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The Role of Organized Masses in the Military Campaign

Chiang’s hopes of using the strike organization as an auxiliary of the NRA were not realized to a meaningful degree. As the expeditionary forces marched up and over the border mountains into Hunan, carriers became a primary consideration in logistics. Above Shaokuan, the northern terminal of the unfinished Canton to Hankow rail line, loomed high the Che-ling water gap in the Nanling range. A climb of a thousand-foot incline was necessary to get goods and people over the pass before they could descend into the broad Hsiang basin. In peacetime, this was accomplished by pack coolies and sedan chair carriers. Since Kwangtung was lacking in pack horses, the expedition’s supplies would have to go over on the strong backs of thousands of coolies.

During the two months before the July 9 launching, Chiang, the C-in-C of the expedition, and his military aides sought carriers from all possible sources. The professional carriers who worked the pass could not possibly handle the unusual demands of the expedition. Even offering the peasants around Shaokuan the high daily wage of one Chinese dollar plus an addi­tional sixty cents for the day’s food did not entice the needed numbers. Chinese peasants had learned from long bitter experience to avoid dealings with armies. When the Central Executive Committee of the KMT con­vened on May 20, it tried to solve the problem by requesting the services of the strike organization’s tens of thousands of striking workers. However, when the vanguard began to move north in May, the unit of strikers that accompanied it provided only token support, a mere 1,500.1

191With rising labor costs in Kwangtung, the recruitment of carriers did not proceed smoothly. Chiang dickered with the Strike Committee, but, the press reported, the committee would only concede that after the British met their demands then the committee would dispatch 3,000 armed pick­ets and strikers to work for the NRA.2 In the Canton area, the KMT assigned coolie recruiting to the police, who were hard pressed to fill their quotas for paid volunteers. When individual police officials fell back on the traditional means of simply seizing coolies, the Party was forced to punish them in order to maintain its credibility.3

The KMT worked hard to adhere to its motto “Don’t Seize Coolies,” which it tried to combine with fair payment and treatment of volunteers. Gradually peasants in the areas through which the expedition moved overcame their skepticism as they learned of the unusual policy and did volunteer to work for the NRA. The recruitment policy stood in sharp contrast to that traditionally employed by warlord armies.

Warlord recruiting meant sending patrols into the countryside to seize sturdy males whereever encountered. Shackled together in a line, the carriers were prodded along and handled like cattle.4 For shelter, the coolies could count on little more than cattle cars, the dank holds of riverboats, or overcrowded, unsanitary bamboo sheds. After a long, hard day’s haul, they had no blankets to cover their overheated bodies. For food, they could expect little more than a large communal pot of rice once a day. Barely staving off starvation, the stronger fought at the rice pot for hand­fuls. Unsupported by a modern supply system, the carriers for the warlords gradually lost their meager clothing and went uncovered and barefoot. When maneuvers took a unit off the roads and up mountain trails, the warlords used a group of ten coolies to carry a field cannon, followed by reserve coolies to replace those who dropped along the way. To speed up movement, the guards used whips and showed their skill by beating the coolies only enough to speed up their pace but not wound them mortally. Given the lack of a nutritious diet, the exhaustive pace, and the lack of sanitation, the carriers dropped from disease or exhaustion—whichever hit them first. They were left along the trail to be replaced by locally seized manpower, which was in plentiful supply in the overpopulated coun­tryside. The problem was the rapidity with which the Chinese peasantry had learned to vanish upon learning of the approach of an army. According to an account of the fate of a group of several hundred Chekiang coolies seized by a subordinate of Sun Ch’uan-fang, over one hundred died during the three months of their forced labors through Chekiang and Kiangsu.5

Thus, the revolutionary recruiting policy of the NRA enjoyed a high repute, which undulated outward amongst the sea of peasants. Not only did this new movement profess to have the interests of all the people at heart, it proved to the pragmatic Chinese peasant that it could be a source of livelihood.

