|Chapter Two||Contents Page||Chapter Four|
FORTY YEARS OF CHINA
Copyright © 1988 Hedley P. Bunton
Chapter 3 - The Early and Middle Thirties
1933 - 1937
Just before I left for China one of my close friends said to me, "Good-bye, old chap, I don't suppose I'll ever see you again. The Chinese bandits will get you."
However, when we arrived China seemed very peaceful. The era of bandits and warlords was coming to an end and the unification of the country under Chiang Kai-shek was progressing. Canton was under General Chan Chai-tong who controlled Kwangtung Province. Most of the other provinces had military governors. The "Christian General", Feng Yu-hsiang, was still on the scene in the north. The "Old Marshal", Chang Tso-lin, the war lord of Manchuria, had, a few years previously, been murdered by the Japanese in Manchuria and his son, Chang Hsueh-liang, the "Young Marshal", had succeeded him. He joined forces with the Nationalists after the Japanese pushed him out of Manchuria in 1931 and based his army in Sian, the capital of Shensi Province.
The importance of the soldier in China was a comparatively recent thing. For centuries the social scale had been, in order of importance, scholar, farmer, artisan, merchant. The soldier did not rate a mention.
Those classes were not rigid or exclusive because there had always been democratic processes in some areas of life among the Chinese people. Any bright boy, whether from a wealthy, privileged family or from a poor farmer's family, was allowed to sit for the imperial examinations which led to official position, the mandarinate, fame and fortune. As I travelled around the rural areas of Kwangtung I sometimes came to a tiny village with a tall, red pole with a special top to it. It showed that one of its sons had made good in the nation wide imperial examinations and become an official, thus bringing honour to his clan.
Such villages, tens of thousands of them scattered throughout China, knew little of the Emperor and his authority. The Emperor and his officials were content to receive tribute from their representatives in the provinces who got it from the wealthy merchants and landlords who in turn got it from the masses.
The villagers were governed by village elders so, as most villages were clan villages, they were governed by their grandfathers and old uncles. The warlord era upset the old system. The warlords were mostly a rapacious lot and often taxed the people in their areas for years ahead. If they were defeated by a neighbouring warlord, then he would impose more taxes as the previous one had fled with his loot. The people were really bled. In some cases they were taxed ten and twenty years in advance.
Our senior colleagues in Canton had lived through a tumultuous and interesting
phase of history in the decade before we arrived.
After Sun Yat-sen decided to accept help from the Russian Communists, another soviet representative, Mikhail Borodin, arrived in Canton in October 1923. Russia advised the small Chinese Communist Party (CCP), founded two years before in Shanghai, to get into the Nationalist revolution by becoming members of the Kuomintang (KMT). This was Stalin's idea and apparently was one of the causes of the bitter quarrel between him and Trotsky who thoroughly disapproved of the move. Sun Yat-sen agreed on condition that the communists pledged allegiance to his "Three Principles of the People" and obedience to KMT regulations. They accepted although earlier, at the Fourth Conference of the Communist International in Moscow, the Chinese delegate, Liu Jen-ching, said, "We shall be able to gather the masses around us and split the KMT" (See Note 1)
Borodin won the confidence of Sun Yat-sen and was set to work to draft a new constitution for the KMT in which he included many elements of Soviet Communist organisation. In January 1924 the First Congress of the KMT was held and approved Sun Yat-sen's policy of cooperation with Russia and the Chinese Communists. It also proclaimed his "Three Principles" as the policy of the new China.
In May 1924, the Whampoa Military Academy was opened 13 miles below Canton on the Pearl River. A Russian, General Blucher (V.K. Calen), was the leader of a number of Soviet military advisers. The first Commandant was Chiang Kai-shek and the head of the political department was Chou En-lai.
An interesting sidelight of those years is that a young man named Nguyen
Ai Quoc from Indo-China was in Canton with Borodin. He was training cadres
for the Indo-China Communist Pay and eventually became leader of that pay.
He was Ho Chi-minh.
