share.
In February 1933 party leader Bo Gu appointed Mao Zedong to head the Land Investigation Movement. Deng Fa was in charge of Political Security, and the death penalty was imposed for more than two dozen counter-revolutionary offenses such as “engaging in conversation … to undermine faith in the soviets.” Election procedures allowed all men and women over the age of sixteen to vote, and one quarter of those elected had to be women. Men and women were given equal rights in marriage and divorce except that Red Army soldiers had to agree to divorce. In October 1933 the disaffected Fujian army agreed to a truce, and their leaders established a People’s Revolutionary Government independent of Nanjing. The next month Jiang withdrew his army from his fifth Communist encirclement campaign to suppress the Fujian rebellion.
In January 1934 Mao was replaced as head of state. Once again Mao pleaded illness, but a few days later he spoke for nine hours at the area’s Second National Congress. The Red Army conducted a pogrom that massacred thousands of landlords and rich peasants. In July 1934 Zhou Enlai proposed uniting with all anti-Japanese forces including Jiang’s. Surrounded by the Nationalist army, in August the Red Army commander Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, the Bolshevik leader Bo Gu, and the Comintern agent Otto Braun agreed that most of the Communists should abandon the Jiangxi Soviet. Zhou Enlai coordinated the secret preparations for the exodus. Lin Biao led the First Corps of 15,000 troops and Peng Dehuai the Third Corps with 13,000. They had only 9,000 rifles, 300 machine guns, 30 light mortars, and very little ammunition. Other army corps defended the flanks and the rear, and all together they had about 80,000 men. Only 35 women went with them, including Mao Zedong’s pregnant wife. The rest of the women and children remained behind with those unable to travel and about 28,000 soldiers, most of whom were wounded or ill.
The First Front Army began its famous “long march” on October 16, 1934 and went southwest through Guangdong and Guangxi. They pushed through the first Guomindang perimeter, crossed the Tao River, and fought their way through the second line of Guomindang forces. While they were being pursued, they marched four hours and then rested four hours. They broke through the third line of defense on the Wuhan-Guangzhou railway. Bad roads made it difficult crossing the fourth and last line along the Xiang River in December. They planned to meet the Fourth Front Army led by Zhang Guotao and Xu Xiang in Sichuan.
The First Front Army seized food in Guizhou, crossed the Wu River, and took supplies from wealthy merchants in Zunyi, where they held mass meetings, discussed land reform, formed revolutionary committees, and distributed confiscated goods to the poor. In January 1935 the Communist leaders met for four days. Mao Zedong criticized Bo Gu and the 28 Bolsheviks for failing to support the Fujian revolt and for trying to use positional warfare. Mao became chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council.
Jiang Jieshi flew to Guiyang and tried to increase his political strength in the area by organizing attacks on the Communists. The Red Army had to face hostile fire before they could cross a damaged suspension bridge over the Datong River. They crossed mountains as high as 16,000 feet. Mao was suffering from malaria and had to be carried. Many soldiers lost limbs to frostbite, and thousands died along the way. Only about 40,000 reached Mougong in Sichuan on June 12. They joined the 50,000 troops led by Zhang Guotao, who wanted to establish a Soviet base on the Sichuan-Xikang border, but Mao insisted on going north to fight the Japanese. So their combined armies split up, and Zhang moved southwest. Mao’s troops suffered many losses because of excessive rain, illness, and lack of food as they passed through Gansu. Finally on October 20, 1935 little more than ten percent of the original 80,000 arrived at Wuqizhen in northern Shaanxi after making a journey of 6,000 miles in 370 days. Xu Haidong’s army had arrived in September and reconstructed the two-year-old Soviet base.
The troops led by Zhang Guotao and Zhu De suffered heavy fighting in western China, and the survivors eventually joined those in Shaanxi. The Second Front Army led by He Long did not start its long march from its Soviet base on the Hunan-Hubei border until November 12, 1935. To avoid fighting the Guomindang, they went south and west before turning north. By 1937 the second united front in Shaanxi covered 35,000 square miles with 1,500,000 people and had its capital at Yan’an.
In August 1935 Wang Ming at the seventh congress of the Communist International (CI) in Moscow had urged Jiang Jieshi to call off his anti-Communist campaign and join them in fighting Japanese imperialism. On November 13 the Red Army issued a manifesto that opposed both Japan and Jiang, and Mao Zedong drafted a Ten-Point Program that agreed and was adopted by the Politburo on December 25. While resisting Japanese aggression they would also fight for social revolution.
Mao began negotiating a truce with Manchuria’s Zhang Xueliang, and Mao’s envoy Li Kenong arrived at Luochuan on January 19, 1936. They agreed on a cease-fire, and Mao told the Politburo to treat Zhang’s forces at Yan’an and Fuxian as friendly. In February the CCP launched an eastern expedition across the Yellow River into Shanxi to attack the Japanese in Hebei and Rehe; but the commander Liu Zhidan was killed, and they withdrew in April. The CCP recruited 8,000 troops and expropriated 300,000 silver dollars from landlords while defeating Jiang’s encirclement campaign. On March 14 Mao announced that if the Nationalist troops stopped attacking the Soviet area, the Red Army would agree to a truce with them; but Jiang attacked the Soviet again in April while Zhou Enlai was negotiating with Guomindang leaders in Shanghai. Jiang sent an envoy to Vienna to contact the Russians about a possible non-aggression pact and military aid. Zhang Guotang’s Fourth Army was forced away from Chengdu toward Tibet.