In Kwangtung the recruitment of carriers was not eased by the foot dragging of the CCP in its support of the Northern Expedition. When criticized by the public and even CCP members for this lack of involve­ment, 192 Ch’en Tu-hsiu felt constrained to dispel the image. In a letter to Chiang published in the Hsiang tao in early June, Ch’en countered by saying that his comrades were “… not completely opposed to the North­ern Expedition, but they merely mean that Kwangtung should gather its strength … and not lightly risk it in an attempt…. Our opinion differed on the matter of when the Northern Expedition should begin.”6 Failure of the NRA to win over Hunan could mean a rush of warlord forces into Kwangtung, which would suppress the flourishing CCP movement. However, as popular enthusiasm rose over the expedition, it had become necessary to exhibit nominal support. But as late as the week preceding the formal launching of the expedition, after the vanguard had long been fighting in Hunan, Ch’en Tu-hsiu seemed as obstructive as ever when he wrote in the Hsiang tao that Kwangtung should remain on the defensive, rather than promote an offensive.7

Then when the Central Committee of the CCP met from July 12 to 18, it concluded that “the southern National Government’s military campaign is actually merely to block the attack of the anti-red army into Hunan and Kwangtung and not a genuine Northern Expedition carried out with revolutionary power.”8 Even after the victories in Hunan during the fall of 1926, the CCP Central’s analysis set down its continued lack of enthusi­asm for the KMT’s Northern Expedition:

Recently the greatest problem for the CCP has been the Northern Expedition. Thus, we have had many differing opinions on the question, such as those of comrades who oppose the action. They reasoned that quick results could not be achieved. If this attitude had prevailed it would have been bad for the Party. Although the Northern Expedition cannot succeed, it is an aid to the National Revolutionary Movement because the new warlords are closer to the revolu­tionary movement than the old warlords.9

Thus, as the expedition began to manifest some signs of succeeding, the Russians and the CCP let up in their resistance to it and began to shape a new strategy that would utilize the expedition for their purposes. The change first appeared in the attitude of the Strike Committee during the first week of July—just prior to the formal send-off of the expedition. Naming a subcommittee to work with the Supply Corps of the NRA, the Strike Committee agreed to help fill the need for carriers.10 The first batch of 2,000 strikers boarded trains on July 5, bound for Shaokuan, followed by another 500 on the seventh. On July 8, 1,000 strikers marched to the Canton railway station from their East Park headquarters, accompanied by a KMT marching band.11 At that point, as the expedition was officially acknowledged as having begun, the Strike Committee could also claim that 3,000 strikers were working as carriers in the expedition to the north.12 That the effort made a significant contribution at that point can be seen in the termination of carrier recruitment by the Canton police.13 Ex-Peasant-Labor Minister Ch’en Kung-po, who had just resigned from his burdensome post to move north with the NRA Political Department, reported that in crossing the border range over 80 percent of the carriers 193were strikers “who had no work in Canton.”14 From July on, the CCP and its Strike Committee claimed publicly to be staunch supporters of the Northern Expedition—eventually presenting the image through Com­munist writers of being the primary promoters and supporters of what they entitled the Great National Revolution.

However dramatic the aid of the strikers as carriers may have appeared in July 1926, their role thereafter is rather unclear. That most articulate observer of the expedition from Canton to Wuhan, Ch’en Kung-po, com­plained that the strikers had joined the campaign in a state of emotional excitement, but that once they trudged into the humid heat of the subtrop­ical Kwangtung summer their spirits wilted considerably. The climb was a hard, hot one, and those making it reeled under attacks of cholera and other diseases. Due to the prior defection of T’ang Sheng-chih in southern Hunan, at least the climbers had only to fight the pull of gravity in ascending the pass. According to observer Ch’en, the Cantonese coolies, aware of the KMT’s liberal recruitment policy and the avoidance of force, refused to carry supplies for the NRA much past the Kwangtung border.15 According to another report, over 400 carriers had come down with various diseases during the climb,16 and that may have contributed to the faintness of heart that returned large numbers of Cantonese strikers to their hometown by early August.17 Then, too, the Strike Committee may have had in mind only a temporary transfer of strikers out of their authority. Once into Hunan, the NRA had to recruit Hunanese to carry its supplies.

The NRA Recruits Its Own Carriers

The NRA’s vanguard having preceded the main force into Hunan in May 1926, the Political Department workers already had valuable contacts with the local people by the end of July. They had especially sought out trade guilds and associations to help with procurement. The NRA’s attractive recruitment policy quickly became common knowledge wherever the expedition proceeded. In Hunan the peasantry found it especially attrac­tive because during the summer of 1926 they were plagued by a drought in the south of the province and by floods in the north. Thus, the normally acquisitive peasants flocked to receive the NRA’s high pay and daily food ration. Whereas to the Hong Kong striker the per diem rate of C$1.60 was only slightly more than the strikers’ daily stipend he could receive without working, to the Hunanese peasant the wage was well worth the effort.18

The most common initial contact made by the Political Department in its search for carriers was with the local hsien-chang (highest hsien official). Requested to publicize the NRA’s need and the wages offered, the hsien-chang would act as the middleman in passing the request on to trade guilds or workers’ associations—especially carrier associations—which would fill the quotas.19 If the local hsien-chang had been one of Wu P’ei-fu’s appointees and had fled with the appearance of the NRA, then the Political Department members had to contact the local peasantry or work­ers.