Before he died in March 1925, Sun Yat-sen said to Chiang Kai-shek, "China has no room for the existence together of Communism and the Kuomintang. We have to admit the Communists into the Kuomintang and convert them, and the "Three Principles" will serve as a good melting pot." (See note 2). Sun underestimated the Communists as well as the power of the Communist ideology.
After Sun Yat-sen's death Borodin, feeling that the Communists could move to take over the KMT, began to exercise stronger leadership. Chiang Kai-shek, who was away from Canton leading the Northern Expedition to bring the war-lords under control, had to bide his time before stepping into Sun Yat-sen's shoes because Borodin had, in effect, stepped into them first.
Borodin, with his objectives set for the whole of China, managed, with the help of the left wingers in the KMT, to have the government moved from Canton to Hankow (now Hankou, part of Wuhan).
By April 1927, Chiang, who had made his headquarters in Nanking, decided that the time had come to move against the Chinese Communists in the KMT as they were trying to take over the Nationalist revolution. In Shanghai he set in motion a bloody purge and, with the aid of certain sections of the Shanghai underworld, his soldiers massacred thousands of Communists and their supporters in surprise attacks. The same thing happened in Canton and other southern cities. The left wing dominated Hankow government retaliated by dismissing Chiang as Commander in Chief. He countered by setting up an opposition government in Nanking. Borodin then tried to get the Hankow government to launch its own northern expedition and build up a strong army to overthrow Chiang. This failed with the war lords upon whom Hankow counted for help. They did not want to cooperate with a Communist led government.
Eventually, in July, the left wing KMT in Hankow outlawed the Chinese Communist Party and was reconciled with Chiang Kai-shek and his Nanking Government. The Russian advisers returned to Moscow and the Chinese Communists began to plan uprisings. Mao Tse-tung went back to his home province of Hunan to reorganise the Communist party, to set up a peasant worker army, and to plan uprisings among the peasants. Chou En-lai went to Nanchang in Kiangsi to organise another armed uprising. Both of these uprisings failed in the face of KMT armed strength in these areas.
Our colleagues remembered and told us about the Communist uprising in Canton which followed those other two. Stalin had sent two new agents to organise it, as he wanted a Communist victory in China to make up for the failure of his policy of allowing Communists to become KMT members against Trotsky's advice. For three days, from 11th to 13th December, there was chaos and the streets ran blood. The Communists took the city on the first day, set up a commune and elected a chairman. However, the KMT troops arrived and the uprising failed, but not before fire destroyed much of the city and thousands of people were killed.
The Communists retreated through the East River district on the way to the Kwangtung-Kiangsi border to join up with Mao. In October he had moved from Hunan into Kiangsi and set up a Soviet Government in the Chingkang mountains, bordering Hunan and Kwangtung. In May 1928, Chu Teh joined Mao, their forces combined, and eventually became the famous Fourth Red Army with Chu Teh as commander and Mao as political commissar. Other Red Armies sprang up and there were successes during the next few years in some of the provinces south of the Yangtze. Lin Piao was in command of one of those armies.
The Communist regime spread across the border with Fukien into the Tingchow area where some of our colleagues were. They held it from 1929 to 1934. Chiang Kai-shek began the first Extermination Campaign against the Red Army at the end of 1930, but it failed. More campaigns followed and they failed too. In October 1933 the fifth campaign started and we became aware of it through the talk of civil war and an independence movement in South Fukien. There was a lot of discussion as to whether our Kwangtung Province would remain with Chiang Kai-shek or join in with neighbouring Fukien. Our warlord military governor, Chan Chai-tong, decided to stay with Chiang. His troops were thick in Canton and in the East River and were guarding the border next to Fukien.
The KMT forces, however, were making things too hot for the Communist
regime. By October and November of 1934 they were being driven out of Fukien
and Kiangsi, and retreating in what was to become known as to Long March.