Liu Shaoqi organized study groups and sent out propaganda teams with several hundred students. The National Student Vanguard began in February 1936 and grew to 1,300 members by July. In June they founded the Red Army University in Wayaobu, but three weeks later they left the town to the Nationalists and moved to Bao’an. Lin Biao was the first president of the university, and in the fall Mao lectured on “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War.” Mao planned to fight the Japanese and reached out to the United States and Britain as allies, granting Edgar Snow long interviews to publicize their cause. On July 16 Mao prophesied that Japan would block the China seas and invade the Philippines, Siam, Indochina, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies. However, he believed that China was too large to be conquered, and that with a hundred million or more people unoccupied they would not be defeated. Mao proposed an All-China United Democratic Republic in August and promised to subordinate the revolution for socialism to the more immediate struggle for independence. They would change the name of the Red Army and agree to nominal Nationalist command as long as the Communist Party still controlled their troops and territory. Mao cabled Moscow for money, and the Comintern quickly sent $550,000 by way of Madame Sun Yat-sen from the United States.
On December 8 the Japanese War Minister warned China that it must submit, or a new conflict was inevitable. The next day thousands of Chinese students protested by marching to Lintong. Mao telegraphed Zhang Xueliang that Jiang’s excessive demands had caused negotiations with the Nationalists to break down. Zhang’s reply gave Mao hope, and two days later his men captured the visiting Jiang. At a mass rally Mao, Zhu De, and Zhou Enlai demanded that Jiang be put on trial. However, Stalin wanted an alliance with all of China to fight Japan, and he ordered the CCP to come to an agreement with Jiang and the Nationalists.
Zhang Guotang finally brought his army north to Shaanxi, and he and Zhu De were reunited with Mao and the Politburo in January 1937. The next day Mao was appointed chairman of the Military Commission with Zhang and Zhou Enlai as his deputies. The Communists held elections in May 1937 for a people’s congress, and Lin Boqu was elected president of a regional government.
China suffered a depression in the early 1930s, and in 1934 farm prices were 58% lower than they had been in 1931. Drought, floods, winds, and hail devastated crops in various places, and many were destitute in 1934 and 1935. During the campaigns against the Communists in 1933 and 1934 the Nationalists built 1,500 miles of new roads and 14,000 blockhouses. In Jiang’s fifth campaign he had 800,000 troops with German and Japanese advisors, and they imposed an economic blockade around Communist areas.
Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) signed a secret treaty with Germany in 1934 and was given DM 100 million in credit. General Hans von Seeckt helped China build more modern arsenals to develop better weapons. China had 60% of the world’s antimony in Hunan and half the world supply of tungsten in Hunan and Jiangxi, and Germany needed these minerals. Krupp gave China credit; Daimler-Benz built factories to assemble trucks; Junkers started an aircraft factory in Hangzhou; Siemens helped with dock construction; and I. G. Farben provided a chemical plant. Italy’s Mussolini helped Nationalist China develop its air force. In 1934 Jiang banned labor unions in Henan, Hubei, Anhui, Jiangxi, and Fujian. Police backed the landlords, and the baojia social system was reinstituted for mutual security.
Jiang Jieshi issued a New Life manifesto from Nanchang that combined the Neo-Confucian virtues of propriety, correct conduct, discrimination, and shame with Protestant puritanism and fascist methods to militarize the nation. Various Guomindang organizations promoted his New Life Movement with lectures, pamphlets, plays, and movies. The propaganda was also spread in the schools and by the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. Women were especially pressured to avoid feminist innovations and conform to traditions in “chastity, appearance, speech, and work.” The Nationalist government suppressed dissent and put at least a thousand students in prison. Forcing the Communists to migrate enhanced the power and prestige of the Nationalist regime, and the militarists in Hunan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan lost power. After being close to Jiang in Nanjing, Sheng Shicai went to Xinjiang and became chief of staff for Jin Shuren. After Muslims rebelled in 1934, Sheng took over the province and proclaimed anti-imperialist principles and an alliance with the USSR which lasted eight years. Moscow sent him loans and technical aid in 1935 and military aid to put down a Muslim rebellion in 1937.
In 1935 Jiang Jieshi said that China needs fascism. H. H. Kung (Kong Xiangxi) issued new government bonds, and so made the government the major stockholder in the private banks. By 1937 the Nationalist government controlled 70% of all banking assets. In November 1935 Nanjing nationalized silver to prevent more silver from leaving the country. Paper money was issued, and nickel and copper coins were added in February 1936. The Central Bank maintained currency stability with a capital of $100 million; the Bank of China had $40 million for foreign exchanges; the Bank of Communications used $20 million to assist domestic industries; and the Farmers’ Bank of China had $50 million for farm credit and land mortgages. The state banks were controlled by the “four great families” close to Jiang and provided credit to the government by paying 20-40% interest to bondholders, many of whom were government ministers. The four families were the Jiang, Song, Kung, and the Chen brothers, and the first three were related by marriage. It was said of the Song sisters that Qingling, who married Sun Yat-sen, loved the people; Meiling, who married Jiang, loved power; and Ailing, who married H. H. Kung, loved money. Jiang himself complained that his bureaucracy was corrupt, inept, and ignorant.
