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Politics within the Military System

The NRA proved to be far superior to its military opponents in its fighting spirit and political awareness, which were closely related. Besides the army’s aggressiveness in combat, initially against staggering odds, the NRA was a great political asset. Strengthening the NRA’s morale and its psychological “backbone” was the political training, the work of the Politi­cal Department, which was headed by Party Representatives, of each army corps. The political work within the military system and the Party Rep­resentatives were meant to keep the military an arm of the Party. The function and form of the Political Departments emulated the system of political commissars within Russia’s Red Army. Visiting Russia with a KMT mission in the fall of 1923, Chiang admired the concept among other useful political techniques. When he returned to Canton where the KMT was struggling to create an army, first to protect itself and then to conquer the warlords of China, Chiang observed, “If the army is not to become a warlord’s army, it must first of all become the Party’s army.”1 To build an army that exemplified KMT ideals and responded to the Party rather than to a personal leader as did the more traditional armies of its opponents, the KMT began by providing the necessary training at its academy at Wham­poa. Significantly Whampoa’s official title was the Central Military and Political Academy and the original Student Army learned as much political technique as it did military science.

The first cadets to receive political training studied under Whampoa’s Political Department in May 1924. At that time Liao Chung-k’ai was 232appointed Party Representative, and the official head of the department, Tai Chi-t’ao, received his title on May 10, 1924, followed on May 13 by the appointments of such luminaries as Wang Ching-wei, Hu Han-min, and Hsiao Yüan-ch’ung as instructors in political subjects—indicating the im­portance of this aspect of cadet training to the KMT.2 The academy’s first class matriculated from May through November, while its superintendent, Chiang, rose to dominate all aspects of Whampoa.3 He and high-ranking Party leaders gave a series of political talks to indoctrinate the cadets organized into a student military unit called the Model Regiment or the Student Army—the precursor of the NRA’s First Army.

The topics of these lectures contribute to an understanding of the early political orientation of the Whampoa cadets. The most significant titles are the following:

In Order to be a Member of the Revolutionary Party One Must First Under­stand the Value of Human Life.

Military Life as a Foundation for Spiritual Unification.

Humanity and Self-restraint are the Most Important Virtues for Military Men.

Soldiers Should Follow Discipline and Unite in Identifying the Existence of the Party as Their Own Life.

Why Party Soldiers Must Build Esprit de Corps and Character.

Hygiene Is a Most Crucial Element in a Military Organization.

The Nature and Source of Pay and the Concept of a Military Man Being Paid.

Soldiers, Members, and Officials of the Party Should Obey Its Orders Abso­lutely and Not Just Do as They Please.

Party Members Must Not Harbor an Attitude of Doubt and Criticism toward the Three People’s Principles.

The Ways of the Revolutionary Party Should Eliminate Bad Chinese Ways.

In the Vital Relationship between Members and the Party, Members Should Acknowledge Party above Individuals.

Discipline in Conflict, Revolutionary Spirit, and the Value of Dying Are All Basic Principles Shared by Party and Army.

The Principle of National Salvation through Unification.

The Need for the Military and Its Status in the World.

The Understanding of Principles and Responsibilities Is Vital to Party Mem­bers.

The Nature of the Individual and the Nature of the Masses.

To inspire the cadets, Borodin and another member of the Russian mission exhorted them on “The Spirit Required of a Revolutionary Party” and “The Story of the Russian Revolution and the Red Army.”4

Prominent Party spokesmen alternated in presenting lectures in the regular political course. Hu Han-min spoke on the Three People’s Princi­ples, Wang Ching-wei on Party history, and Tai Chi-t’ao on politics and economics. Since Tai performed many other official duties, as did most of the KMT cadre, he headed the Political Department only in a nominal way. Hsiao Yüan-ch’ung acted as the first department head until his resignation from the staff as a member of the Western Hills faction; Chou En-lai then took over.5 After Wang Ching-wei succeeded Liao Chung-k’ai as Party 233Representative at Whampoa, the instruction came to emphasize more socialistic elements. With Wang’s approval, Chou En-lai sought to influ­ence the cadets through use of reference books on socialism, communism, and Marxism. To accommodate the needs of the proliferating NRA, the Political Department expanded during the summer of 1925 to provide a system of political representatives. While Chou En-lai acted as Political Department head at the front during the Eastern Expeditions, another CCP member, Pao Hui-seng, headed departmental activities at Whampoa.6 The honeymoon period of KMT-CCP collaboration in the Eastern Expeditions ended in late 1925 as Whampoa cadets and faculty became polarized over whether the Three People’s Principles or Com­munist ideology would take precedence. Ultimately the question involved which of the two parties would lead.

