China: An Unkind Century

Victims of Communism Memorial Virtual Museum

 China: An Unkind Century
Author: John Tkacik [1]

The Twentieth Century was unkind to the Chinese people. It began with the collapse in 1911 of the last imperial dynasty after decades of corruption, inept governance and social disintegration. From the wreckage of empire, provincial warlords struggled for power and profit at the expense of the people.


The West demanded an "Open Door" to China to assure free access for European and American trade in China's markets regardless of which warlord was in charge, or where. Japan saw itself as the savior of its ancient cultural origins (and its lucrative markets) by moving into China's power vacuum to command it by force of arms – and, in the process, to keep out Westerners. China's Nationalists wanted to unite the nation and throw out the foreigners.


The Origins of Chinese Communism

The small Chinese Communist Party, a creation of Moscow, proclaimed that the nation's poor must unite and destroy the wealthy. In 1923, the Comintern in Moscow ordered the 420 CCP members in China – mostly labor organizers famous for violent protests in China's hinterland cities – to join China's Nationalist Party, itself a political party of Leninist organization if not ideology.

Under the aegis of the Nationalists, the CCP thrived, secretly recruiting over 57,000 members by the spring of 1927, a figure that alarmed the Nationalist chief, Chiang Kai-shek, who himself was planning a military campaign against China's warlords and unite China as a socialist power. In May of that year, Chiang crushed the Communists in Shanghai, killing thousands and sending the CCP leadership into hiding. Mao, however, escaped the purge – he had been organizing peasants in mountainous southeast China and commanded the only serious armed force under CCP control – eventually liquidating 4,400 CCP fighters of doubtful loyalty (the so-called "Anti-Bolsheviks") at Futian, Jiangxi, in December 1930. 1 Violence had become a hallmark of Mao's political theory – after all, Mao famously declared, "A revolution is not a dinner party . . . it is an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." 2

Over the next five years, nearly surrounded by Chiang's armies in five separate "encirclement campaigns," the core of Mao's forces ultimately eluded destruction in 1935, fleeing in the legendary (if not wholly mythical) "Long March" first west, then north, to sanctuary near the Soviet-controlled Gobi Desert. In 1937, Japan, which had occupied Manchuria in 1932 and had formed alliances with several Chinese provincial warlords, attacked troops loyal to Chiang at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking (instigated, some say, by the CCP), thus diverting the Nationalist's campaign away from the escaping Communists. 3

China's Civil War 1945-49

For the next decade, until the end of the Second World War, generally free from Chiang's threat, Mao's communists governed their base areas and a population of several tens of millions with a combination of populism mixed with violence against "enemy classes" (landlords, petit bourgeoisie and the like). Mao remembered that, Without the respite offered by the Japanese invasion, Mao's communists would likely have been defeated:

"In the past, Japan attacked China, and occupied the better part of China. There are now some Japanese capitalist class representatives who see us and say: We are deeply sorry, we in the past had aggressed against you all. I said: No, if it weren't for your aggression and your occupation of the better part of China. We could not have been victorious; your aggression stirred up the entire Chinese people to rise and oppose you. It was only because of Japan's occupation of the better part of China that the Chinese people all therefore rose up." 4

Not for nothing did Mao's armies resolutely avoid major fighting against Japan in World War II. 5 They were well- positioned in large guerrilla units throughout the countryside in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and North China where they stayed out of the way of regular Japanese troops.

The Soviet Army invaded Manchuria on August 9, 1945, the day of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki which shortly forced Japan's surrender, and coordinated the disarming of 1.2 million Japanese forces with prepositioned Chinese communist forces. Well-supplied, rested, and motivated, the Communists easily outfought Chiang's Nationalists, who were exhausted after nine years of fighting Japan, riven by warlord rivalries and dispirited by the corruption of Chiang's regime.

Moreover, President Truman had lost confidence in Chiang's rule. Despite the fact that the U.S. had "authorized aid to Nationalist China in the form of grants and credits totaling more than 2 billion dollars" between 1945 and 1949, there had been little accounting for its use and it was the opinion of the Department of State that "the Nationalist Armies did not lose a single battle during the crucial year of 1948 through lack of arms or ammunition"; rather they lost because of the regime's corruption. 6 Thus, by 1949, when Truman withheld political support and blocked last-ditch Congressional efforts to get even more military and economic aid to Chiang's regime, what was left of the Nationalist armies was obliged to withdraw across the Taiwan Strait and hope for the best. 7

Violence and the New Communist State

Mao Zedong pronounced the establishment of the People's Republic of China under the "leadership of the Chinese Communist Party" on October 1, 1949, and the Chinese people hoped a new era of peace would enable their nation to rebuild its wrecked economy.

