Chapter 16 – Communist Survival

The Chinese Poor:

Due to the fact that the Chinese population was upwards of 479 million (Spence, 356) and various external forces, it was extremely difficult for the Guomindang to take control of many concerns facing their government. Despite this, conditions in China were at least sufficient enough to a portion of the population due to a variety of things, including: mass industrial growth within large cities, new agricultural innovations, and the expansion of road and rail transportation (Spence, 356). Even though some people benefitted from such innovations, this does not negate the fact that millions of people experienced extreme poverty. According to Spence (p. 357), the average Chinese workday ranged from 9.5 to 13 hours with minimal pay and basic household spending exceeded the average monthly income by 11.65 percent (p. 359). Because of their own horrible living and working conditions, many Chinese citizens took a page from the French Revolution and organized strikes to fight against their oppressors.

Along with the urban section of the nation, the Chinese rural population also experienced a “disintegration of a harmonious economic balance between the poor and the state” (Spence, 361). Many rural citizens lived on the bare minimum, virtually on the verge of starvation. This economic degradation is attributed to a number of things, such as financial pressures from the world market growth and natural disasters like soil erosion (Spence, 361). On a economical basis, rural areas were subject to unethical land-tenure systems and outdated agricultural technology. Along with these terrible predicaments, many parents were forced into selling their own children in order to survive. While the urban population were granted more social liberties, the rural Chinese populace were still bound to archaic marriage agreements and arrangements. Clearly, by the beginning of the 1930s, all citizens of the nation, both urban and rural alike, were experiencing a level of extreme poverty never seen before. However, it is from this desolate society in which the Communist party was able to re-establish their own persuasive, revolutionary powers (Spence, 365).

Mao Zedong and the Rural Soviets:

The safest place for fugitive Communists following their expulsion 1927 was within border regions where several zones convened. The leader of this fugitive group, Mao Zedong, favored the unification of “strong peasant soviets who would be bonded together in revolutionary solidarity through confiscation and redistribution of land” (Spence, 366). By the conclusion of 1928, Mao and his communist followers were forced to desert their central location in the Jinggang Mountains due to continuous attacks from Guomindang forces. They made the town on Ruijin the site for the new regime, the Jiangxi Soviet, which would survive for another six years Spence, 367). In a quest to expand upon his knowledge concerning the rural population, Mao Zedong examined the Xunwu province in the spring of 1930. It was here that Mao recognized the needs of women. He paid particular attention social reform in areas such as women’s rights and showed an awareness to economic and familial pressures that repressed gender equality (Spence, 371). In fact, one of Mao’s most important acts within the Jiangxi Soviet was the new marriage law which eliminated arranged marriages and emboldened free individual choice of one’s spouse.

By 1930, the Guomindang successfully completed a series of attacks on the Communists within their urban populace. Along with this success, the Guomindang secret services were developing into a more established organization and were successful in gaining access to the Communists’ urban networks. At this point, Chiang Kai-shek and his Guomindang had won control over the cities and allied with the strongest northern militarists. However, in order to finally eliminate opposition from the rural population, Chiang joined forces with the Germans. With help from this powerful foreign nation, China was “to obtain an iron and steel complex, ore-processing machinery, and modern arsenals from Germany” (Spence, 372). This allowed for China to become more modernized like the other industrialized main players of the world.

The Long March:

By 1934, Mao Zedong was no longer involved in important decision making of the Jiangxi Soviet. Evacuation plans by the Communists, planned by Zhou Enlai, were stimulated by information that the Guomindang were planning an offensive attack later that year. The First Corps with around 15,000 combat troops was led by Lin Biao and the Third Corps by Peng Dehuai with approximately 13,000 (Spence, 376). Following these two corps was the majority of the Jiangxi Soviet army. The “command column” with Central Committee members was followed by the “support column” with field hospital units (Spence, 376). According to Spence (p. 377), left behind in Jiangxi was a rear-guard force of 28,000 Communist troops, 20,000 of which were wounded and unable to make the march. The march began on the night of October 16th, 1934 and was dubbed “The Long March” due to the fact that the march lasted for 370 consecutive days; it is known as one of the central heroic sagas in Chinese Communist history (Spence, 377).

In January 1935, the march entered into the city of Zunyi for troops to rest. It is at this period that the Zunyi Conference of January 15-18 occurred, where eighteen important Communist leaders met to discuss of the reasoning behind their discouraging defeat in the Jiangxi region and to emulate solutions to these problems. Following the conference, Mao Zedong was once again accepted as a full member of the ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo and the chief assistant to Zhou Enlai for military planning (Spence, 379). In the north, the marchers joined forces with the Communist general Zhou Guotao and were supposed to be driven even further north into the Sichuan-Xikang border region. However, the two armies were instead blended together and redivided. Finally, on October 20th, Mao’s troops reached northern Shaanxi at the town of Wuqizhen. About 8,000 to 9,000 of the 80,000 total troops who originally left Jiangxi were still with Mao (Spence, 381).

Crisis at Xi’an:

During the beginning of the 1930s, the CCP had established a considerable popularity to Chinese citizens after they declared “war” on Japan (Spence, 382). Mao Zedong called for an approach that would unify the Chinese nation under their common dislike of the Japanese. One notable Guomindang supporter who agreed with this ideological stance was Zhang Xueliang, who held considerable disdain for the fact that while his troops were being used to fight the Communists in the countryside, the Japanese continued to launch attacks and military threats on China (Spence, 383). Many citizens of China, especially students, felt the same way. In fact, thousands of students protested Japanese power on December 9th, 1935. Even though he continued to follow Chiang Kai-shek’s orders of communist suppression, Zhang Xueliang was ,ore in agreement with the Communist appeals for military action against the Japanese than his own orders from the Guomindang. However, Chiang remained committed to eradicating the Communists before dealing with the impending, external threat of Japan.

In the concluding months of 1936, Japanese troops launched an invasion on the northern province of Suiyuan. Zhang Xueliang and his senior officers kidnapped Chiang on December 11th, 1936, in order to persuade him to take military action against the Japanese. Upon hearing news of this kidnapping, communists felt mixed emotions. The Soviets did not think that Zhang Xueliang had the power to lead a united national front and urged the CCP to try and ensure Chiang’s release (Spence, 386). Negotiations continued up until Christmas Day, 1936, for Chiang Kai-shek’s release. Finally, Zhang Xueliang volunteered to fly Chiang to Nanjing. They arrived on December 26th, and Chiang was greeted with an ecstatic crowd of about 300,000 (Spence, 386). In a dramatic turn of events, Chiang’s own kidnapping had revived his waning popularity within China. The CCP also offered its own military forces to the Guomindang if a full national front against the Japanese were announced (Spence, 389). Chiang Kai-shek was now in a position to fulfill his promise of redirecting his own policies, which would change the entire course of China’s development as an up-and-coming power.

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