Democracy with a Tommygun by Wilfred Burchett
From the top of the mountain ridge the trucks looked like threaded brown beads slowly drawn across a deep green scarf. Captain Wang, my Chinese friend and driver, had halted our car at the tip of a 5,000-ft. ridge so that we could look back across the road by which we had climbed from the beautiful valley below. In its very pit was a tiny sliver of jade green water and across the sliver hung an arched bridge over which the beads moved in an endless stream.
The slope looked like one of those charts on which statisticians delight to picture costs of living or price indices, with the sharp brown zigzags laid against the emerald mountainside from shadowed valley to sunlit summit. A few paces from us was working a group of people, obviously belonging to one family. A venerable looking old man in thin blue shirt and trousers, with a goitre as large as a football extending half way down his chest, wielded a small hammer which seemed as heavy as his frail body. His wife or daughter, a teen-age boy, two younger girls and a little toddler with padded pants, all armed with hammers according to their size, pounded away at the cluster of rocks the old man had broken off a chunk of granite. Even the toddler, clasping a tiny hammer in her chubby fists, banged away at the rocks and helped stack the small ones in neat piles by the roadside.
Sweat poured down their brown faces, but they scarcely paused in their work of breaking big stones into little ones and little ones to smaller ones, even to gaze at the "waig-woren" (foreigner) who stared so impolitely at them.
The first of the truck convoy was now in sight again, puffs of vapour spurting from the radiator as it lurched round the last bend before the mountain top. Captain Wang waved his thin hands at the groaning convoy strung out behind the leader and said:
"Good. Very good. But late. Much too late."
He let in the clutch and we moved off down the other side of the mountain for the last stage of our journey to Kunming. It was then October, 1941, two months before Pearl Harbour, and I don't think Captain Wang, honoured pilot of the Chinese Air Force, realised how really late it was. But someone in China realised that time was getting short. Piles of lend-lease equipment were accumulating at Rangoon faster than trains and trucks could move it. On every vacant allotment in Burma's chief port and capital trucks were being assembled, bodies built at a feverish rate. Supplies were being pushed up the Burma road as fast as truck space, red tape, graft and corruption would permit.
Entering China via the back door was a bewildering experience, but perhaps a good introduction for a newcomer. There along that 1,200 miles of rocky road from the Yunnan-Burma border to Chungking are encountered all the contradictions that make up China to-day. The ultra-modern with the ultra-primitive, the up-to-date with the medieval. Latest ten-wheeled American trucks driven by turbaned, skirted Orientals, and on the same road pack-trains of mules, ponies and human beings. Wealth and greed, poverty and selflessness, graft and corruption, patient honesty and sacrifice. They are all there, painted in broad colours along the Burma Road — China's greatest monument to her faith in herself.
In Lashio, the boom town terminus of the Burma rail system and real starting point for the old Burma Road, one marveled at the wealth being dissipated by Chinese drivers. There were Burmese and Indian drivers, too, but for one new to the East, they all seemed Chinese at first. Restaurants and shops were overflowing with them, eating the best food, drinking the most expensive liquor, buying luxury goods in lavish quantity. I had thought of Chinese as poverty-stricken people, and surely truck-drivers could not be high up on the wage scale, but here they were spending money at a rate a movie star could hardly afford. Most of them had revolvers stuck into hip pockets or swinging in flashy new holsters by their sides.
But soon one could see there was a wide gap between the lives of these easy spenders and those one saw along the Burma Road — the pinched-faced peasants who built the road with their hands; who toiled patiently by the hundreds of thousands carving a road out of rock and mountains with hoes and home-made blasting powder; who carried every pound of dirt and rock for foundation and facing in little woven bamboo baskets; who shaped perfect road rollers out of solid rock with crude chisels and then hauled them up and down till earth and rock was padded flat and hard so that guns and bullets could roll past on their way to kill Japanese; who were lowered down the sides of cliffs on ropes and pecked away at a solid rock wall till there was room to stand, widened footholds into shelves for their neighbours, shelves into ledges and ledges into wide cuttings; who coughed their lungs out and shivered with cerebral malaria till their lifeless frames were flung into the bushes to putrefy and spread disease amongst their fellow workers; whole villages wiped out with the malaria and dysentery that followed the camps — whole villages robbed of their manpower as China's ports were nipped off one by one and need for the lifeline through Yunnan to Rangoon became ever more pressing.
