A Critique of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Book (Mao, the Unknown Story) Part 2



Part 2


5. Mao Carried through the Long March


Jung Chang’s other sensational allegation is that Mao was carried by a litter throughout the Long March. But none of her references suggests that Mao was carried regularly. The closest “evidence” is a statement by Mao himself which was published in one of the most authoritative and tightly controlled Chinese official presses. 


According to JC, from the start of the Long March, Mao, Lo Fu and Wang Jia-xiang formed a trio. “The trio traveled together, usually reclining on litters. . . For much of the Long March, including the most grueling part of the trek, most of them were carried.” (p. 144)


Very oddly, for such a sensational accusation, JC does not provide any reference to support this particular sentence. Several questions arise. The first question is whether the trio of Mao had the power to obtain such a privilege. “Lo Fu, the only member of the trio who was in the Secretariat” (p. 145), said “I felt I was put in a position completely without power” (p. 144). It was even worse for Mao, who “was isolated and miserable” (p. 132). Before the Long March he was worried that he might be abandoned, and went everywhere he thought the Red Army might go, hoping to be picked up mercifully as he stood on the side of the road (p. 128). With such a position, Mao’s litter was less likely for his comfort, but due to the fact that “days before the planned departure, his temperature shot up to 41°C and he grew delirious with malaria” (p. 132). 


Another question is Mao’s desire to be carried. As the trio of Mao was plotting a coup in the Red Army (pp. 144–6), they should have been keen to boost their popularity. “Aversion to privilege was particularly strong in the army because many had originally been attracted to join by the lure of equality, which was the Party’s main appeal” (p. 77). It is unlikely that the trio of Mao could grab the leadership while lying in litters. Why didn’t the opponents complain about this? This would be possible only if they were also carried. But then it would be unthinkable that the Red Army could stick together and endure the hardship, e.g. in the swampland as JC describes (pp. 167 – 169).


Jung Chang’s other evidence is the existence of a “charge — Mao and the other leaders had ‘sat in sedan chairs’ all through the March” (p. 165). The only quoted part of this charge is ‘sat in sedan chairs’, without a subject. This reference comes from Mao’s arch rival Chang Kuo-tao, writing long after he defected from the Red Army to the Nationalists. Chang and Mao met in late June 1935 and departed in early August (p. 166). As indicated on the map of the book, they shared a common path only from Fubian to Maoergai, a minor fraction of the March. Chang’s charge of Mao sitting “‘in sedan chairs’ all through the March”, even if true, had to come from others’ testimony. Whose testimony? Neither Chang Kuo-tao nor JC gives any clue.


The closest “evidence” of Mao being carried regularly is: “Mao himself told his staff decades later: ‘On the March, I was lying in a litter. So what did I do? I read. I read a lot.’” (p. 144). Mao’s words do not necessarily imply he was carried regularly. Let’s see how reasonable Jung Chang’s interpretation is. Mao’s words appear in his personal secretary Ye Zilong’s memoirs, published by The Press of the Central Archive (2000). It is one of the most authoritative and tightly controlled government presses. JC accuses the Chinese government of covering Mao’s secrets. But a crucial part of her story comes from an official press. Even if Mao’s loyalist Ye betrayed him, and the government was ahead of JC in denouncing Mao, it is hard to believe that such an accusation, according to Jung Chang’s interpretation, generates no awareness in China and remains an “unknown story”.


6. Mao Did Not Fight Japanese

To discredit Mao among the Chinese, JC claims that Mao had no interest in fighting Japan, but only in starting a civil war against Chiang Kai-shek. But, her evidence shows that Mao’s strategy was the only feasible way for the Reds to fight Japanese effectively.


In a chapter entitled: “Fight Rivals and Chiang — Not Japan” (p.218), JC writes: “Mao had no strategy to drive the Japanese out of China” (p. 211). “He bombarded his military commanders with telegrams such as ‘Focus on creating base areas . . . . Not on fighting battles’ . . . all the time, Mao was urging them to stop fighting the Japanese and concentrate on taking over territory” (pp. 212-213).


