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By Yang Jianli, published: September 1, 2015
“At the time of the Cairo Conference, although the US military had already gained the upper hand in the Pacific and was actively planning an Allied invasion of Europe, and despite the first glimmerings of hope for an Allied victory over Germany, Italy and Japan, another threat was already taking shape, this time within Allied ranks: it would grow to become the greatest and most persistent threat to global peace in the post-war era.”
On the eve of the 70th anniversary celebration of the victory over Japan in World War II, The Cairo Declaration – a so-called “historical epic” produced by the August First Film Studio – has managed to cause a public outcry even before its theatrical release. The reason for the outcry is that publicity posters for the film feature Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong front and center, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the Cairo Conference. For a time, the poster became an object of public ridicule and Internet spoofs by Chinese citizens, overseas Chinese and the international public. Wanton misrepresentation and distorted history are par for the course for the Chinese Communist Party and its propaganda machine, but in this article, I would like to raise and hopefully answer the following question: At the time of the Cairo Declaration, exactly where was Mao Zedong and what was he doing? Understanding the answer will not only clarify an historical point of fact, but also give us a fuller understanding of the prevailing domestic and international situation at the time, and maybe even help us to interpret the critical problems China faced in the years after the Cairo Declaration.
The Cairo Conference that took place between November 22-26, 1943, was a gathering of the leaders of the United States, Britain and China: Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek. At that time, Mao Zedong was in Yan’an in northwest China, doing things that would alter the future of China, and indeed the future of the world, every bit as much as Chiang Kai-shek would.
We know that when the Red Army arrived in northern Shaanxi after the Long March, it numbered fewer than 30,000 troops, and by the time of the Xi’an Incident (西安事变) of 1936, it had had recovered to about 50,000 troops. After the Xi’an Incident, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won not only legal recognition of its status, but also funding from the Republic of China central government, and its fighting strength rapidly improved. By late 1937, the Communist-led Eighth Route Army numbered over 80,000, and the incorporation of guerrilla forces south of the Yangtze into the Communist-led New Fourth Army expanded that army unit to 12,000. From 1937 to 1940, CCP-led military forces increased by fifty to one hundred percent annually. In August 1940, the Eighth Route Army launched the One Hundred Regiments Offensive (百团大战) against Japan; in October 1940, skirmishes between New Fourth Army and Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang, or KMT) troops led to the Battle of Huangqiao (黄桥战役), in which the New Fourth Army wiped out over 10,000 KMT troops. These two battles gave the world a new appreciation of the rapidly developing fighting prowess of Chinese Communist forces.
Throughout the war, with the notable exception of the Hundred Regiments Offensive, Communist forces rarely engaged in large-scale battles with the Japanese army. The well-known statement that the Chinese Communists spent “10% of their time fighting [the Japanese], 20% in skirmishes [with the Nationalists], and 70% expanding [their political influence]” is borne out by a close examination of CCP wartime history. As Communist forces grew in military strength, skirmishes between Communist and Nationalist government forces became more frequent. This eventually led to the Wannan Incident of 1941 (皖南事变), in which the New Fourth Army suffered great losses. CCP troop losses in the Wannan Incident and the Hundred Regiments Offensive convinced Mao Zedong that he needed to strengthen his authority over the military.
In the past, the Eighth Route Army’s frontline leader Peng Dehuai and the New Fourth Army’s political commissar and de-facto leader Xiang Ying were not sufficiently obedient to Mao, but Mao understood that the CCP’s objective was not to fight the Japanese, but to allow the Nationalists and the Japanese to battle it out and destroy each other, thus allowing the CCP to step in and seize power after the war. This had always been Mao’s primary concern. Moreover, by this time the Japanese had already halted their westward advance, and the Xi’an line was no longer under threat from the Japanese, allowing Mao to concentrate his efforts on military expansion, on the one hand, and on inner-party power struggles, on the other.
