Ah Bing and “Reflection of the Moon”

October 26, 2011

To understand another country’s history and culture, one should listen to the music, read that country’s novels and watch its films.

This summer, my wife and daughter returned from China with dozens of original Chinese films on DVD.

Then I saw Reflection of the Moon, (ISBN: 7-88054-168-3), which is about Ah Bing (1893 – 1950), a famous master of the Chinese Erhu, who overnight—in 1950 shortly before his death—became a national sensation as radios throughout China played his music.

Fortunate for me, Ah Bing’s story had English subtitles, which were not of the best quality and true to form for a Chinese movie filmed in 1979 (shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976), the plot was melodramatic with traces of propaganda that favored the Chinese Communists.

However, to be fair, in 1950, the Civil War was over and the Communists, with support from several hundred million peasants, had won.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution would not begin for years and for those that survived the purges in 1949 and 1950 (mostly abusive land owners and drug dealers accused of crimes by the people they may have abused and victimized), Mao fulfilled his promises of land reforms.

To understand the era of Ah Bing’s life, much of China (including Tibet) was still feudal in nature, and the upper classes often took advantage of the peasants and workers as if they were beasts of burden treated as slaves.


This is one of Ah Bing’s masterpieces for the Erhu—Moon Reflected in the Second Spring (二泉映月)

Ah Bing’s real name was Hua Yanjun. His knowledge of traditional Chinese music and his talent as a musician went mostly unnoticed until the last year of his life in 1950, shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

In 1950, two musicologists were sent to his hometown of Wuxi to record and preserve his music. At the time, he was ill and hadn’t performed for about two years. Six of his compositions were recorded that are considered masterpieces. It is said that he knew more than 700 pieces—and most were his compositions.

As “Reflection of the Moon” shows, the lyrics of some of his music criticized the KMT (Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government), and he was often punished for speaking out through his music. If you have read of The Long March, you know that the peasants did not trust the KMT, but they did trust the Communists and that trust was earned between 1926 and 1949—a period covering twenty-three years, and most rural Chinese of that era still think of Mao as China’s George Washington.

Before the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, China’s Communist Party treated the peasants and workers with respect while the KMT did not earn that trust.

In fact, Ah Bing’s story and music is still so popular that the Performing Arts Company of China’s Air Force performed Er Quan Yin, an original Western-style Chinese opera, in 2010. Source: China Daily

To discover more of the time-period that Ah Bing lived, see The Roots of Madness.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

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A Snapshot of Democracy in Asia – Part 6/6

October 2, 2011

The last Asian democracy to shine a brief spotlight on is Taiwan, which isn’t really a country, since  the United States and most other significant nations recognize one China and thus include the boundaries of Taiwan as being part of the boundaries of (mainland) China.

In fact, China claims Taiwan as its province, and the international community does not want to contradict China, so Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations.

Although local elections were allowed in Taiwan as early as the 1950s, the Kuomintang (KMT) ruled Taiwan with martial law under Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1976), and repressed democracy advocates  for more than three decades.

After Chiang Kai-shek’s death, in 1976, the KMT held onto power until 2000. Then in direct elections, the Taiwanese people voted for a president in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, but corruption reared its ugly head again.

In 2009, Time World reported on former President Chen Shui-bian‘s corruption trial. Chen was accused of taking $9 million dollars in personal kickbacks on a state-sanctioned land deal, embezzling over $3 million from a state fund and laundering millions to overseas accounts.

Then in 2010, the Taipei Times reported, “A former president (Chen Shui-bian) jailed for graft, a retired head of military police indicted for embezzlement, three top judges accused of taking bribes — the list goes on. Taiwan has a problem with corruption.”

In addition, New York Times reported, “Lee Teng-hui, a former president (served 1996 – 2000), who moved the self-governing island toward democracy, was indicted Thursday on charges of embezzling $7.79 million from a state fund, becoming the second former president of Taiwan to be charged with corruption.”

One good thing to say for Taiwan is a low poverty level similar to mainland China. However, in the world’s most powerful democracy, the U.S. 2010 Census says 15.7 percent of Americans live in poverty and that is 47.8 million people–more than twice the population of Taiwan.