What if the Reds had followed an opposite strategy, i.e., fighting the Japanese head on? In August 1937 a war between the Japanese and Chiang’s armies broke out. “In Shanghai, 73 of China’s 180 divisions — and the best one-third — over 400,000 men, were thrown in, and all but wiped out. . . . The Japanese suffered much fewer, though still heavy, casualties: about 40,000” (p. 209).


At this time, the Chinese Red Army had some 60,000 regular troops” (p. 211). Let’s assume they were just as efficient as the best part of Chiang’s troops, although their equipment, supply and training were much inferior. Then, if they had fought the Japanese head on, they could hardly have inflicted on the Japanese more than 6,000 casualties before they were “all but wiped out”. That is less than one sixth of what Chiang achieved in Shanghai, certainly insufficient to defeat Japan. If Japan had secured its rear, Chiang’s force would most likely have not resisted much longer.


Fortunately, the Reds followed Mao’s strategy. The result: “By mid-November (1937), the first new Communist base in the Japanese rear was formed, near Peking, called Jinchaji, with a population of some 12 million” (p. 213). “By January 1940, the 8RA, under Zhu De and Peng, had grown to at least 240,000 (from 46,000 at the beginning of the war). And the N4A, operating under Liu Shao-chi near Shanghai and Nanking, had tripled, to 30,000. A score of sizeable bases sprang up in the Japanese rear. The base of Jinchaji alone, only some 80 km from Peking, expanded to control a population of 25 million” (p. 225). This evidence suggests Mao indeed had a “strategy to drive the Japanese out of China”.


7. The Trap for the New 4th Army

According to JC, not only did Mao avoid fighting the Japanese, but he also set up his own troops, the New 4th Army with 9,000 men to be killed by Chiang Kai-shek in order to start a civil war. Instead of offering any evidence for this accusation, JC provides facts which suggest Mao had neither the incentive nor the ability to do so.


During the Sino-Japanese war, Chiang’s army destroyed the head quarters of the N4A. JC explains why Mao wanted this to happen. In July 1940, Chiang called “the Red N4A to move out of the Yangtze region” (p. 233). “By December 1940, Xiang Ying’s group was the only part of the N4A south of the Yangtze. . . . . That month Mao set Xiang Ying’s group up to be killed by the Nationalist army, in the hope that the massacre would persuade Stalin to let him off the leash against Chiang” (p. 236). “Mao was asking Moscow to endorse him starting a full-scale civil war, in the thick of the Sino-Japanese War” (p. 234). According to JC, Mao achieved his plan by telling the N4A to take a path vetoed by Chiang earlier, but did not inform Chiang. “A much larger Nationalist force” did not know the N4A “was only passing through, and thought this was an attack. Fighting broke out . . . . During the most critical period of bloody fighting, the four days from 6 to 9 January, Mao claimed he received no communication” (p. 237). Thus, the N4A’s plea to call off the Nationalist encirclement did not reach Chiang before it was wiped out (p. 238).


Let’s first look at how likely that Mao wanted “a full-scale civil war”. His main force, the 8RA of 240,000, “only some 80 km from Peking” and the N4A of 30,000 “near Shanghai and Nanking” were both “in the Japanese rear” (p. 225). Where was Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek? He had “moved his capital to Chongqing, further inland” (p. 223). If the Reds were let off the leash against Chiang, they would have to savage the Japanese first before reaching Chiang. Their arms were no match for Chiang either. While at the beginning of the war, Chiang had received “1,000 planes, plus tanks and artillery” from the Russians alone (p. 209), “the Communist 8th Route Army had had only 154 pieces of heavy artillery” even near the end of the war (p. 295).


