893.00 P.R./38

The Minister in China (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

No. 521

Sir: In compliance with the Department’s standing instructions, I have the honor to transmit herewith a Report on the Political and Military Situation in China for the month of September 1930.

Respectfully yours,

Nelson Trusler Johnson

Monthly Report for September 1930

1. The Political Situation

The month of September witnessed certain changes which may mark a turning point in the fortunes of the Chinese Republic. In the first place, it saw the startling intervention of Manchuria, and in the second place it saw important—perhaps decisive—victories of the Nanking forces. Incidentally, it also comprised the abortive attempt in Peiping to establish a formal rival National Government.

In order to understand the somewhat confused currents and crosscurrents which have made themselves felt it is necessary to examine the position of the present protagonist in the dramatic events which have taken place, namely Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang. It will be recalled that the “Young Marshal”, as he has been referred to since the death of his father in 1928, has been the virtually independent ruler of Manchuria, i. e. the three northeastern provinces of Fengtien, Kirin, and Heilungkiang. South of the Great Wall he controlled only the small Lwan River triangle which adjoins the southermost part of Jehol. Although barely thirty-two years old he has proved himself to be a man of considerable ability and force which, combined with some shrewd common sense and great wealth, enabled him to create for himself a rather unique role.

Ever since his father, Marshal Chang Tso-lin, had to give up Chihli in June 1928, at the close of his fourth and last intervention in the affairs of North China which also cost him his life the Young Marshal had maintained an attitude of strict neutrality between the warring factions in China proper, although professing nominal allegiance to the National Government at Nanking. This policy of neutrality was [Page 39]due to a number of causes, among which the following may be mentioned as probably the most weighty:

Chang Hsueh-liang remembered that his father had never been able to find an ally south of the Great Wall whom he could trust;
He suspected Marshal Feng Yu-hsiang (the “Christian General”) not only because he had been his father’s enemy in 1926, but also because of his former flirtations with Soviet Russia; while Yen His-shan had fought his father in 1927;
But he also distrusted General Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang as at present constituted, because he did not believe in the latter’s policy of making the Government a party monopoly; he feared the results of Kuomintang agitation and propaganda in Manchuria, both upon his own position and upon his relations with the Japanese; besides, it was Chiang who had forced his father to withdraw from Peiping in 1928;
He feared that if he took sides he might cause a split among his own followers. It is well known, for example, that the influential old Governor of Kirin, General Chang Tso-hsiang, was in favor of conservative neutrality; that the Governor of Heilungkiang, General Wan Fu-lin, advocated supporting Feng Yu-hsiang and Yen His-shan; while a small group of younger men favored the Nanking Government in the hope of gaining lucrative jobs and rapid advancement;
Manchuria was by far the most prosperous and tranquil part of China and stood everything to lose and very little to gain by active participation in the civil war;
Japan doubtless encouraged Chang’s neutral policy as it would be against her interests to see Manchuria become a pawn in the senseless struggle for power between the great military groups.

Although both the North and the South constantly appealed to Chang very earnestly to support their respective causes, especially since the spring of 1930 when Yen and the Kuominchun (Feng) ousted the Nanking authorities from Peiping and Tientsin, the Young Marshal remained steadfast in maintaining his neutrality.

However, it was an armed neutrality. With a well trained army of some 400,000 under his command, it was obvious that the so-called “Northeastern Frontier Defense Forces”—commonly known as the Fengtien troops—would sooner or later exercise much influence over the course of events, even though they might not be called upon to do any fighting. And the immediate occasion for it came much sooner than anticipated.

The dreary civil war, which had been raging since April 1930, with unusual losses on both sides, was threatening to end in a stalemate when, on August 15th, by the recapture of Tsinan and subsequent operations, the National Government inflicted a serious defeat upon Marshal Yen’s Shansi forces and gradually eliminated them as an obstacle to the southern advance. Yen Hsi-shan thereupon decided to [Page 40]create a political diversion, presumably in the hope of restoring some of the prestige which he had lost on the Shantung front and, on September 1, 1930, at the fifth formal meeting of the “Enlarged Plenary Session of the Kuomintang Central Executive Committee” at Peiping, he established a new National Government, with himself as Chairman of the State Council. Yen, however, did not arrive in Peiping until September 7th and took the oath of office on September 9th at 7 a.m. (The early hour is said to have been chosen because of fear of air raids).