There was a gap between those leather-jacketed young men who piloted the trucks and the emaciated coolies who plodded along the same road, their thin jackets coated by the swirling red dust flung up by the careening trucks, their backs bent double by some great piece of lumber or chunk of rock salt. The coolies whose equipment for a thousand-mile journey was rice bowl and chopsticks, a piece of rag and a forked stick to prop up the burden when a halt was made on some sharp hillside to wipe off the sweat and recover one's breath.
There was a difference in the diet of those who lived off chicken and steaks and good whisky in Lashio, and the hungry-looking peasants who used to gather round the little inns at which Wang and I ate along the Burma Road. Partly it was to observe with shy humour the spectacle of a foreigner dropping chunks of food over the table in his clumsy first attempts to use chopsticks. But partly, too, it was to savour the smell of good meat and vegetables which their meagre earnings denied them the pleasure of sampling.
It was not difficult to discover why the truck-driver ate chicken and the peasant, soldier and worker starved on poor grade rice. While the peasant and his family laboured to provide the rice that kept China alive; while the miserably-equipped soldiers fought with what they had to keep some of China still free; while the workers toiled long hours in arsenals to put weapons in the hands of their troops, a few thousand truck-drivers, merchants, bankers and bureaucrats carried on one of the greatest rackets of all time along the Burma Road.
Trucks from which war supplies had been dumped to provide space for highly profitable contraband were rushed through the customs' posts because customs' officers received a good slice of "squeeze" to let them through without inspection while other trucks with the guns and ammunition so badly needed were held up for days at a time. An honest man with honest cargo couldn't afford to pay "squeeze," so why should a customs' official hurry him along? Let him wait. Trucks which were supplied to the government under American lend-lease had number plates changed, were loaded with trade goods, driven to Kunming and sold complete with goods at enormous profits and sent back to Lashio for another load. Truck-drivers piled goods into suitcases and under the seats. If they carried the right sort after a couple of trips they could buy trucks of their own and join in the wholesale swindle in a bigger way.
Wang, by his actions (for he spoke only a few words of English), helped me to understand something of this in our four-day trip from Lashio to Kunming. He would race his Chrysler staff car dangerously close to the cabin of a truck, yelling fiercely at the driver and, if necessary, waving his pistol at him, until he pulled his truck into the side of the road. Then Wang would clamber over the cargo, fish out boxes and bales of anything from whisky and cigars to quinine and condroms, usually hidden under boxes of ammunition or aeroplane parts. The drivers were always wide-eyed with simulated horror and astonishment, but Wang berated them in shrill tones, covered reams of paper with painted character as he noted down names of drivers, truck numbers and types of contraband, then set out to overtake the next convoy. Many times Wang got so infuriated and excited I thought he would end by shooting a driver or being shot himself, but we reached Kunming with nothing worse happening than Wang beating one surly truck-driver over the head with a bolt of silk he had found hidden under his seat. Through interpreters at Kunming it was explained that Wang had no official sanction to check up on contraband other than the duty of an honest patriot, but he had seen enough of what was going on at Lashio to inspire him to find out things for himself and present a documented report to the government. Whether he did or not it was impossible to discover, as I never saw Wang again after I left Kunming a few days later.
The situation on the Burma Road was bad, and many outsiders who saw what was happening concluded the whole Chinese people were graft-ridden and corrupt and could never be trusted to run their own affairs in an honest and efficient manner. But since then the scandal of the air traffic over the "hump" from India to China has been uncovered. This time it was not Chinese truck-drivers and bureaucrats who were displacing valuable war materials with drugs and contraband. It was mainly American military personnel, a few civil airline pilots and some Red Cross workers.
The Chinese who were cheating their fellow countrymen by smuggling on the Burma Road were no more representative of real China then were the United States military personnel involved in the cigarette and gasoline racket in France representative of real America. To evaluate China one had to look beyond the trucks on the Burma road to the farms reamed out of the mountain sides; to the bowed-backed peasants toiling from dawn to dusk to keep their country fighting.
