By Wang Qingming
Editor’s note: The author is a Chinese scholar living overseas.
The China of 1945 was on the one hand immersed in the joy of defeating the Japanese invaders and ushering in peace again. But on the other the way forward was uncertain. The United States and the Soviet Union also actively intervened in the situation there, trying to draw the world’s most populous eastern power into their camp.
However, all the actors at that time — the Kuomintang, the Chinese people, and the United States, and other actors — failed to predict what the CCP would subsequently do, and thus underestimated China’s huge influence on the world situation and on human development.
The post-war KMT began by displaying considerable corruption in its taking over of Japanese property, and China under its rule seemed to be full of pollution, spiritual lifelessness, and complaints. At the same time, the other actors fiercely criticized the situation, and the United States, as an ally, also disliked the government. However, the impression that the CCP gave to the outside world is that it was simple, and full of idealism, vigor and hope. People from all walks of life in China were protesting continuously against the government, and intellectuals harshly criticized the regime. The United States also refused to provide more military and economic assistance to the KMT government, and instead merely watched and waited for successes and failures in the conflict between the KMT and the CCP.
But when the CCP took power in mainland China and monopolized it, it eliminated all its defeated enemies, and the neutral elements, including those who sympathized with the CCP, and those who were not sufficiently loyal within it. For example, during the so-called campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps more, mainly KMT members, who had surrendered or even made meritorious contributions to the “uprising” were executed. This, of course, was completely unexpected to those who were wavering, neutral, or sympathetic, and had finally chosen to support the CCP in the struggle between the two parties. Some who were ultimately executed were before they died completely dumbfounded, and some must have deeply regretted their choices.
In Siping City in northeast China in 1947, the civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party was in full swing. Chen Mingren, a famous general of the national army, defended Siping and defeated the siege by the CCP army led by Lin Biao. Chen Mingren couldn’t help but feel very sad when he saw the dead bodies of the CCP army strewn across the field in front of the KMT army’s positions. He knew that the CCP army was also fighting for ideals, and the Nationalist army was also fighting for the unity and democracy of China, so why fight each other? This was also the thinking of many Nationalist army officers and soldiers at that time. Compared with the firmness and courage displayed in the Anti-Japanese War, the main reason for the low morale of the Chinese army during the civil war was that people did not think it was necessary, and many sympathized with the hostile CCP in their hearts, and believed that its officers and soldiers were more idealistic and worthy of respect.
The Nationalist army generally had such a state of mind. Of course, there was no firm resolve to annihilate the CCP, and it even “threw the game” both overtly and secretly. In the most decisive battle during the civil war of Huaihai (known by the KMT as the “Battle of Xubang”), the commanders of the Nationalist army Du Yuming, Qiu Qingquan and others basically saw through the battle planned by the Communist spy Guo Rugui, who was a secretly operative in the Nationalist army at that time. The intention of the plan was revealed, e.g., by Qiu Qingquan to Guo Rugui:
“Your deployment today is equivalent to Xiang Yu’s deployment in Gaixia back then [referring to a battle back in 203 B.C. in which the forces of the former were ultimately defeated]. Chen Yi came down from Jinan today, which is the same as Liu Bang’s situation back then. Now the times have changed, but the strategic situation has not. We are now in Jiuli Mountain, which was Xiang Yu’s failure. This deployment in this place must not repeat the mistakes of history!”
However, Guo Rugui was not arrested, and Du Yuming and others finally even adopted his battle plan. In the Battle of Huaihai, although the KMT army had various advantages in terms of strength, equipment, and terrain, it was weak from top to bottom, wavering in its intention to win, and even significantly “threw the game.” But the CCP, using both soft and hard tactics, was bound to win. During the battle, the CCP also gave travel expenses to members of the captured national army, and they in turn stayed to join the PLA or went home. Even if they returned and rejoined the national army, they were all merely volunteers. As a result, many KMT soldiers not only saw it as not in their interests to continue to follow the Kuomintang, but even felt embarrassed to fight the People’s Liberation Army hard. Although ex-migrant workers who had been organized by the CCP were basically pushed out because of organizational pressure, many of them also sincerely helped the PLA by, say, pushing carts because they had been allocated land. In the end, “600,000 defeated 800,000,” and the CCP won final victory in the Battle of Huaihai, which became a turning point in the civil war and helped determine the CCP’s ultimate victory.