After discovering the track record of  several so-called multi-party democracies in Asia, will mainland China’s growing middle class eventually demand a multi-party democracy?

For one answer, Professor Stephen Kobrin of the Wharton School of Knowledge at the University of Pennsylvania says, “We tend to assume all middle-class people have certain values. ”

Kobrin points to the common assertion that people rising into the middle class will press for democracy. However, that does not seem to be happening in China where he suggests that people may be willing to accept more autocratic regimes in return for stability and a middle-class lifestyle.

“The assumption has been that there’s a link between capitalism and democracy, that as incomes rise and people become educated, they will increase pressure for democracy and freedom and civil liberties,” notes Kobrin. “That may or may not be true.”

Return to A Snapshot of Democracy in Asia – Part 5 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.


The Long March (Viewed as Single Page)

August 5, 2011

Mao’s Long March is considered one of the most significant military campaigns of the 20th Century and one of the most amazing physical feats ever attempted.

Surrounded by hostile armies, 87,000 Communist troops escaped and started walking. It was a retreat that covered nearly 6,000 miles in one year.

It was a desperate retreat for Mao’s Communist Chinese Army (PLA) from the Nationalist forces (the KMT) of General Chiang Kai-shek . The KMT had a huge advantage with a much larger military force big enough to surround their enemy.

Many say The Long March was a brilliant military maneuver. Others claim it was a series of strategic blunders. However, most historians agree that what was accomplished was astounding. In this documentary, the survivors reveal what happened.

In the 1920s, eighty percent of the 450 million Chinese people were poor peasants who lived in the countryside. Over half owned no land and often worked for little more than food for an absentee landlord.

The difference between the Communists and Nationalists was vast. The Communists wanted to give the land to the peasants while the Nationalists wanted to maintain the old social order.

The US and Great Britain supplied bombers, fighters and reconnaissance aircraft to Chiang Kai-shek’s troops and wanted Chiang to attack the Japanese. Instead, he went after the Communists and signed a truce recognizing a Japanese government in Northeast China.

Chiang wanted to fight the PLA the old fashioned way, army to army.

However, Mao had his forces avoid a direct assault and fought using hit and run tactics. Advisors from Soviet Russia pressured Mao to be bolder but he refused, while Chiang was getting advice from a Nazi General from Hitler’s Germany.

When the Red Army finally stood their ground as the Soviets urged, the Communists lost sixty-thousand troops. They could not hold the lightly fortified positions they had built, because Chiang’s KMT were better armed.

In October 1934, Mao’s forces streamed out of their territory after suffering horrible losses. The Long March had begun. Nearly 87,000 troops moved in two main columns to the West and to the South.

It would be several weeks before Chiang learned the PLA had retreated. At the time, Mao came down with a severe case of malaria and had to be carried most of the time.

During the retreat, the PLA brought along the machinery for their government—printing presses, typewriters, etc. The Party’s leaders argued about what to do. Mao wanted to break through the Nationalist lines and attack from the rear but was voted down.

Instead, the decision was for a full-scale retreat and to link up with another Red Army in its stronghold deeper in China. The Nationalists used hundreds of aircraft to bomb and strafe the PLA columns.

As much as one-third of the Communist forces were killed by air attacks. To avoid this, the PLA started to move at night and hide during the day.

A new obstacle, a rugged river, stood in the PLA’s path, and a brutal battle was fought to cross the river. After a small force reached the far side, the survivors were ferried across on bamboo rafts. It took eight days for the army to cross.

The biggest problem was the heavy supply column with the machinery of government, so the Communists left the printing presses and coin minting machines behind along with the government’s records. After suffering horrible losses and not knowing what to do, Mao argued for a change of tactics saying they didn’t have to win every battle.

Mao argued that the most important rule for a military commander was to preserve and strengthen his forces. He had never been to Russia for military training but had read the Chinese military and literary classics.

Since most of the other leaders had been to Moscow to be indoctrinated in Communist ideology, they considered Mao’s thinking dangerous. However, he came out of the conference co-commander of an army that had lost two-thirds of its troops. Meanwhile, the Japanese were expanding their territory in Northeast China, while Chiang Kai-shek was still determined to destroy the Communists.