When Hunan came under the NRA’s control, the NRA found the skeletal 194structure of the KMT-sponsored Union of Labor Associations (Kung-t’uan Lien-ho-hui), which Wu P’ei-fu’s subordinates had suppressed. Like most warlords, Wu suppressed the modern workers’ unions because he consid­ered them subversive, but in Hunan the union’s leaders and member­ship, although disbanded, were available for reorganization once the pro­vince came under the NRA. A letter from the Changsha hsien-chang to Chairman Kuo of the Hunan Union of Labor Associations provides some details:

We have just received a telegrammed order from the General Director’s Headquarters which says, “Our army has been victorious. Now a great deal of ammunition and military supplies have been carried here from Kwangtung and should be moved quickly to the front. To transport these things please gather as soon as possible at least a thousand carriers.” The other army corps have already gathered over 10,000 for service at the front and now we have been ordered to gather more. It is very difficult. We think that the future of the revolution depends on the cooperation of the masses. After discussion, you have agreed to organize the transport teams as Chairman. Because we cannot afford a delay you should organize the transport teams within the next few days. Each team should include 100 carriers. For the time being organize twenty teams.20

This type of team was generally formed around a group of men with either their profession or locale in common, such as rickshaw workers, steve­dores, night-soil carriers, or area peasants.21 A report from Changsha claimed that the heavy demand for local coolies from the NRA had taken most transporters out of town and allowed those who remained to charge much higher than usual prices. Later in the fall of 1926, during Sun Ch’uan-fang’s massive counterattack in Kiangsi, even such items as barbed wire for the defenses was borne in quantity by carriers from Shaokuan, Kwangtung, down to the rail line in Hunan.22

Various types of professional and social organizations were present in Hunan before the arrival of the NRA. CCP reports include all sorts of traditional secret societies and village defense groups. In some villages, young student activists, sons of local gentry, had returned home and attempted to organize peasants in their villages for education and political discussions on the Three Peoples’ Principles, but their effectiveness can be questioned. Some had been sent by middleschool student unions, which had motivated and trained them; a few had been sent by the KMT (and CCP) to the Kwangtung Peasants’ Movement Classes.23 We have already observed that thirty-six Hunanese had been so enrolled from late March to September 1926.24

The effectiveness of such efforts prior to the occupation of Hunan by the NRA can be questioned. Wang Chien-min recalled that a group of peasants in his home village gathered to hear his political message and showed curiosity about the photograph of Sun Yat-sen that Wang displayed. He was questioned as to who “that foreigner in the picture was”—Sun’s dress and moustache appeared foreign to the rural people, as many of his ideas must also have. To Wang the rural peasantry seemed apathetic to any but 195its own local interests such as the demands made by passing armies for produce and manpower and anxieties over being seized or robbed by the strangers. It was upon this attitude that the Political Department capitalized by using the attractive recruitment policy and respectful treat­ment, and by paying good prices for the produce purchased for the NRA. As the ways of the NRA became known, it moved into areas where, rather than finding that the peasants had fled into hiding, it found instead curious peasants lining the roads selling tea and rice gruel to the passing troops.25 In some areas, peasants had also heard the Party propaganda promising that tax and rent burdens would be lightened by the NRA. It had been common in China’s history for the founders of regimes to balance anew the rural economic system by redistributing or confiscating the land of those who had fallen fighting for the old regime, or who had been its rural middlemen.

Later CCP historians are quite insistent that organized peasants played a crucial role in the campaign through Hunan. There is little mention of large-scale, organized peasant support of the NRA outside CCP literature. The cases cited by the CCP writers were located entirely in that sector traversed by the Right Route of the Hunan operation. This portion of the NRA was composed of the Fourth Army’s Tenth and Twelfth divisions plus Communist Yeh T’ing’s Independent Regiment and moved north along the east side of the Hsiang River basin.26

Of the ten geographic points cited where peasants’ associations or unions worked actively as guides, intelligence gatherers, saboteurs, snipers, or combatants, nine of the ten are located in that eastern sector.27 Even these examples of peasant and worker support are not particularly large in scale; support is counted in terms of a few hundred workers or peasants. In one case, workers led by students spread across approximately ten miles of countryside on July 11 to harass selected enemy points from the rear by firing bird guns and throwing daggers, and then joined with Yeh T’ing’s regiment to attack the front.28 At the same time on the Canton-Hankow Railroad in Hunan, workers sabotaged the rails and electrical power lines of the enemy and gathered intelligence along the branch railroad between Chuchou and Liling (also in the eastern sector).29 To the north between Yochou and Lin-hsiang, peasants reportedly damaged Wu P’ei-fu’s rail supply line back to Hankow in early July.30 The only mention in CCP sources of the apparently non-Communist battle sector, the Center and Left routes, was that of the failure of an attempted general strike at Changsha.