One of my colleagues, going back into the Tingchow district after the Communists had been pushed out, wrote in early 1935:
"Life under the Communist regime has been a nightmare, people not knowing from day to day if they would be seized and put in prison or to death on some trumped-up charge. Naeng Fa, sixty miles north of Tingchow, is the place that suffered most from the Communists. It is only a small city of not more than 30,000 inhabitants, and there 12,700 people were killed by the Reds - not soldier, but ordinary people. Whole streets are now deserted and whole families wiped out. So glad were the Tingchow people to be rid of the Reds that they knelt in the streets to welcome their rescuers. Out of a population of 40,000 in the city, however, only about 4,000 families now remain." (See note 3)To many Chinese the words "Communist" and "bandit" meant one and the same thing. I remember telling our language teachers that some of our friends in Australia called themselves Christian Communists. They were horrified and said that it was impossible to be a Christian and a Communist.
In the first few months of 1934 pirates were busy on the China coast.
Four ships were pirated and passengers and crew held to ransom. The large
river boats we travelled on between Canton and Hong Kong had piracy precautions.
Iron grilles protected the officers' quarters and the navigating section
of the ship from the passenger areas. There were armed guards on board.
In the same period bandits were operating in the eastern corner of our
province inland from the port of Swatow.
New Life Movement
In March 1934 Generalissimo and Madame Chiang launched the New Life
Movement. Through it they hoped to revitalise the nation. It was an attempt
to provide an alternative to communism. It was not only a revival of Confucian
ethics but also an expression of the Generalissimo's newly found Christian
faith. The Chiangs hoped to bring moral and spiritual renewal to the nation.
Madame Chiang was the youngest daughter of Charles Soong who had been a Methodist minister but later went into business printing and publishing Christian literature. He was a friend and supporter of Sun Yat-sen who was often in their home in Shanghai. There were three boys and three girls. Four of them became so famous that they were called "the Soong dynasty". One of the boys, T.V. Soong, became Prime Minister of China and the eldest girl, Ai-ling, married H.H. Kung who, for some years, was China's Finance Minister. The second girl, Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen (Plate 3), and the third, Mei-ling, married Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang, like Sun Yat-sen, had been engaged in childhood to a village girl and, also like him, was divorced preparatory to marrying a Soong daughter. Mrs Soong was against Chiang marrying her daughter because he was not a Christian. She told him that he would have to become a Christian if he wanted to marry Mei-ling. Chiang's reply was that he would not become a Christian just to get a wife. If he ever became a Christian it would be because he sincerely believed in God. However, he did promise the mother that he would read the Bible every day and then decide. This satisfied Mrs Soong and the marriage took place in December 1927.
The aims of the New Life Movement were summed up and popularised in four Chinese words representing the ancient virtues. They stood for:-
politeness and propriety;
righteousness and justice;
integrity in personal and public life;
The badge was a compass needle in the middle of the Nationalist emblem for China - the white flaming sun on a blue background. Living by these ideals the nation would move straight ahead The Movement tackled the problems of graft and corruption and severe penalties were laid down for government officials proved guilty of such conduct.
In the national capital, Nanking, 200 groups of students were trained and sent out to explain it to the public. Thirteen stations were set up for mass talks by leaders, and civic and religious organisations all over the country were asked to cooperate.
Canton took it up enthusiastically. Special slogans went up to encourage the masses, and teams of students went from the city into the villages to talk to the peasant farmers, explain the slogans, and give talks on health, hygiene and new methods of agriculture.
Some criticised it because, in the city, students and others in the first flush of enthusiasm checked people in public for smoking or being slovenly dressed.
Police cautioned the fashionably dressed ladies for wearing their beautiful Chinese gowns with the side slits showing too much leg. However, it did do much to clean up the country and there was a distinct effect upon the evils of gambling and opium smoking. We were impressed at the way in which mah-jong suddenly seemed to cease. We lived surrounded on all sides by Chinese houses in which mah-jong was played daily. Especially in the hot weather when all windows were open, the clatter of the tiles on the tables seemed to go on all night. Gambling is an essential feature of the game with Chinese. Soon after the New Life Movement started, the noise from the neighbouring houses ceased almost overnight. Opium dens were closed and centres set up to help addicts overcome the habit. The city was tidied up, there was a new sense of purpose in people's living and the realisation that every body had a part in the renewal of the country.