In Kunming the townspeople were patiently softening up the rubble to which their mud brick homes had been reduced by a Japanese bombing raid a few days previously. A little water mixed with the dust, the mud shaped into bricks and laid out in the sun to dry. It was all very simple. Whole blocks of shops and houses had been leveled, but out of the dust and rubble new walls were already rising again. The American "Flying Tigers" were just getting organised in Kunming, and the Japs had come over in a surprise raid, just to let the Chinese know that they were keeping an eye on the place.
The post-office truck on which I traveled from Kunming to Chungking on a bed of mail-sacks had constantly to pull to the side of the road while long lines of troops squeezed past. As in Rangoon, the idea that Japan might go to war was still something to be scoffed at; it was surprising to see Chinese soldiers marching down the Burma Road, as I was told, to man the Yunnan-Burma border. They had six or seven hundred miles to march from where I passed them.
Behind each battalion of yellow-clad, sandal-shod troops came the battalion cooks, each with a ten-gallon copper, frame and all, suspended on each end of a carrying stick. Behind the cooks came wheelbarrow teams, trundling clumsy-looking, high-wheeled barrows up and down the mountainsides, keeping up with the troops or at least catching them up by nightfall. At some villages little bands turned out to cheer them along with fiddle, fife and trumpet. Incidentally, that was the only place in China where I saw troops welcomed with music. Slender, tattered and hard, for the most part very young troops, they were to be ready near the Yunnan-Burma border when Japan plunged into war. When they passed a halted convoy they peered wonderingly and envyingly at the shiny new guns in crates on some of the trucks.
The heaviest weapons they carried were three-inch mortars and Bren-type machine-guns.
The scenery between Kunming and Chungking is as beautiful as I have seen anywhere in the world. The rice harvest was almost complete. The last golden sheaves were being beaten into great cane baskets, the headless straw packed into stocks that, piled along the edge of the clipped terraces, looked like balustrades flanking golden steps leading up the hill-sides. As we neared Chungking the stubble had already been ploughed under and the terraces were flooded with water. The peasants had performed miracles by transforming mountains into lakes. Flooded terraces stepped from the valleys right up to the very tips of the mountains, reflecting red and gold of autumn-tinted chestnut and willow leaves in the dead calm waters. There were beautiful mosaics of pattern and colour in the neatly-fitted fields, with the blue of peasants' backs, gold of stubble, tender green of freshly-planted rice, red of the leaves and a few poppies clinging to the edges of the rice fields.
We passed two wrecked postal trucks between Kunming and Kweiyang and three more between Kweiyang and Chungking, representing 33 per cent, of the total number on that stretch of road during the 48 hours in which they had crashed. In order to save gasoline and sell the surplus saved on the black market, postal truck-drivers had the habit of coasting down the steep mountain slopes with engines cut of. As brakes were rarely checked before commencing the day's run, it was surprising that any reached their destination. There seemed to be skeletons of trucks and cars down almost every gorge we passed. My driver, before we left Kunming, had been duly impressed by the director of Postal Services that he had a "waigworen" on board and must curb his natural instinct to hurtle down the mountain-sides as his colleagues did. After looking at the scattered remains of one of his friend's trucks scattered all the way down a couple of thousand feet of gorge, he seemed relieved that he had been ordered to take all steep slopes in second gear. Our brakes, tyres and oil were not checked during the five days between Kunming and Chungking.
The casual, wasteful way Chinese look after their motor vehicles has been cited by pessimists to prove that Chinese have no aptitude for mechanical things, will never be good technicians, and can never run a modern, industrialised country. It is not so many years ago that we were regaled with similar doleful prophecies about the Russians. Travellers came back with stories of tractors sent out without essential parts, broken down cars and trucks littering every highway, agricultural machinery left to rust in the fields. Impossible that the Russians could ever industrialise their country. Yet a few years later we find them chasing the most highly mechanised army in the world faster than any army has been chased since warfare began. Their handling of motor transport and supplies has been one of the wonders of the war.
It is maddening to see good equipment being smashed and ruined because of clumsiness and lack of attention, especially when much of the equipment has been supplied under lend-lease or credits, paid for by taxpayers' money in America and Britain, but one must be careful not to draw too far-reaching conclusions from that. Give the Chinese a few years and they will learn as the Russians learned and as, unfortunately for us, the Japanese learned.
