Today's selection -- from Chiang Kai-Shek by Jonathan Fenby. In 1947, it looked certain that Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists would triumph over Mao Zedong and the Communists in the battle for China, but mismanagement of the economy and crippling hyperinflation destroyed his chances:
"On 7 August 1947, Chiang Kai-shek flew over the loess country of northern Shaanxi to the town [of Yan'an] where Mao had found his haven at the end of the [now legendary] Long March. The Generalissimo walked briskly through Yan'an, accompanied by a triumphant group of generals led by General Hu Zongnan, the 'Eagle of the North-West' who had ring-fenced the base area during the war with Japan.
"[Hu] had taken Yan'an without a fight -- the Communist leadership had already trekked out. The place was of no importance in itself, and the bleak countryside of northern Shaanxi offered no benefits for the Nationalists. But that meant little beside the symbolism of having forced Mao and his colleagues to flee once more, the Communist leader on a horse while his troops marched round him. Chiang went to see Mao's house and the long tunnel connecting it to Zhu De's headquarters as Nationalist photographers took snaps of poppies and the 'Local Product Company' building to show that the Communists had been dealing in opium.
"A combination of huge forces, American supplies and transport, plus some good generalship in the north had put Chiang in what looked like an unassailable position in the first eighteen months after the end of the war with Japan. Mercenary armies came back under the Nationalist flag. He had the active support of the China Lobby in the United States, combining politicians in Washington, a network of businessmen round T. V. Soong and H. H. Kung, and the influence of [Time magazine and the other Henry] Luce magazines. The Republican, Thomas Dewey, seemed well placed to beat Truman in the 1948 presidential election -- after a visit to America, Chen Lifu told a Shanghai newspaper that this would mean 'extraordinary measures' to send military aid to China. But, as so often, Chiang's position was more hollow than it appeared. By the time he walked through Yan'an, his military fortunes had peaked, and the disintegration of areas under Nationalist control was racing ahead.
"Hyperinflation was destroying the middle classes and honest officials; wholesale prices in Shanghai rose by 45 per cent in a single month. The mother of the author of Wild Swans, Jung Chang, had to hire a rickshaw to carry the huge pile of notes needed to pay her school fees in the Manchurian city of Jinzhou where beggars tried to sell their children for food. Labour unrest grew -- there were 4,200 strikes in Shanghai in 1946-47. In some universities, police agents masquerading as students patrolled the campuses with guns under their gowns searching for subversives. In [Beijing], troops fired on a protest by 3,000 students, killing several. In Kunming, five dissidents were shot by police, and more than 1,000 were held in a jail, pulled out of the cells at midnight to kneel in the gravel yard while soldiers waved bayonets at them and told them to confess to being Communists -- the American journalist Jack Belden added that more than thirty were buried alive. The protests were encouraged by the Communists, but were, above all, a sign of war-weariness and alienation from a regime that had nothing more to offer.
"Not that support for the Communists was as widespread and automatic as subsequent propaganda would assert. The party demonstrated great skill in organising the peasantry, but its revolution was often imposed rather than being the result of spontaneous popular uprising."
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Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost
Author: Jonathan Fenby
Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright 2003 by Jonathan Fenby
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