Zhou Takes Charge

It was dangerous being a Communist in China circa late 20's and early 30's.  No question about it.

China's congress actually had to meet and convene in Russia one year!  It was too dangerous to convene in China.

China was dominated by warlords.  And CKS was still obsessed with uniting and ruling China.  During this time the Comintern continued to send Russians to China.  First Borodin, then Mif.

Borodin died out of favor with Stalin.  Mif was lost in the Great Purge.  Another nameless victim, cursed with being born in Mother Russia at the wrong time in history.  The civil war between the Chinese Communists and Crazy Chiang Kai Shek was in full swing.  Indeed during this time many of Zhou EnLai's most trusted confidants fell victim to the CKS's penchant for torture and murder.

One must spend time to reflect if but for a moment.

If Zhou had been the leader of the CCP, would the Communists had lost to CKS?   I think so.

Rather, Mao won because of his personality and charisma.  His penchant for browbeating intellectuals and talking over them. Zhou just lacked the drive and ambition to raise armies. Zhou wasn't a brow beater.  Not even close.

But Zhou had longevity.  He knew where the levers of power lay.

China would be much worse if Zhou had remained the leader of the Communist Party.  True, China would have missed such "fun" as the Anti Rightest Movement, and the "Let 100 Flowers Bloom" campaign.  And I bet China would have even missed the Cultural Revolution.

But it’s all for naught you fool.  Because Zhou couldn't connect with the peasants the way Mao could.  And Zhou would've lost the Civil War.   And Chiang Kai Shek would've taken power.  And China would be like the Philippines today. 

Wracked by poverty, drugs and prostitution(no sarcasm included).  Without a doubt  an ally of America.

But into the early thirties Zhou, through sheer administrative competence, bowed to no man. Even the Russians thought him indispensable.   What else did a Communist Leader need?

Well, a leader in China in the 1930's needed to be ruthless.  So I retell the story doubtless many of you have heard.  1931, the equivalent of today's National Security Advisor, or perhaps leader of the FBI, was arrested.  His name was Gu Shunzhang.   Under torture he gave up information that led to the direct arrest and murder of various Communist leaders.   The effect on the Communist Movement within China was so severe that Zhou ordered his family be killed.  In all fifteen members of his family was indeed rounded up and in turn murdered, with the exception of children. 

Zhou showed his ability to be ruthless when the need called.   However, this was really more the exception than the norm.   And what became of Gu Shunzhang?  He too, was eventually executed by his new BFF, Chiang Kai Shek.

With all the arrests, the executions, the sheer weariness of fighting and paranoia involved fighting a  war against the KMT, Zhou found himself continually on the run.  He would not find himself living in a major Chinese city until Liberation.

Enter Otto Braun.

Believe it or not, yet again, and for the last time, the Comintern once again sent a "representative" to China to take over.  Remember, bowing down to the Comintern had originally been part of the agreement in turn for receiving material assistance(whatever that meant).  

Otto Braun would prove to be the one "who got away", ie, the only non Russian to be sent as a Comintern representative who was not Russian, and thus would not be killed in a purge or run afoul of Stalin afterward.  He would live to write his memoirs folks.  And provide an account of China's leadership struggles beyond the reach of the CCP's ability to control the narrative.  

Braun's military tactics proved disastrous for the Red Army.  This in turn led Zhou to organize a retreat of the remaining CCP troops, which became the Long March. To reiterate, Zhou was effectively at the beginning of the Long March in control of the Party.  This was perhaps the one instance of his personality, his personal lack of drama, his recognized devotion to the cause allowing others to recognize his abilities.  He simply wasn't seen as a threat, and thus became leader by default.  Time and again, with Borodin, Mif, and Braun, he was recognized for who he was;  simply a competent leader with no overly ambitious agenda for himself. 

It was not until the end of the Long March, with only ten percent of their remaining forces intact, that Mao officially took over from Zhou.   The story of this transformation deserves its own post. 

Meanwhile, one undeniable side effect of such was that Otto Braun would be the last of the laowai to have such a say in China's Communist Party Affairs.   The Chinese themselves going forward would choose their own way, their leaders, and be held accountable for their own decisions.  Many a leader would henceforth fall by the wayside. 