Aiming to rid the CCP of dissenting opinions, Mao launched his Yan’an Rectification Movement (延安整风运动) in May 1941; the movement continued unabated until the war ended in the summer of 1945. During this period, the CCP and the Japanese did not engage in any major clashes or battles. On the contrary, there are strong suspicions that, during this same period, CCP intelligence agents maintained friendly contacts and traded information with the intelligence organizations of local Japanese-backed puppet regimes.
As Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek were meeting in Cairo, Mao’s Yan’an Rectification movement was in full swing. From September 1943 to April 1944, the CCP Central General Study Committee held a series of rectification meetings during which Wang Ming, Zhou Enlai, Zhang Wentian, Qin Bangxian, and other party leaders accused of “dogmatism” and other offenses were forced to engage in self-criticisms and soul-searching, thus paving the way for Mao Zedong to seize full power for himself. During these meetings, Peng Dehuai also came in for severe censure for not securing the approval of Party central when he launched the Hundred Regiments Offensive, which revealed to the world the true military strength of Chinese Communist troops. Although Peng Dehuai refused to grovel before Mao Zedong as some of the other leaders did, in the end, he had no choice but to make a self-criticism too.
In retrospect, we can see that while the Allied and Axis powers were suffering terrible losses fighting each other during World War II (this includes the war between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union), Mao Zedong spent the period from 1941 onward enjoying the protection of Shanxi warlord Yan Xishan to the east, and Xinjiang warlord Sheng Shicai to the west, shouting patriotic anti-Japanese slogans, periodically requesting handouts of grain tax from the Chinese Republican central government tax coffers, and transforming Yan’an into a Communist Utopia in the midst of a warzone. In Yan’an, he was free to indulge his own whims in remaking CCP military and political leadership, carrying out a brutally-thorough brainwashing campaign of the armed forces and political cadres, and becoming the first CCP leader in history to exercise full control over both the military and the Party.
This level of transformation and centralization would have been impossible for Chiang Kai-shek, who had his hands full battling the Japanese. Therefore, when the Chinese Civil War broke out a few years later, Chiang Kai-shek was no match for Mao Zedong, who enjoyed an unprecedented level of military control.
Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek were clearly unaware that while they were meeting in Cairo to secure peace for all humanity, Mao Zedong was hidden away in his Yan’an oasis making preparations for the coming large-scale civil war. The reason Mao could lay low in Yan’an was because Chiang Kai-shek was busy at the front, fighting Japanese Imperial Army troops tooth and nail; because the U.S. Navy was crisscrossing the vast Pacific Ocean, wresting control of one after another small island from the Japanese; and because American, British and Chinese Nationalist troops were engaged in bloody combat against the Japanese all over South Asia. The purpose of the Cairo Conference was to cement this alliance, and to expand the scope of their wartime cooperation after the conference was over. Thanks to the hard work of the world leaders who did actually attend the Cairo Conference, Mao Zedong had the leisure to remain in Yan’an furthering his Rectification Movement, watching operas, dancing and wooing.
Far from Yan’an, in the various CCP “Anti-Japanese Base Areas,” Communist troops and local militias did their best to avoid direct military confrontation with the Japanese, but they engaged in skirmishes with Nationalist troops and took every opportunity to seize more of their weapons and territory. For example, former CCP Defense Minister Zhang Aiping recalls that when he was operating behind enemy lines in Jiangsu as Deputy Commander of the CCP’s New Fourth Army, Third Division, he received a message sent by Han Deqin (the Chinese Nationalist Deputy Commander of the Suzhou-Shandong Military Region, and distinguished commander during the Battle of Tai’erzhuang in 1938) asking for permission to withdraw his men temporarily to an area near the Cai Bridge in Huai’an, because his men had suffered such heavy casualties fighting the Japanese in northern Jiangsu. Falsely claiming that the bridge was too narrow to provide any real safety, Zhang Aiping instead suggested that Han Deqin and his troops retreat to the shore of Lake Hongze, where the CCP New Fourth Army, Fourth Division, had established a line of defense. As a result, when Han Deqin and his men arrived at Lake Hongze, they were met by a surprise attack from the New Fourth Army, Fourth Division, under the command of Peng Xuefeng (whom Zhang Aiping had notified by telegram beforehand). Many of Han Qinde’s men were killed, their weapons and ammunition taken as spoils, and Han Qinde himself taken prisoner.
