publisher colophon


The NRA’s Relations with Civilians in KMT Territories

As the NRA occupied an area, its Political Department cadre joined with any local KMT members available in full-time work with civilians. The absence of civilian rebellion behind the advancing NRA indicates that the work of dealing with civilians must have been effective. The cadre rein­forced earlier propaganda that the people had received as to the possible benefits to be derived from the NRA and the Party it represented. When entering a remote area isolated from news of the outside, the political workers had to overcome the traditional fear of conquering soldiers.

In Fukien, as noted in chapter 20, where communication within the hilly province was still primitive, women cadre in the propaganda groups proved their effectiveness in breaking down fears about the army. The women would rap on barred village doors and in the local dialect would urge the people not to be afraid but to come out and see for themselves what kind of an army was passing through.1 The sound of a woman’s voice speaking the local dialect was quite effective in quelling fears.

The most common device used after the NRA entered a town was a “Soldiers and Civilians Joint Welcoming Meeting” held in the open air by the Political Department. To gather a crowd, political workers would spread throughout the town persuading town leaders and bystanders to attend the meeting. There a political worker would explain briefly and simply that the KMT and its army were not the radical beasts pictured in the warlord propaganda, that they did not share wives nor rape local women, nor did they demand money. The political workers would repeat 248the slogans “Do Not Seize Coolies” and “Do Not Live in the People’s Houses,” to impress upon the audience that the NRA would provide for their safety. Other cadre would sing folk songs and new revolutionary anthems to enliven the meeting. Finally, a speaker or a sympathetic town leader would urge the people to join in the work of the National Revolution by volunteering for carrier or guide work and by selling to the army the commodities it needed.2 Althuough in some cases coolies were sufficiently touched by the appeals that they volunteered to carry for the NRA in return only for their food, more commonly porters came to work for the attractive wages. This type of meeting was perfected and used throughout the expedition.

Another popular means of propagandizing already mentioned was the parade and mass demonstration. Sometimes a parade was used to drum up interest in the “Soldiers and Civilians Joint Welcoming Meeting.” Political workers joined by local Party members, students, and other sympathizers would march through the newly taken town or city to an open spot where a propaganda team would address the marchers and the spectators who had followed. The parade utilized visual and oral means of spreading ideology. Marchers carried colorful banners and signs with simple slogans and picto­rial symbols of revolutionary ideology. Chanting slogans in unison, the marchers must have interested the illiterate masses and excitable students who followed the procession. The parade took advantage of the natural curiosity manifested in a society where religious and family processions had been traditional. The impact of such a parade on a quiet rural town must have been electrifying.

Street corner speeches were another means of attracting an audience used by propaganda teams of men or women. All but the speaker would dress as civilians and pose as an audience. When passersby and neighbor­hood people saw the beginnings of a crowd, their curiosity impelled them toward the propaganda team.3 The cadets at Whampoa had practiced this procedure in the surrounding countryside and it shows in the new literate elite a willingness to descend from their status roles to communicate with the lower classes. This new attitude had been evident at least as early as the beginnings of the May 4 Movement when Chinese students had come down into the streets to evangelize on the national humiliation.

The artists of the Political Department’s propaganda section were busiest when their military unit entered new territory. In that phase all sorts of picture posters and signs with slogans had to be painted and displayed. After painting the pictorial message and big character mottoes on large pieces of cloth, the political workers hung them with ropes, bedecking the walls along busy thoroughfares. Popular were gory posters that displayed graphically the bestial acts of warlords and imperialists.4 The artists, trained in Western techniques of caricature and socialist realism, were so effective that Western observers mistook their artwork as “obviously” the handiwork of Russians.5

To maintain the reputation of the NRA as the expedition progressed, the Political Department workers continued the indoctrination program 249wherever encampment might be, reviewing the standards of behavior and principles of nationalism. Besides constant reminders to the troops on their behavior, the political workers took pains to remedy the results of any soldier’s forgetfulness by settling complaints from civilians of thievery and misconduct from NRA soldiers. The political worker paid the civilian plaintiffs well for their losses and usually explained that the offending soldiers had been ordered out before they had been able to pay and that the political worker had been sent in their stead.

