Observations on the Struggle for Power in China

John Paton Davies

1943

The Chinese Communists are so strong between the Great Wall and the Yangtze that they can now look forward to the postwar control of at least North China. They may also continue to hold not only those parts of the Yangtze valley which they now dominate but also new areas in Central and South China. The communists have fallen heir to these new areas by a process which has been operating for seven years, whereby Chiang Kai-shek loses his cities and principal lines of communication to the Japanese and the countryside to the Communists.

The communists have survived ten years of civil war and seven years of Japanese offensives. They have survived not only more sustained enemy pressure than the Chinese Central Government forces have been subjected to, but also a severe blockade imposed by Chiang.

They have survived and they have grown. Communist growth since 1937 has been almost geometric in progression. From control of some 100,000 square kilometers with a population of one million and a half they have expanded to about 850,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 90 million. And they will continue to grow.

The reason for this phenomenal vitality and strength is simple and fundamental. It is mass support, mass participation. The Communist governments and armies are the first governments and armies in modern Chinese history to have positive and widespread popular support. They have this support because the governments and the armies are genuinely of the people.

The Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek recognize that the Communists, with the popular support which they enjoy and their reputation for administrative reform and honesty, represent a challenge to the Central Government and its spoils system. The Generalissimo cannot admit the seemingly innocent demands of the Communists that their party can be legalized and the democratic process be put into practice. To do so would probably mean the abdication of the Kuomintang and the provincial satraps.

The Communists, on the other hand, dare not accept the Central Government’s invitation that they disband their armies and be absorbed in the national body politic. To do so would be to invite extinction.

This impasse will probably be resolved, American and other foreign observers in Chungking agree, by an attempt by the Central Government to liquidate the Communists. This action may be expected to precipitate a civil war from which one of the two contending factions will emerge dominant.

Chiang Kai-Shek and his Kuomintang lieutenants fully realize the risks of an attack on the Communists. This may explain the reported statements of high officials in Chungking that they must prepare not only for the coming civil war but also for the coming war with Russia. Chiang and his Central Government recognize that they cannot defeat the Communists and the Soviet Union without foreign aid. Such aid would naturally be sought from the United States and possibly Great Britain.

We may anticipate that Chiang Kai-shek will exert every effort and resort to every stratagem to involve us in active support of the Central Government. We will probably be told that if fresh American aid is not forthcoming all of China and eventually all of Asia will be swept by communism. It will be difficult for us to resist such appeals, especially in view of our moral commitments to continued assistance to China during the post-war period.

Only if he is able to enlist foreign intervention on a scale equal to the Japanese invasion of China will Chiang probably be able to crush the Communists. But foreign intervention on such a scale would seem to be unlikely. Relying upon his dispirited shambling legions, his decadent corrupt bureaucracy, his sterile political moralisms and such nervous foreign support as he can muster, the Generalissimo may nevertheless plunge china into civil war. He cannot succeed, however, where the Japanese in more than seven years of determined striving have failed. The Communists are already too strong for him.

If the Generalissimo neither precipitates a civil war not reaches an understanding with the Communists, he is still confronted with defeat. Chiang’s feudal China can not long coexist alongside a modern dynamic popular government in North China.

The Communists are in China to stay. And China’s destiny is not Chiang’s but theirs.

In this unhappy dilemma, the United States should attempt to prevent the disaster of a civil war through adjustment of the new alignment of power in China by peaceful process. The desirable means to this end is to encourage the reform and revitalization of the Kuomintang so that it may survive as a significant force in a coalition government. If this fails, we must limit our involvement with the Kuomintang and must commence some cooperation with the Communists, the force destined to control China, in an effort to influence them further into an independent position friendly to the United States. We are working against time because, if the USSR enters the war against Japan and invades China before either of these alternatives succeeds, the Communists will be captured by the USSR and become Soviet satellites.

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