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60 years of Chinese revolution: Why it was possible

By Owei Lakemfa
THE Chinese Revolution which thrust a vast, backwater country into a super power will be 60 years next Thursday, October 1, 2009. China which housed a quarter of humanity, including 500 million peasants who were generally illiterate with no access to healthcare, electricity or schools, was forced on a diet of opium by Britain.

When the people protested against their being turned into an ocean of drug addicts by the British traffic in opium, Great Britain sent a punitive force by 1842 to “protect free trade”.

China was a semi colonial country occupied by nine countries.Young Chinese patriots joined a secret anti-colonial movement “The Society Of Harmonious Fists” better known as  the “Boxers”. The Boxers uprising in 1900 was put down by an expeditionary army of eight countries: the United States, Austria, Italy, Britain, Japan, France, Russia and Germany. They imposed an annual indemnity on China for Boxer “crimes”.

On October 10, 1911 the Manchu dynasty which had ruled the country since 1644 was overthrown by the Kuomintang,  the political party led by Sun Yat-sen who ruled until 1925. A power struggle followed with General  Chiang Kai-shek emerging victorious three years later. He had served in the Japanese army and trained in the Soviet Union .

After consolidating, he executed hundreds of his communist allies. The rest communists fled and began to congregate at Chingkanshan. These included their leader, Chou En-lai, Mao Tse-Tung who was to emerge the overall leader, and Chu Teh who moulded what became the Red Army.

Although accepting the Marxist-Leninist ideology that the Working Class would lead the revolution, Mao argued that in the case of China which was semi feudal with multiple colonial masters  and a relatively small workforce, that task would fall on the rural populace, the peasantry.

The revolutionaries were few, weak and were the government’s for the taking, which was precisely what Chiang Kai-shek decided to do in 1930 by ordering that the “bandits” be wiped out. The government evacuated villages and built new ones with barbed wire. So the revolutionaries were isolated from the populace, could not recruit new members or replenish supplies including food; they faced complete annihilation.

Rather than commit mass suicide by fighting  or surrendering, they decided to undertake what became one of the most audacious and stunning manoeuvres in military history; to evacuate 100,000 fighters and their families from the Kiangsi Province in the south to the northern Shensi Province.

What became the legendary Long March began in October 1934, covering 12,500 kilometres across numerous rivers and snow capped mountains with the fighters under constant air  and ground attacks. It lasted 12 months with only 30,000 of the fighters surviving.

The Japanese which had occupied the Manchuria in 1931 invaded the rest of China in December 1937. Although the government and communists temporarily allied to fight the Japanese, they were no match; over 15 million Chinese died in this and the Second World  War. Japan was defeated by the allies and the Chinese civil war resumed with the revolutionaries being seemingly no match.

Mao assessed the Kuomintang (government) as being extremely powerful; it had the support of the world’s powers, its army which was perhaps the largest in the world, was modern, well-equipped and trained by the world  powers, and it controlled “…the key positions or lifelines in the politics, economy, communications and culture of China”.

In contrast, Mao said: “Our (revolutionaries) political power exists in scattered and isolated mountainous or remote regions and receives no outside help whatsoever…The Red Army is numerically small, its arms are poor, and it has great difficulty in obtaining supplies such as food, bedding and clothing”.

But how did they defeat the mighty Chinese army? It was a combination of ideas, superior military strategy and tactics, belief in a just cause and unparallel patriotism. For them it was a just war necessary to cleanse the land and enthrone a people-centred system Mao said “The aim of war is to eliminate war…that is to oppose war with war”.

The revolutionaries abandoned the cities and urban centres, operated in the rural areas and succeeded in getting the government troops to over-stretch themselves and their supply lines. The rebels adopted guerrilla strategies which was summarised in Mao’s maxim: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue”. He also told them: “Oppose fixed battle lines and positional warfare, and favour fluid battle lines and mobile warfare”.

From 1948 the revolutionaries began to isolate the strongholds of government forces and the following year, switched from guerrilla warfare to direct battles. In the major battle of “Huai –Hai” fought in the walled towns of Yungcheng and Suchow, they inflicted serious injuries on government troops who lost over 500,000 men.

With these victories, the revolutionaries became unstoppable taking Tientsin and Beijing in January 1949, Nanking the then capital in April followed by Shangai in May and finally Canton in October. The Chiang Kai-shek government fled to Formosa (Taiwan) where American forces protected, and is still protecting it from being routed. On October 1, 1949 the victorious revolutionaries led by Mao proclaimed the new Peoples  Republic of China. Chou En-lai was Prime Minister and Mao was party chairman and Head of State.

Mao who was interested in classical studies, poetry, development of ideology and putting down his thoughts stepped aside as Head of State in April, 1959  with Liu Shao-chi taking over. Following serious ideological differences, Mao in 1965 regained the presidency, carried out the Cultural Revolution and purged Shao-chi and others who were toeing a different line.

Chou En-lai the Prime Minister since the revolution who was seen as Mao’s likely successor died in January 1976 predeceasing  Mao who died on September 10, 1976 aged 83. Both men early in life found their historical mission and fulfilled it. In the process they  made their country a model of development which even enemies cannot ignore and completely redirected world history.


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