In the mists of a late autumn morning, looking across the broad, brown, swirling Yangtse river, Chungking looked like a dream city. Tier after tier of lightly-veiled white buildings rose from the steep banks of the river till the topmost were lost in the grey mist. A most surprising sight, for one expected nothing but a bone-pile of buildings from the — at that time — most-bombed capital in the world.
It wasn't till the little ferry boat that the strong Yangtse current tried to clutch from its course and send hurtling downstream to the famous gorges, had fought its way nearly to the Chungking side of the river, that one noticed the buildings were roofless and sightless shells. Windows were boarded up or empty of frames, back walls dissolved into shapeless heaps of bricks and dirt or were propped up with huge bamboo poles. The white was a dirty grey, the mist a depressing pea-soup fog. Never again, except at night, when the scars disappeared and lights twinkled on every hill and in every hollow, did one have the impression that Chungking was a dream city. It was a city that had suffered much. Grey and unsmiling, with grave-faced children, little more than toddlers, working and looking like old people.
I had been warned at various points along the route from Australia to China that I would find that the Chinese hated foreigners. Many reasons were cited, most of them quite logical ones. The Chinese felt they had been more than usually exploited by our traders. They had been victims of our guns during the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion; been victims of our indifference and greed in supplying the Japanese with weapons to conquer their country. They hated us because of our assumption of superiority based on the colour of our skins; they hated the British particularly, because they had closed the Burma Road, which was their particular hand-made pride.
But travelling along the Burma Road one had nowhere experienced hostility. The first time I stopped for food at a little inn I was slightly alarmed at a large crowd which gathered round my table and overflowed to the footpath outside. But it was soon apparent they were only displaying a fresh, uninhibited curiosity. They were amused at my poor efforts with chopsticks, nudged and spoke to each other behind their hands. Their mirth expressed itself first in polite giggles, then in hearty guffaws as I grinned back at them. Yunnanese had not seen many foreigners pass through at that time, and certainly few had eaten at the dirty inns to which my friend Wang took me. Several times along the Burma Road and many times since a Chinese peasant has wonderingly put his fingers round my wrist and exclaimed at the size of the wrist bone, or run his hand over the hairs on my arm and pointed to his own slim, hairless arm in comparison. Of course, to see my portable type-writer in action was an endless source of wonder. There was plenty of healthy curiosity, but nothing more. Perhaps, could they have spoken to me, they would have asked embarrassing questions, and from my replies resentment would have been kindled. That, one couldn't know.
In Chungking, the atmosphere was different. Foreigners were no novelty there. Indifference was the keynote among the people on the streets, and among the officials there was either a pleased acceptance that a "foreign friend" (the New Life Movement substitute for the traditional term of "foreign devil" formerly applied to all outsiders) had come to share the hardships of life there, or there was a guarded politeness which, if expressed in words, one felt meant: "Well, I wonder what you've come here for. We had better find out before we decide how to treat you."
The latter attitude I encountered in meeting Dr. Chu Chia Hua, at that time Minister for the Organisation of the Kuomintang and, as I discovered later, with strong pro-German leanings. I carried a letter of introduction to him from the Chinese Consul in Melbourne, and most of our first conversation centred around what types of people and organisations interested in China I had associated with in Australia. One worry for Chu Chia Hua was that I also had a letter from the Australia-China Co-operation Movement, formed merely to promote goodwill between the two countries and to raise funds for relief purposes. Chu Chia Hua sensed in the word "co-operation" some connection with Rewi Alley's Industrial Co-operatives, which were on his black-list at the time, and whose members he was busily tracking down and pushing into concentration camps.
It was strange to find out within the first few weeks that the liberal-leftist groups, which all over the world had been foremost in promoting goodwill for China, had raised millions of pounds for her defence; had organised boycotts of Japanese goods and strikes to prevent shipments of war material to Japan, were regarded by the Chinese government as subversive, although the help was eagerly accepted. In many countries where the "Aid to China" movement was strongest, conservative government circles frowned upon such movements as assisting a country in the hands of "leftist" people, who were only one step removed from communism. It was, in fact, a piquant situation. In "leftist" China anyone with even a faint tinge of liberalism was being persecuted as relentlessly as their counter-parts in Japan or Germany. But the myth of a near Communist China was a propaganda line glibly used by Japan and eagerly accepted by those who were making millions by selling Japan her war requirements.