Let us leave Yan’an for a moment, and take a peek at Mao Zedong’s political patron, Joseph Stalin. We know that Stalin declined to attend the Cairo Conference because he was unwilling to meet with Chiang Kai-shek. In order for these four Allied nations (the U.S., U.S.S.R., Britain and China) to coordinate their wartime strategy, the planned four-party conference had to be divided into two parts: the Cairo Conference and the Tehran Conference. After the meeting in Cairo concluded, Roosevelt and Churchill headed for Tehran to meet separately with Stalin. At the Yalta Conference chaired by Stalin in Soviet territory one year later, China’s highest-ranking official Chiang Kai-shek was not even invited to attend, despite the fact that the U.S.S.R. and the Republic of China had established formal diplomatic relations.
Therefore, at the time of the Cairo Conference, although the US military had already gained the upper hand in the Pacific and was actively planning an Allied invasion of Europe, and despite the first glimmerings of hope for an Allied victory over Germany, Italy and Japan, another threat was already taking shape, this time within Allied ranks: it would grow to become the greatest and most persistent threat to global peace in the post-war era. As subsequent history would prove, far more people would die under the Communist tyranny of Stalin and Mao than under the fascist tyranny of the Axis powers. When it came to provoking conflict or warfare to suit his own interests and ambitions, Mao was clearly a cut above the rest. The leaders of the Western world, particularly President Roosevelt, severely underestimated the rise of Communism as both a political force and a political threat. This was due in part to Stalin’s apparent adaptability and Mao Zedong’s clever ruse of filling the Xinhua Daily and other official Communist newspapers with slogans of democracy and freedom.
Discussions at the Cairo Conference mainly focused on issues related to the independence and territorial integrity of China, Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia. The postwar peace more or less adhered to the demands set out in the Cairo Declaration – the independence of Korea, Manchuria and Taiwan, and the return of the Penghu Islands to the Republic of China – although both the Chinese mainland and the Korean peninsula would soon be engulfed by more fighting. By early 1945, four years into the Yan’an Rectification Movement he had launched, Mao realized that Japan’s defeat would come about earlier than he had anticipated, so he hastily wrapped up the rectification movement, issued a mea culpa to those who had been targeted for rectification, and began preparing for civil war with the Chinese Nationalists.
Among the western nations, World War II was seen as a war to defend world peace and human freedom. But in the triangular relationship between the Allies, the Axis and the U.S.S.R. (and its junior partners, Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party), the western world was devoting so much of its energy to dealing with West Germany, Italy and Japan, that it neglected to remain sufficiently vigilant against Communism, which spread rapidly in the absence of any organized opposition. This is a point on which we should reflect today, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Even the United Nations, one of the most positive outcomes of the Second World War, has not proven an effective defender of freedom and human rights around the world; in this sense, it is not unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations. Today, the Communist nations of Asia that emerged in the wake of the Second World War continue to suffer from numerous human rights violations and the failure to protect the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens. In this sense, the World War II objective of defeating fascism remains incomplete.
There is a Chinese proverb that warns of the danger of pursuing one’s aims so single-mindedly that one remains blind to the larger dangers: “The mantis stalking the cicada does not notice the lurking finch.” If Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek—so intent on fighting the Axis powers—were the mantis stalking the cicada, then Mao Zedong—with his long-contemplated scheme to seize the whole of China and “liberate” all humanity—was certainly the finch, waiting to pounce at the first opportune moment. That point is essential to any accurate depiction of the geopolitical landscape during World War II. Moreover, were it not for Mao Zedong, there would be no death-and-disaster-ridden Red China, nor the Korean War, nor the Vietnam War, nor the Cambodian Khmer Rouge.