The March 20, 1926, anti-Communist coup saw the ousting of Chou En-lai from his preeminence in the Political Department and the reorien­tation of political training about the primacy of Sun Yat-sen and his princi­ples. The leaders of the coup also removed known CCP members from the other Political Departments, with closest attention given to the First Army. By May, the Whampoa academy periodical, Ko-ming hua-pao [Revolutionary pictorial] stressed the principle of the union of all rev­olutionary classes, and in its cartoons violently attacked Russian im­perialism as being no different from other Western varieties.7

Although successfully ousted from the First Army, CCP members man­aged to hold on in the Political Departments of other army corps in the NRA. Their exclusion was prevented by the compromises achieved in April and May of 1926. What Chiang and his supporters did do was to subordi­nate the office of Party Representatives to the military commanders as a way of downgrading the remaining CCPs. Wang Ching-wei did have Teng Yen-ta appointed as head of the General Political Department over other Political Departments in the NRA. Teng strongly sympathized with the Communist cause—some have identified him as a CCP puppet. At the least he was responsive to direction from the Russian mission.8 Certainly the Political Departments were the logical place in the military system for reinfiltration of CCP members. The following are known to have been active: Li Fu-chün in the Second Army Political Department, Teng Yen-ta and CCP members in the division-level Political Departments of the Fourth Army, Lin Tsu-han in the Sixth Army, cadre in division level of the Eighth Army, CCP members in Comrade Ho Lung’s division of the Ninth Army, and alleged CCP members in the Fifteenth Army Political Depart­ment. Of greater relevance to this study is the function of the NRA’s political arm with its troops and with the populace through which the troops marched.

The political indoctrination of the KMT’s military machine was one of the tasks of the Political Department personnel trained at Whampoa. The cadets were trained to perform as either military commanders or the Party’s political agents—the purveyors of revolutionary spirit. In an era 234when Chinese mercenaries generally stopped battles to eat their meals or to rest, the fighting spirit that the political workers inculcated was a definite advantage. The spirit involved rigid discipline, reflected in the Joint Re­sponsibility Law of January 1925, which made the unauthorized retreat from battle by either a commanding officer or or his subordinates a capital crime. However, the fighting spirit of the NRA was related more to a belief in the morality of the revolution and troop morale than to fear of this law.

Seeing to the Welfare and Morale of the NRA Soldiery

One of the functions of the political workers was to make certain that the Supply Corps and various army corps’ commanders fed their troops well, clothed them suitably, and paid them regularly. The resulting physical well-being of the NRA was in stark contrast to the usual condition of Chinese forces and improved NRA soldiers’ morale, as well as helped the army recruit from among the ubiquitous poor and hungry young men in China at that time. Besides regular food, during battles or as a reward for special duty, extra rations were issued. Kuo Mo-jo, then deputy chief of the General Political Department,* recalled the siege of Wuchang when the “Dare-to-Die” groups that tried to scale the city walls received cash bonuses for their efforts.9 These were some of the means that helped the acquisitive Chinese identify with the NRA as an avenue of opportunity for themselves as well as for the “nation.”

The hope of advancement in status within the ranks further promoted morale. Promotion based on merit and combat ability was quick—especially in the early periods of army growth between 1923 and 1926.10 This policy was also influential in attracting defections since defecting commanders and their subordinate officers were often elevated in rank to the next strata. Promotion within the military system became more mean­ingful as the status of the soldiers and officers became higher in the eyes of the civilian society. Thus, the NRA also incorporated another of China’s traditional social motivations—status orientation.

Giving NRA soldiers a new social status and pride in their role were the teachings that the Chinese people needed the soldiers’ skills if the national revolution was to succeed. The soldier was one of the basic elements in the all-class union, which also included farmers, workers, merchants, and students (or intelligentsia). Through indoctrination, the soldiers and offi­cers of the NRA came to identify their own well-being and futures with the national goals of the KMT. Besides study, catechisms, and lectures, the Political Department used culture to indoctrinate. The stage performances of its Blood Flower Drama Association promoted ideas and bolstered morale. The drama troop included a popular Cantonese dancing beauty and its members were recruited through the KMT’s Women’s Movement. Chiang, Mme. Sun Yat-sen, and other luminaries donated costumes for the shows and attended performances. The shows organized by the Political 235Departments were often opened to the local public as well as to NRA members so that the exposure to the entertainment and ideology was made as wide as possible. Developed at Whampoa, the political use of drama was introduced into the activities of the various Political Departments.