The Movement did a lot of good in the three years it lasted but, as the Generalissimo said at one stage, "The success of the revolution depends upon men of character". It became clear, nevertheless, that the new China could not be established by rules and regulations however good and noble.
At the end of those three years the Japanese invaded China, and the
whole nation became involved in a struggle for its existence. If Chiang
had been free from the Japanese and civil wars he may have been able to
carry through successfully the reforms he started in the nation.
Visit to North China
In July and August of 1934, we went with our eight month old son, John, to North China for a holiday away from the tropical heat. I was to consult with a colleague there who had a wide experience of training and working in the kind of programme I would be helping with in South China. We travelled up the coast by boat to Tientsin and from there by rail to Peitaiho, a seaside holiday place 170 miles east of Peking. (Now called Beidaihe.)
It was whilst there that we both had an experience that gave new direction and depth to our thinking and living. We learned how to live our faith more effectively. The friends we were staying with, and others we met, had experienced something new themselves through the Oxford Group which later became known as Moral Re-Armament.
They spoke of the guidance of God and of Christ's absolute standards - absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. We knew about guidance because, in all the important events of our life such as what we were to be, engagement, marriage, and going out to China, we had, we believed, been guided by God. The new thing for us was the decision to seek that guidance every day in what we had previously thought of as the little things. As for absolute standards, we did not see how we could possibly live them. I read, however, that J. P. Thornton-Duesbery, Master of St Peter's College, Oxford, had called them "The distilled essence of the Sermon on the Mount". I decided to accept them as the standards to aim for in my daily living.
I had, for many years, been conscious of wrong things I had said and done and never made any attempt to put right. Pride, fear and irresponsibility had prevented me from apologising where an apology was needed, asking forgiveness when necessary, and making restitution when and where it should have been made. I checked my life, past and present, alongside those standards, wrote down the thoughts that came and then asked God to show me what to do about them. I promised to obey, however difficult it might be. As I did obey, problems in living that had bothered me for years disappeared, relationships were put right and a new freedom and power came into my life. My wife and I moved along together in this way.
From Peitaiho we travelled by train to Peking and spent three days there. In 1100 B.C. there was a town called Chi on the site where Peking now stands. In A.D. 1264-1267 Kublai Khan built a city that included the old site and called it Khanbalig (Cambaluc), or City of the Great Khan.
It was a soft, misty sunset when we caught from afar off the first glimpse of the glistening, golden roofs of the palaces and other imperial buildings of Peking. The train wound around outside the massive stone walls and stopped at a modern station near the south east gate. We drove through the city gate with its magnificent painted archways, on through the wide streets until we turned into a narrow side street between houses which were so different from Canton where the front doors opened onto the street. Here every house was built around a courtyard behind a high wall. In every courtyard was at least one tree, often many, and a garden. From street level we imagined that ordinary Peking was ugly and a city of dull walls. However, next day, looking down on the city from Coal Hill inside the Winter Palace grounds, it appeared a forest of trees above which shone the yellow and blue tiled roofs of the many large buildings belonging to China's past.
The ground plan of Peking was like a set of boxes fitting into each other. In the centre was the Forbidden City with its own high red walls. Here the Emperors and their families lived. Around that was the Imperial City with its walls and beyond that the Tartar City with walls that enclosed all three. South of them was the Chinese City. The Tatar City was so called because, when the Tartars (Mongols) swooped down from the north, they took the city from the Chinese, lived in it themselves, and forced the Chinese to live outside the walls and build this Chinese City. The Peking we saw was built by the Emperor Yung Lo, the third of the Ming dynasty, at the beginning of the 15th century.
It was in the Winter Palace that we had a great disappointment. Friends had said, "You must see the Jade Buddha". I made sure of finding it. To my surprise it was dull white and only a few feet in height whereas I had been expecting a large, sparkling green image. I knew nothing about jade in those days, so it was my first lesson.
