Zhu De and The Prices of Betrayal

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:18 pm

This posting is part of a series which comprise a draft dissertation chapter. Read more about it here. The first posting is found here. The post preceding this one is here.

Attempts to secure the defection of Chinese soldiers fighting alongside the Japanese by means of propaganda and by approaching family members in the villages required considerable time, manpower, and a patient process of wearing down the enemy. Establishing contacts directly with soldiers or junior officers and either appealing to their patriotic virtues or offering promises of protection against any future punishment was direct but dangerous. Perhaps the simplest method to turn the puppet soldiers away from their treasonous ways was to appeal to the same motivation which led many of them to fight for the Japanese in the first place: cold hard cash.

An example of the scale contemplated by Communist plans to supplement its political efforts with the outright purchase of puppet loyalty is found in a January 23, 1945 letter from Commander Zhu De to the U.S. head of the China Theater, General Albert Wedemeyer. “I have a favor that I wish to ask you,” he began, and then requested a loan of $20 million from the U.S. to use for the purpose of bribes.  The amount would be repaid, “following the victorious conclusion of the war against Japan.” Given his earlier career, this pragmatic approach was entirely in keeping with the character of the pragmatic Communist leader of the wartime 8th Route Army, though none of Zhu De’s main works on winning over enemies openly proposed  bribes for puppets to switch their loyalty. On the contrary, he argued that the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Armies had an “inexhaustible supply of manpower” thanks to its ability to attract voluntary recruits inspired by a desire to resist Japanese aggression. Instead it was the Nationalists who used “buying,” coercion, and deceit in its efforts to recruit soldiers.  In the January, 1945 letter to General Wedemeyer, however, Zhu suggested that bribery could easily double the number of defections among Japanese collaborator troops achieved by political means.

Table: Zhu De’s Statistics on Puppets Won-Over, January, 1945

Area Men Rifles Machine Guns Mortars Field Pieces
Shandong 11,987 6,540 122 109 26
Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan 5,821 3,909 60 32 12
Shanxi-Suiyuan 932 550 8 10 3
Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei 1,024 620 13 11 1
Central China 14,075 8,314 134 121 18
Total 34,167 20,159 343 288 60

The approximately 34,167 puppets won-over up to this point, according to the letter, comprised around 3.8% of a total estimate of around 900,000 Chinese fighting on behalf of the Japanese. Zhu argued that political measures alone could probably bring this number up to about 5%. This percentage could be doubled, he argued optimistically, to 10%, or around 90,000, by using “financial” measures. In what can only be described as a proposed investment plan, Zhu outlined the accounting for his estimates. The requested $20 million was to be divided into five parts. $7.6 million was to go towards administrative costs and operations, including the cost of intelligence and liaison work. $1.4 million was to be paid directly to puppet officers ranging from squad commanders and up through platoon, company, battalion, regiment, and even the proposed bribery of ten puppet division commanders. Some 3,000 squad commanders were to be offered $30 each, while division commanders were to be offered $10,000. In addition to these one-time defection bonuses, this fund was to include post-defection awards to officers who were brought over by political measures and “comfort fees.” Third, almost a million dollars was to be set aside for bounties to puppets for bringing over various weapons ranging in value from rifles ($20 each) to artillery ($1,000), as well as valuable communications equipment. Radio sets, for example, were to be purchased at $200 a piece.  Fourth, almost five million dollars was put aside to pay puppets their original salaries for three months, for a supply of clothing and equipment, a fund for gifts, and subsidies for the families of the defected puppets. Finally, a reserve fund of five million was to be put towards using military collaborators for sabotage and demolition operations as well as special missions to assassinate Japanese officers.

It is possible that the letter merely represents one very elaborate attempt by Communists to secure large scale funding from the U.S. in a slightly more indirect manner, and that the funds were never intended to go fully towards bribing military collaborators. However, given Zhu De’s own deep appreciation for the importance of dismantling one’s enemy as well as destroying them in battle, this may well be only the most ambitious proposal for employing “financial measures” in Communist puppet policy. There is little chance Zhu De’s request could have been met but the proposal for a loan to bribe military collaborators did come at a time when the newly arrived commander of U.S. forces in China was actively considering the possibility of arming and otherwise supporting Communist efforts in the war of resistance against Japan. In the aftermath of the replacement of the controversial general Joseph Stilwell in late October, 1944, Zhu was merely taking advantage of a brief opportunity to establish an entirely new relationship with American forces. In the months that followed there were a number of proposals and counter-proposals exchanged on cooperation between Nationalists and Communists, with General Patrick Hurley serving as intermediary. The process was complicated by other negotiations, unknown to Wedemeyer and Hurley at the time, between another U.S. General Robert McClure and the Communists that culminated in an offer to send thousands of American airborne troops to be stationed in Communist controlled territory. The final result of the complicated process was a warning by General Hurley to President Roosevelt that the offer of close military cooperation with the Communists was a dangerous development that threatened the preservation of the Nationalist regime. On 27 January, Chief of Staff George Marshall ordered that no negotiations were to continue that did not also involve Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Three days later General Wedemeyer issued an order to all officers in the China theater directing them refrain from “discussing hypothetical aid or employment of U.S. Resources to assist any effort of an unapproved political party, activity, or persons.”

Note: Long time readers of Frog in a Well will recognize the material used in this section which I wrote about back in 2007, here.

Next: The Wartime Gains of the Bureau

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