Secondly, let’s see if Mao’s communication break-down could have accomplished his plan. First, for anyone with military training, it is not difficult to distinguish whether a troop of 9,000 is moving to somewhere or attacking someone. Jung Chang’s story implies the Nationalist generals unable to do so. Moreover, `Mao’s plan would have failed if the Nationalist generals had sent an inquiry to the N4A before destroying them, or during “the four days” of “bloody fighting”. Even if the generals were so dumb headed, they must have informed the Generalissimo and asked his permission to slaughter this huge fellow Chinese army, unless their communications were also broken down. Since “the Generalissimo had vetoed” the N4A’s route earlier (p. 236), he would have realized what was going on immediately. If “Chiang was desperate to avoid a total civil war in the middle of the war against Japan” (p. 240), he certainly could have sent a cable to the N4A, as he did three days earlier (p.237), ordering them to stop, return or switch to another route etc, instead of authorizing his generals to “exterminate the Reds” (p.237). Then Mao’s plan would have definitely failed.


After the event, Chiang was criticized by the governments of the U.S. (JC blames President Roosevelt’s informant, marine officer Evans Carlson,) and the UK (JC blames British ambassador Clark Kerr), as well as the Soviet Union (p. 241). JC argues that this is because Chiang “presented his case poorly” (p. 241). But most of the information JC presents now was available at that time, such as the N4A’s unauthorized route and Chiang did not receive their plea etc, though probably not Mao’s dubious radio breakdown. But Mao’s radio problem only concerns who should be blamed within the Reds, Mao or the N4A, not between the Reds and the Nationalists. Even if Chiang had used Jung Chang’s argument in his defense then, he would still have “presented his case poorly”.


8. Mao Sacrificed His Brother Tse-min

Even Hitler did not kill his family members. But Mao did, according to JC. She claims that Mao let his brother Tse-min be killed by Chiang Kai-shek in order to start a civil war. The only evidence is Mao’s failure to repeat his instruction to Chou Enlai asking Chiang for Tse-min’s release within two days during his nine months of imprisonment. This accusation is funny, and typifies Jung Chang’s contradictory style.


To stir up anti-Chiang fervor in the CCP, Mao cogitated another ‘massacre’ by the Nationalists. . . This time the sacrificial victims included his only surviving brother, Tse-min. . . . Tse-min had been working in Xinjiang. . . . In early 1943, Tse-min and more than 140 other Communists and their families . . . were imprisoned” (p. 259). “The CCP leadership collectively (in the name of the Secretariat)” (p. 260) told “the CCP liaison, Chou En-lai to ask for their release” (p. 259). “Two days later, on the 12th (February), Mao sent Chou a separate cable. . . . The release of the Xinjiang group was not on it. Chou, by now taking orders from Mao alone,  did not raise the matter. . . Tse-min and two other senior CCP figures were executed on 27 September on charges of plotting a coup. But with so few deaths – only three – Mao was unable to cry ‘Massacre’. He did not make any announcement condemning the executions, either, as this might raise questions about whether the Communists were indeed guilty as charged” (p. 260).


It is too funny to be treated seriously. Let’s consider an imagined conversation in a court:


Prosecutor: Sir, I find Mao guilty of cogitating a massacre, sacrificing his brother T.

Judge: What was his motivation?

Prosecutor: He wanted to stir up anti-Chiang fervor.

Judge: How did he do it?

Prosecutor: He did it by not telling Chou to plea for T’s release.

Judge: But he did it two days earlier. How did his failure to repeat kill T?

Prosecutor:  Chou then knew Mao wanted T dead, did not raise the matter with Chiang.

Judge: I do not understand Chou’s thinking. Did Mao condemn the killing of T?

Prosecutor: No, because this would reveal T was indeed guilty.

Judge: If so, how could Mao use T’s death to stir up anti-Chiang fervor?

Prosecutor: He expected Chiang to kill many more.

Judge: But only 3 were killed. I do not see why Mao could have expected that.

Prosecutor: Because other 140 communists were also guilty of plotting a coup.

Judge: Do you mean that Chiang not only killed T legitimately, he was also entitled to kill many more?

Prosecutor: Yes, sir.

Judge: Then, why are you so sure that Mao could have saved T by his second order?


If one believes in fair trials and hears this kind of conversation, he would most likely “raise questions about whether  Mao is “indeed guilty as charged”.


