Photo: July 25, 1963, Beijing celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Public domain.
May 4 marks the anniversary of a seminal moment in modern Chinese history. In 1919, the “May 4 movement” broke out — a youth-led uprising against the country’s domination by foreign colonial powers. In the following piece written in 2008, Fidel Castro reflects on this and other milestones in China’s long struggle for independence. The following reflection was published over a two-day period in the Cuban newspaper Granma. It has been translated by ESTI.
Without some basic historical knowledge, the subject I am dealing with could not be understood.
In Europe, people had heard about China. In the autumn of 1298, Marco Polo told marvelous tales about an amazing country he called Cathay. Columbus, an intelligent and intrepid sailor, was aware of the Greeks’ knowledge about the roundness of the Earth. His own observations led him to agree with those theories. He came up with the plan of reaching the Far East sailing westward from Europe. But, he calculated the distance with far too much optimism, for it was several times greater. Unexpectedly, between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, this continent loomed up on his route. Magellan would make the journey conceived by him, even though he died before reaching Europe. Still, the value of the spices collected paid for the expedition initiated with a number of vessels of which only one returned a prelude of future colossal profits.
From that point, the world began to change at an accelerated pace. Old forms of exploitation were repeated again, from slavery to feudal serfdom; ancient and new religious beliefs spread over the planet.
From that fusion of cultures and events, accompanied by technical advances and scientific discoveries, today’s world was born, and it could not be understood without a minimum of real precedents.
International trade, with its advantages and disadvantages, was imposed by the colonial powers, such as Spain, England and the other European powers. These, especially England, soon began to control southwest, south and southeast Asia, and Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, forcibly expanding its rule everywhere. The colonizers were not able to impose their authority over the gigantic country of China, which had an ancient culture and fabulous natural and human resources.
Direct trade between Europe and China began in the sixteenth century, after the Portuguese established the commercial enclave in Goa in India and in Macao in southern China.
Spanish control in the Philippines facilitated an accelerated exchange with the great Asian country. The Qin dynasty, which ruled China, tried to limit this kind of unfavorable commercial operation with foreign countries as much as possible. It was allowed only through the port of Canton, today called Guangzhou. Britain and Spain had great deficits because of the low demand of the enormous Asiatic country, related to English goods manufactured in the metropolis, or Spanish products coming from the New World that were not essential to China. Both of them had begun to sell opium.
Large-scale opium trade was at first dominated by the Dutch through Jakarta, Indonesia. The English observed the profits that were close to 400 percent. Their opium exports which, in 1730, were 15 tons, grew to 75 in 1773, shipped in crates weighing 70 kilograms each; with this they bought porcelain, silk, spices and Chinese tea. Opium, not gold, was the currency Europe used to acquire Chinese goods.
In the spring of 1830, faced with the unbridled abuse of the opium trade in China, Emperor Daoguang ordered Lin Hse Tsu, an imperial official, to fight the plague; he ordered the destruction of 20,000 crates of opium. Lin Hse Tsu sent a letter to Queen Victoria asking for respect for international regulations and not to allow trade with toxic drugs.
The Opium Wars were the English response. The first lasted three years, from 1839 to 1842. The second, with France joining in, lasted four years, from 1856 to 1860. They are also known as the Anglo-Chinese Wars.
The United Kingdom forced China to sign unfair treaties committing this country to opening up several ports to foreign trade and handing over Hong Kong. Several countries, following England’s lead, imposed unequal terms of exchange.
Such humiliation contributed to the Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1864, the Boxer Rebellion of 1899 to 1901 and, finally, the fall of the Qin Dynasty in 1911 which, for various reasons including its weakness in the face of foreign powers had become highly unpopular in China.
What happened with Japan?
This country with its ancient culture and very hard-working, like others in the region, resisted “Western civilization” and for more than 200 years among other causes because of a chaotic domestic administration remained hermetically sealed to foreign trade.
