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Problems Facing the Political Department

Since the military phase of the national revolution had to be followed by a political phase, the Political Departments that initiated that effort faced a seemingly elephantine task because the political role was so expandable. The young political workers were eager to change all of China, but their numbers were not up to the demands. Military unification had to precede the construction of the new China; therefore, the political work did not have first priority as the expedition lengthened. A succession of obstacles confronted the ambitious cadre.

Political Integration of New Units

As the NRA enlarged its field of operations into Hupei, Kiangsi, and Fukien, the C-in-C called for the recruitment of new soldiers to replace casualties and to expand forces to cover the widening front. Some troops came into the NRA as individual volunteers, others as entire units. Incor­porated by units, the NRA in Fukien gathered the min-t’uan under the leadership of the KMT advance agents who had arranged for their collab­oration. Thus, in December 1926, after moving ahead of the NRA’s East Route Forces, Kao Yi, who had worked through the comrades of the New Fukien Society, became the commanding officer of the First Independent Brigade of the East Route Forces composed of min-t’uans.1

Units that joined or defected to the NRA intact had to accept its Political Department system and, in theory, had to receive an assigned Party Representative. According to one political worker, many of the commanders 252 of these units had already heard impressive tales about the Political Departments, to the point where commanding officers requested immediately upon joining the NRA that they be given a sign plate of the Political Department for their headquarters, more or less as a talisman to ensure “revolutionary strength.”2

The political workers assigned by the General Political Department to new units had to set up Political Departments and begin indoctrinating and retraining the troops in Party ideology and standards. In the case of new troops recruited individually, this work had to be undertaken before they could be assigned to units already in combat. In the Kiangsi campaign, Whampoa cadets of the Fourth Class were rushed through graduation, sent north, and assigned to train and lead new troops recruited in Hupei and Kiangsi.3 In November 1926, Chiang ordered the General Political De­partment to set up a program in Kiangsi to retrain over 30,000 prisoners taken that month in battle with Sun Ch’uan-fang.4 Since the NRA attracted the defection of over thirty large units, which became army corps, the work of indoctrinating these also became practically overwhelming. In some cases, the Party Representatives were only nominally appointed by the KMT—being individuals already tied to the commanding officers.

Obviously with the passage of time during the fall of 1926, the personnel of the Political Departments had to assume more duties and they became more and more pressed to carry out all their functions effectively. Appar­ently the impetus of esprit de corps of the NRA and its reputation, which had developed at Canton and in the early days of the expedition, moved on despite the overburdened Political Departments, which had branched out into civil administration by the fall of 1926. Once experiencing the eleva­tion in social status, or “face,” which association with the NRA afforded, its soldiers were eager to live up to the reputation.

The Political Departments in the Cross fire of the Party Split

During the early months of 1927, relations between the KMT and the CCP, and between proponents of the United Front and its enemies, became increasingly polarized. Anxiety among KMT members grew over the part of the NRA most under CCP influence—the General Political Department and its subordinate departments in the KMT military system. The political and economic turmoil behind the front lines and the campaign against C-in-C Chiang Kai-shek, to many, seemed to emanate from the NRA’s political apparatus where known CCP members were highly visible. Teng Yen-ta, at the apex of the General Political Department and a KMT Leftist and CCP “fellow traveler,” had been in a position to bring in more CCP members to head the subordinate branches. These included Kuo Mo-jo, Li Fu-chün, Lin Tsu-han, Mao Tse-tung, and Chou En-lai, among many.5 Mao and Chou specialized in political warfare for the General Political Department, which in late 1926 created two branch offices, one to function under Lin Tsu-han at Nanking, and the other under Kuo Mo-jo at Shanghai.6

253By the time the KMT at Shanghai and the East Route Force moved to purge the Communists from their ranks, they were well entrenched at all levels of many Political Departments. In April 1927, Shanghai’s KMT headquarters nullified the authority of the Political Departments in its sector and ended the functions of Party Representatives. These posts continued on only in the Wuhan sector and there for a mere matter of months.