The Temple of the Happy Year, often wrongly called the Temple of Heaven, was the most beautiful of all the beautiful buildings in Peking. The base, like the Altar of Heaven, was circular, three tiered and made of white marble with deeply carved balustrades around each of the three terraces. On the top terrace was the round, triple roofed temple. It was over a hundred feet high with three roofs of glazed azure tiles surmounted by a rounded golden peak. The three roofs were supported by red lacquered pillars which were straight trunks of single trees. The outside walls between the pillars were of intricately carved wooden lattice work of many designs. As ever, the eaves and the ceiling were in multi-coloured patterns. Inside it was quite empty.
The significant thing about the whole Temple of Heaven area and buildings, in contrast to all other temples excepting the Confucian Temple, was the absence of idols and gods. It indicated the ancient Chinese belief in one Supreme Being.
We went out to the Summer Palace some miles west of the city beyond
Yenching University which we also visited and met more of our LMS colleagues.
The Summer Palace was extensive with its serene lake, lotus blossoms, island,
seventeen arch bridge, and elegant "Jade Belt" or camel back bridge. Incongruous
was the Marble Boat sitting on the bottom of the lake a few feet from the
shore. We had afternoon tea on the upper deck.
The story we were told was that the Empress Dowager, Tzu Hsi, built the Summer Palace (Plate 4) with the twenty four million taels of silver that had been set apart to build a navy. The old Summer Palace had been sacked and burnt by the Allied Forces of the West in 1860 and the Empress Dowager had nowhere to go to escape the summer heat. It was ready for her 60th birthday. The Marble Boat was the only navy that was built from that money.
Three days to see the glories and treasures of China's culture when we should have had at least three months. No wonder that, for weeks afterwards, we suffered from mental and aesthetic indigestion.
Going back to Tientsin to get our ship to Canton we felt as though we
had already stepped right out of China into a western city.
Home in Canton again with that brief experience of the background of ancient China and its culture, we plunged once more into the new China.
As I was getting near to the end of my second year of language study, I was due to be appointed by the Kwangtung Synod of the Church of Christ in China to the job they wanted me to do. The men and women of the LMS and other societies worked in this Church under Chinese leadership. It was a united church which began in Canton in 1918 and eventually had affiliated with it seventeen denominational bodies from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. It embraced over three thousand churches, hospitals, schools and other institutions in most of China's provinces. The Church of Christ in China was fully self governing and of the churches, more than one third were self supporting. In our province two thirds of the churches were independent of outside money, although here, as in the rest of China, additional aid from overseas came in the form of ministers, teachers, doctors and nurses.
From the beginning I worked under Chinese leaders. I was appointed to the Fourth District, one of the ten districts in our provincial synod. It was appropriate that this was the East River with which the LMS had been associated for seventy five years.
My first visit was with Mr Cousins whom I was to succeed. He took me
to visit churches and schools where I met my Chinese co-workers. We went
first to Poklo travelling forty miles by train to Sheklung (Stone Dragon)
and then by tow boat up the river another fifty miles.
Poklo was the scene of the first Protestant martyrdom in China, and I often passed the spot where he was killed outside the city wall. In 1865, Che Kam Kong went to Hong Kong for a visit, heard one of our people, and a year later became a Christian. During the next five years he passed on his new faith to over a hundred people in Poklo. The elders were alarmed that so many were deserting the old gods for the foreign god and worried that this would bring disaster to the city. They warned Che to stop but he refused. In 1861 they had him kidnapped and tortured to make him recant. They threatened him with death but he said: "You may kill my body but you cannot destroy my soul". They took him outside the East Gate (Plate 5) to a place high above the river, killed him, cut his body up and threw it down into the stream.
From Poklo the other towns and villages we visited were within a radius of sixty miles and we usually walked to them, doing up to twenty miles a day. The baggage was carried by a man with suitcases and kit bags slung from the two ends of a carrying pole across his shoulders. On these treks there were occasionally rumours of bandits in the places where the narrow track wound between lonely hills. In the spring the hills were ablaze with wild azaleas. Mostly the "road" was a raised path through rice fields, now and again leading off into tiny villages and out again into more rice fields. It was barely wide enough for two people to pass and not wide enough to pass a water buffalo. We foreigners were well advised not to dispute the right of way with a water buffalo because, not being used to our kind of body odour, he was likely to become excited and push us off into the slushy, muddy field below.
