Hong Kong


October 1951

on the World today

AS THIS is written, the Korean talks are still under way. They are looked on in Hong Kong as a long-term thing, the idea being that they may break down for a while or continue for a while, but that the total mood in the war’s new phase is one of uneasy, on-and-off parleying. That the Chinese are talking is thought here to mean that they are tired of the beating in Korea, not that they are willing to make peace on terms the UN would accept.

The Marshall mission of 1946 is still remembered. Then the Nationalist and Communist leaders used peace talks as an alternative way to pursue a war they both thought irreconcilable; each side favored such talks often, depending on how things were going. There’s nothing to suggest that the Reds are behaving differently now.

It is hard to tell what the war has done to China. She has suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties without a doubt, but Chinese troops, as human beings, have always been expendable; when a conscript left home his family wrote him off and didn’t expect to see him again.

The main question is how many large, comparatively good Red units have been destroyed in Korea, or perhaps what fraction of the Reds’ trained specialists have been destroyed; the facts on this aren’t clear yet, either in Korea or in Hong Kong. No major unit surrendered even during the quick Eighth Army counterattack of late May; literally “hordes” were killed then and before, but we don’t know what part of these were good troops. Numbers of the wounded have been sent back to China, and this may have been depressing, but the effect may have been offset by propaganda — by exploitation of the war itself as a morale booster. The Reds have been working on this. They appreciate the strength of the blood-toil-tears-andsweat line. They always base their propaganda on the notion of a long, hard struggle.

The CONTINUNING revolution

China has experienced deep changes since she got into the Korean war, though no one can tell how much these come from the fighting itself, how much from natural progress on the Red timetable. The main thing has been a broad, mangled social revolution, aimed at fulfilling the titular revolution that ended when Red armies and politicians won the Chinese mainland. This social revolution, which has been greatly powered by war propaganda and hysteria, divides at the moment, by the Reds’ own words, into three parts: Agrarian Reform; Resisting America and Aiding Korea; and Suppressing Counterrevolutionaries.

Land reform is one of the best-known Red policies. It goes ahead slowly, with groundwork by agents provocateurs. In it the peasants are emboldened to rise against the landlords and other local powers; in the end the village social structure has been broken — and usually broken from below, by “the people’s” will, though in some stubborn cases the authorities must show their hand.

Land reform, delayed for a while last year by other problems, is now running on schedule and should finish in most of China proper soon. It is a bloodthirsty, cathartic affair, and travel is limited where it is going on.

The phrase “Resist America and Aid Korea” bears a selective xenophobia that the Reds no doubt would have pushed anyway, but that the war has quickened. The aim, apart from the war effort, is to discredit all Western influences, notably the Church missions, which have a hold on parts of Chinese life and compete with Marxism. The campaign doesn’t stop at half measures. It doesn’t merely seek to get missionaries out of the country; it likes first to smear them with horrible accusations. Catholic nuns, who have always taken in Chinese foundlings regardless of their state — and it was often a few hours short of death — are now being charged with mass infanticide.

Foreigners whose record in China has been selfless, and who therefore stand high, must bo attacked with extra force, and the Reds don’t shrink from this. Fast acts like helping Chinese to study abroad, distributing relief, and even giving salary raises are painted as darkly sinister — as moves to suborn the Chinese youth for work as spies. The campaign is going full steam now; in some cities it has begun to attack foreign wording in shop signs, and to demand their removal; this is a big operat ion, as city shopkeepers used to hang these signs if they possibly could, for the sake of face.

Americans shouldn’t be hasty to link China’s antiforeignism with the standard Red “iron curtain.” There is a good deal of that in it, but there is also much Chinese history. China would have no part of the West, except on her own terms, until she was forcibly opened by the British a century ago. Since then she has thrown repeated antiforeign convulsions, and one of the Reds’ strong points is that they can give this trend full expression.

The Communist terror

The drive against “counterrevolutionaries” is the newest of the three major objectives of the Reds. It is a terror that strikes on non-Communist Chinese; unlike many Communist purges in the West, it has apparently not yet been applied to Party members. It has also spared, so far as we know, the most important war lords and “democratic personages” (mainly small-party men) who joined Peking during the civil war. The survival of the war lords is striking; some of them were the most benighted despots and opium traffickers of China’s back country, and they changed sides out of pure expediency; in the view of many in Hong Kong they are living on borrowed time, but if so the debt hasn’t been called in yet.

The terror in each place begins with a wave of wholesale denunciations, called for by the authorities and press; the names gathered are checked by official sleuths; the final lists are used for big public trials. The crowds at the trials are manipulated by Red agents, and the accused can be killed for things done years ago; the 1923 director of the PekingHankow Railway, for instance, has just been shot for some antistrike violence done under his regime in that year.

One of the commonest charges against “culprits” is that they have “aroused the people’s wrath” — an easy thing to demonstrate in the rigged mob scenes of the trials — and must be put to death so that this wrath can be “placated.” The individual is shown in these ways that he has no rights, no standing except by the Party’s favor. Crowds are urged to attend the killings, and do. In such an atmosphere confessions are freely made, for lack of any other course.

One oddity of the trials is a sentence of death suspended for two years’ hard labor. Convicts under this sentence can actually be put to death any time they deviate from the path of “reform”; at the end of the two years they are not promised freedom for good behavior, but a continuation of file on borrowed time. Most of them, it seems, will be forever beholden to the government for their existence. In such a spot they make ready slave labor, and many of them are being sent off to reclamation jobs in the Central Asian deserts.