As the split disrupted the Party from April to August 1927, so also disintegrated the Political Department system. The new regime at Nan­king removed known CCP members from its armies, but, although high­ly suspect, the remnant organization did continue under Wu Chih-hui’s surveillance, with Ch’en Ming-shu and Liu Wen-tao as deputy chiefs. The burden of work, however, fell on the shoulders of Wu’s secretary in the General Political Department, Tao Yeh-kung, secretly a CCP member.7 As the KMT at Wuhan broke with the CCP in July, Teng Yen-ta and Kuo Mo-jo and other CCP members fell from power in the Political Depart­ments there. With many of the ranking political workers being ousted, the shortage of replacements, and the lingering taint of Communist influence, first its funds were cut back8 and then the new director of the East Route Forces, Pai Ch’ung-hsi, disbanded the General Political Department and its subordinate branches in the army corps on August 22, 1927.9

The Reentry of Political Work in the NRA

Chiang Kai-shek, one of the initial proponents of a political arm of the military, continued to press for a body to indoctrinate troops and to help link the NRA with the people. In January 1928, after Chiang had resumed his duties of C-in-C of the expedition, he ordered the reestablishment of a political branch of the NRA. This time it was to be under the direct control of the KMT’s Military Council, which was, in theory, under the Party’s Central Executive Committee. Executive, administrative, and budget control all centered in the Military Council chaired by C-in-C Chiang; thus, in practice, the Political Training Department was a function of Chiang’s military headquarters. This reorganization avoided the ambiguity of direction from the Party and its army. The NRA was then less under Party control than it had been in theory earlier, except through the person of the C-in-C.

The new Political Training Department was headed by KMT theorist and firm anti-Communist Tai Chi-t’ao, with Ho Szu-yüan and Fang Chueh-hui his working deputies. Since the office of Party Representative had been discontinued, the Political Training Department lacked the direct lines with the Party Central Headquarters, but the mission and functions remained that of the old Political Departments.

Its organization differed from that of the Political Department system in that the earlier form had four sections: propaganda, administration, Party affairs, and secretariat. The new Political Training Department dropped the Party affairs sections, maintained the propaganda and secretariat sec­tions, and added three new branches. The new branches were organiza­tion, 254 the military history committee, and the staff of the Kuo-min ko-ming chün jih-pao [NRA Daily Newspaper].10 Although the new structure fit under the C-in-C’s headquarters, it was no longer included within the organization of the army corps, but it did have subdivisions attached to NRA units. Although the Collective Armies of Feng Yü-hsiang, Yen Hsi-shan, and Li Tsung-jen did have political organs, the First CA of Nanking alone had the political subdivisions of its Political Training Department attached to work with subordinate military units.

As the second phase of the Northern Expedition began in April 1928, the primary work of the Political Training Department was propagandizing. The department was to organize 1,200 cadre into a Propaganda Regiment subdivided into three corps of four divisions each. Over the Propaganda Regiment, Chiang appointed a graduate of Whampoa’s Second Class. Each of the four divisions was to contain five twenty-man sections. The various units were to be available for assignment with military units at the front or wherever needed. The political workers were, therefore, much less iden­tified with individual military units and more strongly influenced by C-in-C Chiang Kai-shek.

A continuing problem was that of manning the full complement of political workers. The Party was low on specialists in propaganda work who spoke the Mandarin of North China. One division of 100 propagandists was known to leave in early April with the Political Training Department that accompanied the Third Army. At the beginning of the expedition’s second phase, the propagandists in the regiment probably numbered around 400, which meant a scaling down of propagandizing. Expansion was limited by the relatively small numbers of graduates from the Party Affairs School and the newly affiliated Hangchow Military Academy.11

As the expedition resumed in 1928, the propaganda included most of the earlier nationalistic rhetoric, but soft-pedaled vitriolic attacks on the foreign powers. In keeping with the reaction against Marxism, slogans avoided inciting class conflict in favor of the all-class union. The nationalis­tic slogans included:

The Northern Expedition to Unify All China!

