The Russians in China

The college graduates and the young intellectuals of China are faced today with some terribly difficult decisions. No one knows this better than NORA WALN, author of The House of Exile and Reaching for the Stars, who has been living and writing in the Orient for the past two years. In her third Atlantic article she wrote of An-kuo, the young Chinese scholar who for a time took refuge in Japan but went home because he felt he was needed. In the following article Miss Waln reports the reaction of the Chinese people to the Communist conquest.


FLOWERS and a visitor have come.”As I got out of the elevator at the third floor of the Tokyo Correspondents’ Club, Kiyoko looked up from ironing my blue blouse on a table which she had set in the hall. “Yellow iris and white carnations. I put them in water. Our visitor is the tall Chinese, Pi-feng. He’s reading a book.”

Pi-feng was sitting by a window with his feet drawn up under him on the chair, in the way that a Chinese sits when at ease. He had taken off his outdoor shoes and put on the satin house slippers which he carries in the pockets of his long gown. We greeted each other without ceremony, and while I hung up my coat he went on reading. The sun had climbed over the ugly smoke-stained building opposite my windows and was sending a beautiful tight into the room, where Kiyoko had arranged the flowers.

“We’ve had a message from An-kuo,”said he, laying down his book, which I saw was G. B. Sansom’s The Western World and Japan. “The message came by radio, heard by the monitor who has taken over his work here.”(An-kuo is a young Chinese student who recently left Tokyo to go back to China.) “He reached home safely and now he’s gone to northern Anhwei Province to do whatever he can for people suffering from the flood and famine there. Sometimes I think I ought to leave college without getting my degree, as he did, and go home to help.”

Before I could say anything, my guest continued, “Chu-yin has come from Manchuria by way of Tientsin and wants to see you. He called on me this morning to ask for your address. As I couldn’t get you by telephone, I came over to tell you that I arranged for him to have supper with us at six o’clock.”

“That’s good,” I said. “It will be wonderful to see him.”

“We should eat here, rather than in a public restaurant,”suggested Pi-feng. “We can talk more peacefully.”

“That will be best,” I agreed, and asked, “What do you know about the famine?”

“The monitors here who listen in on the Communist China radio sent you a copy of what was broadcast by the Peking Famine and Flood Relief Committee.” He handed me a paper and I read: —

“The total area affected by famine in eastern China is about 52 million Chinese acres. The district where crops have completely failed is roughly 2 million acres. An estimated 1.38 million houses have been damaged, and over 3000 people drowned in the flood. Another 30,000 have died as a result of famine caused by the flood, and close to 36 million people who have been made homeless are threatened by starvation. The greatest suffering is in northern Anhwei Province. Most of the people in that area are living as best they can on grass and bark. Those who can get to a place where there are buyers are selling their wives and children into slavery so that they can have food, although the law forbids this. Conditions are a little better in central Anhwei. In Shantung Province approximately 2000 have already starved to death and 8 million have less than is needed to support life adequately, while over 1.5 million are wandering hungry and cold. In northern Kiangsu Province, in Chinkiang, in Fukien Province, and in certain parts of the Yangtze there is serious famine following on terrible floods.”

Pi-feng was watching me. When I finished he said, “My recent letters from home substantiate these reports, although they give no figures. What have you heard?”

I told him that the same story of need had been written to me and we were both silent, thinking of experiences that we had had in China in previous times when widespread famine was on the good earth, caused by the devastations of civil war and neglect to repair the waterways. The cries of whimpering children were in my memory, as in his. The stench of disease and death came back to my nostrils. I saw again, as I returned his stare, the dead and dying — the kites hovering over bodies not yet cold and over weak people wandering in search of food or, unable to move any further, sitting in huddled groups along the highways.

“The conditions that caused the famine now are certainly the same as in the past.” Pi-feng had the look of being far away. “Ours could be a rich land if we could have a quiet and orderly government. We are an industrious people, an intelligent people.” He was still for a long time and then he went on, “My mother has written that in our neighborhood there is evidence that Mao Tse-tung made agreements at Moscow by which machines for the industrialization of China are to be paid for with raw materials and food. Food has been collected, packaged, and labeled to the Soviet Union and sent out on freight cars. This seems a bargain we cannot afford.”