In late 1943, when most of humanity was endeavoring to end the Second World War, it was easy to overlook that irrepressible time traveler, Mao Zedong. Looking back on those war years, one might forget that Mao Zedong even existed, for his contributions to the war effort were minimal. But Mao was not idle during this period. Let us remember this, and trust that today’s World War II historians will never again neglect the fact of Mao’s existence in late 1943. We should thank the makers of The Cairo Declaration, for it was they who dragged Mao Zedong, in all his false glory, from his cave in Yan’an and placed him squarely where he belongs: in the midst of a true picture of the Second World War, a canvas on which we can reflect and remember.
August 27, 2015
(This article was slightly abridged, edited, and translated by China Change, with the consent of the author.)
The U.S. Was the True Mainstay in the Fight Against Japan in World War II, by Han Lianchao, China Change, August 31, 2015.
By Xiaokai Xiang
Published: July 8, 2013
The fundamental irreconcilability between constitutionalism and a Leninist political party.
Recently, China’s state-owned media has issued a number of articles bombarding constitutionalism, starting a war of words. Among these, one that is rather weighty is an editorial in the Global Times, along with an article in the CCP Propaganda Department’s Dangjian magazine (《党建》) that bore the obvious signature of team writing. Several authoritative official media outlets such as the People’s Daily, the Guangming Daily, etc., which represent the standpoint of the central government, also all declared where they stood. We can pretty much conclude that this fully reflects the attitude of CCP top leadership towards “Western Constitutionalism.”
The question I want to ask though is this: Can China implement a constitutional government under the Communist Party? Regrettably, the answer is no if the question predicates on the CCP staying in power as China’s ruling party.
The concept of constitutionalism is quite simple. It requires that the ruler rules within the framework of a constitution. Of course, this extends from two basic principles of constitutionalism: the separation of three powers and law-making power granted by the people. These are not fresh concepts; they were already thoroughly discussed as far back as more than 300 years ago in the English philosopher John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.
But the issue lies in that the party that rules China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is still a Leninist political party. It is not compatible with a separation-of-three-powers model, nor does it tolerate law-making power granted by the people. This is because in political paradigms, the Leninist party-state system has a fundamental conflict with the constitutional democracy model.
Origins of the Leninist Political Party
In 1912, under the influence of Lenin, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which believed in Marxism, formally split. A faction with a relatively large number of people, the Bolsheviks, became a new party under the leadership of Lenin. It was seen as the first Leninist political party. In 1918, this party formally changed its name to the Communist Party of Russia. In time, the word “communist party” became a term specifically used for Leninist political parties.
Leninist political parties use Marxist Communism as their creed. They believe that they represent the most advanced direction of development for humanity, and thus the legitimacy of the party is self-evident. However, the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership were unable to obtain a majority of the seats in the legislative elections following the October Revolution in 1917. The Bolsheviks, who controlled the military, dissolved the legislature and completely banned opposition parties. Also, Lenin established the Cheka, the predecessor to the Soviet Union’s secret intelligence organization, the Committee for State Security (KGB), to purge and eradicate opposition inside and outside of the organization.
From nearly the moment Leninist political parties stepped onto the stage of history, there existed a tense relationship with constitutionalism that was difficult to reconcile. Constitutionalism implies that, in political games under the framework of a constitution, different political parties are in a relationship of peaceful competition. However, Leninist political parties use military force as the basic means of power competition, and they have a built-in hostility toward other apparent or potential political parties as if in a state of war. Peace and war are two totally different systems of political contest.
So then, is it possible for Leninist political parties to evolve in the direction of constitutionalism? Let’s examine two historical examples.
The Pre-1949 Kuomintang Party
The first example is the Kuomintang (KMT) before 1949. Whether or not the KMT was historically a Leninist political party is a topic that has been debated continually without rest. In 1923, under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, the KMT accepted the guidance of Soviet representative Mikhail Borodin and conducted comprehensive reorganization. In nearly all aspects, it was modeled on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), including the party constitution, party membership, party discipline, party organization, the development of the party and the youth league, the management of party affairs, party-military relations, etc. But, ideologically, Sun Yat-sen and other KMT elites held fast to their own “Three Principals of the People,” rejecting communism. Thus, the KMT was not a Leninist political party in the complete sense.
