Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (9 page)

BOOK: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
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As the Communists built up their Soviet base, Chiang Kai-shek, worried about the Communist threat, sent his troops to encircle and destroy the Jiangxi Soviet. In four of these campaigns, the Communists were able to drive away the Guomindang, but during the fifth encirclement, the strong Guomindang routed the Communists from their base. In making their escape, the Communists embarked on what would become known as the “Long March,” a brutal six-thousand-mile trek that lasted slightly over one year, until the Communists settled in a new base area in northern Shaanxi. The journey took a terrible toll on the fleeing Communists. They started the Long March with roughly 86,000 troops, but because many died on the trek and others deserted, fewer than 10,000 made it all the way to the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia border area, where in October 1935 they were welcomed by a small band of local Communists. Although there is no record of contacts between Mao and Deng during the Long March, as the number of surviving troops grew smaller, Deng, who was responsible for propaganda to help sustain morale during the march, had, as his daughter writes, many opportunities to talk with Mao.

 

A few weeks into the Long March, a critical January 1935 meeting was held in Zunyi, Guizhou province, that gave Mao authority over the military and paved the way for him to become the top leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Deng was not a formal participant, but he was able to attend as a note-taker; although no records from the meeting remain, Deng was later given the glorious title of “secretary general” of the meeting.

 

During the first few weeks of the Long March, Deng was in charge of putting out a propaganda sheet called “Red Star.” Within a few weeks, as transporting supplies became more burdensome, the mimeograph machine was cast aside. As a propaganda official, however, Deng continued to rally the troops orally to continue the struggle. Deng contracted typhoid on the journey and nearly died; he made the Long March, he later explained to a visitor, half on horseback, half on foot. While the Communists were establishing their base in the Northwest, the invading Japanese rather than the Guomindang became the main enemy, and an appeal to patriotism was added to the appeal against despotic landlords.

 

In December 1936, an opportunity emerged for the Communists when troops belonging to the warlord Zhang Xueliang kidnapped Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in Xi'an. To win his release, Chiang was forced to agree to a new period of cooperation between the Guomindang and the Communists to fight the Japanese. To take advantage of this new agreement, which removed
the pressure from Chiang's forces, the Communists in January 1937 moved to a larger base area, located in Yan'an, in northern Shaanxi province. There, as head of the propaganda department of the First Corps, Deng guided the development of musical and drama teams in addition to delivering speeches to instruct the troops and party officials. Deng developed his characteristic approach to giving propaganda messages: he was brief and to the point, presenting the broad international situation and relating it to present responsibilities. By the time he ended, listeners had a clear notion of what their responsibilities were.

 

Later that year, as the Japanese moved beyond Manchuria to invade all of China, they captured all the major cities and transport routes. Only rural areas and cities in the Southwest remained under Chinese control. Skirmishes continued, but the Japanese became an army of occupation.

 

Attacking the Japanese, 1937–1945

 

After the Communists agreed to unite with the Guomindang to fight the Japanese, their forces were reorganized as the Eighth Route Army, part of the overall Chinese forces officially under the direction of Chiang Kai-shek. In fact the Guomindang and the Communists remained deeply suspicious of each other and had little contact.

 

The headquarters of the Communist's Eighth Route Army was located in Shanxi, a fertile area hundreds of miles east of Yan'an where the troops had access to adequate grain provisions and were close enough to Japanese forces that they could harass them with guerrilla attacks.

 

In 1937, Mao assigned one of his ablest generals, Liu Bocheng, as commander of the 129th Division, a major unit in the Eighth Route Army. Shortly thereafter, in January 1938, as in other units, Mao paired the commander with a political commissar: Deng Xiaoping. But unlike other political commissars, Deng was made first party secretary and Liu was named second party secretary, giving Deng added authority, including the right to make judgments about the political readiness of the troops and the surrounding communities before they engaged in a battle. Liu Bocheng was a head taller and a decade older than Deng, and blind in one eye from a battle injury. The two men would work together closely. When Deng first arrived in the Taihang Mountains where the 129th Division was located, he immediately established his authority: Liu was away on a trip and Deng took over in his absence.