Soon after this, Chu-yin arrived. I had not seen him since I was last in China about a year and a half ago, and I was distressed at the rapidity with which he had aged. Then he had been full of hope; now he seemed old and tired. He brought me greetings from mutual friends. I made green tea of the variety used in China before meals, whenever there seems to be a need of rest, so as to prepare the stomach for food; and after he had put his slippers on as Pi-feng advised him to do, he drank, then dozed — resting from the worries of the day.


CHU-YIN was born and grew up north of the Great Wall of China in the region called Manchuria. When he was a boy, the Manchus still ruled over the Chinese Empire as they had done for nearly three hundred years. They had not permitted extensive agriculture, such as is practiced in China, in their homeland north of the Wall. They kept the virgin forests standing and the grass of the wide pasture lands unbroken by the hoe. They were nomad people, horseback men, when they surged down to the passes in the Great Wall to conquer the industrious farmers and shopkeepers settled south of the barrier. Put the Manchu power was breaking at the turn of the century, and soon Sun Yat-sen, American-educated Chinese, led a successful movement to unseat the “Sons of Heaven” at Peking. The headquarters of his movement were in Japan, and his party aimed to establish a republican form of government patterned after the United States.

Chu-yin was twelve when the Republic of China was proclaimed. The deposed Manchus were not permitted to return to their homeland, which was declared a part of the Chinese Republic, and the gateways through the Great Wall were opened to Chinese emigration. The crowded farmers of Shantung surged north to break the soil with their hoes. Below the matted grass they found rich earth in which the soybean and other crops thrived. Chu-yin’s father, who had been a poorly paid minor clerk in a government office at Mukden during the Manchu rule, was a Chinese from a farm family in the Yellow River valley. He took up land and prospered.

With the profits he made on the land, Chu-yin’s father bought a flour mill in Mukden. Occidental ideas were popular then and Chu-yin was sent to St. John’s University in Shanghai, then to a technical college in Japan for two years, and finally to the University of Chicago. My husband, who is an Englishman, was in Chinese government service from 1904 to 1932 and he first met Chu-yin’s father while acting as postal commissioner at Mukden in 1913 and 1914. I came to know Chu-yin and his family after I married my husband in 1922.

When he returned from America with a technical education, Chu-yin possessed the abilities which were at a premium then. He had a good job in the first steel mill in Manchuria and in a few years possessed industries of his own. I happened to be visiting in his house in 1931 at the time of the Mukden Incident, when we woke in the morning to learn that the Japanese had taken over the government.

Chu-yin is an Oriental with a warm heart. When he was a little boy he had full knowledge of the poverty of his grandparents and others of his clan. His parents, even while his father had only a minor clerk’s salary, always sent a percentage of their earnings back to the clan home and he went there for visits, on which he saw the poverty of others all round him. More than once in his lifetime he witnessed flood and famine in the Yellow River valley and tried to help.

Ever since he saw the United States, he has believed that industrialization is the answer to the Orient’s hunger problem. Therefore, he did not fight against the Japanese industrialization of Manchuria. He took no part in the continuous three-power squabble over control of the railways, but he had pride in the service maintained. He says that in the early years after he returned from the United States it did not seem to matter to him whether the Japanese, the Russians, or the Chinese owned these fine tracks with their good rolling stock, so long as people were served by them. He refused to be brought into political issues. From 1932 to 1941, he gave his talents and his knowledge wherever he could help to develop Manchuria into a region where natural resources were used to improve humanity’s livelihood. He liked to visit new mines, go through factories, and watch the growth of hydroelectric power. He had satisfaction in the whole industrial structure.

He did not like Japanese manners in Manchuria. Those in power there too often treated the Chinese as inferiors, but he knew that not all Japanese are like this. While he was a student in Japan he lived in a Japanese family — the same family with whom he stays every time he comes to t hese islands — and he is a person whose friendships are enduring, once he has entered into a relationship of mutual trust and affection. In his work in Manchuria, he met the overbearing attitude of the Japanese with patience for many years. Chinese working there were comfortably off in material ways. They had enough to send money and substantial presents of food to their kith and kin south of the Great Wall. In social life Chinese were kept at a distance by the Japanese who were their overlords. He really would have liked to have a closer relationship with the people from the four islands, but he did not happen to meet in his work any Japanese who became his friends.