To me, this was not a tactical error by Du Yuming and others, but instead indicated that they had no determination to defeat the CCP. Even some generals of the Nationalist army hated the corrupt government they were loyal to and secretly hoped that the CCP would win.
The subsequent Battle of Pingjin and the Yangtze River Crossing Campaign reflected the mentality of the Nationalist army from top to bottom — that they had no intention of fighting and hoped that the CCP would rule China. In these two battles, both sides suffered very few casualties. Beiping [now Beijing] was directly “liberated” peacefully, and even if battles occurred (such as in Tianjin and Jiangyin), they ended quickly. In Nanjing, the capital of the Republic of China, and extremely important cities such as Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, the Nationalist army almost surrendered without a fight. Perhaps at that time, it was attracted by the CCP’s enlightened and progressive image, and were unwilling to go against the “historical trend.” Thus, the CCP’s wish to “fight across the Yangtze River and liberate the whole of China” was completed with the active and passive cooperation of all parties.
And workers, farmers, and students generally sympathized with the CCP. Some joined it, while others were in good faith neutral toward it. Even the citizens of big cities who did not have a good impression of the party were not strongly opposed to it. Especially after Chiang Ching-kuo’s failure to “fight the tiger” in Shanghai, urban citizens became more and more disgusted with the KMT, and many people hoped that the CCP would “change the world.” What the CCP said about “the support of the people” was true to a certain extent at the time.
Through its propaganda the CCP also actively won over people from all walks of life. During the civil war, only did it make promises to people who were relatively neutral, but it also extended olive branches to pro-communist KMT figures and high-level officials, promising to establish a “new democracy” based on multi-party cooperation and political consultation, a country with a coalition government to protect citizens’ various rights and freedoms. This made the party more attractive, and worthy of support, to all parties.
It was precisely under this framework of public opinion that the CCP was able as the weaker party to defeat the stronger, the Nationalist army, the KMT, and the national government, and become the master of mainland China.
But once the CCP had complete power and was no longer restricted by threats from the Nationalist army and other opposition forces, it turned on a dime. Those KMT members who were about to be executed during the suppression of counter-revolutionaries must have thought of their previous goodwill toward and sympathy for the CCP, in the manner of helpless prey regretting the victorious predator. The capitalists who went bankrupt and committed suicide in the “three major transformations” must have hated themselves for not escaping with their wealth in time, or using it to fight against the CCP. In the end, all their decades of hard work were lost, and they themselves ended up as corpses at the bottom of the tall buildings in [the Shanghai commercial neighborhood of] Shili Yangchang. Many farmers in Mao’s Great Famine were former migrant workers, who had pushed a cart for the People’s Liberation Army, but now whose entire family was about to starve to death. They were maimed or beaten to death by all kinds of violent agents of the party, including the People’s Liberation Army, when fleeing the famine to beg for food. The previous defectors were in no way spared from brutal criticism during the Cultural Revolution. Although they still said they were loyal to the Communist Party and to Chairman Mao, at least some of them were bound to go mad, with regret in their hearts.
However, it was too late for such people. At this time, they regretted and wanted to resist, but it was useless. Even people within the CCP who tried to challenge Mao Zedong’s authority, such as the party chairman and state president Liu Shaoqi, the commander-in-chief of the Volunteer Army Peng Dehuai, the commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army and the country’s number two man Lin Biao, all eventually died in brutal political struggles. (the first two were humiliated during their lifetime ). And what about those outside the CCP? Although some former KMT officials, such as Chen Mingren, who died well, were “protected” as non-communist “mascots” in various campaigns, most former KMT members, third-force intellectuals, landlords and farmers died tragically.