Because of its rail connections and its centrality as a hub of roads in Hunan, the provincial capital was the target of a large offensive. By early July, when the NRA was approaching Changsha, the KMT and CCP political agents with the Political Department had been working in Hunan for at least two months. Within Changsha there existed the nucleus of a workers’ association, the Union of Labor Associations already mentioned. As the battlefront neared Changsha, the underground leadership of the union gathered 1,000 workers and planned to spearhead a general strike to 196harass enemy Yeh K’ai-hsin’s rear. However, when the “union’s” workers began their strike on July 8, 1926, Yeh’s troops in the city far outnumbered the unarmed workers and their leaders and quickly suppressed the strike. Thus frustrated, the union provided no further support until the arrival of the NRA was imminent. On July 9, the union formed a “peace-maintenance corps” to protect the Changsha burghers from looting by the troops who might retreat back through the city en route north. Farther south the Lien River line of Yeh K’ai-hsin became untenable as a flying column of the Eighth Army threatened the rail line north of Changsha. By July 11, Yeh’s troops were straggling through Changsha out of formation so that the units of the “peace-maintenance corps” were able to isolate and disarm batches of soldiers—some of whom were probably bent on looting. Upon Changsha’s occupation by the Eighth Army, the union was ordered to turn over the captured weapons, a part of which the union leaders did give up. However, the CCP account claims that a portion of the weapons was retained and later used to arm a force of union pickets. Apparently, there was from the start a lack of real cooperation between some leaders of the organized workers and the NRA.31

The CCP interpretation could mean that either its cadre in the Right Route was more able to elicit “mass” support (even if limited to several hundred) or that with more CCP cadre in the eastern sector more stories that showed the power of the masses were recorded. The sector west of the Hsiang River, interestingly, is the broader, much more heavily populated area with more farm villages (including Mao Tse-tung’s own home village), while the east sector, publicized for its mass organizations, is more rugged and sparsely populated.

The next campaign for which the CCP recorded organized civilian support was that of the Mi-lo River line, the last stand of Wu’s forces in Hunan. Both sides had been gathering strength along the riverbanks since the fall of Changsha, a full month before. During the retreat toward the Mi-lo River, while a part of the northern force marched through Hsien-chung, a local KMT headquarters led the area’s peasants in harassing the bands of stragglers. It was just such bands that usually strayed to loot small villages. According to the report, the organized peasants killed two enemy soldiers and captured, along with eight rifles, ten others who were exe­cuted the following day. At nearby Peichiang, peasants reportedly attacked and killed numbers of stragglers with their hoes. Later, during the fourth day of the Mi-lo offensive, a group of peasants are recorded as having guided an attack up a steep hill, thereby flanking the enemy’s upland flank at Pai-shih-ling. These peasants were organized by a peasants’ association, which claimed to have lost 20 of its men in the battle while killing 300 of the enemy near P’ing-chiang. Its contributions included providing intelligence about the enemy’s defenses, carrying supplies, guiding units of the NRA across the Mi-lo River from Heng-ch’a to Shih-tzu-yen, and collaborating with the propaganda units of the Political Department.32 The geographic points named as having provided organized civilian support to the Mi-lo offensive correspond again to the eastern or Right Route of the Fourth Army’s Tenth and Twelfth divisions and Yeh T’ing’s regiment.33

197Of the NRA that pursued the enemy’s retreat after Mi-lo, Li Tsung-jen’s portion of the Left Route followed the rail route on which the bulk of the enemy withdrew and appeared at the perimeter of the port of Yochou on August 22. The city’s outer line of defenses lay under flood water. With information from local peasants that the defenders’ morale was poor, and with the guidance of natives in approaching an undefended way into the city, Li launched a successful attack from the rear.34 Another pursuit route took the Eighth Army of T’ang Sheng-chih overland to cut the rail line ahead of the enemy. The success of this maneuver resulted in the capture of many of the retreating troops and was aided at Lin-hsiang by the action of a hsien official who gathered townspeople into a unit that fired on the retreating troops, thus further undermining their will to resist.35

