- An Enlightening Step Forward in the Study of Yan’an and the Chinese Communist Party: A Review of How the Red Sun Rose by Gao Hua
No wonder that this most important book is banned in mainland China. It reveals too much about Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) internal conflicts that is ignored or denied by official Communist historiography. Being banned does not, however, makes a book great, and this one amounts to the kind of factual history I was taught to shun when I was an apprentice historian in a discipline then ruled in France by the Annales school. One cannot even claim that it retraces the factual history of the 1935–1945 decade in a remote part of Shaanxi province, as it almost exclusively deals with intra-Party rivalries and struggles. Such well-known events as Lin Biao’s (林彪) victory at Pingxing Pass (平型關) on September 29, 1937, and the July 1940 Hundred Regiments Offensive, are only briefly mentioned. The war of resistance itself is mostly referred to through CCP leaders’ divergent approaches to the scope and depth of the United Front against Japanese invaders. [End Page 149]
Yet this minute study of a decade or fifteen years of intra-party conflicts amounts to a landmark in the study of the Chinese revolution. First, taking seriously the author’s “personal preference for case studies in historical research” (p. 715), readers must concede that this book provides a model case study, that utterly renews and enlightens our knowledge of the so far largely misunderstood Yan’an Rectification Movement (延安整風運動). Second, and more importantly, it enables us to “observe the ocean in a drop of water” (p. 715).
1. Yan’an Rectification Movement
Often limited to a few years around 1942–1944, the rectification movemen there encompasses most of the Yan’an decade, and an eighty-eight pages first chapter recalls its prehistory in the Jiangxi soviet areas. During the years 1932–1934 Mao gradually lost the supreme power he once enjoyed in the local Party and army. By September 1934, on the eve of the evacuation of the soviet area, he was “completely excluded from the decision-making core” (p. 87). Does this validate the claim of the official historiography, which designates Mao as the hero of the correct line fighting the Comintern faction’s ‘left deviation line’?
Mao and the Central Committee delegation in Jiangxi in other words the arm of the Comintern faction denounced by the Maoist historiography went along very well for a while in 1931, as both were leftist. Theinitial honeymoon was greatly facilitated by the decision of the Central Committee delegation to dismiss Xiang Ying’s (項英) criticism of the campaign against the Anti-Bolshevik (AB) League (AB 團), pioneered by Mao in 1930. That campaign had evolved into a massive internal Party purge, which killed many CCP members and directly led to the outbreak of the December 1930 Futian Incident (富田事變) (p. 11). The Central Committee delegation declared the Futian incident “counter-revolutionary” and resumed the annihilation campaign of the AB League (p. 16).
With the Long March begins a brand new phase in the origins of the Rectification Movement … and of Mao’s conquest of power. As suggested by the title and subtitle of the book, both aspects are so obviously linked that it would be meaningless to study the Yan’an Rectification Movement independently of Mao’s relentless quest of power. Yet such decisive landmarks in the rise of the “Red Sun” as the Zunyi Conference and Mao’s rivalry with Zhang Guotao (張國燾) are only briefly mentioned, as they are supposedly known by readers. The Zunyi conference brought Mao [End Page 150] back into the core of the Party and the army (p. 97). He steadily reinforced his position in 1935–1936, but the war with Japan, followed by the arrival of Wang Ming (王明), accompanied by Chen Yun (陳雲) and Kang Sheng (康生), to Yan’an in November 1937, threatened his...