Democracy with a Tommygun by Wilfred Burchett
From Nancheng we had two days' easy walking through A country where the roads had been destroyed as effectively as in the Kian area. We still had an escort of soldiers, and one night we were hustled out of a little shop in which we had sheltered and were hidden by our escort captain near some hayricks. Soon we heard the clop-clop of approaching horses and splashes as they forded a nearby stream. We were certain they belonged to Japs and expected to hear a fusillade of shots break out at any moment. But they passed without incident, quite close to our hayricks fortunately the horses didn't smell the hay and after an anxious couple of hours, we heard them filing back in the direction from which they had come. The escort leader told us next morning they were not Japs but bandits, who had heard there were "wealthy foreigners" in the village.
"Why didn't you fight them?" asked Yang Kang.
The officer shrugged his shoulders. "There were too many of them for us, and in any case, they were quite satisfied when we assured them there were no wealthy foreigners but just some newspaper people."
He sent back to Nancheng, however, for reinforcements, including a Bren gun team, before we moved on to Lichwan. We were nearing the border of Fukien, and that rocky, poverty-stricken province which supplies most of China's emigrants, is famous for its daring bandits. They are recruited mainly from army deserters and live in the almost inaccessible, forest-covered mountains. We were not troubled with them again.
The wave of Japanese invasion had exhausted itself near the border mountain between Kiangsi and Fukien. More burned and broken villages marked the area along which it had receded. More mountain trails lined with putrid Jap dead, their bodies bloated and blackened from the heat. Sometimes one saw bodies horribly hacked and mauled, probably where infuriated peasants had caught up with straggling wounded.
Red-eyed women in one village told of how their people had come back too soon. The Japs returned the same night, murdered the men-folk, raped the young women and carried off all young boys between ten and sixteen years. The officer in charge of our escort confirmed this, and said the Japs had rounded up hundreds of boys in North Kiangsi. They used them as personal servants and later sent them to Hankow, where the youngest and brightest were well treated and trained at a special school for spies. Later they would be sent through the Chinese lines as Jap agents.
Fukien at that time was the only coastal province which the Japs had not penetrated. Roads were still intact, and after we crossed the frontier we were able to travel by bus. Our next objective was Kienyang, the headquarters of General Ku Chu Tung, war area commander in charge of Chekiang and Fukien provinces.
We were conscious of an atmosphere of corruption from the first moment we entered Fukien till the day we left it a couple of weeks later. The driver of the military truck which was to take us from a border village to the town of Kwangtseh held us up in one of the loneliest parts of the road and refused to budge till we paid the amount of a new tyre, which he said he must buy at Kwangtseh. We had to pay up or be stranded on the road, so I paid, but reported the matter to the magistrate of Kwangtseh when I arrived. The magistrate ruefully admitted that he had no control over the military and added that military drivers under orders to take officials from one place to another often dumped them off with their baggage, miles from the nearest village, unless they paid good "squeeze" money.
The trio of fine airfields at Chuhsien, Lishui and Kinhwa to the north in Chekiang had fallen and the Japs were now pushing down towards the Fukien border. The roads were jammed with trucks not carrying reinforcements to the north, nor evacuating precious equipment from the airfields but piled high with officers' personal belongings. Precious gasoline which had travelled half-way round the world to reach Fukien was being wasted in these trucks loaded to the brim with suitcases, cane chairs and furniture, sewing machines and, in some cases, officers' wives and concubines. I discovered later that many of them, mostly supplied by lend-lease, were carrying trade goods which the officers sold for fabulous profits in Fukien towns.
At Kienyang we waited nine days to see General Ku Chu Tung, but it was impossible to interview him, though we had many questions to ask. Several times at his headquarters aides told us he was "out of town," though we knew from other sources that he was there. Each time we were told that "to-morrow" he would return, but "to-morrow" never came. Some other foreign observers who reached Kienyang a couple of weeks after we left had the same difficulty in getting to see Ku Chu Tung.
Refugees were pouring into the city every day missionaries and students amongst others. They one and all had the same tale that the Chinese armies had not fought. In the Chekiang capital of Kinhwa, for example, the streets were barricaded, barbed wire entanglements set up, machine-gun posts installed, but then the city was abandoned without a shot being fired. No road destruction was carried out, and the Japs had virtually a clear run through the city. Chinese civilians were even more disgusted with the army than were the foreigners.