As I moved among the villages and towns I did not come across or hear of hunger or starvation. There was plenty of food, clothing and other necessities of life. The church people were not wealthy landowners or businessmen but mostly farmers and small shopkeepers. They lived simply and their needs were few. Their main interests were their children and grandchildren, getting enough from farm and shop to feed them, and maybe save a bit of money to buy a small piece of land to pass on to them
Their houses were dark and small by modern standards with few comforts or conveniences. They lived crowded together as their ancestors had done for centuries, mainly for protection against bandits and evil spirits, and because they were used to living that way. They would have felt lonely and unhappy living, as we did, in separate houses and away from parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents and grandchildren.
They were not interested in Nationalists or Communists because of the many killings in the areas under their control during the 1927-1934 years and the stories that had filtered across the Fukien and Kiangsi borders.
Those who rented their tiny rice fields had to pay a high percentage
of their harvest as rent, but they usually had left enough to spare for
their needs. It was when a harvest failed that trouble came. After a bad
season a farmer would have to borrow grain for sowing, and after the next
harvest divide the grain into three - some for the landlord, some for the
man who had lent the seed grain, and what was left for himself and his
family. If that harvest failed, then crippling debt. We longed to see farming
cooperatives set up as had been done in Japan.
On these visits deep into the rural areas (Plate 6), most of the people I passed on the narrow tracks through the rice fields and on the hills had never seen a foreigner before. When my Chinese colleagues and I stopped at the make-shift tea shelters to rest, and for a couple of coppers get a pot of the twangy tea made from "mountain" or local tea leaves, they would stare and listen in amazement when I spoke to them. They found it hard to believe that I could speak and read Chinese, and when I replied to their questioning that I could write some Chinese characters, they were more surprised. This was a common experience with country people.
Chiang Kai-shek and Japan
During these years opposition to Japan was intensifying, especially among high school and university students some of whom were among the most politically conscious people in the country. It went back to 1894 when the modernised Japanese navy defeated China. The war was over control of Korea which had been a tributary state of China for over 200 years. Japan had also been a vassal state of China in the past, so China's humiliation was almost unbearable. By the Treaty of Shimonoseki China not only lost her influence in Korea, but also had to hand over Formosa to Japan. In the next decades, as Japan's military might grew, so did her determination to expand her influence in China, to colonise large areas in the north, and to exploit their natural resources for her overflowing population and growing industries. In 1914 Japan seized the German concessions in China's Shantung province and in 1915 presented her "Twenty One Demands" which, if accepted, would have made China totally dependent upon Japan. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 the Allies, without consulting China, handed over to Japan Germany's rights in Shantung. This betrayal of China by the western powers provoked the May Fourth Demonstration of Chinese students in Peking against the West, and against Japan's earlier "Twenty One Demands". Chou En-lai was still a 23 year old student at this time. There was violence and thirty two students were arrested and punished.
In September 1931, Japan sent its troops in to occupy Manchuria and set up a puppet government. Chiang Kai-shek appealed to the League of Nations with no result. In 1933 Japan set up puppet governments in the province of Jehol next to Manchuria, and also in the Sharhar and Hopei provinces. In January 1932, Japan went still further and attacked Shanghai. In May 1933, she began to infiltrate the five northern provinces for political and economic purposes.
There were three main reasons why Chiang did not attack the Japanese during those years. The first was that the Chinese army and air force were no match for the highly efficient Japanese war machine. It would have been suicidal to attempt to resist Japan then. In addition, Japan had one of the most powerful navies in the world, whereas China had no navy to speak of. The second reason was that China was not yet sufficiently unified, and the third was that he wanted to wipe out the Communists who had set up their regime in the far north west. Then, with no internal problem, he could deal with the Japanese. However, knowing that war with Japan was inevitable, in 1934 he gave secret lectures at the Kuling mountain resort to the Officers' Training Corps on the urgency and manner of preparing for the coming war.
To many people it seemed that Chiang would always give in to Japanese demands. They did not understand that he was biding his time and building up China's strength through the unification of the country.