It's here I want to talk briefly about Zhou EnLai's role in the "Xian Incident".  I urge all my amateur and enthusiastic China History readers to study up on this event.  In sum, Chiang Kai Shek was kidnapped by a famous warlord.  Zhang Xueliang.  I'd also urge my readers to look him up too.  In short, CKS was kidnapped because this warlord felt he wasn't serious enough about fighting the Japanese, which was a correct assessment. CKS knew how big China was.  He knew the Japanese would need quite awhile to actually capture China.  And besides, the part of China currently occupied by the Japanese wasn't really "his“ territory.  

That is, it had actually belonged to Zhang Xueliang himself.  Why should CKS be in a hurry to capture Chinese territory he himself had never lost?  He felt no personal humiliation or shame by it.  And again, this is a good time to remind everyone that CKS didn't really even control much of China himself.   That is, the KMT.  Most of China was controlled by warlords.  Another name for a local military dictator that controlled his own part of China.  His own fiefdom.

Upon being kidnapped some Communist officials believed the time had come to simply kill Chiang Kai Shek.  Mao was one of those advocating such a position.  Fortunately for Mao, he survived.  Any number of warlords could have simply taken his place and been much more effective and competent than CKS.   And perhaps even beaten the Communists in the upcoming Civil War, still beyond the horizon. 

Or....China would've irreparably split into more fiefdoms controlled by warlords,  Many of them as brutal as the Japanese.   It simply would've been much harder for the CCP to unify China.   Keeping CKS alive was the best option.  What did Zhou think?  Reverting back to his natural self(remember what he did above to Gu Shunzhang's family), he felt it best for CKS to live.  To stay alive.

Zhou was naive.  Very naive.  

It seems nobody took into account CKS's uber sophisticated wife.  That someday by sheer charm and her ability to speak perfect, natural American English, she would woo not only FDR but the American public as well.  (That's all it took back then to charm America folks.)  

It helped that FDR's money came from among other things, opium sales in China during the previous century.   (Guilty conscious anyone?)   

Her ability to befriend FDR would effectively allow CKS to receive all the weaponry and training he needed.....to fight the Communists.  Afterall, he could see as early as 1942 that America would defeat Japan.  Why should he break a sweat?

So CKS lived another day.


  1. Zhang Xueliang was another interesting guy from 20th Century Chinese history. The Young Marshall was a smart guy too, but he misjudged CKS. Ended up under virtual house arrest for the next 30 years until CKS's death. The KMT rehabilitated him after that so ended up as another rare figure who is generally viewed positively by both the KMT and CCP. He lived to around 100, and ended up moving to Hawaii the last 10 years or so of life.

    The warlord period is very similar to other periods in Chinese history like the long period between the Han and Sui/Tang Dynasties and again the 5/10 period between Tang and Song. It was good for guys like Zhou who were survivors and not so good for Mao and others who needed a common enemy. Up until Pearl Harbor, there was a still a chance that Japan would pull back from China. The sticking point was Manchuria; they wanted to keep it. There were factions in Japan who wanted to end the war in China and instead invade the Soviet Union along with Germany. This would have of course had major ramifications in world history too if that happened, but sticking to China it would have robbed Mao of the Anti-Japan rallying cry. Without that, CKS very well could have won in spite of himself, or more likely the warlord era continues with guys like Zhou once again move backing on top. The general point is especially at the time, the larger circumstances were probably more important than the individuals involved. Post-49 is a different story though.

  2. Yes, indeed. I believe a turning point for the Japanese was their utter destruction by the Soviet Army(I believe at the hands of Zhukov?) during the late 30's border wars. Apparently the Japanese had no answer for the Soviet tanks. What if the Japanese had defeated the Soviets in those border battles?

    I've said before in an earlier post that if CKS had indeed ruled over China, it would be like the Philippines today. Drug ridden, capitalist, and with an inequality rate second to none...of course, it has still managed to achieve most of the above anyway!

    I'm not through with Zhou. But Mao had a personality and the experience in the countryside to take eventual command.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

KTV in China

The worst sex I've ever had with China Girl is with China Wife

Pros and Cons of a Chinese Wife