One day, while we were sheltering under some rocks from a Jap reconnaissance plane, we were joined by a Chinese soldier who had just returned from Chekiang. He was from an artillery regiment and was bitterly critical of the way things had been managed.
"Our regiment had sixteen guns," he said, "beautiful guns, set up to kill Japanese. Suddenly we were ordered to retreat from our good positions for no reason. And seven of our guns were lost without us ever having a chance to fire them. We have marched all the way back here since and never yet seen a Japanese."
The shops in Kienyang and other villages in the neighbourhood were well stocked with Japanese goods. With sea-foods, canned goods of all types, crockery, cloths and medicines. Shopkeepers explained to Yang Kang that these were from old stocks, dating back to before the fall of Shanghai, but according to many of the students, the goods were of recent origin, and front-line officers in Chekiang were so busy making fortunes trading with the enemy they had no time to fight. They either bought stuff direct from the Japs for resale or "licensed" Chinese merchants at a good fee to pass back and forth between the lines.
Numbers of the students had originally lived in Shanghai and infiltrated through Japanese lines to continue their studies at Kinhwa university. Many spoke English and were eager to discuss the shortcomings of the army, as they had seen it in action in Chekiang. The loss of the airfields, especially Chuhsien, was a bitter blow to patriotic Chinese. It had been built by nearly a quarter of a million peasants in record time, and Japanese officers who questioned Bishop Cleary at Nancheng said it was the best heavy bomber base they had seen, complete with underground hangars and workshops. Like the Burma Road it was an indication of the tremendous projects Chinese were capable of undertaking with nothing but their bare hands. Now it was lost, and before the Japs withdrew from the area they dynamited the hangars and workshops, and diverted a river through the centre of the field.
Around General Ku Chu Tung's headquarters there was universal disapproval of the Doolittle raid. Officers complained that if the raid had not taken place, the Japs would never have launched their attacks. The fact that Tokio had been raided despite Jap promises to their people, and the consequent loss of face for the military leaders, meant nothing to them. Nor did the effect of the Doolittle raid on Chinese morale. In the western provinces the effect had been electrifying, news of the raid coming as it did just when things looked blackest. Ku Chu Tung's officers seemed to think the best way to win the war was not to provoke the Japs, and in any case they said the raid was a waste of time. As a matter of fact, had officers in Ku Chu Tung's command been more efficient the raid would have been a greater success and would have been followed up by several more before the Japs had time to reach Chuhsien.
Because a Jap patrol boat spotted our carriers, the raid was staged in daylight instead of moonlight, as originally intended. The B25's reached China at night instead of early dawn. The aerodrome commanders at both Lishui and Chuhsien were not at their posts to receive the Generalissimo's orders that plans had been revised and the airports must be lighted up. As a result, instead of welcoming lights, the whole countryside was blacked out and air-raid warn ings were sounded at the planes' approach. It was a night of wind and rainstorms, and Kinhwa and Lishui residents heard the planes circling in the pitch blackness overhead. Everyone thought they were Japanese planes. As planes ran out of gas, crew members "bailed out," some of them to land behind Japanese lines and subsequently be executed. According to local stories one of the airport officers, who was out playing Mah Johng instead of being on the job, was summarily executed, another escaped through to Japanese lines.
One story which fitted in well with Ku Chu Tung's officers' resentment at the Doolittle raid and the Jap reaction was that they had just taken delivery of an extra large consignment of Japanese goods and hadn't had time to clear them before the Japs attacked and captured the lot.
A noticeable difference in the atmosphere round the army and divisional headquarters compared with those in Kiangsi, was that the officers in Kiangsi were eager for information about happenings in other parts of the world. Night after night at divisional or regimental headquarters I was asked to talk on world affairs, comparative strengths of Russia and Germany, the Burma campaign, the Indian political situation, and kindred subjects. Discussions often lasted till well into the morning. The Kiangsi officers felt they were part of the wider world struggle; those in Fukien were wrapped up only in their local troubles.