The evidence published by the CCP publications does point up the ideologically correct view that the masses are all powerful—especially if organized and led by the Communist Party. However, there remain a number of questions unanswered as to the significance of organized civilian support. The NRA was operating in Hunan for nearly two months before the battles cited by the CCP as those in which the peasants helped took place. What of that two-month portion (about one-half) of the Hunan campaign? Although instances of peasant aid are described for the eastern sector of the front, what about the role of the masses in the larger western sector and in the operation as a whole? The cases of peasant and worker aid mention small groups of less than one hundred to no more than one thousand persons doing battle in sites on the periphery of major combat. Is this to be accepted as massive, organized support of a sustained nature? Even guerrilla warfare, if it is to be of an effective nature, involves more than an isolated action in a restricted area. If the civilian support to the Right Route as led by CCP cadre was crucially significant, then that sector should have moved northward more easily and quickly. Why then did that sector, until July, make much less headway than the western sector across the Hsiang valley? That western, more populous sector did have its share of battles and enemy activity.

Nearly all the reports of organized mass support for the expedition in Hunan originated with CCP sources, such as the Hsiang tao article of July, “Hunan during the Northern Expedition,” by-lined by a partisan in the field, Ko T’eh. Another Hsiang tao report drew from September issues of the Canton Kuo-min jih-pao, a KMT organ then dominated by the Left, which promoted the CCP’s organizing of the masses. Another account that found its way onto Hsiang tao pages was “Facts on the Direct Participation of the Hunan Peasants in the Battles of the Northern Expedition,” which originated in the September 14 edition of the Chan-shih chou-pao pub­lished by the Secretariat of the Hunan CCP Central Committee at Changsha.36

The nonpartisan, or at least nonofficial, press of that time, both Chinese and Western, differed in their reports from those of the above partisan sources in the interpretation of civilian support. Outside of Party organs, the press described the support as being unorganized, mainly spontane­ous, and passive in nature. According to these sources, Chinese civilians 198facilitated the movement of the Northern Expedition through Hunan by the sale to the NRA of goods and services, and through acts of cooperation such as providing information and guides. Rather than fleeing before the NRA, or hiding in terror, the “people” stayed to welcome the NRA. Could the NRA have conquered Hunan without the tacit acceptance of the provincial people?

The presence of civilian support in Hunan was only one of several factors that favored the NRA’s progress. By late June, the NRA probably outnum­bered the troops of Wu P’ei-fu’s subordinates in Hunan. It was not until late August that reinforcements from Wu became significant. The matter of numbers of divisions and regiments is clouded by the unreliability of units living up to their theoretical complements. Neither side was particularly meticulous in that regard. According to units in the field, the NRA had numerical superiority in Hunan. In the official account, during the Changsha campaign the northern side had somewhat under five divisions in strength while the NRA attackers had seven divisions, two brigades, and three regiments.37 During the Mi-lo offensive in August while the north­ern force still awaited Wu’s reinforcements from Hopei-Hunan, the NRA’s numerical superiority was increased by two brigades.38

By the time the NRA carried the expedition into southern Hupei in pursuit of the defeated forces of Wu, its victories and reputation had become common talk in the country and cities alike. Moving north along the Canton-Hankow Railroad, the NRA met its first major resistance at the highly defensible Ting-szu Bridge. In a battle considered to have been the most fiercely fought to that time, the NRA enjoyed the aid of the local people. August 26 was spent futilely attempting to cross the bridge and the stream. A flanking movement was called for, and, according to the Hua-ch’iao jih-pao, this was accomplished with the help of peasants from Hsien-ning who knew the terrain well enough to move through the hills quickly in the dark.39 Volunteers for carrying supplies had been plentiful and they also may have acted as guides, although the official military account makes no mention of such civilian aid. In his account of the following evening, Ch’en Kung-po recalled his surprise that so shortly following the battle people were back in the town of Ting-szu Bridge with the market set up and lighted for business as the NRA soldiers passed through. Another observer, CCP member Kuo Mo-jo, noted the ease with which the NRA troops could approach the local people to purchase food and seek shelter, while those of Wu P’ei-fu were avoided as “aliens” and, if caught as stragglers out of ranks, were beaten by the natives as “thieves.”40

