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The Deathly Division of China

Excerpt from The Strange Connection: U.S. Intervention in China, 1944-1972, by Bevin Alexander, pages 1-2

Ever since an unnatural alliance between the Chinese Reds and the Nationalists had collapsed in 1927 in the wake of a great massacre of Communists ordered by Chiang Kai-shek, China had been divided between the two sides.

On one side [in 1944] were the Nationalists or Kuomintang (KMT), who represented the landowners, merchants, military leaders, and industrialists. They comprised less than 3 percent of China’s half billion population but held the bulk of China’s wealth. This minority exploited China’s people with excessive land rents, low industrial wages, poor working conditions, high taxes, and exorbitant interest rates.

On the other side were the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, son of a peasant. The Communists were seeking a revolutionary solution to China’s troubles: equitable redistribution of all land to the peasants, who comprised eight out of ten Chinese, eradication of the ruling KMT, and establishment of a Communist state ruled by a party elite claiming to represent the peasants and the tiny industrial proletariat.

The Chinese people were presented no other option. There was no hope of democracy or even of a nontotalitarian state. Neither the KMT nor the Communists would tolerate genuinely free national elections or representative government. Although there were liberal parties that called for a moderate approach to change through the ballot box, they were tiny, powerless, and permitted to exist only in order to give the illusion of democratic choices in China. Neither the Nationalists nor the Reds were interested in real parliamentary government. Furthermore, there was no great sense of loss because the Chinese had enjoyed no tradition of freedom or popular rights throughout their history.

China’s choice was far simpler and starker: Which side offered the least pain to the most people? The Reds, who could promise the peasant and the worker positive relief from their worst afflictions, were clearly the most popular. The KMT, recognizing this, saw repression of the Communists and their seductive, exhilarating message as the only way to keep China’s society from ripping apart.

Although the Reds and Kuomintang had publicly patched together a common front after the Japanese invasion of 1937, each side was in fact dedicated to the other’s destruction.

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