This became evident to us in the spring and summer of 1936. In the spring, the military governors of the two Cantonese speaking provinces, Kwangtung and Kwangsi, were talking of fighting Chiang in the north because he would not make a stand against the Japanese and stop their encroachments in China. There were rumours in Canton of preparations for the fight against Chiang. But there was also the suggestion that trouble was being stirred up by the Kwangsi leaders because Chiang and his New Life Movement were destroying the opium trade, which was one of Kwangsi's chief sources of revenue, and that they were using the Japanese as an excuse to oppose him.
People in Canton were becoming more and more dissatisfied with General Chan Chai-tong and Chiang Kai-shek was becoming more popular. He and Madame Chiang had been travelling all over China meeting the people and finding out about their conditions and their needs as well as winning over the leadership in the provinces for national unity. When we returned from our summer holiday in Hong Kong there had been a peaceful turn over. Chan Chi-tong had been replaced and Chiang's Central Government was in control. There were many changes that immediately met our eyes. The streets were cleaner, the police and soldiers were smartened up and there was a new discipline and a new energy. Our Chinese friends told us, happily, that the country was at last beginning to be united.
In December 1936, the Generalissimo flew from Nanking to Sian in the north west to find out why the two armies there, one under the Young Marshal, Chang Hsueh-liang, and the other under General Yang Hu-cheng, were not attacking the Communists more vigorously. The Young Marshal had, for several years, been urging Chiang to attack the Japanese instead of the Communists but with no success. His attitude was understandable because of his father's death at the hands of the Japanese in 1928, and because he himself had been forced out of Manchuria by them.
Many of the soldiers in these two armies, influenced by the nearby Communists,
also felt they should be fighting the Japanese instead of their own countrymen.
Chiang, however, was adamant about dealing with the Communism first.
Soon after Chiang's arrival in Sian, the Young Marshal and General Yang kidnaped the Generalissimo to try to force him to give up his attacks on the Communists and fight the Japanese. The Young Marshal put forward an eight point programme they wanted Chiang to agree to, but he refused to agree to anything whilst being held by force. He took the position that his kidnappers were rebels, and told them that if they would not obey his order to release him then they should kill him at once. From then on he refused to speak to them. He asked for his Bible, and prepared himself for death.
When the news of the kidnapping got out most of the country was shocked and alarmed. I remember the reaction of the population in Canton at that time as being one of anxiety since the country and government had been so stable over the past few years. Rumour circulated that Chiang was dead. General Ho Ying-chin, Minister of War, wanted to bomb Sian but bad weather in that area prevented it. In the meantime moves were afoot to negotiate with those who were detaining Chiang. Madame Chiang, her brother the Prime Minister T.V. Soong and W.H. Donald, the Australian who was adviser to the Chiangs and a close friend of the Young Marshal, all flew to Sian for this purpose.
Chiang's personal baggage had been confiscated, including his daily diary. Donald found this, took it along to the Young Marshal and asked him to read it. He was impressed and became convinced that, despite Chiang's stubbornness, his being so difficult to deal with, and his unwillingness to talk with them, he was sincerely working for the welfare of China and intended eventually to fight the Japanese. The Communists soon knew what had happened, although they seem to have had no part in the plan to detain Chiang Kai-shek, and they kept Moscow informed of events.
The negotiators agreed that Chou En-lai should come for talks and Madame Chiang sat down with him for two hours, although neither she nor the Generalissimo had talked with Communists for ten years. Chiang still refused to talk with any of them until he was released. Trying to piece together why he was eventually released, three things seemed clear. First, his kidnappers realised that he did intend to fight the Japanese and not continue to give in to their every demand. Second, the outcry from most of the population against his detention was so strong that it had to be considered. Third, Moscow sent word that he must be released as he was the only one capable of rallying the Chinese people to fight the Japanese. Russia needed a strong China as a buffer between herself and Japan, and knew that the Chinese Communists were not yet strong enough or popular enough to get the support of the majority of the people.
When he was released on the 26th December from his two weeks of detention, there was great rejoicing. In Canton the city went wild with relief and joy. Flags appeared on all the buildings, sirens screamed and firecrackers blazed and banged. It was almost as exciting and noisy as a Chinese New Year.