As the NRA’s supply lines back to Kwangtung lengthened, food became an important element in pressing the Northern Expedition. The instance of the night market that greeted the NRA at Ting-szu Bridge contrasts with reports that simultaneously Wu’s forces were low on food. Of course partly accounting for Wu’s shortage were the shortages brought on by drought and floods. Admittedly, the NRA Supply Corps still had to draw on rice produced in the adjacent upland valleys of Kwangtung to fill its appetite for over 100,000 catties of rice daily,41 but it also lived off the land to a 199significant degree. The sale of local food to the NRA helped feed it, and also deprived the enemy of that much food. Since the warlord forces had a reputation of confiscating visible food, or forcing the exchange of food for worthless warlord military scrip, the NRA Political Department cadre could convince the local peasantry more easily to avoid commerce with the enemy.42 This reinforced the traditional peasant practice of fleeing to the hills with their stores of rice when armies were passing through.

As a movement of the twentieth century, the Northern Expedition often moved by rail or faced an enemy that did. The NRA had moved from Canton to the Hunan border by rail. As it took Hunan territory it came into possession of rail lines, but would have had no rolling stock or equip­ment were it not for that acquired from the enemy. Sun Fo, who was then Minister of Communications, recalled that the railroad workers were helpful in acquiring these. Affiliated with a secret KMT union, the rail workers slowed or prevented the northern supply authorities from moving rolling stock or equipment. In some cases, key parts of equipment were hidden, in other cases the rolling stock was hidden so that it was unavaila­ble to Wu’s retreating forces. By the time Wu had withdrawn his forces to the Yangtze and faced the problem of either ferrying the rolling stock over the bridgeless river or destroying it, the NRA had come into possession of much of it.43 When equipment could not be hidden, and word came that Wu’s forces were about to withdraw by rail, the regular workers would scatter and vanish so that the enemy troops could not readily put the train together and operate it.44 As the NRA moved through southern Hupei en route to the Wuhan complex, the Canton-Hankow Railroad had become quite valuable as a mobile advance headquarters and temporary hospital and as a means to move troops and supplies quickly. Although the coopera­tion of some of the railroad workers did diminish the use of the rails by the enemy, it did not deprive Wu’s troops of rail communications entirely. Many workers who could not afford to lose their wages continued to work for Wu, and a few of his soldiers also managed to operate the trains themselves when pressed. Thus, as late as August 23, when Wu’s troops were in retreat out of Hunan, many moved by rail; one such unit was ambushed and captured by an NRA vanguard.45

As Wu suffered defeat at the Wuhan cities, many of the railroad workers in Hankow fled into the French concession there rather than work to move Wu’s troops by train up the rail line from Hankow into Honan. Farther north where the railroad traversed the countryside north of Huayüan, rail workers cooperated with the NRA by tearing up the rails. Apparently, Wu’s engineers could not repair the damage in time, and he was forced to march his forces north to the next defense line in the border hills. How­ever, as the Eighth Army pursued Wu, the workers repaired the damaged rails making possible a speedy follow-up so that Wu and his forces were caught at Wusheng Pass before they had prepared their defenses.46 In less than two weeks the NRA pursued Wu over 100 miles from Hankow to the pass, which it quickly captured.

According to the Hsiang tao’s reading of the official press of Canton, 200Hanyang Arsenal workers in Hunan responded to the approach of the NRA by leading a general strike, which began on August 1 and lasted until September 7, the day after Hanyang’s occupation.47 Since the output of arsenals was crucial to the civil war, a strike would have been damaging, as had been the strike at Canton’s arsenal. Little evidence is available about the effectiveness of the strike at the Hanyang Arsenal, but at the time of its capture by the NRA a large stock of ammunition was reported to have been captured also.48 Thus, the strike had either not completely shut down production, or the arsenal’s reserves had remained for capture. On the day of the capture, there were still 150 workers at their labors, who were kept there until the following morning. Then, the new director of the arsenal appealed for a return to work, promising first a two-day holiday and then regular pay for their work under NRA authorities.49 The arsenal was apparently assigned to Eighth Army Commander T’ang Sheng-chih, whose agents hoped to increase production to meet the needs of the expedition.

Of the three Wuhan cities with their industrial and commercial wealth, the arsenal, and the large concentration of proletariat, all of which had attracted the NRA, Hanyang and Hankow fell in quick succession as the NRA forced Wu to withdraw into Honan. However, at Wuchang, the walled provincial capital of Hupei, a sizable force held out under siege awaiting Wu’s return or help from Sun Ch’uan-fang in Kiangsi.