Indoctrination within the NRA

Political workers sought the most simple means possible to indoctrin­ate the enlisted soldiers. Since most of them were illiterate and unaccus­tomed to dealing in abstract terms, the propagandists had to learn the language and interests of the troops. From army corps down through division to battalion level, the CEC of the KMT assigned Party Representa­tives and their Political Departments to teach the principles of the Party and the standards of military behavior.

With the policy of recruiting on a nation-wide basis, the NRA had to deal with the problem of communications in a polyglot body. There in micro­cosm was a major problem facing the Chinese nation. NRA political work­ers taught and used Kuo-yü (literally, national language or Peking dialect) with their troops. This program, too, began at Whampoa and spread among the army corps. Whampoa’s instruction was carried on in Kuo-yü, although the primarily southern cadre seldom attained the purity of Pekingese pronunciation and when speaking with local citizens had to use the dialects. Similarly, the cadets came into contact with a “national” cuisine as the army cooks attempted to please as many palates as was possible. In the army corps, neither Kuo-yü nor the cuisine needed to be as universal, since the units were usually composed of troops from the same province, sharing the same dialect and culture.

The cadets and troops were also fed a steady diet of nationalism and idealism in the indoctrination. For example, all were ordered to memorize the following ten requirements for the success of the revolution and the building of a stong army dedicated to the national society:

  1. Do not fear death.
  2. Do not covet wealth.
  3. Be willing to work hard.
  4. Take pride in a good reputation.
  5. Accept discipline and have a firm faith in the Three People’s Principles.
  6. Be willing to relinquish personal opinions.
  7. Love the common people.
  8. Be devoted to duty.
  9. Be one in spirit.
  10. Stick with your assignments until completed.

The enlisted men studied a catechism incorporating these ideals and were quizzed on them by their officers. The nationalistic element in the following is obvious:

Why must there be a revolution?      To save the nation and people.

Why should there be a national revolution?      Because we feel oppressed by the foreigners.236

What are the principles with which to save the people?      The Three People’s Principles.

Can we actually put them into practice?      We must do our best.

What is the symbol of our principles?      The Party flag.

With what have we paid for this flag?      With the lives of our martyrs.

Can you forget the violence of our betrayers?      No, we must consider them a national disgrace.

Do you know your enemies?      Yes, my enemies are the traitors and the foreign powers.

How can your humiliation be avenged?      Only in the hard struggle of the revolution.

One of the Whampoa cadets’ catechisms manifested both Communist and socialist elements of Sun Yat-sen’s principle of the People’s Livelihood:

Will the beating of all the military forces in China complete the revolu­tion?      No, not until all corrupt officials, country bullies, and gentry are wiped out and the Three People’s Principles realized.

As soon as we gain power, can we begin to regulate capital and equalize the ownership of land?      Only after we have the support of the peasant and worker masses can we regulate the wealth of the capitalists and equalize the property of the landlords.

What is the Third International?      It is a proletarian organization that aims to knock down the agencies of international capitalism.11

Carrying on political indoctrination of the enlisted men were not only political workers, but also the cadets of Whampoa who were in training for political as well as military functions. Observed by an experienced Political Department worker, the cadets practiced their political techniques on the troops and civilians.12 During their careers, the graduates of Whampoa were often transferred from military duty to political work,13 and many later were quite active in Party work. As the need for troops expanded from 1926 on, commanding officers of military units also joined in indoctrination efforts. As the expedition proceeded north, another training duty of the Political Department came to be the indoctrination of new troops, includ­ing recruits, prisoners, and defectors.

The Organizational Structure of the Political Departments

Since the NRA was created as the KMT’s Party Army, there was consid­erable attention given by the Party to maintaining its control over NRA activity. In theory this was to be accomplished by the appointment of Party Representatives, who were concurrently heads of the Political Depart­ment. These Party Representatives were to consider the interests of the KMT as being preeminent and to take orders from the Party as the ultimate authority. At the highest level of the NRA as a military confederation was the General Political Department, which functioned in the C-in-C’s head­quarters.