In 1854, after an earlier exploratory voyage with four gunboats, a U.S. naval expedition commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, threatening to bomb a Japanese town defenseless before the modern technology of those vessels obliged the shoguns to sign, on behalf of the Emperor, the Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854. Thus, the grafting of capitalist trade and Western technology was begun in Japan. At the time, Europeans were unaware of the Japanese capacity to develop in that field.
On the heels of the Yankees, representatives of the Russian Empire arrived from the Far East, fearful that the U.S., to whom they later sold Alaska on October 18, 1867, would get a head-start in trading activities with Japan. Britain and the other European colonizing nations came quickly to the country with the same intentions.
During the U.S. intervention in 1862, Perry occupied different parts of Mexico. At the end of the war, the country lost more than 50 percent of its territory, precisely those areas where the greatest oil and gas reserves were to be found, even though at that time, gold and land to expand into, not fuel, were the main goals of the conquerors.
The first China-Japan War was officially declared on August 1, 1894. At the time Japan wanted Korea, a tributary state subordinated to China. With more developed weaponry and technology, it defeated Chinese forces in several battles near the cities of Seoul and Pyongyang. Later military victories opened its way toward Chinese territory.
In the month of November that year, they took Port Arthur, today Lüshun. In the River Yalu estuary and at the Weihaiwei Naval Base, surprised by a land attack from the Liaodong Peninsula, heavy Japanese artillery destroyed the fleet of the attacked nation.
The dynasty had to ask for peace. The Treaty of Shimonoseki, which put an end to the war, was signed in April of 1895. China was forced to cede Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula and the archipelago of the Pescadores Islands to Japan “in perpetuity;” China also had to pay a war indemnity of 200 million taels of silver and open up four ports to the exterior. Russia, France and Germany, defending their individual interests, obliged Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula, paying in exchange another 30 million taels of silver.
Before mentioning the second China-Japan War, I should include another armed episode with a double historical importance; it took place from 1904 to 1905 and it cannot be omitted.
After being inserted into armed civilization and wars for the partitioning of the world as imposed by the West, Japan, which had already waged the first war against China as mentioned above, developed its naval power to such a degree that it was able to deal a harsh blow to the Russian Empire, which was at the point of prematurely inciting the revolution programmed by Lenin when he created in Minsk, 10 years earlier, the Party which would later unleash the October Revolution.
On August 10, 1904, with no advance warning, Japan attacked and destroyed the Russian Pacific Fleet at Shandong. Czar Nicholas II of Russia, upset by the attack, ordered the Baltic Fleet to be mobilized and to set sail for the Far East. Convoys of colliers were contracted to bring in the shipments needed by the fleet while it was sailing towards its distant destination. One of the operations to transfer coal had to be carried out on the high seas due to diplomatic pressure.
The Russians, upon entering south China, sailed towards Vladivostok, the only available port for the fleet’s operations. In order to reach that point, there were three routes: the best choice was the Tsushima route; the other two required navigation to the east of Japan and increased the risks and the enormous wear and tear on the vessels and crews. The Japanese admiral had the same thought: for this option he made his plan and located his ships so that the Japanese fleet, after making a U-turn, would have all its vessels, mainly cruisers, passing about 6,000 meters away from the adversary’s ships, a large number of battleships. These would be at the reach of the Japanese cruisers, outfitted with personnel that were rigorously trained in the use of their cannon. As a result of the lengthy route, the Russian battleships were navigating at a speed of only 8 knots as compared with the 16-knot speed of the Japanese vessels.
The military action is known by the name of Battle of Tsushima. It took place on May 27 and 28, 1905.
On the side of the Russian Empire, 11 battleships and eight cruisers took part.
Admiral of the Fleet: Zinovy Rozhdestvensky.
Losses: 4,380 dead, 5,917 wounded, 21 ships sunk, 7 captured and 6 rendered useless.
The admiral of the Russian fleet was wounded by a shell fragment that hit him in the skull.