It was not to be. In June 1950, North Korea invaded the South with the full support and encouragement of the Soviet Union. By October 2, Chinese leader Mao Zedong made an almost unilateral decision to send over a million "People's Volunteers" to fight the American Army which had arrived at the banks of the Yalu River, North Korea's border with Manchuria. 8 By mid 1953, when the Panmunjom Armistice was signed, "several hundreds of thousands" 9 Chinese soldiers had died and China was an extra $700 million in debt to the Soviet Union. 10

Three Anti's and Five Anti's

Away from Korean battlefields, China's new communist rulers also carried out new violent campaigns – against their own people. In 1949, they launched "land reform" which involved confiscating the land and possessions of at least one "landlord" or "wealthy peasant" per village in arbitrary tribunals. These tribunals required poorer neighbors to "speak bitterness" (su ku) against wealthier townsmen, and in many cases call for their deaths. 11 Party cadres could then cart off the more valuable possessions of the "convicted" class enemies, and parcel out what was left among poorer folk, thus coopting otherwise hesitant citizens. Those who failed to "speak bitterness" were themselves accused of reactionary behavior. The land reforms and campaigns to root out -- first three, then five -- separate classes of counterrevolutionaries and other "bad class elements", the so-called "Three Anti's and Five Anti's" (san fan wu fan) campaigns of 1949-1952 are estimated to have involved over five million executions. 12

CCP historians now acknowledge that these campaigns were "a bit leftist" and "caused some intellectuals to suffer harm they ought not have suffered." 13 While CCP histories admit the excesses of the early "Anti's" campaigns, they nevertheless insist the "line was largely correct."

Anti-Rightist Campaign and the "Great Leap"

Not so with the "Anti-Rightist Campaign" that began in May 1957. There "several hundred thousand, or even more, good comrades and friends loyal to the Party and to the socialist mission suffered unjust persecution for a long time." 14 Clearly, the phrase "or even more" suggests the number was over a million – and that number is just the "unjustly" persecuted ones.


Most of the millions persecuted, unjustly or otherwise, in the Anti-Rightist Campaign really did oppose Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward," his "People's Communes" and to a lesser extent the "Socialist Education Campaign," collectively known as the "Three Red Flags." These were the beginning of Mao's drive to collectivize China's economy in one fell swoop from 1958 through 1962. The "Three Red Flags" were not only disastrous to the economy, they were catastrophic to humanity. The "Three Red Flags" killed 36 million Chinese – even by current Chinese scholarly reckoning 15 -- before it was over.

The Cultural Revolution
And no sooner had one ideologically-driven disaster decimated China's benighted people, than Mao Zedong (his feelings hurt when the Party forced him to take at least unpublished blame for the disasters) unleashed another. The "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (Wuchanjieji Wenhua Da Geming) was Mao's revenge against the "revisionists" and "capitalist roaders" in the Party who had challenged him.

Yet, for the sake of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao's rivals needed Chairman Mao in his role as custodian of the "universal truth of Marxism-Leninism" – a role he cloaked, with the support of the People's Liberation Army, in the aura of an infallible demigod. In the summer of 1966, this demigod instructed tens of millions of Chinese adolescents across the land to rise and overthrow all things old and foreign, and to "struggle" against their high school teachers and college professors, their local government officials, their local police, their parents, their factory bosses, and to rise up in rebellion against those who resisted.

And they did what Mao told them. Unsurprisingly, widespread chaos ensued. First, Mao had literally hundreds of his major and minor political rivals arrested, including the number-two in the Party (Liu Shaoqi), a Korean War hero (Marshal Peng Dehuai) and the Party's secretary general (Deng Xiaoping). Across the length and breadth of China, youthful Red Guard factions battled rival factions in open warfare; student rebels stormed schools, factories and government offices indicting top provincial cadres and lowly private citizens alike for counterrevolutionary crimes – and exacting their retribution. The most mindless stage of this mass psychosis lasted three years, and ended in 1969 with the Army deporting millions of youth "down to the countryside" to continue their "socialist education."