After Sian, the KMT Central Executive Committee decided to negotiate
with the Communists. The Communists agreed to stop working for the overthrow
of the Nanking government, to change their name from Chinese Soviet Government
of the Special Region of the Republic of China, and to call the Red Army
the National Revolutionary Army, at the same time putting it under to direct
leadership of the Central Government in Nanking and its Military Affairs
Commission. Finally, the Communists said they were calling off their programme
of taking away the land of the rich landlords, and were going to concentrate
with the Nationalists on a united front against the Japanese. Chiang released
hundreds of political prisoners at this time.
Our plans for the summer of 1937 were that in July I would go north to attend the meetings of the General Assembly of the Church of Christ in China in Tsingtao. My wife and two small sons would go by boat from Hong Kong to Japan, travel by train from Kobe to Shimonoseki, by night boat to Fusan in Korea, and then by train to Wonsan, a beach resort on the east coast in the north where they would meet Australian friends on holiday from their work in the south of Korea. I would join them after the Assembly.
I travelled by coastal steamer to Tsingtao, spending three days in Shanghai on the way. Tsingtao, having been part of the old German concession area, was a westernland city.
The General Assembly came to a sudden end because, on 7th July, the Japanese Army provoked an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking and began a full scale attack on China.
The delegates scattered to their homes in the provinces. I got on a small Japanese ship carrying apples to Dairen in Manchuria and then went by train up to Mukden. From there I went South to Seoul, the capital of Korea, and then back up north to Wonsan.
We had left Canton not expecting war so soon, in spite of Japan's aggressive attitude and actions for so many years. In Korea we realised that Korea and Japan had been on a war footing for some time with regular practice blackouts and with troop trains on the move. Wonsan was a Japanese fortified zone with oil installations, but Wonsan Beach was a serenely beautiful holiday resort with a small group of cabins by the sea.
Close checks were kept on us all - even when sun bathing and talking on the beach - and there were constant calls by the police for endless questionings.
While we were there, a group of Japanese students passed through on their way home after an Oxford Group Conference at Peitaiho, in North China, where we had gone in 1934. Two of them, Stephen Nagata and Isaac Tanaka, stayed with us. They told us of the experience of unity and friendship they had there with Chinese in spite of the war going on around them. A Chinese teacher had gone to the conference filled with bitterness towards the Japanese, and when he found he had to share a room with Stephen, felt he could not face it. Stephen and the other Japanese were greatly disturbed when they discovered what their country was doing to China, and saw the suffering of the Chinese people. They apologised to the Chinese and asked forgiveness.
The teacher and the other Chinese were surprised and moved to hear Japanese speaking with such sincerity and humility and as a result lost their hatred and resentment. They decided, together with these Japanese, to live to bring the answer to hatred, aggression and war. Japanese bombers flew over Peitaiho on the way to bomb China's cities, and those Chinese did not know what was happening to their families. They said it was a big test of their new relationship with the Japanese there, but it stood up to it.
While we were in Korea, Peking and Tientsin fell to the Japanese, and on 13th August they launched a naval and air force attack on Shanghai outside the International Settlement and the French Concession. The battle raged for three months and Chiang threw in his best troops, but the Japanese power was far superior. Four hundred and fifty thousand Chinese were killed before the retreat began. From then on Chiang Kai-shek realised that he could not risk losing men at that rate, so withdrew further and further west along the Yangtze River. As the Japanese followed, their supply lines got longer and longer and eventually they got bogged down.
After our return to Hong Kong it was decided that, since Canton was being bombed, it would be better for my wife and children to stay in Hong Kong. They went across to Cheung Chau (Long Island) about ten miles west of Hong Kong and settled into a holiday house while I returned to Canton.
Note 1 - "Sun Yat-sen and Communism", Leng & Palmer, pp.77-2 (Return to text)
Note 2 - "Chiang Kai-shek", H.H. Chang, p.182 (Return to text)
Note 3 - LMS "Chronicle" - April 1935 (Return to text)
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