On the side of the Japanese Empire, 4 battleships and 27 cruisers took part.
Admiral of the Fleet: Heichachiro Togo
Losses: 117 dead, 583 wounded and 3 torpedo ships sunk.
The Baltic fleet was destroyed. Napoleon would have termed it “Austerlitz at sea”. Anyone can imagine the deep wound caused by the dramatic event to traditional Russian pride and patriotism.
After the battle, Japan became a much feared naval power, rivaling Britain and Germany and competing with the United States.
Japan rehabilitated the concept of the battleship as the principal weapon in the years to come. They embroiled themselves in the task of empowering the Imperial Japanese Army. They requested and paid a British shipbuilder to construct a special cruiser, with the intent of later reproducing it in their Japanese shipbuilding yards. Later, they manufactured battleships that were far better than those of their contemporaries, both in armor and power.
There was no other nation on the face of the earth that could come close to Japanese naval engineering in the 1930’s in the design of warships.
That explains the bold action with which, one day, they attacked their master and rival, the United States which, through Commodore Perry, started them off on the road of war.
I shall continue tomorrow.
Part II (published March 31, 2008)
When the First World War broke out in 1914, China joined the allies. As recompense, China was promised that the German concessions in the province of Shandong would be returned at war’s end. After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which President Woodrow Wilson imposed on friends and foes alike, the German colonies were transferred to Japan, a more powerful allied than China.
Thousands of students gathered in Tiananmen Square on May 4, 1919 to protest this move. The first triumphant nationalist movement in China was born there. Called the “May 4th Movement”, it brought the petite and national bourgeoisie and the workers and peasants under one coalition.
The founding of the Kuomintang or National People’s Party had consolidated the nationalist currents that emerged at the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. It was headed by Dr. Sun Yatsen, a progressive intellectual and revolutionary heavily influenced by the October Revolution, with which he strengthened his party’s ties.
The Chinese Communist Party was founded at a congress held from July 23 to August 5, 1921. Lenin sent representatives of the International to that Congress.
The Communist movement devoted efforts to reunite China. The young Mao Zedong was among its founding members. Between 1923 and 1924, the Chinese Communist Party and Kuomintang joined forces to form the First United Front.
Following Sun Yatsen’s death in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek took command of the Kuomintang. He focused on establishing firm control of southern China, the Shanghai region in particular.
Kaishek did not sympathize with the communist doctrine and, in 1927; he undertook a large-scale repression of communists within the National Revolutionary Army, unions and other social institutions in the country, especially in Shanghai. The Left within the Kuomintang was also heavily repressed.
In 1932, following the five-month military occupation of Manchuria, Japan established the state of Manchukuo, which posed a great threat to China. Chiang Kaishek launched five campaigns to besiege and eliminate the communists, who had gathered strength in the bases set up in southern China.
In 1927, leading those who had managed to evade Chiang Kai-shek’s treacherous move to the mountainous region of Jiangsu and Fujian, Mao Zedong established an encompassing center of armed resistance, primarily made up of devoted and well-organized communists. This center came to be known as the Soviet Republic of China.
In 1934, pitted against Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces, which were vastly superior in number, nearly 100 thousand Chinese combatants under Mao’s command undertook the Great March towards China’s northeast. Skirting China’s central region, the combatants traversed over 3,750 miles and fought almost continually through a year. This unprecedented feat made Mao the undisputed leader of both China’s Communist Party and Revolution. The application of Marx’s and Lenin’s ideas to China’s political, economic, natural, geographic and cultural conditions established him as the brilliant political and military strategist who liberated a country whose significance in today’s world cannot be underestimated.