When Chen Mingren, who was dying in 1974, recalled his comrades-in-arms in the Nationalist army who died tragically in the anti-rebellion, anti-rightist, and Cultural Revolution campaigns, did he recall his sympathy for the CCP soldiers who fell on the battlefield in the Siping Battle in 1947, and asked whether his kindness was obviously wasted on the wrong target? Did he regret not completely annihilating Lin Biao’s troops and defending the Northeast? Did Du Yuming, whose dignity was demolished during the Cultural Revolution, also regret that he didn’t devote himself to completely smashing the CCP’s offensive in the decisive Huaihai battle? Deng Yulin, Xia Zhishi, He Haiqing and other hundreds of Nationalist army generals who participated in the Revolution of 1911 and the War of Resistance against Japan, achieved so much and made great contributions to the Han people and Chinese nation, were all executed early in the [1950-1953] Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. Under the executioner’s gun, they had no chance to recall life with care. “Soldiers, the great affairs of the country, the places of life and death, the ways of survival or perishing, these must all be investigated.” These teachings of pioneering military figures two thousand years ago did not did not occur to them during their temporarily being taken in by the CCP’s rhetoric and other latent sinister forces, and this eventually led to their failure.
All of this is rooted in misjudgment, credulity, and soft-heartedness. If he knew all this, Chiang Kai-shek would have refused Marshall’s [Gen. George C., the American participant in the negotiations] request for a truce and definitely detained Mao Zedong during the  negotiations in Chongqing, or not detain him but quickly attack with a large army to defeat the CCP army that was not yet receiving Soviet aid. The generals of the Nationalist army would have definitely devoted 100% of their energy to the Huaihai decisive battle to crush the CCP’s attempt. If the KMT could have kept the territory south of the Yangtze River, at least southern China would not have suffered the series of brutal tortures after the establishment of the CCP, and the Han civilization would have been able to flourish instead of being destroyed. Moreover, if the area south of the Yangtze River were a free China, people from all walks of life who were persecuted in the north would also have the opportunity to “defect South” and go to freedom. Southern China would have had enough space and capacity to accept them all, unlike Taiwan today, which generally cannot accommodate the people who try to leave the mainland and go there.
And furthermore, if a free China had half the country, Mao Zedong would not have dared to launch his series of campaigns, especially the Cultural Revolution, because it would inevitably have led to the people seeking refuge in the south. If Free China had such an area and population, as well as the corresponding economic size and military strength, it would have been enough to deter a North China ruled by the CCP.
But all of this is idle fantasy. The fact is that the CCP has ruled mainland China, while the KMT only retained Taiwan, Penghu, and Jinma. The population under its rule has to this point not exceeded 25 million, which is less than one-fiftieth of that of the mainland. Therefore, in the face of the ravages and toxicity of the CCP on the mainland, there is nothing that can be done.
And misjudgment, credulity, and soft-heartedness were not only the province of the KMT and others within China, but also of the United States. During the World War II, the communist redoubt at Yan’an displayed a strong pro-American attitude. In the presence of a US military inspection team, Yan’an carried out a series of political performances showing its enlightened democracy, and successfully confused many left-leaning young American officers who could be described as ignorant about the world. The Xinhua Daily also published many articles praising American democracy, and Mao Zedong also publicly claimed that the CCP would emulate it. After victory in World War II, the CCP also continued to express its favor toward the United States in order to win it over and drive a wedge between the United States and the KMT governments.
This made people throughout US military and political circles not hate or even have a good impression of the CCP. But the corruption of the Nationalist government disgusted them. Marshall, who was mediating the conflict between the KMT and the CCP at the time, believed that the army of the former was in no way capable of destroying that of the latter, and he used his power as the special envoy of the president to firmly oppose the KMT army’s recovery of the Japanese and puppet territory forcibly taken over by the Communist army, and even embargoed weapons. At the same time, the United States overall had little support for the KMT government. Military and economic assistance was delayed, and the U.S. held back the Nationalist army at the critical moment of the civil war.
