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Did Zhang Xueliang do the right thing?


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Zhang Xueliang, known as the Young Marshal who kidnapped Chiang Kaishek (Jiang Jieshi) at Xian in 1936, changed the course of Chinese history with his action.

His father Zhang Zuolin, the Old Marshal, was killed by a Japanese bomb when travelling abroad his train in Manchuria. The Japanese hoped that Zhang Xueliang would be a much easier puppet to use for their causes. Instead they were wrong. Zhang proved to more anti-Japanese than his father. One time, Zhang gunned down 2 pro-Japanese officials across the table while playing mah-jong.

Zhang Xueliang rallied his Manchurian troops to Chiang Kaishek's side and was firstmost concerned about the Japanese. But Chiang was more interested in dealing with the Communists first and ordered Zhang to cease combat against the Japanese. Zhang greatly resented this as he saw more of Manchuria and China proper being swallowed up by the Japanese.

In December of 1936, Zhang and another general Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang at Xian, and demanded that Chiang cease all hostitilies with the Communists and form a united front against Japan. Weeks of negotiations continued, which included the Communists. Some Communists wanted to kill Chiang, but Zhou Enlai advised Zhang to keep Chiang alive so he could lead the resistance against the Japanese.

Zhang released Chiang and accompanied him to Nanking, assuming responsibility for his deed and eager to accept any punishment, including death. The people praised Zhang for his deed, but Chiang immediately put him in house arrest once they arrived in Nanking.

The Japanese, alarmed by the creation of the shaky united front between the Guomindang and the Communists, launched full-scale war against China a year later.

One positive aspect of Zhang's kidnapping of Chiang was its patriotic motive. However in kidnapping Chiang, Zhang may have granted the Communists a period of relief from constant attacks by the Nationalists that almost annihilated them. In other words, Zhang may have saved the Communists from destruction and allowed them time to rebuild their strength and eventually override Chiang at the end in 1949.

Many people to this day remain divided over Zhang's deed. What are your thoughts on this?

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Guest suowei

Although he personally did sufered a lot, because of what had been done in Xian, in the rest of his life, there is no doubt that General Zhang Xueliang absolutely did the proper thing in that historical period. Simply because it was proven that the action taken in Xian led a positive contribution to against the Japanese invaders.

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skylee

From the stories that I have heard, people always say that Zhang should not have accompanied Chiang to go to Nanjing. Some even say that Chou Enlai foresaw the consequences ("少帥危矣 ...").

I think it is a bit unfair to judge this incident in the light of what we know now. Surely he thought he was making the best decision at the moment. Any way the poor man spent most of his life under house arrest. Right or wrong, he had paid for it.

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If Chang Hsieh Liang let Chiang Kai Shek buy more time, the result of the war in the early stage might have not been that lopsided.

By 1936, many divisions of the Chinese troops had been German-trained and Chiang intended to buy German tanks and even negotiated to procure German submarines.

In 1937 during the battle of Shanghai, these German-trained troops had proven to be resilient by holding the Japanese Army in bay for 4 months despite repeated reinforcement from Japan.

If German submarines could be procured, the Japanese troops could not easily land in Hangzhou Bay to spearhead to Nanking.

But Chang forced Chiang to revise completely his overall strategy.

Of course I would say Chang's move was based on his patriotism albeit a little bit immature.

However, Chang stayed in Hawaii for 12 years after leaving Taiwan and refused to visit his hometown despite repeated sincere invitations by his relatives, colleagues and even Jiang Zemin. Why?

Most likely it is because Chang highly respected Chiang even though he was put into house arrest for half century by the latter. In Chang's obituary for Chiang in 1974, he said he had a brotherhood love for Chiang.

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  • 4 weeks later...
trevelyan

I thought Zhang Xueliang was killed by Kaishek before the CCP seized Nanjing. At least, I seem to remember Sterling Seagrave in "The Soong Dynasty" writing about how that assassination being something Kaishek went out of his way to do before fleeing the city.

A better question might be... given the ineffectualness of the KMT war effort, would the death of Kaishek at that point made much of a difference in how things turned out?

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1st off, I don't think the reason Japan invaded had anything to do with a united front in China. They did so for their own imperial purposes, and I have significant doubts that an incredibly shaky united front did much to change that.