The second Sino-Japanese War broke out on July 7, 1937. The Japanese deliberately brought about the incident that sparked the war. A Japanese soldier disappeared while his troop was in a military parade at the Marco Polo Bridge, over a river located some 10 miles west of Beijing. China’s army, based across the river, was accused of kidnapping the soldier, and an armed conflict which lasted several hours ensued. The soldier reappeared, almost immediately after combat began. The accusation was false, but the Japanese commander had already ordered the attack. With its usual arrogance, Tokyo made unacceptable demands from China and ordered the deployment of three divisions, equipped with the country’s best weapons. In a few weeks’ time, the Japanese army secured control of the East-West corridor between the Gulf of Chihli (today Bo Hai) and Beijing.
From Beijing, the Japanese army headed to Nanjing, where Chiang Kai-shek’s government was headquartered. They carried out one of the most horrendous of terrorist campaigns known to modern warfare. The city was razed to the ground, as were others. Tens of thousands of women were raped and hundreds of thousands of people brutally murdered.
China’s Communist Party had prioritized the struggle for national unity and against Japanese designs, aimed at taking control of the enormous country and its natural resources and to condemn over 500 million of its citizens to merciless bondage.
Japan was looking for lebensraum. It was guided by a mixture of capitalist and racist values: it was Japan’s version of fascism.
The Anti-Japanese United Front had already been created that same year, in 1937. The nationalists were also aware of the danger. Japan occupied most of the coastal cities. At the end of the Second World War, there were millions of Chinese casualties.
During the epic war, the communists stepped up their struggle against the invaders and caused them significant damage.
The United States aided the communists and nationalists. Sensing that its entry into the war was imminent, it asked the Chinese government permission to send a volunteer squadron as well. The Flying Tigers were thus created. Roosevelt deployed Captain Lee Chenault, who was retired at the time, whose conduct expressed his admiration towards the discipline, tactics and efficacy shown by the communist combatants.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States entered the war. However, at no point during the war was Japan able to withdraw its best troops, which, near war’s end, numbered a million soldiers.
The Truman administration, which, in an act of terror, dropped nuclear weapons over Japan’s civilian population, made Chang Kaishek the United States’ right hand man. He took up the anti-communist struggle again, but his demoralized troops were unable to hold up against the irrepressible advance of the Chinese People’s Army.
When the war ended in October 1949, Kuomintang members, backed by the United States, fled to Taiwan, where they set up an anti-communist government fully supported by the United States. Chiang Kai-shek used the U.S. Naval Fleet to travel to Taiwan.
Might China be yet another dark corner of the world?
Before Troy was built and the Greek city-states knew the Iliad and Odyssey, unquestionably marvelous fruits of human intelligence, a civilization that encompassed millions of people were already taking shape on the long shores of the Yellow River.
Chinese culture finds its roots in the Zhou Dynasty, which existed 2,000 years before Christ was born. Its peculiar writing system comprises several thousand graphic signs, which generally represent the language’s words or morphemes, a term coined by modern linguistics which is little known to the lay public. The mysterious magic of this language, which the natural intelligence of Chinese children assimilates in the learning process, is beyond our grasp.
Many of the products which first emerged in China, such as gunpowder, the compass and other inventions, were totally unknown in the Old Continent. Had the winds blown in a direction opposite the route followed by Columbus, perhaps the Chinese would have discovered Europe.
Since 2000, the Taiwanese government had been controlled by a party whose neo-liberal and pro-imperialistic policies were even worse than the Kuomintang’s stances, a staunch opponent of the principle of a unified China, the Chinese Communist Party’s historical proclamation. This thorny issue threatened to unleash a war of unforeseeable consequences, a new sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of over 1,300 million Chinese people.
The election, this past March 23, of a candidate from the party that provided Chiang Kaishek with his political foundations, was undoubtedly a political and moral victory for China. It removes from the Taiwanese government a party which, in office for nearly 8 years, was about to take new, nefarious steps.
According to press agencies, the party lost by a landslide, securing a mere 4.4 million votes, from a population of 17.3 million people entitled to vote.
The new President will be sworn in on May 20. “We will sign a peace treaty with China,” he declared.
The cables report that Ma Ying-Jeou supports the creation of a Common Market with China, the island’s main trade partner.
