A Very Very Short History of the CCP (4): From the 2nd United Front to Winning the War

Part 4 – From the 2nd United Front to Winning the War

The CCP and its Red Army divisions finally reached Yan’an between 1935 and 1936. Yan’an was located in the arid and impoverished Northwestern China. But there was a CCP controlled base in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region. It was the only surviving CCP base at that point. Interestingly, the northward retreating Red Army only found it out by accidently after they had already entered the northwest area.

This base became the new Central Soviet Territory, and Yan’an, a small town, would become the new capital of the CCP from 1935 to 1948. From here it would recover, rebuild, expand, and eventually took over China.

After surviving the Long March, the Red Army was in a dire situation and desperately need assistance to rebuilt itself.

Good news reached them. An American journalist called Edgar Snow wanted to come to Yan’an to find out what the Red Army was all about. Mao saw it as a golden opportunity to use Snow to spread the propaganda about the CCP and the Red Army to the outside world. At that time most Chinese believed that CCP and Red Army were wipe off the face of the earth.

A call went out in Yan’an asking participants to submit written account of their experience and stories of the Long March. Some three hundred memoirs were collected. After careful censorship, about 100 were selected which were to be offered to Snow.

Snow finally made his way to Yan’an. He was the very first western visitor. He received a warm welcome. He was shown what the CCP wanted him to see. He was told what the CCP wanted him to hear. Snow was impressed. He left with those so called “source” materials and first-hand interviews with Mao and many other high officials.

With the publication of his book “Red Star Over China”, Snow told the world the so-called “truth” about the CCP and its heroic and epic Long March. He single-handedly managed to turn around public’s views on the CCP from curiosity to sympathy. Inspired by Snow, many other western journalists went to Yan’an. One of them was Agnes Smedley from America, who wrote a rosy biograph of CCP general Zu De.

These books also made a profound impact on Chinese youth and intellectuals who started to look up the CCP as the future for China. Tens of thousands eventually made their way to Yan’an to join the Communists. Among them were two of my uncles.

After the Red Army arrived in Yan’an, the Nationalist government resumed its encirclement campaign against the CCP using the Northeast Army Division. The Northeastern region of China had been under Japanese control since 1931, where they established a new puppet regime named “Manchuria”.

The CCP accused the KMT government of treason for not resisting Japanese but using the Northeast Army Division to attack fellow Chinese. It resonated with the public.

On December 12, 1936, General Zhang Xueliang of the Northeast Army Division, who was the deputy commander-in-chief of the encirclement campaign launched a coup in Xi’an, detaining Chiang Kai-shek and demanded that he immediately abandon his policy of suppressing Communists and adapting the new policy of working with the CCP to form the joint force in resisting the Japanese advances. This is called Xi’an Incident.

Chiang Kai-shek was forced to accept demand which led to the 2nd United Front.

In 1937 Japanese troop instigated an incident in Beijing, and used it as an excuse to launch attack on Nationalist army. Sino-Japanese war formally broke out.

The Japanese advance was overwhelming. Large territories were quickly lost. In December of 1937, the Japanese army took over the Capital of Nanjing. The Nationalist government was forced to retreat to Chongqing in mountainous Sichuan province in the Southwest.

During the 2nd United Front, the Red Army was rebranded as the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army. Now they were supposedly to fight together with the Nationalists against the Japanese.

The Sino-Japanese war, as part of the WWII, lasted until 1945 ending with the final defeat of Japan.

CCP claimed that it was the mainstay of the war. What was the actually role the CCP played and the contribution it made to the final victory?

The fact is that it was the KMT that did the most of the fighting. By the end of the war, it lost 75% of its troops, suffered more than 3.41 million casualties, and a total of 206 national army generals died in the war.

According to the CCP’s own statistics, it suffered 610,000 casualties, and lost one general.

This was indeed CCP strategy. Their formula was 70% effort should be on expanding its forces, 20% on pretending to fight, and 10% on actual fighting.

Zhang Guotao, a CCP senior leader who later defected, recorded in his memoir that Mao advocated that the CCP led troops should persist in guerrilla warfare, avoid frontal conflict with the Japanese army, and avoid the real battle situation. The main task was to build up the strength of the CCP forces and establish its own bases in the enemy’s rear.

Mao was reported saying later after taking over China that the Japanese helped to create the condition which made it possible for the CCP to win the ensuing Civil War.

With the Japanese gone and the war was over, the question was how to govern China and by who.

Both United States and the Soviet Russia would play a key role on this matter to determine the future of China.

The Soviet Russia was doing anything it could to help the CCP. After taking over the Manchuria, a strategic territory with many heavy industrial bases left behind by the Japanese, the Soviet handed it over to the CCP.

During the last year of the Sino-Japanese War, the United State launched the Dixie Mission to provide military support to the CCP to fight against the Japanese hoping the CCP would provide relief of the US troops fighting in the Pacific Theatre.

The Dixie Mission tried to help to facilitate the negotiation between the Nationalists and the Communists. Many in the mission were known as Communist sympathizing progressives. One of such members is John Service, known in the State Dept as the “China Hand” and definitely a Communist sympathizer. General George Marshall was also sent to China to help to build a united government. Few of the Truman’s representatives were firm anti Communists.

At best, General Marshal was naïve about the Communists whom he was dealing with. Here is an example. After a flight, General Marshall’s assistant found a notebook accidentally left on the plane by the future Premier Zhou Enlai. When the assistant handed over the notebook to the Gen., Marshall ordered the assistant to return the notebook to Zhou without even opening it. He must have thought himself a gentleman. And he must have considered the Communists competitors not adversaries, using today’s term.

The negotiation failed. The 2nd United Front broke up, again. Civil war became inevitable. At this point, US had given up on the Nationalists believing that they would not win.

Now the strength between the Nationalists and the Communists had dramatically changed. After the first United Front breakup, Nationalists held overwhelming superiority. Not this time around. Before the Sino-Japanese war the CCP had about 56,000 troops. After the war, it had increased to 1.3 million.** In addition, it had modern weapons provided by both the Soviet and the Americans.

Apart from fighting the KMT on the battlefields, the CCP also opened a so-called second front in cities by recruiting progressive youths, intellectuals, and sympathizers within the KMT government and by instigating strikes and protests against the KMT government all across the country. All these greatly helped the CCP to win the propaganda war.

The bloody and destructive Civil War lasted for four years, ending in 1949 with the CCP victorious and the Nationalists fleeing to the island of Taiwan.

25 years later, Gen. Zhang Xueliang, who staged the coup against Chiang Kai-sek in 1937, admitted in an interview in Taiwan that he failed to understand the nature of the Communists. He thought it was possible to cooperate with the CCP to fight against the common enemy of the Japanese invaders, and to build a new country. The Communist Party had deceived the entire nation, including himself, he said.

Wonder whether General George Marshall had similar reflection.

Definitely, the United States did not do much reflection on its failure to stop Communism in China. History repeated itself only a couple decades later when Nixon decided to work with the CCP against the Soviet Russia. He must have believed that this time it would be different.