The siege, lasting from September 7 until October 10, enclosed an urban population of 300,000, which included students and workers. Kuo Mo-jo with the Political Department and Ch’en Kung-po both participated in the siege and acted as its chroniclers. Both were greatly aware of the workers’ movements, but neither mentions any support provided the NRA from within the city. They describe only the problems of military combat, Kuo decrying the lack of heavy machine guns, large siege cannon, and the “faulty intelligence reports.” Within the city, CCP member Yü Hsi-tu, heading a small insurrection corps that Chang Kuo-t’ao had dispatched from Shanghai, reported their efforts at propagandizing to incite military defections and small-scale acts of sabotage by CCP and KMT cadre—not by organized masses.50

Later the Kuowen chou-pao published an extremely detailed daily diary of a minor bureaucrat within the city. It makes no mention of any civilian effort working against the defenders from within the walls, although the account describes all sorts of civilian affairs, contacts with the defending troops, mediation efforts by the Merchants’ Association, and the evacua­tion of the women, the aged, and the infirm. The picture is one of the people accepting the situation passively, hoarding their rice until the threat of starvation loomed, and attempting to leave the city in droves during a short-term evacuation of civilians.

Although the students had already come under the influence of the KMT’s Student Union Movement in which many CCP members operated, they and their schools were clamped under close military surveillance. There is no mention of student-led subversion or collaboration with the besiegers. Although the city’s people feared the arbitrary rule of Wu’s 201defenders, they were also upset by the bombing carried on by the NRA and by the Russian “advisors,” which demolished civilian quarters and killed noncombatants.51 Rather than guerilla activities or subversion, the prim­ary determinant in the fall of Wuchang on October 10 was the hopelessness of defending a starving city.

The Western histories that mention the Northern Expedition relied heavily on the CCP’s political pieces as the basis for generalizations on the National Revolution, and thus have assumed as correct a picture of or­ganized proletariat and peasantry so subverting the warlords’ operations that the NRA took cities that had been won by the masses.* On the basis of a variety of sources, that interpretation seems highly insecure. This does not seem to have been the case at Changsha, nor at Wuhan. Except for an economic strike at Hankow’s British cigarette factories during May and June, which the Hsiang tao reported, there was little union activity until after the arrival of the NRA and its Political Department labor organizers.52 Through Comintern news sources, Paris’ L’Humanité of the French Com­munist Party reported that in Hunan and Hupei, “The workers began propagandizing during the arrival of the Cantonese. They organized meet­ings and distributed tracts explaining the goal of the KMT” (emphasis added).53 Chang Kuo-t’ao, from his own experience at Wuhan from Sep­tember 11, 1926, on, claimed that “… the peasant movement led by the CCP was only beginning …” and of the labor unions after Wu P’ei-fu’s suppression that the “… only survivors were a few trade union secret groups led by the CCP.”54 The political fruits of these efforts were gathered, not before the arrival of the NRA, but during the fall and winter of 1926 and 1927, when Wuhan had become the center of Communist organizing of mass groups. That was the period referred to by CCP ac­counts later as Wuhan’s Communist Period. The military campaign moved from Wuhan toward the Kiangsi border in September 1926.


1. SCMP (May 24, 1926), p. 9.

2. SCMP (June 26, 1926), p. 10.

3. SCMP (June 28, 1926), p. 9.

4. Ibid.

5. Kuowen (March 27, 1926), n. p.

6. Ch’en Tu-hsiu, “Kei Chiang chieh-shih-ti yi-feng-hsin” [Letter to Chiang Kai-shek], Hsiang Tao, (June 9, 1926), pp. 1526-1529.

7. Ch’en Tu-hsiu, “Lün kuo-min cheng-fu-chih pei-fa” [On the northern expedition of the national government], Hsiang Tao (July 7, 1926), p. 1584.

8. CCP 2nd Enlarged CEC Meeting, p. 2A.

9. Chung-kuo Kung-ch’an-tang chien-ming li-shih [A simple history of the CCP] (Shan­ghai?: CCP Central, 1926). Hereafter cited as CCP History. Chang Kuo-t’ao (vol. 1, pp. 528-529) criticized his CCP comrades for their “passive attitude” from May until Hunan had been taken in August.

