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International Socialist Review, Fall 1959


Paul Williams

China’s Modern Military History


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.4, Fall 1959, p.124.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A Military History of Modern China: 1924-1949
by F.F. Liu
Princeton University Press. 1956. 312 pp. $6.

Although he was a former officer in Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, was wounded twice in action and was decorated by the dictator himself for “conspicuous gallantry in action,” the author is no partisan of the Nationalist regime on Taiwan.

His objective in this book is to present to the military profession a carefully documented and factually accurate account of three periods in the military history of modern China:

  1. China under the impact of the Russian Revolution. This includes building a new Chinese army through Soviet help, development of the Chinese Communist party, and the crushing of the working-class Revolution of 1925-27.
  2. The attempts of Chiang and his Kuomintang party to build a strong Nationalist army, utilizing help from the German General Staff; the Japanese invasion; upsurge of the peasantry and the surrender of the Japanese in 1945.
  3. The postwar peasant uprisings, growth of the Communist military force, armed conflicts between Nationalist and Communist armies, Chiang’s loss of power and retreat to Formosa.

Although the book is dry and unmindful of the popular reader, it is loaded with facts of value to anyone interested in the Chinese revolution.

For example, according to official Nationalist figures cited by Liu, in 1945 Chiang’s forces consisted of 3,700,000 men in arms, equipped with 1,600,000 rifles, 6,000 artillery, American-made planes, and a few divisions of US Marines. Fresh equipment was pouring in from America’s arsenals and American transport was used as an auxiliary force.

Contrasted to that, the Communist forces consisted of 320,000 ragged, poorly equipped peasants. Within three years, the relationship of forces had shifted to such degree that Chiang went down in military defeat.

A big factor in this revolutionary overturn, and Liu documents it well, was the propaganda of the Chinese Communist party calling for land to the peasants. It was not just propaganda either. As the peasants won, land was distributed to them.

In contrast, Chiang’s generals, a corrupt, reactionary crew, decimated the countryside; and, wherever possible, supported the landlords in their fight against the rising peasantry.

Liu cites an instance in which one of Chiang’s generals, growing desperate, had a leaflet distributed by airplane, stating that he might be in favor of reducing the landlord’s profit twenty-five per cent if the peasants would support him.

The Chinese Communist armies won many battles before they even began. Entire Nationalist armies came over, bringing with them their American-made guns and supplies. Mao put this in slogan form: “Our source of supplies is the front.”

Liu occasionally draws from the works of Trotsky, but reveals a remarkable lack of insight into the political reasons for the defeat of the Revolution of 1925-27. He attributes many of Stalin’s “mistakes” to the fact that “Stalin has had that disadvantage to which even the most powerful men are prey ... incompetent assistants” who provided false and misleading information. Liu does not consider how Trotsky got correct information.

Here, Liu reveals a pedantic military approach to events, limited in understanding of the economic, social and political forces involved in China’s revolutions.

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