At that time, the United States generally hoped that China would establish a democratic coalition government composed of the KMT, the CCP, and a third force, to lead a unified and democratic China that would be close to the United States, and work with it to fight against the Soviet Union and suppress Japan. Therefore, it tried to mediate between the KMT and the CCP. Even when the mediation failed, the United States still did not intervene forcefully. They believe that the CCP was similar to the KMT, and also a nationalist force rather than pure communists.
It was not until Mao Zedong wrote “Farewell, Leighton Stuart” [in August, 1949] that the United States woke up from its slumber and saw the true attitude of Mao Zedong and the CCP toward the United States. And a few months later, North Korea’s Kim Il Sung launched a southward invasion with the support of the CCP, which shocked the United States into awareness. At this time, the United States decided to retain the Nationalist government that had retreated to Taiwan, and dispatched the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Straits.
Although its response was better late than never, for the Chinese people it was too late. As the Korean War ended with a peaceful armistice, and the CCP received a large amount of aid from the Soviet Union through its “one-sided” policy, amid a series of brutal internal suppressions the CCP gained enduring control of mainland China in the mid-1950s, which continues to this day. In the past 70 years, except for a few periods when there was a short “honeymoon period” between China and the United States due to the need to oppose the Soviet Union, most of the time China under the CCP has been in a confrontational posture with the United States. Moreover, even in the period of relative friendship between the two, there were only overlapping interests in some diplomatic fields such as confronting the Soviet Union. The fundamental interests, ideologies, and social models of both sides have always had essential differences and irreconcilable contradictions.
Moreover, after entering the 21st century, China, with its rapid economic development, has gradually become the second largest economy in the world after the United States. And its comprehensive national strength and international influence are also second only to those of the U.S., and at least in some areas China can compete with it. After going through three waves of democratization (if one counts the “Arab Spring”, there have been four waves) of democratization, with most countries in the world having achieved democracy or at least partial democracy, China, the world’s most populous nation, the third largest country in terms of land area, a comprehensive superpower with the second largest national strength, is still a conservative, stubborn totalitarian state with a high degree of autocracy, a serious lack of rights and freedom for its citizens, and relatively closed to the outside world.
Moreover, communist China has long since abandoned any ideal of communism and the socialist model (even Lenin-Stalin-style “socialism”), and has transformed instead into a cruel, obstinate regime dominated by social Darwinism as its actual “core value.” The cruel exploitation and bullying of the disadvantaged, the poor, women, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT people and the other disadvantaged people is a hell for such groups.
It has also formed complete or quasi-alliances with Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria and other countries to form an autocratic camp to oppose the free and democratic camp centered on developed countries in Europe and the United States, and to export authoritarian dictatorial political power to more developing countries. This “China model” is characterized by human-rights violations and oppression of the weak.
Today’s China is not only one of the few remaining strongholds of autocracy in the world, but also the biggest obstacle to a more civilized and progressive one. 1.4 billion people have become its government’s tools, consumables, hostages, and more than 9 million square kilometers of land have become a platform for its manufacturing, storage, utilization, and export of ugliness. With more than 70 years of rule, it has become more proficient in surviving and being active on the international stage. Its size makes it difficult for Europe and the United States to lead it to evolve no matter, whether through using hard or soft tactics. Its evolution makes it more and more difficult for it to be restrained, and the world is shrouded in constant restlessness and the danger of being poisoned by it.
And all this could have been nipped in the bud, or at least limited, in 1945-1949. Had that happened, today’s China and the world would have been completely different, and in any case it would be much better than the CCP ruling over China. However, the indecision of the United States and the great misjudgment concerning the CCP have caused the whole world to be have to live under the shadow of the CCP’s totalitarianism for a long while, and the destiny and even the survival of humanity in the future are also at risk. Although the United States might be deeply regretful, it will not help matters if it regards its judgment if and attitude toward the CCP before it took power as its biggest strategic misjudgment of the 20th century.