The Generalissimo could not be blamed for such conditions as existed on the Chekiang front. There was little he could do about it. He could threaten Ku Chu Tung with dismissal, as he did, but Ku Chu Tung could counter with a threat to turn his whole army group over to the Japanese, as army commanders had done before and since. There was no way in which the Generalissimo could deal with such people. The breakdown in communications and transportation, shortage of roads, trucks, tyres and gasoline made control from Chungking of outlying provinces like Chekiang and Fukien almost impossible.
War area commanders like Ku Chu Tung reverted to the status of old-time war-lords with virtual dictatorial powers over several provinces. In the last analysis he could be displaced only by force of arms and how could Chungking send an army against him? Chinese unity in some provinces was maintained by slender threads like Ku Chu Tung, and one had to make the best of it. Chiang had retained an almost feudal internal organisation in his armies, and every now and again he had to pay for it or rather, China did.
One thing the Generalissimo could have done to lessen the incentives to trade with the enemy was to encourage industrial co-operatives to carry on with their programme of front-line production. If they had been able to establish their units to produce things like cloth and medical supplies near the front-lines, trading with the enemy would have been unnecessary, and the fronts would have been reestablished on a war basis.
To retain one's faith in the goodness, honesty and dignity of China, it was necessary to be down on the river during one of Kienyang's almost daily air raids. There were some river-boats along the bank, and while Yang Kang and I were waiting for the "all clear" to sound, a shrivelled old couple emerged from one of the boats and beckoned us to come over. They had cooked some rice and fish, had seen us sheltering for hours by the river bank waiting for the Jap planes to finish, and knew we hadn't eaten. We were glad to share their meal and offered them a handful of notes. But they wouldn't take them. Yang Kang, who knew some Fukien dialect, explained that we were rich people and held out the notes again, but the wrinkled, honest, old boatman stood up very straight, shook his head, and closed her hand over the notes. Perhaps the bombings had upset our emotions, because Yang Kang was weeping when she turned to me and said:
"They say, 'If a foreigner comes to us and shares our troubles, the least we can do is share our rice with him.' They won't take your money."
They were poverty-stricken, humble boat people, but I never saw greater dignity in people's faces as they once again refused what must have represented a fortune to them, bowed to us, and watched us step from their broken gang-plank on to the river bank and start on our way back to town. It is little incidents like that which make a foreigner love China and have faith in her people.
Lim, the soldier-servant, developed a bad case of malaria at Kienyang and Yang Kang, the aristocrat-writer, looked after him like a mother, wringing out cold towels for his head throughout the nights, cajoling extra eggs and bean-milk out of the inn-keeper. Fortunately we had atebrin with us, and after five days the fever left him. He was too weak to travel, however, and as we wanted to make a diversionary trip to Foochow, we arranged for Lim to stay behind and catch us up when his strength returned.
Travelling in the charcoal-burning buses of Fukien and South Kiangsi was the most arduous part of our three months' odyssey in China. The loads they carried were prodigious; the heat from the charcoal-burners and human bodies in the hottest weeks of the year was almost unendurable. Day after day the temperature was around the 110° mark. To get a bus seat one had to camp outside the starting point and try to take up a position near the doors when they opened, hours before the bus was due to depart. The minute the garage opened people attacked the vehicle through doors and windows till every seat and space was carrying twice the weight for which they were intended. Half an hour later the driver would appear and drive round to the ticket office, where people started to swarm in again, till one was really in danger of suffocation.
When there seemed no square inch of space left, the driver piloted the bus to his private headquarters and filled in every chink with bags and packages of trade goods he intended selling further along the route.
Once, when Yang Kang and I were jammed in the rear seat with packages under and around our legs, people leaning over us hanging on to whatever they could grip, a genial, round face appeared at the window over my seat, grinned in a friendly fashion when he saw I was a foreigner, and said: "You like take my baby, yes?" Before I could say a word a weeping two-year-old was thrust through the window on to my lap and the bus moved off.
Yang Kang's lap was piled high with bags and parcels. There was no room even to move my arms, and there I sat for 150 miles with a child on my knees who squalled every time she looked up at my strange un-Chinese face. Yang Kang and those of the passengers who had room to turn their heads derived much merriment from the whole business, and I wondered what would happen to the child when we reached our destination. But, sure enough, when the bus stopped, proud father and beaming mama, with three more little ones, were there to take charge. "Ah. Much thanks, uh? No loom in flont, uh?" and they hurried happily away.