After Hu Hanmin died in May 1936, Jiang demanded that Guangdong and Guangxi leaders submit. In June, Chen Jitang of Guangdong and Li Zongren of Guangxi formed the Southwestern Political Council to resist the Japanese, and they challenged the Nationalists. Jiang announced an anti-Japanese policy too and gained popularity. When some of Chen’s generals were bribed to defect to Nanjing with nine airplanes from Guangzhou, Chen fled to Hong Kong. The Guangxi leaders agreed to stop rebelling and were recognized as provincial authorities. When the Japanese tried to move into the province of Suiyuan in November, the Nationalist army led by General Fu Zuoyi stopped them. Foreign Minister Zhang Chun rejected Japan’s demands. Good harvests in 1936 and 1937 began restoring prosperity.
Zhang Xueliang broke his morphine addiction in Shanghai with the help of Western doctors, and after touring Europe he returned to China in early 1934. Jiang sent him to attack the Chinese Soviet in the Hubei-Henan-Anhui border region; but while he was killing Communists, the Japanese were extending their control in Inner Mongolia and Hebei.
On December 9, 1935 thousands of students in Beijing protested Japanese aggression, and the police locked city gates, used water-hoses, and clubbed and arrested demonstrators. One week later 30,000 marched again while thousands demonstrated in Nanjing, Wuhan, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou. Communist organizers helped the December Ninth Movement spread with a boycott against Japanese products and personnel. The journalist Zou Taofen had founded the National Salvation Association, and he criticized Jiang’s suppression of the students. Zhang Xueliang supported the Association, and he had been sent to Xi’an to direct attacks on the Shaanxi Soviet; but he persuaded police to release demonstrators. Zhang began to wonder if the Communist issue could be solved peacefully. The Communists tried to win over his troops to support a workers’ democratic government and fight the Japanese. Zhang met with Communist negotiators, and they released all their prisoners from the Manchurian army. In the spring Zhang traveled to a Soviet base and met with Zhou Enlai about coordinating efforts against the Japanese. In the summer generals from Guangdong and Guangxi marched their armies into Hunan and Jiangxi, asking to fight the Japanese. Zhang contacted Shanxi’s long-time ruler Yan Xishan, who was also becoming more concerned about the Japanese than about the Communists.
In late October 1936 Japanese forces from Manzhouguo invaded Suiyuan using planes and tanks. Chinese forces resisted, and Chinese workers went on strike against Japanese-owned factories. Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in November, and Japanese marines took over Qingdao, which Germany had previously leased.
When Zhang Xueliang’s Northwest Bandit Suppression Force refused to attack 30,000 armed Communists in Shaanxi, Jiang Jieshi flew to the army headquarters in Xi’an on December 4, 1936. Thousands of Xi’an students rallied on December 9, and police fired on them to keep them away from Jiang’s headquarters. After Zhang and his senior officers had a long meeting with Jiang on December 11, early in the morning Zhang’s Xi’an army took over Jiang’s headquarters, killing most of his bodyguards and capturing Jiang, who was found hiding in a cave in his nightshirt. That morning Zhang sent a circular telegram to provincial leaders, the press, and large organizations with the following eight demands:
Zhang tried to strengthen his military position, and his forces captured Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu. The Nationalist government prepared to attack Xi’an and sent the Australian adviser W. H. Donald, Madame Jiang, her brother T. V. Soong, and Dai Li. Stalin urged the CCP to work for Jiang’s release. Zhou Enlai met with Zhang and suggested a united front under Jiang’s leadership. Jiang refused to sign anything, but on December 25 he made a verbal agreement not to attack the Communists but rather to resist the Japanese. He was released that day and flew back to Nanjing. Zhang Xueliang volunteered to go with him, and he was court-martialed and kept under house arrest for more than fifty years. His Xi’an troops were transferred and replaced by soldiers loyal to Jiang. The CCP offered to submit to Guomindang leadership in a national front against the Japanese, and on February 19, 1937 the Guomindang Central Executive Committee officially announced its cooperation with the Soviet Union and the Communists. In 1937 China ended the foreign control of customs revenues and stopped paying the annual indemnity from the Boxer rebellion.
Lu Xun and his second wife Xu Guangping moved to Shanghai in 1927. From this time on Lu wrote mostly essays. One of his “Odd Fancies” that year noted,
Lu Xun had written “My Views on Chastity” in 1918. He noted that in the past chastity was a virtue for men as well as women, but in recent history men would have no part of it. He asked how much unchaste women actually hurt the country compared to crimes, war, banditry, famine, floods, and drought. He observed that the last three result from a lack of modern knowledge and from neglecting water conservation, not from unchaste women. He asked if polygamous men have the right to praise chaste women. He wondered if the male principle (yang) is any better than the female principle (yin). Men make rules for women that they do not keep themselves. He traced men’s extraordinary concern about female chastity back to the Neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty (960-1279), and men became even more hypocritical during the recent Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Everyone knows that a woman can only lose her chastity through a man. So why is the woman alone blamed? Lu concluded that they must do away with stupidity and tyranny that injure others as well as themselves. They should work for all humanity to know true happiness.
