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Civilian Aid in the Push Down the Yangtze

About the Kiangsi campaign, although there are a few accounts in KMT sources of organized civilian aid, the CCP remained silent. KMT accounts describe workers in the modern sector of the economy, for example, railroad and postal workers organized and removed from the traditional paternalistic pattern. These are the same sorts of workers that the KMT organized in Canton. As Chiang transferred troops by rail from northern Hupei toward Kiangsi, they had to pass the besieged city of Wuchang. Although the railroad workers were under considerable danger from shel­ling as their trains passed Wuchang, they continued to run the trains and greatly speeded the reinforcement of the Kiangsi front. At the border, the NRA had the cooperation of the local postmen who reportedly guided the troops from Hupei and Hunan across little-known passes and along paths at night. In this way the NRA avoided the most heavily fortified strong points around Ichün, Kao-an, Hsiu-shui, and T’ung-ku. Since the postmen’s delivery routes enabled them to cover a considerable amount of territory, they also had valuable intelligence to pass on to the NRA. They contributed greatly to the mobility of the NRA as it made surprise night attacks through the border ranges as the offensive opened.1 Once the NRA was inside Kiangsi, however, the worst of the campaign began. The battle for the lowlands west of Poyang Lake and the Kan River was perhaps the most severe and sustained test of the NRA in the expedition.

Apparently there was considerable sympathy for the KMT movement in 203the Kiangsi lowlands and urban centers of Nanchang and Kiukiang, center­ing around the middle schools and universities. The contributions have not been chronicled by the KMT in detail, but they did gain the attention of warlord Sun Ch’uan-fang at the time. Most likely the quick surprise attack that took Nanchang the first time was eased by the efforts of students. Many, encouraged by pro-KMT teachers, had left their homes to join the NRA. When NRA units entered Nanchang on September 19, they in­cluded many local young people. There was even a unit of young women in mixed uniforms who were recognized as students.2

When Sun retook Nanchang after it had been occupied by the NRA for one week, he was well aware of the role of the student community. There are greatly varying reports of students and civilians decapitated or shot for collusion with the enemy. From Peking a press release reported 400 students executed,3 while word of 2,000 citizens executed for collaborating arrived in Hong Kong. One means of singling out radical students was to arrest those with short “Russian haircuts” or the short bobbed hair of the modern young woman.4 At Kiukiang, to serve as a warning, the heads of “KMT spies” were impaled and displayed around the city.5 The suppres­sion came as Sun personally assumed command at Nanchang in early October 1926, and followed the “anti-Red” policies of the northern clique of warlords.6 Again in late October, Sun punished university leaders for their role in the subversion. For promoting the recruitment of cadets for Whampoa Academy, the president of the First Normal University at Nanchang was executed, and two other heads of schools were killed for collusion with Chiang Kai-shek.7

Although organized peasant support in Kiangsi was even less evident than in Hunan, it can be assumed that the successful dealings with the peasants and civilians continued. When Kiukiang and Nanchang fell in early November, the NRA entered both cities amidst welcoming crowds. At least the populace did not hide behind locked doors in fear of the soldiers, and even showed hopes that new authorities would be interested in their welfare and support.

Civilians and the Fukien Campaign

In October 1926, after a month of border skirmishes, the NRA pushed across the border mountains and invaded Fukien. By January 1927, the entire province was occupied. The organized support of the civilians was in greater evidence, but of a different nature. In Fukien under Sun Ch’uan-fang’s subordinate General Chou Ying-jen, the often underpaid and underfed northern troops had not been kept under discipline. Their disorderly conduct and appetite for loot had inspired an increase of rural militia (min-t’uan) to guard localities against their forays. Working hard to reach these min-t’uan, the Political Department staff of General Ho Ying-ch’in’s East Route Army made limited gains until the NRA proved its military potential in victory. Then their acceptance by the local people resembled the traditional awareness of the Mandate of Heaven that went to 204the winner. Political Department agents had preceded the army into Fukien where they worked around Changchou with little success in bring­ing about an uprising among the min-t’uan. In fact, when the NRA arrived in Nan-ching, a hsien only some twenty-five miles from Changchou, the populace was so poorly “prepared” that they hid indoors until political workers presenting the KMT program convinced them that they were safe. For that purpose, in some circumstances, KMT women cadre were sent to knock on doors, and, using the local dialect, to soothe the anxious residents—the reasoning being that the people would not fear women.8

Once the NRA had won its way into Fukien, the Political Department had greater success in gaining the cooperation of the min-t’uan. Recruited min-t’uan were at first included in the First Army’s organizational struc­ture, but by December 1926, had been separated into the new Third Route of the East Route Army and classified as two regular divisions, one inde­pendent brigade, and three independent regiments.9 This min-t’uan coop­eration and then integration into the NRA was crucial to the taking of Fukien’s interior highlands. Whereas the NRA and its new auxiliaries knew the terrain well, the enemy soldiers were mainly peasants from the North China Plain who wore straw shoes and were unaccustomed and unsuited to mountain fighting. Furthermore, because they had alienated the Fukienese peasantry, the northerners also found it most difficult to live off the land.