One picture that remains fixed in my mind is of a crowded bus rounding a street corner in Kienyang, a man taking a flying, horizontal dive through the window, arriving with his forequarters wedged into the lap of a portly Chinese general, his legs waving wildly in the air and the furious general pounding his backsides with all the power his fat arms could generate.
Leaving a disconsolate Lim to convalesce, Yang Kang and I travelled by bus to Namping at the head of the Min river, origin of the notorious Min river pirates, thence by river-boat down the Min to Foochow on the Pacific coast. Foochow was formerly the greatest tea and timber port in China, and also the centre for the lovely eggshell Fukien lacquer ware. The Japs had occupied the city for a short time in 1941, but withdrew after grabbing all the scrap metal they could lay hands on. It was a fine, dreamy city, and seemed completely cut off from happenings in the rest of China and the world.
We luxuriated in the first hotel with bath I had seen since leaving Calcutta. England still maintained a Consul in Foochow, a Mr. Tripp, and the first day I arrived Mr. Tripp asked me to step along to the "English Club" about 6 p.m. It was a fine building, almost next door to the Consulate, and my host was waiting at the club doorway in dinner jacket to welcome me. The inside was even better than the exterior three good billiard rooms, a large library and an upstairs ballroom. The latter was hung with cobwebs, two of the billiard tables were deeply coated with dust, and the place had partly the atmosphere of a Hollywood conception of a haunted castle. Consul Tripp hurried downstairs when he heard footsteps, and introduced me to another dinner-jacketed Englishman.
"Shades of Empire!" The newcomer was manager of Jardine-Matheson, the big British shipping and trading firm. He was introduced as the "other member" of the Club. The last two upper-crust Englishman in Foochow and they met almost every evening to have a game of billiards in the English Club.
"Afraid we haven't much to offer you to drink," apologised Consul Tripp, "but if you'd like to sample some of our gasogin we would be delighted to have you join us."
A decrepit old Chinese "boy," who seemed to match the cobwebs and dust, gravely mixed me a concoction which tasted like liquid fire with a dash of picric acid. While I clung to the edge of the billiard table and gasped, with vapours gushing out of my mouth, the manager of Jardine-Matheson explained:
"It's the best we can do here. We ran out of liquor years ago, and then the post-office developed this spirit from sugar-cane. They use it for fuel in their trucks. We had it analysed by a local chemist and he assured us it won't actually kill you."
There was another club, the "Foochow Club," which lesser breeds of Englishmen and other Europeans in the Chinese Customs' Service haunted and to which even the two "English Club" members repaired when they felt the lack of company too strongly.
The Consul complained that the Chinese government and the British Embassy in Chungking were always trying to get him to shift to the new capital of Fukien Yung-An. "Well, you see how we are set up here," he said, waving his hands to indicate the spacious rooms and delightful furnishings. "Now what would I have in a new place like Yung-An?" And his American-born wife agreed. "Personally, if the Japs come, I'd sooner stay here and chance things than go wandering over the hills in the middle of this bandit-ridden province." Since then the Japanese have come to Foochow, and I expect the Consul and his wife have changed their minds.
In the good old days Foochow was a busy treaty port. Pagoda Anchorage, at the mouth of the Min river, harboured scores of vessels putting in for the lucrative tea and timber trade; waterside restaurants and tea-houses were filled with sailors from a dozen different lands. To-day trade was at a standstill, except for that brought by a few Chinese junks that still sneaked up the coast from Kwangtung in the south and Chekiang in the north. We called on the garrison commander to find out how the Japs enforced the coastal blockade. He was a serious, efficient-looking officer who answered our questions frankly.
"You see," he explained, "the Japanese don't want to waste troops garrisoning this place, and they don't want to waste their navy blockading the coast. They have been very clever. For centuries there have been Chinese pirates operating out of the little coves and bays along the coast. The Fukien and part of the Kwangtung coasts are the last real pirate strongholds in the world. The Japs mobilised these pirates against the rest of China. They offered them Diesel-driven boats to replace their old junks, a few machine-guns instead of their brass cannon and cutlasses, and for reward all the booty they can capture. They organised them into two 'naval divisions,' each with a regular beat to patrol. Any boats that try to slip through they are supposed to attack. If big boats come of course, they radio Formosa for help from the Japs."