In 1923 Lu gave a talk at the Beijing Women’s Normal College on “What Happens after Nora Leaves Home?” He noted that Ibsen’s Doll House ends with Nora leaving home. He wondered if she would be able to survive, especially if there were thousands of Noras leaving home. He believed that economic rights are most important in society now and that there needs to be a fair sharing between men and women in the family and that men and women should have equal rights in society. He observed that demanding political rights will not meet with much opposition, but “if you speak about the equal distribution of wealth, you will probably find yourself up against enemies, and this of course will lead to bitter fighting.”5
Lu’s talk on “Silent China” was given to the Hong Kong YMCA on February 16, 1927 during the fighting in Zhejiang and Shaanxi. He felt that restoring speech in China that had been silent for centuries was like ordering a dead man to live again. He said that Dr. Hu Shi advocated a literary revolution, but it is really just reform. Qian Xuantong had proposed abolishing Chinese ideographs and replacing them with a Roman alphabet. Lu believed that this radical idea made it easier for people to accept the reform of using the vernacular while keeping Chinese characters. He encouraged young people to speak out boldly and fearlessly with no thought of personal gain, expressing their true thoughts. He suggested that they must cast aside their classical language in order to live.
Lu did not join the Communist party and was criticized by those on the left. Qian Yingcun wrote “The Age of Ah Q is Dead and Gone;” but the criticisms faded in 1928 as the Communists tried to win him over. Xu gave birth to Lu’s son in September 1929, and that month the Communists began an active campaign to recruit Lu. He was the only non-Communist appointed to the planning committee for what became the League of Left-Wing Writers on February 16, 1930. The day before in another secret meeting Lu had been elected to the executive committee of the General Assembly of the Chinese Freedom Movement. He also joined a group of revolutionary artists who had formed the Eighteen Society in 1929, eighteen years after the revolution. All his life Lu was interested in books and how they are illustrated. Lu retained his independence and never actually joined the Chinese Communist Party. In March 1930 in “Unrevolutionary Eagerness for Revolution” he criticized revolutionary writers for holding up too strict a standard.
On February 7, 1931 in the Longhua Prison in Shanghai 24 Communists were executed, including five members of the League of Left-Wing Writers and Lu’s friend Rou Shi. Lu wrote a short biography of Rou and the essay “The Revolutionary Literature of the Chinese Proletarian and the Blood of Its Pioneers” to commemorate the five martyrs and condemn the Nationalist government. He wrote,
Lu argued that their comrades’ blood testified that the revolutionary literature was being subjected to the same oppression as the toiling masses. He hoped that their blood would be an inspiration so that they would never cease their struggle.
In October 1932 Lu wrote the verses
In 1942 Mao Zedong interpreted the little children as symbolizing the masses. In January 1933 Lu Xun joined the Chinese Alliance for the Protection of Civil Rights, which was not directed by Communists, and he was elected to the executive committee along with Cai Yuanpei, Song Qingling, Yang Quan, Lin Yutang, and four others. In May 1934 Lu wrote about the famous suicide case of Mrs. Lizhai and urged people to fight but only for reforms. Those who blame someone for committing suicide should also challenge the circumstances that led to the suicide. In November 1934 Lu compared Napoleon to Edward Jenner, who developed a vaccine to save people from smallpox but is much less famous. He lamented that the gentlemen who may be cannon fodder praise the murderers who are destroying the world while ignoring the saviors. If these views are not changed, the world will continue to be destroyed, and mankind will suffer. In May 1935 in “What Is Satire?” he wrote that a satirical work that lacks any positive aim or genuine passion does no good for the world and is only cynicism.
Lu had tuberculosis, and his health gradually declined. On September 5, 1936 he wrote about death and the belief of many Chinese in ghosts and reincarnation. He satirized the custom of burning paper money for the next life, but he did not really know what would happen. He asked others to forget him and live their own lives. He advised people not to take seriously the promises of other people, and he warned people not to have anything to do with those who injure others while opposing revenge and advocating tolerance. Lu Xun was working on the second volume of his translation of Gogol’s Dead Souls when he died on October 19, 1936. His funeral was attended by 4,462 people, and his complete works were published in twenty volumes in 1938.
Mao Dun was born as Shen Dehong on July 4, 1896 in Tongxiang, Zhejiang. His father was a doctor and sympathized with the reform movement. Shen left Beijing University in 1916 when he ran out of money and got a job with the Commercial Press in Shanghai. In 1920 he became an editor for the Short Story Monthly, and they published translations of many European writers. With Zhou Zuoren and others he founded the Literary Research Society. In 1926 Shen served as secretary of propaganda on the Guomindang’s northern expedition. He spent a year editing the National Daily newspaper in Hankou criticizing the policies of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), who turned against the Communists in March 1927. That year he took the pen name Mao Dun, which means contradiction. Five of his stories about young women in conflict were collected as The Wild Roses, and he published his Eclipse trilogy of novels Disillusion, Vacillation, and Pursuit about young intellectuals learning about revolutionary activities. In Disillusion a young woman yields to a man who turns out to be not only a womanizer but also a secret agent. Vacillation explores the discrepancy between the desire for revolution and the reality. In 1927 Communist party members compromise with the Guomindang to achieve reforms but come to realize that they have aided tyranny. The revolutionaries are reunited in Pursuit, but they degenerate into sexual indulgence and prostitution.
In 1929 Mao Dun published his novel Rainbow, which in three parts describes the development of a high school girl from the May 4th movement of 1919 until she finally becomes a Communist during the May 30th protest in 1925. Mao Dun thus portrays the psychological evolution of Chinese culture in this era. In 1930 he joined the League of Left-Wing Writers. His 1932 “Spring Silkworms” is considered one of his best short stories. Old Tongbao believes that the “foreign devils” have been swindling them, and the Guomindang broke its promises and has raised taxes and prices. His family works hard and carefully to nurture the silkworms and shuns a neighboring family because they have failed. The son Aduo realizes that is wrong and talks to the girl Lotus. Having borrowed to feed more silkworms, their crop is very large; but most of the silk filatures are closed down, and the price is so low that they lose money after all their hard work. Since foreign intervention they no longer have enough reels to spin their own silk. What they can spin they are barely able to pawn for some rice to survive with an increased debt. This naturalistic story portrays the economic exploitation many Chinese suffered. In the sequel “Autumn Harvest” Tongbao becomes ill, and his younger son joins a raid by peasants on the granaries. The family grows rice; but the price drops, and they nearly starve.