Sun Yat-sen and the other first generation KMT elites participated in the founding of a constitutional republic, the Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen’s “Five-Branch Constitution” was one of the core theories of the “Three Principals of the People.” Constitutional thinking had an enormous influence on KMT ideology. The KMT could not use the “proletariat autocracy” theory like the CPSU to conduct single-party rule; it could only use special wartime “political tutelage” to serve as the rational for the mainland’s military dictatorship. The KMT was unable to break away from the “shadow” of constitutionalism in the long run. Constitutionalism is not only the foundation of the values established by the KMT, it is also the legal objective of the KMT’s struggle. Under the constraints of constitutional concepts, even though the KMT conducted a military dictatorship in the mainland, it had no justifiable way to wipe out other democratic political parties.
If one examines the history of Leninist political parties, it is not difficult to discover that in early and medium-stage expansion and construction, the majority of Leninist political parties all go through regular internal purges, such as the CPSU’s “Cheka” and “Great Purge,” the Chinese Communist Party’s “Elimination of the Counterrevolutionaries” and Yan’an Rectification Campaign, the Communist Party of Kampuchea leader Pol Pot’s purges, etc. The outcome of such purges was the elimination of internal dissenters, and the reinforcement of the party’s cohesion. It is a strengthening self-organization method.
Comparatively, the KMT’s party boss Chiang Kai-shek did not accept such “purification” methods. To maintain his power base, he focused more on military than party affairs, strengthening military discipline and sustaining the balance between factions within the party. Therefore, although the early organization of the KMT nearly copied that of a Leninist political party, Chiang Kai-shek continually had a “de-Leninizing” effect on the KMT before 1949. This made the KMT a kind of “half Leninist political party” that entered into the degradation process too early. This is also an important factor in how, during the civil war, the KMT was unable to rival the newer Communist Party, whether in terms of social mobilization or organizational discipline.
The Gorbachev Era CPSU
Another example is the CPSU in the Gorbachev era. In the 1980’s, in order to break away from long term stagnation, Gorbachev, who had just come into office, set about to implement economic reforms. However, following the deepening of these reforms, the disagreement of conservative forces in the CPSU, such as Second Secretary Yegor Ligachev and KGB chairman Viktor Chebrikov, intensified every day. Power struggles and reform setbacks became intertwined. Deep in trouble, Gorbachev gradually moved the focus of the reforms towards the realm of politics, and in 1989 produced an important policy: to establish a truly independent legislative body and introduce open democratic elections.
However, the consequences of democratic elections far exceeded Gorbachev’s expectations. Democratization did not weaken but rather intensified power struggles within the party. Starting during the Lenin Era, power struggles had to be conducted in secret, Stalin was an expert at this. But now, the rules encouraged electoral competitions that are open, frontal, and geared towards the masses. Some prominent political elites, like Boris Yeltsin, discovered that if they were able to get ample legitimacy from public support, there was no more need to subject themselves to the constraints of the old system. This group of people quickly broke away from the CPSU system. In July 1990, Yeltsin declared that he was leaving the CPSU. In June of the next year, Yeltsin was elected as president of the Soviet Union’s Russian Republic.
Constitutionalization inherently demands democratization, and democratization conflicts with the centralized organization principals of Leninist political parties. This conflict is fundamental to the point of utter irreconcilability. Everyone in the world knows the history that followed: the Soviet Union’s conservative faction, the KGB, and military leaders plotted the August 19th coup of 1991 and placed Gorbachev under house arrest. At the moment of crisis, Yeltsin climbed atop a tank and spoke to the masses. He turned the tide, gaining great popularity and becoming the de facto leader. When Gorbachev came out of house arrest, it was already impossible to save the Soviet Union from its fate of collapse.