"But don't they consider they're being traitors to their own people?" I asked. "After all, they are Chinese."
"They never think of themselves as Chinese. They are just pirates, who have always robbed Chinese or anyone else that passed their way. However, I think they do double-cross the Japs and indulge in a little trading themselves between Formosa and our coast. Lots of Japanese and Pormosan goods come in that we can't account for otherwise. They either carry goods themselves or accept some 'squeeze' to let Chinese boats carry them.
"Sometimes they get too conceited and the Japs punish them. Earlier this year they were supposed to collect some rice from the island at the mouth of this river. They got the rice, but kept it for themselves, and the Japs sent an expedition after them. We heard a lot of the 'puppet navy' was killed."
Foochow was a pleasant place in which to linger, but despite the excellent food and the luxury of hotel room with bath, there was still a lot of ground to cover before we completed the tour. Two nights were all we could give Foochow, then we rejoined the Min river steamboat for Namping, travelling with some missionaries who had evacuated from Chekiang. Amongst them were the mother and father of John Davies, at that time political adviser to General Stillwell and now attached to the U.S. Embassy in Chungking. They all had the same tales of military defections in Chekiang, of posts and equipment abandoned without fighting, but they were all appreciative of the help they had received from Chinese people while en route from the war areas.
Back at Namping, whilst in the midst of an interview with the garrison commander, my limbs began to shake and my jaws began to tremble so violently I could no longer speak, and had to be carried out of the office and put to bed with the worst and most inconvenient attack of malaria I have ever had. Foochow and the Min river valley are second only to Yunnan as the worst malarial areas in China. Fortunately the attack was as short as it was sharp, and within four days we were on the road again, rejoined by a healthy, smiling Lim.
The road through Fukien was built by the Generalissimo in the days when he was chasing the Communist 8th Route Army troops through China. It is the worst road in China. Not nearly as well graded as the Burma Road, it is narrower and banked the wrong way on its brutally-sharp turns. There are no water tables or drains, and streamlets from the mountain-sides cut straight across the surface. The charcoal-burners did well while they were hurtling downhill, but always "gave up" near the tops of the mountains. All passengers clambered out to supplement the feeble beats of the charcoal-prompted engine with their combined push-power. Fukien residents muttered darkly, however, each time the bus stopped. Several told us the bus-drivers were often in league with the bandits. A bus would break down in a lonely part of the road, the passengers disembark, then the bandits would swoop down, steal the goods and pay off the driver later. Certainly the country was wild enough to have sheltered armies of bandits, with steep, brush-covered mountains, and neither cultivation nor villages for scores of miles at a time.
At Changting, where we stopped overnight, I was surprised to see the market stalls displaying attractive, fat, little, dewy-eyed puppies in cane baskets, but Yang Kang explained that puppy-flesh is regarded as the choicest of succulent dishes in Fukien. They were about the only decently-fed dogs I saw anywhere in China.
We crossed from Fukien to South Kiangsi province at the old communist border capital of Hsueh Chien, where there were still a few Red Army slogans painted on the walls and a statue of Lenin in the outskirts of the town.
At Kanchow, the capital of South Kiangsi, we looked forward to meeting Chiang Ching Kuo, son of the Generalissimo's first wife, killed in 1938 during a bombing attack on her home town in Chekiang. Chiang Ching Kuo is an original character who will probably make a name for himself in China in years to come.
In the early 1920's, when Dr. Sun Yat Sen was still in power and Russian advisers were helping the Chinese republic struggle to its feet, it was the fashion among Chinese leaders to send their sons to be educated in Russia. Chiang Kai Shek, then a fervent revolutionary, sent Chiang Ching Kuo to study in Moscow. In 1927, after Sun Yat Sen died, the Generalissimo turned on the Communists and massacred them by the thousands. The Russian advisers, including Borodin and the American writer, Anna Louise Strong, barely escaped with their lives to Russia. Chiang Ching Kuo, who seemed to have adapted himself to life in Russia, denounced his father as a traitor and proclaimed his intention of not returning to China as long as the Generalissimo remained in power.