10. SCMP (July 5, 1926), p. 8.

11. SCMP (July 6, 1926), p. 8, and (July 9, 1926), p. 8, and (July 10, 1926), p. 8.

12. Teng Chung-hsia, p. 146.

13. SCMP (July 8, 1926), p. 8.

14. Ch’en Kung-po, pp. 41-42.

15. Ibid.

16. Teng Chung-hsia, p. 146.

17. Ibid., and SCMP (August 13, 1926), p. 9.

18. SCMP (August 13, 1926), p. 9.

19. From an interview with General Ho Ying-ch’in, June 4, 1966, in Taipei.

20. 1st Workers’ Movement, pp. 321-322, copies letter to the Hunan Union as published in Chan-shih chou-pao (November 14, 1926), n. p.

21. Ibid.

22. SCMP (September 30, 1926), p. 9.

23. Interview with Wang Chien-min, April 21, 1966.

24. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 21.

25. Ch’en Kung-po, pp. 45-46. Chang Kuo-t’ao (vol. 1, p. 537) recalls similar information gained in interviews with Yeh T’ing, CCP commander of the Independent Regiment.

26. N. Exp., vol. 2, pp. 337-339.

27. 1st Peasants’ Movement, 1st Workers’ Movement, and Hsiang Tao reports from July through November 1926.

28. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 293, copies an article in the Chan-shih chou-pao, (Sep­tember 19, 1926), n. p.

29. 1st Workers’ Movement, pp. 329-330.

30. “Hunan during the Northern Expedition,” newsletter from Hunan dated July 6, Hsiang Tao (July 14, 1926), p. 608.

31. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 293. N. Exp., vol. 2, pp. 337-355. Chang Kuo-t’ao (vol. 1, 320pp. 594, 610-614) recalls the CCP’s mistrust of Eighth Army commander T’ang, who had become the equivalent of the governor of Hunan-Hupei.

32. 1st Peasants’ Movement, pp. 329-330.

33. N. Exp., vol. 2, pp. 380-382.

34. Article from Min-kuo jih-pao (September 28, 1926), an official KMT organ, which Hsiang Tao reproduced (November 4, 1926, n. p.).

35. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 330.

36. Ko T’eh, “Pei-fa sheng-chung-chih Hunan” [Hunan during the northern expedition], Hunan communiqué of July 7, Hsiang Tao (July 14, 1926), p. 1606. Shu Chien, “Ts’ung kuang-chou suo-hsin pei-fa-chün-chih sheng-li yü min-chung” [News from Canton on the victories of the northern expeditionary army and the masses], Hsiang Tao (November 4, 1926), 1843-1844. Quotes from the Canton Kuo-min jih-pao (September 20, 1926), n. p. The SCMP (March 23, 1926, p. 8) reports that the Min-kuo jih-pao and Kuo-min hsin-wen were both temporarily suspended for their known CCP affiliations. Chan-shih chou-pao (Sep­tember 19, 1926) article copied in 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 273.

37. N. Exp., vol. 2, pp. 347-348.

38. Ibid.

39. Hsiang Tao (November 4, 1926, n. p.), in which Shu Chien quoted from the Hong Kong Hua-ch’iao jih-pao (September 7, 1926).

40. Kuo Mo-jo, Wuch’ang ch’eng-hsia (Shanghai, 1933), translated by Josiah W. Bennet as “A Poet with the Northern Expedition,” Far Eastern Quarterly 3(1-4) (February 1944-August 1944):144-145, 165. Hereafter cited as Kuo Mo-jo.

41. SCMP (August 13, 1926), p. 9.

42. New York Times (September 1, 1926), p. 7.

43. Interview with Sun Fo on May 25, 1966.

44. Interview with Li Shao-ling, January 1966, ex-Political Department cadre.

45. N. Exp., vol. 2, p. 393.

46. Ma, Labor, vol. 2, p. 575.

47. Hsiang Tao (November 4, 1926), p. 1843.

48. SCMP (September 13, 1926), p. 9.

49. SCMP (September 16, 1926), p. 9.

50. Chang Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, pp. 530, 539.

51. Kuowen (January 2, 1927), n. p. Akimova, p. 247.

52. Pai T’ien, “Wuhan tsui-chin-ti chi-ts’e kung ch’ao” [Recent labor tides in Wuhan], communiqué from Hankow July 16, 1926, Hsiang Tao (August 6, 1926), pp. 1665-1666. CKHT, p. 163.

53. L’Humanité (September 27, 1926), n. p.

54. Chang Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, pp. 547-549.

* This would have to include Harold Isaacs’ The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, whose gripping version inspired my research. See the general surveys by Ho Kan-chih, A History of the Modern Chinese Revolution, and Hu Ch’iao-mu, Thirty Years of the Chinese Communist Party.

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