Chu-yin had admiration for their technological ability and he wished that China proper could be developed in this manner. He knew that a number of key operations were withheld from the Asian mainland and done within Japan so that no insurrection could seize a complete industry. He dreamed of a time when Chinese would rise to power, gain control, and build the machine-tool shops needed to service the mines and factories. He had Chinese pride which made him feel certain that there were plenty of Chinese technicians who could fill this gap at some later day. Although the Japanese were winning to a certain extent in their military maneuvers south of the Great Wall, he had faith that China would undermine and overcome Japanese power.

His resentment did not flame into active anger until the day of Pearl Harbor. He explains the stir of his repressed emotions in this way: At St. John’s University and at the University of Chicago, he had come to feel a love for the United States second only to his love of his native land. From the morning of December 7, 1941, lie was at war against the Japanese with all his talents, intellect, and cunning. He left Manchuria and gave his services to Chiang Kai-shek and, his heart breaking, became disgusted with the Kuomintang. At the end of the war, his emotions were in confusion.

He was that way when I visited China in 1947, shortly after my return to the Orient from Europe. His wife and his children had hope then that the political tangle in China would be unraveled and civil war come to an end through compromise between good men in both parties — Kuomintang and Communist. They were glad to be all together again in their own home. They had enough money for the present, and they trusted “Papa” to get the family business going smoothly. There were three grown sons ready to help him.

In 1948 and 1949 when I saw Chu-yin, he had faith in the future. He had begun to be enthusiastic about Mao Tse-tung’s intentions and abilities although he knew about them only through relatives who had been with Mao ever since Yenan. When the Chinese Communists came to power in Manchuria, Chu-yin wrote me that dawn was lighting the sky for all China.


PI-FENG read the words of the Englishman Sansom, Chu-yin dozed, and I remembered while the late afternoon advanced to evening. Kiyoko interrupted our quietness to ask about supper. Until she had served and cleared the meal away, Chu-yin did not speak much. Then he gave Pi-feng and me a picture of events in China as he had seen them in recent months.

“China and the Soviet Union have a common boundary all the way from the Sea of Japan to the Pamir Mountains” — we knew that he meant to instruct us. “China and Russia touch on a borderland of more than four thousand miles. Never in our history has there been complete peace between us. Through the centuries, the men of the north and the men of the south have feared each other.”

Pi-feng shared Chu-yin’s knowledge. “The Great Wall of China, costing millions of lives in the labor of its erection, was built because of that fear,” he said. “No barrier has ever been effective. The Wall has been broken and repaired, pushed further south and built further north era after era, and now, in the time when men can fly, it’s of no more than picturesque, historic importance. If we could have peace between us — if understanding could develop — it would be a miracle.”

“Manchuria, north of the Wall and south of Siberia, could be the model land.” Chu-yin lifted his head. “How can we make it so? When the alliance between the Chinese Communists and the Soviets was announced it seemed as if we had started on the right way. I’m not a politician. I’m a technician, an industrialist, and I am a man who can never forget that he came from the lowly people. I was born in Manchuria but my roots go back, south of the Wall, into the Yellow River valley. When there’s famine in my land, my heart is disturbed, my mind not clear.”

“What has happened in Manchuria to distress you?" asked I, because I wanted to bring him back to that province. “Isn’t the rebuilding of industry going well there? Won’t prosperity in Manchuria relieve the problem in Shantung?”

“I don’t know. I’m puzzled.” And then, “Before that could be tested, we would have to succeed in building an industrialized Manchuria which was patterned to benefit the people.” He was still for some seconds before he went on, “The Russians declared war against Japan just before the Japanese surrender. I was in the Yangtze valley. My wife and three of my little girls were at my father’s farmhouse in Manchuria — they had left Mukden because they feared bombing — and they saw the horse-drawn carts going north, heaped with the machinery which the Russians pulled out of Manchuria as their ’lawful war booty.’ I got back in the period when it seemed to me as if everything were smashed up. But when Manchuria came under Chinese Communist rule, an order was given for the industrial plants to be repaired, everything readied to receive back the Japanese machinery. I was given an important assignment in this work. We started on it at once in the mines, the factories, and every industrial establishment. Laborers undertook the work willingly, repairing broken cement, mending roofs, making order.”