Mao changed plans and decided to move west toward the fourth Communist army. He took a route so rugged that no one had ever tried it before.

He also broke the army into smaller units and scattered them over the countryside so they would be harder to spot from the air. For a time, this fooled the Nationalists.

While moving across the rugged terrain, it was difficult to stay in touch with all the scattered units so Mao used teenagers as couriers. He also had spies keeping track of the Nationalist army’s movements.

Mao’s first significant battle was for control of an important mountain pass and his troops defeated two Nationalist divisions. It was Mao’s first victory as a commander, which helped him gain the trust of the troops.

Mao’s army began to win more battles. One of Mao’s battalions marched 85 miles in one day and night to seize a Nationalist fort without firing a shot. The fort commanded an important river crossing. When Chiang Kai-shek discovered what Mao’s forces had achieved, he was furious. Meanwhile, Mao was gaining new recruits and support from the peasants.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army had a proven reputation for dishonesty, corruption and heavy taxation — the same policies that contributed to the collapsed of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the KMT was the faction the United States supported.

Most peasants trusted the Communists, who treated them with respect and refused to take any food while Nationalist troops confiscated the food and supplies they wanted without paying.

One challenge stood in Mao’s way—the Yi minority, who had stayed free of Chinese rule for decades due to their fierceness. Mao sent an envoy to negotiate and an agreement was reached.

In fact, many Yi warriors joined Mao’s army.

However, there was another river to cross and Chiang’s army was moving to trap the Communists. A bridge built in 1701 was the key. The race toward this bridge would lead to the most important battle of the Long March.

In the race to the bridge, advanced elements of the PLA arrived first.

The bridge was about 100 yards long and nine feet wide. Thirteen chains held up the side supports along with the bridge’s flooring. The troops for a local warlord guarded the bridge, and they had removed the flooring. Only the chains were left since the local people refused to cut them.

The battle for the bridge began. Volunteers from the Red Army started to crawl along the chains while covering fire was focused on the warlord’s troops on the other side.

The warlord’s troops used mortars and machine guns shooting at the Red Army volunteers as they crawled toward them. After fierce fighting, Mao’s troops took the bridge and the Red Army crossed.

The Nationalists had made a mistake by not cutting the bridge’s chains.

However, The Long March was not over. The Red Army was heavily outnumbered, and they had some of the highest mountains in the world to cross before reaching the Fourth Red Army and safety deep in Western China.

In June 1935, eight months and over three-thousand miles into the Long March, Mao’s Red Army moved into Western Sichuan Province. For a time, Mao’s troops were safe from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

Meanwhile, the Japanese launched an attack on another northern Chinese province. The Japanese now occupied most of Northern China and the Chinese living there knew little about the struggle between Mao and Chiang Kai-shek.

Feeling abandoned, they were alienated from the Nationalist government.

Meanwhile, the PLA had to cross the Snowy Mountains with peaks as high as 15,000 feet. Because these mountains were so rugged and dangerous, the Nationalist Army stopped the pursuit and waited for the mountains to kill Mao.

Some historians believed crossing these mountains was a blunder, but Mao had no choice. Only defeat waited behind him, and there was no turning back.

The thin air and the steep, snow-covered mountains exhausted the troops. A shortage of food, lack of firewood, and snow blindness all contributed to the challenge. While crossing the mountains and linking up with the Fourth Red Army, thousands were lost.

Once joined, the combined PLA armies numbered 100,000 troops.

The next challenge was the deadliest obstacle of all—a high-desert grassland. There was no choice. All the easy routes were controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s troops.

Then heavy rains came, which turned the grassland into a swamp.

There was no drainage in the grasslands. As it rained, the water saturates the soil and turned it into a swamp. Beneath the flowers and grass were hidden bogs that swallowed men and animals whole.

With temperatures were slightly above freezing, food became scarce and was rationed.

When there was no food, the troops boiled the grass and added a touch of salt. Everyone was weak. Those who collapsed were left to die, because the survivors did not have the strength to help.