2nd, during the Japanese invasion, it was the CCP which bore the brunt of the fighting, oftentimes on two fronts from the Japanese and the GMD. If both of them together couldn't wipe out the CCP, what makes you think that the GMD alone would have?

And finally, I have no reason to believe that China would have been any better off with Jiang Jieshi in power than with the CCP. In fact, it stands a good chance of being quite a bit worse.

Just my two cents on the matter.

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Ian_Lee
during the Japanese invasion, it was the CCP which bore the brunt of the fighting, oftentimes on two fronts from the Japanese and the GMD. If both of them together couldn't wipe out the CCP, what makes you think that the GMD alone would have?

But it was also true that KMT always faced two front attacks from Japanese and CCP after 1941.

In fact, KMT and CCP were more interested and eager in fighting with each other than with Japanese after 1941.

If both of them together couldn't wipe out the CCP, what makes you think that the GMD alone would have?

The truth is General MacArthur and President Truman helped China win the war against Japan. Neither KMT nor CCP, nor two combined, could beat Japanese. In the later stage of the war, it was a stalemate with Japanese tying down huge troops in China while both Chungking and Yenan waited for US to defeat Japan.

I have no reason to believe that China would have been any better off with Jiang Jieshi in power than with the CCP. In fact, it stands a good chance of being quite a bit worse.

That is your hypothesis. But history shows that a part of China under Chiang's rule for 50 years has been way better off than another comparable part of China under 50 years of CCP rule.

Just go compare Taiwan with Hainan of 1988.

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But it was also true that KMT always faced two front attacks from Japanese and CCP after 1941.

In fact, KMT and CCP were more interested and eager in fighting with each other than with Japanese after 1941.

Yeah, but frankly the CCP faced everything the GMD did and more, (with the exception of themselves), for significantly longer, in the absence of significant aid from anyone, (Whilst the GMD had recieved aid from Germany, then the U.S., and still from the Soviets). In fact, a not-too-insignificant portion of CCP support came from the fact that they put up a real fight against the Japanese while the GMD was sitting on it's hands.

The truth is General MacArthur and President Truman helped China win the war against Japan. Neither KMT nor CCP, nor two combined, could beat Japanese. In the later stage of the war, it was a stalemate with Japanese tying down huge troops in China while both Chungking and Yenan waited for US to defeat Japan.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe that even in the absence of Major U.S. fighting in Japan that they would have been able to hold on to China. It eventually would have imploded upon itself. Too large a territory, too many people with too much nationalist sentiment; I highly doubt they could have imported any sort of effective administration on to the Mainland.

But history shows that a part of China under Chiang's rule for 50 years has been way better off than another comparable part of China under 50 years of CCP rule.

Just go compare Taiwan with Hainan of 1988.

If only history were that simplistic. You can't compare the development of a country with a population of around 400-500 million at the time of the civil war to a country with a population of about 2/3 of one of it's major cities. Nor can you compare one of said country's provinces, because that would assume an ability to concentrate development of a huge country into an area the size of the smaller one.

To flesh this out a little more: Taiwan's economy grew at the pace it did as a result of it's integration to the world market, namely relatively cheap manufactured goods. To do the same on the mainland, however, would require an aggregate output of goods and services that the world market couldn't absorb. The amount of little crappy trinkets, tools, and other goods that China would need to produce in order to see Taiwan like growth would require an increase both in demand worldwide and production facilities internally that was physically impossible at the time.

Furthermore, Taiwan and China proper were on completely different levels of development even in 1945. Japan had actually turned Taiwan into sort of a "model colony", and in most respects it was better developed, with a fairly good educational system already in place, in comparison to the mainland. There, the people same people that Jiang Jieshi was using to maintain his grip on power, namely the warlords and gangland thugs, were running rampant destroying the country, and were precisely the people who needed to be removed from power in order to see China move forward.

Edit: And I forgot to mention, the current differences in political orientation have occurred as the result of social struggles in both China and Taiwan, struggles that could have gone either way. Taiwan, fortunately managed to pull through, for the time being. China, so far, despite some admirable efforts, hasn't quite pulled it out yet.

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Ian_Lee
frankly the CCP faced everything the GMD did and more, (with the exception of themselves), for significantly longer, in the absence of significant aid from anyone,

I am afraid I cannot agree with that. Mao's tactic in WWII was guerilla warfare which motto was "When enemies advance, we retreat." During the 8-year war, there had hardly been any large scale battle waged between the 8th route army with Japanese military force.

