Thursday, January 22, 2015

Research Grant: The Long Road to the Long March

[I'm pleased to announce I've been awarded a research grant from American Public University.  You can see last year's winners here. The following is the first part of my research grant application and outlines the need for this study and what has already been written. I also include a paragraph that discusses its importance in the classroom. The majority of the archive work will occur at the Hoover Library's Chen Cheng collection at Stanford University, and I'm very excited to pursue this research!] 
Mao Zedong is hailed in largely hagiographic terms as a result of his eventual ascension to power and victory in the Chinese Civil War.  But there is little critical examination of his early military leadership.  This study seeks to assess the military leadership of Mao and his chief military officer, Zhu De during the Jiangxi period of 1927-1934. It will determine the degree to which Mao deserves his status as a brilliant strategist.  Since the two leaders were often conflated into one person called Zhu Mao, I seek to study both the strategic and tactical planning as well as the execution of Soviet military operations to better determine the merits of their respective leadership.   Finally, since the doctrine of People’s War affects the local population I seek to examine the impact of Soviet military operations on the people of the Jianxi Soviet.   
This period witnessed Mao’s first actions as leader of a small insurgency in southern China. The years between 1927 and 1934 also witnessed several important counter insurgency campaigns by the Nationalist government and it detailed the reaction of Communist forces as well as the first application of Mao’s strategic theories.  Sinologist William Wei called this period “more or less wide open” and suggested that an examination of Mao as a military thinker is “long overdue.”[1] Many histories of the PLA start at the landmark dates of the Communist victory in 1949, the Long March of 1934, or the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937, and often provide little analysis of earlier periods or analyze them through the lens of later ones.[2]
Mao himself only has only has one scholarly piece assessing his leadership.[3]  Even then, the article was specifically intended as a “preliminary assessment.”  That article starts to suffer from the problems above as the author examined the broad scope of Mao’s career; with the Jiangxi period only serving as a prelude to the Long March and eventual victory. This did include a description of Mao’s poor management and often confusing directions to his generals.  My study will focus specifically on the beginning of Mao’s early military career which allows me to focus on matters that may have been condensed in the broader examination.
Zhu De only has two biographies in English.  The first by Anges Smedly, was published in 1956.[4] While the book fills an important literary gap, Smedly is more accurately described as a reporter than a scholar.  She traveled with the Red Army through much of the 30s and the book contains lengthy excerpts of oral interviews from Zhu De. She died before this book could be completed and it focuses on a personal biography more than a military history of this man.  So it is doubly important for a military historian to examine Zhu’s life.  The other book is by Shum Ki-Kwong, and it can more accurately be described as a twenty page pamphlet.[5] 
There is an unpublished dissertation that examines Zhu De’s early career and his impact on the strategic thought of the Chinese military.[6]  It remains unpublished, but provides several excellent points.  Russell’s piece is an excellent scholarly treatment of the subject and it places the development of Chinese strategic thought in a worldwide, and particularly Russian, context.  His examination ends in 1926 with Zhu De’s defection from the Republican government. Since my examination begins in 1927, it will act as a case study and test his conclusions.
Russell also stated that “[this study]…highlighted many gaps in the English language military history of China…these studies in particular need to address wars at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels…”[7]  Russell went on to claim that in contrast to the assumption of this being an early example of protracted war, “the Red Army was, in reality, a hybrid force made up of regular troops, fulltime guerrillas units, and local part time defense forces.”[8]  Thus his study introduces the idea that Communist operations in this period were not always a clear example of an insurgency campaign. But Russell’s assertion seems to understate Mao’s three phase insurgency and may overstate the clear delineations between regular soldiers and full time guerillas.  So my study will engage a debate concerning the exact composition, strategy, and tactics of the Red Army.   
Francis Grice is a teaching fellow at the Defense Studies Department at Kings College London and is studying the influence of Mao on past, current and future insurgencies.[9]  The thesis is forthcoming and I don’t have access to his conference presentations. His research so far appears to focus on the influence of Mao’s theories around the world in the second half of the 20th century. My study, in contrast, will focus on the specific development and execution of his theories in China before his eventual victory. It also contrasts his leadership and influence with that of Zhu De, and focuses exclusively on an early period in Mao’s insurgency. I expect my research will benefit from, but also challenge his thesis...
This study fits the mission of American Public University by enhancing the breadth and depth of the curriculum offered. Insurgency is a topic of immense contemporary importance, and even personal importance for the many veterans in the student body that serve(d) abroad.  China is a rising world power with relatively few programs offering basic courses on Chinese history, let alone a course that covers Chinese military history.  After consultation with Dr. Richard Hines I may teach a topical course on Chinese military history, and this research project will enhance that ability. 

[1] William Wei, “Mao and the Red Army” in An Introduction to Chinese Military History Robert Hingham and David Graff eds.  (NewYork: Westview Press, 2002), 247.
[2] See for example, Chen-hsia Huang, The Chinese High Command: A History of Communist Military Politics, 1927-1971 (New York: Praeger, 1973).
[3] Jacques Guillermaz, “The Soldier,” in Mao Tse-Tung in the Scales of History: A Preliminary Assessment ed. Dick Wilson (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977.)
[4] Anges Smedly, The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1956).
[5] Shum Ki-Kwon, Zhu De (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.)
[6] Matthew William Russell, “From Imperial Soldier to Communist General: The Early Career of Zhu De and His Influence on the Chinese Army.” Unpublished dissertation, George Washington University, 2009.
[7] Ibid., 424-425.
[8] Ibid., 422.

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