The chief intent of the trials, though, it is believed in Hong Kong, is not so much to corral a labor force as to join with the land reform and the antiforeignism in destroying the old order. This order’s place is being taken by a host of young people, in their twenties and late teens, whose idealism makes good putty for Rod indoctrination. Except at the very top, it’s likely that most responsible jobs in China are now held by these young boys and girls.

The move against the guerrillas

The Reds’ supposed guerrilla problem in South and West China, which was attracting so much notice a year ago, seems to have slackened, if it ever really existed. Much of the guerrilla ferment was mere banditry, an old Chinese institution, and much also was caused by undigested Nationalist troops, dumped on the countryside when their leaders fled.

The troops of General Hu Tsung-nan, for instance, were deserted in West China at the start of last year; they foraged there a long time, giving trouble to both Reds and people; they may be the chief source of guerrilla stories from that region. Anyway, whatever the nuture of the guerrilla group, the Reds moved against them this past spring, making a county-bycounty mop-up in the worst areas, and cornering as much of the food there as possible — locking it in walled cities.

There are still many guerrillas in China, Hong Kong believes, and perhaps more and more would-be guerrillas its the Red rule gets harsher, but there is no guerrilla movement on a scale to threaten the government now. Perhaps the latter idea should be tagged ns a wishful American dream, and laid aside for the present.

The American embargo

One thing that has hurt the Reds is the American, and later the Allied, embargoes. Chinese cotton mills recently ended a six-week shutdown from our raw-cotton embargo. It is believed they can now limp along until the new crop is ready in October (they reopened on the strength of Pakistan cotton, brought in Panamanian and other non-embargo ships to South China’s Pearl River, where the Nationalist blockade doesn’t reach). The new harvest is thought good for only a few months, though, and when it is used up the going will be hard.

Cotton is basic in China’s economy. With the mills closed there are unemployment and trouble in the cities. Without cloth the people grow more naked. With no money blotted up by the sale of government textiles, the inflation threat gets worse. Cotton imports were the keystone of our China relief policy after the war. Besides all this, the Reds have made it a point to show they can get along without such imporls. Apparently they can’t, and they have taken great pains over the Pakistan cotton to hide this fact.

They have also been hurt by the withholding of metals and some heavy chemicals, notably carbon black, the shortage of which slows their rubber processing.

Though they are scattered and still unconfirmed, there are reports that the spectacular Red inflation control is weakening. Until these reports, prices had risen only faintly since over a year ago, a novelty in China. They have been kept down by taxes, grain levies, and exactions of all kinds. The newest is a forced drive for money to buy planes and guns; it is linked with the Resist America and Aid Korea program noted above.

Politics and fantasies

China continues to exude wild stories about politics — about splits in the Red high command, or a split between China and Russia, or a complete seizure of China by Russia. The truth is that we know little of these things, and readers are warned against those who pretend that they do know.

There are a few things we do know about China and Russia, but they are hard to make a pattern of. Among them are these facts: (1) a lot of Russian technical advisers are spread through China, even into small towns and small jobs; (2) many Chinese dislike Russians and dislike being led around by any outsider; (3) the top Chinese Reds lack knowledge of the outside world, and lack materials to guide their thinking on it, which gives Russia a hold over them; (4) China and Russia have at least one strong bond — the Japanese threat, real or imaginary, in Korea.

This threat is almost surely a big thing in relations between America, China, and Russia. Many Japanese want some return to their old place in Korea and Manchuria, and the Chinese and Russians know this. The Chinese and Russians seem also to believe that in the end America will help Japan to these goals, whether through sinister design or naïveté.

Such ideas, right or wrong, are no sudden creation. Japan has been in the heart of Asian power politics since the last century, closely studied the while by Russia and China. We Americans, for our part, have a record of doing, since V-J Day, just what we have said we wouldn’t do about Japanese resurgence. All this makes for uneasiness.

Almost nothing can be learned in Hong Kong, by the way, of the true politics in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and Sinkiang or Chinese Turkestan, China’s great northern borderlands; Russia may even be gobbling these up, as predicted in the past. Tibet, the fourth great borderland, on the mountains to the west, seems to have been brought under Red Chinese control after a year of campaigning and dickering. It has been agreed that China will boss the Tibetan army, and through her puppet, the Panchen Lama, will have a way of penetrating the Lama Buddhist Church, whose destruction must be the chief aim of the revolution in that quarter.

America and China

America has accepted the idea of a limited war against China in Korea, and the idea that this shall be almost our only channel of relations with Peking. We have also accepted the guardianship of Formosa. This latter has some clear advantages: Formosa is a military beachhead to Asia; a help in defending islands that lie outside it in the Pacific; a base for Chinese dissidents; and potentially a sample of how good Chinese life can be without Communism.

It also has disadvantages. We are unhappy over our inability, while sponsoring the Nationalists, to do much about their distressing internal affairs. On the other hand we are giving them the signal to keep on influencing our foreign policy through the strange inroads they have made in Washington, a real disgrace to outnation. What the Nationalists can do about China is a question for the future. At present they are showing that they can stay put, but not that they can launch a serious attack on the mainland.

Some of our allies haven’t made the acceptances noted above. Great Britain shuns Formosa and won’t let the Korean war become her sole way of dealing with Peking. This makes for friction. We think the British are lukewarm appeasers; they think we are dangerous hotheads. The friction seems to please both Chinese parties. The Nationalists want us in their war, lock, stock, and barrel; and if our ties with England weaken, they are more apt to get us there. The Reds are glad of any wedge between us, to prevent a heartfelt united front against them.

This is the reason, many believe, why they haven’t taken Hong Kong, the British colony on their south coast, which lies at their mercy. With Hong Kong gone the British would be driven over to the American stand, or beyond it. With Hong Kong intact they must always compromise in part, and frown on American sword-rattling.