9. The Rectification Campaign

During the Sino-Japanese war, many young and radical students flocked to Mao’s base in Yenan. To consolidate his political control and clean up this new blood from the Nationalist or Japanese territories, Mao launched the Rectification Campaign in 1942–1943. JC claims thousands of people died, as suspected Nationalist agents or spies. But she offers no references to support her claim of the number of death. The most famous victim, described by JC as Mao’s personal target, did not die during the Campaign. It is unlikely many suffered more than he did.


During the Rectification Campaign, according to JC, “the number who perished was in the thousands, at least” (p. 257).  No reference supporting this statement can be found in the book. To make a reasonable guess about the extent of loss of life, we may look at the most famous victim, Wang Shi-wei, personally targeted by Mao as “the champion of the young volunteers” (p. 250). After reading his article in Liberation Daily, Mao “slammed the newspaper on the desk and demanded angrily: ‘Who is in charge here? Wang Shi-wei or Marxism?’” (p. 251). It became more personal when Mao saw “Shi-wei’s enormous popularity. He said at once: ’I now have a target.’ He later complained: ’Many people rushed from far away to . . . read his article. But no one wants to read mine!’ ‘Wang Shi-wei was the king and lord master . . . he was in command in Yenan . . . and we were defeated’. . . He denounced him as a Trotskyist. . . . Trotsky, Shi-wei had said, was ‘a genius’, while Stalin was ‘an unlovable person’ who had ‘created untold countless evils’” (p. 252). Hardly anyone could have faced a more serious threat to his life than Wang. But he survived four years after the campaign, and was only killed in 1947, when the Nationalist army led by General Hu Tsung-nan forced the Reds to evacuate Yenan, not by Mao’s order. Given this typical example, one really needs evidence to believe “the number who perished was in the thousands”.


Moreover, the Rectification Campaign should be seen in its historical context. As JC tells us, Mao’s moles played decisive roles in all ensuing major military campaigns, from Hu Tsung-nan in Yenan (pp. 312-318), Wei Li-huang in Manchuria (pp. 318-319), associates of Fu Tso-yi in Peking-Tianjin (pp. 319-320) to Liu Fei and Kuo Ju-kui in Huai-Hai (pp. 320-321). In strong contrast, “indeed, during the civil war, while the Nationalists were penetrated like sieves, they had virtually zero success infiltrating the Communists” (p. 258). The difference meant millions of lives or deaths. This probably could not have happened without the Rectification Campaign.


By the way, Jung Chang’s does not give any evidence for her allegation that General Hu Tsung-nan was a communist agent, except for his apparent military blunders and earlier links to some communists in 1920’s. This leads to a strong protest by Hu’s son, Hu Wei-zhen, an Taiwanese representative in Singapore. According to Jung Chang’s brother Pu Zhang, Jung Chang’s reply is to ask Hu Junior to “provide the relevant evidence to show his father is not a red spy” (http://www2.chinesenewsnet.com/gb/MainNews/Opinion/2005_11_30_20_33_19_572.html). What kind of evidence can prove someone NOT a spy? From such an episode, one may suspect that, if it was not Mao, but JC who was in charge in Yenan that time, many young volunteers would be asked to “provide the relevant evidence to show” they are not spies, then, “the number who perished” would be indeed “in the thousands, at least”!


10. Opium Sale

JC accuses Mao of selling opium on a scale of $60 million in 1943 alone. The Western media is pleased to see Mao condemned as a drug lord. However, if Jung Chang’s number and her accounts of Mao’s heavy taxation in Yenan were true, Mao’s opium market would have had to cover a major part of China or even beyond. Unfortunately, there was no historical record about Yenan’s opium sale on such a scale.


In 1943 the Russians estimated Mao’s opium sales at 44,760 kg, worth an astronomical 2.4 billion fabi (roughly US$60 million at then current exchange rates, or some US$640 million today” (p. 287).


In that year, Yenan “had accumulated savings . . . worth 250 million fabi. . . . . This sum was six times the official Yenan region budget for 1942” (p. 287). Hence, the opium sale in 1943 was almost 58 times (2.4billion×6/250million) the Yenan budget for 1942. Since the tax revenue should not be much higher than the budget, we have to conclude that the opium sale was 58 times the annual tax from Yenan region.