 

From 1937 to 1949, Deng and Liu formed a team against the Japanese,
and after World War II, in the civil war against the Guomindang. They worked so closely together that the name “Liu-Deng” was used as a single word. Liu was considered more kindly toward the troops than Deng, who demanded more of his charges and was ready to be bold in advancing to fight the enemy. Liu was also more reluctant than Deng to execute soldiers suspected of spying for the Guomindang.

 

From 1937–1945, to evade the Japanese, the base of the 129th Division occasionally moved to various spots within the Taihang Mountains in eastern Shanxi, but it always stayed no more than a day's horseback ride from the Eighth Route Army headquarters so that the leaders could easily attend important meetings. From wherever they were located, they occasionally carried out guerrilla attacks on the better-armed Japanese forces, concentrating greater numbers on small groups of the enemy that was stretched to maintain control of the towns and major transport lines. Yan'an was a large enough base, and far enough from the enemy, that Mao had time to indulge his interests in history, philosophy, and poetry even as he worked on developing Communist theory and an overall strategy. By contrast, Deng, as political commissar in the smaller base in the Taihang Mountains located closer to Japanese lines, had little time for theory. He was responsible for practical issues in dealing with the local population. In effect, during those eight years Deng became the top political official on the Shanxi side of the Taihang Mountain area, with responsibility for developing a self-sufficient economy to produce adequate food for the tens of thousands of local people and troops, and enough commercial crops to support the local industries that made cloth and other daily goods. Deng was also in charge of recruiting soldiers for the regular army and evaluating the political implications of military actions, tasks that he had learned well while in Guangxi. As part of his efforts to spur the area's economy, Deng devised a system of taxation to encourage local production. He wrote: “people should be taxed according to the average production of recent years and any amount exceeding that average should entirely belong to the producer.”
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To keep the local militias that supported the regular army ready to attack the Japanese, he traveled secretly within the region.
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In 1939, on one of his two trips back to Yan'an, Deng married Zhuo Lin, one of three bright, leftist daughters of a well-to-do businessman famous for making Yunnan ham, who was later killed during land reform. At a time when fewer than 1 percent of people in Zhuo Lin's age group had attended a university and an educated woman was a rarity, the sisters had all studied at
universities, where they had joined the revolution. Zhuo Lin in particular was admitted to the highly competitive Peking University, where she studied physics. She once commented that Deng stood out from most Communist officers, whom she thought were not well educated.

 

The simple, rustic wedding of Deng and Zhuo Lin, who was twelve years his junior, took place in front of Mao's cave in the presence of Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Li Fuchun, and a handful of others. Although there is no reliable record of what were probably many meetings between Mao and Deng in northwest China, they clearly had bonded by the time of Deng's wedding. Mao later referred approvingly to Deng's suffering in Jiangxi (for having been a member of the “Mao faction”), and he was undoubtedly impressed not only by Deng's abilities and readiness to take action, but also by his deep respect for Mao's early achievement in establishing a Communist base in rural China, which Deng himself had tried and failed to accomplish.

 

Deng and Zhuo Lin eventually had three daughters (Lin, Nan, and Rong, all named for trees) and two boys (Pufang and Zhifang). Except for separations when Deng was fighting in dangerous areas, the two remained together until Deng's death fifty-eight years later, making theirs one of the more stable families among the Communist leadership. Although Deng was not close to his own father, his wife and children were a haven for Deng as he faced the pressures of his weighty responsibilities. Their intimacy did not extend to political matters, since he did not share high-level party discussions with his family.

 

The Civil War, 1946–1949

 

After World War II ended, Deng was in fact the highest-ranked Communist official in Jin-Ji-Lu-Yu, a border region of several million people that spanned four provinces—Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, and Henan. There in the mountainous areas, away from the urban areas where Guomindang troops were located, he helped prepare troops for the inevitable war with the Guomindang. A key responsibility was to identify and cultivate promising young Communist organizers, two of whom, Zhao Ziyang and Wan Li, would play a large role after 1978.

