China under Mao

That is the new and excellent book by Andrew G. Walder.  Here is one excerpt:

The Communists’ contribution to the war effort was extremely modest.  According to a December 1944 Soviet Comintern report, a total of more than 1 million Nationalist troops had been killed in battle, compared to 103,186 in the CCP’s Eighth Route Army and another several thousand in the New Fourth Army.  The Communists suffered only 10 percent of total Chinese military casualties.  One author has called Mao’s famous doctrine of people’s war one of the “great myths” about the period: “people’s war was hardly used in the conflict against the Japanese.”

Definitely recommended.


And McCarthy is proven right about yet another issue. The Dixie Mission was little more than Communist propaganda orchestrated by avowed Marxists in the US State Department.

And the author is a sociologist, no less! On the other hand, he represents more of an 'old school' brand of sociology that takes after Max Weber and is very organizational and political-economic in orientation, with a lot of similarities to case-study and/or area studies political science

The Communists' poor contribution to the war effort, and Mao's cynicism in general, is hardly news to anyone who has been paying attention to Chinese historiography during the past three decades. I suppose it is still a shocking claim to make inside the PRC, but I would hope this is already the mainstream consensus outside China.

It's actually not even that shocking a claim in China. Over the past 20 years, CCP propaganda related to the war has shifted from glorifying the (mostly imagined) brilliant efforts of its own fighters against the Japanese to emphasizing (extremely real, though exaggerated within China) Japanese atrocities. Many Chinese people who hold what would be considered stereotypical government-approved nationalist views on most issues will freely note that the KMT did the bulk of the fighting against the Japanese.

The obscurity of this stuff isnt so much about China as the US. I think the real issue is that the KMT at least partly made the efforts it did against the Japanese on the understanding that they would be rewarded with US support. Instead they got nothing but insults, largely at the behest of Communist sympathizers and outright spies in the US government. Anyone who thought this was a bad thing in 1950 was an anticommunist, which was sort of like being a Tea Partier today. Anyone who thought too hard about it at all by, say, 1960 was some sort of conspiracy theorist or something who just couldn't accept the way the world was. Anyone with a personal stake in the issue is dead so now it's just historical trivia.

More succinctly these facts are awkward not because the Chinese think it makes Mao look bad, but because they make Chiang "Cash-My-Check" Kai-Shek's silly "demands" look pretty reasonable in contravention of the contemporary American media "consensus".

Since when did the Soviet Comintern become a reliable source? I'm not questioning the author's underlying premise (i.e., Mao propaganda), but it does seem rather ironic to "prove" one Communist myth (Mao's) based on another Communist source (the Soviet Comintern) known for its propaganda.

Arguably, before the Soviet-Chinese split, the Comintern propaganda would have been pro-Mao.

The KMT and the USSR actually had quite good relations.

I know, but downplaying Communist achievements doesn't seem that useful for the USSR interests.

This is true. Chiang Kai Shek's son (who assumed the ROC presidency after Chiang's death) was sent to the USSR as a young man and, if memory serves, even had a Russian wife.

It didn't prevented Chiang from crushing Soviet-backed communist forces in Shanghai ( ). Malraux's
Man's Fate mentions Chiang's son in the USSR, the characters wonder if Chiang was ready to risk his son's safety in order to defeat the Communist Party.

No, after 1927, they didn't.

Is it really surprising that Mao was content to let his eventual opponent be weakened by the Japanese, while he conserved his own forces?

So if someone behaves in a unsurprising manner, but then lies and says they did the opposite you dont really care?

I never believed Mao, or any of the other communist rulers. I was exposed to Marx and Marxists in college, and knew what they were up to.

Former and eventual opponent. Chaing led a purge of communists in China in 1927, and led a series of military campaigns against the communists in the early 30s. The fabled "Long March" of the communist party where Mao made his bones was actually a series of retreats from the coast and into the hinterlands away from successive campaigns of Chaing to crush the communists.
So Chaing had been trying to kill the communists for years - and had successfully driven them into the hinterlands before the Japanese invasion. So I wouldn't have expected Mao to say let bygones be bygones...and as far as the ChiComs were concerened, the main enemy was the one who had been kicking them around in the 30s...

The book link is broken

This probably explains why there are no war memorials for WWII heroes.

Wasn't the entire point of Mao's strategy to engange in low level contact and avoid battles -- the preserve a force in being? Measuring KIA isn't the best way to evaulation your level of engagement.

I highly recommend Frank Dikotter's books on China, particularly "Mao's Great Famine", and, "The Tragedy of Liberation". Both are excellent reads.

I'm not sure this is in anyway a revelation. This is more of a confirmation of long known facts by yet another source. Indeed, even the Wiki entry indicates the Nationalist forces did nearly all the front line fighting with the Communists concentrating instead on low intensity guerrilla warfare.