Whether Yen had been misinformed by his representative in Mukden as to Chang’s attitude toward the Shansi-Kuominchun coalition, or whether he expected to force the Young Marshal’s hand by a fait accompli is not clear and will probably never be known. But the fact remains that Yen boldly included Chang Hsueh-liang’s name among the men who were to make up the State Council. This brought forth an immediate protest from the Young Marshal who telegraphed Yen on September 4th demanding to know why his name had been used without his permission. Wellington Koo, who was to become Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Admiral Shen Hung-lieh, who was offered the Navy Department, likewise declined, while Tang Shao-yi, the old statesman whose name also appeared among the Councillors of State, remained on his estates in South China and had no intention of coming north.

This left Yen with only Marshal Feng, whose support was lukewarm and who had not even come to Peiping to see Yen’s inauguration, and Wang Ching-wei and Hsieh Ch’ih, the Left and Right Wing leaders, respectively, of the Kuomintang.

It should be remembered in this connection that in July 1930, the Right and Left Wings of the Kuomintang, which had split in 1925 on the death of Sun Yat-sen, had become reunited in Peiping at the invitation of Yen who thereby hoped to strengthen the Northern Coalition. Wang Ching-wei, who was an associate of Sun Yat-sen, has a considerable following among Chinese students and intellectuals, but is looked upon with suspicion by others because of his extremist views. The Right Wing of the Kuomintang or “Western Hills Faction” is led by Hsieh Ch’ih, and by joining the Shansi-Kuominchun combination too they formed the “Enlarged Plenary Session” mentioned above. Although the Left Wing favors the retention of Nanking as the capital, it would not object if a majority of the party decided in favor of Peiping.

Apart from the question of prestige and the hope of raising the morale of the Shansi troops, Yen was doubtless also influenced in taking this step by a desire to enter into more direct relations with foreign countries and possibly to negotiate a loan.

[Page 41]

Yen’s phantom government existed, at least on paper, for just two weeks when it was swept away as suddenly as it came into being by the decision of Mukden to intervene in Hopei (Chihli) and to occupy the Peiping-Tientsin area.

This decision apparently came as the result of a conference, the Northeastern Political Council, which met in Mukden at the invitation of Chang Hsueh-liang between September 10th and 17th and which was attended by the principal political and military advisers of the Young Marshal. On September 18th Chang issued his famous circular telegram advocating the cessation of hostilities. It was addressed to the leaders of the warring factions, as well as to the Central Kuomintang at Nanking, the heads of all provincial governments, and to all newspapers. It is not a very striking document and says very little beyond suggesting that “in order to undertake the reconstruction of China the first essential is to eliminate warfare”, and appealing “to the various contending sides for an immediate cessation of hostilities”. He has no concrete proposals to make, but adds: “The wise and virtuous in the country may express their views so that a permanent peaceful settlement may be made. If I have any views to offer I will express them from time to time. Let us cooperate to meet the crisis, for only thus can … the further degradation of the international status of China be avoided”.

Although this telegram contained no intimation whatsoever that Chang Hsueh-liang had decided to intervene, the order for the mobilization of the Fengtien armies had already been issued and on September 19th the first troops entrained for Tientsin.

It is difficult to appraise the motives which actuated Chang Hsueh-liang in making this decision. The principal arguments in favor of his continued neutrality (see pages 3 and 4 above) of course still held good, and the Young Marshal would probably contend that there had been no real change in his policy and that he was still neutral. But he has undoubtedly been influenced by one or more of the following considerations:

The “Ma Ting-fu Affair”. About the middle of August, while the Young Marshal was at Peitaiho, a plot was discovered which involved the mutiny of General Ma Ting-fu’s brigade. The general and two colonels were arrested and it is said that they had been offered a large sum of money by the National Government if they would go over to the National side. General Yu Hsueh-chung is also believed to have been implicated. Chiang Kai-shek, of course, at once disclaimed all knowledge of such a plot, but it did his cause much harm in the eyes of Marshal Chang who is reported to believe that it had been instigated by Nanking to cause friction between him and the Kuominchun.
The capture of Tsinan by the National Army on August 15th. Shortly afterwards Chiang Kai-shek is said to have boasted that he [Page 42]would be “in Peiping in a month”. This may have alarmed the Young Marshal, for although he does not like the Shansi crowd very much, he prefers them to Chiang and the Kuomintang, chiefly because he considers them less meddlesome.
Mukden, being a next-door neighbor of Soviet Russia, is very much worried by the growth of “communism” elsewhere in China. People in Manchuria feel that if Nanking were in control in North China it might not deal with the problem with any more success than it did in the South.
Chang Hsueh-liang was determined to retain control of the Peiping-Mukden Railway, the most efficient and most profitable of all railroads in China.

Once the new policy had been adopted events moved with great rapidity. The first Manchurian troops reached the outskirts of Tientsin on September 20th; on the same day the Government in Peiping vanished and Wang Ching-wei and his colleagues left for Shihchia-chuang, a town some 170 miles southwest of Peiping on the main line of the Peiping-Hankow Railway. All of Yen’s followers left for the province of Shansi with the intention of setting up a government at Taiyuan, its capital.

On September 22nd the vanguard of the Fengtien forces reached Peiping, and by the end of the month the occupation of the whole Tientsin-Peiping area had been completed. General Wang Shuchang, the Commander of the Second Army, was appointed Chairman of the province of Hopei, and he is assisted by six Commissioners, viz., for Civil Affairs, Finance, Agriculture and Mining, Commerce and Labor, and Construction. The Commander-in-Chief of the First Army is General Yu Hsueh-chung, with headquarters in Peiping.

This gradual and unobtrusive substitution of the Shansi forces and civil authorities by Mukden took place with exemplary order and discipline. Many Shansi officials remained until relieved by their successors and the whole procedure was executed with the utmost good nature and cordiality, some of the “invaders” even being entertained by the retiring officials! The train service between Peiping-Tientsin-Mukden only suffered slight dislocation for a few days.

It is obvious, of course, that a major operation of this nature could not have been carried out so peacefully if there had not been a full and friendly understanding between Mukden and the Shansi-Kuominchun faction. But to what extent had Nanking been taken into their confidence?

It is literally impossible to arrive at a safe conclusion from the published statements of the leaders themselves. The telegrams, proclamations, interviews, et cetera, which have appeared in the press merely form a maze of contradictions. Both sides have shown the same typical lack of realism in their propaganda, and the same inability of facing unpleasant facts.

[Page 43]

Nevertheless, certain deductions may perhaps be made with a reasonable degree of accuracy. It is true that Chang Hsueh-liang has referred to himself as “an official of the National Government”, and has said that he had full authority from Nanking to garrison North China “for the protection of the people”. It is also true that Chiang Kai-shek has stated that “Mukden intervened in favor of the Central Government” and that a “complete understanding” existed between him and Chang.

On the other hand, Nanking may well wonder just how friendly the Young Marshal is disposed toward it. For did he not remain scrupulously neutral throughout the summer of 1930, when the Northern Coalition was victorious and when Nanking needed help most? He apparently only intervened when the Shansi cause seemed hopeless, with the result that his intervention may have saved the “rebel armies” from complete destruction at the hands of Chiang. It is therefore hardly surprising that the latter declined to make peace unless both Yen and Feng retired, and that he resumed the offensive on the Honan front with redoubled intensity. He is thus apparently determined to fight it out, and if he really knows his own mind he may succeed in eliminating Yen and Feng before the full effect of Chang’s intervention can make itself felt.

That Chang Hsueh-liang would like to continue in the self-assumed role of peacemaker and mediator is clear. He is trying hard to have both factions think that he is holding the Peiping-Tientsin area in trust for either or both. It is an extremely clever maneuver, but whether it will succeed is another question. For at heart he is opposed to the Kuomintang dictatorship and will probably not allow any local party headquarters to function effectively in North China, as he fears their interference in the administration. Chiang and his advisers must know by now that the Young Marshal may acknowledge Nanking’s sovereignty so long as it suits his interests to do so, but that he will not tolerate any curtailment of the complete autonomy of the North. Chiang also knows that he could probably not win against a combination of Mukden and the Kuominchun; hence his feverish activity on the Lunghai front. If he succeeds in eliminating Yen and Feng as important factors in the situation it is extremely likely that the Young Marshal’s turn to be suppressed will come next. In that case the spring may merely see a fresh chapter in the interminable, sordid, and ruinously costly military drama which has been playing havoc with China for the past nineteen years.