During the Northern Expedition until the Party split, Teng Yen-ta (Tse-sheng) headed the General Political Department. A Kwangtung man 237who had gained some reputation in the Revolution of 1911, Teng had studied military engineering at the Paoting Academy. From 1919 to 1923, Teng had worked in his native province for the military governor, Ch’en Chiung-ming, until the attack on Sun Yat-sen in 1923 when Teng transfer­red his loyalty to Sun and became a commanding officer in a brigade of the Kwangtung Army under Li Chi-shen. From his post in Li’s Training Department, Teng was sent to Germany in 1924 to study military educa­tion. While in Germany and France he may have studied Marxism as well since he was close in sympathies to the Communists. As a returned student, Teng came back to the Whampoa Academy where he headed the Department of Training; later he headed Whampoa’s branch academy at Ch’aochou. Most likely, Teng was an element in the compromise that followed Chiang’s anti-CCP coup in 1926. Teng was not purged but seems to have been “kicked upstairs” to become head of the General Political Department of the NRA and later to act as political boss in Hupei to balance T’ang Sheng-chih.14 Teng’s Deputy Head in the General Political Depart­ment was CCP member Kuo Mo-jo, who as a literary figure specialized in NRA propaganda. Chief Soviet Advisor to the General Political Depart­ment was Teruni, probably assigned because he and Teng both knew German. Of course, Borodin oversaw his advisors and was highly influen­tial with Teng at Wuhan.

Within each army corps, and in each of its divisions, regiments, and battalions, there was to be a Party Representative heading a Political Department. On the upper levels of the structure (the corps, division, and regiment), the Political Departments were served by secretaries who helped to administer three sections within the Political Department of the unit. These were the Propaganda, Administration, and Party Affairs sec­tions. The Propaganda Section also had three branches, of which one gathered and published information and news for its unit; another wrote propaganda and disseminated it; and a third branch produced art for large painted posters, pamphlet illustrations, and signs.

The Administration Section’s work expanded as the Political Depart­ments increased to handle all sorts of civilian affairs in occupied territories. Besides a secretariat, this section handled all “general affairs,” documents, and records. A Political Department was required by the Party to submit periodic personnel reports and data on its unit to the department above it, a craving for bureaucratic records that was not new to the Chinese.

The Party Affairs Section also had three branches, one of which or­ganized army personnel and civilians in new areas into social and vocational groups. This provided the impetus for the organization of unions and peasants’ associations in most cases. A second branch managed social activities, recreation, and welfare of the troops in the unit. A third branch, keeping watch on the unit’s military command and local political condi­tions, acted as the military-political intelligence agency for the Party and also produced statistical reports on the unit upon request from the Party.15

The Political Departments’ efforts to build a high moral reputation for 238the army apparently had a positive response in terms of the NRA’s internal esprit de corps. As General Ho Ying-ch’in explained, the soldiers were taught to feel pride in their function, and they tried hard to live up to their good reputation because it gave them a status that Chinese society had not awarded to soldiers previously.16 The reputation also elicited a valuable response from the civilian populace with which the NRA had to deal.


1. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 361.

2. Ibid., p. 80.

3. R. Landis, “Training and Indoctrination at Whampoa,” in Nationalism and Revolution: China in the 1920’s, vol. 1 of Twentieth-Century China (New York: New Viewpoints, 1976).

4. Huang-p’u hsün-lien chi [A collection of training materials from Whampoa], ed. by Teng Wen-yi (Nanking: National Defense Ministry Information Bureau, 1947), pp. 21-35. See also History of Political Work, vol. 1, pp. 93-96.

5. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 80.

6. Ibid., p. 99.

7. Ko-ming hua-pao [Revolutionary pictorial], cover of May 1926 issue.

8. Chang Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, p. 540.

9. Kuo Mo-jo, p. 7.

10. Interview with Li Hsiao-ling, a retired KMT Political Department worker, January 1966.

11. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 106.

12. Interview with Li Hsiao-ling, January 1966.

13. Interview with Leng Hsin who served both as a military officer and a Political Depart­ment worker.

14. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 267. Documents, p. 370. Kuo Mo-jo, p. 7. China Yearbook 1928, p. 1161. Chang Kuo-t’ao., vol. 1, p. 540.

15. History of Political Work, vol. 1, pp. 270-271.

16. Interview with Ho Ying-ch’in June 4, 1966.

* The central body that operated out of the C-in-C’s headquarters, overseeing and directing the Political Departments in the army corps and other branches of the military.

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