Nice try brain washed, Chiang killed many more.
DURING the summer and autumn of 1941, while walking through Honan and Hupeh provinces, from the Yellow River to the Yangtze River, I witnessed the beginnings of that catastrophic famine which has been described in an earlier chapter of this book. It was depressing to walk along the road day after day and see desolate land, fallow fields and empty houses, tumbling with decay. Since, in many places, there had, as yet, been no severe drought, I was puzzled to know why the fields had been abandoned. Then peasants told me they had left their ancestral plots because Kuomintang tax collectors and requisition agents for Chiang Kai-shek's armies were demanding more grain from them than the land could possibly produce. Why work, when not only all the fruits of their labor would be taken from them, but when they would be beaten or imprisoned for not being able to produce the required taxes?
I was ashamed to go from one Kuomintang general to another, eating special delicacies from their well-laid tables, while peasants were scraping the fields outside the yamens for roots and wild grass to stuff into their griping stomachs. But I was more than ashamed - I was overcome with a feeling of loathing - when I learned that these same generals and the Kuomintang officials were buying up land from starving farmers for arrears in taxes and were holding it to wait tenants and rainy days.
As I walked along the road, each day, some peasant would come to my cart crying a new tale of woe and each night some county magistrate would steal quietly into my room and implore me to do something - "for God's sake do something!" - before it was too late and they all starved to death. Well, I tried.
What killed those vast numbers of men and women? You will say drought and crop failure, but none of Chiang Kai-shek's officers, landlords or tax collectors died from want of food, nor did the people to the north, in the Liberated Areas where the climate and lack of rain were the same, die in any corresponding numbers. What was the difference? Why did one set of people starve and not another?
The people of Chiang Kai-shek's part of Honan did not die because God sent no rain; they died because of the greed of the men who governed them. Literally, they were taxed to death.
I used to wonder why these people did not revolt. Why didn't they storm into the cities, break open the granaries and take out the food that had been robbed from them by a soldier with a gun or a tax collector with a weighing scale? They were not apathetic; they did not want to die; but since they were going to die anyway, why did they not go down fighting, why did they not rebel against their feudal lords and masters? Well, the answer is, they did. In 1942, when the Japanese invaded northern Honan, thousands of farmers turned on the soldiers of General Tang Eng-po and quite understandably joined hands with the national enemy of China. And after all, why not: could the Japanese be worse than the army of Chiang Kai-shek?
Even in the so-called halcyon days of Chiang Kai-shek's regime, from 1929 to 1933, there were, according to official investigations, 188 different kinds of taxes to which the Chinese peasantry had to submit. In 1932, when Chiang was supposedly bringing a new and better regime to China, the rate of the land tax in most of the country was four times what it was in the United States.
Far worse than the formal land tax, however, were the surtaxes which were usually ten times the principal tax. In the days of the decadent Manchus, the surtax had never exceeded one-twelfth of the land tax, yet in the days of Chiang's prosperity it was ten times!
In Szechuan Province, which Chiang made his stronghold during the Japanese war, sometimes as much as 59 per cent of the crop per mow of paddy field was taken by tax collectors; in Hunan, near the Tungting Lake, it was 53 per cent; in Yunan 49 per cent. While the landowners normally bear the burden of increased taxes, they most often shifted this burden to their tenants in the form of increased rent. And where tenants formerly gave half of their rice or wheat crop to the landlord, they now had to give 70, 80 and 90 per cent of that crop. Sometimes, as I discovered on the Chengtu Plain, it was over 100 per cent, so that the tenant had to go out and buy rice to meet his taxes. In other words he might work all year in his paddy fields and yet not have one grain of rice for himself.
The end of the war against Japan, however, brought no relief to the hard-pressed cultivator. Although the Kuomintang government formally exempted peasants in the hinterland and in the areas recovered from Japan from taxes for one year, the farmers actually were forced to donate much more money and grain in special taxes.
Such levies were more or less fixed. Numerous as they were, they failed to tell even half the picture of the peasant's tax burden. This was so because military requisition, an obsolete form of taxation, which long ago ceased to exist in Western nations, never became extinct in China. In fact, owing to the numerous civil wars and to the war against Japan, they have become more prevalent than in many centuries.
The burden of these requisitions for the last quarter-century in China has really been staggering. Because of lack of funds, squeeze among officers, arrears in pay and plain greed, many Chinese troops depended on requisitions to get their food, clothing, housing and a fat bank account. Grain, cattle, carts, homes, money and even human beings have all been grist for the army officers' mill. Such exploitation of the peasantry, however, was not realized without the co-operation of Chiang's officials and the local gentry. As a matter of fact, requisitions have been an institution through which the officials could rob the people and enrich themselves. They did this principally by adding to the requisitions at the time of collection. Thus, an assessment of five catties of flour became eight; five catties of hay, ten; four carts, fifteen; sixty transport carriers, ninety; and one thousand dollars requisitioned by officers was raised to fifteen hundred by gentry and officials. Thus, war, for the officials, was always the swiftest and straightest road to riches.
In 1947, behind the Kuomintang lines in Anyang County in Honan Province, I discovered that requisitions by Chiang's officers, co-operating with the gentry, were often over one thousand times the land tax. But such figures are only academic; for I found requisitions were so bad that often farmers not only lost all their land, grain and clothing, but also had to hand over their children as slaves and their wives as servants and concubines to the tax collectors and requisition officers.