2. The Civil War

a. The Honan Front.

The military operations have gradually been assuming proportions not hitherto known in this civil war. The Chinese armies in the field. [Page 44]which in 1912 consisted of some 400,000 men, had grown to over 1,600,000 by 1929, while this year it is estimated that about 2,600,000 are under arms. And this staggering figure does not include the so-called “Red” armies and “Communist” bands which are roving in large numbers over Central and South China.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

However, it would seem that Nanking’s optimism in August was warranted by the turn events took at the front in September. It will be recalled that the Shansi forces under Marshal Yen Hsi-shan had suffered a really serious defeat in Shantung when they were thrown across the Yellow River, with much loss of men and equipment. This enabled the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to move important forces from the front along the Tientsin-Pukow (“Tsinpu”) Railway to Honan, along the Lunghai and the Peking-Hankow (“Kinhan”) railways. The “Kinhan” front is held for the North by Marshal Feng Yu-hsiang and the Kuominchun troops, which now became Chiang’s principal opponents.

Feng who, whatever his shortcomings may be in the game of politics, is a good military leader, realized the danger he was in and, instead of attacking Chiang as he had planned, withdrew to the Kaifeng-Chengchow area to meet the Southern thrust up the Kinhan railway. By the first week in September Chiang had concentrated some twenty-seven divisions in that area and launched a prolonged offensive. Severe fighting took place between September 7th and 16th, and although the Kuominchun troops are much better than the Shansi troops and offered stubborn resistance, the National forces were able to make slow but steady progress. About September 17th Feng counterattacked vigorously west of the Kinhan line, regaining some lost ground and inflicting heavy losses on the Government forces, but apparently chiefly to cover his retreat to Shensi. For [Far?] east of the railway he was obliged (September 25th) to surrender Lanfeng, one of the strongest Kuominchun positions on the Lunghai.

In the meantime Mukden’s intervention had taken place, with the result that the Shansi-Kuominchun forces were deprived of their communications with the outside world through the port of Tientsin. On the other hand, it enabled them to shorten their line and to concentrate their entire forces on the Honan front. Marshal Feng was really still in a relatively strong position from a strategic point of view, but the Shansi divisions cooperating with him appear to have become lukewarm in their support …

It is not anticipated that any serious fighting will take place this winter. The Southern armies will probably not cross the Yellow River, but there will be some maneuvering for position. Feng, who is a former “Tuchun” of Shensi, is preparing to go into winter quarters [Page 45]there, while Yen has withdrawn to his province of Shansi. Although neither of these two northwestern provinces is normally considered very important from a military or economic point of view, the presence of the “rebel” leaders there may give them considerable prominence in the near future.

b. Shantung.

Although the Tsinpu front has been practically eliminated as an active war zone, the military situation in Shantung is by no means clear. It is reported that the three “Grey Generals”, viz. Han Fu-chu, Ma Hung-kuei, and Shih Yu-san tried in vain to make a “neutral zone” out of the province. General Han is himself a Northerner and used to be a supporter of Feng. But he broke with the latter after the withdrawal of the late Chang Tso-lin from Peiping in 1928 and allied himself with Chiang Kai-shek. His real motives and allegiance appear to be doubtful. Although he controlled the northern section of the Tsinpu Railway, he did little or no fighting to stay the Shansi advance in June and July 1930, and while nominally loyal to Nanking he repeatedly threatened to resign and to go abroad. However, the Generalissimo sent him reenforcements by sea through Tsingtao and, by appointing him chairman of the Provincial Government of Shantung, prevailed upon him to remain. He is now in almost complete control of the province and seems to have a working agreement with General Ma Hung-kuei, who is in command at Tsinan.

Ma Hung-kuei is the son of Ma Fu-hsiang, the Mohammedan General from Kansu, who as Governor of Anhwei was distrusted by Nanking and removed. He was given the nominal post of Chairman of the Committee on Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, but declined it and is said to have joined his son. Both still have considerable influence in Anhwei.