In the cities of Fukien, the students were generally sympathetic to the National Revolution spreading out from Canton, but they did not contri­bute significantly until the suppressive surveillance of Chou Ying-jen’s troops was removed with the troops’ withdrawal. There was a report of an armed unit of students in Foochow, the province’s largest city and the locus of a major concentration of students. As the city’s defenses crumbled before the NRA offensive, the armed students seized government officials and reportedly shot the “spies” of the defeated regime.10 Upon the entry of the NRA, the “radical” students freed student prisoners who joined in a welcoming assembly and then in organizing demonstrations against the Christian missions of Foochow.11

Although the cadre of the East Route Army Political Department had learned CCP political techniques at Whampoa, only a few were secretly CCP members and none openly. This was a result of the March coup, which had cleared CCP cadre out of the First Army, the core of the East Route Army. The political workers used some of their new techniques in recruiting workers and soldiers. Carriers were essential in Fukien’s rugged terrain, uncrossed by railroads or decent roads, and lacking in pack ani­mals. The Political Department used local leaders to handle the hiring of coolies.12 The political workers used the tried practical means of attracting those with needed services and goods: liberal payment in silver and hard currency, and fair treatment. This overcame the peasants’ distrust of payments from the military, which had been ofttimes worthless. Volun­teering to carry for a distance of only sixty miles after which they were allowed to return home with their pay, the Fukienese made eager workers 205for the NRA. In the southern highlands, women of the Political Depart­ment persuaded the strong, hardworking Hakka women to carry supplies for the NRA.13

Chekiang Civilians and the East Route Army

Helping the NRA as it approached Chekiang late in 1926 was the Party-supported Chekiang autonomy movement, which provided military and political allies. During December in Ch’ü-chou, the western gateway to Chekiang held by allies of the NRA, Political Department workers stirred the people to support the National Revolution. The military made the district middle school at Ch’ü-chou its headquarters and Political Department workers persuaded the students to help in the revolution. KMT workers actively propagandized and lectured on the Three People’s Principles and the goals of the revolution to civilians and the newly de­fected allied troops of Chekiang. Those to whom the propaganda seemed most relevant were the shopkeepers of the small city and the middle-school students. Since some of the students were from distant hsien in warlord territory, they were in a position to provide intelligence services to the KMT military. On the pretext of visiting relatives or friends, the students traveled out of Ch’ü-chou individually and then returned with information on topography, enemy troop movements, and other news of activities behind enemy lines.14

The Chekiang campaign was a part of the offensive that moved on Shanghai up the South China coast and down the Yangtze River. When Sun Ch’uan-fang began to withdraw his troops from northeastern Chekiang to better defend the lower Yangtze, his Chekiang forces suffered a deteriora­tion in morale and discipline. Fuyang had been pillaged by northern looters and many Chekiangese had fled to Shanghai. A detailed account published on the passage of warlord and KMT armies through Chiahsing, Chekiang, in February 1927 provides a lively comparison of each side and its impact on the psychology of the people.

Chiahsing had heard by telephone from Hangchow that Sun’s subordi­nate, Meng Ch’ao-yüeh, was retreating in defeat by rail toward Shanghai. “Knowing that soldiers in retreat will rob, rape, and any such thing …,” the local residents prepared by bolting their doors and hiding. At a small factory, the 100-man working force set about blocking the gates with sand so the northern soldiers could not break in. Although that was the evening of the Lantern Festival, inhabitants waited behind shuttered windows and bolted doors in darkness. At Hangchow, the retreating generals had levied a contribution from the guilds in return for an orderly retreat through the city, but Chiahsing was on its own. When a military train stopped at Chiahsing, a few local gentry observed protocol and came to the station to see off the provincial governor as he withdrew toward Shanghai with Meng’s troops. Seeing the rear section of the train filled with unsupervised rank and file, the town elders implored General Meng to place officers in that section to keep order and prevent the soldiers from dropping off to loot the town. Meng refused and, as the train began to leave, the local people 206watched in horror as the rear section, uncoupled, stayed at the station as Meng went on. The northern soldiers quickly spread into the town.