At that time, according to JC, the Reds levied very heavy taxes in Yenan. “Sometimes . . . ‘almost equals the entire year’s harvest’; . . . For many, ‘there was no food left after paying the tax’” (p. 284). Hence, the region’s tax must be close to its entire disposable income. So Mao’s opium sale was equal to 58 times of Yenan people’s entire disposable income. But Mao did not sell opium in Yenan region, because “a drug-addicted peasantry was no use to him” (p. 290). So the money had to come from outside of Yenan.


If the surrounding area of Yenan had the similar population density and income level, to get opium sales of 2.4 billion fabi, Mao had to suck in the entire disposable income from an area 58 times of Yenan, “which was roughly the size of France” (p. 284). 58 France is more than three Chinas! If Yenan’s average income was just one third of that of China, we still need all Chinese to spend their entire disposable income on Mao’s opium. Yenan had to be the Golden Triangle of China. This could not have remained as an “unknown story” at that time, not mention for 60 years till now.


11. Three Millions Deaths in 1950-1951

At the beginning of the book, JC writes: “Mao Tse-tung . . . was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime” (p. 3). This is her main justification of comparing Mao with Hitler. We will examine each of the alleged death cases. Her first account of these 70 million deaths is three million deaths in 1950-51. In fact, this figure is grossed up from 0.7 million by Jung Chang’s arbitrary multiplication. These 0.7 million deaths, though a big loss of human lives, were related to the final stage of the civil war and the then on-going Korean War. It is questionable to classify them as deaths in peacetime. 


During the “campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries” in 1950–51, “some 3 million perished either by execution, mob violence, or suicide” (p. 337). The calculation is explained in the footnote: 700,000 were executed, “those beaten or tortured to death . . . . would at the very least be as many again. Then there were suicides, which, based on several local inquiries, were very probably about equal to the number of those killed” (p. 337 fn). Hence we get 700,000×2×2 = 2.8 million, roughly 3 million, as claimed by JC. There is no explanation why “those beaten or tortured to death . . . . would at the very least be as many” as those executed. Her claim that suicides “were very probably about equal to the number of those killed” is based on “several local inquiries”, with no detailed information. 


To generalize an execution/killing ratio or a suicide/killing ratio from “several local inquiries” to the whole nation is hardly professional. Even if we apply this kind of generalization based on large samples, the result can be very unreliable. For instance, let us take 700,000 executions out of the total population of 550 million as a national ratio, and apply it to the “major target of Mao’s – the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 340). As “China had about 3.3 million Catholics at the time” (p. 340), we should expect at least a total number of execution of 700,000×3.3m/550m = 4,200. But JC assures us only “hundreds of Chinese Catholics were executed” (p. 340).


It is also questionable to call all of 700,000 peacetime deaths. When the People’s Republic of China was established in October 1949, almost half of its territory had yet to be liberated. Military campaigns continued into 1950 and even 1951 in certain parts of China. The Campaign to Suppress Counter-revolutionaries and “the land reform in the newly occupied areas, where some two-thirds of China’s population lived” (p. 337) were closed related to the last stage of the bloody civil war. Many, if not most, of the 700,000 people were executed for their military actions during the war, and cannot accurately be described as victims in peacetime. In a large part of China, bandits existed since the time people could remember. Mao’s army cleaned them up almost instantly. Killing, unfortunately, was necessary to provide Chinese the “peacetime” then.


Moreover, “China was hurled into the inferno of the Korean War on 19 October 1950” (p. 380). The war lasted three years till “an armistice was finally signed on 27 July 1953” (p. 394). During this period, especially at the early stage, Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan called on his loyalists in the mainland to rebel against the Communists in every way possible to welcome the forthcoming liberation by the U.S. army and his own. Many answered, carrying out acts of subversive organization, propaganda, espionage, explosion, poison, arson, murder and even armed uprising etc. These acts also account for a significant part of these 700,000 executions.




About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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