The Certain Present and Uncertain Future
In order to survive, Leninist political parties not only must prohibit external political challenges, they also must suppress internal power competition. Their system structure, by nature, is incompatible with a constitutional democracy model. In the process of development, the majority of Leninist political parties go through internal purges to “purify” their organizations and strengthen internal cohesion. Although these purge movements were essentially the same, people seem less willing to accept the Soviet Union’s “Great Purge” or China’s “Anti-Rightist Campaign” and “Cultural Revolution,” which occurred in peacetime, as opposed to the Soviet “Cheka” or China’s “elimination of the counter-revolutionaries,” which happened in wartime. The post-Stalin Soviet Union and post-Mao China basically abandoned this type of purge movement.
Under a constitutional democracy model, the masses and a free press supervise political parties and political parties supervise each other to stem corruption. Leninist political parties do not possess these kinds of mechanisms. And once they stop internal purges, there is likely nothing that can stop the spread of internal corruption. At the same time, ideology degenerates into a code of allegiance that is only a formality, and the actual internal cohesive force yields to a tangled maze of interests and “patron-client” relations. This was the history of mainland-era KMT and Brezhnev-era CPSU. History also tells us that an organization which purely uses interest as its cohesive bond lacks competitive power. Competition in an open environment, regardless of whether in peace or war, creates a fatal threat to its survival.
For present day China, continuing to suppress external challenges on the one hand and prohibiting internal competition on the other will mostly likely be an unavoidable strategy. Under the CCP, China cannot constitutionalize, nor is it able to democratize. It is compelled to go even a step further and block discussions of these topics so as to prevent people from having unrealistic expectations of the future. This is what we are witnessing right now in China in one argument after another against constitutionalism and in Party’s instructions prohibiting discussions of an array of related topics in universities and elsewhere. All of these are perfectly logical and unsurprising. As for what will follow in the future, no one knows.
Xiang Xiaokai (项小凯) is a PhD candidate in information science at Tokyo University. He is also emerging as a fresh voice in discussions of China’s political transition. Translated by Jack.
Christmas in China is a really funny thing. Let’s call it 奇怪(qi-guai), a word that means “strange” but without any negative or positive connotations. You get a full month for quiet reflection, but miss all of the fun and merriment of the Christmas spirit. There are friends you spend special meals with, and there is still some shopping you have to do. After four years, I’m still not sure if I like it or dread it.
Christmas is still kind of new in China. During the missionary period up to the revolution Christmas was a quiet religious holiday. The hospital and local universities had many special Christmas performances to try and spread the Gospel. Then President Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, Madame Soong, attended many of these events at the Ginling Girls School, where Minnie Vautrin served in the 30’s and 40’s.
Today Christmas has returned, but more in shopping malls and fancy restaurants than in the hospital or schools (I’ve had to remind them a few times which day it is). It is interesting to see what a holiday looks like in its early stages before the traditions are really in place.
In the malls here Christmas decorations have been up for almost a month now, which seems to be a little late compared to shopping centers in the US, but it will be another full month before those decorations will come down. One gets the feeling that many of the people don’t really know when Christmas is, and that Santa is just a winter thing that goes with Frosty the Snowman. Christmas in some ways has started to mark the early part of preparing for Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), much like the day after Thanksgiving is the time to put up the Christmas tree, and New Years is the day to take it down in the US.
Also sometimes people will try to emulate the American traditions, for example the other day one of my students/co-workers gave me a very nice Christmas card. The outside was decorated beautifully and when I returned to my office I eagerly opened it to see what kind words she had written inside. I was baffled by what I saw inside, nothing. She had simply given me a blank card for Christmas. Somewhere along the line one of our traditions seems to have been misunderstood in a big way.
Another thing that makes Christmas feel a bit off here in China is that everyone will be working on the 25th. Only foreign teachers are granted the day off, for some reason Christmas hasn’t made the Communist Party’s official list of holidays yet (an omission surely worthy of a place on Santa’s naughty list).
Then this morning, as I waited for the bus, a woman was handing out papers to everyone with some very basic information about Christianity with a brief introduction to the Christmas story. Only a few people took time to read them, but it was encouraging to see.