For a long time, of course, liberal movements such as the Industrial Co-operatives were allowed to flourish because they were sure draw-cards for money from liberal sources the world over. But once lend-lease and British credits became available, such liberal "luxuries" as industrial cooperatives and incipient democratic movements were no longer necessary. The money was coming in, anyway, so the draw-cards could be put back in the pack — in this case into concentration camps. A campaign of suppression was instituted against the co-operatives and co-op sympathisers from abroad were regarded with suspicion.
The atmosphere in Chungking became clear after Japan took her plunge on 7th December. Those who acclaimed us as sympathetic "foreign friends" now greeted us with unmistakable warmth as fully-fledged allies. The suspicious attitude of the others increased, especially amongst those who believed their government had been too hasty in lining up with the Allies against not only Japan, but Germany and Italy as well. The dismay felt in America and Britain at Japan's blows at Pearl Harbour and Singapore were not reflected in Chungking. People and officials were frankly jubilant. Even ricksha coolies and street stallholders relaxed their normally sombre expression to give a grin as a "waig-woren" went past. Little children would smile and shout "ABCD front," or the nearest equivalent to it.
The idea of the new alliance between America, Britain, China and Dutch East Indies caught their imagination, and the repetition of "ABCD" as a slogan seemed accepted as a magic talisman for victory. This is the more remarkable when one considers that in the alphabet-less Chinese language "ABCD" can have no significance. There seemed no doubt in people's minds that their troubles were now over and Japan would soon be crushed by combined blows of the mighty British and American naval and air forces. Even the early setbacks at Hong Kong and the sinking of the "Repulse" and "Prince of Wales" during the first days only temporarily dampened people's spirits.
Even official circles were so convinced that final victory was at hand that it was being openly discussed in some military and political quarters that now was the time to settle affairs with the Communists. Chinese armies would no longer have to worry about the Japanese, and they could concentrate on consolidating Kuomintang power so that by the time America and Britain had defeated Japan, the Communists would be liquidated and the Kuomintang be in undisputed control of China. This idea penetrated very close to the top, but whether the Generalissimo gave ear to it or not, one couldn't know. In any case the assumption about the Japanese soon proved wrong when they launched another attack in China — this time their third drive down the Hankow-Canton railway, with Changsha their preliminary objective.
China's best equipped armies then, as now, were stationed along the Yellow River front to ensure no supplies reached the Communists. Those in Hunan were the usual ill-fed, ill-equipped troops which comprised the bulk of the central government armies. But in General Hsueh Yueh's Hunan command there was less corruption than usual and a splendid fighting spirit, probably inspired this time by the entry of Britain and America into the Pacific War. The soldiers fought valiantly, suffered heavy losses, but imposed still heavier losses on the Japanese. By destroying roads, they forced the Japanese to leave their heavy equipment behind, and by the time the decisive battle was fought in and around Changsha itself, the Chinese were fighting their enemy on almost equal terms.
The Japs had to discard their artillery because of road destruction, and could use only pack guns and heavy mortars while the Chinese had a few good field pieces secreted in the hills on the opposite side of the river from Changsha. They popped away with these to good effect, and after extremely heavy fighting at the very gates of the city, the Japs were forced to withdraw, leaving several thousand of their dead on the battlefield. Those of us who visited Changsha and followed the path of Japanese retreat while their dead were still practically warm, were convinced that here, at least, the Chinese had fought bravely and skilfully. The Japanese suffered one of their worst defeats in China and their first defeat since Pearl Harbour.
Very impressive was the efficiency with which the city of 200,000 had been evacuated and every building in a strategic spot converted into a fortress. At every street corner machine-gun nests and small concrete pill-boxes; houses and shops torn down to clear lines of fire; rubble from Jap bombings cemented together to make tank obstacles; barricades made from beds, doors and paving blocks. Changsha was a demonstration of the best that Chinese armies can do with their natural ingenuity supplementing their meagre arms.
Even there, in probably the most honest war area in Central Government China, it was interesting to slip away from the official party and watch a typical example of army graft. A few of us went to watch some Chinese soldiers being buried, and we were surprised at the decent, solid-looking coffins in which the bodies were carried to their last resting place in the rich, yellow soil of Hunan.