To Establish the Nation, Complete the Expedition!

Support the National Government!

The National Revolutionary Army Is the People’s Army!

The Northern Expedition Will Obtain National Freedom!

Abolish the Unequal Treaties!

Another target of the propaganda was the combine of warlords who controlled the North, the Ankuochün. This linked the warlords with local suffering and foreign imperialists. Thus, the KMT used the catchwords:

Knock Down the Manchurian and Shantung Warlord Tools of the Imperialists!

Knock Down the Manchurian and Shantung Warlords Who Destroy the Nation,

Distress the People, and Block the Revolution!

In Shantung the KMT propaganda linked Chang Tsung-ch’ang both with 255the bandits who were bleeding the people (Chang had risen as a “bandit”) and with the Japanese who desired Shantung as a sphere of influence.

The Northern Expedition Will Relieve the Suffering of the People!

The Northern Expedition Lessens the Burdens of the People!

This message was particularly effective in Shantung of 1928, where the rural residents faced starvation in areas ravaged by bandit forces who set fire to villages after looting them. To stir the reputedly phlegmatic north­erners, other slogans exhorted:

People of the North Rise Up and Aid the Revolutionary Party!

People of the North Rise Up and Take Part in the National Revolution!

Awakened Manchurian Soldiers Join Us!

The partisan nature of the KMT’s second phase of the expedition was evident in slogans such as:

The Kuomintang Should Unify China!

The Three People’s Principles Are the Ones to Save the Nation and People!

The Revolutionary Army Fights for the Three People’s Principles!

Fulfill the Late Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Will by Achieving the Revolution!

Since the KMT had reacted violently to the CCP threat, there was also in 1928 anti-Communist propaganda: “Exterminate the House-burning, Murderous CCP!” This warned against the revolution taking the wrong path and reflected the narrowing of the revolutionary spectrum with the end of the United Front. The part of the NRA that had been the sanc­tuary of CCP influence in the military and the convenient channel to reach the masses spearheaded anti-CCP investigation and espionage within the NRA and in its occupied territories.12 Thus, the shrunken political arm of the NRA was burdened with the heavy duty of censoring its own ranks for hidden subversion in addition to its task of trying to subvert the enemy.

Efforts to Acquire the Aid of Secret Societies

Just as Wuhan and the CCP had earlier wished, the KMT in 1928 hoped that the Political Training Department could persuade the Red Spears Secret Society and others to fight against the warlords. The Green Society in Kiangsu had been quite valuable in supporting the anti-Communist purge the preceding year. However, the hundreds of thousands of Red Spears in North China who fought against Chang Tso-lin, Chang Tsung-ch’ang, and Sun Ch’uan-fang did so to defend their members against bandits—a term in China that can designate any militant opponent who levies taxes or exactions from the peasantry. In June 1927, the NRA successfully gained support from the Red Spears who attacked behind warlord lines in Shantung and Honan while the NRA attacked southern Shantung.13 In April 1928, another large guerilla force of peasants opera­ted in northern Shantung, attacking points on the Tientsin-P’u-k’ou Rail­road in order to harass Chang Tso-lin and Chang Tsung-ch’ang—but attack­ing 256 in coordination with Yen Hsi-shan’s combat in Shansi rather than with Nanking’s First CA.14 Despite the lack of public information about collu­sion, it seems likely that some connection was made between the NRA and secret societies, since the KMT had originated as a modified secret society and many of its members, including Sun Yat-sen, had been affiliated with other secret societies, such as the Triads and the Red and Green societies of South and Southeast China. The KMT in Southeast Asia continued to enjoy its ties with local Triad branches. Nonetheless, in North China it would seem that the relative autonomy that the Red Spears enjoyed and their own vested interests pulled them away from nationalistic pleas and efforts to integrate the Red Spears in the NRA.