After the "Young Marshal," General Chang Hsueh Liang, kidnapped the Generalissimo in Sian around Xmas, 1936, and extracted a promise from him to call off the fight against the communists and join with them in resisting the Japs, Chiang Ching Kuo returned to China, bringing with him a beautiful Russian wife. He became reconciled with his father, and after a short army assignment, he was given the job as special commissioner over several districts in the former communist stronghold of South Kiangsi. He was, in effect, governor of nearly half a province. What he thinks of his father's renewed antagonism towards the Communists as demonstrated during the past few years one doesn't know.
It is symbolic of the Generalissimo's changed political views, incidentally, that his second son, Chiang Wei Kuo, nearly ten years younger than Ching Kuo, was sent to Nazi Germany to be educated, and actually marched with the Germany Army into Austria in March, 1938.
The morning after we arrived in Kanchow Chiang Ching Kuo invited us to inspect a model children's village he was building a few miles upstream from the city. He is a small man, chubby and good-natured looking. Dressed in peasant's blue dungarees, he was indistinguishable from hundreds of villagers that thronged the streets, except for a wide peaked cap, similar to those worn by Russian workmen. We walked about three-quarters of a mile from garrison headquarters to a little wharf where was tied the boat which would take us upstream, and I was impressed by the numbers of humble-looking people who stopped Ching Kuo in the streets to discuss problems with him. He had the same amiable greeting for each, talked with them, and sometimes jotted down notes of their troubles.
We clambered into a miserable-looking boat which I feared would sink before we had travelled a hundred yards. It was a good thing it did look so dilapidated. We had hardly reached midstream when the air alarms sounded, and before we could pull over to the bank a Zero came zooming down a few feet over our boat. Ching Kuo grinned at my alarmed expression, and said, "I don't think he'll waste ammunition on an old tub like this." He was right. The pilot was looking for richer targets and found them in some trucks hauling gasoline to the Kanchow airfield.
While we sheltered under some bamboo thickets I asked Chiang whether he had any trouble with the Communists in his area now.
"No," he said emphatically. "You see, the people favoured the Communists here because they had been exploited by the tax-gatherers and landlords. Even if they had farms of their own they were usually in debt for thirty or forty years ahead. If they worked for a landlord he didn't leave them enough rice to live on. My first job was to cut up the big holdings and see that each peasant had enough land to live on."
"Well, how about the landlords?" I asked. "How would they like that sort of business going on?"
"We left them enough land, and if they liked to work themselves with their families they still had a good chance to make a living. Of course, many of the landlords fled when the Communists came, and we gave them a certain period of time during which they could claim their land. If they didn't return then we divided it among the peasants.
"Peasants had been leaving the land like they did in North Kiangsi. Here they had the added attraction of work in the wolfram mines where they could earn enough to keep them alive. But then we weren't growing enough rice here to feed the district, and as we had no trucks or gasoline to carry rice from one province to another, we had to get the people back on the land."
"What about taxes? In North Kiangsi they say they can't grow enough rice to pay their taxes, let alone feed their families."
"We have regulated taxes on the basis of what the peasants can produce, leaving them a fair margin for their own requirements. And if the tax-gatherers try any funny business we have a way of dealing with them. I have what I call "complaint boxes" all round the districts. Letters that go into these boxes are brought to me personally, and I encourage the people to write about any injustices that are being done them. That helps keep a tight check on corruption and oppression."
Chiang Ching Kuo was more interested in talking about his pet project the Children's Village than discussing tax-gatherers and rice production. After the "all clear" sounded, and we moved on upstream, he had the floor of the boat covered with blueprints and plans, explaining the layout of the place. The children were some of Madame Chiangs' "Warphans" and, as we saw later, Ching Kuo had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to provide modern, well-lit school rooms, not forgetting kindergarten and nursery schools, good living quarters for the staff, playing-fields and even a swimming pool.
Much of the work had been done by the elder "Warphans" and the community was intended to be as nearly self-supporting as possible. Only a few of the homes and school rooms were complete, but the energetic planner expected to have the whole thing running within another few months. He had picked an ideal park-like place with the buildings built as nearly as possible under the trees, which afforded natural camouflage from bombings. The few children around the place plainly worshipped him, and I noted he seemed to know them all by name.
While he was as enthusiastic as a mother with her first-born babe about his Warphans' Home, and wanted us to see every corner of the place, he was shy of talking about other things. However, while I was working on him in a mixture of English, Russian and German, Yang Kang was pumping his companions, who were nothing loth to discuss him and repeat some of the popular tales about him. Later she read me some extracts from her notes.