On the other hand, KMT forces waged traditional battles with Japanese that involved divisions and heavy armor on each side. Battles like Shanghai, Taierzhuang, Changsha,....etc all recorded heavy losses on both sides.

Please name me one single battle that CCP inflicted more than 10,000 casualty on the Japanese military.

I find it hard to believe that even in the absence of Major U.S. fighting in Japan that they would have been able to hold on to China. It eventually would have imploded upon itself.

Now you are making another hypothesis. The end result may be as what you predicted. But the question is when? Another 10, 20, 30,...years? Without the US involvement, the war in China could hardly be over so swiftly.

Taiwan and China proper were on completely different levels of development even in 1945. Japan had actually turned Taiwan into sort of a "model colony",

I partially agree with you that China and Taiwan cannot be compared owing to many variables. But Taiwan and China proper were exactly not on different levels of development as you wrote.

Take Manchuria and Taiwan as an example. Manchuria was much more developed in 1945 with all Zaibatsu creating industrial infrastructure for the region while Taiwan remained as only a rice supply base of the Japanese Empire.

But why would Manchuria become the "Rust Belt" of PRC while Taiwan a hi-tech base?

Such success was accrued to the benign economic/financial policy of KMT.

Even though admittedly Taiwan was very authoritarin under KMT, however, at the end of its 50 yeear rule there, no country in the developing world which all started developing roughly since the end of WWII, could have achieved what Taiwan had achieved with the exception of Singapore.

KMT was hardly all gang thugs as you thought. Those who administered Taiwan in '49 were some of China's brightest at that time and the only group of Chinese who had experience in a capitalist economy.

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Ian_Lee

NateM:

Probably you didn't watch the History Channel on cable.

One series is called something like "What if history can be rewritten......" (I think it is based on a book with the same title)

One episdoe talks about the civil war between KMT and CCP.

The program predicted that if KMT can hold land south of Yangtze, KMT might be on the upperhand in mid-'60s when the north fell under Cultural Revolution and the economic focus starts to shift to light industry when Shanghai and Guangzhou (which under KMT control) will strengthen the south.

The biggest mistake Chiang made was the over-commitment of his elite troops right after WWII into the unfamiliar territory -- Manchuria.

But if Chiang didn't do it, he would be condemned by the populace.

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Well to start off, Taiwan had a lot of rich Jiangnan-ren after 1949. While Dongbei didn't. Dongbei never had the kind of mercantilistic culture Jiangnan or Fujian has, and this may actually have something to do with it. Currently in Dongbei, outside of Dalian, investment goes in, debt comes out. Most of Dongbei look exactly like they were in 1970's, except more run down. The same for Henan, Shanxi. The so called industrial belt really is a funny term, because throughout the history of the PRC, Dongbei hasn't produced a lot of high quality industrial products. The bulk of government red ink goes to Dongbei accounts. Most steel manufacturing and consumption actually occurred in the Yangtse area (check out Baosteel today), not to mention the annually 1000 times of higher taxes that Jiangnan paid to CG in Beijing with a much smaller population. My 4 month trip up north didn't give me a very impressive feeling. The Yellow River was also dry where my train crossed. Chiang made a big mistake.

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But the Northeast is the region best endowed with natural resources in the whole country.

Petroleum (though depleted somewhat), iron core, soybean, timber, ginseng,......etc.

Almost you name it, they got it.

Most likely its demise was an end result of the screw-up of the economic policy of Beijing in the early era (50s to 70s).

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  • 2 weeks later...
2nd, during the Japanese invasion, it was the CCP which bore the brunt of the fighting, oftentimes on two fronts from the Japanese and the GMD. If both of them together couldn't wipe out the CCP, what makes you think that the GMD alone would have?

wrong fact.

the kmt was the major forces in the sino-japanese war, thou incompetent sometimes. all major battles against the japanese forces were fought by kmt forces, the shanghai battle, wuhan battle, sino-burma borders, whatever. the fightings that the ccp actually participated was like less than half a dozen, the famous one being the 100battalion force towards the end of the sino-japanese war.

it was stategically correct for chiang to decide to wipe out the ccp first, since the japanese had more than 1 mil troops in china while the ccp, considered a rebel group then, has only 100k at most. but actual execution of plan was crap thou.

zhang xueliang did a dumb thing according to some people, saying that chiang was already thinking of working with the ccp b4 zhang held him hostage in xi'an. others said that zhang actually given the ccp a chance to survive, since after signing the pact kmt havent got much excuse to attack the ccp, thus a great help in the making of red china. therefore its only natural that the chinese govt see him as a patriot while chiang had him locked up the rest of his life.