The Political Training Department and the Japanese Intervention

The threat in early May of a Japanese intervention in Shantung posed new problems assigned to the Political Training Department. Chiang and his staff adopted a policy of playing down the conflict and of negotiating a settlement so that the Northern Expedition would not be waylaid. After the decision, the department was ordered to modify the anti-imperialist tone in its propaganda, and also explain to the NRA the value of patience with Japan’s provocations. Around May 5, Chiang ordered:

… for the sake of foreign relations and the avoidance of a conflict and misunderstanding with the Japanese army, none of the Political Training De­partments are to post any slogans around Tsinan. The necessary corrections will be made in the work of propaganda.15

Such a policy was unpopular in an army indoctrinated to despise the imperialists and among the growing ranks of zealous Chinese “nationalists.” When Feng Yü-hsiang, C-in-C of the Second CA, met with Chiang near Tsinan on May 5, it was rumored that he favored an immediate declaration of war against Japan. The press had also reported that the initial clash with the Japanese at Tsinan had involved a vanguard unit of Feng’s troops operating in western Shantung. At their meeting, Chiang convinced Feng that they must not divide their resources and divert their mission from clearing North China of the warlords.16

The same week, Chang Tso-lin in Peking responded to the Tsinan conflict by calling for a cease-fire.17 Although it was in Chang’s best interests to halt the expedition before it moved on Peking, he most likely shared the pangs of nationalism over the Japanese invasion. If anything, Chang had used the Japanese rather than followed them, and his assassina­tion at their hands less than a month later does work against his image as a “running dog” of the Japanese imperialists. Chang had extended feelers toward Nanking over the prospect of a joint operation against Japan,18 but within a week high-ranking KMT official Wu Chih-hui replied for the Nanking regime that there would be no truce with the Ankuochün and that the expedition would be completed in the shortest possible time.19 Simul­taneously, Chiang ordered the armies to move north across the Yellow 257River by different routes. During the 1930s, Chiang similarly resisted allying with his Chinese political rival (the CCP) against the common Japanese threat. To Chiang the centrifugal forces that were constantly working to disintegrate China were the major threat.

Chiang’s stance was difficult given the fervor of public feelings in favor of an immediate union of Chinese forces against Japan. Leading this war­hawk movement were numbers of Chinese students. A student corps of over 4,000 formed at Shanghai stated in its platform that “blood and iron are the only methods of obtaining diplomatic victories, of saving the Chinese race, of crushing imperialistic violence, and of saving the oppres­sed races of the Far East.20 The CCP operating in Hong Kong and the treaty port concessions blasted Chiang for surrendering China to Japanese imperialism (see chapter 16) and pricked the exposed nationalistic nerve endings of the Chinese public, which the KMT had stimulated. Here is an early instance of the strong nationalistic bent of the Chinese Communists that outlived the influence of the Comintern. Nationalism was to be as valuable a political tool for Chinese and Asian Communists as the ideology of class struggle. Investigation in mid-1928 by Nanking of the propaganda work of the Political Training Department studied the explosive pitch of anti-Japanese feeling evident among political workers—long trained and motivated by anti-imperialistic ideology.

The Political Functions of the NRA in 1928

The political techniques used in the NRA and in its dealings with civilians were modifications of those used before 1928, enhanced by a sophistication made possible by Nanking’s increased financial resources. Each army corps’ political unit printed a newspaper and other political materials with printing presses that accompanied the armies at the front. The First CA headquarters and Nanking’s official presses also published periodicals and materials shipped to the front. In 1928 KMT aircraft increased the usage of propaganda leaflet drops, which till then had been used on a smaller scale, such as during the 1926 siege of Wuchang. However, because of the shortage of political workers in relation to the wide range of assignments, the Soldiers and Civilians Joint Welcoming Meetings could only be held in the larger towns of North China.