I think of Liu Cixin’s “Three-Body Problem” [a 2006 science-fiction novel] in which the earthlings, who have come out of a “Great Depression” period and now live with great material abundance and dignity, have become kind and gentle, and their hostility to the enemy “Three-Body People” [an alien species] has become relatively tolerant. People on earth full of warmth and conscientiousness feel that the living conditions of the “Three-Body People” are harsh, and it is quite difficult for them to seek a suitable living space given their hardships, which deserves sympathy and admiration. Even if the “Three-Body People” were to invade successfully for a second time, many people on Earth wouldn’t care about it, thinking that they would not do anything to the people on Earth. The “Three-Body People” take advantage of the kindness of the people on earth, deceive them, move forward, and twice drive the people on the earth to a desperate state, in which they die countless times and are forced to cannibalize others, which eventually leads to the destruction of the earth. Humans become almost completely extinct.
And how similar is the process of the CCP’s control over China, especially the political performances from 1945 to 1949 and the transformation after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, to the nature and behavior of the “Three-Body Men” invading the earth? People from all walks of life in China and the United States are deceived by the CCP. How much do they resemble the earthlings in the novel when they face the “Three-Body Men”? In 1948, people from all walks of life in China, especially intellectuals and peasants, would never have expected that they would fall into the hell of famine and “cannibalism” barely more than ten years later.
Before the establishment of the CCP, people from all walks of life, including members of the KMT and their friends, were full of sympathy and understanding for the CCP revolutionaries, and secretly hoped that they would win. Some “international friends,” such as Edgar Snow [American journalist who interviewed Mao at Yan’an], even wrote “A Journey to the West,” which is quite romantic and idealistic, praising the officers and soldiers of the Red Army who climbed the snow-capped mountains and crossed the fields. Even Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the KMT, expressed his unwillingness to kill his compatriots and abandoned his plan to fight the CCP for a long time during the critical period of the second [1945-1949] KMT-Communist civil war.
People at that time felt that since the CCP had such ideals and had made such sacrifices, let them win and be in power. Since the KMT is corrupt and incompetent, let the CCP try its hand. Although Song Meiling and others had doubted whether the CCP could stick to its original intention after it came to power, since they “hadn’t yet tasted power,” they did not think that the CCP would go so far as to destroy the country and its people after it came to power, at worst it might be just some corruption.
Who could have predicted what would happen next?
If what would be the brutal rule of the CCP had been known in advance, the officers and soldiers of the Nationalist army would definitely have done their best to suppress it, and citizens would have donated their carts to the government and the Nationalist army. Young students would also have denounced the CCP instead of besieging the government. Intellectuals would no longer have criticized the KMT and beautified the CCP. No matter how corrupt the Nationalist government, the KMT, and the national army were, it was much better than what the CCP turned out to be.
Although this might have led to a prolonged civil war between the KMT and the CCP, as with the case of the Korean peninsula the short-term pain would have been far more tolerable than any subsequent long-term pain. Even if the civil war between the KMT and the CCP in mainland China had lasted for more than ten years after 1945, with more than 10 million deaths on both sides, with many cities and villages reduced to scorched earth and rubble, leaving the two sides each occupying half of the mainland as on a peninsula with no one winning, then the fate of the Chinese nation over the next few decades and now would have been much better.
But all were misled, and made the wrong choice. Since then, the fate of China and the world situation have been profoundly changed.
Obviously, the CCP behemoth has done greater, deeper, and more persistent harm to the nation and the entire world it rules than the Kim regime in North Korea. Under its rule, the Han/Chinese nation has almost completely sunk, and is seen hostilely and isolated by the world. And it is also using, misappropriating, and abusing the land, manpower, culture, and historical resources of the Han nationality to enrich itself, oppress the people, and poison the world.
