Red Army Starved 150,000 Chinese Civilians, Books Says

HONG KONG - The Communist army starved 150,000 civilians to death with the siege of Changchun during China's civil war, according to a startling book, since banned, that was published by the Chinese military.

It also says a People's Liberation Army division led by Wang Zhen, now vice president, smuggled opium during the war that brought the Communists to power more than 40 years ago.

In a break with Communist Party doctrine, the book questions whether the battle to wrest the country from Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists was worth the cost, and implies the revolution has not produced a better life.

``White Snow, Red Blood,'' was written by Zhang Zhenglu, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel who based it on numerous Communist Party documents and interviews with surviving Communist officers.

Unlike previous Chinese war histories, Zhang's work strives to be objective and rejects the official line that history books should justify Communist rule.

The 618-page treatise, published in August 1989 by the People's Liberation Army Publishing House, was suppressed in the spring of 1990 after an army magazine quoted President Yang Shangkun as saying it ``insulted the Communist Party.'' By then, however, more than 100,000 copies had been sold.

An army order banning the book is believed to have been issued but as is normal in China, was not made public. The book was criticized in the state-run press and copies disappeared from bookstores.

A Chinese source in Hong Kong said Zhang was being investigated. A copy of his book was obtained from Chinese sources by The Associated Press in Hong Kong.

It focuses on a critical military campaign of China's civil war: the battle for Manchuria in 1945-48, won by the Communists.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, China was thrown into chaos. The anti-Japanese alliance between Mao Tse-tung's Communists and Chiang's Nationalists collapsed, and the two parties became locked in civil war.

One of Zhang's most startling claims is that 150,000 civilians starved to death between May and October 1948 during a battle for Changchun, a key industrial center in the northeast.

Communist Party doctrine holds that the battle was a bloodless affair resulting in the surrender of 100,000 Nationalist troops after a five-month siege by Communist forces.

Zhang said the Communist army's decision to surround the city in May 1948 was accompanied by an order prohibiting civilians from leaving, in order to put maximum pressure on the Nationalists' grain reserves.

He cited a report from a People's Liberation Army officer filed Sept. 9, 1948, saying Communist troops were shooting and beating fleeing residents, who at times were seen ``throwing their babies behind them in order to escape the city.''

``Not allowing the starving city residents to leave and sending other starving citizens back into the city has become difficult to explain to the troops,'' the officer's report says.

The author quoted cables from other officers asking that the army be allowed to save starving people. The requests were denied, he wrote.

At one point, thousands of residents were caught between the two forces. All food in the city had been requisitioned by the Nationalists, and the Communists refused to let the civilians pass, so they died there, slowly, the book says.

``Changchun was like Hiroshima,'' Zhang wrote. ``The casualties were about the same. Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.''

His book says Communist troops smuggled large quantities of opium during the civil war. The point is particularly interesting because the Communists took a strong anti-drug stand in the war years, calling opium a symbol of China's weakness.

Britain forced territorial concessions from China during two Opium Wars in the 19th century. Millions of Chinese, both elite and laborers, were addicted.

Part of the Communist success against Chiang was their ability to portray themselves as opponents of a drug that made the nation weak.

Zhang identifies one drug-dealing army division as No. 28, based at the Communists base camp, Yenan, in central China.

Official party history identifies China's current vice president, Wang Zhen, as the division's commander. Zhang does not mention Wang's name.

When division No. 28 came to the northeast in 1946 to aid in the Manchurian campaign, he wrote, it ``was already quite rich, having made its money dealing opium and silver.''

``Some old cadres said every time that division moved, their vehicles were piled high with goods,'' Zhang said. ``They looked like a baggage train.''

Drug trafficking was widespread among Communist Party officials, the book says, including some former generals who died as ``revolutionary heroes.''

``The phenomenon of getting rich was pretty common, among individuals and groups, especially among front-line military units,'' Zhang wrote. ``They did it moving yellow (gold), white (silver) and black (opium).''

``White Snow, Red Blood'' breaks with Communist Party doctrine by blaming the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung for major military defeats and praising the traitor Lin Biao as a genius. Until Zhang's book, Mao had been criticized only for ``mistakes'' made after the victory in 1949.

Lin, once Mao's heir, fell from grace after Sept. 13, 1971, when he is believed to have died in an attempt to flee China after an aborted coup d'etat. He commanded the Communist forces in Manchuria, and Western scholars have credited him with leading the Communist army to victory.

Official party histories reject Lin's influence because any praise would be interpreted as indirect approval of his later attempts to seize power.

Analyzing internal party documents, Zhang credits Lin with avoiding a disastrous military defeat in the spring of 1946 by withdrawing from the northeast town of Siping, which Mao had ordered held at all costs.

In Zhang's view, Lin's decision saved the Manchurian campaign.

``When it came to acumen in peace and war,'' he wrote, ``Lin was wiser and deeper than Mao.''

Other recent books published by China's military also have probed the past of the People's Liberation Army.

One called ``Black Snow'' argues that China should not have entered the Korean War because the Soviet Union had a treaty with North Korea and, therefore, the responsibility to protect it. Communist doctrine says China's decision to cross the Yalu River was a glorious one.

These books are similar to the historical revisionism currently under way in the Soviet Union.

Between the time the Chinese books were written in the late 1980s and the time they were published, however, China's limited political reforms became a casualty of the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

Although high-ranking military officers criticized the books, they did not stop their own publishing houses from putting them out.