General Shih is a native of Kirin (Manchuria) and is reported to be close to Chang Hsueh-liang from whom he has received large supplies of munitions. He had been friendly with Yen until the latter lost Tsinan, when Shih began to flirt with Nanking. His present attitude is somewhat doubtful, as is that of another general, Liu Chen-nien, who controls northeastern Shantung. Both are said to be negotiating with Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang to see how much of Shantung they can carve out for themselves, especially as they are not friends of Han Fu-chu.

It must be remembered in this connection that Mukden controls the fleet which has its headquarters at Tsingtao, a port nominally under the Nanking Government. By this means the Young Marshal’s influence is also felt at Chefoo and will doubtless be felt at Weihaiwei.

As matters stand at present, there is every indication that there will be far more parleying than fighting in Shantung for some time to come.

[Page 46]

c. Kwangsi Operations.

The Kwangsi rebels and so-called “Ironsides” continued to defy the Central authorities throughout the month of September. Their principal stronghold is Nanning, the capital of the province, which has been besieged for over two months by Kwangtung (Cantonese) and Yunnanese Government forces. Although it was reported that the city had been captured on September 26th, it appears that only one of the suburbs was taken. The garrison has been putting up a very stout resistance, despite great shortage of water and food. In the course of the fierce fighting in the early part of the month much damage was done to private property and most of the foreigners were evacuated.

It should perhaps be explained here that the Yunnanese are theoretically supporting the Nanking Government and are supposed to be under the orders of the Cantonese General Chen Chi-tang. But in practice the Chairman of the province, General Lung Yün, seems to be acting more or less independently. Yunnan controls the province of Kweichow, and as both are relatively poor provinces they are fairly safe from invasion and have therefore no desire to invite one by participating more actively in the civil war. Yunnanese cooperation with Canton has therefore been very half-hearted, except at Nanning where they have done most of the fighting. Their expedition into Kwangsi has been in the nature of an “opium war”, merely to open up a safe and convenient trade route to the sea for Yunnanese opium.

Reliable information from the Kwangsi-Kwangtung front is difficult to obtain. It appears that Cantonese troops continue to occupy Wuchow but that their attack on Liuchowfu and Kweilin failed because Kwangsi forces out-maneuvered them. Several towns in southern Hunan, e. g. Kueiyang, Hengchow, and even Chuchow, were reported to be in the hands of the Kwangsi rebels, with the possibility of a threat to Changsha from the South. The principal Kwangsi leaders are General Li Tsung-jen—who was included in the list of State Councillors in Yen’s “government” early in September—and generals Chang Fa-k’uei, Pai Ch’ung-hsi, and Huang Shao-hsiung. A report that they have made peace overtures has been denied by the Canton authorities.

3. “Communism” and Banditry

In speaking of “Communists” or “Reds” in China, it must be borne in mind that the terms are rarely used in their technical sense, but rather loosely to denote lawless elements who have risen in various parts of the country against constituted authority. Nevertheless, it is true that there is—or was—a “Communist Party” (Kung Ch’an Tang) [Page 47]in China which was quite active between 1925 and 1928 and which was inspired from Moscow. Soviet advisers were employed, particularly in the Canton Government, and were assisted by some Chinese students who had been educated in Soviet Russia. At that time Moscow dangled before a gullible Nationalist Government the prospect of the cancellation of “imperialistic” treaties, the abolition of extraterritoriality, and the confiscation of foreign banks and railways.

A radical change occurred in 1928 when the Nanking Government broke off diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia. Since then the Communist Party and its propaganda organs have only been able to exist surreptitiously and there has been very little direct Bolshevist influence. It is probable, however, that indirectly many threads of the Chinese revolutionary organizations still lead to Moscow through the Treaty Ports, such as Canton or Shanghai, where Soviet agents seem to keep in touch with the happenings on the various “Red fronts” in the interior. The Bolshevist newspapers are devoting much attention to China and are openly exultant at the increase of “Red” activities.