The People’s Republic of China maintains a dignified and cautious attitude towards the thorny issue. At Beijing’s State Council, Taiwan’s official spokesperson declared that Ma Ying-Jeou’s victory proves that “independence is not a popular issue among the Taiwanese.”
This short statement speaks volumes.
The works of prestigious U.S. historical researchers divulge what took place in the Chinese territory of Tibet.
Kenneth Conboy’s The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet (University Press, Kansas) describes the sordid details of the conspiracy. William Leary calls it “an excellent and impressive study of a major CIA covert operation during the Cold War”.
For over two centuries, no country in the world had recognized Tibet as an independent nation. It was considered to be an integral part of China. In 1950, India conceived it as such, following the triumph of the communist revolution. England assumed the same stance. Until the Second World War, the United States considered it a part of China and even brought pressures to bear on England in this connection. Following the war, however, they saw it as a religious stronghold that could be used against communism.
When the People’s Republic of China implemented the agrarian reform on Tibetan soil, the elite saw its properties and interests undermined and opposed the measures. This led to an armed uprising in 1959. Tibet’s armed rebellion —as opposed to those in Guatemala, Cuba and other nations, where fighting took place under truly harsh conditions— was prepared for years by US secret services, as these studies reveal.
Another book —which essays an apology of the CIA— Mikel Dunshun’s Buddha’s Warriors, tells the story of how the agency took hundreds of Tibetans to the United States, led and equipped the rebellion, parachuted armaments to Tibetan fighters and trained them in their use. The rebels moved on horseback, as Arab warriors once did. The book’s prologue was written by the Dalai Lama, who writes: “Though I am deeply convinced that the struggle of Tibetans will succeed only through a long-term and peaceful process, I have always admired these freedom fighters for their courage and their unwavering determination.”
The Dalai Lama, bestowed with the US Congress’ Gold Medal, praised George W. Bush for his efforts in defense of freedom, democracy and human rights.
The Dalai Lama called the war in Afghanistan a war of “liberation”, the Korean War a war of “semi-liberation” and the Vietnam War a “failure”.
I have summarized information taken from the Internet, from the site Rebelión, specifically. Because of space and time limitations, I have not included the pages where the quoted paragraphs were taken from.
There are those who suffer from Chino-phobia, a condition shared by many Westerners, accustomed by their education and cultural differences to regard whatever comes from China contemptuously.
I was still virtually a child when people already spoke of a “yellow menace”. The Chinese revolution seemed impossible back then. The true causes behind anti-Chinese sentiments were racist at root.
Why is imperialism so intent on forcing China, directly or indirectly, to lose its international significance?
Some time ago, that is to say, 50 years ago, it sought to deny it the prerogatives it had heroically earned for itself as a full member of the Security Council. Later, highlighting the mistakes that led to the Tiananmen Square protests, it deified the Statue of Liberty, the emblem of an empire which today embodies the negation of all freedoms.
The People’s Republic of China passed legislation which stood out in proclaiming and enforcing respect for the rights and cultures of 55 ethnic minorities.
The People’s Republic of China is, at the same time, highly sensitive with regards to all things related to the integrity of its territory.
The campaign orchestrated against China is like a bugle call aimed at unleashing an attack on the country’s well-earned success and against its people, who will host the next Olympic Games.
The Cuban government issued a declaration categorically expressing its support of China in connection with the campaign undertaken against it on the issue of Tibet. This was the right stance to assume. China respects the rights of its citizens to hold religious beliefs or not. In China, there are Muslim, Catholic and non-Catholic Christian and other religious groups, not to mention dozens of ethnic minorities, whose rights are guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.
In our Communist Party, one’s religion does not represent an obstacle in the way of becoming a Party member.
I respect the Dalai Lama’s right to believe, but I am not obliged to believe in the Dalai Lama.
I do have many reasons to believe in China’s victory.
Fidel Castro Ruz
March 31, 2008