But a Cultural Revolution mentality continued to rule China until Mao's death in September 1976. Within weeks of Mao's death, his wife and top aides – the notorious "Gang of Four" – were arrested for their roles in the decade of upheaval. At their trial in 1980, the state tried and convicted them of direct personal responsibility for the deaths of 34,800 innocent people. That number included 16,222 members of the "Inner Mongolian Peoples' Revolutionary Party" who were executed on trumped up charges (another 346,000 were "persecuted"). 16

The Cultural Revolution and China's New Leadership
The number, of course, was vastly greater. The violence, terror, theft, destruction, arson and, death resulting from the Cultural Revolution left uncounted millions dead and touched literally hundreds of millions of Chinese 17 . . . including the current leader of China, General Secretary and State President Hu Jintao, and his heir presumptive Xi Jinping, to name a few.

In 2009, Hu Jintao is nominally the most powerful man in China. Yet, even he lauds the memory of Mao Zedong and declines to criticize the "leftist" excesses of the Cultural Revolution. 18 Those excesses were too much for even the Party to overlook, and on June 27, 1981, the Central Committee passed a "Resolution on Party History" that placed the entire blame for "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" squarely on Mao, himself. 19 Yet the man who occupies the Party's three top titles (General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman of the Party's "Central Military Commission," and Chairman of State of the People's Republic of China) still looks to Mao Zedong as the legitimating figure of the regime.

What hold does Communism have over such men, and over 1.3 billion fellow Chinese, that they have allowed themselves to be co-opted by its ideology of total authority over mankind?



Author Bio:

John Tkacik has spent four decades studying and working on China, Taiwan and Mongolian affairs in academia, in the U.S. Department of State, in private business, and with The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He was the editor and primary contributing author of two books, “Rethinking One China” (2004) and “Reshaping the Taiwan Strait” (2007), both published by Heritage.