His 1933 novel Midnight was acclaimed as one of the best examples of revolutionary literature, and it was quickly translated into English, Russian, German, and French. In a 1939 speech Mao Dun explained that he wanted to portray the following:
In the same talk the author explained that because of censorship by the reactionary government he could not describe the revolutionary activities frankly if he wanted to get the book published. The novel focuses on a powerful industrialist who believes in national capitalism and is bankrupted when his brother-in-law betrays him. Mao Dun thus imposed a Marxist theme on to a naturalistic novel.
Taking an idea from Maxim Gorky, Mao Dun announced and advertised for people to send in their writing about what happened to them on the day May 21, 1936. He received 3,000 responses, and many of them criticized the policies of Jiang Jieshi and his New Life propaganda. During the war against Japan he edited two patriotic literary journals. His novel Putrefaction was acclaimed by Communists for exposing the corruption of the Nationalist government. The heroine is a secret agent for the Guomindang police, but she helps a student escape. In 1949 Mao Dun became the first minister of Culture for the new government in Beijing.
Lao She was born as Shu Qingchun in a poor Manchu family on February 3, 1899 in Beijing. His father died the next year during the Boxer rebellion, but a rich uncle paid for him to go to a private school when he was nine. He had to leave Beijing Normal School because of finances, but attending the free Beijing Teachers College in 1913 enabled him to become an elementary school principal at the age of 17. Shu quickly advanced to become a school inspector. He did not participate in the May Fourth Movement; but he later said it made him want to become a writer, though he also satirized the student activists. He was baptized as a Christian in 1922, and two years later he went to teach Chinese for a small stipend at London University’s School of Oriental Studies. Influenced by Charles Dickens, he wrote The Philosophy of Lao Zhang in imitation of Nicholas Nickleby. The protagonist becomes the owner of a private school, but he uses its respectability to become a corrupt money-lender.
Lao She was also influenced by the writing of Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain. His next two novels had comic elements and emphasized what an individual could do to help China. Zhao Ziyue was subtitled “A Study of the Degeneration of the Heroic Ideal.” Lao ridiculed an antiquated college that is dominated by the oracular Yi Jing (Book of Changes). The main characters choose between becoming scholars or trying to bring change by assassinating corrupt officials. Instead of being heroic, they are selfish or ignore the needs of the Chinese people by turning to terrorism. The Two Mas is about a father and son. The older Ma is an official and tries to make up for his feeling of inferiority by giving money, but young Ma Wei believes his father’s old ways are holding back him and China. The son gets into a conflict with the rude student activist Mao over the English Catherine.
Lao She left London in 1929, and after visiting Paris he spent a year in Singapore teaching and writing a novella about children. He returned to China in 1931 and married a Beijing university student. The plates for his next novel were destroyed by a Japanese air raid that demolished the Commercial Press in Shanghai in 1932. He only rewrote one portion as the short story “Crescent Moon” about a poor woman and her daughter who in desperate poverty turn to prostitution. Lao taught at various universities. His novel Divorce also explores the conflict between individual development and the duty to help one’s nation, and he satirized young Marxists as well as bureaucrats and family loyalties. Divorce is a foreign idea to the Chinese they are loath to accept. Lao She’s political satire Cat Country (1933) was inspired by H. G. Wells’ The First Man on the Moon and takes place on Mars, where the cats have the bad qualities the author dislikes among the Chinese—laziness, greed, cunning, cowardice, fear of foreigners, and drug addiction.
Lao’s 1934 novel Niu Tianci Zhuan, translated as Heavensent, questions whether even heroism can redeem a corrupt society, and it has been compared to Fielding’s Tom Jones as the enculturation of a young man in bourgeois society. Lao She’s most successful novel Camel Xiangzi was published in 1937. It was translated into English as the Rickshaw Boy in 1945 and became a best-seller in the United States with the ending changed to be happy. The rickshaw puller Xiangzi works hard to get ahead; but eventually he loses hope, and his life degenerates into the idleness of surviving by parading in weddings and funerals. The novel demonstrates that in China even individual effort is often not enough to overcome the economic oppression which requires collective reform.
Lao She was elected president of the Chinese Writers’ Anti-aggression Association on March 27, 1938, and he dedicated the war years to writing propaganda, including stories, plays, drum-songs and comedy skits as well as the novel Cremation, which depicts conflicts between patriotism and filial piety. In 1946 he went to the United States in a cultural exchange program sponsored by the State Department, and he stayed until after the Communist revolution was won, writing a long trilogy of novels about four generations of a family which deteriorates during the moral chaos of war. Lao was badly beaten by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and his death was reported as a suicide in October 1966.