In China, to be buried in a good coffin is an important thing. In cities where the guild streets still function, where the silversmiths, lacquer workers, porcelain painters, tailors, cabinet-makers and other artisans occupy separate streets, the coffin-makers' street is always one of the most attractive with its display of beautifully-made massive black-polished, sometimes silver-inlaid, coffins. People cherish their coffins in China, buy them years before they die, and a dying person is greatly comforted if relatives bring in a handsome coffin as proof he will be decently and honourably buried.
For the soldiers there is a special fund established to provide each fatality with a separate coffin, and the knowledge that such provision has been made is an important factor in maintaining the troops' morale.
In following the burying parties as they staggered along with heavy coffins swung from their shoulders by ropes and poles, we discovered at the burial ground the same coffin was made to serve many times. The coffin was lowered to the bottom of the hole, a couple of sharp taps, and the top part was pulled up again leaving the corpse on a cheap pine board, which had been temporarily nailed to the bottom of the coffin. The bodies were hastily covered up; the troops had already left the area, and no one except the burying parties — who were probably given extra rations to keep their mouths shut — knew about the coffin swindle except some officer, who doubtless pocketed most of the money from the special fund. It was common gossip in China that troops carried their dead comrades with them for days in order to draw their rations and share them, but this was understandable, knowing the meagre diet on which they normally lived. But the coffin swindle seemed a particularly callous exploitation of the dead.
The Jap armies began to withdraw from Changsha early in January, 1942, and the energetic "Little Tiger," as General Hsueh Yueh was dubbed, immediately commenced preparations for the next battle of Changsha. He was sure the Japs would attack again soon, because they wanted to link up with their forces in Canton, cut Free China in two, and re-establish the rail supply line between Hankow and the Kwangtung capital and port of Canton. Hsueh Yueh said he expected the Japs to attack next spring, but actually they did not move till autumn, 1944, when they launched their fourth and only successful attack against Changsha, sweeping on down the railroad to capture an American air base at Hengyang and to narrow the gap between their Yangtse-based forces and those based on Canton to little more than 100 miles.
In Hunan, the Central armies seemed to have established good relations with the people. Several of the divisional commanders and General Hsueh Yueh himself emphasised the good work done by peasants, carrying wounded back and caring for them, taking food and water to tired troops right up to the front lines, even acting as volunteer ammunition carriers. We saw peasants coming back to the Changsha countryside bringing gifts of rice, sometimes pieces of pork, and eggs that must have been hard to part with, for the soldiers. The troops had saved their city and won back their land, and the peasants repaid them as well as they knew how. It was a vastly different situation from that existing in provinces I visited later, where the peasants, with good reason, still regarded soldiers as medieval bandits who came to rob and plunder.
By the time we left Changsha the black-gowned townspeople were streaming back with their bundles and barrows to dig up precious possessions buried before they left the city. Lovely, slim-varnished boats, with woven bamboo sails, the pride of the famed Hsiang river boat-builders, were moored at the river's edge disgorging hundreds of joyful citizens come to repossess their city. Cormorant fisher boats with the bedraggled black birds clustered over them like flies on a piece of meat, were anchored out in mid-stream, selling-fish as fast as the quick-diving cormorants caught them. While the stink of death still hung heavily over the city, Changsha was coming to life again.
Back in Chungking feeling had hardened amongst those, and there were plenty of them in top government circles, who favoured the Axis side. Hong Kong had fallen. The Japs were slicing through Malaya and the Philippines without likelihood of being stopped. The invasion of Burma had just commenced. In the west the Germans were still pushing through Russia at ten or twenty miles a day on a wide front.
Much of China's financial support had come from Hong Kong, and the overseas Chinese in Malaya, Burma and the Dutch East Indies. With the fall of Hong Kong one of China's last two contacts with the outside world was lopped off. How long would the other — the Burma Road — last?
Out of office had gone foreign minister Dr. Quo Tai Chi, many believed because he had been too hasty in persuading the Generalissimo to declare war on Germany and Italy, though the popular story was that his pretty concubine was taking up too much of his time and money, and was out of favour with Madame Chiang.
Chinese who were wholeheartedly pro-Allies looked anxiously to their "foreign friends," and the latter suffered some embarrassment explaining what their respective fleets were doing, and why the Japanese were advancing almost at will against British and American troops in Malaya and the Philippines. The full story of Pearl Harbour and the virtual destruction of the British air force in Malaya were not known at the time, and devastating blows by air and sea against the Japs were still expected.