On the other hand, the Communists did provide the major contribution to The War to Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea

Counting the number of dead soldiers among communists and among nationalists in China and using it for judging the contribution to the war effort of each party is a very weak argument. Contributing successfully to the war effort means killing or capturing enemies, not dying.

Also during WWII, Russia lost more than 20 million peoples, and the US less than half a million. It would be stupid to deduce that Russia's contribution to the victory is 40 times that of America. (Well, I have seen communists or modern pro-Poutines arguing precisely that, but let us not reason this loosely here).

These #'s are killed in combat, not total deaths which brings them more in line. Even so, comparing USSR to USA still isn't accurate since they fought on different fronts against different German forces and used different tactics. KMT versus Mao's troops are largely the same and fighting in the same theater so using combat deaths is probably about as good a measurement as any we have access to.

The KMT's troops fought numerous pitched battles against the Japanese, while the Communists eschewed such a strategy.

An important consideration is the degree of western support - the KMT got almost all of it, the Reds very little. Nevertheless the KMT was not a particularly effective fighting force and Chiang skillfully played the Americans to keep his troops out of harms way as much as possible. And of course efforts by some allied officers to get the Reds involved were fought tooth and nail by Chiang as well as officials in Washington.

China actually got very little Western support once the Pacific War started. The cutting off of the Burma Road essentially eliminated any Lend Lease aid, and what items did go over the Hump mostly actually supported the US Army Air Force - not the Chinese Army. The only forces to receive substantial aid were the remnants of the Chinese Army Stilwell inadvertently destroyed in Burma and escaped to India. Those forces fought in Burma, not in China. Much of the economic aid to China was purposefully sabotaged by pro-Communist agents in the Treasury Department like Harry Dexter White.

General Stilwell had a lot of relevant criticisms of the KMT, but he did a lot of harm himself. Most of the Chinese Army was not part of Chiang's forces, but warlords only nominally loyal to Chiang. There was a political component complicating reforms that Stilwell often ignored. Chiang simply couldn't do some of the things Stilwell wanted because it would have lead to mutiny. Stilwell was a good fighting general, but misplaced in what was mainly a political role.

The major reason why Chiang did not go on the offensive is that his army was incapable of it. It had been too badly thrashed and the lack of supplies really hurt. After the Burma Road was reopened, Wedemeyer (Stilwell's replacement) was able to implement the training program Stilwell wanted, and the Chinese actually began attacking - but by this time it was summer 1945, and the war would not be lasting much longer.

There was very little information on the Sino-Japanese War in English. Growing up, it was the one front in WWII omitted in all the documentaries and history books. Whenever I asked someone what happened, I would get hte same story - Chiang wouldn't fight, but the Communists did and that is why Mao won the civil war afterwards. In truth, it was the exact opposite. Chiang feorciously fought the Japanese, and the Communists avoided as much fighting as they could. Even though Chiang did not launch attacks, there was ongoing fighting throughout 1942-1945 where the KMT troops fought defensive battles and had several impressive victories before Japan's Ichigo Offensive in late 1944 inflicted a severe defeat.

None of this is "new" information. It's been out there for decades. It just wasn't politically popular to mention it (in the same way I was told the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss were innocent, but they were actually guilty). Most of the new historiography on the KMT and Sino-Japanese War since the mid 1990s acknowledges this. Nevertheless, the popular narrative that "Chiang wouldn't fight, and Mao did" still exists for most people.

Thanks - I appreciate your perspective.

Max Hastings and Anthony Beevor came out a few years ago with long, very readable, and detailed general histories on World War 2, which I tend to conflate in my memory. They make it clear (in this case I think its Beevor) that the Communists did very little fighting against the Japanese and may had had an understanding with them.

Much of the bad image of Chiang in the West may be due to his bad relations with Stillwell -who can't really accurately be categorized as a crypto-Communist- and Stillwell's portrayal of Chiang in his entertaining diaries published after he returned to the US.

Also, Mao told American diplomats and journalists what they wanted to hear about the CCP's interest in democracy and holding a plebiscite.

Firstly, about 6-8 million people lived in CCP-controlled areas during WWII, while 85 - 150 million people lived in KMT-controlled zones. So "the Communists suffered only 10 percent of total Chinese military casualties" should be considered in relation to that. Otherwise comparing military casualty figures to make one's point is just specious. Secondly, KMT and CCP did not fight in the same theatre of war against the Japanese, not since 1941 when KMT tried to eradicate CCP wherever possible.

We get your distaste for CCP and China in general Mr. Cowen, but do find some better arguments please?

Comments for this post are closed