Ho Chi Minh as Commander Hu Guang in China
  • | | December 04, 2010 10:46 AM

At the instruction of General Zhu De*, General Ye Jianying **opened a large map of China. They discussed its geography with Nguyen Ai Quoc.

General Zhu De calling on the 30,000 soldiers of the 8th Route Army to fight against the Japanese. August 15, 1937.

This was mid October, 1938. Zhu De told Quoc that the northwestern provinces around the imperial city of Beijing had been lost to the Japanese and the new administration had already been set up. He continued, “They have just seized Shanghai and are now advancing towards the Yangtze River, soon to control Hankou.” He shared with Quoc the mission of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He invited Quoc to take part in the assessments of the enemy’s strength and weakness, and to help develop some urgent strategic plans.

Being severely restricted in his movements elsewhere, Quoc would remain in China for three years. He would play a substantial strategic role in the Chinese liberation army -- in return for their protection. To outsiders, it would appear that Nguyen Ai Quoc’s presence in China was merely to receive guidance from the Chinese. Quoc was too humble to give himself credit.

Zhu De talked about Yan’an and its rich revolutionary tradition. This was where the dissident generals had launched an armed uprising to overthrow the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This was where the Red Army - after completing the 12,500 km Long March in October 1935 - established a revolutionary base against the Japanese aggression. The Red Army, with Zhu De as Commander-in-Chief, was re-organized and renamed the 8th Route Army. It then joined other Communist armies and the combined armed forces became the People’s Liberation Army.

Zhu De asked Quoc to identify the strengths of the 8th Route Army and to suggest strategies for building a stronger armed force. Without hesitation, Quoc said he was highly impressed by the commitment of soldiers through all the ranks and the officers’ interest in the welfare of their men. He praised Zhu De for his leadership and the trust he had instilled in the commanders and junior officers.

On military organization, Quoc pointed out the major advantages for the PLA, which included their knowledge of the local routes and terrain, mountains and forests, and their ability to orchestrate a guerilla war. Unlike Japanese troops, the guerilla forces could become highly mobile and self-sufficient. The Japan-China conflict, which began in 1931, was becoming a full-scale war. Quoc recommended a large-scale mobilization of the Chinese peasant forces. Referring to a training text he had written for the Stalin School in Moscow in 1928*** Quoc defined the role of the peasantry, the formation of peasant guerilla units and guerilla warfare, and the principles of guerilla organization and operation.
The principles of guerilla warfare had been rejected earlier by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who labeled it “guerilla-ism” ****. This infuriated their Soviet supporters, who began to distrust Mao Zedong. But Zhu De was now totally convinced and inspired by Quoc. He had formed a new vision for the PLA and was most anxious to present the recommendation to his superiors for consideration. Without any reservation, he appointed Quoc to be a commander in the 8th Route Army with the rank of Major.

Members of the 8th Route Army. The number went up to 200,000 by December 1938 and to 400,000 in 1940.

At Tao Yuan villa, Quoc was having dinner with Zhu De and Ye Jianying. They talked about the upcoming trip to Guilin. Later in the evening, the conversation led to a discussion on strategies -- to foil the Japanese advance, to destroy their political alliances, and to recapture the besieged cities. For China, a large country with huge differences in geographical, economic and political conditions among the various regions, they realized that the whole process would require careful timing and much patience. Quoc predicted that it would take from five to seven years to end the Japanese occupation.
Privately, Quoc expected the general warfare to spread further into Southeast Asia, and he secretly hoped that the continued armed struggle between China and Japan would somehow help bring an end to the French regime in Indochina. He was anxious to locate his compatriots from the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), who were secretly operating in southern China.

In late October, Quoc left Yan’an with General Ye Jianying on a journey to Guilin. The traveling caravan consisted of five automobiles of the PLA. Guilin is a rustic city in the heart of Guangzi province, well known for its crystal-clear rivers, beautiful lakes, and sculptured limestone mountains.

Traveling day and night through the mountain routes, Quoc paid special attention to the health and safety of his group. Once they were harassed by members of the Nationalists who were anti-Communist. Quoc and a senior staff used their diplomatic skill to negotiate for the crossing. One day, after noticing the physical exhaustion of some members, he offered them an evening of outdoor entertainment and barbecue. Everyone was delighted with a good break and an excuse for singing and dancing. Quoc composed a Chinese song to inspire them, “The Japanese fascists of the Orient. They are ferocious and brutal. They are plundering this land. The Japanese are causing untold suffering. Rise up! Rise up quickly! The people of China....” For the remainder of the road journey to Guilin, they would sing loudly. This song would soon be circulated in the peasant population.

In Guilin, Quoc took up residence at the 8th Route Army local headquarters in Lu Ma village. All senior officials were assigned additional responsibilities. Quoc was appointed to be a public health inspector and also chief editor for Shengbuo Xiaobao (Life Journal) - the mouthpiece of the 8th Route Army. After arriving in Guilin, Quoc became leader of the “cultural club” and he would organize musical and theatre evenings for his unit.