The Function of the NRA’s Political Departments in Civil Affairs

As military units moved ahead, their political departments assigned members to remain behind to coordinate Party affairs and arrange for the procurement of goods and services in the area. In the territory immediately behind the advancing front, one of the most important missions was to set in motion again the functions of local government so that public order would be maintained. In this effort, the political intelligence gathered by the advance agents or local KMT members helped decide whether to use existing local leadership or to appoint new persons more suitable to the Party and the local populace. Since many of the higher officials were the appointees of the warlord clique or had been in collusion with it, they often withdrew along with the warlord army. If there was no “qualified” local hsien or town leader, the highest Political Department authority in the battle sector appointed a political worker to remain behind to establish a provisional local government.6 In those circumstances, the Political De­partments behind the NRA lines increased their influence and expanded their political authority to the greatest degree. However, the proliferation of functions greatly strained the Political Departments, which had to work hard to make up for the shortage of trained cadre. On the local level, it was easier to select local people—either with Party connections or with a local reputation useful to the NRA.

Since the CCP retained members in some of the Political Departments, the administration of civil affairs provided them with excellent oppor­tunities to make contact with the masses. In Hunan and Hupei through which the Fourth Army fought, its Political Department members were most numerous and developed power through the new local governments they dealt with. Since CCP members dominated the Political Departments of the Fourth Army, they were especially active in the lower levels of governing and in the Party headquarters of Hunan and Hupei.7 It was there that CCP cadre were most able to find the right people with which to begin new mass organizations. These opportunities for the CCP were denied in the East Route sector under Ho Ying-ch’in. Ho’s First Army had been purged of CCP members in March 1926, and the corps fighting along the south coast was practically devoid of CCP influence.

In September 1926, as the Political Departments expanded their func­tions and authority, their structures were modified by the creation of a Secretariat Branch. The Secretariat specialized in the many new civil 250functions, which included managing local Party headquarters, acting as judges in local courts, censoring news, organizing education, overseeing tax collecting agencies, and supervising tax police and regular police.8 Recruiting carriers for the NRA paved the way for the organizing of unions around the transport teams and, from there, unions for the other occupa­tions represented by the coolies. In Hunan and Hupei, in particular, unions sprang up in the wake of the NRA.

Army Business with Civilians

A good example of the kind of dealings that the NRA had with local civilians would be that of the carriers already mentioned. These were attracted by the reputation for good treatment and pay in silver dollars, as well as the promise of a local haul of generally fifty to sixty miles. Perma­nent transportation teams probably accompanied the NRA for longer dis­tances because the rural people preferred to stay within their home territory.9 Most likely one local transportation team relayed supplies to another. This was indispensable service given the rugged terrain of South and Central China and the lack of railroads and usable roads, and the scarcity of pack horses. Also a political asset was the goodwill generated among the tens of thousands of employed rural laborers and their families. They were the judges and propagators of the NRA’s reputation.

Women carriers, such as the Hakka women who worked as porters in Fukien, were a starting place for various rural women’s movements fur­thered by the Party. The women political workers were also able to gather women and girl students to serve in medical teams that cared for NRA wounded. Here again, it was the shortage of competent cadre that re­stricted the expansion of Party activities among the myriad rural villages.

Political workers aided the NRA Supply Corps in the procurement of all sorts of materiel from the local people. Kuo Mo-jo related that the prop­aganda branch of the Fourth Army Political Department had to forage around the environs of Wuchang to buy rope and ladders to scale the city walls during an attack.10 According to Kuo, purchases were made using “certificates of payment” there, which indicated considerable faith in the NRA on the part of the civilians who accepted them, and also that the Supply Corps must have run low on silver dollars. When setting up a local military headquarters, the political workers were the agents who borrowed or bought the furniture or had it built.11 These business dealings all gave the propagandists an entrée with the civilians. At least some civilians would initially respond positively to the NRA as their potential customers.


1. Interview in Taipei with Liao Wen-yin in 1966.

2. Ibid., and interviews in 1966 with Li Hsiao-ling and Leng Hsin in Taipei.

3. Interview in Taipei with Li Hsiao-ling in 1966.

4. Photographs in Asia 27(6):485.

5. Chapman, The Chinese Revolution 1926-1927, p. 23.

6. Kuowen (November 14, 1926), p. 2.

7. Interview with Leng Hsin on June 22, 1966, in Taipei.

8. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 291.

9. Interview in Taipei with Ho Ying-ch’in, June 1966.

10. Kuo Mo-jo, p. 157.

11. Interview in Taipei with Ho Ying-ch’in in June 1966.

Additional Information

MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Creative Commons
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.