The Red Army lost more troops in the grassland than from the Snowy Mountains. A Nationalist army followed the Communists into the grasslands but turned back because of the difficulty and risks.

One reason the Nationalists turned back was that Chiang Kai-shek suffered from a lack of loyalty among his troops and generals. He even feared that one of his generals might kill him.

On the other hand, the loyalty of Mao’s troops was unquestioned.

However, the general of the Fourth Red Army argued with Mao and the two armies split.

Mao’s army was weak and still had hundreds of miles to go to reach safety. One obstacle remained—the dangerous Lazikou pass, which had been fortified by Nationalist troops.

To survive, Mao’s troops would have to take the pass or return through the grassland.

Not wanting to return through the grassland, Mao issued orders to take the pass. The fighting was fierce and the PLA took heavy losses without success.

Then Mao stopped the direct assaults and sent skilled climbers up one of the canyon’s walls. From the high ground, they shot down at the Nationalist fortifications blocking access to the pass.

One volunteer wrapped his body in explosives, leaped from the cliff into the middle of the Nationalist fortifications and blew himself up opening the pass.

Mao’s First Red Army finally reached desolate and rugged Shaanxi Province. The Long March was over, and Mao’s troops linked up with other Red Army elements that already had a base there.

Of the original 87,000 that started the Long March, fewer than 6,000 survived. These survivors would recruit and train a new army.

The Long March turned Mao into a leader with a following from the common people of China.

Eventually, the Fourth Red army arrived, but two-thirds had been killed in battles.

Chiang Kai-shek planned a new campaign to defeat Mao, but Chiang’s supporters and generals forced him to cooperate with the Communists to defeat the Japanese.

After World War II, the Chinese Civil War resumed, and in 1949, Mao won China and Chiang Kai-shek, distrusted by most rural Chinese and still supported by America, fled to Taiwan with the remnants of his army.

Meanwhile, Mao’s six thousand survivors from the First Red Army ruled a country of a half-billion people. Most of the Communist government’s highest-ranking officials from the 1950s through the 70s were the survivors of The Long March.

In one year and one day, the First Red Army covered six-thousand miles, the distance between New York and San Francisco and back again. They averaged about 24 miles a day, climbed 18 major mountain ranges and crossed 24 rivers.

The First Red Army wasn’t the only Communist army to make this march. Two other Red Armies followed and overcame the same obstacles to join Mao’s forces in Shaanxi Province.

Map of the Long March
Click on this link to see an active map of the Long March

Many outside China see Mao as a ruthless dictator, without realizing that his sworn enemy, Chaing Kai-shek, was a brutal dictator too.

However, few can deny what Mao achieved as the commander of the First Red Army during the Long March.

Mao could not have succeeded without the loyalty of the common people and his troops, and loyalty must be earned and maintained, which is something that Chiang Kai-shek never accomplish.

In fact, to rule Taiwan after losing the mainland to Mao, Chiang Kai-shek imposed a brutal and harsh military imposed martial law on the island’s people.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Sun Yat-sen’s Last Days – Part 1/3

October 25, 2010

In October 1911, a revolution in China overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ended more than two thousand years of imperial monarchy.

After the revolution, the Republic of China was founded but warlords still controlled much of China.

The leader of this revolution was Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), and he served as the first president of the Republic of China.

The Chinese Communist Party persuaded Sun that if his Nationalist Party formed an alliance with the Communists, Sun would gain support from China’s peasants and industrial workers to help end the anarchy in China. Source: Time Asia

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen’s health was not good. He was so sick he had turned command of the Nationalist navy and army over to Hu Hanmin, who would later be a rival with Chiang Kai-shek for control of the Nationalists (Kuomintang) in the late 1920s. 

The reason that Sun Yat-sen gave command of the navy and army to Hu Hanmin was because he wanted to go to the Baiyun Mountains of Guangzhou to recover from his illness.

However, Sun Yat-sen was invited to Beijing instead — the reason was to meet the warlord that controlled Beijing.

At the time, The Nationalists only held power in Southern China.

When he arrived by train, about 20 thousand people met him at the station. 

The warlord had invited Sun Yat-sen to Beijing to talk about how to end the chaos and anarchy that still raged throughout much of China.