Ba Jin was born as Li Yaotang on November 25, 1904 into a wealthy family of officials in Chengdu, Sichuan. His mother died in 1914, and his father passed on three years later. After his dominant grandfather died, he was able to break away from his feudal family. He went to Shanghai in 1923 and completed his high school education in Nanjing. Becoming an anarchist, he took the name Ba Jin from the first and last syllables of Bakunin and Kropotkin. He learned Esperanto and still advocated its use in the 1980s. Ba went to Paris in 1927 and began translating Kropotkin’s Ethics. Ba’s first novel Destruction established him as a writer when he returned to China in 1929. In this emotional story Du Big Heart falls in love with a girl who submits to her parents and marries another. After she becomes a widow, he rejects her to sacrifice himself for the revolution by trying to assassinate a corrupt chief of police. He hoped for the time when “every family will have its own house, every mouth will be fed, every person clothed, and people will live in peace.” Ba wrote the sequel New Life in 1931, but his manuscript was burned during a Japanese attack on Shanghai in the summer of 1932. To show that their bombs could not destroy his spirit he rewrote the book in two weeks. His novel The Setting Sun describes the protests on May 30, 1925 in Shanghai against the foreign-controlled factories.
Ba Jin carried on a long correspondence with Emma Goldman, calling her his “spiritual mother.” He also wrote to Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927 during his famous trial in Boston. In 1929 Ba Jin responded to Lu Xun’s call for writers to work for social change. In his love trilogy Fog, Rain, and Lightning written in the early 1930s, Ba described how his friends were torn between parental demands and their own preferences in marriage as well as conflicts between love and work. In Fog he portrayed well educated women as a new generation, and in Lightning Wu Renmin represents the ideal combination of commitment to the revolution while having a passionate personal relationship. The novella Thunder describes revolutionaries living together, and the woman Hui argues for sexual freedom. Like Zola’s Germinal, Ba Jin portrayed the terrible working and living conditions of miners in his Snow.
Ba Jin is most famous for his autobiographical novel The Family (1933), which describes how a stubborn patriarch imposes his will on others with devastating results. This torrents trilogy was completed by Spring (1938) and Autumn (1940). In Spring a son tries to control his younger brothers. In Autumn the family continues to deteriorate, but the young Shuhua becomes openly defiant of her uncles and aunts. These novels are a powerful indictment of the traditional Chinese family system.
In the early 1940s Ba Jin wrote the three-part novel Fire as patriotic propaganda during the war against Japan. In his 1944 novel Leisure Garden Ba explored the moral problems of the wealthy. His Ward Number Four exposed the terrible conditions of hospitals during the war, and the heroine finds the writings of Gandhi especially helpful. Ba spent more than two years writing Cold Nights, and it was serialized in Literary Renaissance from August 1946 to January 1947. Many consider this his best novel. Wang is loved deeply by his mother and his wife; but the latter has difficulty living with the former as Chinese matriarchy is explored.
After 1949 Ba Jin’s revolutionary writing enabled him to have a good position in Communist China except during the Cultural Revolution. He was a prolific writer and also translated many books; he lived to be 100 years old.
Ding Ling was born as Jiang Bingzhi on September 4, 1904 in Hunan. Her father died in 1909, and she attended girls’ schools where her mother Yu Manzhen was a progressive teacher. Part of the May fourth student movement, Ding Ling bobbed her hair and helped organize boycotts. She wrote poems in the common language and demonstrated against the oppression of women. She helped integrate a boys’ school in Changsha. In 1920 she refused a marriage arranged by her Jiang uncles and fled with Wang Jianhong to Shanghai. They joined the Anarchist party, and Ding edited the Common Girl’s School newspaper, Women’s Voice. She learned about contraception and women’s sexual pleasure from Margaret Sanger. In 1922 Marxists took over Women’s Voice, and she and Wang went to Nanjing. Wang became the lover of Qu Qiubai, and Ding went with them and enrolled in the Communist-sponsored Shanghai University. Qu left Wang, who died of tuberculosis in 1924. Ding went to Beijing, but she failed the university entrance examination. She read translations of Dumas, Tolstoy, Gorky, and Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary almost obsessed her. She formed a relationship with the poet Hu Yepin but rejected marriage as bourgeois. The writer Shen Congwen lived with them, and Ding also had a passionate affair with the literary critic Feng Xuefeng.
Ding Ling gained her reputation as a writer in 1927 with her short story “Miss Sophia’s Diary,” which portrays the inner thoughts and feelings of an attractive women ill with tuberculosis who is interested in two men. She sexually desires the tall man, but she eventually rejects him because of his shallow mind. She and Hu Yepin started a literary magazine to publish their work, but it failed. Hu joined the League of Left-Wing Writers while Ding wrote stories and the novella Shanghai, Spring 1930. Their son was born only a short time before Hu was executed with 23 other leftists on February 7, 1931. Ding sent the child to live with her mother in Hunan and began editing the Great Dipper for the League, secretly joining the Communist party in March 1932. Her story “Flood” broke ground as realistic fiction with a social message, and she wrote the novel Mother, based on how her own mother became liberated. On May 4, 1933 Ding Ling and her lover Feng Da were abducted by the Nationalist secret police and were kept under house arrest in Nanjing. Her mother joined them, and Ding gave birth to Feng’s daughter before he died of tuberculosis. Leaving her children with her mother, Ding escaped to the Red Army base at Yan’an in 1936.