“Did they sing as they worked?” Pi-feng asked.

“Yes, they did.”

“Chinese always sing when they’re happy.”

“Men and women worked together. There were no arguments. Everyone wore a twist of red cotton cloth — the men as a girdle, the women as an ornament in their hair,” Chu-yin recalled. “The people were happy until the machinery began to come back. It was in bad condition. Many parts had been broken, as it was pulled out in careless haste by men who were not technicians, and it was further deteriorated by exposure during the time it was in the Soviet Union. There seems to have been no concern to put delicate parts under cover or to keep them from being bent and broken.”

“Is it unusable?” I wanted to know.

“No. Much could be repaired, although considerable needs replacing. We need help from Japan before we can have industry going as we expected. These machines and all their parts were manufactured in factories on these islands. In Manchuria we do not have the machine tools necessary to make the replacements, nor do we have the patterns. The Soviets are not equipped to do this for us. I came over here as a tourist, on a visitor’s permit, to make unofficial inquiry.”

“What did you want to learn?” Pi-feng showed real interest. “Did you want to discover whether or not the Japanese would sell you what you need, if SCAP gave them permission?”

“You understand why I came.”The older man nodded his head. “I’m staying in the family where I’ve always stayed when in Japan. They are industrialists. The heads of their house have been purged under SCAP order. They’re not permitted, by decision of the Occupation, to hold the industrial positions they once had. But in and out of their house go those who have the job of making Japan the workshop of Asia again. I’ve met with politeness, with warm friendship and evasive answers which show me plainly that they do not care to coöperate at present with anything we may have undertaken in Manchuria. What do you conclude from the Japanese of your acquaintance?”

“I’ve been here in college nearly three years,” was Pi-feng’s answer. “Briefly, this is what I have concluded. Under the Occupation, the Japanese are docile. They are quiet, obedient, and eager to learn everything they can from the Americans. They’re practical people, but not very imaginative according to my estimation. They examine everything, asking themselves ‘Will it work?’ In our college there’s an active Communist group who are anti-American. They are very vocal and hardworking in spreading their philosophy. They claim that many of the laboring people here are Communists who would want to make things to sell to the Soviets.”

“Do you think this is true?” Chu-yin was intent.

“I don’t know how many laborers are Communists, as I have no contact with them. I think that if the American forces were withdrawn from Japan and this nation were free to make its own decisions, the conservatives would be in full power. They still have control of industry and I think that the majority of their laborers are loyal to them — this is only a surmise. I know there’s alarm here, among all my friends, about the present situation. They say openly that they would clamp down immediately on Communist activities in these islands and that they would rather live under any privation whatsoever than rebuild in Manchuria a complete industrial machine. They are realistic. They don’t want to increase iheir local danger by helping to build up a potential enemy, even if it means ready cash.”


CHU-YIN’S voice was slow. “There are Japanese technicians who have remained in Manchuria. They’re working with us. Several of them are attempting to invent what we would need to set up shops to manufacture the necessary machinery. They are Red. They are not completely trusted even by the Chinese Communists, yet their talents are used. So far, they haven’t invented anything usable.”

“Can’t the Russian technicians help them?” I wondered.

Chu-yin’s shoulders drooped. “Soviet assistants began to arrive in Manchuria shortly after Mao Tse-tung went to Moscow. Those who have come are not so able as we hoped they would be and their presence has disturbed the people. As they get off the train, these Soviet citizens arc poorly dressed, they seem dazed, and they look about them with wonderment. With every lot that has come, a transformation has soon taken place. They go to the tailors and order five or six suits of the best material. They are soon the most handsomely dressed people seen anywhere. They are getting high pay from somewhere. The Manchurians have concluded that the Soviets made an amazing agreement with Mao Tse-tung.”

“Where and how do they live?” Pi-feng asked.

“Houses are commandeered for the Russians — the best houses near the factories and the mines. They want American-style homes with all American comforts and they want their clothes made in the Western way. They don’t speak Chinese — they use interpreters. They stay separate from us and, as I said before, they are not competent in the repair of Japanese-made machinery. They want women provided them and they find women. Very few have brought their wives and children.”

