A Yankee Among The War Lords

PrintPrintEmailEmail Chiang soon ousted his partner and in March, 1926, attempted a purge of the Communists that ended in a draw. The movement was still revolutionary. Communist members were active in the Hongkong boycott and in organizing peasants and labor unions. Political advisers of the commissar type, headed by Chou En-lai, were attached to the faculty of Whampoa, and their slogans appeared on the walls: “Down with Imperialism!” “Laborers of China Arise!” “The World Revolution Will Save You!” “Down with Foreign Cultural Aggression!” “Destroy the Unequal Treaties!” …

 
 

The time for an expedition against the north, which Sun Yat-sen had so often tried and failed to launch, had come. It began in July of 1926, with the three great cities of the Yangtze Valley, Hankow, Nanking, and Shanghai, as the objective of the first stage. The Kuomintang Nationalist forces numbered under one hundred thousand, with Chiang Kai-shek none too solidly in control as commander in chief. Their opponents, composed of various forces of the tuchuns , numbered over a million. They were joined by the crisis in an incompatible union of old antagonists, all of whom had fought each other at one time or another. The union embraced Chang Tso-lin, Wu P’ei-fu, Chang Tsung-chang—the notorious war lord of Shantung, said to have “the physique of an elephant, the brain of a pig and the temperament of a tiger” and to be “dangerous even to look at”—and Sun Chuan-fang, war lord of five provinces in the Shanghai area. Off in the northwest Stilwell’s two former clients, the Model Governor Yen Hsi-shan and the Christian General Feng Yu-hsiang, watched and waited, Yen as a highly uncertain ally of the other tuchuns and Feng as an intended ally of the Nationalists.

The Kuomintang soldiers, following the revolutionary doctrine of not molesting or preying upon the people, swept forward during the first months in a series of triumphs. Many units of the northern armies came over to them or fell back without fighting. They took Hankow by September, the month in which Stilwell arrived at Tientsin after his return from the States, and scattered Wu P’ei-fu’s forces in October. Chiang Kai-shek’s First Army suffered a setback in Kiangsi, but otherwise the advance like a flooding river spread outward and northward toward Nanking and Shanghai. Its way was opened by the hopes and hospitality of a people weary of oppression. The Kuomintang’s promise of “better days” to come, not its military powers, accounted for its easy success. As it entered Hangchow, one hundred miles from Shanghai, thousands of spectators lined the streets with smiling faces to watch the well-equipped troops parade through the city. Never before had troops been welcomed by the populace. …

By January 1, 1927, the Nationalist government had moved up to Hankow, where the left wing gained control. While Chiang concentrated on his drive toward Nanking, the former southern capital, and Shanghai, the locus of money power, Hankow seethed in the ardent atmosphere of international revolt. …

Among Americans and other foreigners in China the rise of the Nationalists precipitated a violent quarrel between the Treaty Port community, which took a colonial view of China, and the missionaries, who for the sake of their own survival championed China’s rights. The missionary establishment was at a peak at this time of eight thousand Protestants in 1,149 stations, with half again as many Catholics. If they were to exorcise the hostility of the Chinese, the missionaries had to divorce themselves from the foreign treaty system, even though this was what protected their position in China. Supported by the liberal foreign journals, they argued for China’s right of self-determination and presented her cause as one concerned with “the same questions for which we fought when we separated ourselves from Great Britain.” They persuaded themselves that the Kuomin-tang, with its source in the Christian Sun Yat-sen, was the sincerely progressive force that would at last end civil strife and bring good government to China. They castigated businessmen and diplomats for taking the cynical view and pleaded China’s rights in letters to their boards and churches, in magazine and newspaper articles, lecture tours, and public conferences.

The “man in the club,” who personified the business community, upheld without question the right of the West to arrange conditions favorable to the well-being and commerce of Westerners wherever they might be. Chinese effort to curtail Western privileges was regarded as “encroachment on foreign rights.” Western education fostered by the missionaries was blamed for breaking down the old Confucian morality and raising up ideals inappropriate to China.

That view did not appeal to the American public, which saw the Chinese as a people rightly struggling to be free and assumed that because they were struggling for sovereignty they were also struggling for democracy. This was a delusion of the West. Many struggles were going on in China—for power, for nationhood, even in some cases for the welfare of the people—but election and representation, the sacred rights on which Westerners are nursed, were not their concern. …

The 15th Infantry in Tientsin felt the vibration of these events without greatly concerning itself, being precluded by American policy from playing any role that might involve it in Chinese affairs. Planted in the midst of the concession area, it was quartered in three-story brick barracks buildings facing a parade ground.