The congress of the Red Trade Union International (“Profintern”) at its meeting in Moscow last August again asserted the intention of directing the Chinese masses against their “imperialistic oppressors” and the Chinese delegate, one Lu Hsiang, declared that a Soviet Government in China had become a practical possibility. At about the same time (August 1930) the second all-China conference of the MOPR (International Society in Aid of Revolutionaries) met at Shanghai and was attended by forty-five delegates, among whom were delegates from the Chinese “Red Armies”, from the revolutionary students’ league and from the “Red” labor unions in the Wuhan region. There has also been formed in Shanghai an “anti-Imperialist League” which has sent out an appeal to the Chinese “proletariat” to organize themselves for the fight against the “imperialists” and for the defense of Soviet Russia. Centers of the league have been established in a number of Chinese educational institutions, while special commissions have been created for propaganda work among Chinese and foreign troops, as well as among the Annamite police in the French concession. Two communist newspapers in Shanghai, the Hung Chijehe (Red Flag) and the Kung Peh Pao (National Light), printed and distributed many propaganda leaflets and secret instructions, but on September 27, 1930, the police raided their establishments and confiscated their printing equipment.

But it would be fallacious to ascribe too much importance to these activities and their possible connection with Moscow. The number of Chinese intellectuals who profess Communism is negligible, and although the Soviet device of the “Hammer-and-Sickle” is often used [Page 48]by the marauding bands who call themselves “Communists”, it is intended—ludicrously enough—chiefly as a badge of respectability in the hope of being classed as something above the category of common brigands!

In other words, the so-called Communism is not so much the cause of the present chaotic conditions in Central and South China, as it is the effect of certain fundamental conditions. In the first place, it is symptomatic of the general demoralization of all Asia which followed upon the collapse of the old dynasties from the Bosphorous to the Yellow Sea. And China, where during the last nineteen years civil wars have become endemic, is worse off in this respect than the countries of Central and Western Asia. The best troops in the country being immobilized in these endless civil wars it is but natural that the local administrative machinery should have become weakened. In many districts organized authority has broken down and organized banditry has taken its place.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that a grotesque and wholly unreasonable system of taxation, coupled with many illegal practices, is driving the peasantry to desperation. On the other hand, some of the regular troops are often unpaid and desert in batches, taking with them their rifles, munitions, and even machine guns. Combining with the peasants they carry on a private guerilla warfare against the Government, with no motives beyond the desire for plunder. They loot, kidnap for the purpose of holding for ransom, and will not stop at murder. Whenever they capture a town they try to release all prisoners and to destroy the court records by burning the Government offices. There is naturally also much wanton destruction of private property.

These widespread and serious disorders are, of course, quite beyond the power of the provincial authorities to control, as they are themselves in constant danger of being overwhelmed. The outlaw forces often consist of large, well-armed bodies of men with considerable military experience and under able commanders. They are very elusive and whenever possible avoid a pitched battle with Government troops. The Nanking Government is constantly engaged in punitive expeditions against them, and those who are caught are dealt with with implacable severity. However, until a decisive victory on the Northern front releases important regular troops these “Communists” will continue to form a “fluid front” in the South. And even then repressive measures alone will not suffice unless they are also accompanied by remedial action.

During the month of September “Red” armies were operating chiefly in the provinces of Hupeh, Hunan, and Kiangsi, with minor movements in Kwangsi, Kwangtung, and Fukien. In Kwangsi bandit [Page 49]forces are helping the rebels against Yunnan. (See page 18, above). On the middle Yangtze they control both banks from Chinglingki to Shasi, and constantly fire on all passing ships, including naval vessels, with rifles and trench mortars. Threats to Changsha and Nanchang were renewed, and even Hankow appeared to be in danger at one time. General Ho Ying-chin has been made commander-in-chief of the Government forces operating against the bandits, while General Ho Chien under him is directing operations in the Changsha area and northeastern Hunan. Ho Chien does not seem to be a competent man and has made little headway beyond beating off the second attack on Changsha. His forces are believed to number about 30,000 men, who are opposed by at least an equal number of “Reds” under General Tang Sheng-min. The other important “Red” leaders are Chu Teh and P’eng Teh-huai—both in Hunan. The month under review ended with the “communists” in possession of the strategic points of Liuyang, Chuchow, and Liling in Hunan, and of Kionli and Kingchow on the Yangtze above Hankow. Bandits had also cut the railroad between Yochow and Changsha, and in Hupeh between Sinyangchow and Hankow.