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2nd, during the Japanese invasion, it was the CCP which bore the brunt of the fighting, oftentimes on two fronts from the Japanese and the GMD. If both of them together couldn't wipe out the CCP, what makes you think that the GMD alone would have?

Definitely wrong. It was the KMT who bore the brunt of the fighting. Look at Shanghai, Taierzhuang, Changsha, Wuhan. The Japanese invasion significantly tied down KMT manpower and resources that could otherwise be used against the Communists. The Nationalists' base of power were in the coastal cities and the eastern part of China. This is where the Japanese occupation was centered and most of the fighting occured. So the Nationalists fought all the major battles in China during WWII. The Communists' base was in Yenan in north central China, and they controlled most of the countryside, an area where the Japanese reach is limited.

To look at it, the Communists took a holiday, watched the KMT wear itself down against the Japanese, launched limited guerrilla hit-and-run strikes against the Japanese, and took this time as an opportunity to rebuild its strength.

Although the KMT lost a majority of the battles against the Japanese, they proved that with strong leadership they can beat the Japanese. At the Battle of Taierzhuang, General Li Zongren brilliantly lured the Japanese into a trap and killed 30,000 of them in close quarters fighting.

The Japanese predicted that they can take over the whole of China in 1 month. However it took them 3 months just to take the city of Shanghai because KMT forces held them at bay for that long in street-to-street fighting.

From an objective standpoint, Communist China would not exist today if the Japanese did not invade.

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There is a commonality between KMT and CCP at the end of WWII:

Both repatriated Japanese POWs back home ASAP under the permittable condition with the exception of dozens war criminals.

So if you were a Japanese soldier in China at the end of WWII, you would be lucky if you were in Shanghai and not in Shenyang. The former was repatriated by ship to Yokohama while the latter was caught by the Red Army and sent to Siberia or Mongolia and worked forced labor for 20 years.

There is another commonality between China and Japan in 1941:

When the news of Pearl Harbor attack was announced, the Tokyoites were elated and crowded the street. Ironically when the news spread to Chungking, the people there were also elated and crowded the street.

In hindsight, the Chinese were more correct in anticipating the ripple effect of Pear Harbor attack.

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  • 1 month later...
Bamboo Grove

Some years ago, I think it was CCTV 4 showed an excellent series about the happenings in Manchuria in the early and mid 30's. Can't remember the name of the series but I was able to watch it here in Thailand as well. Wonder if anybody could remember the name and if the series an whether it's possible to fink it on DVD. As it had English subtitles it was really enjoyable to watch. Are there any other historical stories on DVD's?

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  • 1 month later...

Yang Hucheng, Zhang's co-conspirator in the Xian Incident, was not as fortunate. Yang and his whole family were taken out and stabbed with daggers. It is interesting that an unforgiveable person like Chiang did not kill Zhang Xueliang. I think Chiang owed him a big debt when he brought his troops over to the KMT regime. Zhang had always looked to Chiang as a brotherly figure.

Also it was very generous of 趙一荻 to stay by Zhang Xueliang's side throughout his years of captivity in house arrest in Taiwan. Mrs Chao was a teenager when she first met the dashing Young Marshal at a ballroom dance in 1928 Tianjin. It was instant love at first sight for her. At that time Zhang was already married and her behavior may have been seen as scandalous given the standards at the time. She was born into an aristocratic well-to-do family and this shocked her father, who published something in the newspaper saying that she is no longer his daughter.

When the Nationalists took Zhang Xueliang with them to Taiwan, Edith told Chiang Kaishek that she wanted to stay with Zhang throughout his years of house arrest. She remained free and was allowed to travel to and from the house to run errands or buy groceries for Zhang. Zhang's first wife at that time lived in the US and recognized that Edith's love and caring for him was genuine. She wrote a letter to Edith acknowledging that the two were probably soulmates. Edith and Zhang finally married in the early 1960's.

It was said that Zhang read books on the history of the Ming dynasty during his years of house arrest.

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