 

Scarcely a year after the end of World War II, and shortly after the civil war between the Guomindang and the Communists broke out, Liu Bocheng and Deng were ordered to lead their troops southwest to the Dabie Mountains
located on the edge of the large plains of central China. Mao's immediate goal in ordering the move was to help pull Guomindang troops away from the Northwest, where they were threatening the Communist headquarters in Yan'an. Beyond that, however, Mao was hoping to establish a base on the edge of the central plain where, throughout Chinese history, final showdowns between contending forces had usually taken place. The march to the Dabie Mountains was certain to involve heavy casualties, because the Liu-Deng forces lacked supplies, including warm clothing for the harsh winter, and because enemy forces were strong in the region.

 

Deng, ever the tough, disciplined soldier, did not hesitate to charge ahead, despite the certainty of heavy losses. Many of the Liu-Deng troops were indeed killed or died from the cold or from food shortages, and the surviving soldiers remained in a precarious position, vulnerable to attacks by the enemy and to further losses from the cold and lack of provisions. Despite these difficulties, the remnant forces and newly recruited troops, as Mao had envisioned, were able to establish a base overlooking the central plain. Unlike the guerrilla fighting in World War II, in the civil war massive armies on the two sides engaged in large pitched battles. This base would prove critical for the forthcoming Huai Hai campaign, one of the three decisive campaigns in the civil war.

 

The Huai Hai campaign, which lasted from early November 1948 to January 1949, was one of the largest campaigns in military history, involving roughly 600,000 Guomindang troops, some led by very able generals, and about 500,000 Communist troops. The Communists also mobilized over a million peasants to carry food and other supplies to the troops, and requisitioned more than 700,000 draft animals to help with transport. The Communist strategy of engaging the Guomindang north of the Yangtze River to fight a war of annihilation, so that they could then cross the wide Yangtze River with less resistance, was proposed by the able general Su Yu, deputy to Chen Yi, then commander of the East China Army (later the Third Field Army). Although Deng kept in close touch with Yan'an during the Huai Hai campaign, Mao gave far more leeway to his local Communist commanders to make their own decisions than Chiang Kai-shek gave to his generals. Already at this time Chiang Kai-shek was keenly worried about the superior morale of the Communist troops who, as poor peasants, expected that their families would be given their own land after victory. After his troops were defeated by the Communists in the northeast on the eve of the Huai Hai campaign, Chiang became pessimistic about the outcome of the war.
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The East China Army, led by Su Yu, was larger and, during the initial battles of the campaign, more successful in routing its opponents than were the Liu-Deng troops, which were under siege by larger enemy forces. The Liu-Deng forces, then called the Central Plain Army (soon to be renamed the Second Field Army) charged into battle but suffered heavy casualties and required the assistance of troops and artillery from Su Yu's East China Army forces. In the final stages of the Huai Hai campaign, Mao ordered the establishment of a “front” organization that unified all 500,000 Communist troops under Deng as general secretary.

 

Deng's leadership during the Huai Hai campaign was not without controversy. Liu Bocheng, worried about the safety of his troops, sought to build more trenches for protection from the superior Guomindang firepower, but Deng insisted on charging ahead. Deng was later criticized for exposing his troops to greater danger, causing more casualties than necessary early in the campaign, as well as for not digging more of these defensive trenches.

 

In the last stages of the campaign, however, the half million Communist forces, unified under Deng as the general secretary of the front command, prevailed. The campaign was a great moral victory as well as a military victory, and from then on Chiang's forces remained on the defensive as the Communists pushed southward and westward. In fact, after the Huai Hai campaign, the Guomindang had difficulty assembling large forces to resist these Communist advances. The Communist army easily overcame the resistance to crossing the broad Yangtze River and continued its rapid march southward and westward. In 1984, Deng, when asked by Prime Minister Nakasone what was the happiest time of his life, replied that it was the three years when they overcame the dual obstacles of smaller numbers of troops and poorer equipment to win victory in the civil war. He particularly highlighted the crossing of the Yangtze River.
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BOOK: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
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