Ding Ling published the autobiographical “When I Was in Xia Village” in 1941 narrated by a prominent woman in the Communist party who visits a town where a young woman has been abducted and raped by the Japanese. Though disgraced, the young woman is hopeful that the party’s treatment of her venereal disease will give her a new life. Ding published her controversial essay “Thoughts on March 8” on that International Women’s Day in 1942. She began by asking when it would no longer be necessary to give special weight to the word “woman.” She noted that women are happier in Yan’an than anywhere in China, but still it was difficult for a woman to be friendly with a male comrade whether she is married or single. Men often accuse their wives of “political backwardness” as an excuse for divorce. Ding wished for “less empty theorizing and more talk about real problems.” She acknowledged that women who want equality need to strengthen themselves, and she advised them to take care of their health, be happy by doing meaningful work to help others, develop the habit of thinking about what is right, and persevere through hardships and work for the good of all humanity. She concluded that writing these things a woman was likely to be demolished. Ding had been editing the literary section of the Liberation Daily, but she lost that position because of the controversy and was assigned to work in the country. She married the younger Chen Ming in 1942 during the rectification phase of the party.
Ding Ling worked on land reform in 1946-47. Her 1948 novel The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River is about a struggle for land reform, and it was the first Chinese novel to win a Stalin Prize in 1951. Ding Ling was censured and expelled from the Communist party in 1957 for her past unchaste activities and questionable loyalty, but she was reinstated after Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978.
Shen Congwen was born on December 28, 1902 in a military family on the western frontier of Hunan where the Miao tribes live. He went to a military school at age thirteen, and two years later he was assigned to a regiment and witnessed 700 decapitations in sixteen months. He was given a set of Dickens translated by Lin Shu. Shen was strongly influenced by Russian, English, and French literature, especially Chekhov, Shakespeare, and Joyce. Shen joined the military again in 1920 and served under the reformer Chen Quzhen in Baojing. He probably witnessed the famine in Yuanzhou that took about 40,000 lives. Shen worked for a newspaper and went to Beijing in 1922 to study, but he lacked the money and education to attend college.
By 1925 Shen was publishing short stories. In his 1930 story “The Husband” a peasant visits his wife on a brothel boat where many peasant wives come to make money. After talking with her “godfather” and seeing her drunken customers, he persuades her to return home with him. Shen became friends with the editor Hu Yepin, and he said that Ding Ling was the only woman who ever called him handsome. When Hu was arrested on January 17, 1931, he and Ding Ling worked to learn where he was and to raise money for his release. After his execution he wrote Remembering Hu Yepin and later Remembering Ding Ling. After four years of courtship Shen married Zhang Zhaohe in September 1933. Shen was criticized by the Communists for his bourgeois views, but his writing was also censored by the Nationalist government. He identified more with rural values than with urban politics. Shen began teaching Chinese, and in 1934 he became a professor at Beijing University. He opposed bringing Confucianism back into education and especially criticized the warlord He Jian. That year Shen wrote in a preface,
During the Japanese occupation Shen Congwen was fairly independent as a professor of Chinese at the Southwest Associated University in Kunming. He revised his stories and wrote The Long River, considered one of his best longer works because of its social criticism and comedy. The story satirizes the “New Life” policy being imposed by Jiang’s Nationalist government in 1934. Shen gradually became a pacifist and opposed the violence on both sides during the civil war. When the Communists came to power in 1949 he declined to leave the mainland because he did not like the Nationalist government either. His writings were banned by Communist China and by the Nationalists on Taiwan, and he never wrote another major work of fiction. Shen survived a suicide attempt, and he was finally returned to public favor in the 1980s. He is considered by many to be one of China’s greatest modern writers.
Absalom Sydenstricker and his wife Carie were American missionaries in China. While they were visiting the United States, their daughter Pearl was born on June 26, 1892. They returned to Zhenjiang four months later. Pearl learned to speak Chinese before English; but she was taught to read and write English before she learned to read Chinese. She spent most of the her first forty years living in China except that she attended college in Virginia 1910-14. She married the agricultural economist John Lossing Buck in 1917. Their first daughter had an undiagnosed disease that caused her to be severely retarded her entire life. Pearl wrote The Exile, a biography of her mother in 1922, but she did not publish it until fifteen years later after her father’s death. Her biography of her father, Fighting Angel, was published at the same time. Pearl described him as a religious zealot who had little concern for human feelings. In 1925 she went to Cornell University and earned a master’s degree. During the voyage she began writing her first novel, East Wind: West Wind, which was published in 1930.
Pearl Buck and her husband both taught at Nanjing University, and she was paid as a Presbyterian missionary. In March 1927 invading Guomindang revolutionaries were killing foreigners, and their family barely escaped from Nanjing with only the clothes they were wearing. In October they moved into a less pretentious house in Shanghai. Her marriage was not happy, and her husband was unfaithful. Pearl became the lover of China’s premier poet Xu Zhimo until he died in a plane crash in November 1931. Pearl’s early stories depicted the changes that were transforming traditional China. In “The First Wife” young Li Yuan studies for seven years in the United States and returns to China with liberal ideas. He leaves his wife who is uneducated and has bound feet, and she hangs herself. “The New Road” describes a Nationalist construction project that displaced a family home and made Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) more unpopular. She wrote four stories about the devastating Yangzi flood in 1931. Pearl gradually fell in love with her publisher Richard Walsh, and after her divorce they would be married.
Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth was published on March 2, 1931, and it became the best-selling book in America in the 20th century to that point. Wang Lung is a poor farmer, and his father buys him the slave O-lan as his wife. They work hard, have two sons, and their life improves. During a famine their baby girl is eaten by a hungry dog. They lose the farm, and Wang works pulling a rickshaw; but during revolutionary looting O-lan finds jewels that gives them a new start. They prosper, and Wang buys a great house. He buys Lotus as a concubine, and O-lan becomes ill and dies. Wang lets his uncle and his family live with them, and they have conflicts. In his old age Wang urges his sons not to sell the land. Pearl completed the House of Earth trilogy by writing Sons and A House Divided. The oldest son becomes a landlord, the second son a merchant and money-lender, and the third, Wang the Tiger, joins a band of revolutionaries who plunder the rich and help the poor. In A House Divided the Tiger’s son Wang Yuan rejects his father’s ways and becomes a scholar and a poet. He graduates from an American university, but he comes to realize that his education is useless in China’s chaos.
When Pearl Buck came to the United States she worked for civil rights because she had suffered from racism herself. She had also witnessed overpopulation, and she advocated birth control and equal rights for women. In 1933 she resigned her missionary position. In “The Young Revolutionist,” which she had written for the Presbyterian Mission Board, a revolutionary serves a Christian doctor, showing that the Christianity she favored was more humanitarian than theological. In her 1933 novel The Mother a poor woman is deserted by her husband. Her daughter becomes blind, and the mother experiences sexual frustration. When she yields to the landlord’s agent, she becomes pregnant; but she takes herbs and induces an abortion that makes her sterile. She manages to find a husband for her blind daughter, who is then mistreated and dies. Her younger son becomes a revolutionary, but he is arrested and beheaded.
Pearl Buck was divorced in 1935, and she lived in the United States with her new husband Walsh. She had spent five years translating the original 70 chapters of Shui Hu Zhuan as All Men Are Brothers. She rejected the longer versions because she believed the additional chapters showed the capture of the robbers by the government in order to counter the revolutionary message. In 1939 she published The Patriot about young Wu I-wan who gives up the revolution when he meets bankers in Shanghai. He cooperates with the purge of dissidents, and his father’s influence with Jiang helps him escape to Nagasaki. He marries a Japanese woman, but in 1937 he leaves his family to go back and fight for China. He finds his former revolutionary leader and decides the Communists have the best chance of saving China.
Pearl Buck raised money for hospital supplies in China with her “Book of Hope” campaign. She and Walsh started the China Emergency Relief Committee which provided funds for two medical training facilities to alleviate the desperate shortage of doctors in China. Thirteen of her short stories were published in Today and Forever in 1941. These stories about war and resistance portrayed several heroic women including Golden Flower who led a band of guerrillas. She is compared to the legendary Mulan. Pearl became chairman of China Emergency Relief, and her committee included Henry Luce, John D. Rockefeller, David O. Selznick, and Wendell Wilkie with Eleanor Roosevelt as honorary chairman. They raised several million dollars. She and Walsh bought the magazine Asia and made Pearl president. They expanded it and published articles by Nehru, Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Tagore, Sun Yat-sen’s widow, and the Chinese ambassador Hu Shi.
Her novel Dragon Seed was published in January 1942. Ling Tan’s family is devastated by the Japanese invasion, and the raping of women in Nanjing becomes a metaphor of Japanese aggression against China. Surviving members of Ling’s family work with their neighbors to resist the Japanese occupation. Jade learns to read, and she manages to poison a gathering of Japanese officers. The novel ends with a speech by Winston Churchill over Free China radio with a promise. Pearl wrote a series of radio plays and broadcast two of them herself in Chinese. Buck’s novel The Promise was published in October 1943, and it depicts the British campaign to build and protect the Burma road so that China can be supplied from outside. Based on historical facts, the imperialistic British demonstrate their incompetence and lack of concern for the Asians. Escaping British cross a bridge and destroy it, leaving the Chinese behind to be massacred. They drop leaflets in English that few in Burma can read. Pearl’s novel prophesies that Asian nations will become independent of British imperialism.
In Pearl Buck’s 1946 Pavilion of Women the prosperous Madame Wu tells her husband that she is moving to a separate room to live for herself; she provides a concubine for him. She becomes interested in an excommunicated Catholic priest who is a humanitarian. Her 1956 novel Imperial Woman tells the historical story of the powerful Empress Cixi from the Taiping rebellion through the Boxer uprising. In The Living Reed (1963) Pearl recounted the history of Korea from its 1883 treaty with the United States to its divided liberation from Japan in 1945 through four generations of a family. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation was established to help Amerasian children and for other charitable purposes, and Pearl donated about $7 million. She had been assisting in the adoption of Asian children for many years. The Three Daughters of Madame Liang (1969) describes the repressive Cultural Revolution that tried to purge intellectuals.
1. Quoted in Mao by Philip Short, p. 222.
2. Ibid., p. 278.
3. Quoted in China from the 1911 Revolution to Liberation by Jean Chesneaux et al, p. 232.
4. Selected Works of Lu Hsun, Volume 2 tr. Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, p. 338.
5. “What Happens after Nora Leaves Home?” by Lu Xun in Silent China tr. Gladys Yang, p. 151.
6. “The Revolutionary Literature of the Chinese Proletarian and the Blood of Its Pioneers” by Lu Xun in Silent China tr. Gladys Yang, p. 175.
7. Quoted in The True Story of Lu Xun by David E. Pollard, p. 168.
8. Midnight by Mao Tun, p. 6.
9. “Preface to Under the Eaves of Others” in The Odyssey of Shen Congwen by Jeffrey C. Kinkley, p. xiv.
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