"He has walked over every inch of his districts," one of them said. "He went to each village to find out personally about the magistrates and how they worked. Some of them he had shot on the spot because they were corrupt and inefficient. He just walked into their offices like a peasant would. No one guessed he was the Generalissimo's son. He increased our rice production in a few years so that, instead of being dependent on other provinces, we are now self-supporting."
"And what about the bankers' wives?" eagerly interjected another.
"Yes. That was very funny. When Chiang Ching Kuo came here first, many officials stayed away from work, playing Mah Johng. They would even play it in their offices, and no one could interrupt them till the game was finished, even if it lasted half a day. So Ching Kuo prohibited the playing of Mah Johng. One day he heard that the wives of some of our bankers played every afternoon. He went to see them and caught them at it. What did he do with them? Did he put them in jail? No! He made them kneel in the public square every afternoon for a week."
I asked Ching Kuo about literacy in South Kiangsi, because the previous day, when we entered Kanchow, Yang Kang had seen a bunch of peasants standing outside one of the city gates reading out aloud from some chalked-up characters.
"What she saw is really part of our literacy programme," he said. "First of all we have compulsory schooling for all children here. And then we have groups that teach in the homes at night. Of course, we are short of teachers, but children are supposed to help their parents. Families must group together, half a dozen or more at a time, and twice a week teachers visit them in one of their homes, and start them on the way to learning characters. Each week we print some simple sentences at the gates of the city and the policeman on duty asks the peasants to read them over as they pass through. Some of them treat it as a joke, but most of them are serious about it. People anywhere like to learn if they have the chance."
It seemed that Chiang Ching Kuo had picked up some good and original ideas while he was in Russia, and one couldn't help wondering what his father thought about his son's experiments. Ching Kuo was an enthusiastic supporter of the industrial co-operatives, and some of the most flourishing Indusco units were in his districts. There seemed to be no ground wasted in South Kiangsi. The irrigation banks dividing the rice-fields were thickly sown with soya beans, hilly land too poor for cultivation was planted with pine trees.
As we left next day by bus on our way to Shaokwan in Kwangtung province, I mentioned to Yang Kang that I thought Ching Kuo was a bright young man with good ideas, and that the districts round South Kiangsi were the best cared for that we had seen during our trip. Yang Kang overheard a merchant, who evidently understood some English, grumble to his neighbour: "That Chiang Ching Kuo. He ought to be shot for a Red, and he would be if he were not the Generalissimo's son." The last part of his observation, strangely enough, was true.
Lim, our faithful Don Pancho, left us at Kanchow. He was within a few miles of his home village, which he hadn't seen since before the defence of Shanghai, in which he had participated. He was a very happy man the day he boarded a river sampan bound for his home and people.
Two more days of crowded buses and we arived at Shaokwan, the beautiful temporary capital of Kwangtung province. A dozen Jap bombers flew over the city a few hours after we arrived, but continued on to bomb Hengyang to the north. The city was full of refugees still filtering through from Hong Kong, and I was able to make contact with some of the famous Pao-An guerillas, who operated in Jap-held territory near Canton and Hong Kong and helped escapees to reach friendly territory. How such contacts were made is better not discussed, but their story is of such special interest that it deserves a chapter to itself.
From Shaokwan we travelled by rail back to Hengyang and on to Hsiang-tan on the banks of the Hsiang river, from where we embarked by river-steamer for Changsha. It was a different city from that I had seen nine months earlier. The wide streets were cleanly swept, shops gaily decorated, market stalls overflowing with persimmons, pomegranates, oranges and beautiful Chinese plums. Hotels and restaurants were crowded and animated with, at tables, a fair sprinkling of the beautiful girls for which Changsha is noted. Tank traps and barricades had been removed, bomb damage patched up, but pill-boxes at intersections and in strategic positions on the roads just out of the city, were still in place, to remind people that there would be a fourth battle of Changsha. There was and the Chinese lost for the first time.