Continued in Sun Yat-sen’s Last Days – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Chiang Kai-shek

July 23, 2010

Chiang Kai-shek (also known as Jiang Jieshi) was born on October 31, 1887. His family was from the upper class and was wine merchants. At 18, he attended a military college in Japan. Chiang had four wives during his life. His first wife died in the Second Sino-Japanese War. His second wife contracted gonorrhea from Chiang (a known womanizer) soon after they married. His most famous wife lived to 106 and died in 2003. Before one marriage, he converted to Christianity as a condition to marry.

After training in Japan, he went to Russia to study the Soviet government and decided he did not care for the Communists. Returning to China, Sun Yat-sin appointed Chiang to command a military academy

Under Sun Yat-sen the Communists and the Nationalists worked together to rule China, and Soviet advisers provided the help needed to increase their power since most of China was ruled by warlords.

However, when Sun died in 1925, Chiang led the Kuomintang army north to defeat the warlords and destroy the Communists.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, the Communist Party had organized labor unions to improve working conditions in the low paying sweat-shop factories. During Communist organized labor strikes, these factories were shut down.

When Chiang Kai-shek army reached Shanghai, he joined forces with gangsters then went on a killing spree known as the White Terror. Tens of thousands of workers, who belonged to the labor unions organized by the Communists, were hunted down and killed along with their Communist leaders. One of the few to escape was Mao Zedong.

For the next few years, Chiang would rule China unchallenged until 1931, when Japan invaded. During the early months of the war, Chiang ignored Japan and continued hunting for the Communist survivors, who had fled into the countryside.

In 1949, when Mao won the civil war, Chiang Kai-shek took the survivors of his nationalist army to Taiwan where, protected by the US military, he declared brutal martial law and ruled as a dictator until he died on April 5, 1975 at the age of eighty-seven.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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China: The Roots of Madness – Parts 7 & 8 of 8

June 12, 2010

In Part 7, it is 1948 and Mao attacks. His army leaves the caves and captures Manchuria. When Chiang Kai-shek’s northern army surrenders, modern American weapons and equipment fall into Mao’s hands. Mao demands total surrender, but Chiang’s army boards ships for Taiwan taking China’s wealth and historical treasures. In fear, western businessmen and missionaries flee China.

By 1967, when this documentary was produced, Mao had ruled China for 18 years. Protected by America, Chiang was still in Taiwan serving as president for life. He also had six-hundred thousand Kuomintang troops, and the island people lived under martial law.

Theodore H. White says America does not understand Communist China. America could not predict the “Great Leap Forward” or the purges that followed. He says the quality of life for the peasants had not improved. They still worked like beasts as they always had.

Part 7 ends with words of fear for the world’s future because China has nuclear weapons. There is no mention that America has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth a hundred times over. In Part 8, White concludes the documentary in about two minutes.

Return to Part 6, The Roots of Madness or start with The Roots of Madness-Part 1

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______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


China: The Roots of Madness – Part 3/8

June 9, 2010

In Part 3, death claims Sun Yat-sen (1866 – 1925) after he has accepted support from Soviet Russia. Soon, General Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975), with help from the Communists, consolidates power in southern China.

Chiang is known to Westerners as a fiery nationalist and revolutionary.  He mobilizes an army under Sun Yat-sen’s flag and marches north with a few divisions. Meanwhile, the warlords have gathered a half-a-million troops to stop him. Outnumbered, Chiang sends an advance group of nationalists and communists to call the peasants and workers to join his army.

Among those peasants and workers is Mao Tse-tung (1893 – 1976).  While moving north, Chiang’s army raids foreign concessions, burns foreign buildings and tears down foreign flags.  Leftist leaders of the Kuomintang start to distrust Chiang Kai-shek and some want to assassinate him but others disagree.

In Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek, now a dictator, strikes first on April 12, 1927. His troops kill anyone suspected of being a Communist. In December, there is a Communist uprising in Canton. A battle rages for two days between the Communists and Kuomintang ending in the executions of most of the Communists, but Mao escapes and goes into hiding.

Continued in Part 4, The Roots of Madness or return to Part 2, The Roots of Madness.

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______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.