The "Futian Incident" was a turning point in Mao's rise to power in the CCP. See Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism 1921-1985, a Self-Portrait, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1988, pp. 34-35. Ladany cited internal CCP "Party History" documents as noting that the "truth behind the Futian Incident has never been made clear." Mao's top security aide, Zeng Sheng, was the man who implemented the liquidations. Zeng was a rare Mao loyalist who was not purged in the Cultural Revolution. His son, Zeng Qinghong, was China's Vice President and a CCP Politburo Standing Committee member from 2002-2007. Zeng Shan is cited as the triggerman in at least two accounts of the Futian Incident. Benjamin Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1951, pp. 174-177. See also Otto Braun, A Comintern Agent in China 1932-1939, London, C. Hurst & Company, 1982. p. 57.
"Report on an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (March 1927), cited in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1966, pp.11-12.
Chiang had been intent on eliminating the CCP threat even after a Nationalist-CCP truce in December 1936. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937 convinced him to focus his full attention on Japan. For a discussion of the CCP's possible role in the Incident see John Toland, The Rising Sun, the Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, Modern Library, New York, 1970, pp-43-47.
"Anjian Xinxilan Gongchandang Shuji Weierkekesi Fufude duihua" (Conversation on meeting with Mr and Mrs Wilcox, Communist Party of New Zealand Secretary, February 9, 1964), in Mao Zedong Sixiang Wansui, September 1967, p. 327. According to Ian Buruma, "When the then prime minister of Japan, Tanaka Kakuei, first met Chairman Mao in 1972, the Chairman allegedly thanked the Japanese leader warmly, for, as he put it, without the Japanese war communism would have been defeated." Ian Buruma, "The rest is history," Financial Times, January 21, 2005, at
Chinese Communist Party historians generally agree that, aside from the "Hundred Regiments War" (Bai Tuan Da Zhan" of 1940 which "inadvertently revealed our strength," CCP military forces curtailed their activities in the 1941-44 timeframe. In 1943, a Soviet TASS correspondent with the CCP armies complained that CCP "guerrillas" (literally, "moving strikers") "move but don't strike." See Liao Gailong, "Guanyu dang shi he dang shi ziliaode mantan" (Comments on Party history and Party History materials), Xuexi Cankao Ziliao, Beijing Municipal Political Consultative Conference, February 1981, p. 15.
See the "China White Paper", also known as United States Relations with China with Special Reference To The Period 1944-1949, U.S. Department of State, August 1949, pp. XIV-XV.
Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Patterns in the Dust, Chinese-American Relations and the Recognition Controversy 1949-1950, Columbia University Press, New York, 1983, p. 176.
Many Chinese accounts hint broadly that the decision to go to war was Mao's alone. See Ye Yumeng, Hei Xue, Chubing Chaoxian Jishi [Black Snow, A True Account of Entry into the Korean War], Beijing, Zuozhe Chubanshe 1988, pp. 46-47. See also Zhang Xi, “Peng Dehuai Shou Ming Shuai Shi, Kang Mei Yuan Chaode Qianwian Houhou” [Peng Dehuai Appointed to Lead the Troops, Background for the Korean War], in Zhonggong Dangshi Ziliao [CCP Party History Materials] Issue 31, Beijing, Zhonggong Dangshi Ziliao Chubanshe, 1989, p. 126; Nie Rongzhen, Inside the Red Star, the Memoirs of Marshal Nie Rongzhen, New World Press, Beijing, 1988, p. 636. This is a fairly accurate English translation of Nie Rongzhen Huiyi Lu, published in 1986.
Hong Xuezhi, Recollection of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (Kang Mei Yuanxhao Zhanzheng Huiyi); People’s Liberation Army Cultural Press, Beijing 1990; p.275. Chinese planners expected to lose 200,000 in the first year of battle alone, according to Xiaobing Li, Allan R. Millet and Bin Yu, Mao’s Generals Remember Korea; University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, 2002; p12. Probably over 500,000 Chinese soldiers were killed in the war.
Roderick MacFarquhar, John King Fairbank, The Cambridge History of China Volume 14, The People's Republic of China, Part I, the Emergence of Revolutionary China 1949-1965, Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 277.
For a detailed description of su ku, see Richard H. Solomon, Mao's Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971, pp. 195-197.
Simon Leys, The Burning Forest, Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics, Henry Holt, New York, 1983, pp. 124-125. (Leys cites Jacques Guillermaz, Le Parti Communiste chinois au poivoir, Payot, Paris, 1972, p. 33)
Liao Gailong, p. 26
Ibid, p.35
"Ideological debate in China; The Little Red Bookshop," The Economist, February 5, 2009, p. 37 at
A Great Trial in Chinese History, The Trial of the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing Counter-Revolutionary Cliques, Nov. 1980 – Jan. 1981," New World Press, Beijing, 1981, pp. 20-21.
See Andrew Nathan, "Mao’s Last Revolution: The Bloody Enigma, The New Republic, December 3, 2006 at, a review of Roderick Macfarquhar's book Mao’s Last Revolution.
Wu Su-li, “Hu Jintao’s Father Unjustly Accused during Cultural Revolution and Perished,” in “Beijing News” from Hong Kong “Kaifang” Open Magazine. May 2004 (vol. 209): 14-16. A translation of the original article by Xia Xiangren (transl. T. Augustine Lo), "Hu Jintao and his bitter banquet of injustice," Asia Times Online, Aug 27, 2004, is available at
See, for example, Mr. Hu's speech marking Mao's 110th birthday, in which he departed from the Party's position in the 1980's that Mao had indeed made "Hu Jintao zai Mao Zedong yanzhen 110 zhounian zuotanhuide jianghua" (Hu Jintao's Talk at the Symposium Marking the 110th Anniversary of Mao Zedong's Birth), Xinhua, December 26, 2001, at Current Chinese scholars note that Mr. Hu still omits "the party's usual warning about the need to prevent leftism" in his speeches. (see, again, "Ideological debate in China; The Little Red Bookshop," The Economist, February 5, 2009, p. 37 at
"Zhongguo Gongchandang Zhongyang Weiyuan Hui Guanyu Jianguo yilai Dangde ruogan lishi wentide Jueyi" (Resolution of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Part on certain questions of history since the founding of the nation), is a basic Party document, reprinted in Sun Weiben, ed., Zhongguo Gongchandang Dangwu Gongzuo Da Cidian (Chinese Communist Party Great Dictionary of Party Work), Zhongguo Zhanwang Publishers, Beijing, May 1989, pp. 785-788.
Lena H. Sun, "Post for a `Princeling'," The Washington Post, June 8, 1992, p. A-12,



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