It was soon known that commander Hu Guang “held very high standards of personal hygiene and military discipline. If sanitation conditions were not good, he could be quite blunt in his criticism.” Every one was told that mutual and self-criticism was encouraged within the 8th Route Army. Once, a staff member of the public health team criticized Hu Guang on some minor issue in the office. He thought this was to be expected. However, the next day an official from the CCP arrived. He asked the man if he had criticized Major Hu Guang. The official warned him not to do it again.

Running the Shengbuo Xiaobao journal, Quoc designed its cover page and also contributed his own writings on political and military events, the Japanese atrocities, and the heroism of the Chinese combatants. He composed a few poems in Chinese classical style and these became popular among the Chinese peasantry during the war.

Continuing his long-established practice as an international political writer, Quoc was writing articles in several languages. To write in French, he needed a typewriter with a French keyboard. Quoc had a Chinese friend in Guilin who often went to Viet Nam for business. The friend found a Hermès ‘Bébé’ typewriter in Hai Phong and bought it for him. So pleased was he with this new treasure that he invited the friend out to celebrate at a French restaurant. They drank two bottles of wine that evening. One can imagine Quoc’s mind, in moments of silence, returning to the memorable years working in the kitchen of Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel.

Nguyen Ai Quoc with Zhu De during a diplomatic visit to Yan’an eleven years later. (Photo taken on 30 January, 1950)

Nguyen Ai Quoc used the pen name P.C. Line for his articles published in Notre Voix, a French language newspaper in Ha Noi founded by Vo Nguyen Giap. Quoc’s writings at this time often addressed the conditions in wartime China. Notre Voix was one of several newspapers circulating in both languages among young Vietnamese revolutionaries of the time. To seek the support of the general public, copies of these newspapers were distributed in all major cities and towns. This strategy was a success as it inspired thousands of people from various segments of the society, especially the peasantry, to join the Vietnamese resistance forces.

In January 1939, the CCP officially adopted the recommendation from General Zhu De to mobilize the peasants for warfare. General Ye Jianying received an instruction from the CCP to set up a training program in Hengyang (Hunan province), northeast of Guilin. This was to train senior members of the Communists and Nationalists in preparation for a guerilla war against the Japanese. The alliance between Mao’s Communist forces and Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists was not easy, but at this stage they worked together against their common enemy. Chiang would lead China through the Second Sino-Japanese war (July 1937-September 1945)

Jianying felt that Quoc was the perfect person to design the program, and to teach some classes. The first three-month course was to begin in mid February. In his first teaching assignment, Quoc highlighted the role of the peasantry as the power base. On military issues, after pointing out the tactical differences between guerilla forces and the regular army, his lectures were devoted to the development, training, and survival of guerilla units. Given the huge increase in internal activities and outside contacts, Jianying put Quoc in charge also of the communication unit and the radio station.

In early February, Jianying sent Quoc to Chongqing (Sichuan province) for a meeting with Zhou Enlai, head of the CCP liaison office helping Chiang Kai-shek’s wartime government. Quoc and Zhou had known each while living in Paris. Zhou founded the CCP branch in France in 1920, the same year Quoc helped found the French Communist Party. Zhu De visited Germany and France in 1920, joined the CCP, and stayed until 1922. Quoc and Zhou met again in Canton and Zhou was a guest lecturer at the Revolutionary Youth League founded there by Quoc.

* In 1949, when Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China, Zhu De was promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the PLA. Zhu De became a legendary general for making “elevating guerilla warfare” a major strategic concept. He owed much of the credit to Commander Hu Guang - Nguyen Ai Quoc.

** General Ye Jianying held various positions after the war with Japan, including Minister of National Defense. He spoiled an assassination attempt on Deng Xiaoping’s life during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Jianying purged the Gang of Four and played the key role in putting Deng Xiaoping in power.

*** Nguyen Ai Quoc’s book “The Party’s Military Works Among the Peasants” was republished in 1970 by the German author A. Neuberg in his selection of most important military policy documents.

**** Mao Zedong wrote:
"By May 1928, basic principles of guerilla warfare, simple in nature and suited to the conditions of the time, had already been evolved...But beginning from January 1932...the old principles were no longer to be considered as regular, but were to be rejected as \'guerilla-ism\'. ” (Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, 1926-1936’)

>>Part 1: Paris, my two worlds
>>Part 2: A journey in search of freedom
>>Part 3: Nguyen the Patriot
>>Part 4: Indochina and little emperors
>>Part 5: The rise of patriotism
>>Part 6: Finding a compass
>>Part 7:
Young Ho Chi Minh with Grand Chef Escoffier
>>Part 8:
Young Ho Chi Minh in America
>>Part 9:
Ho Chi Minh versus Albert Sarraut
>>Part 10: The path of destiny
>>Part 11: Moscow’s resolution on Indochina
>>Part 12: Lenin and Peoples of the East
>>Part 13: From Moscow to Canton
>>Part 14: A cross-cultural political training school
>>Part 15: Hong Kong, City without Gates
>>Part 16: "I’ll defend you because of honor, not for money"
>>Part 17: The Annamite prisoner is free
>>Part 18: Moscow and the razor’s edge
>>Part 19: Ho Chi Minh as Commander Hu Guang in China

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