Others who were not so pro-Allies regarded the "foreign friends" with greater coldness than ever, and hardly bothered with the traditional politeness. Little cliques held meetings to discuss if it were not better now to make overtures to Japan and join the Axis. Japan, they thought, would help them settle with the Communists, and Japan herself, though victorious, would be weakened by having to deal with America and Britain. Suave, intelligent, German-educated Chu Chia Hua, with his key position in the government controlling all party appointments, held a tea-party with some of his Nazi-minded friends, where such possibilities as a deal with the Axis were discussed. Chinese officials recently returned from Germany painted a glowing picture of conditions there.
Home morale was boosted enormously by the victory at Changsha, and the Chinese people gained new confidence in themselves by contrasting their own success in Hunan with the defeats inflicted on the Allies. The Japanese propaganda line that westerners were a soft, decadent people with no spirit for fight began to have an effect. The trend of thought amongst even progressive Chinese began to fee something like this:
"In the past we have relied too much on the West coming to our aid. We have had too great regard for their material achievements. With all their great ships, their clouds of planes, and big guns, fellow Asiatics are defeating them right and left. In a few weeks Britain and America, with all their material strength, have lost greater possessions to the Japanese than we lost in years with our home-made weapons. The Japs can defeat the westerners and we can defeat the Japs. At Changsha our soldiers have shown again that we alone can defeat the Japs perhaps because we have superior spiritual qualities. We must look to ourselves in future and not rely on foreign friends so much."
Liberals were heartened by the arrival in Chungking of Madame Sun Yat Sen, the gracious widow of the founder of the republic and sister to Madame Chiang and Madame Kung. She had been living in Hong Kong due to her disagreement with the totalitarian, illiberal policies of her brother-in-law, the Generalissimo, and had escaped from the besieged city in one of the last planes to leave. In Chungking she was kept under surveillance by the secret police, mainly because she believed unswervingly in the teachings of her late husband, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and was in favour of their immediate application. Of the three people's principles laid down by the father of the Chinese republic, only one showed any evidence of application — nationalism. To speak of applying the other two principles of "democracy and people's livelihood" smacked of subversion to the Kuomintang party bosses. Madame Sun was one of the few people in Chungking who dared give voice to her opposition to Kuomintang policy.
Another, the only one close to the Generalissimo who dared criticise him, was the famous "Christian General," Marshal Feng Yu Hsiang. He was old enough to be regarded as an "elder statesman," and used to the full his special privileges on that account. He was one of the few high Kuomintang officials who would give frank replies to honest questions. A jovial giant of a man, with a smooth, round face and bald head, he replied to my question as to China's most pressing needs by saying tersely, "Food, bullets, drugs, planes, planes and more planes," then added: "and honesty in their distribution."
Marshal Feng, dressed in peasant blue, stuck to a bicycle rather than the sleek sedans in which most high officials traveled, and several times roundly berated the Generalissimo at meetings of the Military Affairs Commission. He was probably the only channel by which true conditions of the troops — and the suppressive activities of the secret police — reached the Generalissimo. For the rest, Chiang was surrounded by a "cordon sanitaire" that ensured he never obtained a true picture of what was happening outside of Chungking.
Shortly after Pearl Harbour Field-Marshal, then General Sir Archibald Wavell conferred with the Generalissimo and accepted the latter's offer of Chinese troops for use in Burma. By the middle of January, 1942, those troops, which I had passed a couple of months earlier marching down the Burma Road, were already camped on the Yunnan-Burma border awaiting word to march into Burma. Details as to their employment by General Wavell had been decided. The Chinese were to bring in their own rifles and machine-guns; the British would feed them and light artillery would be supplied from American lend-lease stocks already in Rangoon. Air support was to be furnished partly by the British and partly by American Volunteer Group squadrons, the latter originally formed to protect the Burma Road and Chungking, but now released by the Generalissimo for use in Burma.
For the first time in nearly a century Chinese troops would fight outside their own boundaries in an effort to preserve China's last life-line to the outside world. The fate of Burma was so closely tied up with China's fortunes that there was little wonder that the Chinese public eagerly awaited news of their troops in Burma.