In 1928 the political work still included dealings with the civilian populace in the name of the NRA. Because the whole idea of organizing the masses had come under suspicion, the Political Training Department generally worked through existing civilian groups. As the expedition was about to resume on April 9 at the staging area of Hsüchou, across the Kiangsu border from the enemy lines in Shantung, the department gathered a joint meeting of various local groups to coordinate the servicing of the First CA. It is likely that the Hsüchou Peasants’ Association rep­resented at this meeting had been created by the KMT after Hsüchou’s capture late in 1927, since a January 1927 report of the CCP indicated that the organization of Kiangsu’s peasants had not yet begun.21 Also included in a Hsüchou People’s Volunteer Committee were representatives of the 258Hsüchou Merchants’ Association, the local police bureau, the local KMT headquarters, and hsien government, and the C-in-C headquarters and its Political Training Department. Its primary concern was to coordinate the recruitment of local carriers. This committee system made the department much less central to civilian affairs than it had been during the campaigns of 1926 and 1927.

In 1928 the carriers were recruited as in the earlier campaigns. North of the Yellow River, the NRA complained that its advance slowed at times due to the transportation problems.22 In part this was due to the Japanese intersection of the Tientsin-P’u-k’ou Railroad at Tsinan, but it also may have been related to the failure of the Political Training Department to recruit carriers. The department criticized the seizure in some areas of peasants to provide carrier service.23 This had been the case in the opening days of the expedition in 1926 and might indicate that in both cases the NRA’s policy of recruiting volunteers at good pay was not uniform through­out. The political workers blamed the malpractice on the lowering disci­pline in the vastly proliferated NRA and on the emergency needs of the time.

In the first phase of the expedition, civilians had been gathered into medical teams to serve the wounded of the NRA—some had been groups of women students led by women’s movement cadre. This work went on in 1928 near the front where hsien committees, such as the one at Hsüchou, organized civilian medical units for the front and in facilities behind the lines. Composing these units were Red Cross volunteers and the personnel from local “hospitals,” including the common private clinics that mixed modern notions of medicine with traditional practices. Political workers coordinated the medical teams and maintained a Medical Unit at the C-in-C headquarters that provided overall supervision.24 The committees in the expedition that linked the KMT apparatus with the populace pres­aged the continuing efforts of the Nanking republic and then the People’s Republic of China to bring central authority down to the local level.

Besides dealing with civilian carriers and medical volunteers, the politi­cal workers continued to act as purchasing agents for the NRA. Depart­ment cadre were responsible for the chests of silver dollars that accom­panied the NRA by train or on foot as it moved through new territory.25 The first peasants who screwed up their courage and came to sell to the NRA as it moved in were rewarded with “lavish” prices. In North China, the illiterate rural people had not heard of the NRA’s good reputation, but instead had been exposed to the anti-KMT propaganda that circulated there during the previous three years. Sun Ch’uan-fang’s propaganda agency published anti-KMT materials and prepared news releases adverse to the revolutionary movement.26 Chang Tsung-ch’ang’s Shantung Army had propaganda posters critical of the NRA printed up on weatherproof tin sheets, which were nailed to walls and posts.27 Within the Ankuochün elements of Chang Tso-lin and Chang Tsung-ch’ang, smartly uniformed propaganda corps worked with the civilians near the front.28 Most northern propaganda portrayed the KMT movement as a Communist one that aimed 259to wipe out all Chinese culture and cherished traditions. Besides stealing the land from the people and confiscating their businesses, the prop­aganda pointed out that even wives were to be shared.29 As the northern peasants came to sell to the newly arrived NRA, they observed and questioned the truth of warlord allegations. Their curiosity gave the politi­cal workers in charge of purchasing the opportunity to deny enemy prop­aganda and to acquaint the peasants with KMT ideology.

The Waning of NRA Political Functions

The controversy over anti-Japanese propaganda in May 1928 brought the Political Training Department under fire from critics in the NRA, the Party, and the government. The expansion of the NRA into a conglomerate mass of around 1 million troops strained Nanking’s resources since it had yet to exploit the revenues of the provinces within its sphere.30 As the strain heightened, the political arm of the NRA became a casualty of economy measures, with cutbacks in funds and, in May, the disbanding of the Propaganda Regiment. The primary remaining function of the political workers shifted to providing relief for the distressed people of North China. Since in both Shantung and Hopei numbers of peasants were homeless and without proper food, the Political Training Department created and directed a Hopei-Shantung Refugee Aid Committee, which absorbed most of the cadre the rest of May.