“What kind of money do they use?” the younger Chinese persisted.

“They have ‘greenbacks’—United States bills. The shopkeepers are wary of this money. They fear that the bills are counterfeit and also, as there is an order against using any money other than that issued by the Chinese Communist Party, they are afraid to touch it. When they’re forced to take it, as they are by their fear of the Russians, some of the shopkeepers burn it immediately even though they’ve given the goods demanded.”

“What goods do they want?” I was interested in this.

“They want watches, typewriters, fountain pens, soap, perfume — Western-type luxuries. They aren’t interested in curios or Chinese art. They are cleaning out Western goods.”

“Was there much Western goods there?”

“There was considerable.”

“Is this going on south of the Wall?” Pi-feng put in.

“I’ve seen it is, in places where I’ve been.” Chu-yin suddenly tightened his voice. “This is a surface matter—it will pass. They’re clearing the shops of Western goods — maybe because they want them, perhaps because they want to remove them from the people’s sight. The serious problem is that our labor force is not working as it should be. They are upset.”

“Why are they upset?”

“Because Mao Tse-tung seems to have agreed to pay the Soviets for their services and everything they give in food and raw materials. Word has reached the workmen that every piece of Japanese material taken by the Soviets and now returned has to be paid for by the Chinese Communists. The weather in Manchuria is cold, as you know. There’s a long winter, the climate is vigorous, and people thrive there if they are well fed. Manchurians have been accustomed to a well-set table, for without plenty to eat they haven’t the energy needed to meet the conditions. Even the lowliest have eaten rich food, fat and nourishing. They don’t like to see the soybean hauled away. They count the loaded carts and cars passing across the border. They estimate the pounds of freight on every swiftmoving train. This makes them sullen, slow-moving, incompetent in their work.”

“Are the Russians a vast number?”

“Probably not, yet they seem to be everywhere, making endless notes as the Japanese used to do, probing our earth for natural resources, estimating the lumber in the forests, the minerals below the fields, the fertility of the soil—even counting the fish in the lakes and rivers. They appraise the population — people’s physical strength and mental capacity. They take photographs continuously. The people are frightened of them. They look different from us, they behave differently, and they are greedy about all material things. The Japanese looked down on us. It seems as if the Soviets do, too. We looked for comradeship with them.”

“Have you traveled south of the Wall?”

“I went to meetings at Peking and Tientsin and I traveled to Shanghai, on to Canton, and back. You can’t just go to the station and buy a ticket as we used to do. Anyone who’s going to travel must get a permit from the local police in the district of his or her residence, but permission seems to be given quite freely and people are traveling. The third class is crowded. The second class is fairly full. There aren’t many in the first class cars. Most of those who travel in the best class are government officials and others on government business. The Soviets all seem to travel first class. I have permission to travel that way because I am important in the industrialization program, but I often go by second or third because it’s cheaper.

“People don’t talk now on the trains as they used to do. There’s a saying: ‘Open your mouth to put in food; open your eyes to watch where you walk.’ The people are quiet; most of them probably are those who were scattered by war and are now trying to get back to their home places. The railroads are in good condition, the trains run on time. I believe that the Soviets have been of great help in making our railway system efficient.” He was suddenly very tired.

“I can’t talk any more.” Chu-yin’s voice grew husky. “I’ve seen too much. I was born in 1900 and I’ve lived half a century. Famine in my native land — that’s what I saw when I traveled south of the Wall. Flood, devastation, hunger, crops that weren’t planted, harvest that wasn’t got in, deep water that hadn’t drained away, hillsides arid with drouth, the dead and the dying. Don’t ask me which provinces they’re in. I haven’t the strength to tell you. Some Chinese are rich, some well off, some are only moderately prosperous, and among them all, in valleys and plains, in cities and towns and in the countryside, there is famine — the worst famine our nation has ever known.”

Abruptly, he asked me for his outdoor shoes, which Kiyoko had taken to clean. Pi-feng took off Chu-yin’s slippers and helped him put them in the pockets of his coat. I handed the shoes to Pi-feng and he laced them up. We got a motorcar and took him back to his Japanese friends. He did not speak until we were about to part and then, “Tsai chin, tsai hui — See you again, we shall meet again.”