The American "Yale in China" hospital, in the city's outskirts, almost completely wrecked when the Japs occupied it during the third battle for Changsha, had been repaired. Amongst its inmates, and convalescing in its grounds, were some people whom I had been trying to contact for a long time a group of Australian guerilla fighters. It seemed strange, in this wholly Oriental atmosphere of Changsha, so remote from the west and its ways, to encounter slouch-hatted, khaki-clad, profane boys from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Their arrival in China was known to most correspondents, but their presence and activities had been a banned subject as far as new stories were concerned.
I had last seen them almost twelve months previously in a Bush Welfare School in Maymyo, Burma. They were robust, fine-looking specimens then, bronzed, tough and glowing with health. Now they were pallid, wasted shells, hollow-framed and spindly-legged. Theirs was a sad story. They had been victims of an ill-conceived venture aimed at giving British "token aid" to China at a time when we had little else to offer.
They were picked volunteers from Australian troops in Malaya, sent to Burma for specialised training in guerilla warfare, demolitions and any tough jobs that were out of the line of duty for regular troops. In charge of the school in Burma was Captain (now Brigadier) "Mad" Mike Calvert, one of the late Major-General Wingate's chief lieutenants.
Originally they were to be sent around the back of Japanese lines during the Malayan campaign to do demolitions, but the fighting in Malaya never lasted long enough to get them started. Then three groups of 50 each, including one of English boys, were sent into China to be trained further at another commando school near Hengyang. During the early stages of the Chekiang-Kiangsi campaign they were sent up near the north Hunan-Kiangsi border, in terrible country with insufficient rations and medical equipment. There they sat for weeks waiting for permission to go ahead and blow bridges, tear up the railway track paralleling the Poyang Lake along which Jap supplies were fed from the Yangtse river, and generally put into effect the cunning tricks they had learned so hardly.
But the word was never given. The Chinese really didn't want them. They had guerillas enough themselves and didn't want our men starting something they couldn't finish. They didn't want us to provoke Japs by blowing bridges and tearing up railway tracks and then not have the troops to repel Jap counter-measures. Chinese troops were fully engaged trying to stop the Japs further south.
The men sat in the jungle and the Chinese didn't see why they should make efforts to get special food to them. Rice was good enough for Chinese troops and ought to be good enough for westerners. But the men couldn't adapt themselves to Chinese diet. They developed dysentery and malaria. Two Australians died from typhus. And their year's specialised training, their super-equipment and special gadgets were being wasted. After spending a useless 8 or 9 months in China the whole lot were pulled out without firing a shot or lighting a fuse except in practice. The scheme ended in ill-feeling all round. Our men thought they had been let down by the British, the Chinese and the Australian governments. They had suffered formidable hardships without accomplishing a thing. The Chinese despised us for projecting such a futile scheme.
The Chief of Staff to General Hsueh Yueh, to whom I posed the question of the use (or non-use) of these commando specialists, said, "Well, we think their special knowledge should not be risked in such dangerous operations as they intended. Would you and Yang Kang care to be my guests at a violin concert this evening?"
And the subject was tactfully closed. Incidentally, the violin concert, by a young Paris-trained Chinese, was excellent.
Our journey was nearing its end. Another boat and train journey to Hengyang, then back by train to Kweilin. Yang Kang, the frail daughter of a mandarin, had stood the journey better than Lim or myself. I was sorry to say goodbye to her at Kweilin, where her old editor received her with literally open arms, tenderly enquiring after her health. He wanted to refund me the salary and expenses I had paid on her behalf, claiming that her stories were the most valuable they had published for years from the war fronts.
Yang Kang is a great woman, and a good example of the type that will help to build China's future. Born and reared in feudalism, she was nevertheless able to adapt herself to China's changing destiny. She had none of the fastidiousness affected by so many of the old type Chinese scholars, but was prepared to go out and suffer with her people better to understand and reveal the cause of their suffering. I would ask for no better companion for future travels in China.
When I had been in Kweilin almost three months earlier, China's notorious Gestapo Chief, Tai Li, had been paying a visit from Chungking. There was some speculation as to the reason. What it was few knew, but the results at least were common knowledge wholesale arrests, running into hundreds of students and teachers. A professor at the University was found by students swinging from a rafter in a lecture room. The police explanation was suicide, but this hardly tallied with the blood-saturated clothes, or welts and bruises that covered his body. He had been displayed as a warning to others of Kweilin's intellectuals who might be harbouring "dangerous thoughts."