On May 31, 1928, the order came down from Chiang that the Political Training Department units assigned to military units below the division level were to be disbanded. Those with divisions and army corps would be trimmed in proportion to the newly pared budgets allotted them.31 In June as the expedition captured Peking, Nanking called back all political work­ers for investigation, after which 3,000 were reorganized.32

With the military reunification completed, the KMT began to phase out those functions of the Political Training Department that involved the public. Work with civilians was transferred to local and special Party headquarters. Political work with KMT troops continued, but in the dec­ades thereafter turned inward to the problems of ideological indoctrina­tion, troop welfare, and political surveillance. In the early 1926 phase of the expedition, the political branch of the NRA had been very influential and powerful as it indoctrinated the expanding armies and acted as public relations agent for the NRA in the civilian sea through which the NRA moved. The KMT institutionalized a revolutionary esprit de corps and standards of military discipline and behavior in the Political Department. The energy and high motivation among the young political workers were contagious. They spread first among the NRA soldiers and then, through successful contacts, affected the Chinese people. The empathy that the people generally came to feel for the National Revolutionary Army gave the army better mobility in its attacks, security in its logistics support, and pride in its reputation. Without the political workers, the NRA might never have overcome its image of being a Cantonese army. Considering the lack of affection felt by the Chinese for the troops from other provinces, 260the NRA might have faced a longer, more uncertain war without its political program. Unfortunately for the KMT, the program of indoctrinat­ing the defected warlord forces was less successful. However, as with the military of other developing countries, the NRA and especially its political workers acted as agents of modernization among the premodern peasants.


1. Liao Wen-yin interview, and in N. Exp., vol. 2, pp. 574-596.

2. Liao Wen-yin interview.

3. SCMP (November 3, 1926), p. 8. Chang Kuo-t’ao (vol. 1, p. 537) recalls the large number of recruits added to combat units at the front in Hunan and Hupei.

4. SCMP (November 20, 1926), p. 11; L’Humanité (November 26, 1926), p. 3.

5. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 267. Documents, p. 217.

6. Wang Chien-min, vol. 1, p. 303; History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 312.

7. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 328.

8. Ibid.

9. Ta-shih chi, p. 366.

10. History of Political Work, vol. 1, pp. 345-346.

11. Ibid., p. 371.

12. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 366 quotes from Pei-fa ch’üan chün tso-chan chi-hua, ming-ling, ching-kuo ho-pien [Complete collection of military plans, orders and 325experiences in battles of the northern expedition]. No bibliographic data and the work is not accessible in Taiwan.

13. Kuowen (July 3, 1927), n. p.

14. SCMP (May 1, 1928), p. 12.

15. History of Political Work, vol. 1, pp. 383-384.

16. SCMP (May 17, 1928), p. 9.

17. SCMP (May 11, 1928), p. 8, a Reuters agency release.

18. Ibid.

19. SCMP (May 15, 1928, n. p.) quotes Hua-ch’iao jih-pao (May 14, 1928).

20. SCMP (June 12, 1928), p. 8.

21. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 430.

22. N. Exp., vol. 4, p. 1299.

23. History of Political Work, vol. 1, pp. 375-377.

24. History of Political Work (vol. 1, p. 376) quotes a report in the Shanghai Chung-yang jih-pao (April 14, 1928).

25. Liao Wen-yin interview.

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

27. Kuowen (April 10, 1927), n. p.

28. Kuowen (March 6, 1927), n. p.

29. Kuowen (November 14, 1926), n. p. Interview with Liu Chü-ch’üan in 1965 in Taipei.

30. History of Political Work, vol. 1, p. 356.

31. Ibid., p. 431.

32. Ibid., p. 432, quotes a report in the Shanghai Chung-yang jih-pao (June 10, 1928).

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