As mercenaries, the northern troops hoped to make some profit from their profession, which was held in such low esteem. Since they often went unpaid, they looted upon arrival in a locale and then upon their departure. The soldiers often sent the loot and cash extracted from terrified townspeo­ple home to their families in Shantung and North China by mail. At Chiahsing one such group of looters, seven armed northern soldiers, forced two night watchmen at gunpoint to act as their guides. Since the stores were shuttered and boarded up, the two “guides” were made to carry a large stone to one barricaded shop to batter down the door. The soldiers rifled the store for fifteen minutes and then left, carrying all they could in packs. In similar acts, over two-thirds of the stores of Chiahsing were looted that night, with considerable damage done to doors and walls. In the morning, the shopkeepers and workers emerged to repair the barricades since more northern troops were expected. Many changed their store signs by adding the word “small” to the title, hoping that the soldiers would not waste their time on small shops but move past to larger shops.

On the second night of the looting, February 19, the townspeople again hid behind doors locked and barred against the soldiers seeking entry. The pillage subsided temporarily, when a subordinate of Sun Ch’uan-fang ar­rived and beheaded two soldiers caught looting. People still feared coming out since trains loaded with Fukien Army soldiers were passing through en route to the new Sungchiang line outside Shanghai. Many troops had to wait their turn in Chiahsing as the trains shuttled the thousands of retreat­ing troops out of Chekiang. Finally on Febraury 20, while retreating soldiers were still passing through, a telegram arrived from a Hangchow factory to its Chiahsing branch asking, “Has the ‘People’s Army’ (min-chün) arrived safely?” Soon the train station personnel passed the word to the townspeople that the NRA would be arriving. The town shopkeepers, feeling greatly relieved, complied with the request of the town police that they put out white flags in welcome.

Assured that the northern force was gone, on February 21 the townspeople turned out to visit with each other and assess the damage from the pillage. After meeting, the hsien’s KMT headquarters sent members and supporters out to erect signs to:

Overthrow Imperialism

Tear Down the City Walls and Build Highways

Welcome the Revolutionary Army, the Salvation of our Country and Fellow Citizens

The Three People’s Principles are the Ones to Save the Nation

Similar slogans had been raised during the abortive autonomy movement of Hsia Ch’ao in late 1926 but then had been quickly covered over at Sun Ch’uan-fang’s orders.

On February 22, news spread that the revolutionary army would arrive at noon by train (which the NRA had captured). In spite of the cold 207February wind, a large crowd gathered at the station; some waved white flags, others circulated handbills. Although in the past when armies had entered only the town gentry had appeared to extend the official greeting, this time nearly the whole town came out to see the much-discussed army of the KMT. The first train to arrive held the vanguard, of which the officers paused long enough to speak to the assemblage at the station. The next train contained units of the First Army’s First Division. The narrative of the passage of the warlord forces and that of the NRA concluded:

They were very friendly and their uniforms smart. They all seemed to be about 20 years old. Although they were short, they were strongly built, but not like the tall, strong soldiers of the North. When the townspeople asked them questions, they answered in a friendly manner. None stepping into the ranks of the soldiers was scolded.15


1. Ma, Labor, vol. 2, pp. 575, 607.

2. SCMP (November 20, 1926), p. 9.

3. L’Humanité (October 31, 1926), n. p.

4. SCMP (October 20, 1926), p. 9.

5. SCMP (September 30, 1926), p. 9. Akimova, p. 251.

6. HKDP (October 5, 1926), p. 7.

7. SCMP (October 29, 1926), p. 9. Kuowen (October 31, 1926), p. 3.

8. Ch’ing-tang yün-tung kai-lün [A summary of the party purification movement] (Shanghai: Chun-chiung T’u-shu Co., 1927), p. 114. Interview with Liao Wen-yin, December 22, 1965.

9. Pei-fa chien-shih, p. 98, and chart no. 15.

10. Hsien-tai p’ing-lün (December 11, 1926), p. 2.

11. New York Times (December 3, 1926), p. 4.

12. Interview with General Ho Ying-ch’in, then commander of the East Route Army.

13. Interview with Liao Wen-yin, January 1966.

14. HTSL, vol. 3, pp. 26-29.

15. Kuowen (March 13, 1927), n. p.321

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