Although China is much better off than North Korea due to reform and opening up and a certain degree of economic and social liberalization, it controls the entire territory of mainland China and its huge population of more than one billion people, and the post-reform “China model” of material prosperity and political dictatorship. Not only is Taiwan unable to contend with the status quo that the world cannot overturn, for the Han nationality and the world, things are much worse than what is generated by overall situation of the Korean nation, where in the south people can reflect on history and eliminate longstanding evils. The difference is like night and day. (The reason why the CCP has existed for a long time and is difficult to cast off internationally is largely due to its huge economic size. The containment and international sanctions of various democratic and free countries can make it difficult for the Kim regime in North Korea to pose a threat to the outside world. Similarly, the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa is largely due to its small size. But it is difficult for a behemoth like the CCP to collapse through sanctions and blockades. On the contrary, its huge size and its ability to engage in “cooperative development” with other countries brings lucrative profits, makes countries eager to collude with it, and thus makes the CCP stronger and stronger).
The irony is that from 1945 to the 1980s, the South Korean National Army massacred leftists, suppressed free and democratic forces, maintained a dictatorship, and was corrupt and dirty. But both subjectively and objectively, it became the defense of the limited freedom of South Koreans at that time and the guarantee of the full prosperity of South Korea they came to enjoy, and the backbone of a high degree of liberal democracy. The many anti-human rights and even anti-human actions of the Korean National Army effectively curbed invasion and infiltration by the absolutely totalitarian communist forces in the north to a certain extent. The South Korean national army guarded the peninsula south of the 38th parallel and tens of millions of citizens there like an iron wall. Without their existence and these actions, the area south of the 38th parallel would have been reduced to another region ruled over by the Kim dynasty. Like the mainland under the CCP’s rule of China, there would be no free area, becoming instead an absolute colony for dictators to take whatever they wanted. The entire nation would also be like the Han people are now, used, consumed, set against other, degenerate.
Chu Anping, a politician and journalist in the early days when the CCP and the Republic of China ruled together, once said, “Under the rule of the KMT, China’s democracy is a question of ‘more’ or ‘less’; under CCP rule, it is a question of ‘exist’ or ‘don’t exist.’” The right-wing military government, which mixed conservatism with liberalism, was dirty, corrupt and violent, but there was still room for freedom and democracy under its rule, and for resistance. In the early days, both before taking power and in the initial period of holding it, the self-proclaimed left-wing Leninist-Stalinist red totalitarianism was quite clean, self-disciplined, and honest, but it monopolized all power and took away all freedoms, and from then on turned around and became evil, leaving the people to be be led to the slaughter by the regime, unable to resist.
Moreover, the CCP took advantage of the limited freedom of speech/press/association allowed under the Nationalist government, and through extensive participation of workers, peasants and students, the support of intellectuals, and the misjudgment and “softness” by all other parties to seize power. After doing so, it was most wary of other forces subverting its regime in the same way, so it suppressed the freedom of speech/press/association, banned worker-peasant and student movements, persecuted independent intellectuals, and used reprehensible methods to do all this. It would not tolerate in the name of compassion being overthrown by the public “taking advantage of loopholes.” And these behaviors of the CCP also reflected its extremely ugly nature in repeatedly turning back and forth, its lies, its double standards, its cruelty.
People in those times were attracted by lofty ideals and deceived by half-truths and simplicity, and later regretted it. Most people in the country then had never seen things clearly, and wanted to understand what kind of power the CCP was, who its members were, what they had experienced, what their moral standards and methods were, what goals they had, and what changes they would bring. As the Chinese say, all parties “measured the belly of a villain with the heart of a gentleman,” so they were successfully deceived, used, and slaughtered by the CCP, a situation that has lasted for more than 70 years, and shows no signs of ending.
This piece was translated from Yibao Chinese. If republished, please be sure to add the source and link https://www.yibao.net/2023/09/04/looking-back-on-…o-power-in-china before the text when reposting.
The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of this journal.